The Greasy Pole: The Moral Factor?

At last we know. After all the time and cerebral energy expended on looking for the reasons for problems like poverty, homelessness, and crime it has become clear. As we might have expected, the politicians had the answer. At last they have told us. We are suffering from a moral deficit which undermines all the efforts by masses of people of goodwill to build a secure and prosperous society. We should all be grateful about this because it means that morality is likely to be an issue at the general election, which cannot now be long delayed. In the excitement of the hustings we shall be able to debate this desperately important issue and then, it is to be hoped—most of all, by the politicians—we shall give our leaders an overwhelming mandate to lay the foundations for a new morality.

Of course there will be some draw backs in this preoccupation with moral issues. One is that it will focus attention on individuals or groups of people who are open to be labelled as immoral. People like single mothers, who are a perpetual obsession of one prominent Cabinet minister who thinks the women deliberately arranged their pregnancy so that they would have a case for living on one of those nice estates where other immoral people sell drugs, burgle houses, steal cars . . .  People like those who fail to buy a TV licence so that they can legally watch morally sustaining shows like Blind Date. People who try to supplement their Income Support at the local Sainsbury, where Good Food Costs Nothing if you shoplift it.

And while attention is focused in these ways the real issues are overlooked. This is probably very reassuring to the politicians because it saves them from constructing those long, boring election manifestos in which they promise to eliminate all sorts of problems. Now they can narrow it down to one simple issue. It is rather like when they told us the most important thing was to win the war. Except that now the war is against immorality.

So why is there this moral deficit? We may well ask. Why, for example, is society supposed to be in such an uproar when the present government have had 17 years in which to control it? According to Norman Tebbit, the Thatcher government turned Britain from “. . . the sick country of Europe into one of the most successful and respected in the world . . . Our policies have become the standard against which others are measured” (Upwardly Mobile). But now we are told that there is something basically wrong with this successful and respected country. We are told this by Tebbit’s successors in the Tory government and by Labour leaders like Jack Straw and Tony Blair, who obviously fear the Tories have a vote-winning bandwagon, which they are desperate to clamber onto, in the morality issue.

Well the easiest resolution to this is to blame the parents and the teachers, who are now being criticised for not wearing suits (the male teachers) and not wearing shirts (the females). Parents are being condemned for an alleged preoccupation with the business of survival which cripples their influence over their children, who run riot as a consequence. If only they were all like our politicians, who are always so appropriately dressed and who never deceive or betray us.

There is, however, a question to be answered here. If the present generation of teachers and parents are so deficient in their morality that they have little of it to impart to the children, how did they get to be like that? Were their teachers and parents lacking? And if they were, what responsibility for this rests with those who taught and raised them? It does not take long for this line of questioning to bring us back to the times when, it is implied, society operated on a strong moral basis—when everyone knew their place and mostly asked for nothing more than a life in the slums and a death in the workhouse.

If this kind of question begins to make the whole issue of morality look distinctly dodgy, it can be because it is hardly the time for the Tories to produce it in the hope of winning votes. It is not necessary to go into the wearisome catalogue of sleaze for which this government is notable to conclude that we are ruled by one of the most disastrously exposed bunch of wanglers in recent history. Of course much of the exposure has been possible because of the inept way in which the sleaze has been operated—at times almost as bad as the bank robbers leaving their fingerprints on the safe door. Equally inept have been the attempts to protect the sleaze merchants which have so often had the effect of aggravating the government’s problem—and this does not say much for the supposed skill of those people who claim they can effectively run this social system.

The cover-ups and excuses are designed to protect the entire institution of governmentand political leadership. If there are too many examples of MPs and ministers breaking the rules to line their own pockets there may be a reluctance by the voters to trust them. In fact, voters trust their leaders in face of a mass of evidence which should dissuade them. For example, the recent release of government documents relatingto 1956 has finally confirmed what was obvious—but always vehemently denied—about the Suez war in that year. It has always been clear that the invasion of Egypt was justified by a series of official lies. At the time the excuse for the landings was the separation of the Israeli and Egyptian armies when in fact the Israeli attack was planned in conjunction with the British and French governments, to give them an excuse for landing in Egypt. At the time the House of Commons was assured by the British Prime Minister—elegant, handsome Old Etonian Anthony Eden—that no such collusion had taken place. Eden lied, which no MP, let alone an Old Etonian, let alone a Prime Minister, is supposed to do. So they fitted him up with a peerage and a nice house in the West Indies.

And what are we to say about the morality of the present bunch of political leaders? About John Major’s pose as the nice guy? About Tony Blair’s waffle about Britain’s future under a Labour government? About the morality of the whole, persistent deception that these people can organise capitalism so that it can exist without poverty, homelessness, crime. About the morality of them turning when they are exposed, on vulnerable groups in the hope of winning a few votes from the more bewildered and despairing among the electorate?