Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Red Lines

In a really rather good article by David Aaronovitch (not a sentence I write often), he quotes Alan Bennett as saying, “I don’t claim to know how higher education should be paid for; all I know is that it’s morally wrong to expect students to get into debt.”

Everyone interested in politics has 'lines-in-the-sand', particular areas of policy where they will absolutely refuse to support particular courses of action. Some of the most difficult times for any politician is when the party they support adopts policies which cross these lines, or when two different principles come into conflict. For example, in Oxford, council tenants decided that they wanted to continue to have the council as their landlord, rather than a housing association. In situations like this, I think that going against the clearly expressed wish of people about who their landlord should be is a no-no. But the only way to make this possible was to agree to sell off a few council properties each year to help fund the improvements to meet the Decent Home Standard. In this case, the principle of abiding by tenants' wishes and the principle of never supporting any reduction in the number of council houses in the area were directly incompatible.

One of the 'nice' things about being a local councillor or other kind of elected politician is discovering these kinds of dilemmas. I'd be interested in hearing about what 'red lines' other Labour supporters have - what are the issues which you feel so strongly about that nothing could persuade you to support anything that goes against them.

For what it's worth, my lines-in-the-sand are around discrimination against people on grounds of age, sexuality, gender, ethnicity or income. I used to have an absolute opposition to privatising public services, but while I still think privatisation is usually a bad thing, I've encountered cases where it is the least worst option, the same goes for fighting wars. But for all that I don't agree with tuition or top-up fees, I can't agree with Alan Bennett that it is morally wrong for students to have to get into debt.


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