Standards in Public Life Matter | William Hallowell


The standards to which the public hold elected politicians accountable should be treated as though they are sacred – if not, they have no meaning or purpose. That is why, when the standards in public life drop so grossly as they have in the last two years, and the rules to which politicians who serve us are so casually broken or ignored, an example must be made of offenders to ensure that the integrity of these standards are upheld.  

Alastair Campbell makes reference to the Seven Principles of Public Life that apply to any public office holder: Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership. On a day-to-day basis, Boris Johnson fails to uphold half of these standards; in fact, he is a shameless serial offender of these Principles, which is plainly why he is not fit to serve in the immensely privileged job that he does.

But Johnson should go not because there are suspicions of a plot to oust him, or because Keir Starmer says so – or even solely because of ‘partygate’. For a multitude of reasons, Johnson is unsuitable to lead the country; but chiefly, standards in public life have dropped so drastically under his premiership – a problem for which he is directly responsible as a serial offender in breaking these leadership principles. And whilst there may be a campaign to remove him by his political adversaries, or whether these similar assertions can be attributed to the (supposedly left-wing biased) media is frankly irrelevant. Neither of these arguments prove a reasonable enough justification to excuse and to be indifferent to the appalling way in which the prime minister governs.

A leader who is scared of accountability, and who actively tries to evade being held to account at all costs, is not a ‘leader’ – and it is the conduct of a politician who is frightened of democracy. This was blatant when Johnson tried to overrule the guilty findings of Owen Paterson’s paid lobbying, a practice strictly forbidden in the Houses of Parliament, no less that it is wholly reprehensible. As deputy Labour leader, Angela Rayner, argued at the time: in no other job or profession would Paterson have had his guilt overturned, and the rules of which he stood guilty of breaking, rewritten so as to justify overturning his guilt.

The Paterson lobbying scandal is a far more damning indictment of Johnson’s leadership, and an example of how the standards of public life have slipped on his watch, than the string of alleged parties that took place in Downing Street when the prime minister’s own laws prohibited the rest of us from seeing our friends and family. But what is important with regards to the parties that allegedly took place is that they are now subject to criminal investigation – including the prime minister. If this doesn’t fill the country with immense shame and embarrassment, it is difficult to see what might. What’s even more unforgivable is that the public will not find out who is subjected to fines over the breaking of the government’s own lockdown restrictions. The public have the right to know when their democratically-elected politicians are subject to police investigations and what the outcomes of these investigations are; this right is integral to democratic accountability (of which Johnson is so afraid). On that note too, Sue Gray’s report must be published in full in addition to all investigations by the Met Police, whatever their outcomes.

And as far as making a convincing argument that this government is frightened of being held to account, consider this; as the level of illegal immigration has soared way above the figures of 2019 and 2020, the Home Office now plans to cease publishing the numbers following the splash of publicity that the media gave the crisis last November. Why? For no other reason than that illegal immigration is a huge issue of contention in Britain – an issue that the Conservative government have promised to tackle for years and are still failing to, despite Priti Patel’s empty rhetoric. By the end of 2021, the number exceeded 28,000. For some perspective, the British government promised to take in 28,000 Afghans after the fall of Kabul last summer. The only reason the Home Office would cease to publish the figures now is through fear of criticism and embarrassment over failure to tackle an issue the Conservative party have long promised to.

Additionally, since Allegra Stratton was exposed laughing when practicing the response to give the media if she was asked about the infamous cheese and wine parties that took place during lockdown, Johnson has seemed to favour pre-recorded coronavirus statements to release to the media instead of holding live press conferences. Convenient, isn’t it?

If Boris Johnson is an example of anything, it is how not to serve one’s country. The standards expected of democratically-elected politicians have slipped so low under his premiership that if the public does not reject him – now, if ever – his system of leadership and shirking of accountability will only set a dangerous precedent for future prime ministers and governments – and the public’s indifference to such conduct. Not only has the prime minister’s behaviour been a damning indictment of poor leadership, it would be a damning indictment of the British public to be indifferent to his conduct and not believe that Britain deserves better, both now and at the next general election. 


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