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Opinion: Redefining Fairness

Our political discourse has become increasingly dominated by insubstantial ‘buzzwords’ like ‘fairness’ and ‘progressive’ to the point where discussions about politics have begun to focus less on policy differences and more on how these words are to be used. Truly, British politics has entered an era in which the works of Wittgenstein are more relevant to the debate than any properly political philosopher or theorist.

This is perhaps exemplified by the debate within our party over the meaning of the word ‘fairness’. Prompted by Nick Clegg’s Hugo Young lecture, the Social Liberal Forum (SLF) recently wrote in an article here on LDV concerning this subject, and claimed that it means:

“…that society is fairer when absolute poverty is eliminated, the gap between rich and poor is reduced and where people can rise (and fall) through the income hierarchy regardless of their starting point.”

On this definition, fairness is a question of outcomes, rather than principle. It is a term subsidiary to the moral principles that dictate which outcomes are to count as good, and which assign values to the decisions made by individuals inasmuch as they move towards those outcomes.

I am going to argue that this definition is incorrect, that it speaks to an undeveloped concept of liberalism, and that adherence to it will result in our subsumption into a Labour Party moving inexorably rightwards. I will then sketch out a new definition of fairness that aims to avoid these consequences.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 19 Comments
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