Scotland Disses Theresa May by Reviving Anti-Inequality Law She Loathes

Scotland has taken upon itself to back a measure passed by Labour that new Prime Minster Theresa May is ignoring, even though, as I read it, it is currently standing law. From the Scotland Herald (hat tip Phil U):

SNP ministers are set to reverse one of Theresa May’s key legacies by imposing a legal duty on public bodies to test their policies against their impact on reducing inequality.

The new Prime Minister, shortly after she became Home Secretary, branded legislation passed by Labour in the dying days of Gordon Brown’s government “ridiculous” and refused to implement it, saying it would be scrapped “for good”.

However, it is to be resurrected by the Scottish Government, with the administration confirming a commitment to reintroduce the so-called socio-economic duty north of the border during the current Holyrood term.

The law, part of the Equality Act, sets out a legal duty on key public bodies, including government and local authorities, to ensure they consider the impact that their strategic decisions will have on narrowing class inequalities.

Ms May has attacked the proposal, championed by former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, as “ridiculous as it was simplistic”, saying it was better to pursue “equality of opportunity” rather than “equality of outcome”.

This requirement seems like a nifty idea. It does not require that legislation address inequality, merely that government offices assess the impact of what they are doing in terms of lowering inequality. This does not require them to do anything differently, but does shed light on that aspect of their operations, which in turn opens it up to public debate and the possibility of the legislature intervening if it does not like the results, or if the policies are revealed to be producing unintended bad consequences.

It’s also telling that such a mild challenge to neoliberal orthodoxy elicited such a vehement reaction from May. If you had any doubts about her bona fides as a neo-Thatcherite, this should settle them. And the SNP jumped on that issue. From the story:

A party spokesman said: “The fact that the new Prime Minister called a policy aimed at reducing inequality ‘ridiculous’ shows exactly where her priorities lie – and raises questions about how serious she is in her comments of recent days about tackling inequality.

Given that Scotland is taking up this idea, it’s fair game as a policy demand in the US, particularly since the Scottish initiative can be improved upon as they gain experience. Oh, wait, the US is exceptional, so we don’t learn from the experience of other countries, like the success of single payer. Silly me. Never mind.

Separately, and I’d be curious to get the reaction of readers in the UK, there seems to be a tit-for-tat dynamic developing between May and foreign leaders on multiple fronts, which looks in large measure to be Brexit being seen as tantamount to a declaration of war. Admittedly, May started with the shocker of appointing Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, which was followed by Nicola Sturgeon arguing she had a veto over Brexit (which appears to be an inaccurate reading), and the EU appointing very seasoned negotiators: Didier Seeuws by the European Council, and Michel Barnier by the European Commission. As we wrote, UK officials reacted to Barnier’s designation with dismay, since he’s been a torn in the banks’ side in post-crisis regulatory talks. So it will take a lot of work to get Brexit talks on a constructive footing, particularly since the initial gambits look to be increasing animosity.

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  1. low intefer

    Ms May has attacked the proposal, championed by former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, as “ridiculous as it was simplistic”, saying it was better to pursue “equality of opportunity” rather than “equality of outcome”.

    Wow. This is right on cue after the discussions over the last few days on competition and “winner take all” systems. In light of the insights shared by the NC commentariat, May’s statement just looks so cynical, contemptuous, and dishonest.

    Adding: Oops, I misspelled (misspelt?) my own handle. Ha!

    1. Synoia

      May’s statement just looks so cynical, contemptuous, and dishonest.

      Well that’s a pretty good assessment of the English ruling class.

  2. Clive

    Yes, there’s a growing tit-for-tat list. The Hinkley Point C new EPR type reactor builds were put on “review” in such a way as to be a slap in the face for the French regardless of what the motivation for the delay was (literally, on the eve of the supposed announcement that it would break ground and contracts were to be signed the next day — my Dad who lives in Somerset just up the river from the site said that the regional police HQ which is down the road from where he lives was on maximum alert and all the patrol cars had been brought into the compound ready to provide a security detail for the big unveiling event which was obviously well planned and due to go ahead the next day with the Great and the Good in attendance; it was a last-minute reversal which made a lot of people look very silly and that was completely avoidable). The whole project is a make-work scheme and I reckon a covert bail out for EDF and several big French contractors such as Areva and so its loss — or at the very least uncertainty — will hurt a lot of French interests.

