The New Puritans: From No 10 to the Daily Mail, a Cromwellian Vanguard Wants to Purge Our Excesses

By Odone, Cristina | New Statesman (1996), July 26, 2004 | Go to article overview

The New Puritans: From No 10 to the Daily Mail, a Cromwellian Vanguard Wants to Purge Our Excesses


Odone, Cristina, New Statesman (1996)


Hail to the new puritans. They wag their fingers, rap our knuckles and lock the tills (and lock up the bad 'uns). They wage war against financial extravagance and liberal self-indulgence, they preach sobriety and prudence.

They are a diverse group--including politicians, journalists and retail tycoons--but they share a single ambition: a desire to throw off excess and restore the prudence and thrift of yesteryear.

Foremost among the Roundheads is the Prime Minister: Tony Blair has declared that he will free Britain of the licentious legacy of the Sixties. He will crack down on the irresponsible citizens who stick two fingers up at authority. He will fight those who think life owes them a living. He will liberate Britons from the tyranny of "me me me" and rehabilitate the sense of community that flourished when rights came with responsibilities and "me" came after "us".

This latter-day Cromwell echoes the eloquent pennings of Melanie Phillips. Every two or three days, the indefatigable Daily Mail columnist lectures her six million readers about the ills of excess: sex outside marriage, slack parenting, our drinking culture, our gambling dens. Ms Phillips lashes us repeatedly for our sins and prophesies doom for those who resist repentance.

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Bringing the same puritanical zeal to the world of economics is the Iron Chancellor, Gordon Brown. The dour Calvinist has long been the prime upholder of the Protestant work ethic: getting slackers in the labour force off benefits and into jobs is an article of faith. Now he has raised his sights to a bigger and softer target: the public sector gravy train. Brown wants the toiling masses of teachers and nurses to benefit from the Treasury's munificence. The bureaucrats, advisers, co-ordinators, facilitators and outreach workers who overstuff the offices of local and central government are in for a nasty shock. Just as the Puritans purged the excesses of the court, so Brown wants to purge the public sector of its sick-leave-loving, pension-provided contingent.

That same belief in results, hard work and thrift is gaining ground elsewhere. Sir Peter Davis, ousted chairman of Sainsbury's, was going to trouser a [pounds sterling]2.4m bonus, despite his dismal stewardship of the ailing firm. Now Sainsbury's shareholders are saying that they won't be paying it--and Sir Peter claims he doesn't want it, either. …

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