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Sex, politics and the new blasphemy
December 2017 / January 2018

Blair remarked in 1996 that “my project will be complete when the Labour Party learns to love Peter Mandelson” — an amusing way of putting it, but an aim which has not been achieved. Indeed, the party has fallen out of love with Blair himself. For his self-righteousness, artfully disguised in his early days as leader by good manners and self-deprecating jokes, at length became unbearable. To this day, he not only wants to think of himself as morally irreproachable, he wants to make the rest of us think of him as morally irreproachable. He set himself up as a high priest, entitled to tell the rest of us how to behave. After a while, that kind of coercion becomes intolerable.

There is a warning here for all politicians who adopt a high moral tone. However thrilling this sort of approach may be at the start, after a time it becomes wearisome. The Pharisees and their spiritual descendants never grow loveable. The longer they tell us what to do, the more hypocritical and power-hungry they look. So the sexual harassment scandal needs careful handling. Those who say it is about power rather than sex are correct. It is indeed about the abuse of power. But the cure for it can become a power grab too: a pretext for minute interference in relationships which were already being adequately managed by the usual processes of give and take. The whole dreary panoply of best practice and correct procedure can supplant common sense and common decency.

For the press, the scandal offers a wonderful chance to gain readers by discovering and publishing even minor misdemeanours by MPs, while at the same time holding the moral high ground. For readers, it is titillating to read about other people’s offences, one’s amusement ready in case of need to be concealed, perhaps even from oneself, by a frown of disapproval.

The man in the pub has always said all politicians are corrupt, in it only for what they can get, and here he can find his prejudices confirmed. A sex scandal which brings down an MP serves an egalitarian function. The craving for equality which is such a marked feature of democratic societies is for a moment or two satiated by such descents.

The new rules are made in the name of equality. Let the weak be protected against the strong. It is hard to quarrel with that. Yet go to any downmarket pub and you will find that such exercises are regarded with blasphemous scepticism, as a means by which a greedy Establishment can offer an appearance of irreproachable conduct, behind which the same old vices can flourish.
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Lawrence James
December 21st, 2017
10:12 AM
We are well rid of the old blasphemy for law. It was always unfair since the victim [ s ] were never present in court for cross-examination.

F Hugh Eveleigh
December 7th, 2017
8:12 AM
What a well written and argued article. As one born in the late 1940s I have sufficient memory of what was allowed (or not) in earlier times as to be able to understand the transient nature of much of the current madness. We are all human beings but the 'sapiens' part of our Latinate descriptor is sometimes a little suspect because many of us have at some stage said or done something spontaneously which could 'offend' someone somewhere and which in retrospect we might have managed in a more nuanced manner. As most of us are not politicians, actors or widely known in any sense our actions are a part of the somewhat idiosyncratic cut and thrust of daily living and go unnoticed. Balance and 'common' sense are lost in the current flurries of outrage and offence. It will, like most trends, pass in due course but in the meanwhile many public lives are being ruined because of PC reactions to alleged misdemeanours of word and deed.

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