Hypocrisy is said to be the tribute that vice pays to virtue. A simpler way of putting it is that hypocrites like to say one thing but do another. We’ve had some stunning examples of that this week from our political masters.
If there’s one thing the Government has been consistent about during the pandemic, it’s that we must all make sacrifices in the great battle against Covid. All of us.
From the lonely granny isolated in her care home to the parents desperate to give the kids a holiday somewhere warm. The rules are rules.
And if they say you can’t see granny or can’t risk booking that holiday because you might end up in quarantine, so be it. We’re all in the same boat.
Except that we’re not. The rules are different if you are, say, a ‘Crown servant’. And who introduced those rules? Why, the Government, of course.
Alok Sharma (pictured) has been able to leap on and off planes over the past seven months never fearing for a moment that he might have to alone quarantine, when he gets home
Which is why Alok Sharma has been able to leap on and off planes over the past seven months with his retinue of happy helpers never fearing for a moment that he might have to spend so much as a morning in isolation, let alone quarantine, when he gets home.
Even though many of the countries he visited were on the notorious red list.
Now let’s acknowledge that Mr Sharma has a very important job. He’s the minister charged with running the COP26 conference in Glasgow in November.
Its aim, put simply, is for every country to agree on new measures that might delay or even halt the terrible threat posed by climate change.
Just how terrible was underlined again this week when climate scientists reported that the currents in the Gulf Stream are at their slowest point for 1,600 years.
The warmer the water, the greater the chance it will stop. The consequences would be catastrophic around the world.
What every scientist agrees on is that we can do it only if we cut drastically the amount of carbon we spew into the atmosphere.
By ‘we’ I mean all of us. How strange, then, that Mr Sharma felt it necessary to criss-cross the globe flying to at least 30 countries to spread that message.
Let’s accept that the rare face to face meeting between our prime minister and the presidents of the United States or China might produce some benefits.
But a meeting between a minister who is not exactly a household name even in his own country, with a similarly obscure foreign counterpart?
Or perhaps Mr Sharma has such confidence in his own personal chemistry that by meeting Jair Bolsonaro, the unspeakable president of Brazil (one of Sharma’s many destinations), he’ll extract a promise from him to stop destroying the rain forest – something his country has been doing with such ruthless and terrifying efficiency for so long.
Of course not. Mr Sharma is a clever man. He knows how many beans make five and he might very well argue that his talks in foreign chancelleries have more modest aims.
Mr Sharma has spent months jetting around the world ignoring the rules safe in the knowledge that they did not apply to him. Pictured: Passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport on August 5
Important, no doubt, but modest. Trying to agree on an agenda is probably at the top of his list. COP26 will fail if the countries attending can’t agree on what they should be talking about.
But has Mr Sharma and his team never heard of Zoom? Some of us (I’m one) would prefer root canal surgery to Zoom ‘meetings’ but it can’t be denied they work.
Even the most fuddy-duddy of our civil servants and banking bosses have discovered that during our endless lockdowns.
No, Mr Sharma has spent seven months jetting around the world ignoring the rules safe in the knowledge that they did not apply to him.
Just as Dominic Cummings did in a rather more bizarre jaunt in the early days of Covid. On one level it was high farce. Driving to a tourist site to test your eyesight? Honestly?
On another, it squandered a chunk of the commodity without which governments cannot ultimately survive. That commodity is trust.
Matt Hancock took things to a different level. He managed effortlessly to combine an award-winning display of hypocrisy with a betrayal of trust on an epic scale.
For 14 months he lectured the nation on the need to observe the latest ever-changing rules like some self-righteous teacher dealing with a class of rather dim children.
His tone was usually rather more in sorrow than in anger which, for most of us, made it all the more infuriating.
But at least, we assumed, he was personally setting an example to the class… and then we discovered the very opposite. Even as he was ordering us not to hug our grannies, he was doing much more than that with his mistress.
And even when the shocking truth emerged, he apparently thought he could weather the storm of public anger – encouraged, no doubt, by his boss’s refusal to sack him.
Not that Johnson’s own record was blameless. He and the apparently squeaky-clean Rishi Sunak came into contact with Sajid Javid after he had tested positive last month.
But instead of immediately self-isolating as millions of foot soldiers had been ordered to do, they tried ducking it by using a new so-called ‘pilot daily testing scheme’.
The public mood swung against them. Ordinary people had shown they were fully prepared to make sacrifices and obey the rules for the public good – but they expected the elite to do the same.
The Government was in trouble on the trust front even before the Mail broke the Sharma story yesterday. This time it was about money. Nothing new there.
This latest scandal has emerged because of a spat between another millionaire businessman, Mohamed Amersi, and Ben Elliot who’s the boss of an outfit called Quintessentially that offers people as rich as Mr Amersi all manner of services. Mr Elliot is also the co-chairman of the Conservative Party.
Mr Sharma (pictured with Boris Johnson) has a very important job. He’s the minister charged with running the COP26 conference in Glasgow in November
Their relationship broke down when Mr Amersi spilled the beans about an outfit called the ‘Advisory Board’, which he described as a secretive club that entitles members to attend a monthly meeting with a senior minister, such as the Prime Minister or the Chancellor.
Mr Amersi himself coined the sinister phrase ‘access capitalism’ to describe what’s going on.
What’s interesting is that the Conservative Party has made no attempt to deny that the ‘club’ exists and has done for some time, though you’d search in vain to find it in the party records. Their attitude is ‘nothing to see here… move along please’.
That was pretty much the message from the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps when he appeared on Today this week.
He told an incredulous Nick Robinson that all those rich donors were getting for their £250,000 was an ‘update on the political landscape’. Really?
Maybe somebody should tell them that they could buy a lifetime’s subscription to the Mail for that. They’d get their ‘update’ and they’d have enough cash left over for a modest island in the Caribbean. Although they’ve probably got one of those already.
There is a very serious point here. In any healthy democracy, political parties need to be able to raise money.
They couldn’t function otherwise. But democracy is corrupted if rich donors are able to influence government policy – let alone dictate it.
That’s why the electoral commission was set up 20 years ago. Its job is to make sure that the rules for running our democracy are fair and that it is ordinary voters, not the mega rich, who determine what sort of governments we have and what sort of policies they pursue.
One solution is to prohibit by law the amount of cash any individual can donate. Maybe fifty quid.
And if that’s not enough then the taxpayer has to pick up the bill. So far, no major party has supported this. They know it would be about as popular as suggesting a tax on puppies.
But maybe we’d be a bit more receptive to the idea if we held our politicians in higher regard. If we trusted them.
It might help if they each splashed out on a little placard to hang on their office wall with the reverse of the hypocrite’s charter printed on it. It would read: ‘Don’t do as I say. Do as I do.’