One of Tony Blair’s most famous soundbites from his early days as PM was that it was important for his government to be “purer than pure”. Now this quote is of course much mocked, and rightly so given events such as the Ecclestone affair and loans-for-peerages, but his failure to live up to his own standards does not mean he was wrong in principle. The fact is it is not enough for those in power merely to act within the letter of the rules governing their behaviour, it is important to act within the spirit of the rules and avoid conduct which may give the appearance of impropriety. Which is why, as Marcel Berlins points out in the Guardian today, when politicians are accused of acting inappropriately it is simply not adequate for them to merely point out that what they did was within the rules.
So Jacqui Smith may have obtained the neccessary approval to pretend that her sister’s flat is her main place of residence in order to claim expenses for her family home in her constituency, but it is still a shabby piece of opportunism. As is David Blunkett’s acceptance of a job from a company which is bidding for a contract from his former government department. And his self-pitying wingeing justification does not help one sympathise – his argument that of such things were stopped people would not want to become government ministers is risible, and the notion that he does not get involved in any way in the company’s tendering for UK business beggars belief – I mean his connections in the UK are his sole qualification for the job, it would be like me hiring a skilled plumber and getting him to paint my ceiling.
Smith, Blunkett and those like them are milking their positions for personal gain and it is hardly suprising that their behaviour does not go down well with those they are supposed to represent and in whose interests they are supposed to be acting. As Berlins points out
Perpetrators of the “I’m allowed to, therefore I’ll do it” philosophy often do not seem to understand why their conduct has drawn criticism. For them, the fact that they broke no rules or laws is a sufficient answer. They do not go on to justify the content of what they have done, only its legality. They will blame the rules and laws for having the capacity to be taken advantage of, rather than themselves, who have benefited from taking the advantage. What is missing is that little voice that tells them: “Yes, you may be entitled to do that, but it doesn’t mean you’re obliged to. There may be other factors.” The public, however, does see these other dimensions, based on decency, morality and reasonableness, rather than selfishness, arrogance and greed.