(with apologies for my long absence from the blogosphere) (and also to international readers – this is very UK focused)

Who’d be Chancellor of the Exchequer right now? I may be in a minority, but I do find myself empathising with the several dilemmas George Osborne faces. As the government tries to steer a course through the competing priorities of the two parties, the various electoral promises and the future vote calculations, it can’t be fun trying to work out where to dole out the pain.

Six lean years face us in the UK (at least). Well, that’s one less than the famine in Egypt which Joseph predicted, though I wouldn’t bet against it getting extended. The problem is that we didn’t have a Joseph turning up at the beginning of the fat years now passed, telling us what was going to happen. Or at least, not one that anyone listened to. So we didn’t store up our surplus; instead, we enjoyed it. And more too.

It’s easy (or at least easier) to act ethically when things are going well. It’s times like we’re living through now that really test. When there isn’t much to go round, real core values are exposed by the retreating tide. Money and mouth are in the same place, because there’s no alternative.

So – don’t be a low paid public sector worker, seems to be the clearest message. Two year’ pay freeze already, increases of 1% for the next two years, way below inflation, plus the changes to pensions, plus multiple reductions to tax credits for low paid workers and for children. Oh, and national pay bargaining goes over the next year or two as well.

In a democratic society, there are two clear tests which a government must pass if it is to demonstrate that it is acting justly. The temptation of any system of power is to play the system to increase your power, rather than to use your power for the benefit of the members of the system. In a democracy, you do that by pandering to prejudice, and rewarding your supporters. So the tests are these:

  • Are our policies equally just towards those people no-one cares about much?
  • Are our policies equally just towards those people who still won’t vote for us?

No-one’s expecting much joy from the Chancellor at the moment, but we can still demand justice. I’m sure the coalition would argue that that’s what we’re getting. But if 100,000 more children are going to fall into poverty over the next few years because of the cuts, I’d like to see more evidence of where there’s a vision of social justice lying behind them.