There are several good reasons why Matt Hancock was right to resign earlier this evening. But hypocrisy isn’t one of them.
We ought to be soft on hypocrisy for two reasons. First, we are all at it. Maybe not on such a grand stage. But most of us — perhaps all of us — commit little hypocrisies every day. We say one thing and do another. In which case the charge of hypocrisy is itself inevitably hypocritical. The only people who are not being hypocritical are those who admit their own, which is a kind of paradox.
Secondly, hypocrisy is about having higher moral standards that one fails to meet. Better that, it seems to me, than having low or no standards that one can therefore easily meet. The opposite of hypocrisy is a kind of cynicism — it is the deliberate refusal of moral values, a position designed to protect oneself from the accusation of not having met them.
Yet hypocrisy is often thought of as the worst kind of failure going. And I suspect the reason for this is our thoroughgoing subjectivity about morality. In an age where we cannot agree on right and wrong, where we all have our own moral truth, not being true to what you say is the only kind of failure going. When morality becomes so subjective, hypocrisy is the only accusation left.
No, there are objective standards. And Hancock has failed to meet them. He had to go. But not for being a hypocrite. We are all up to that.