Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tim Montgomerie: 'Without a moral purpose, a political party will never inspire’

Tim Montgomerie raises many important issues in his Telegraph article ‘A strong family and small state ought to go hand in hand’.

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?


Blogger Andrew Jewell said...

Your Grace, an interesting response to an interesting article. It seems to me that moral purpose is unfortunately bound inextricably to the moral absolutes that many of us draw from our religious beliefs. As these foundations are systematically eroded by the state and society we live in our country is losing conviction that we have a moral purpose upon which we can agree and around which we can rally.
The consequences unfortunately, are increasingly plain.

19 March 2009 at 10:04  
Blogger Theo said...

Yes, Andrew and it is these moral absolutes which give us a sense of and security and ultimately identity within the social structure. As we lose our Christian absolutes it is inevitable that Islam will step in and fill the vacuum. This is the point at which Satan must think he has the victory.

19 March 2009 at 11:05  
Anonymous Gnostic said...

Not only has Conservatism lost it's moral anchor, it's rudderless and all at sea. They need a strong, charismatic leader who will make the necessary hard decisions. They don't have anyone who fits the bill. It seems likely that they will form the next government but only by default. To be honest, unless the Tory party gets its act together it seems set to go the way of the LibDems - nowhere fast.

19 March 2009 at 11:18  
Blogger Shlomo said...

Your Grace,

Thank you for a most erudite and eminently sensible commentary on moral conservatism (not an oxymoron) in response to TM's article.

Might I draw your Grace's attention to an ostensibly anti-racist campaign entitled Hope Not Hate that has secured the backing of numerous clerics. I am confounded as to why these (as far as I'm concerned) part-time Christians choose to exhort the values of the utterly discredited policy of multiculturalism behind a campaign endorsed by extremist hard-left groups synonymous with all of the violent antagonistic demonstrations seen on European streets over the last year or so. Indeed, these same hard left groups make no secret of the distaste for any form of spirituality so long as it involves Chritian metaphysics. Why do not more Anglican clerics engage with the electorate to discover that it is Labour's policy of viewing socirty through the prism of 'race' that has lead to increased support for disreputable 'race-centric' groups, and not, as is assumed by these self-same part-time clerics, a resurgance in xenophobia and distrust of the 'other' somehow exacerbated by the global economic meltdown.

At the risk of alienating your more sensitive communicants and readership, would not a careful examination of the matter seem a rational course of action?


19 March 2009 at 12:19  
Anonymous martin sewell said...

Tim is doing exactly the right thing in raising these issues. Are they difficult- Of course they are!

Are they necessary - you bet.

Your Grace is right about Moral Relativism but unless and until people in the political sphere share Tim's moral courage and argue the case it is not going to change.

Equally, as I have said often, those who preach, often fall short.
Hubert Hunphrey once counselled George McGovern " Never run on the sainthood ticket". But to be blunt better John Major with his vulnerability than Tony Blair who fellow travelled the progressive way whilst undermining that which he now so publicly professes.

Part of the success of the moral relativists has been to cower all of us who are not perfect from daring to speak out lest our failures be exposed and we be branded that most hynous of characters "The hypocrite".

But what if it's its only a hypocrite who is saying what needs to be said!!

The Church was founded on serial sinners and failures and yet the courage to keep trying is what built the values upon which most of this website agree.

We need to speak and support each other through our failures and not inhibit truth tellers by saying that only the perfect can speak on such important matters

19 March 2009 at 12:34  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr Sewell,

His Grace has not said he disagrees with Mr Montgomerie; he simply wishes to understand the 'how'. And this 'how' must be realisable in the context of a hostile media. If the gospel is foolishness to the Greeks, there is no point articulating it in the vernacular. Since any 'moral purpose' comes with 'religious' baggage - or (at least) the danger of reigniting the flames of hostiliy which greeted John Major's 'Back to Basics' - the 'how' must begin with the communication strategy. Indeed, the very word 'moral' may be a stumbling block when one is trying to court an amoral media in order to win an election.

19 March 2009 at 12:56  
Blogger Homophobic Horse said...

Britain needs evangelisation. Again.

Not a chance.

19 March 2009 at 15:00  

Sitting at home, nodding an agreement is no longer enough, they will simply laugh at you and carry on.
From this day forward, Only YOUR actions count.

Video, Labour MP Predicts Muslim PM within 30 yrs

19 March 2009 at 16:54  
Anonymous len said...

The christian value system was the backbone of this once great nation.
We have abandoned God.
Jesus said " Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.
Revelation 3:20

19 March 2009 at 17:53  
Anonymous not a machine said...

i am glad tim montgomerie has put this, in this way , it is a moment to think before we our crossing the rubicon goes any further and highlights how parliment under its dictator ship of gordon brown has been misused.

