James Bartholomew

The death of decency

James Bartholomew on why bravery, kindness, modesty, generosity and restraint are fast disappearing from Britain — but not from George Bush’s America

James Bartholomew on why bravery, kindness, modesty, generosity and restraint are fast disappearing from Britain — but not from George Bush’s America

Those who depend on the BBC for news are still puzzling over why America voted for that bad George Bush. One reason that got little or no airtime was that they liked his domestic policy. Our state broadcasting station gave the impression that this policy consisted mainly of being anti-abortion. In fact, there was more to it than that. Bush appealed to a traditional part of America — not ‘traditional’ meaning ‘gormless know-nothing mid-Westerners and rednecks’, but traditional as in ‘decent’.

Go to the Bush website (www.georgewbush.com) and you will find the President talking about the ‘spirit of citizenship’ and it is pretty clear that, again, the words need to be interpreted the right way. By ‘citizenship’, he does not mean, as people tend to here, paying lots of taxes to outsource kindness to the government. He means real citizenship — direct, personal contributions to other people’s welfare and, while we are about it, a commitment to marriage and the traditional family.

In 2002 Bush called upon all Americans to devote two years or 4,000 hours over the course of their lifetimes to serving others. He created the USA Freedom Corps ‘to strengthen America’s culture of service’. He has made it possible for faith-based charities to do social work on behalf of the government (since Bush recognises that the government is not much good at it).

Could the Tories try to appeal to the sort of people Bush appealed to? Is that the answer to the Conservatives’ problems? I wonder. I fear it could be too late.

Traditional decency used to be big in Britain. But it has been undermined, bashed about and crowded out by the welfare state.

The Times conducted a survey of middle-class people in 1895, asking them how much they gave to charity.

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