THIS WEEK, AGAINST the backdrop of local elections that will reveal Government performance ratings rather than the electorate's stand on any one issue, we had to look to Buckingham Palace for a re-evaluation of what Government's role should be.
For it was at Buckingham Palace that the £1 million Templeton Prize was awarded to a Catholic philosopher-economist who has tried to make Christian sense of economics while showing that no governmental discipline should be divorced from a system of ethics.
Though the winner of the prestigious prize, Michael Novak, may raise eyebrows with his unstinting defence of the market as a "softening" force based on "mutual consent" and aiming for "mutual advantage", he and the Templeton judges should be hailed for their brave attempt to remind us that there should be a link between morality and economics, between Christianity and good government.
Morals are an integral part of the political agenda, Mr Novak asks us to remember, and elections should focus on competing systems of moral understanding rather than on which side of the Euro-fault we stand. Election campaigns and promises should address the moral character of the nation, call it to task, resuscitate it, if need be never ignore it. These principles echo Mr Novak's compatriot, George Washington, who said that "without religion and the recognition of God's laws you cannot have a good nation".
Such principles go against the grain of fashionable thinking today. In the moral paralysis we have inhabited for far too long, links between personal ethical codes and collective policy have sunk into the dust kicked up by the party posturing of Left and Right, Conservative and Labour. The game of politics in this country has been allowed to move from the street, where under the watchful gaze of Everyman and woman it was pegged to day-to-day issues, and the rights and wrongs, justices and injustices they gave rise to; today, politics have been sealed in a hermetic space where opposing wings of the same party take swipes at one another in search of ultimate power.
While politicos (especially those of the Right) strut about the national political arena in search of sticks like the European Union with which to beat one another, ethics have been relegated to the sidelines. Marginalised by strident self-interest, morality seems a side-kick rather than the hero in the drama of governance. The resulting ethical wasteland, not surprisingly, has proved fertile soil for crime, racism, and a plethora of other social ills.
. Today's politicians as their policies and interminable incestuous feuding reveal no longer feel anchored by, or responsible for, the moral character of a nation. Their every action and speech seems directed at furthering their personal ambitions or promoting their party line The Templeton judges, by awarding their prestigious prize to a man who firmly yokes the government ox to the plough of morality, are blowing the whistle on the divorce of ethics and politics.
A national agenda bleached of morality will never yield the good government we seek.
Whether we agree with Mr Novak's vision of capitalism as an essential ingredient of this agenda, or rather with his opponents, who see it as promoting an unchecked individualism, we must pay tribute to his efforts to remind us that moral considerations both individual and collective must inform our public policies.