William Hague

Caught up in speculation: Hague

Scandals involving politicians are breaking out left, right and centre – again. But what do they say about you and me?

Even with Parliament in summer recess, a number of scandals and would-be scandals involving our nation’s politicians found their way into the tabloids and blogs. In June (before the recess), the Liberal Democrat Climate and Energy Secretary of State Chris Huhne announced he was divorcing his wife over a woman who worked as his campaigner. Then, Conservative prisons minister Crispin Blunt, a married father of two, came out of the closet and declared that he was also seeking a divorce. Most recently, an aide to William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, has had to resign over unsubstantiated claims of a relationship between him and his boss.

Of course, those are by no means the only scandals (or would-be scandals) involving politicians to break out historically, or indeed recently. I have long been desensitised by them. Some of us may still shake our heads at them, disappointed at the seemingly low moral standards of our politicians. We expect them to be clean and honest, driven to public life by duty and compassion rather than power or prestige. In short, we expect them to be like us.

I’m sure many of us would like to think of ourselves as reasonably good people. After all, perhaps apart from the occasional speeding in “safe” conditions or convenient littering, we do not break the law. We work hard to provide for our families, saving up and investing for a comfortable retirement, and even try our best to live ethically and give to charity. Then we take one look at the state of our politicians, and snort at, or are perhaps saddened by, the details over their private lives.

If you are doing any of those things, I beseech you to stop. Politicians aren’t inherently worse than you and I, even as they crave power and popularity. Their lives seem so messed up only because they are being lived out in the public, whereas ours are protected solely by anonymity, not by our inherently better nature.

For example, all hell quite rightly broke loose when the parliamentary expenses scandals surfaced. MPs should not have been claiming for things that were not related to work, even if it was within the rules at the time. Yet outside the public glare, this sort of behaviour happens everywhere, committed by “hard-working”, “honest” people, like us. What about that expensive gourmet lunch you had on company’s expense when you could have made do with a sandwich? Or that taxi ride the company paid for when you could have taken the bus? If our own lives were lived in the limelight, what sort of commentary would the tabloids run on us?

The latest intense speculation over William Hague’s apparent relationship with his special adviser proves my point. We are so perversely interested in someone else’s private lives, and yet still claim the moral high ground and expect our own privacies to be preserved?

Sure, in exchange for power and popularity, politicians gave up their privacy. But they didn’t give up their imperfections, and it would be highly unreasonable for us to ask them to, unless we asked ourselves to get rid of all our little imperfections. Politicians are, after all, only human. They too work hard (I’ve seen them) to provide for their families, and I believe that they entered politics at least partly because they wanted to build a better society. So stop wondering why politicians aren’t better people: they aren’t because we aren’t.