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Paul Marks

I heard an example of Mr Willetts' thinking this morning on Radio 4's "Today" programme.

The Conservative party should stand for "social justice".

Either Mr Willetts does not know what "social justice" means (in which case reading the second volume of F.A. Hayek's "Law, Legislation and Liberty" might help him) or he does know what the term means and is trying to make himself popular with media types by using terms he thinks they like (after all "social justice" is not a term one hears from ordinary voters).

In politics a person either believes in justice (to each his own), or social justice (I am poorer than you, so some of your stuff belongs to me BY RIGHT).

A Conservative is someone who is AGAINST "social justice", as this is nothing to do with being nice to poor people, it is about these poor people having a right to claim ownership of other folks income and wealth.

"Justice" and "Social Justice" are mortal enemies (although some writers, such as the late John Rawls, liked to confuse the issue by writing "justice" when they actually meant "social justice" - as far as I know Hayek went to his grave without knowing that Rawls was a supporter of social justice, largely because he did not get around to reading Rawls' 1971 tome "A Theory of Justice")

If Hayek is a bit heavy going for anyone reading this (and you want more of an examination that I feel like providing) then go and get an Antony Flew work (you might start with "Equality in Liberty and Justice" 1989). Or for a general examination of what a "civil association" (a Conservative)person is, I would suggest reading the three essays that make up M.J. Oakeshott's "On Human Conduct" (1975).

I should not need to write the above, but some Conservatives (not just Mr Willetts) seem either too ignorant or too dishonest to be trusted not to jump about praising social justice in the demented hope that the Guardian readers will start voting for us.

If this is the best "thinking" that they can do, I wish they would stick to plotting.


He specifically spoke out against state redistribution in the speech, comparing it unfavourably to the individual generosity that occurs within families. I think you're right in your analysis of what 'social justice' usually turns out to mean, but it doesn't describe how David Willetts is using the term.



How do I say this kindly? I'm afraid that this kind of attititude is exactly what has done for the Conservative Party at the last three General Elections.

Millions of voters deserted the Tories in 1997 because, although they had prospered under Mrs T and John Major, they were concerned at people being left behind.

A recent YouGov survey for the Centre for Social Justice found that 70% of target voters were more likely to vote Conservative if Tories embraced "social justice".

What did they mean by social justice?

They didn't mean massive redistribution. When asked to define social justice 67% meant fairness to those who need help and fairness to those who provide it. Only a minority saw it in the negative, big state terms in which you chose to define it.

In other words 67% of the British people understand that social justice involves protecting 'the goose that lays the golden egg' but that the needy should get a share of the goose's produce.

William Boetcker's Ten Cannots, written in 1916, still get it right:

"“You cannot bring prosperity by discouraging thrift.

You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.

You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.

You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.

You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.

You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.

You cannot further brotherhood of men by inciting class hatred.

You cannot establish security on borrowed money.

You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and independence.

You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.”

I am a big fan of Hayek, Paul, but Tories who say they are opposed to social justice, or fairness or a more compassionate brand of conservatism may retain some intellectual purity but they'll never win power. They'll never have the opportunity to build a distinctively conservative approach to poverty-fighting - built on such things as zero tolerance policing, school choice, tax cuts for low income families and stronger families.

Tim Newman

Centre for Social Justice found that 70% of target voters were more likely to vote Conservative if Tories embraced "social justice".

Heh heh heh! How odd! A survey carried out for the Centre for Social Justice finds that an overwhelming majority want social justice! Fancy that.


The CSJ survey was carried out by YouGov - Britain's most accurate pollster.

Rather than shooting the messenger, Tim, please try addressing the underlying argument!


Can somebody tell me the point of going for the centre ground alredy occupied by Nu- labour, the common people (who vote) have already got that choice with the incumbant Government!the results in Europe have proved that the Conservative party should go to the RIGHT??


Yes, we should only appeal to people on the right, the 33% of the population and no more. Never become a government again mind, but its the principle that counts.

This is my main problem with David Davis (although there are others, including his loyalty and his followers in the PP)

Simon C

Language is important here. New Labour is very good at co-opting conservative-sounding language, and using it to its own ends.

Thus "investment" (usually applied to capital spending) is extended to cover any form of spending increase. However, there's never any attempt to measure the outcome of that "investment", to see whether it was a good one or not. There are heaps of other examples.

We need to do the same. "Social Justice" is a concept that people like the sound of, and want to hear more about. We need to explain what conservatives mean by "social justice" - and, Editor, what we mean by "fairness" - see above.

People care about social justice because they care about those around them. They want politicians that also care about those around them - that will help their neighbours as well as them.

Conservatives need not be abashed about identifying the social problems and blight on individual lives and communities that generations of leftist "solutions" and welfare ("badfare") dependency have produced. Indeed we should be really enthusiastic about identifying all the damage, and its causes.

