Friday 8 April 2022

Not being unlawful isn't the same as being acceptable


Most people will have some sympathy, initially at least, with the protests from Sunak and his supporters that attacking his wife is an unfair political tactic. He, after all, is the politician and therefore fair game, not her. Their protests might have a bit more credibility, however, if they didn’t come just days after the UK government decided to sanction the alleged (they don’t even seem entirely sure of that) step-daughter of the Russian foreign minister on the grounds that “those benefiting from association of those responsible for Russian aggression are in scope of our sanctions”. It's a simple fact that any close association between individuals can mean that someone benefits from the wealth or activity of another, and there are few associations closer than marriage. Sunak might not need his wife’s money, but any income she receives is part of his household’s income and must therefore be open to a degree of scrutiny. A Chancellor who claims to oppose tax avoidance yet whose household benefits from it ought to realise that he has questions to answer; the fact that he doesn’t tells us a lot about his sensitivity (or lack of) to what others might think.

By the same token, his marital arrangements are, in principle, solely a matter between the two of them, but when the spouse of someone who thinks he should be PM is openly declaring her intention to return to India where she claims to be domiciled, he really shouldn’t be surprised if people start wondering about the extent of his own commitment to the country which he seeks to govern. With that ambition in mind, his protests about opposition politicians would sound a great deal more sincere if it wasn’t almost certain that the information had been leaked by someone on his own side determined to stop him achieving said ambition.

He and his supporters are claiming that neither he nor his wife have done anything wrong, and in legal terms they are correct. But is merely being ‘legal’ enough? It isn’t just Sunak; time after time politicians caught out doing something which others might feel is perhaps a little dodgy respond by denying any wrongdoing and stating that ‘no rules were broken’. Confusing what is right or moral with what is legal has become increasingly common as politicians outsource any sense of morality to whoever makes the rules. Being legal, however, isn’t the same as being ‘right’; the fact that something hasn’t yet been legislated against doesn’t make it acceptable. It is not at all unreasonable to expect those who govern us, or seek to govern us, to give at least a little bit of thought to whether what they are doing is not only ‘not currently banned’ but also stands up to scrutiny in terms of what the governed might see as reasonable. They do, after all, keep telling us that a sense of fair play is one of the great British values which allegedly unites us. It does not, however, seem to be one of the values which they think is important in terms of their own actions.

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