Politics Lost: Virtue, Morality and Corruption

Whatever has happened to virtue and morality in politics? The cynic reading this may wish to point out that there has never been a relationship! Others may wish to contend that these were long lost from the political landscape of what used to be “Great Britain” – the paragon of democratic ideals and morality. One would be excused for arriving at the politically incorrect and stereotypical conclusion that all the news about corruption, lobbying for a price, and using one’s access to privilege and inside information were what should be associated, with Yam, Banana, Casino and Sugar Cane Republics. At least here in the UK, the offenders have been suspended from the parliamentary labour party, that is, with their pockets filled and not necessarily changing the fact of their continuing access to the halls of power. Sleaze is not biodegradable – it is politically toxic and it may be that many more institutions here have been contaminated!!!

Corruption has politics in a vice-like grasp as the influence of money, earned without restraint in our so-called wild roaming market, together with a propensity to be greedy, have seriously undermined our political life. Money talks, seldom gives itself away freely, and always has strings attached to it – leading to someone or some group. So no matter how much a former politician may try to rationalise how he/she has earned such large sums(in a day) in honest endeavours – selling their skills and expertise and trading inside knowledge to corporations – the reality is that greed and corrosion of character have taken a firm hold. This is also evident from the flack of any form of apology rolling out from these forked-tongues. The irony is that one can reasonably wonder about the expertise they are actually selling given that little of it (in terms of transformation and well-being in society) was evident when they were in office.

And lest we are too quick to take any form of a high moral ground, we need to note that a fundamental flaw is with any of the economic models we opt to work with: greed will always be present. Greed drives economic progress, if this is what we are all about. Perhaps, we would do exactly as the politicians presently in the news did. As consumers we already display many of the traits. As moral beings we try to live justly when it comes to ethical shopping, investing and travelling. Yet, at the same time we go full out for the best deals and rarely bother to track our own Carbon footprints. Market desires always conflict with our moral commitments. Yet, if there is no sense of balance in terms of morality how do we go about enabling the work of moralising this and next generation. What kind of world are we living in? What kind of world are we prepared to create for future generations?

Last year I came across a Christian Aid advertisement using two hands. On the one hand was the statement: “The World is too corrupt to end Poverty”. On the other hand the organisation listed ten reasons to counter the statement. What caught my eye is how much of this applies not to developing countries (where Christian Aid works) but more to the UK.

For instance, among the ten we read: “We fund projects that promote transparency and accountability”; “World leaders are closing tax havens, because they hide the proceeds of corruption”; “There are proven ways to counter corruption”; and “We educate people about their rights and this stops corruption”. Well, I am sorry to say that all these apply to our government right here at home. Perhaps, Christian Aid can start fund raising to do some serious work at home and get some of the ideas (“the proven ways”), from the developing countries they are working with to end help end corruption here!

Our political life needs to be delivered from the default and arrogant view premised on the false idea that we have inherited virtues and moral values that make us “the” examples of democracy, transparency and accountability for the rest of the world. On the contrary, the continuing saga of banks/bankers and politics/politicians reveal that behind the facade lie some disturbing truths about ourselves that we are yet to reflect on.

It is time to wake-up! Or to pick up one of the mantras: “what are the lessons to be learned? and who are actually learning anything?” It may be that a new day is about to dawn!

copyright March 30, 2010

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