THE key issue to emerge from Westminster in the last week is whether ministers can be trusted to not only tell the truth, but to behave as if the law applies to them as much as anyone else.
When it became all too obvious, even to Matt Hancock, that breaking Covid regulations on camera was a step too far he did, eventually, resign. But that is not the end of the story.
As we all know, a government led by a person who has been twice sacked for lying has resulted in the most incredible decline in the standards of public conduct in Westminster. Holyrood has shown no tendency to follow Westminster’s lead on this occasion, which is to its credit, but this does not prevent damage being done.
Honesty has been integral to successful human relationships for as long as we have records of them. That, of course, confirms that dishonesty has existed for just as long. The reality is that finding the right balance between the two has been the continual task of society. That balance has come to be codified in law.
We have assumed that our lawmakers are on the right side of this equation. And we express that hope by expecting that they believe in the rule of law. In other words, we presume that they will not only make good law, which is one of the fundamental tasks we give them to do, but we also expect them to comply with it.
Matt Hancock did not comply with the rules he promoted. One might ask: what is in a kiss? That though, is not the point. That kiss was not in accordance with the rules actually created by one of those participating in it.
This breach was, however, by no means the most serious that members of this government have committed.
The biggest breaches by far have come from the very obvious preferment given by the government to their friends and associates. Michael Gove’s “unlawful” awarding of contracts to Public First is a prime example.
Corruption spreads quickly. If there is an emerging pattern, it will not be long before bribery becomes commonplace. Tax systems are then undermined as illicit incomes grow. And the behaviour will not take long to spillover from the state to private sectors. That threatens the way in which business is done, and the way in which we expect contracts to be honoured. When driven from the top, the descent into chaos can be quite rapid.
Economic turmoil is likely as a result of the Government’s own refusal to comply with the rule of law. The Tories do not wish to comply with the Northern Ireland Protocol, an international agreement they negotiated and signed. Instead, they accuse the EU of “legal purism”.
If one international law means so little to them, what of others?
And matters spread beyond the economic sphere. Children can always sense dishonesty. They also have an extraordinary ability to sense unfairness. And that is what will follow from corruption. Once it becomes acceptable to be corrupt within government and business, invariably by privileging those who are already advantaged by society, that then spreads into the community.
Those who will pay the price are those now already disadvantaged.
Seemingly implicit in the Government’s thinking is that a level playing field that delivers justice for all need no longer apply. All forms of prejudice will increase as a result.
The appalling behaviour of English football fans, disrespecting the German national anthem, those taking the knee, and a crying German girl, unhappy that her team were losing, are sure signs of that.
Was Matt Hancock caught having a furtive kiss, or helping to break down the foundations of legal, economic and social justice in the UK?
No wonder decent-minded people might want something better, including being right out of this culture altogether. They might want to create another country that still respects fairness, integrity, the decency implicit in the rule of law, and all the behaviour that flows from respecting it.