So this weekend we have two news stories to which the term ‘morally repugnant’ has been applied. Supermarkets have been urged to end ‘buy one get one free’ deals to cut the ‘morally repugnant’ amount of food being thrown away by shoppers…and this from the House of Lords itself regarded by many as a ‘morally repugnant’ and undemocratic institution. We also have the continuing saga of Maria Miller’s expenses, her vacuous and remarkably short apology—‘contemptuous’ as far as Labour is concerned--and ‘hints’ or as the press would have it ‘veiled threats’ from her advisors to the press that Leveson is within her remit…yes it’s another ‘morally repugnant’ expenses scandal! Now I’ve always believed that at the heart of politics should be a moral imperative but this may well be politically naive of me. There’s little moral about the rough and tumble of politics as individuals seek to clamber their way up the greasy pole to political power even if you believe—genuinely of course—that achieving power will allow you to do all those ‘good’ things that you’ve always said you wanted to do. Making political decisions is rarely moral and when it is—I think we have the moral high ground or there is a moral principle at stake here—I tend to see it as an appeal for populist support for a policy that is indefensible in other ways.
In fact, political discourse over the last decade has been replete with moral outrage…for instance, over bankers (probably justifiably), utility companies for ripping of the consumer, over those ‘unwilling’ to work or live on welfare as a career choice and individuals and organisations that do not pay their ‘fair share’ of taxation and not to mention MPs’ expenses. What has been done about it? Welfare reform certainly but then it’s always easier politically to hit those unable to defend themselves economically but bankers and tax-avoiders have been largely unaffected as long as they can stomach the moral outrage, which of course they can by simply ignoring it and energy companies have simplified their tariffs but, to most people, they still remain a foreign language. The Miller case demonstrates that MPs should, under no circumstances, police themselves and be allowed to overrule the Parliamentary Commissioner of Standards…as several commentators and the public has said, if we did that we’d be sacked. That a rich society like Britain still has high levels of individual and child poverty is morally repugnant, that bakers can give themselves obscenely large bonuses is morally repugnant, that we have a political class seemingly bent on acting in its own interests irrespective of its effect on ordinary people is morally repugnant…throwing a lettuce away may be environmentally and economically wasteful but it’s hardly morally repugnant.