A politician who speaks his mind

In politics you're never sure who to despise. David Cameron seemed a thoroughly safe bet and now look what he's done. Mr. Cameron, in case you don't follow the disintegration of the public sector in Britain as closely as here at home, took over the British Conservative party in December 2005 and, like a classic Canadian Tory, proudly declared himself centrist while articulating uniformly left-wing policies.

Uh, until this week. Speaking in a Glasgow constituency his party wouldn't win if hell did freeze over, he suddenly unleashed a withering blast against political correctness. For instance he told fat people to eat less and exercise more.

Please don't file a hate speech complaint against me because I'm just reporting the facts. (Wait a minute. That's not a defence before our Star Chambers, is it? Oh well. The truth shall make us free. Aaaaaah I just quoted the Bible. I'm in trouble now.)

Before they lock me up, to assure you I am not exaggerating Mr. Cameron's clarity, let me quote him: "Refusing to use these words -- right and wrong -- means a denial of personal responsibility and the concept of a moral choice. We talk about people being 'at risk of obesity' instead of talking about people who eat too much and take too little exercise."

Ouch. The fat's in the fire now. And sizzling, as he continued: "We talk about people being at risk of poverty, or social exclusion: it's as if these things -- obesity, alcohol abuse, drug addiction -- are purely external events like a plague or bad weather. Of course, circumstances -- where you are born, your neighbourhood, your school, and the choices your parents make -- have a huge impact. But social problems are often the consequence of the choices that people make."

Now try to imagine a major Canadian politician making such a statement. I'm sorry. Did you hurt yourself laughing? Sure, a backbencher occasionally says something similar, generally flubbing the delivery, but they are quickly repudiated by their more reputable colleagues. However, before denouncing our politicians as a sorry mix of conformists and crackpots, remember that there is a filter in Canadian politics that determines who gets to be a politician. The electorate. Us. And look what we let Dalton McGuinty do to John Tory over faith-based schools, while sending his own kids to one.

The Daily Telegraph claimed: "It is a sign of the political confidence that Mr. Cameron now has -- backed by consistent opinion poll leads of around 18 points -- that he feels able to make such strong comments." And I grant that in Britain, as here, politicians trailing in the polls are peculiarly adverse to bold efforts to gain ground. But those ahead in the polls generally seem even more afraid of blunt talk. I say Mr. Cameron made a moral choice to speak out.

Others could usefully imitate him, and not just politicians. Wednesday's Citizen quoted the supposedly Roman Catholic premier of Ontario praising the induction of Dr. Henry Morgentaler into the Order of Canada because "I know Dr. Morgentaler is seen as a controversial figure, but I believe in a woman's right to make a very difficult decision and if she makes that difficult decision and chooses to have an abortion, I want her to be able to do that in a way that is safe and a way that's publicly funded." If the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Canada takes church teachings more seriously than Mr. McGuinty, they ought pointedly to deny him communion. While we await their decision, let me share with you, and them, a bit more of Mr. Cameron's amazing outburst.

"We as a society have been far too sensitive. In order to avoid injury to people's feelings, in order to avoid appearing judgmental, we have failed to say what needs to be said... we prefer moral neutrality... Bad. Good. Right. Wrong. These are words that our political system and our public sector scarcely dare use any more." He admitted politicians are far from perfect: "Our relationships crack up, our marriages break down, we fail as parents and as citizens just like everyone else. But if the result of this is a stultifying silence about things that really matter, we redouble the failure."

Wow. He finished: "There is a danger of becoming quite literally a de-moralized society, where nobody will tell the truth anymore about what is good and bad, right and wrong. That is why children are growing up without boundaries... The values we need to repair our broken society... should be taught in the home, in the family.'"

I would love to hear a politician in this country seize a microphone and deliver equally blunt remarks. Even if it means I have to stop despising him.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]