Former Tory leader Iain Duncan-Smith’s interview proves that he tends to say the right things, if not necessarily ground-breaking ones.
As I was ticking my imaginary boxes, he said that a Corbyn government would destroy Britain [tick], that the Labour lead in the polls is a temporary blip caused by Tory ineptitude over Brexit [tick, a hopeful one], that under no circumstances should the Tories contest the EU elections [tick], that Theresa May should go [tick, a big fat one], that Tories must deliver Brexit in one form or another [tick, a qualified one], that marginal pro-Leave parties may siphon off enough votes from the Tories to let Corbyn in [tick].
And then, as my mental pen was running out of ink, he used a term that has the same effect on me that the word ‘culture’ reputedly had on Dr Goebbels: social justice, something to which the Tories are devoted, and no one should forget that.
One would hope that a major politician would know how to use words in their real, as opposed to bogus, meaning. Alas, that hope is guaranteed to be forlorn.
Political words are these days never used in their true meaning – unless you think that ‘liberal’ really means increasing the power of the individual vis-à-vis the state; ‘conservative’ has anything to do with the Conservative Party; or Labour are indeed out to protect the rights of the working man.
Political vocabulary resides in the virtual world. In the actual world, justice means getting one’s due, what one deserves – as often distinct from what one desires.
Thus, though I’d like to be half a foot taller, I don’t think it’s unjust that I am not: I’ve done nothing to deserve the extra six inches. Conversely, I’d like to have a billion pounds, but I’m sure it’s just that I haven’t: I’ve never pursued money with sufficient dedication.
Justice is also another word for the law, which too is supposed to ensure that each individual gets what he deserves, conviction or acquittal, punishment or mercy. So far, so clear.
But what does ‘social justice’ mean, especially when uttered by a government official? This is yet another instance when a term is used in the exact opposite of its real meaning. For in this context ‘social justice’ means ‘social injustice’: people getting what they desire but don’t deserve.
This isn’t an argument against the welfare state – not because such an argument wouldn’t be valid, but because in this context it’s irrelevant. It’s language that concerns me now.
Forcible redistribution of wealth by the state (which is what its servants mean by social justice) may be right or wrong, merciful or corrupting, useful or useless, productive or counterproductive.
One thing it can’t be under any circumstances is just: those whose wealth is redistributed do nothing to deserve expropriation; many of those towards whom the wealth is redistributed do nothing to deserve such largesse.
In fact, if true social justice operated in Britain, millions of welfare recipients who now live in decent lodgings, eat three squares a day and have enough left over for a few pints, tattoos and a pair of designer trainers would be starving in the street.
By reaffirming his party’s commitment to social justice, Mr Duncan Smith in fact re-establishes its socialist credentials – as if we needed a reminder. Again, I’m not arguing pro or con. I’m simply upset about the gross lexical solecism.
P.S. So upset do I get about such matters that at times it’s best to forget about them and focus on the beauty of nature instead.
Driving through the gently undulating countryside of rural France the other day, I was happy to see violently lurid yellow patches breaking up the soporific monotony of green fields. As if by itself, drifting in from the crisp, scented air, a question floated into my mind: Is it rape or rape that’s in season?