When ‘ethics’ is a county in the south of England

There’s an old joke about politics – politicians are people who think that:

  • Ethics is a county in the south of England
  • Morals are paintings on plaster
  • Scruples is the Russian currency

Unfortunately it seems that this joke is rapidly becoming a reality – within 48 hours we’ve had two Chief Secretaries to the Treasury who’ve had, shall we say,  slight incongruities in their financial backgrounds.  Ignoring the red-herrings that have been tossed around about David Laws’ sexuality, the bottom line of this is that it appears that the Liberal Democrats didn’t audit the financial backgrounds of their senior members – something that both Labour and the Tories did in the aftermath of the expenses scandal.  It shouldn’t have been rocket science for the Lib Dems to do this; indeed, I would have thought that it should have been pretty easy and straight forward to achieve; after all, there were not as many LD MPs as Tory or Labour MPs, and over the years we’ve often been regaled by the Liberals with how they represent honesty and integrity against the perfidy and entrenched privilege of the other two major parties.

Well, a quick exposure to power has revealed the the LD MPs have as many financial ‘D’OH’ moments to deal with as their blue and red colleagues.

Perhaps Nick Clegg honestly never believed his MPs would play fast and loose, perhaps they genuinely didn’t think they’d done anything wrong.  Perhaps they never expected to gain power and so come under public scrutiny – but the Lib Dems are now under the same sort of withering fire from the media as Labour and Tory MPs were at the start of the expenses row.  I’ve already suggested in a previous post that Laws has bought the Coalition in to disrepute and has carried over the issues surrounding the integrity and financial probity of MPs from the last parliament in to this one.  Now that Danny Alexander appears to have dropped the ball as well, it does begin to look like there is a systemic problem at the heart of the Liberal Party which needs sorting out if they’re to retain the moral high ground they’ve previously had.

I’ve found it interesting this evening to briefly debate the issue with Liberal Democrat apologists on Twitter, whose main argument has been to try and sidestep the allegations Alexander’s financial irregularities by trying to focus attention on the tax status of the Barclay Brothers who own the Daily Telegraph, who’re publishing the Alexander information.  The difference is that the Barclay Brothers did not get elected to Government on the back of people’s despair over MP’s expenses.  Neither do they run the country.

To all members of the Liberal Democrat Party.  Fix this mess.  Audit your people, come clean, accept that some of your folks have issues that need addressing and address them.  Don’t try and bullshit us with claims of homophobia (for Laws) or feeble attempts to blame the messenger (for Alexander).  I hope that the Alexander issue IS something out of nothing, and that the situation is satisfactorily explained to us over the next day or so.

But let’s just say I’m not holding my breath.  In the meantime, how many Liberal Democrat MPs are left who can take the job on?

Why I’m fucking furious with David Laws….

A little history.

One of the reasons why there has been radical political change in the UK in the last year is that the British people have finally started getting truly fed up with MPs on the ‘gravy train’ who seem to prosper whilst the rest of the country goes down the plughole.  Until 2006, it was legitimate for MPs to pay expenses / rents / fees etc. to their partners or family members.  A change in the rules then stated that you could no longer do that.

David Laws fell foul of this by virtue of the fact that between 2004 and 2009 Mr Laws claimed money back from the State – that is, us – to pay rent to his partner a total of around £40,000.  I think it’s safe to say that had this been a story involving a couple of jobless folks claiming benefits there wouldn’t be an issue of paying the money back right now – it would be more likely to be an issue of someone spending a year at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

At first glance, Laws appears to have either been incompetent with money (never good for someone tasked with the job of implementing Government cuts) or dishonest (equally a bit of a downer for someone in that job…)   And then it gets complicated – apparently the actual reason for the…misunderstanding….involving the expenses was that laws was actually gay, and he was trying to keep this quiet for respect of his and his partner’s privacy.

To date I’ve been impressed with the Coalition – both their politics and the way they’ve been implementing them. But the Coalition has come to power with a whole host of ‘issues’ around it – there are folks in both parties who don’t want it to work,  Labour are waiting for errors to exploit and people are expecting a lot from the new Government.  What folks are not wanting is a return to parliamentary expenses problems – especially when it features someone who’re responsible for implementing serious, albeit necessary, cuts.

  • Laws – this is why I am bloody angry with you.  I find it VERY difficult to believe that you:
  • Didn’t appreciate that your private life was going to be public at some point in the last year or so. 
  • Chanced your arm by carrying on claiming after the rule change.
  • Were hard-up enough to need to claim the rent back at all.
  • Didn’t realise that it would all come out if you became a frontbench Minister, especially in the Treasury.

It’s inevitable that whoever implements the Coalition’s Treasury policy needs to be pretty much whiter than white – or at least as white as any politician can be these days -for whatever reasons Laws didn’t meet this criterion. 

Whether he thought he was working within the rules or not, he wasn’t.  He’s now given an open-goal to opposition to the Coalition within the Tory Party, the Liberals and New Labour.  Personal hubris has yet again laid waste a political career, but with potentially bad implications for the country.

And that’s why I’m so fucking angry with Laws – he’s managed to drag the bad issues of the last Parliament through in to this one, distracting people away from the really major issues of getting the UK back on it’s feet after a decade of mis-rule.

