Posts Tagged ‘right and wrong’

We are communitarians, so Miliband can lead us as Cameron can’t

13/07/2011, 08:10:46 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality”.

Denis MacShane sought to console speaker Martin by writing to him with the words of Thomas Babington Macaulay at the height of the expenses scandal. But was this quotation really appropriate?

Weren’t the British people right to be aggrieved by elected representatives defrauding them? Aren’t they also legitimately angry with, as Ed Miliband put it, “bankers who caused the global financial crisis” and “those on benefits who were abusing the system because they could work – but didn’t”? And can there be any doubt that the revulsion of the public against the News of the World is justified?

The spikes in outrage against fiddling politicians and phone-hacking journalists, as well as the slower burning resentment at welfare cheats and fat cat financiers, makes a nonsense of Macaulay. The people he mocks instinctively know right from wrong. And in this intuitive grasp we see ourselves for what we are: communitarians.

The philosopher Julian Baggini foreswore ivory towers and spent six months with the people of Rotherham before concluding that this is the philosophy of the English. It was, incidentally, in the same town that Gerry Robinson tried to “fix the NHS” and Jamie Oliver “taught the poor to cook”. This is a worldview that stresses the responsibilities of the individual to the community. Membership of the community entitles rights and privileges but responsibility demands that these be reciprocated.

We are a nation that wants to see itself made up of; hard working families who play by the rules. We want those who play by the rules to be supported and to get on. We want those who don’t to be punished. The ascendency of Thatcherism, with its win-at-whatever-cost individualism, has obscured the extent to which we see ourselves as members of social groups to which we owe allegiance and the execution of responsibility.

Those who can work have a responsibility to do so. Those who can work but don’t should be penalised. Law makers have a responsibility not to be law breakers. Just like everyone else, including journalists and bankers. And they should feel the full force of the law when in breach of it. These professions are, however, held to more exacting standards of responsibility than legal compliance alone. Their integrity demands more than this. The irresponsibility of hacking the phones of grieving families is about much more than breaking the law.

As Ed Miliband’s advisor Greg Beales tweeted last Wednesday: “Today Ed Miliband spoke for the country because David Cameron can’t. Very important moment”. Tony Blair drew applause from a Progress audience last Friday by saying: “Ed Miliband has shown real leadership this week”. (more…)

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