Much discussion of Michael Howard's credo, published at great expense in the Times and, apparently, sent out by email to 100,000 members of the Conservative party, each of whom was apparently encouraged to pass it on to a further ten friends. Leaving aside our surprise that the Conservative Party has 100,000 members each of whom can receive email, and any tendency to recoil from this policy Ponzi scheme, we move on to the accusations of plagiarism made by the Mirror and the Guardian, apparently based on a similarity observed between one of the Michael Howard statements and one made by philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1941. The Guardian describes the Howard statements as `an almost exact replica' of Rockefeller's, on which basis we'd expect there to be a one-to-one correspondence between Howard's and Rockefeller's beliefs.
Well, there isn't one. You can read the Rockefeller statements; Howard's are -- apparently -- not on the Conservative website, but are linked to above. This tableau presents the two lots side by side; I've reordered the statements to show any correspondence which exists -- in a thematic sense, since as you'll see there is no similarity of construction whatever between the two sets of statements:
|I believe in the supreme worth of the individual and in his right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.||I believe it is natural for men and women to want health, wealth and happiness for their families and themselves.|
|I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.||I believe there is no freedom without responsibility. It is our duty to look after those who cannot help themselves.|
|I believe that the law was made for man and not man for the law; that government is the servant of the people and not their master.||
I believe that the people should be big. That the state should be small.
I believe red tape, bureaucracy, regulations, inspectorates, commissions, quangos, `czars', `units' and `targets' came to help and protect us, but now we need protection from them. Armies of interferers don't contribute to human happiness.
|I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.||
I believe that people must have every opportunity to fulfil their potential.
I believe in equality of opportunity. Injustice makes us angry.
|I believe that thrift is essential to well ordered living and that economy is a prime requisite of a sound financial structure, whether in government, business or personal affairs.||n/a|
|I believe that truth and justice are fundamental to an enduring social order.||n/a|
|I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man's word should be as good as his bond, that character -- not wealth or power or position -- is of supreme worth.||n/a|
|I believe that the rendering of useful service is the common duty of mankind and that only in the purifying fire of sacrifice is the dross of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.||I believe it is the duty of every politician to serve the people by removing the obstacles in the way of these ambitions.|
|I believe in an all-wise and all-loving God, named by whatever name, and that the individual's highest fulfillment, greatest happiness and widest usefulness are to be found in living in harmony with His will.||n/a|
|I believe that love is the greatest thing in the world; that it alone can overcome hate; that right can and will triumph over might.||n/a|
|n/a||I believe every parent wants their child to have a better education than they had.|
|n/a||I believe every child wants security for their parents in their old age.|
|n/a||I do not believe that one person's poverty is caused by another's wealth.|
|n/a||I do not believe that one person's ignorance is caused by another's knowledge and education.|
|n/a||I do not believe that one person's sickness is made worse by another's health.|
|n/a||I believe the British people are only happy when they are free.|
|n/a||I believe that Britain should defend her freedom at any time, against all comers, however mighty.|
|n/a||I believe that by good fortune, hard work, natural talent and rich diversity, these islands are home to a great people with a noble past and exciting future.|
The notion that Howard's statements are plagiarised from Rockefeller's is ludicrous. About the closest similarity is that both contain lots of sentences which begin `I believe', and even then Howard has broken free from the constraints of the form by `not believ[ing]' in various things too. There isn't even a strong thematic correspondence between the two sets; while Rockefeller is concerned with antique notions of social justice -- love, religion, the sanctity of contracts and the purity of thrift -- Howard is much more concerned with economics and public services, talking about poverty, pensions, healthcare, and so forth.
Of course, none of this subtracts from the point that Howard's statements are repetitive and mostly pretty banal. Many others have said the same; I think the person who expressed it best was Matthew Parris, who pointed out that you can discard any statements of this type if the opposite is so ridiculous as to be unthinkable. So, for instance,
I believe it is the duty of every politician to serve the people by removing the obstacles in the way of these [health, wealth and happiness] ambitions.
is perfectly reasonable, but also superfluous, since any of the antonyms of the above statement are absurd:
I believe it is not the duty of politicians to serve the people by removing the obstacles in the way of these ambitions.
Equally stating that,
I believe the British people are only happy when they are free.
is pointless, given that,
I believe the British people can be happy without being free.
is not a description of a policy which is likely to win him any votes.
By contrast, some of the statements are silly rather than meaningless. For instance,
I do not believe that one person's poverty is caused by another's wealth.
means nothing unless he names the one person. (`I do not believe that the poverty of Mr. J. Bloggs of 323 High Street, Nether Wallop, Borsetshire is caused by another's wealth.') Equally, it's obviously true that there do exist people who have been made poor by others who have used their wealth to do so, but that's not really what Howard's getting it. The point is actually about the question of whether measurements of absolute or of relative wealth should inform government economic policy. While an important question, it's not original and it hardly takes a two-page advert in The Times to remind people that the Conservatives don't, generally, believe that wealth inequality is an important issue.
Others have pointed out that,
I believe that Britain should defend her freedom at any time, against all comers, however mighty.
is an odd statement. You can read anything you want into it; Phil Hunt speculated, rather ridiculously, that the `mighty all comer' is the United States, which is absurd. This statement is presumably in fact intended to convey scepticism about European law; the troubling might is bureaucratic, rather than military, which is for the best. Again, we don't need newspaper advertisements to tell us that Conservatives don't much like the European Union.
To be honest, Howard may as well have just told us that he's in favour of good things and against bad things. This would have taken up less space in the newspaper, too.