The New Morality 2.0

22nd May, 2015

Back in 2013 we identified a trend called the ‘The New Morality’. The trend was boosted both by the financial crisis and the litany of business and institutional scandals of recent years. In no particular order, think phone hacking, PPI miss-selling, horse burgers, Jimmy Saville/BBC/Newsnight, Libor rate fixing, Mid-Staffs NHS Trust, exchange rate fixing, Hillsborough disaster cover up, tax ‘avoision’ by big corporations…

The New Morality was a hard-nosed and individualistic morality. It involved people looking out for  number 1 in times of economic hardship and despairing at the (in)competence and moral standards of those at the top big institutions. We referred to these manifestations of The New Morality as ‘the self-preservation society’ and ‘C-Suite Scrutiny’. Both have widespread implications for business, not least in transforming the nature of the Corporate Social Responsibility agenda. The New Morality meant that messages about local impacts (on my community) and corporate governance standards were more likely to resonate than action on climate change or global supply chain practice.

As economic recovery takes hold, we are reflecting on its impact on all our trends. This is particularly true of those trends, like The New Morality, that were ‘born’ in the recession. What is the lifespan of a recessionary trend in a post-recessionary environment? Which recessionary attitudes and behaviours will be ditched as the purse strings loosen and which will be retained? We have gathered lots of evidence on this and are happy to engage directly with clients on the implications for their sector and business.

Data published by YouGov this week, designed to help locate the political centre of gravity in the aftermath of the General Election, also allowed us to take a fresh look at our New Morality thesis. The survey found that people would like the new government to give priority to:

  • tackling companies who behave badly by avoiding taxes etc. (67%) over helping companies invest more to create jobs (27%)
  • limiting welfare payments to big families to £23,000pa (56%) over imposing a mansion tax on homes worth £2m (36%)
  • reducing income tax (60%) over increasing welfare benefits to families on low incomes (30%)

This data finds the New Morality trend alive and well, if perhaps slightly morphed into New Morality 2.0. Note the desire to punish badly behaving business, even at the expense of job creation. Note also the desire to keep the lid on welfare spending, in favour of retaining more of our own money. The New Morality 2.0 feels like the wrath of the ‘squeezed middle’ – looking to hit the ‘undeserving’ recipients of their ‘hard earned’ at both the top and bottom of society.

This may not be the world as many of us would like it to be, but it is the world we live in and one which reflects the tone and conduct of the 2015 General Election campaign.