The Seven Deadly Sins are probably rooted in medieval theology. They have been listed in numerous ways, but most commonly include pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and sloth. The sins are timeless and since the Middle Ages have inspired much art, drama, music and literature. They haven’t exactly been absent from political life either. At one time, succumbing to even a couple, would have threatened the most promising political career.

Things are different today. So much so, several could pass for “must have qualities” of the successful modern politician, particularly at Westminster. Let’s take greed as an example, as it’s present in all parties. Peter Mandelson, that pillar of socialist principle and asceticism, was “intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich”. To be fair he did add, “if they paid their taxes”. But that’s a big if. There’s little doubt however, it’s in Conservative ranks that greed is writ largest.

Margaret Thatcher’s economic mentor, Milton Friedman, asked: “Is there some society that doesn’t run on greed?” That alternative interpretation of greed as a virtue is still at the heart of present-day Conservatism. The Prime Minister sets the tone. Should there be a vacancy for a visual aid to illustrate the Seven Sins, Mr Johnson would be a shoe-in. Like Lord Mandelson, he has no problem with greed. At a recent 1922 Committee meeting, Mr Johnson declared: “The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed my friends.” Mr Johnson’s brain rarely operates in advance of his mouth, but even by his standards that was pushing the envelope a little too far. Significantly, there is no record of cries of dissent from his audience.

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Mr Johnson was talking characteristic nonsense. In truth, vaccine development and rollout represent principles much more noble than greed. Big Pharma does not have a reputation for altruism and philanthropy. Nevertheless, AstraZeneca for example, was not profit-driven in developing and delivering its vaccine. So far at least, it has made the vaccine available at cost. The success of the massive vaccination programme is not down to money-grabbing, outsourced “contractors”. It has been delivered effectively through the NHS, the ultimate example of selfless service and humanity; qualities regularly derided by free market economists and politicians.

We would all have been up the proverbial creek without a paddle had essential workers like health professionals been motivated by greed. According to the doubtful economic and moral codes favoured by the likes of the Prime Minister and Friedman, those workers would have been justified in withdrawing their labour unless they received massive pay hikes.

The catastrophic and ruinously expensive failures have all been in areas entrusted to the greed-driven private sector. In those areas, the UK Government chose to outsource rather than use local knowledge and experience. The disastrous Track and Trace programme, including the fabled “moon shot”, lined the pockets of contractors and consultants and wasted at least £37 billion. It was a similar story when it came to the supply of PPE. The crony-virus ensured Tory chums of doubtful provenance were offered blank cheques to supply equipment, not all of which proved useable. Greed not only failed to deliver, but as the National Audit Office reported, the public purse was ripped off for at least £10bn. Author Kurt Vonnegut hit the nail on the head when suggesting in greedy societies, praise is reserved “for those who devised means of getting paid enormously for committing crimes against which no laws have been passed”.

A fish rots from the head down. The Prime Minister appears to believe his annual salary of around £160,000 is insufficient for home improvements and childcare. To be fair, Mr Johnson is simply following in the footsteps of some of his predecessors, including David Cameron. On leaving office, Mr Cameron admits to have been paid “a generous amount” by Greensill Capital, declining to provide a figure. He also appears to have benefited from “sleazyjet” flights to his third home courtesy of his employer.

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Many of the wealthiest are mystified by the concepts of service and altruism. They resemble the merchant banker in Monty Python’s charity sketch, baffled by a request to put a pound in a collector’s tin and get nothing in return. “I don’t understand. Can you explain exactly what you want?” he asks. When the Scottish Government was considering increased levels of taxation for high earners, it was claimed profit would trump social obligation and they would decamp en masse to England. Yet, there is little evidence of the “trickle down” effect from the wealthiest to the poorest in society. Perversely, it’s often the poorest who are the most generous spirits. I shop at two Tesco stores. One is located in a large housing scheme, the other is on the edge of one of the city’s more affluent suburbs. Both have bins for shoppers to donate foodstuffs for distribution through organisations such as foodbanks. It’s noticeable the bin in the store in the scheme is always fuller than its counterpart in the more affluent area.

Medieval theologians believed the Seven Deadly Sins were gateways to even more questionable human behaviours. Nowadays, most of the sins have been rehabilitated and run through politics and business, like lettering through a stick of rock. In a week when the sale of luxury yachts is reported to be booming, greed seems to be particularly acceptable. To paraphrase Albert Einstein: “Only two things are infinite, the universe and the greed of wealthy Tories. And I’m not entirely sure about the universe.” If we’re serious about a fairer society, there’s an urgent need to reinstate greed as a deadly sin.

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