Monday 17 February 2020

Morality isn't just a question of obeying the rules

When most of us want a holiday, we look to see what’s available within our affordable price range and then book it.  The Prime Minister, it seems, simply ‘lets it be known’ to his rich friends that he needs a break and that his partner wants to be by a beach, and one of those friends contacts his friends and finds a friend who just happens to own a suitable property where there just happens to have been a last minute cancellation and, hey presto, the PM and partner get a ‘free’ holiday in Mustique.  It helps that the person who owned the property also just happens to owe Johnson’s rich friend a favour anyway. 
Labour have been asking for details of who actually paid, which strikes me as completely the wrong question to be asking.  Probably, in effect, no-one has paid anything – the person who owned the accommodation where the PM and partner stayed has lost the potential rental for the period, but if it had been subject to a late cancellation, he or she may not have been able to find a new taker for the relevant dates, and may also have benefited from a cancellation fee anyway.  Those are details we simply haven’t been told.  But it’s all been, apparently, fully declared and no rules have been broken, so that makes it all perfectly acceptable.  Or does it?
The first thing that looks dubious to me is that the friend who arranged all this for the PM did so by calling in a favour from someone else.  He’s now done a favour for Johnson, so will he at some future date be looking to call that favour in as well?  And that goes to the nub of the problem with providing favours for those who are in a position to potentially take favourable decisions in the future.  Doing someone a favour isn’t actual corruption, of course, unless and until the person doing the favour seeks some sort of quid pro quo in the future.  The individual in this case may never do so but the potential is always there.  Keeping the PM sweet can’t do him any harm and he could always just ‘let it be known’ that certain policies might be of benefit to him without ever ‘asking’ for anything.
The second thing is the confusion between rules and morality.  Thinking back to the MPs’ expenses saga, claiming for moat cleaning and duck houses may well have been within the rules at the time that the claims were being made, but that didn’t make those claims right.  They called into question the good sense and judgement of those making the claims.  The moral of the story is that sticking within the letter of the law isn’t enough; there is a duty on public figures to consider how their actions might reasonably be interpreted by others.  Sadly, the only lesson that the MPs learned was that they needed to make the rules a little bit tighter.  But MPs and ministers can’t ‘outsource’ their judgement or their duty to be seen to be doing the right thing simply by obeying the rules.  Arguing that something is only ‘wrongdoing’ if it breaks a rule somewhere is an abdication of responsibility.  From a government with a moral vacuum at its heart, I suspect we’ll have to get used to such abdication.

1 comment:

dafis said...

John please lay off this issue as I have sent the P.M a letter asking that he gets my name on that list for free holiday(along with Mrs Dafis of course, not someone else's missus!). I need the holiday as I am worn out watching politicians' antics and need a nice break away from it all. If I don't get a positive answer within the week I think you should then go ahead and give it to him both barrels.