Our rights are protected. It’s time for Labour to emphasise our responsibilities

by John Slinger

In a 2002 Observer article Tony Blair set out the theme of “rights and responsibilities”. He sought to expose the inadequacies of what he termed the left’s “1945 ‘big state’ that wrongly believed it could solve every social problem” and the right’s “narrow, selfish individualism of the 1980s”. For Blair, responsibilities were concomitant with rights. Admirable people and organisations, from MPs to QCs, Amnesty to Liberty, the CAB to the EU, have ensured that rights are now well-defined and defended. We must remain vigilant about rights, but now it’s time to foster a “responsibilities culture.”

The culture of rights, fought for by philosophers, politicians and ordinary people throughout history has advanced human happiness, security and economic prosperity. It achieved this by imbuing individuals with rights by virtue of being human, not as gifts of God or the state.

Responsibilities should be given this irreducible, non-negotiable status. “I know my rights” is the unacceptable face of rightsism. The responsibilities agenda has historically been directed at the poor rather than the better-off, when in fact it is a universal imperative. In the future, it would be good to hear more of, “I know my responsibilities”, from citizens, companies and organisations throughout society and the economy.

Here are a few areas where the responsibilities revolution could take effect:


We are required to by the law to obey its strictures. However, we each have a moral responsibility to avoid illegal behaviour. Our criminal justice system would be much less necessary if people accepted the not unreasonable responsibility to desist from harming others. We should spend less time trying to understand the “causes” of crime and more on instilling a sense of respect for others and ensuring that violators fear the law and wider community. The challenge is huge: despite crime apparently falling, the Met reported last week that violent crime in London is up 25 per on last year.


This week, several hospitals declared major incidents due to A&E over-crowding. NHS England’s Professor Keith Willett has previously said that between 15 and 30 per cent of people presenting at A&E do not need actually need to be there. Andy Burnham is right to blame cuts to social care, problems with the 111 system, and insufficient GP capacity, but individuals share a responsibility to help the NHS work effectively. While the NHS must treat all ailments compassionately, we must overcome our British reticence about the “nanny state” and more actively encourage people to change their lifestyles in order to prevent medical conditions. Gastric band surgery may be cost-effective compared to treating the long-term conditions caused by obesity, but not becoming obese in the first place would be better for individuals, the NHS and economy. Labour’s public health agenda can, in government, do more to assist individuals to lead healthier lives.


Governments must cease holding teachers entirely responsible for tackling deep-set societal problems. Parents should be made far more aware that it is their responsibility to send children to school with respect for staff, a thirst for learning and with good behaviour. A national Parental Responsibility Code could be brought in.

Volunteering/active citizenship

We need more school governors, more parents able to run sports or music clubs, more Special Constables, more philanthropy, more social activism. Citizens taking on these responsibilities shouldn’t be regarded as the exception, but the norm. Empowered, active citizens of all social classes and backgrounds should feel that they are community leaders, that they are responsible for maintaining high standards within their communities. They shouldn’t require permission from sometimes moribund councils or “the authorities”. Employers could be required to allow employees time off to volunteer, just as with armed forces reservists.


False idols like Russell Brand and other prophets of apathy and cynicism fill a vacuum created by mainstream politicians. Yet the blame isn’t politicians’ alone and must be shared with the media and public. People often say that politicians are (delete as appropriate) “all the same/corrupt/don’t listen/are lining their pockets”. These are false statements. We each have a responsibility to use the political system to change our country for the better, including, if necessary, the constitution. People can vote, join a political party or even create their own –nobody stopped Mr Farage.

Unlike our Tory and Lib Dem opponents, we in the Labour Party believe in the power and responsibility of the state to do this. Take the Tories’ Big Society agenda which focused exclusively individual and charitable action because of their ideological antipathy to an active state. It is no good proclaiming the virtues of active citizenship if you’re slashing local and national government spending. People can only volunteer in their communities if their jobs don’t require them to work all hours and if communities, through local councils, have the buildings, the playing fields in which clubs can flourish.

Only Labour can usher in a responsibilities revolution, because we can set out how the state’s responsibilities can nurture those of individuals and vice versa. Unlike our opponents, we see an enabling state working in partnership with individuals and communities to help create a fairer, more prosperous Britain.

As J. F. Kennedy didn’t quite say:

“Ask not which rights your country can protect for you, but ask instead what responsibilities you have to yourself, your community and your country”.

John Slinger is a strategic communications consultant and Chair of Pragmatic Radicalism. He blogs here http://slingerblog.blogspot.com

Tags: , , , , , ,

10 Responses to “Our rights are protected. It’s time for Labour to emphasise our responsibilities”

  1. Tafia says:

    “all the same/corrupt/don’t listen/are lining their pockets”. These are false statements.

    No they aren’t false. Politician’s pay should be linked as a multiple of the minimum wage – not the average wage, the minimum. They should have the same pension plan as has been visited on the private sector workers – for the large part, sort it out yourself. laws that affect the land must also affect Westminster – such as the smoking ban. Every penny of their expenses must be transparent and accounted for with receipts. They must not be allowed to buy second homes – rent only, and only if their constituency is outside the M25 belt, and their primary home must be in their constituency with their second home rented somewhere in London, of a size suitable to accommodate them – ie a two bed flat, and must not be owned by another MP or elected official or their family. And they have got to stop putting family members on their own and each other’s payrolls.

