Morality is the new ideology….
It is often said that ideology in politics is dead. However, nature abhors a void and that is probably why, in the gap left by what we might term structuralist ideologies (socialism v capitalism), we have an increasing contest between the two main political parties over differing moral visions of society. Of course, this gives them alot of common ground; it’s sometimes hard to tell who is talking, Ed Miliband or David Cameron, but there are nuanced but potentially hugely significant differences developing.
For all it’s flaws (we will talk more about them in a bit) it has to be said straight-off that Miliband’s moral compass is a slightly more rounded one. This is purely by dint of the fact that he will, unlike Cameron, go part of a way to acknowledging a problem with society that stretches from top to bottom when he talks about the ‘immorality’ of the rich. Except, of course, for him the problem is a few ‘bad apples’ who are ‘irresponsible’. Nonetheless, in the sense it acknowledges a problem that afflicts top and bottom of society, Miliband’s morality has progressive content. It is more progressive but still limited in its horizons by it’s inculcators unwillingness to go the full nine yards, as it were.
Many reading this will share the view that there is a materialist cause to this ‘lack of responsibility’ at both ends of society, the undemocratic distribution of wealth which is structurally defined by how capitalism functions. Miliband does not take this line; but his line does at least hint at this possibility, and that’s why his arguments should be given a qualified welc0me and in that sense, he should be supported, not uncritically, but supported nonetheless against Cameron.
So, how do we respond? It’s tempting to take a moral line of our own, as indeed, the likes of Compass do, and in its own limited terms, I see nothing wrong with that. However, we have to keep what we say grounded in our structural critique of a society which is organised on the founding principle that ‘greed is good’. Of course, this also means that we should offer serious structural solutions, not in a way that sees people as blind automatons, but that empowers them and gives them a real stake in a society which otherwise disenfranchises them. The left has to be part of this discourse, rather than simply condemning it out of hand, that is the only way it will develop politics and policies with a mass resonance and that is the way it will lead and shape it to ends which will radically extend the frontiers of democracy and create a society where greed and ‘irresponsibility’ are the exceptions, not the rule, in a more equal and just society.