A reader commented years ago that he liked my blog because, although my posts were about politics, there was usually a moral dimension. I confess, though I hope I accepted his compliment graciously, I was puzzled. How, I remember thinking, can a discussion about human relations lack a moral dimension?
I was reminded of this thought when reading today's Guardian.
The front page lead is about the intended sale of NHS patient records from its snazzy new database. The NHS has written to all of us recently to say that all our records will be included unless (as I have) we contact our doctor to opt out. It didn't mention that it planned to sell them.
There is an intelligent discussion of the pros (medical advances will be easier) versus the cons (no way for the public to know who has access to their data or how it will be used). Yet nowhere is there a reference to what I would consider to the the key issue of ownership. We tell our doctors things to enable him or her to take care of us. I think most of us would think we still own that information. We would be shocked, for example if the doctor wrote an episode of House MD based upon our case. If indeed there is another use to which our data can be put, surely we should expect to be asked? If there is a commercial use to which it can be put, surely we should expect to be paid? To me, the story is about theft. Apparently that's not how The Guardian sees it.
Their next front page story is about the LibDem peer alleged (but not proven) to have been a sexual harasser. In this story, there is an atmosphere of much moral indignation, but very little real morality. Lord Rennard's 'allies' accuse the complainants of conspiring to damage his career, which is not entirely news. They are clearly of the opinion that his career deserves to be damaged because of his - as they see it - misconduct.
At least one of the complainants is threatening to leave the party if he is allowed to resume his duties. One of his anonymous 'allies' tries to point out that his advances were not threatening and suggests the complainants are making too much of a fuss. The Guardian's take on that observation is that it does Lord Rennard 'no favours'. Yet surely it is the moral crux of the case? Surely the reason why the LibDem enquiry has exonerated him is that there was no finding of sexual aggression?
A human who would like to have sex with another must - if it is to be consensual - at some point alert them to this desire. The other human then has an opportunity to respond. Different eras and cultures have had different mores as to how far beyond a nod and a wink such an expression can or should go. I am happy to report that in my time I have been on the receiving end of advances less subtle than those reported of the gauche Lord Rennard. Not every woman is an adept in these matters, especially when a little drunk.
The key issue, surely, is how a suitor responds to rejection? By all accounts Rennard - not exactly God's gift to the fairer sex, though clearly a fan - has always cheerfully taken 'no' for an answer. His technique seems to have essentially been that of a long-ago teenage friend of mine who asked every girl he met and reported a 1 in 20 success rate.
It cannot surely be the case that every sexual advance is a gamble with one's career and reputation? An advancee is entitled to say no, but is surely not entitled to be angry to have been asked? How is the human race to breed under such a regime? Again, the key moral issue is not addressed in a fog of faux indignation.
The third front page story seems to take a very high moral tone, but again it seems to me to be false. There is a flurry of loaded language about 'loopholes' that are 'exploited' and about 'leakage of tax revenues' but the only facts reported are that some international companies have asked that long-established laws to which they have adapted their businesses be not changed.
The paper writes of 'tax avoidance' throughout as if it were obviously a bad thing, without making any real distinction from tax evasion, which is criminal. There is no balancing statement of the perfectly reasonable opposing view that if one legal structure results in less tax than others, it's unjust for businesses not to be able to restructure to the favourable basis enjoyed by competitors. Nor is there anywhere a discussion of the perfectly respectable view that the best way to ensure a fair balance of tax obligations across society is for the laws to be simplified and the number of taxes reduced.
I could go on. Please feel free to read the Guardian's website and continue the examples yourself in the comments. Like so much else in our political debate, morality now seems to be a synthetic product of tribalism. Maybe what my kind reader meant was that my moral stances echoed his?