4 Lions – when does bad taste become dark humour?

Back in January 2009, there was a little article in The Guardian referring to thefunding of a film by Chris Morris by FilmFour, the film production arm of Channel 4.   The film, “4 Lions”, has now been produced and released to mixed reviews, some of which will have undeniably been influenced by the subject matter of the film – a comedy about Islamic extremist suicide bombers planning a bomb attack on the London Marathon.

The film was described as  showing the “the Dad’s Army side to terrorism”, as four incompetent jihadists plan an attack.  For some reason the description of the film reminded me of the description of the spoof musical ‘Springtime for Hitler’ as ‘ A Gay Romp WithEva and Adolf at Berchtesgaden’ in the movie ‘The Producers’.  Interestingly enough, given the calls from relations of people involved in the 2005 bombings for the film to be not distributed or screened, ‘The producers’ had some difficulties at the start of it’s life with problems with getting it made or shown.  Eventually it was released as an ‘art house’ film and then got big ‘word of mouth’ takeup.

Now, I love ‘the Producers’, but I’m rather less enamoured with Morris’s film, and it set me thinking about what makes some ‘bad taste’ films acceptable and others unacceptable.

I guess the first thing is the timing.  When ‘The Producers’ was made in 1968, WW2 was 23 years in the past; whilst easily within living memory, it wasn’t raw.  Less than 5 years have elapsed between the July 2005 London bombings and the release of this film.  Probably too close for comfort – and releasing the film around the time of the 2010 London Marathon was probably a brilliant wheeze  from a marketing point of view but a little ‘naff’ for those taking part in the Marathon or remembering those killed in 2005.

Then there’s the closeness to real life.  Let’s stick with ‘The Producers’ as our control here.  They made one of the two most evil men of the 20thCentury look like a buffoon, and had a series of song and dance routines that were so far over the top – and intended to be so – that there was no real link to reality.  “4 Lions’ has a group of four would-be bombers – complete with Yorkshire accents – coming down from the North to London to do the attack.  Sound familiar?  Just a little too close.

Then there’s the delicate issue of who makes the film.  ‘The Producers’ – bad taste comedy about the Nazis made by a Jewish producer, with Russian and German Jewish parents, and who also served in combat in WW2.  4 Lions is the brainchild of a comedian / comedy writer who’s best known for sketches and set-up pieces that often involve unsuspecting people who believe that they’re taking part in something ‘straight’ and are actually the butts of the humour.  4 Lions could well have been more acceptable had it been made by another comedian or had the involvement of someone directly involved.

Basically, as far as ‘4 Lions’ is concerned it’s badly timed, too close to home and made by a team who appear to be unsympathetic to the issues involved.  Morris and the film makers apparently did a great deal of research in to the whole mindset and culture of extremists to make the film.  Perhaps they should have researched whether it’s just too soon.  Or whether it’s a good idea at all to laugh about people being blown up less than 5 years ago.

Moral relativism and evil

moralityFirst of all, for anyone unaware of the news stories about the two pre-teen thugs from Edlington who tortured and abused two little boys, here’s a link to the story.  Now, I passed a comment online that I regarded the two perpetrators as evil.  I didn’t state they should be hung, drawn and quartered, thrown to wild animals, etc.  Just that they were evil.

Now, the definition of evil from a dictionary I have nearby is “morally bad or wrong; wicked; depraved; resulting from or based on conduct regarded as immoral”.  I think that the behaviour of the thugs could be described as evil under that definition.  And I’m sorry, I may come over as a roaring thunder-lizard of reactionary, non-politically correct thought but I’m afraid that someone who does evil things is, until they reform, evil.  And there appears to be no indication that these boys have shown any regret, repentance or even any sort of apology for what they did.  From past evidence, it would appear that the only emotion they have felt is the dismay at being caught.

I was quite surprised (whether I should have been or not) when someone came back and questioned whether it was right to call them evil, and other suggestions were made about whether the boys themselves were victims of their upbringing and background.  I have to say that the upbringing of these individuals is shocking depressing, but the one thing that separates human beings from animals is that between stimulus and response we have the capacity for choice.  And it is in that moment of choice – that instant where civilised behaviour, conscience and sense of right and wrong operates – that the determination to be evil is made.

The fact that some folks believe that whether a behaviour can be evil or not based purely on circumstances I find to be rather disturbing.   The idea that different moral truths hold for different people is called Moral Relativism, I don’t have any time at all for it.  Not too long ago I posted on here about the dangers of peering in to the Abyss.  These boys seem to be the products of such an activity, aided and abetted by our own culture.  Whatever the cause, I don’t honestly see how anyone can look at their behaviour and say it is anything other than evil, and a moral relativist approach to these matters helps no one except the perpetrators and apologists for them.  I’d go further; it actually promotes repeat behaviour; by failing to come down firmly about an issue and say that ‘that behaviour is wrong’ or ‘that behaviour is evil’  we provide a moral and ethical grey area. 

I don’t believe we should be ashamed to state that something is evil.  As CS Lewis pointed out in his work of Christian apologetics ‘Mere Christianity’,  the vast majority of human beings seem to have a built in feel for what’s right and wrong, what’s good and evil.   As a Christian I try not to judge; I’m far from perfect, after all, but I do believe that there is a ‘line in the sand’ which we can draw in absolute moral terms, and it’s the edge of the abyss I wrote about above.  Moral Relativism takes away the sharp drop, building steps for us all to walk down in to the abyss.  And for that reason it should be shunned.