    And all this ‘it has to be like that to attract the right people’ is laughable – most of them are a totally pointless waste of space that if al-Queda were to zaop, wouldn’t actually be missed.

    If MPs don’t want the very well deserved slagging-off, ridicule and abuse they attract, then start living the way we think you should behave and not the way you think.

    I know three MPs and 1 ex-MP. With one exception (which has nothing to do with politics) I wouldn’t piss on any of them if they were lying in a gutter burning. Might stop to tweet a piccie though.

  2. swatantra says:

    I’ve been saying for some time that if the HRA is to be reformed, then it should be renamed the Human Rights and Responsibilities Act, and that goes for the European Convention or any other UN Charter. And the Responsibilities must be written in.
    Thats the co-operative way, about sharing, about understanding others.

  3. John P Reid says:

    Violent crime, is one of those that it’s almost impossible for police not to spot, where councils during the Olypmics moved families from the East end t pouter london and they brought their anti social behaviour with them ( Labour councillors words not mine) with no neighbourhood police to spot it it went unnoticed, drug dealing, kicking over fences, that was put down as wear and tear,18 years atg op olive were told get the clear up rates up, and take domestic abuse more serious, but with the exception of police cautioning people at domestics, who could have been told to calm down, a drunk row in a flat, or one outside a pub, and ignoring it now,the only sort of unresolved alleged assault is sexual assault when it goes to court it’s one persons word against anothers, if theres a Aquittal and in that case if the alleged victim isn’t found to have been a victim, then the assault didn’t tale place, in instances where a rape is alleged and there’s no perpetrator to have been caught, then the DPP has to judge balance of probabilities where a assault took place, thers a few instances of violent assault being faked but that’s it,

  4. John P Reid says:

    Th big society wasn’t an alternative to the state,it was an additional presence to help it, ,which was part of abeveridge idea, and No different to what Bevan /Gaitskell had in mind for the NHS in the 50’s or blue labour, aren’t St Johns Ambulance, police cadets, the Territiral army,or church groups, like the Scouts ,boys brigade, any different,
    Dint schools, have school govnors, jumble sales, Christmas fairs,
    There were food banks under labour, citizens advice bureaus, the list is endless.

  5. 07052015 says:

    Strongly agree with this.

    There are always consequences to any action or deed so no right exists in a vacuum.

    I would also add -the right to free speech needs the responsibility of tolerance and mutual respect .

    The right to become filthy rich requires the responsibility to pay your taxes (as stated by lord mandelson) not to hide your money in a trust under an assumed name on a small caribbean island .Ditto those who pay less than they should by paying them in dividends,thru companies or as capital gains.

  6. james says:

    Errr – Shouldn’t Labour itself be taking more responsibility first. In leaflet after leaflet from 2010 to 2013 they were anti-austerity then said they weren’t. On their latest health campaign they go on about `A&E crisis` forgetting their own in Wales without putting forward broader arguments that you rightly pinpoint here.

    Until Labour becomes more responsible then it can’t take on this new agenda.

  7. Landless Peasant says:

    Fuck off. The State owes us a living and don’t any of you ever forget it.

  8. Madasafish says:

    The State owes us a living and don’t any of you ever forget it.”

    I’ve heard that before..from people who accepted no responsibilities and contributed nothing. Risible as usual.

    Most of them are now Greens.. voting for a Party determined to bankrupt the country if their policies were followed.

    See their track record in Brighton when reality meets doctrine.

  9. Robert says:

    I am not sure about this approach. Nearly of all the responsibilities mentioned are admirable but how can they be enforced?

  10. John P Reid says:

    The ched evans case showed that, there are hypocrites in the understanding the criminal(violator),as a victim,

    If a kid from A east End estate fell in with a bad crowd, dealt drugs, killed someone, when he got out, the elite would say, it wasn’t his fault, he should be rehabilitate ted and given another chance, if the only 2 jobs he could do, we’re being a promising young architect, in 100k a year or stacking shelves in .lidls, and the former jib was deemed for his punishment, he shouldn’t earn so much, the guardian .readers in .islington would be saying it was OK for him to earn so much despite his criminal past, and the state shouldn’t say how much people who’ve served their time, should earn in release , yet they won’t let Evan go back to work, after he’s had his ounismphment of prison, yet the push for more laws to defend victims, always results ,in those laws being used for the wrong reason.

    We should be sceptical of new laws even if they’re supposed to help, The way laws introduced to make Black peoples lives easier, will be turned to be used against them, the first 3 people arrested under the 1969 Inciting racist violence/Hatred act were all Black, I find it hard to believe that the first incidents of racist violence hatred post 1969 were by black people but Michael X was the first to go to prison for saying If you see a white Man with a black Woman(girlfriend) shoot him. At the same time laws that were introduced to make police more accountable like voluntary stop and Account forms, are wrongly suggested to be like stop and search forms compulsory if police stop someone, and where the police have to account for their actions they’re portrayed too make out the police are snooping using anti terror laws

Leave a Reply