Monday 23 June 2008

Many a slip

I found myself on Radio Wales' "Called to Order" on Friday evening, just before taking myself off to Trelech. One of the topics for discussion was the little verbal slip made by Alun Cairns a week or so ago.

There can be no doubt that what he said was unacceptable. He should have known better, even in what was a pretty light-hearted exchange, so no defence was forthcoming from this quarter for what he said.

But most systems of justice recognise that there are degrees of wrongdoing; some things are worse than others. In politics, however, it seems to be becoming the norm that any slip by any individual leads to the other parties, and the media, baying for blood; and there is a danger that people will be so afraid of being caught out saying the wrong thing that they will end up saying very little at all, unless it's been carefully scripted by Party HQ.

It is right that political parties should use their disciplinary processes to deal with transgressions; but are there also occasions when the electorate can be left to make their own judgement on an individual? And how should we decide between the two?

In this particular case, it seems to me that both the verdict and the sentence on Alun Cairns will have more to do with the image which Cameron wishes to portray than with any cold and careful assessment of the words actually used, the context, and the degree of offence caused. People may or may not feel that it is the 'right' verdict and sentence; but the process of arriving at it looks rather dubious to me.

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