As Australians try to come to grips with the concept that values voters
aren’t all Southern Baptists waiting for the rapture with a shotgun on their knees in
Hicksville US, Blairite heretic and British MP Frank Field is visiting Australia for the Centre for Independent Studies think tank.

He spoke in Sydney last night on the topic “Respect: A left wing cause.”
His reasons for describing it so are simple. The wealthy can afford to
police themselves. When civic society falls apart, however, there’s no
hiding place for the less well off.

Field is solidly part of the tradition in British Labour that linked
the evangelical churches of the 19th century with the self help
and self improvement bodies organised by the rapidly growing working
class – be they friendly societies or trade unions.

He warned how the sense of mutual responsibility these groups
engendered was lost once the post war Atlee government “nationalised”
welfare in the UK – but spoke of the importance of their aim, how it is
the duty of each of us to try to achieve our best selves and help
others achieve their best.

He bewailed the collapse of common decency and the rise of yob culture,
asking if yobbishness can be controlled or if it is getting out of

He reaches back to ancient Greek democracy for his inspiration – the
question “what sort of character should I become – and my fellow
citizens.” In a secular age, he wants to see values returned to centre
stage – a contract society which spells out what the community expects
in exchange for community services.

However, he wants this to come from communities and citizens themselves
and he warns against the mechanical solutions offered by governments as
opposed to the natural rules that are lived out naturally by people as
part of their everyday lives.

Politicians are not putting forward effective choices, he warns.
Bureaucracy has won. People recognise this failure – and they’re
increasingly embracing the extremes of politics when forces on the far
left or right talk solutions, no matter how ill conceived.

Haven’t we had a bit of this in Australia?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey