Friday 18 October 2019

Patricia Casey: 'We must judge politicians on their ability to govern - and not on their personal lives'

Hypocrisy: Attacks on Boris Johnson using his past infidelities or his recent argument with his partner were politically driven. Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Yates
Hypocrisy: Attacks on Boris Johnson using his past infidelities or his recent argument with his partner were politically driven. Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Yates

Patricia Casey

We like to think we elect charismatic, articulate, intelligent, confident and socially aware political leaders. These are also the personality features that potentially make politicians appealing to the wannabe mistress, with the addition of power thrown in. Indeed, nothing attracts more than power, with the possible exception of money, and many politicians are not deficient in either. Charisma and intelligence play second fiddle to these when one examines the list of uninteresting politicians who nevertheless had long-standing secret lovers. The obvious ones in this league are John Major and Harold Wilson.

Among the more charismatic were the Kennedy brothers, Bill Clinton and Charlie Haughey. It's difficult to know where David Mellor, Donald Trump or Boris Johnson lie on the boredom-charisma scale. The French, never being outdone on the infidelity score, number among theirs the most notorious, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, once tipped as a possible president of the French republic.

He fell from grace after he was accused of sexually assaulting a chambermaid in a New York hotel in May 2011. Unlike many of the others who had affairs, this man was disdained for his arrogant swagger and his outright demeaning attitude to this low-paid hotel worker. In the case, which settled out of court, he was reportedly the one exerting power that the woman was not welcoming. Affairs among French politicians are de rigueur, as they say.

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Even the founding fathers of the US were not immune and Thomas Jefferson's affair with Sally Hemming did not emerge until 2000.

One could argue that the vows taken in marriage are similar to those taken by people holding political office. Ronald Reagan, no stranger to affairs during his film star years, questioned how a man who is unfaithful to his wife can be faithful to his people and his country?

Once again, politicians and infidelity have been attracting breathless headlines for the past week. It seems that Boris Johnson and his new girlfriend (now called his partner) had a row. So they screamed at each other, the nosey neighbours called the police, the police answered the call and found that nothing was amiss.

The concerned neighbours claimed they were worried for the well-being of the couple next door and were not in any way driven by their anti-Brexit leanings. They ought to have been delighted that the shouting they heard through the walls was nothing more than the typical rows that assail most close relationships. But not content with the police adjudication on this matter as requiring no further action, the concerned neighbours went straight to that famous anti-Brexit pamphlet known as the 'Guardian'.

Any politician who engages in domestic violence should be reported and the rigour of the legal process should be applied. The electorate should not countenance politicians who engage in illegal or violent activities towards anybody, whether they be spouses, lovers or neighbours. But the Boris case was clearly a case of politics driving faux concern. And within the media, the criticism of Johnson is not driven by any care about traditional family values but by Brexit and by Brexit alone. This is hypocrisy writ large.

Those who claim they are articulating concerns about Johnson's moral suitability to become the leader of the British government and nation should pull back from their self-rightous posturing and have the integrity to admit they just want to stop Brexit. They are being utterly duplicitous.

This farce, masquerading as concern for marriage or fidelity or domestic violence, should be ignored completely for it is utterly irrelevant to the question of his suitability to become prime minister. Of much greater gravity is his buffoonery and policies rather than his liaisons or his fripperies.

We all think we want paragons of virtue to represent us. We certainly do not want people who have engaged in criminal activity. We avoid those who show contempt for citizens, and particularly for the lowly. We do not want leaders who are prone to gross errors of judgment. We say we don't want hypocrites, but we are all hypocrites in one way or another. Who doesn't want to save the world from overheating but will still go on two or three flights per year to enjoy a sun holiday?

Virtue is aspirational, something for us in the future although we demand it of our politicians immediately. As St Augustine said: "Lord make me pure, but not just yet."

Our politicians should be judged on their ability as politicians and only on that. Politicians are human and should not be subjected to harassment or hounded from office simply because they have personal weaknesses or flaws that do not detract from their work.

They especially should not be hounded from office because we have dressed up our disdain for their policies as compassion for their families.

When asked about Michael Gove's cocaine snorting during his student days, Jacob Rees Mogg, the MP for Devon and a potential future leader of the Conservatives, said that if British politicians had not done anything "racy" when they were at university, the public would only have him left to elect "and the British people wouldn't want that". Touché!

Patricia Casey is consultant psychiatrist in the Mater Hospital Dublin and emeritus professor of psychiatry at UCD

Irish Independent

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