Political Promise

Why I Hate Fairness

In Ani Mathur on November 1, 2010 at 7:00 am

Ani Mathur says people should stop telling us things are “fair.”

Since the beginning of this election year, I’ve grown to detest fairness. Not because I’m an ogre, or enjoy seeing injustice. In fact, it’s for exactly the opposite reason. It’s because I can’t stand the number of times this term has been used by all the parties to try and justify any proposal, often those which are complete antipodes. It has become a vacuous hallmark of the politics of deficit reduction – and it distracts from real justification for policy.

Letting the free market decide tuition fees is fair – why is it fair for other taxpayers to subsidise the private benefits students gain from a university education? But implementing a graduate tax instead of tuition fees is also fair – how is it fair for poorer students to be discouraged from attending university by unlimited fees? Scrapping child benefit for higher earners is fair – in a time of austerity surely we wouldn’t think it fair to pay for the best off? But keeping child benefit for higher earners is also fair – is it really fair for the squeezed middle to be even more squeezed, in a proposal open to abuse?
Fair has been the most used descriptor of any policy proposed by any party. For a coalition of one-nation conservatives and a Liberal Democratic party still attempting to hold onto their progressive credentials, ‘fairness’ shows compassion and compromise. For a Labour Party where the ‘S’ word is a no-go, and ‘equality’ is better avoided, particularly under ‘Red Ed’, ‘fair’ is the only option.

It looks as if fair is here to stay. How unfair.

Unlike progressive, or regressive, or equal, or meritocratic, all of which can actually claim some tangible meaning, fair means nothing. The Institute for Fiscal Studies can come out and assert that something is broadly regressive, as they did with the comprehensive spending review, but in the wonderful world we now inhabit, this means nothing. After all, the CSR is still ‘fair’ (see Messrs Clegg and Cameron).

This claim to fairness is tantamount to saying  saying ‘I’m right and you’re wrong.’ Nobody in his or her right mind would stand at the dispatch box and proclaim to the Commons that they are wrong. Likewise nobody would stand at the dispatch box and claim they seek unfairness. Instead of justifying and scrutinizing some of the biggest decisions in a generation, the addiction to the cheap fix, of claiming fairness, creates an immense disservice. It means we are not examining the real assumptions and principles behind the decisions that will affect our futures; we’re not going back to first principles or thorough evaluations.

It’s also incredibly patronising. The electorate, who are the ones who will feel the squeeze, want to discuss detail. Not be told that it’s the fair and right thing to do – I think most of us took it for granted that politicans believed that.

I’ve been tormented to this fairness addiction for months now, and speaking to others I know I’m not the only one that sees the ridiculousness of the use of the word. I can’t see its use subsiding anytime soon. But I can hope people realise how unfair fair is.

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