Grace Dent: Tighten the law if you want, but don't lecture the working classes on matters of personal morality

I paid my window cleaner £4 without so much as a request to see his receipts for chamois leather

Share

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.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Pentagon has suggested that, since the campaign started, some 10,000 Isis fighters in Iraq and Syria have been killed  

War with Isis: If the US wants to destroy the group, it will need to train Syrians and Iraqis

David Usborne
David Cameron gives a speech at a Tory party dinner  

In a time of austerity, should Tories be bidding £210,000 for a signed photo of the new Cabinet?

Simon Kelner
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power