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Monday, April 05, 2021

A new era of political sleaze?

Over at the Guardian, Zoe Williams has a few thoughts on the sleaze that is engulfing Boris Johnson's Tory Government and whether he is in breach of the Nolan principles on public life:

Michael Nolan didn’t have a lot to say about chastity or generosity or modesty or humility, I’m guessing because he assumed that the public would provide that firewall themselves. If a person was visibly greedy or wrathful or gluttonous, if they couldn’t handle government money without funnelling it through their friends, or have juniors at work without swearing at them, or had such poor impulse control that they would invite their girlfriend to their marital home for a cheesy pasta dinner, only to have run out of cheese, then they would never make it in public life in the first place. Standards for officials were a totally second-order affair, designed for the intricate moral dilemmas of duty versus ambition, openness versus discretion. They assumed a baseline of normal human decency. Asking whether Boris Johnson could have breached Nolan’s principles is like asking whether two pigeons trying to shag mid-air have violated public decency legislation. Maybe, technically. But they’re just pigeons, doing what pigeons do.

The sleaze-politician never defends him or herself on the facts; their defence is always: “This is who I am, because this is who we all are, because this is what politics is, and the sooner you price it in, the less dispirited you will feel.” That’s why successful critique can only really come from within the political establishment. The argument isn’t really about right and wrong, which is pretty simple. The argument is: “Do politicians really need principles – God’s, Nolan’s or anyone else’s?” It takes another politician to say: “Yes, they really do.”

It is a cynical take on events, but one that seems perfectly justified in the light of the actions of this government.
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