The fools paradise of destabalising more natural forms of living together, for a consumerist paradise , was bound to show some of the problems we now see , and these warped values have been inculcated into the society , as one would take a shot of heroine , eventually you end up with a lost addict whose idea of freedom is where he/she can get there next fix , all too freely by a goverment whose myth is based on supplying it .

so morality arsises in the mind , does anyone now know what morality means anymore ???

a moral compass is supposed to show direction , but it is useless without a chart , where is "sanctuary" to quote from logans run , it is not red, blue or yellow , and yet the socialist state control freaks would have you think it resides in a political party.

under this government morality has become a vaugue , mumbling cleric , unsure if god is the method or the living spirit , spinning which way the headlines suite.

a society waiting for the TV/government dictat to tell them what to think , is ruined into one way ideaology , a society based on committed individuals working to live under morality based on self reason and seeking god and i go further to express how christ triumphed on the cross , would seem to me to be infinitely more interesting a purpose for society to attain , than a book of petty laws lived through a state bestowed ticket to the life they want you to live or the life defined by there view of morality !!

19 March 2009 at 22:22  
Anonymous judith said...

And which branch of Christianity would be entrusted with this Moral Rearmament Crusade?

The Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Quakers, Anabaptists, Moravians, Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses?

You would all be at each others' throats over the morality of divorce, homosexuality, contraception and blood transfusions before a bishop has time to say 'transubstantation'.

19 March 2009 at 22:33  
Anonymous judith said...

Sorry, that should be 'transubstantiation'.

19 March 2009 at 22:35  
Anonymous not a machine said...

well ok judith

but what if god exists ??? could you at least then understand my opposition to state socialism if this is the case.

however to ask you in a way you might prefer "what should the state do with forms of behavior that are ineffecient towards the state remaining in power "

faster than you can say 1984

20 March 2009 at 00:34  
Anonymous len said...

Christianity is not a 'branch', that was mans doing.
True christianity is a body with Christ the head.( not a man, an idea, an idealogy,a system,a doctrine,but a living Christ.
Until Christs headship is established (on earth) we will have the resulting chaos.

20 March 2009 at 07:33  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The point of any religion is letting someone else make your moral decisions for you. If Christians would stick to the ten commandments, tempered with a fair dose of do-as-you-would-be-done-by, then history would be more pleasant to read. But they haven't been, and they still aren't.

But maybe if you have someone else do the deciding, you can decide to ignore those rules, like drivers believing the speed limits don't apply to them.

What can be done? Maybe the mass-media could decide to make heroes of people who behave heroically. Maybe the government could reward virtue instead of vice. Fat chance.

But indeed, there are many decent people about, behaving decently. One can but hope.

20 March 2009 at 08:49  
Anonymous judith said...

What if God exists? Well, I'm agnostic on that, AND very opposed to State socialism. And there are many Christians who are Socialists, so I don't follow your argument, notamachine.

And I didn't say Christianity was a 'branch' - I was referring to the divisions within it, as within other religions.

I'm with Our Sally on this.

20 March 2009 at 10:52  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A great article, your Grace.

In trying to link economic cost to social and moral breakdown, Montgomerie and IDS are trying to reconcile the fiscal conservatives with the social conservatives.

But this is an error. The moral question is unrelated to the economic question. What if social breakdown benefited the economy? What then? Some people argue that it does as family breakdown means more households, more households mean more consumption, more spending and more jobs, and similarly married family units consume and waste less. Some people argue that capitalism fosters and encourages the individualism that leads to materialism. Can he reconcile that?

And if that which is of economic benefit is automatically desirable, what about immigration? Could we not destroy the social fabric of Britain, eradicate our identity and traditions all in the name of wealth if we permitted the whole world to move and live here?

Surely the argument that what is good is that which is of economic benefit is, in the final analysis, the cornerstone, and thus the failing, of socialism?

Conservatism must aspire to something higher and nobler than that, moral absolutes which are valuable in their own right, truths which are not contingent on other measures.

I despair when on the core cultural and moral issues, such as "gay rights" or abortion, where there should be clear blue water between the liberal left and the conservative party, an emphatic rejection of the immoral and amoral, personally and socially destructive, shallow and fashionable stance they've adopted, there's nothing. It betrays a party that's in the wilderness morally, purposeless and disconnected from its roots and essence.

The basic tenet has to be subsidiarity - that all things, the economy and the state included, exist to serve the common good, not that people exist to serve them.

20 March 2009 at 13:11  
Anonymous len said...

When God leaves a nation the lights go out.
Man has tried to live 6,000 yrs without God,even tried making up his own god,
Look at the mess we are in, or can you not see it?

20 March 2009 at 13:25  
Anonymous martin sewell said...

Your Grace, mine was a hurreid post before leaving for a family funeral. (I neglected to spell/type check properly - for which apologies)

The "How" is of course very important, but before we can even reach that discussion, the next Government needs to be clear on "The need", and it is to this that Tim Montgomerie's aricle is initially addressed. There is, of course, biblical authority for the city to be saved if but a minority of righteous people declare themselves. The objective of the moral relativists is to silence all who might constitute that minority, so that their erosive work continues unimpeded.

21 March 2009 at 13:56  
Blogger Theo said...

"And there are many Christians who are Socialists"

Really, judith, they must be pretty confused people. The Christianity I understand is diametrically opposed to Marxism and all its spinoffs. The beliefs and values of Christianity and Socialism cannot really be reconciled despite the protestations of those who would attempt to manipulate either one or the other to make them fit.

22 March 2009 at 02:40  

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