BBC News – Paying tradesmen cash in hand morally wrong, says minister David Gauke, Treasury Minister, is the most recent Conservative politician to argue the moral case for doing what government wants you to do. The problem is, morality is none of government’s business, and by attempting to take the moral high ground, Gauke is simply ceding it.
In America they have separation of church and state. It doesn’t always work that well, but at least it’s something. In Britain we have a constitutional state church which often seems to have better separation. But it does prompt calls from time to time for the church to stay out of politics which is i) unconstitutional ii) unnecessary and iii) not a good thing. When Thatcher was in power, it was bishops and archbishops who formed the phalanx of the intellectual opposition.
The Americans created a church state divide not to keep the church out of politics, but to keep the state from interfering in the conscience of the individual to worship (or not) in the way that he or she thought fit.
The thing about the state is that it has exactly two functions: executive and legislative. On the executive side it takes our money and spends it (or should) for our collective benefit. Margaret Thatcher never actually said ‘there’s no such thing as society’, but it became a meme because the phrase represented what she seemed to be trying to do. She should have saved her energy. The very fact that we have an executive arm to the state means that there is definitely such a thing, and without it the state has no meaning. We may not agree with what the state does with our money, but the days are long gone when the sovereign gathered in taxation for the exploitation of her or his own agenda without any obligation to the people.
On the legislative side, parliament creates legislation. It doesn’t quite create law, because law is what happens when the courts get round to testing and interpreting the legislation. But parliament does its best.
Unlike medieval sovereigns, that is where the power of the British state stops. It doesn’t own the English language (though the French government believes it owns the French language), it doesn’t control the medals at the Olympic Games, it doesn’t control what goes in history books or in science books, it doesn’t get to control our religion, and it most certainly doesn’t get to set out what is right and what is wrong.