Saturday, 29 November 2014

A denunciation of injustice. From a surprising source.

How inspiring it is, and how refreshing a change, to hear a voice raised in defence of the poor and against the social injustice they suffer at the head of the wealthy. How much more impressive still when that voice speaks in tones of thunder, from the mouth of one of the wealthiest in the land. And how particularly encouraging when it speaks from within the ranks of government, where it can influence the direction of the country and drive forward a solution to the problems it denounces.

The strange perversion of Tory politics still continues, and the influence of wealth is daily exerted to prove—and with great success—how uneven is its distribution.

Indeed. So true. So necessary to be said. And here’s an abuse that particularly needs to be denounced:

We see the curse of unregulated casual employment steadily rotting the under side of the labour market.

Yes. As Ed Miliband has put it for the Labour Party, it’s time to do away with the zero-zero society, where many struggle on zero-hour contracts, technically employed but with no guarantee of either work or pay, while at the other end of the scale, the wealthiest pay zero taxes.

Opposing the curse of casual employment, underemployment,
unprotected employment
The impact of such injustice is particularly cruel on the young, but that in turn damages the future of the whole of society:

Thousands of children grow up not nourished sufficiently to make them effective citizens, or even to derive benefit from the existing educational arrangements.

Not that this voice speaks for the Labour Party. More, in his own own terms, for a radical, liberal position. Though, as he points out himself, there’s no reason to make any distinction, on this kind of question, between such views and those of Labour.

No true classification can be made in the abstract between Liberals and Radicals, or between Radicals and Labour representatives.

No, all three trends knew what needed to be done, and agreed on the approach to be taken:

Two clear lines of advance open before us: corrective, by asserting the just precedence of public interests over private interests; and constructive, by supplying the patent inadequacy of existing social machinery.

Solving these problems won’t be easy, and the burden will be heavy. But just as the aim is to tackle injustice, so the way we set about it must be just. And that has financial consequences, which have to be fairly shared:

Sacrifices will be required from every class in the population; the rich must contribute in money and the poor in service, if their children are to tread a gentler path towards a fairer goal. A fiscal system which prudently but increasingly imposes the necessary burdens of the State upon unearned wealth will not only be found capable of providing the funds which will be needed, but will also stimulate enterprise in production

Indeed. Service for all, and graduated tax on wealth. That will ensure the necessary resources are available, and that the solution will be equitable.

Isn’t it extraordinary that such views could be expressed at the highest level of government in Britain?

Unfortunately, and certain stylistic aspects of these quotations may have been given it away, the statements aren
’t recent and these views weren’t expressed by a member of the present government. Nor by a member of any Conservative government – though they were the opinions of one of the most emblematic figures of British Conservatism. At the time, however, Winston Churchill was not a Conservative, but a Liberal and about to take up a position as President of the Board of Trade in Herbert Henry Asquith’s great reforming government before the First World War. Presumably as part of his bid to be deemed worthy of that post, he published this article, which has come to be known as The Untrodden Field, in 1908.

Churchill in his Liberal days
A clarion call for radical reform
You may feel sad that such an outspoken champion for the victims of social injustice should in the end have joined the Conservatives, the very party he denounced here. Rejoined, in fact: he abandoned the Conservatives to join the Liberals in the 1900s, only to abandon the Liberals in the 1920s and return to Tories (you may remember his comment, “anyone can rat, but it takes a certain ingenuity to re-rat.”)

What’s far sadder is that nearly 107 years after Churchill penned that article, so many of the abuses remain to be overcome and indeed are being daily intensified by the political heirs of its author.

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