There are people on the right who accuse the left of thinking that things have to be done either under a government aegis or not at all – that official, state reality is the only reality that matters, whereas actually normal life carries on informally under the bureaucratic and ministerial radar.
On the other hand, though, there’s an equivalent, opposing blind spot that many of the same right-wingers have.
Today, Harriet Harman is plugging positive discrimination – letting employers prefer female or ethnic-minority candidates ‘of equal ability’. I’m a bit doubtful about this (declaration of interest: I’m a white man), but what occurs to me is this:
When the commentators of the right leap in to criticise this, many will be ignoring the unmeasured, unofficial, informal discrimination that goes the other way, and that policies like this are intended to counter.
It is ludicrous, as ludicrous as thinking that all good flows from the state, to think that all restrictions on freedom and opportunity come from the state. I doubt anybody actually believes either of these things, but all too many often talk – and make policy – as if they did.
Relatedly, Richard Reeves has an interesting piece out: “Cameronism is… critical of state initiatives to solve underlying social problems, lambasting Labour for nationalising social problems. … Cameron is quite right that Labour is very often guilty of a knee-jerk statism, but he is equally at risk of following an unthinking anti-statism.”
A lot of the reason that I dislike (Cameronite) conservatism comes out when I hear talk about “the economy”, “the state” and “society” as if they’re utterly distinct entities with pretty straightforward relationships: Thatcher fixed the economy by rolling back the state, and now Labour’s overuse of the state has broken society (the society–economy link appears to depend on which party growth happens under). But the three have intimate and complex interconnections.