Tomorrow, the 9th February 2010, at 10:45 in Committee Room 14 of the House of Commons, Jenni Russell the writer and commentator of the Guardian will chair a meeting on the “Politics of Fairness”. This has come in response to a recent report by the Equality Panel that highlighted the almost institutionalised inequality in the UK.

The meeting will be attended by:

  • David Willetts MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Universities and Skills.
  • David Laws MP, Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Children, School and Families.
  • James Purnell MP for Stalybridge and Hyde.
  • Richard Wilkinson, Director, The Equality Trust.

‘Demos’ is a think-tank focused on power and politics that search for and communicate ideas to give people more power to shape their own lives. Demos' vision is a democracy of free citizens, with an equal stake in society. It will be publishing three pamphlets tomorrow, 9th February, highlighting why the three main parties should embrace and promote equality.

One Society also has a vision – “We believe in One Society. We believe that a large divide, in wealth and power, between those at the very top and the rest of society is damaging to national well being. More equal societies work better for everyone; not just those at the bottom but right the way up: we all benefit.” It has been set up in association with the Equality Trust “Because more equal societies work better for everyone”.

Richard Wilkinson of the Equality Trust co-wrote the book ‘The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better’ with Kate Pickett.

A gauntlet is being thrown down by the young to the mainstream political parties. What, they are being asked, are you doing to address this ever widening equality gap in the UK? An equality gap that threatens to affect the younger generation more than at any time in the past. Those leaving school now are met with barriers to jobs and barriers to higher and further education due to the parlous state of the UK economy. This is completely opposite to the promises made to them by politicians.

This new initiative is wide based. From their press release “Major organisations representing or working with young people have joined together with campaign group One Society to call for a more equal society.  Social welfare charities, NUS and the youth wings of a range of trade unions and parties are calling for policies that would close the gap between rich and poor.  Reducing income inequality would improve social mobility and the quality of life for all young people, across the social spectrum.

This is so refreshing, a political move with passion and vision. A far cry from the almost identical, jaded, faded and discredited policies of the major parties. Just like almost all good political innovation the idea comes from outside the Westminster village.

They had better be prepared though for the party spokespersons to trot out the same tired old party lines. If they are looking for some fresh announcements or commitments by the three main parties I hope they will not come away disappointed. The way to get political party onboard is to have the party leaders there making solid commitments.

Inequality comes in many guises. There is the legal inequality where some MPs feel themselves above the law. Then there are also social, racial, sexual, religious and financial inequalities.

As I write ‘The Tower Block of Commons’ is on Channel 4, a depressing view of the UK that politicians don’t really want you to see. The politicians involved in this programme will of course return to their privileged and cosy worlds once this is over. Then memories will be short. Some of the MPs actually cheated in the task by spending their own money because they could not cope on the amount benefits provided. Some of the MPs criticised those on benefits, but those they criticised were busy looking at the MPs expenses claims with incredulity. Both groups it seems were on some sort of public subsidy.

But most depressing of all, the young of today will be harnessed into a physical and psychological harness of inequality that will echo down the corridors of history unless we grasp the nettle now and address the issues.

For me the most important thing is election reform. I don’t just mean some sort of weird proportional representation. It means the population of the UK looking inside themselves and breaking their voting habits, not voting for a party just because their parents did. It means all main parties getting rid of their short lists of candidates that they can parachute into safe seats. Let’s introduce local representation with MPs proving they have lived and worked in an area and have done good works there for ten years before they can even stand as an MP. Then, once elected, they have to embrace the local community including living in a council house, using state education and state services. Being an MP is a service, not a way of imposing your ideas on others.

As far as I can see the privilege that MPs enjoy from selection to election is one of the biggest hurdles to the advancement of our society today. Our policy makers know little about the reality of an ordinary life, or they quickly forget. Let’s bring them down to the real Earth.

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