LETTER:Speaking up for the oppressed

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The Independent Online
From Mr David Blunkett, MP

Sir: Anna Coote ("A bit too much of a prig and a prude", 3 July) quotes approvingly Anthony Crosland's belief that anarchism and libertarianism should run through the blood of socialists. It is unfortunate that in doing so Ms Coote dismisses the day-to-day worries of the men and women we seek to represent in her criticism of the need to strike a proper balance between social responsibility and liberal value.

The values of community do not pose a threat to liberty. Nor can concern for others be somehow dependent on rewarding and protecting those who ignore the consequences of their actions in the name of libertarianism.

The experience of history teaches us that disorder, anarchy and social fragmentation are the greatest threat to progressive politics and to real liberty. Ill-discipline in school does not favour the struggling and the powerless but reinforces disadvantage and underachievement. Tackling gross antisocial behaviour by neighbours does not constitute oppression but actually protects people from it.

Anyone with real experience of life in our inner-city council estates will know that the greatest threat to the real liberty of many in those communities is the fear and despair which comes from another sleepless night or the lack of safety on the streets. Tolerance should not extend to accepting the unacceptable. Individual freedom for all must mean that one person's selfishness does not threaten another's liberty.

Professor Bernard Crick once wisely wrote that tolerance occurs when individuals believe they have something to be tolerant about. The people I represent don't want an oppressive moralism but they do seek an understanding of problems such as crime, vandalism and antisocial behaviour which affect their everyday lives. In speaking the language of those who are genuinely oppressed, Labour will have the strength and the political commitment not only to protect minorities but to change the atmosphere in which intolerance and bigotry can so easily thrive.

Yours faithfully,

David Blunkett

MP for Sheffield Brightside

House of Commons

London, SW1

4 July

The writer is Shadow Secretary of State for Education.