Letter: Labour and the meaning of poverty

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article 'Labour faces a new divide' (21 December) rightly raises some important questions as to the potential radicalism of Labour's new Commission on Social Justice.

However, there is a deeper tension in your own analysis which points to a wider problem faced by those on the left seeking to articulate once again what it means to be committed to social change: is poverty simply an administrative problem to be easily solved by quick fixes to social security and taxation systems, or does its existence raise question marks as to the ethical health of a society as a whole?

Put another way, is the pursuit of social justice a matter of better 'practical organisation of a nation', or should it have an underlying and less neutral metaphysical understanding of what it means to live at the end of the 20th century?

Part of Labour's current crisis is the way that, even on much of its own left, it has been hijacked by the metaphysically neutral rhetoric of liberal 'rights', 'choice' and 'entitlements' at the expense of a rich and full understanding of the need to rebuild communities of resistance to inequality and discrimination.

In a world where solidarity, community and interdependence are in short supply, perhaps for the leader of the opposition to appoint a consumer-rights champion as chair of a Commission for Social Justice and then to focus immediately on the administrative problem of social benefits is already to have prejudged what could, as you say, have been a far more radical appraisal.

Yours faithfully,

FRANCIS DAVIS

Southampton

21 December

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