Friday, 19 November 2010

Breaking Harman's Law

The telegraph has reported that Theresa May will announce the dumping of the clause - the so-called Harman's Law - that required public bodies to work towards reducing economic inequality:
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, will say today that the Government is axing the measure, which had been dubbed “socialism in one clause”.

A ‘socio-economic duty’ on public bodies was written into the Equality Act by the then-Equalities minister Harriet Harman earlier this year.

However the duty – dubbed “Harman’s Law” - was never enacted, and the Coalition had been reviewing the measure.

Ministers have now decided not to enact it and will look at ways to repeal the measure. (1)
I'm struggling to see what was so terrible about 'Harman's Law,' to be honest:
Education authorities would have had to encourage parents from poor backgrounds to apply for successful schools in their area.

Regional development agencies could also have changed criteria for grants so that bids from deprived areas were more likely to succeed. Health bodies would have had to spend some of their budget in areas with the worse health records.

Mrs May will warn that the measure could have meant public spending was “permanently” focused on deprived parts of the country.
I mean, fuck me, money being spent where it was needed and people being encouraged to aim high for their kids. Shocking stuff. Revolutionary. No wonder the we're going to Hell in a handcart.

Up goes the predictable response that this is the "Nanny state" at its worst, a phrase which has achieved the tiredness of "Political correctness" in record time. Both are trite shibboleths lobbed from the right at anything the lobber don't like to curtail the need for further argument or - heavens! - any further thinking on an issue.

Ne'er-the-less the underlying problems would appear to exist, not matter how the Mail or the Telegraph bay. Empty blather doesn't make problems go away.

Most opposition comes from a sort of reversed sense of grievance, the increasingly shrill squealing of the whiny aspirant middle-classes, who protest at the state spending THEIR taxes on the great unwashed herd of stinking proles and sub-proles while the while affluent areas simply have to stump up more and more and get nothing in return. Really? Apart from the obvious and concrete returns that more affluent areas get from the public purse, there are the (possibly more important) social benefits from targeting limited funds where they're needed.

May's claims about 'Harman's law' is just talking hysterical flap, a tabloid tinged bullcrapfest.

As for the wider points raised - the issues that prompted the law to be drafted in the first place - they haven't gone away. 'Harman's Law' was never intended to "solve a problem as complex as inequality in one legal clause" as May is quoted. It was intended to write into law the social obligation of public bodies, which is sane and sensible. Isn't that rather the point of public bodies?

If they're prime motivation is going to be economic, then why are they public institutions? They could be privatised and left to get on with it. In fact, if the state isn't going to concern itself with issues beyond the mere accruing of profits, why not privatise the whole state? We could all have a share, and instead of elections we could have AGMs where the new CEO could be chosen and a board elected.

I suspect the real reason for dumping Harman's Law is pragamtic - the years to come are going to see a lot of inequality, an d a lot of it will be driven by political ideology and laws emanating from the office currently heald by Ms May. The government, I suspect, is seeking to free itself from a tricky legal encumberance before it gets down to the real work in hand.
1 - "Theresa May axes Harman's Law," BY Christopher Hope. Published in The Telegraph, 17th of Novemeber, 2010. (

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