    Then we have the Dover “blockade” (sorry, “heightened security measures” by the French) (Dover is a key port for English vehicular traffic to and from France and these additional security measures which, while perhaps justifiable, were implemented so ineptly that it can’t help but be seen as a poke in the eye when taken in to account that the timing — right at the start of the long British school holiday break — was about as bad as it could have been and guaranteed maximum inconvenience).

    Also lower key roughing up of the UK in the allocation of EU grant funding for research (and not especially substantiated by real evidence that it is happening on a systematic basis — “reports” that British applicants for grants are already “losing out” doesn’t quite cut it in terms of specifics — but certainly there are some legitimate anecdotals)

    And now, et tu, Scotland ?

    Not, though, that anyone can really blame them.

    1. windsock

      Fair enough analysis, but I think the French aspect of the EDF/Hinkley Point nuclear station was just collateral damage. EDF’s board only approved the project on the day before it was due to be a signed deal. May distrusts everything Osborne did – including his grovelling to China which is uppermost in this project.

      1. Clive

        This was, as they say, a “multifaceted” situation, but May clearly did not give two hoots for France’s interests and there was absolutely no attempts at any sort of diplomacy which was worth the name in how it was handled. You could legitimately call it a snub.

        1. larry

          Yes, you could, Clive. But on May’s side, and I am not, the financing for the project was insane; making the users fund the bloody thing in the end was worse than ridiculous. Having said that, I suspect that that wasn’t the reason she postponed the decision. Nevertheless, it is a positive aspect to the decision and an important one.

          1. Synoia

            Users funded Nuclear in the US. As I remember a levy was applied, applied and applied for years to our bills during construction.

  3. westernworld

    albeit not british as a german i might be a bit closer to things uk than someone following from the states.
    to me boris johnson’s appointment is a purely domestic power move on may’s part writing off any damage it’ll do as a cost of taking care of business.
    just as she axed michael gove to strip him of the kind of access he needs as a behind the scenes party power broker she keeps johnson close to deny him the freedom to not having to own her agenda. the boris would be an absolutley uncalculable risk going off the reservation.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The issue is that while May clearly did conceive of this move as all, or virtually all, about domestic politics, it’s a sign of the UK’s continued dismissive attitude towards the EU that they’d put someone so utterly unsuited to that role in it when the UK is about to embark on Brexit talks. It was seen by Eurocrats as a very provocative move, and proof that the UK assumed it could bully or bluster its way through complex and difficult negotiations. The appointment of David Davies, a lightweight, to the role of chief Brexit negotiator, was more of the same.

      1. westernworld

        absolutely agree, mrs. may will learn the hard way that the indulgence off the british has run its course on the continent, but her life experience and therefor frame of mind are quite different.
        meanwhile back at the ranch life will be a lot easier not having the american poodle around anymore.

      2. windsock

        But the thing is, it is cosmetic. Mrs May has put herself in charge of ALL the Brexit committees. Nothing will occur without her say-so.

        1. larry

          It is probably more than cosmetic. Who is going to be blamed, regardless of who ultimately is in charge, should things go wrong? It is likely to be the Three Musketeers.

      3. larry

        Provocation may be a side effect of a move designed primarily to castrate her opponents in the Brexit campaign to that they will be unable to do any damage to her should she be unable to reach an agreement that suits them, which is highly likely. Davies may be a lightweight, but he is liked and would be listened to were he not saddled with an impossible job, hence not really able to do much if anything to undermine her if she didn’t get it “right”. There are those who have said that these three were put in those particular posts on the grounds that “you got us in this mess, so now fix it” (we have to keep in mind that she was a Remainer). And if they mess it up, she can probably avoid the resulting flack, unless she compounds their errors with her own.

      4. CJ

        I’m willing to bet Brexit doesn’t come about as May, who is sounding more and more of a surprise after her appointment, does not want Brexit to succeed. She may have said she’s pro-Brexit, but I believe she is far from it. I think we have another “iron maiden” on our hands.

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