What we then need to do - as David Willetts has been saying - is to start putting forward some sustainable conservative solutions.

"Easterhouse Conservatives" understand this well. Small state Conservatives, even if they cannot grasp the moral imperatives, should get the point as well. Sorting out these deep-rooted social problems will, in the end, reduce the demands made on state funding. Picking up the bill for social failure costs us all. If you to open the door to serious tax cuts, you need to stop generating the bills.

James Hellyer

Very well put, Simon. In our media culture, the Right has a linguistic problem; the Left has all the feelgood words. It's about time we took some of them back.

ZaNu Labour used right wing rhetoric to conceal its agenda on crime ("Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime"). Why can't we capture some of their phrases? They won't mean the same thing, but they will reassure people.

Julian Morrison

The trouble is that people read "social justice" (a precise term in leftism, but they're not educated in its precise meaning) and guess that it means things like: "it's morally abhorrent for individuals or whole nations to be permanently stuck in poverty, someone ought to save them". Which is true enough. But then they reflexively imagine traditional leftist fixes, which have never worked and never will. They aren't commited leftists, they just don't know any other means to that end.

Personally I'd say the term "social justice" is too tainted. In particular, an attempt to subvert it to actually mean what it says will be resisted by leftists waving dictionary definitions. "Fairness" is similarly tainted and vague. "Equal opportunity" and "level playing field" are too easily misread into "rigging the game with handicaps".

To construct a new term, I suppose I need to define unambiguously what a conservative approach would be. The role of the state is: getting out of the way. Specifically, the state ought never to place any artificial obstacle in the way of an enterprising poor man who wishes to work his way out of poverty. Likewise for a poor nation. Also, if the poverty has a cause in ongoing oppression by a third party, the state ought to, at the very least, refuse any collaboration with the oppressor.

How to soundbite this? The best phrases I can come up with (on the spur of the moment) are "an open road" and "no deals with tyrants".


Well i am from Portugal and reading this just confirms that sadly Conservatives have no leadership, no backbone, no paradigm and are unable to present a cultural shift to the people. First they need to start a TV station to stop BBC agenda, and put hands on education fully to stop the disaster that is going on there.
Just like in my country the Right suck up to the left Mundo vision.

The problem in Continental Europe is that every mainstream party is intelectual dishonest and use the most inoquous political speach that usually have a kind of christian-socialist bent.

Mark: i thought i was being to simplistic but your comments take the buscuit, 33% right wingers + the centre ground means 55% + to us "little people" the people will speak & vote??


above comment?

steve shackleton

All the conservatives will do by moving to the left is to re position the centre even further to the left than it is now.

This goverment display all the characteristics of a pre totalitarian state, and the tory's need to present a better alternative.

Andrew Kinsman


Singular - Tory
Plural - Tories
Possesive singular - Tory's
Possessive plural - Tories'

Simon C

Phil, this is not about moving to the left -it is about recognising that the left might identify some genuine issues - eg poverty - but applying conservative solutions.

That means moving the policy centre ground to the right - by applying a conservative world view to problems caused by the left's failed policies.

Simon C

sorry - last post should have been addressed to Steve, not Phil

Dale Amon

Social Justice is a euphemism for theft. It is the Robin Hood Syndrome. Steal from those who worked hard to buy the vote of the n'er do well and (given this has gone on for some generations) the infantilized who no longer are capable of caring for themselves because of dependence on the parental state.

Liberty is what matters. "Individual Liberty, Individual Responsibility" as the American Indian activist Russell Means put it.

If you are not for the freedom of the individual, you are just another facet of the problem.

Findlay Dunachie

Hayek's "The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism" may be an easier read than his earlier work.

Chapter 7, "Our Poisoned Language" has a section entitled "The Weasel Word 'Social'." Hayek lists one hundred and sixty nouns he has come across, qualified by the word "social". In almost all cases the noun is distorted by the adjective. Perhaps "Social Democracy" is the most obvious, but Hayek deals faithfully with "Social Justice".

Tim Newman

The CSJ survey was carried out by YouGov - Britain's most accurate pollster.

Rather than shooting the messenger, Tim, please try addressing the underlying argument!

Rather than shooting the messenger, I'm simply pointing out that polls more often than not conducted in order to prove something, and the questions are loaded accordingly. When polling something with a straight Yes/No outcome, polls work. But as the foxhunting debacle showed, the population either supported or opposed a ban depending on the question being asked. I'd treat this poll with a handful of salt, and I'd certainly steer clear of laying out Conservative policy on the basis of it.

Simon C

"If you are not for the freedom of the individual, you are just another facet of the problem."

Dale, these are really complicated multi-facted problems, as your post hints at, yet you are only offering one tool to deal with them all. This is not one-club golf.

Liberty is important, but it is not a complete answer. There is a difference between liberty and licence - and liberty does not of itself foster responsibility.

