Andy Murray: New Labour's old approach to compassion
After leaving Oban High School Andy Murray worked for a year with the Edinburgh City Mission before doing a Social Science degree and Diploma in Social Work at the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. After graduating he worked as a Social Worker with Edinburgh City Council for seven years working with young offenders and care leavers. He now lives and works in the West Lothian area where he is married to Kirsteen and has two boys aged 3 and 5. He is involved with the local Conservative Party and is an active member of the Conservative Christian Fellowship.
Listening to Tony Blair’s conference speech on Tuesday it was hard not to believe that the slightly left-of-centre utopia was not just round the corner but had already arrived. The Prime Minister was at his most evangelical believing that everything was better and brighter after eight years of Labour. He acknowledged that things weren’t quite perfect yet, but you got the distinct impression that with one more big push of investment in public services and a bit of tinkering with the ever-increasing pension crisis, everything will come up smelling as sweet as Labour's rose. The future is as bright as the midday sun if we are only willing to ‘change’ and pay more taxes.
On Tuesday night I was not sitting amongst the great and the good at the Labour Party Conference. I was speaking to a group of alcoholics and drug users in a run down hall in Edinburgh. The group meets once a week for mutual support and to hear speakers from local churches. As I sat and heard stories of drug dealers terrorising neighbourhoods and of the prevalence of alcohol and drug addiction in our local communities, it was hard not to be struck by the two very different visions of Britain. Where was Tony Blair's utopian blueprint? Surely after eight years of vast investment in public services these people at the very margins of society would at least have started to feel the effects by now? Surely the great programmes of social inclusion would be starting to trickle down by now?
As I drove home, tuned to Radio 4, listening for the third time to the ‘best bits’ of the speech again, I began to think of the stories I had heard earlier on, simple stories about overcoming a life of addiction to get a flat and a job. Others spoke about relapses, about members of the group who were missing, presumed dead. What was it that drew these people to that group week after week? What was it that helped them overcome the most incredible obstacles to kick the habit that was ruining their life? Why did they have hope, some of them, for the first time in their lives? The answer is very simple: compassion. A government cannot manufacture compassion, but it can certainly stifle it. We see this time and time again with left-wing policies. All it takes is for the government to give the impression that it has the solutions to the great problems we face as a society. People stop loving their neighbour and constantly ask ‘what is the government going to do?’ They are promised that the utopian society is just around the next corner. Right thinking people everywhere are entitled to ask the rather obvious question: ‘why is this utopia taking so long to arrive?’ The excuses change, the utopia never comes. Maybe it is not governments that solve problems; maybe it's people. As Sir William Beveridge once said:
"The making of a good society depends not on the state but on the citizens, acting individually or in free association with one another, acting on motives of various kinds, some selfish, some unselfish, some narrow and material, others inspired by love of man and love of God. The happiness or unhappiness of the society in which we live depends upon ourselves as citizens, not on the instrument of political power which we call the state."
This is truly radical thinking. This means that people should start acting responsibly and looking out for the most vulnerable in our society.
However ‘New Labour’ Tony Blair may be, his collectivist policies have done nothing to reform a post war consensus that has gone almost unchallenged for fifty years. Government need to support the ‘little platoons’ of our society - not the faceless bureaucracies and the political advisors that are wasting the taxpayer millions of pounds. Only people can bring hope and love to the most broken and damaged in our society. To weep with those who weep is sometimes the only option for those who have had a lifetime of rejection and abuse. Of course there is a role for government in the area of compassion. But that role is enabling and supporting individuals, families and groups to show that compassion for the most marginalised and broken people in our society. The voluntary sector is crucial if we are going to respond in a flexible compassionate way as a society. Over the last eight years we have seen a voluntary sector crushed by overbearing regulation. As Liam Fox has said in his speech ‘The Broken Society’:
"Our current government has tried to take over the voluntary sector by stealth. This is effectively the nationalisation of compassion."
As with so many other nationalized industries, state intervention in the area of compassion has made organisations less effective and responsive to the communities they try to help.
The left-wing utopia is not just round the next corner. No amount of funding and political engineering will bring a heaven on earth. We need to release individuals and voluntary groups from an overbearing state that seeks to intervene in every area of life. Real hope and real compassion can only come from the people who can do it best: you and me.
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