Posts Tagged ‘morality’

Europe is a bystander to human tragedy, yet again

20/02/2015, 06:00:50 PM

by Ranjit Sidhu

A few weeks ago, at the 70th year commemoration of Auschwitz, Roman Kent, a survivor of the Holocaust made a speech about his fear, that we again become bystanders to tragic events.  With tears in his eyes, he said,

“When I think of the holocaust as I often do …I think of the righteous gentiles who endangered their own lives, and their families to save the life of a stranger…We must ALL be involved and stay involved, no one, no one ever should be a spectator, I feel so strongly about this point that if I had the power I would add a 11th commandment to the universally accepted 10 commandments, you should never, never be a bystander.”

The indifference of those around them is both the most haunting refrain of many holocaust survivors and also the most pressing warning for the future. Elie Wiesel, the writer of Nightin 1999 said,

“…to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman… Indifference is not a response for it benefits the aggressor — never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten.”

Elie Wiesel in the same speech went on to mention the totemic event of indifference to the plight of the Jews in Europe before the Second World War started, The Voyage of the St Louis,

“Sixty years ago, its human cargo — maybe 1,000 Jews — was turned back to Nazi Germany. And that happened after the Kristallnacht, after the first state sponsored pogrom, with hundreds of Jewish shops destroyed, synagogues burned, thousands of people put in concentration camps. And that ship, which was already on the shores of the United States, was sent back.”

The St Louis was not an isolated event, many ships full with Jews fleeing the rise of Nazism were turned back in 1938 to 1939 be it from the UK, US or Denmark or the then colonially controlled Middle East and Africa.

Looking back now, with 76 years passed, we can look back in shame how the world was a bystander to those fleeing Europe and genocide.


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

14/01/2015, 09:22:21 AM

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.


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Moral reform: what it should mean for Labour

26/09/2012, 10:08:14 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The moral reform that I see as vital to Labour would not abandon the traditions of mechanical reform that politicians like Roy Hattersley upheld. It would, however, recognise and adapt to the limitations of this mechanical approach. Matthew Taylor’s concept of pro-social behaviour and Marc Stears’ of active equality could be crucial to this adaptation.

But what is not needed is preachy piety. Moral reform might conjure notions of Labour politicians reaching for self-appointed hallows and demanding that others do as they say. There may be latter day Beatrice and Sidney Webbs who think they know best what people really want. This isn’t how I see Labour’s future. Nor I do hanker for my political leadership to come from the “moral arbiter of the nation”.

I do, though, think it matters that parents support their children in doing their homework and take seriously their other family responsibilities; that we take sufficient exercise and eat well enough to be physically well; that we take the actions needed to be mentally well; that we take up employment when we are physically and mentally able to do so; that instead of littering we reuse and recycle where possible; and that we avoid anti-social behaviour and destructive drink and drug taking.

It matters, in sum, that we adopt pro-social behaviour, which might be thought of as behaviour that minimises or eliminates where possible the social costs of our behaviour (“the negative externalities”) and maximises the social benefits (“the positive externalities”). The blunt truth is that we will not have the thriving schools or safer neighbourhoods or any of the things that voters say they want until more of these voters or citizens themselves behave pro-socially and become the change that they profess to want.

To recognise the responsibilities that we all have to build change is not to extricate the state of its responsibilities. Roy Hattersley noted Douglas Alexander’s praise for the minimum wage when reviewing The Purple Book, while claiming that the minimum wage is “a product of the ‘heavy-handed centralist approach’ that many other contributors to The Purple Book excoriate”. But would any of these contributors favour the abandonment of the minimum wage?


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Labour needs to stop moralising about tax

02/08/2012, 07:00:40 AM

by Peter Watt

Is paying tax a moral duty?  It is the sort of question that has those on the left and right frothing at the mouth.

The question has recently come to the fore once again with row after row over tax avoidance by some of the rich and famous.  On the face of it the case is obvious.

At a time when budgets are being squeezed and services cut there are people who are really suffering.  Jobs are going and much valued support services to some of our most vulnerable are being cut so that we can reduce the amount we are borrowing as a country.

We all need to do our bit by paying our taxes and if you choose to deliberately avoid paying yours then what does that make you?  Selfish?  Unfair?  That’s certainly the common view; and with George Osborne and Ed balls united in a desire to clamp down on such “aggressive” schemes it seems that there is a degree of consensus; paying tax is our moral duty.

But, on the other hand I have an ISA that means that I don’t have to pay tax on any interest I accrue.  I take advantage of duty free (tax free) shopping when I travel abroad.  I took advice on planning my pension and made sure that my arrangements were tax efficient.  And I am hardly alone, millions of people do it.  If you have to undertake a self-assessment then you don’t start the process trying to maximise what you have to pay you look to minimise it.

It may not be in the same league as the Jersey based K2 scheme made famous by Jimmy Carr, but it is still tax avoidance.

And companies rightly look to make tax-efficient investment decisions.  Their duty is to maximise returns for shareholders and part of that is to legally minimise the tax that they have to pay.  Paying less tax means that they can maximise reinvestment in innovation and jobs; which will in turn generate more tax.

Bigger profits mean better returns for shareholders, many of whom are millions of people with savings and pensions schemes.

When the Labour party bought a London property a few years ago, it used a company to buy it.  The party did that so that when they sold the property it would be more tax efficient and indeed, when it was sold it saved tens of thousands of pounds as a result.  Quite right too!


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The uncomfortable truth about party politics is that loyalty trumps morality

07/06/2012, 07:00:28 AM

by Peter Watt

This week there was one story that depressed me more than any other.  It was actually quite a small story and you may well have missed it.  It involved Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and a referral to the City of London Police following various allegations in the national newspapers about her expenses.

Putting aside the actual allegations and whether or not the police should be involved, for me the really depressing part of the tale was actually an interview given on LBC 97.3 by the MP who referred the matter to the police, Karl Turner.

Karl was being interviewed on the James Whale show and you can hear the interview here.  Basically Karl appears to concede that, despite the matters being considered being serious and a non-party political issue, he would not have referred a Labour MP in the same situation.

Now I don’t know Karl and I am sure that he is an excellent MP.  But inadvertently he has allowed something to be raised in public that is a pretty uncomfortable truth about party politics.  Worse, it is something that most people involved in party politics will recognise and actually completely accept. In the words of Disraeli to errant MPs, “damn your principles!” and “stick to your party.”

All political parties make much of the fact that they “stand up for” people; that they are “working together” for the greater good.  All try and portray their positions as being in the national interest and of being a selfless pursuit of power that once achieved would give them opportunity to deliver for others.

To a very large extent of course this is true.  But there is another side; a side that allows things to become, well a little less balanced: namely that when push-comes-to-shove all that really matters is that my team wins.  Quite often this trumps the more altruistic elements of political motivation.


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