Binge-drinking and the rise in STIs/STDs are both manifestations of individual liberty. They have a direct impact on the rest of society, and on the taxpayer's pocket. That's why social reform conservatives and small state conservatives should both be interested in getting this right.

Paul Marks

The people would vote for us if we supported "social justice" - an opinion poll says so.

Interesting - considering that most voters have never used the term "social justice" in their lives.

As for what did us in 1997, 2001 and 2005 - well I wonder if John Major policy of "spending more that Labour promised to spend" had anything to do with it - and the policy of going along (at least at election time) with every spending increase and regulation that Labour (and the Civil Service - E.U. under our last Conservative party government) imposed.

If you like opinion polls here is one (fromt he Daily Telegraph a few days ago) 90% of Conservative party members and 73% of our voters want to "drastically" reduce the rules and regulations comming out of government.

As for Mr W. - well let us see, perhaps he will suggest that we link government pension increases to rises in average incomes and he will suggest getting rid of tuition fees.

Accept (of course) he already has, and these things got into to our program for government.

I wish the man had stuck to the "cones hotline".

Two things: If we have to "out trump" Blair there is no point being elected (the point of being electing is to be elected as Conservatives - not as New Labour mark two). The other point is simple enough - we will NOT BE ELECTED BY TRYING THE "SOCIAL JUSTICE" OUTFLANK LABOUR FROM THE LEFT TRACK. Our voters will stay at home or vote for the U.K.I.P. or others.

Mr Blair does not pile up votes for his regulations and wild spending - the problem is that many people believe that we would be no better.

And judging by John Major (and Mr W. and his supporters here) we would be no better -perhaps worse.

Paul Marks

Sorry for the second post - but I suppose I had better reply directly to the "editor".

Nice quotation, from Mr Lincoln I believe (he may have been a Henry Clay supporter who never met a corrupt subsidy for big business that he did not like - but the man had a way with words).

As for Conservatives never winning if we oppose "social justice" or what you call "fairness" (as in "justice as fairness" from John Rawls?), the trouble is I can remember when Conservative often attacked "social justice" as a matter of routine.

It was a standard line "social is a weasel word that sucks the meaning out of anything it is attached to".

True Burke used the term "social freedom" - but "social" got its meaning changed in political talk a long time ago (19th century).

Mr W. (and the rest of you) know that quite well. I.D.S. is an honest man, he really does not know what the term "social justice" means (and why should he - there is no need to teach about such things in the army). But Mr W. and his friends do not have that background - there is no excuse for them.

When we used to attack "social justice" we used to often WIN elections, and when we tried the "Y.C.s care, do you?" (in bright purple - it was an effort to make us look "hip") track (the elections of 1974 - not really "who governs Britain" but "look at how modern and statist we are", and the last few elections) we have not done so well.

"How can I put it" - "Paul" thinks that if we insist an acting like gutless sons of bitches we will not only not win, we will not deserve to win.

Over the next few years the public finances are going to go to hell, the deficits will mount and the economy will decline (and all the nice little tricks like the P.F.I.s and treating the tax credit welfare schemes as "negative taxation" will start to fall apart). The last thing Britian will need, as things get serious, is another bunch of caring sharing people.

It is not compassion to tell people they can have a lot of nice things that one knows can not be afforded. And it is not compassion to ape the language of the left in the hope that people will be conned (the voters may be stupid, but they are not that stupid).

Why do we not go the whole hog and (like John B. - the spelling of his name escapes me, the man sold out F.C.S. when he was head of it, and went on to marry money and endlessly support Mr Blair), and promise lots more "third world aid" as well?

Peter Bauer showed that this policy was stupid and harmful (and that has nothing to do with nasty dictators refusing to spend the money on "schoolsnhospitals"), but it might get us a few seconds of praise on the B.B.C. and a few nice words in the Guardian.

Of course on the Council estate where I live selling this policy be difficult, but what does that matter if people who would never vote for us this side of hell freezing over think it is a good policy.


Steve shakleton makes an excellent point.

By moving to the left the Conservatives would only suceed in narrowing political discourse and pushing the centre closer to Labour, it would also validate the positioning of the Liberal Democrats.

That is why Davis and Cameron are both right to talk about the 'common ground' rather than the centre.

Its about recognising the same problems as labour do but fitting conservative values and solutions to those problems, rather than just being a Blair tribute act, leave that to the liberals.


If the phrase "social justice" seems to resonate with many voters, can't the conservatives just "capture" the phrase and claim that THEIR core policies (freedom for the individual, etc.) are the real path to "social justice"? Since most voters haven't the foggiest idea what the traditional, leftist, sense of "social justice" is, why not package conservative ideals as compassion, fairness and social justice? After all, most core conservatves would agree that conservative policies truly are compassionate, fair and just.

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