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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 15-Jan-08


Tuesday 15-January-08

Famously fair

Today, I spoke with the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom. You know, the chap that lives next door to the prime minister and manages the budget of UK plc. So perhaps you'll forgive me if I seem a bit smug.

I'm a fellow of the RSA, which puts on some pretty damn good lectures in London, and when I saw that Alistair Darling was speaking, I thought I'd pop along. It was late morning so I had an early lunch break and got a seat near the front.

The talk wasn't that exciting. He spoke about the need for fairness and a balanced society and the difficulty and necessity of paying for it all. Then it was time for questions. I got my hand up early and was lucky enough to be selected:

"David Straker, Changing Minds. Fairness is very human construct. What changes have you seen in what is considered to be fair and unfair?"

Note the reference to the changingminds site. You have to take your opportunities.

It was an easy question that could have been answered interestingly. As it was, he just reiterated his view about fairness, which was centred on equal opportunities for all. Oh well, he is a politician. Matthew Taylor, the chairman of the RSA and who was hosting the session, seemed to like the question and asked about procedural fairness, which moves into the domain of justice, but the Chancellor didn't take the bait.

Fairness is an interesting notion and is indeed a very variable thing. It is a social construct and what we think is fair is often related to what others have, so the Chancellor was right to talk about equality. As well as opportunity for growth and actualisation is fairness in terms of basic needs, such as food and shelter. This leaks into questions of international fairness -- is it fair, for example, that I eat well every day when there are many around the world who eat meagrely at best.

Fairness is also a very political thing. Laws should be the very embodiment of fairness and enactment of the law a process of assurance, making sure that we treat each other fairly.

So. I got stimulated and my ego stroked. Not bad for a Tuesday.

Coda: On the following day I returned to see John Denham, Minister for Innovation, Universities and Skills. I got to ask a question there too. When so many people cannot ask a short question, I think Matthew Taylor (who selects from the anxiously raised hands) is beginning to recognise me and that I play the game, asking short, clear questions.

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