Tim Montgomerie: 'Without a moral purpose, a political party will never inspire’
He observes the traditional Conservative themes of ‘low and simple taxation; light touch regulation; free trade; opposition to monopolies; property rights; and low inflation’. And he articulates the ‘Compassionate Conservative’ thesis that these ‘depend upon the strength of society’, which he summarises as: ‘Families that stay together. Children who leave school with meaningful qualifications. Adults who stay free of drug and alcohol dependency. A welfare state that encourages personal industry, not dependency.’
These are, he says, the ‘hallmarks of a socially conservative society (which) should also be the goal of every fiscal conservative’, if only because ‘family breakdown is costing the Exchequer about £24 billion a year. Underachievement at school is costing £18 billion. Reoffending by prisoners, £11 billion. Drug and alcohol abuse is costing taxpayers £39 billion’. He quotes figures from the The Centre for Policy Studies that ‘an average family will cost the taxpayer £10,000 more each year if it splits up, owing to a reduced offering in tax and a greater need for welfare benefits. Reconvicting a repeat offender takes an average of £24,000. Annual incarceration adds about £35,000. Drug treatment puts £2,000 per annum more on top of that.’
The ‘price of our broken society’, he reports, ‘is close to £150 billion’.
British society needs saving, of that there is no doubt. But the fissure within the Conservative Party on issues of morality run far deeper than that over Europe, which is deep enough. Mr Montgomerie writes of the ‘laissez-faire members of the Conservative coalition (who) argue that government has no business in trying to build stronger families or supporting not-for-profit organisations’.
One thinks of the likes of Kenneth Clarke or John Bercow. They are wrong, he says, and articulates his ‘vision of the good society’, which is essentially the antithesis of the statement above: ‘Without a moral purpose, a political party will never inspire’. And his allies in this quest would include the likes of Iain Duncan Smith, Ann Widdecombe, and all members of Cornerstone.
The 'moral purpose’ will have the staunch opposition of many in the Conservative Party. The phrase alone will set off ‘Back to Basics’ alarm bells over echoes of a policy announcement which inadvertently precipitated the resignation of numerous of John Major’s talented ministers of state for their ‘hypocrisy’. After all, how can Conservative MPs preach a ‘moral purpose’ while themselves cohabiting with their partners, having children out of wedlock, advocating homosexual and lesbian 'civil partnerships' and other rights, fleecing the taxpayer with their expenses...
The ‘moral purpose’ is Tim Montgomerie’s solution; the crucial counterbalance to the starkness of monetarism and heartlessness of economic utilitarianism.
But whose morals and to what purpose?
Like it or not, we live in what is known as 'postmodernity', and Mr Montgomerie fails to explain (quite crucially) how such a purpose may be articulated in an age of moral relativism. And it is difficult for the state to propose a moral purpose when the national church has abdicated its responsibilities in this area, unless one is to populate the Conservative benches with those who are more Christian than the bishops.
Even with the excellent work of Iain Duncan Smith, there is little evidence of a ‘moral purpose’ at work in the day-to-day functioning of Her Majesty’s Opposition. There has been scarcely a whisper of protest to some of Labour’s quite blatant transgressions of ethical codes and erstwhile moral absolutes, and no objection to the deliberate manipulation of data and the concealing of evidence.
Nick Gulliford notes that Labour has ‘wiped “marital status” off government forms’. Setting aside the silence of the Conservative Party on this matter, he wonders how research will be conducted into the outcomes of families other than 'couple' and 'single' parent families.
He further asks why the Conservatives are not demanding that a Social Capital Index be included in the Statistics and Registration Services Bill like the RPI.
The ‘moral purpose’ must be calibrated in order for measurement to be possible, otherwise there can be no means of discovering if the objectives have been attained or the policies are effectual.
But then advocating a ‘moral purpose’ in an age of moral relativism may be as vacuous as talking of ‘fiscal responsibility’ in a credit crunch. It sounds responsible, traditional, beneficial, utter common sense.
Until one comes to the politics; the divisive process of articulating policy and making decisions. Which taxes are to increase and which services are to be cut in order to arrive at ‘fiscal responsibility’? Which morals are absolute and which are negotiable in the ‘moral purpose’?
And with the systematic eradication of Christian traditions and the increasing hostility expressed towards Christianity in the public sphere, whose moral code are we to use any way?