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Personal morality and politics never mix well

Ed Miliband has had a good innings over the #Hackgate scandal, BUT I have grave reservations about the actual ‘angle’ he has taken. He seems to have integrated his critique of News International into his ‘responsibility’ agenda. This means he has been relatively slow at tackling the root cause of the problems with News International — the structural monopoly the Murdoch’s enjoy over the British and international media.

This points to the first problem lefties should have with the ‘responsibility’ agenda; it obstructs a wider critique which looks primarily at undemocratic structures as the cause of problems such as corruption. It reduces corruption to the actions of a few, feckless, ‘bad apples’. It is precisely this kind of attitude that sees Mr Miliband lumping disabled benefit claimants in with those who have caused the collapse of Southern Cross.

Of course, for left-wingers this analysis is nowhere near adequate and leads you to some pretty reactionary conclusions. However, there is another core problem — mixing personal morality (like a call for responsibility) with politics. Labour people who think this is a good idea should remind themselves of the histories of such campaigns — they never end well for the Party or people espousing them: look at John Major’s ‘Back to Basics’ campaign. They don’t turn out well because, without fail, there are people on our side with skeletons in the closet and, if they are there, the press will eventually find them.

Invariably, you will appear a complete canting hypocrite of the highest order and the shine on your new agenda will quickly wear off. It’s a matter of time before the media climate changes and this happens to Ed. There is also a point of principle involved: in a democratic society, the state has absolutely no place in the sphere of personal morality and when it thinks it does, it’s a slippery slope towards authoritarianism and unacceptable extensions of state power.

Consistent democrats and socialists cannot and should not support a ‘responsibility’ agenda because it is undemocratic and misguided in its very conception; it gives the state and its representatives power over peoples lives rather than empowering them Furthermore it is window dressing for a failure to address deeper structural issues. So, I am sorry, Ed, but I will not join you in preaching a promoting a phoney ‘responsibility’ agenda and neither should the wider left.

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