Personal view Jill Segger
0 F ALL THE easy
speeches that comfort cruel men, political slogans are among the worst. The class war. Opportunity for all. The politics of envy. As politicians of all persuasions attempt to make capital from the fallout attendant upon Magdalen College's rejection 'of a Tyneside comprehensive schoolgirl, these phrases have been much in evidence. Slogans seek to short-circuit reasoned debate by means of their facile appeal to prejudice or complacency. We should not oblige their perpetrators by substituting the jerking knee for the considered response.
The Marxist concept of class war is understood by few of those who are eager to use it as a term of abuse. Its function in the current controversy is to act as shorthand for outmoded and divisive ideas. And as the cardinal sin in so much of what passes for political thinking these days is a failure to be modern and consensual, it is not surprising that ambitious politicians prefer to scurry for cover rather than run the risk of being labelled as class warriors. But let us turn to an honest and democratic political thinker for enlightenment. John Rawls, in his Theory of Justice, advanced the view that where the liberated collide, it is the duty of governments to adjudicate. It is not difficult to see what an urgent case for adjudication is presented when the liberty of families who can afford to purchase a more advantageous education for their children is considered alongside the liberty of those whose offspring must take what is left when the most articulate and ambitious have decamped. Nor would there be a problem in understanding that there is a conflict of interest between the desire of the prosperous to pay an ever decreasing amount of income tax and the right of the poor to better housing, education and health care. There are some contentions about which the demands of morality and justice do not permit compromise. If the conflicting needs of differ
ent sections of society are to be described as constituting the class war, I have no doubt as to the side on which a Labour Government should be fighting. New Labour's anxious urge to include all and offend none is misguided. A lack of sufficient courage to be partisan can only perpetuate the exclusion of people who naturally look to a Labour Government for help, and Tony Blair's little spat with the W I is a straw in the wind — will ultimately please nobody.
The idea of opportunity for all — note the re-working of "equality of opportunity" may appear at first sight to be above reproach. It is certainly to be preferred over the narrow-interest defence of privilege that has for too long prevented so many of our citizens from realising their potential. No doubt some will be relieved to hear that the only action necessary for social justice is the removal of a few obstacles from the path of the less fortunate. But those who are not seduced by the siren voice of consensus at all costs will realise that there is a harder reality to be addressed. The cumulative effects of poverty are so destructive and debilitating that for many, talk of equal opportunity is meaningless. Only a commitment to equality of outcome can hold out any hope of removing the ball and chain that keeps the workless poor, the old, the disabled and many among the the minorities from even reaching the starting line of the equal-opportunities race track.
This need to discriminate in favour of the weaker members of society is derided by some of the strongest who fear a reduction of the advantages that they enjoy. Among the accusation that they throw at the egalitarian is that of indulging in the "politics of envy". If that sin is committed in asking that the poor should receive a just portion of the wealth of a prospering economy, I confess my fault. I will compound it by wishing that the needy would be more envious.
We have a Prime Minister who is a regular Mass-goer. I hope he will soon find the opportunity to reflect upon the Church's teaching of the preferential option for the poor.