Peter Hoskin

Why did Harman’s Big Idea see the light of day?

Harriet Harman’s idea of imposing a legal obligation on public bodies to narrow the gap between rich and poor has the potential to be a dangerously regressive measure.  With that in mind, we should welcome the suggestion in Andrew Grice’s Independent article this morning that it doesn’t have the backing of the Government:

“The second ‘class war’ accusation came when the social mobility paper was published.

This time it was more justified. Harriet Harman, the Equalities minister, wants a new law to put ‘the persistent inequality of social class’ on the same footing as discrimination on grounds of race, gender, sexuality or disability. Contrary to some reports, she did not win the Cabinet’s backing on this one.

The White Paper says the Government will consider imposing a strategic duty on public bodies to tackle social disadvantage and narrow gaps in outcomes for people from different backgrounds but adds that ‘further work and consultation is required’.

The caveat reflects doubts about whether legislation would work. I am told they are shared by Downing Street. So I wouldn’t bet on such a law being brought forward.” It does make you wonder why the proposal made it into the White Paper in the first place; especially given how much attention it was guaranteed to grab.  Was it just to keep Harman happy?  Was it in keeping with the spirit of consultation documents?  Or was Brown testing the water for how far he could go with a class-based attack on the Tories?  CoffeeHousers, your thoughts please…

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