Thursday, 29 April 2021

The moral compasses are still as broken as ever


What makes the Bullingdon Club so infamous is the members’ habit of smashing up the restaurants in which they hold their ‘events’ and then paying up on the spot for the damage caused. The act of paying for the damage, in their eyes, somehow makes it all right to go around damaging other people’s property as and when the urge takes them. In the process, it draws a clear line between the wealthy who can afford to destroy first and pay later and the rest who can only stand back and watch as years of work and investment is destroyed in front of their eyes. And it reduces everything to its monetary value. But, when the club leaves the premises, the owner is not out of pocket, and that, apparently, makes it OK.

It’s an attitude which has direct parallels in the case of the Downing Street refurbishment undertaken by a member of that infamous club. In this case, it’s not so much physical property which has been damaged (although we can’t, yet, discount the possibility that the nearly-new furniture removed from the flat has been skipped) as the rules, conventions and laws under which things are supposed to happen. But, at the end of the day, the PM has repaid the costs out of his own pocket (allegedly – it’s still not clear how the money found its way into his pocket in the first place), and that, apparently, makes it OK. It is, in his eyes, the end result which matters, not the process of getting there. I’m sure that he’d be equally forgiving of a bank robber who, when caught, repaid all the money. At that point, the bank has lost nothing, so why make a fuss?

There is another parallel as well – when they smashed up those restaurants, the money for reparations may well have come from their own pockets at the time, but it was almost invariably put into those pockets by someone else, usually the parents. And the expectation that that he can and should be absolved of all blame by using someone else’s money to pay for the consequences of his actions is another aspect of the Downing Street saga. But what is there, in his background and life experience, which would lead him to think otherwise? This is a man who has gone through his entire life without ever having had to face up to the consequences of his own actions, a man who has repeatedly found that lying brings rewards, not punishments (literally in the case of many of his made-up and paid-for articles over the years), a man who has always got away with ignoring the rules which apply to others, a man who has demonstrated to his own satisfaction that the world takes him at his own estimation of himself.

It isn’t just him, though. A whole generation of politicians, and not all of them in the Conservative Party, have outsourced any sense of morality and judgement to the people who make the rules. They don’t need a moral compass, just a rule book, and if the rule book doesn’t explicitly ban something then it’s permitted. Johnson has, admittedly, taken that a step further in arguing, effectively, that as long as the outcome meets the letter of the rules, then following the rules to get there is an unnecessary hindrance on his freedom of action. But the people who put him there and defend him daily, the members of his party, are equally culpable. Their moral compasses seem to be incapable of telling them whether something is right or wrong, merely whether the public care or not. If a sufficient proportion of the public don’t care (as measured by opinion polls and elections) whether their leaders are honest or not, if they don’t care about the integrity of their leaders, then honesty and integrity don’t matter.

Perhaps the palpable anger of the PM yesterday at the temerity of anyone daring to question what he does will mark a turning point. Even some of his most loyal supporters in the media seem to be turning against him. It would be nice to be able to say that they’ve all discovered a sense of morality and outrage, but I can’t help but feel that it has more to do with deciding that he looks like a loser after all. It’s not as if any aspect of his character was ever unclear in advance.

No comments: