by Ella Whelan
Monday, 30
September 2019
Idea
16:32

Get real. Politicians were never morally superior

This morning as I was buttering my toast, the usual Radio 4 background noise on, something that Nick Robinson said pricked my ears. When quizzing home secretary Sajid Javid, Robinson asked whether or not a prime minister had to be above the rest of us — instead of being like one of us.

Boris Johnson

Of course, Robinson was alluding to the alleged behaviour of our blonde, boyish — perhaps badly behaved — Boris Johnson. The allegations of 20-year-old knee-touching will likely haunt ministers for the next week or so. But it was this suggestion from Robinson that a prime minister should be seen to be above the rest of us — a role model of morality — instead of being an equal citizen that made me stop chewing.

While most of us might agree that people in high positions of political power should be on their best behaviour, it’s another thing entirely to position a politician as something of a moral exemplar. Not least because we have a long history of British politicians who were some of the most reprehensible moral characters of us all – from toe-sucking in Chelsea football kits to wandering hands at the dinner table. Indeed, one of our most celebrated politicians — Winston Churchill — is infamous for habit of insulting ladies while drunk.

Do we need Boris Johnson to be a role model for the country? I hope not — I think many of us might have a completely different set of moral values from the Prime Minister, or many MPs as it happens. I don’t need to the state to provide my moral compass: it’s drawn from my interaction with those around me, by schooling, parenting and socialising. To suggest that a politician with a penchant for younger women and allegedly pervy behaviour will corrupt the rest of us seems like a damning indictment on the intelligence of the nation. 

But the most interesting thing about this short section of my usual morning radio routine — the bit that made me sit up — was the realisation that it’s now accepted that politicians are different people from us. Not the same as us, but better. Given the fact that the vast majority of MPs are from one social class, one education system and, recently, one political viewpoint (anti-Brexit), you’d think presenters would be more careful about being so open about the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

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