As Treasury minister David Gauke delighted crowds on Newsnight with his sermon on the “morals” of paying cash-in-hand, this felt like one of those delicious Armando Iannucci The Thick of It moments. Somewhere, in my mind's eye, a cacophony of boggle-eyed, sweary spinmasters were f-ing the air into a bruise-coloured hue. “He's going off piste! What the f—- is he doing talking about morals? Get him off!” One moment Gauke was some hapless calculator in a suit – something innocuous to look at while eating supper cream-crackers. A few short slaps of the M word later and Gauke had the air of Vincent Price playing the The Witchfinder General. Mayday. MAYDAY.
Lecturing the working classes and "squeezed"middle classes on the personal morality in their ever-crappier household finances is the career equivalent of a snake-in-a-can prank. Sooner or later, it's going to explode in your face with a massive farty-parp.
As I type this, in a morally louche manner, having just paid Perry, my window cleaner, £4 this morning without so much as a request to see his receipts for chamois leather, buzzards are already picking through the bones of Gauke's finances.
In 2006-07 apparently, he used his parliamentary expenses to cover the cost of stamp duty while moving home. He'd claimed £10,248.32 in payments for a second home which included "Inland Revenue Stamp Duty" of £8,550. I'm not sure what this scores on the morality-ometer. I know the fact would never have been revisited if he'd said propping up the "black economy" was "technically illegal" or "dodgy ground", it's that "moral" word which makes targets of us all.
Modern-day Brits have a curious relationship with morality. I govern mine, you govern yours and to grease the wheels of polite discourse, we try to keep the M word low-key to avoid fisticuffs. I've a grand list of stuff that I find morally indecent which, for a quiet life, I mainly stay silent about. I doubt Gauke gives a damn about many of my bugbears, but that's morality in action.
I think it's morally wrong for idiots to father kids on a Friday night and then piss off and not raise them. I think it's morally wrong to breed Staffy puppies to sell to idiots who dump them at Battersea who have to destroy about 6,000 a year. I think it's morally wrong to fly your big fat corporate Go Daddy arse to Zimbabwe to shoot elephants. Or to endorse the pop comeback of domestic violence posterboy Chris Brown. Or to stand outside abortion clinics being distinctly un-Christian to knocked-up teenagers. Or to try on swimming costumes without the hygiene strip and send them back to the shop. Stealing disabled car-spaces, eating foie gras, propping up big-business with free Workfare staff: all morally wrong. The problem with slinging about "morally wrong" is not just that it's incendiary, but it shines a spotlight on our own flaws, of which (believe it or not) I have many.
We could argue all day about the sanity of Gauke pillorying the bloke who tends old ladies' begonias for a tenner without making a full and frank tax declaration, then pillorying you for not double-checking his VAT form, meanwhile everyone's chum, saviour of birthdays and Christmas, Amazon.com, according to SEC filings, generated sales of more than £7.6bn in the UK in the past 36 months without attracting any corporation tax on its profits.
I saw a sign in a bookshop recently pleading with customers to consider – every time they one-clicked Amazon for convenience – the amount of taxes this local shop paid back into the community to pay for nurses and street cleaners. It made me feel morally crappy. Just not crappy enough to either stop one-clicking or cease selling my own novels through Amazon as they do such a sterling, efficient job. Luckily, I'm not a moral guardian.
If Gauke intends us to go hard on the moral decay of plumbers and odd-job men, then he must equally harangue and humiliate the bloke who sells me my tights (Philip Green), one-click Sam Amazon and the Vodafone shop on the corner. But then as Gauke said at a Policy Exchange think-tank recently: "Having a lower tax bill does not mean you have engaged in morally repugnant tax avoidance." Strong morals require stiff backbones. Sadly the biggest culprits in the tax game are the slipperiest invertebrates ever.
In whining, we've already won an Olympic medal
One of the most eye-opening things about the run-up to Friday's Olympics opening ceremony has been getting a taste of what life will be like aged 95, in an old folk's home, surrounded by joyless peers, all thoroughly beaten by the concept of modern life.
Beaten by simple throwaway niggles that didn't used to bother them, now magnified to "the end of the world". Stuff like rush-hour, meandering tourists, a closed Tube station, being a bit late for work, having to re-schedule an appointment, a late parcel delivery, not liking the TV in front of them or not getting tickets for an event which, on further examination, they didn't even bloody apply for. Wonderfully, this is coming from the mouths of young, healthy and able-bodied Londoners. It's like that old Australian joke about "pommies" arriving, even after the plane has landed and the engines turned off, you can still hear the whining.
I remember 28 and it wasn't, frankly, that sexy
Twenty eight is the age women feel sexiest! Hooray for Pippa Middleton! She wins again. It's official – well, according to a Lil-lets survey now being bandied about as fact. It's with some regret that I must inform women aged 29+ that sexually we are on the vaginal scrapheap. I know, I know, this is sad and possibly confusing for any of us old, dilapidated, thirtysomething dried up harridans, who somehow, despite the odds, got laid this month, or fortysomethings who've been asked to leave book clubs after their full and frank appraisal of why Anaïs Nin is much better, grubbier smut than Fifty Shades of Grey. Or any fiftysomething readers planning to watch the Olympic swimming heats harbouring a dirty thought about splashing about with Michael Phelps.
This is just your sad, fading mind sending false messages to your clapped out front-muffin. Oddly enough, I remember that when I was 28 I slept in a single bed on cheap sheets, in a shared flat with paper-thin walls, was constantly skint, on a starvation diet and dated men with names like Larry the Hat who'd tell me off "for thinking too much" as opposed to themselves never having a cogniscent brainwave at all. I feel much sexier at 38. Reader, I didn't marry him.