First, do no harm: put all of us first

Does a policy or proposal or piece of legislation put All of Us First?

The Commonweal‘s slogan is catchy, simple and profound. It captures in a nutshell so much about what is wrong with our current systems of politics.

  • It covers economics: when wealth flows up rather than trickling down, the people at the Top are without a doubt First.
  • It covers gender inequality: just look at a packed house in Westminster and try to convince yourself Men do not still come First in the UK (then look at the statistics).
  • It covers race/ethnicity/colour: see previous point (and these stats) and make that ‘Privileged White Men’ coming First.
  • It covers inclusion and discrimination: whether based on ability, class, sexuality or anything else.

All Of Us First means ALL OF US!

A first step in doing no harm then, is recognising who WE are. Who is All Of Us? If we cannot see this clearly, if there are people and groups we are simply unaware of then how can we assess if a policy is doing, or will do, no harm? It could be causing people we cannot see yet great distress, but working just great within our own field of vision.

The treatment of minorities is often considered the measure of a modern democratic state. It is easy to elect a majority party, but it is much harder to govern in the interests of everyone. Inclusion is not a trendy word to stamp on a party manifesto, it is a nitty gritty tedious and at times frustrating process (on both sides) of making sure there is adequate participation and representation in the policy development process.

Inclusion in the process is a step in the right direction, but we also need to ask ‘how’ are we/they included? Do we/they speak for our/themselves? Or do we/they still ask: “do they take sugar?” Is consultation tokenistic or meaningful? And who represents a minority group? People from minority groups are not clones of each other, there is diversity, and dispute, and discrimination, within minority and marginalised groups too.

In thinking some more about inclusion and the relationship between people and policy makers, and whether we ourselves are putting All Of Us First, it can be helpful to consider the themes of Participation, Voice and Agency.