Westminster politicians and sleaze go together like fish and chips, beer and peanuts, picnics and rain…The association is thoroughly cross-party; but right now it is the Liberal Democrats who are taking centre stage.
Charles Kennedy’s position as party leader became untenable not because he had a drink problem (that didn’t prevent maverick genius Winston Churchill from being a great war-time Prime Minister), but because he had repeatedly denied it. In other words, he lied.
Mark Oaten’s hopes of succeeding him were scuppered not because he had a three-year affair with a male prostitute, but because this family-man led a double life. In other words, he lied.
Simon Hughes’ hopes of succeeding Kennedy might or might not fail not because of being forced today to admit to being gay, but because he had previously and repeatedly denied it. In other words, he lied.
Having a drink problem should not bar one from office in a parliament that has deregulated licensing laws. Having a relationship with a prostitute should not bar one from office in a parliament that is considering allowing small brothels to operate legally. And being gay should not bar one from office in a parliament that has recognised homosexual partnerships in law. The issue in question is simply, and fundamentally, a matter of integrity.
As a nation, we do not deny those in public office a private life. No-one – not even the tabloid press – is calling for politicians to life in Big Brother-style 24-hour televised observation. We do not decry privacy; but we do expect transparency.
And here lies the real moral dilemma: why do we, as a population, demand a greater transparency of those in public office than we are willing to accept ourselves?