Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The State of the Nation

An interesting broadcast from BBC Radio 4 this week – the 2009 Reith Lectures which are focusing on the relationship between altruism and the market economy. Under the title, “Markets and Morals,” Michael Sandel, the Harvard Professor of Government, is giving four broadcast lectures about the prospects of “a new politics of the common good.”
Catholic theology from St Augustine onwards has traditionally had quite a lot to say about relationships within human society, so much of what was said in today’s first lecture can probably be considered to be an attempt in a post-Christian society to re-invent the wheel. It was fascinating nonetheless, and it is good to see this kind of debate beginning again in a political context in Britain after years of sterile managerialism and lack of vision and a corresponding and worrying decline in people’s interest and involvement in the political process.
However, much of that refusal to be involved either in the membership of political parties, in the political debate itself and in the physical act of casting one’s vote can be explained by the widespread popular belief that politicians actively try to avoid telling the truth. Political “spin” begins with the imperative of putting the best possible gloss on any given situation, but has been seen by many to end in the telling of downright lies. The power British society has accorded to the mass media is a direct result of our politicians failing to communicate directly and truthfully with the electorate. The rise of extremist fringe parties of various kinds, such as the BNP or UKIP, can clearly be traced to the failure of politicians to be honest with voters and to try to convince them of the rightness of the policies they wish to pursue. This is true both in terms of our membership of the EU and over such issues as immigration and asylum. Personally, I have absolutely no sympathy with the policies of either UKIP or (God forbid!) the BNP, but I can understand why some people vote for them. Our mainstream politicians, from our floundering Prime Minister - and all those who aspire to replace him - downwards, need to re-learn the virtues of telling the truth and in actively campaigning for what they really believe, even if that risks courting unpopularity. (The same advice could be profitably taken to heart by our ecclesiastical leaders too.)
Only in this way will the political class begin to regain the respect of the people. This really is a simple question of morality.

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