There was a time when Britain's politicians were eager to show their moral convinctions. Now to admit being swayed by ethics is percieved as a weakness, whichever party you happen to be from.
It is very odd for any politician to deny a moral purpose, and especially so for a Liberal Democrat to do so, since they make piety the cornerstone of their politics, but that is exactly what Business Secretary Vince Cable did in a revealing interview with Jeremy Paxman on the BBC's Newsnight last week. They were discussing Cable’s role in seeking to moderate the ridiculously high rewards for business and finance bosses – and Paxman suggested that Cable had a “moral” interest in restraining such rewards. Thrice he put it to Cable that he took a moral view; thrice, Cable denied any such thing
I believe that Paxman was right, and that Cable very likely does take a moral view. But like Peter, after the death of Jesus, the time is not right for him to admit it. Thus Cable was driven to repeat that it was up to the “business community” to determine the appropriate level for high pay and bonuses. Well, I know just one person in the business community very well, my daughter, who has just opened up a business in Somerset. Somehow I do not think that she, and others like her, are members of the “business community” that Cable has in mind. It is surely the highly-paid ring of big bosses who he sees as the right arbiters of top business rewards; and it is too bloody obvious that they have a vested interest in maintaining such rewards at or near their present level.
Cable is kowtowing to the neo-liberal oligarchy that really runs the country and is busily looting the public sector; he has to do so because he is imprisoned in the straitjacket of the coalition with the Conservatives. But Labour is hardly more forthcoming on the question of the morality of the obscene and still growing inequalities in our society (see my piece on the party's benefits policy). And of course it is not just a question of morality; as The Spirit Level has demonstrated, our society is damaged at every level by the manifest inequalities that disfigure it. Yet have you ever heard any prominent Labour or Lib Dem politician make use of the researches of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, let alone a major concerted drive by either party to make their conclusions widely known? Why, on social mobility, both parties have now been outflanked by none other than Michael Gove’s remarks on the public school dominance in most areas of national life.
Meanwhile, the Lib Dems are placing their hands over their eyes, ears and mouths, and pinching their noses, over their Conservative partners’ proposals to introduce secret courts, to endorse more powers for border police, and to give the security agencies access to people’s real-time emails, texts and mobile phones. Piety is not enough. It has to be given substance by principle and sustained vigilance and both are missing.