It was John Major who came a cropper while trying to restore the nation’s moral values: his ‘back to basics’ campaign was mocked to death before it had really got started. Yet Mr Major’s attempt to influence the nation’s morals was nothing compared with that of Tony Blair, who has overseen a Sexual Offences Act, a law against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, the introduction of civil partnerships for gay couples, and a gambling Bill. Moreover, Mr Blair seems to have got away with it.
It is not entirely obvious why we should be happy to allow a preachy Tony Blair to tell us what is right and wrong when we sneered at the merest suggestion of John Major doing the same. Why, for example, was the last Conservative government politically wounded whenever a backbench Tory MP was caught with his trousers down, yet New Labour escaped unscathed when a former whip, Clive Betts, was revealed not only to have had an affair with a Brazilian rent boy, but also to have given the young man a public-funded job as his researcher and then altered an immigration official’s letter in an attempt to allow him to re-enter Britain illegally? Mr Betts served a week’s suspension from the Commons, but has since been re-elected as MP for Sheffield Attercliffe; a survival act which Tory victims of anti-sleaze campaigns may feel is a tad unfair.
But does the public really subscribe to New Labour’s new morality? The results of the Spectator/YouGov poll on sex suggests that there is partial alignment between the government and the public, but that in several important ways the two are out of step. Take, for example, the 65 per cent in our poll who still believe that children ‘are best brought up by married parents’: not a section of the population which is likely to have been impressed by the discontinuation of married couples’ tax allowance and the introduction of equal rights for unmarried couples.