THE latest opinion polls on what voters are thinking make interesting reading. An increasing proportion of the electorate are dissatisfied with the Government's performance, particularly over the economy. But when asked who is best at dealing with the economy, the same group of voters reply that the present Government is.
Why is this? There is clearly a large question mark in the voters' mind over Labour's competence to run the economy better than the present incuments. There is also the question of what the two main parties believe in.
One of Mrs Thatcher's attractions is that she has a clear set of views about how she believes the world does and should work. Moreover her views have considerable support among ordinary voters.
Labour also has a group who take a similarly simple view of life. During the 1960s and 1970s the most vocal parts of the Labour party became dominated by Marxists. They, like Mrs Thatcher, believe they have the key to understanding life. Their aim is to impose this belief, first on the Labour Party and then on the country.
However, many of these latter views are alien to what a large proportion of what working class and middle class voters believe. But with all groups possessed of the truth, this response by the customers has been met by an even more determined attempt to thrust a Marxist medicine down people's throats.
We all know what this process has done to Labour's standing in the country. Crucial, therefore, to any revival of the Labour party is the renaissance of Labour's old beliefs. These beliefs are what Norman Dennis and Chelley Hallsey write about in
their new book, British Ethical Socialism (Clarendon, £27.50). They root this tradition in Thomas More and see it flower in the life and work of William Cobbett, L T Hobhouse, George Orwell, T H Marshall and R H
The authors see ethical Socialism as believing above all else that the aim of each of us is to strive towards moral perfection. In doing so we not only revolutionise the way we live our own lives but change the quality of life of those around us, and finally, the life of the nation itself. The institutions and organisations of the state can only be as good as the people who compose them.
This belief in human perfection would be qualified by Christians. Although we accept that that is what God's purpose is for each of us, we are fallen creatures. Christians are therefore interested in the role of Grace and how this greatest of God's gifts operates in the world. Christians would add that the perfection aimed for is utopian in the sense that such a completeness to each human personality will only be achieved at the Second Coming.
Ethical Socialists argue that moral choices, often between different shades of grey, are the essence of life, and that to choose or fail to choose has profound repercussions on the society in which we live. Moreover, it is this belief in the uniqueness of individuals making moral choices which govern the way ethical socialists interpret at at any one time that trinity of beliefs, fraternity, liberty and equality.
The overlap of these beliefs and the Christian faith is obvious. Ethical socialism has grown out of a Christian culture. A further similarity is in the way ideas are used. Much of the synoptic gospels are an account of Jesus' struggle with the righteous; those who believe that life is about applying a set code. Jesus' code is much more subtle. A set of beliefs are given to us, and the onus is put on us
to live out these beliefs according to our conscience.
Because consciences can be notorious for telling us to do what we want to do anyway, we need to take into account the whole of the gospel record and how other Christians have responded through the ages. A similar approach is demanded by ethical socialism. There are no short-cuts, and there is no final destination. Rather, if it is a political guide to our journey through life.
Labour desperately needs a set of beliefs which give moral authority to the politics for which it seeks electoral approval. I believe the ethical socialist stance is the only viable one for Labour. The big question is whether a reaffirmation of this approach can come soon enough before Labour has its next date of destiny with the voters.