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Why should Labour have all the best words?

IMG_0806 Fairness is one of the three 'big words' that define The Coalition's mission. The other two are Freedom and Responsibility. The Economist does not like the fairness word at all:

"Fairness is fudge. This newspaper will have none of it. We reject the wide, woolly notion of fairness in favour of sharper, narrower words that mean what they say, like just or cruel."

The IEA's Fred Hansen regards fairness as a "dismal" and "misleading" term. Certain interpretations of fairness, he blogs, amount to an "envious cry... that throttles creativity and breeds resentment of achievement."

I have a lot of intellectual sympathy for those commentators who worry about the meaning of certain words. The Hayekian critique of social justice, for example, has much merit but it didn't stop me urging the Tory party to adopt the term in a campaign I began in 2001.

Social justice - like fairness - are terms widely supported by the British people. When I was working for Iain Duncan Smith in 2003 we tested "a fair deal for everyone" and it won huge support. It won even more support when people were told in focus groups that it meant fairness to those who provide help and fairness to those who need it. The 'social justice' term also scored very well. We need to adopt Left-ish words and fill them with our thinking.

It's fair enough for The Economist and the IEA to have their intellectual arguments but politicians need to live in the real world. Defining ourselves against social justice (as some Tory MPs have advised) or fairness is electorally stupid. Conservatives need to dominate the whole political stage and that means breaking Labour's monopoly in certain policy areas - and also defining ourselves on new ways. Defending capitalism/ conservatism as efficient and empowering only persuades so many. Making the case that capitalism/ conservatism is also fair and socially just seems like common sense to me.

Tim Montgomerie


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