Conservative Party

We should judge politicians by their fruits, not their failings

Mark Reckless MP is a man of faith; a faith which has, on occasion, caused him to delve into contentious matters of morality and probe certain state authorities which most politicians prefer to avoid – gender-based abortion with the tacit compliance of the DPP, for example. His defection from the Conservative Party to Ukip would not have been an easy decision for him, representing, as it does, the betrayal of one constituency (Rochester and Strood Conservatives) for fidelity to another (those who voted for him because he pledged to cut immigration and, as a Conservative under the EU precept of free movement of peoples, has discovered that he powerless to do so). Whether you view Reckless as a Tory traitor or a high-minded loyalist will depend largely on your own political inclination. Most people, of course, won’t care: to them, the defection is simply confirmation of the politician’s sophistry, falseness and innate duplicity.

The far more salacious Tory tabloid story is that of Brooks Newmark MP, who has resigned from the Government over a good old-fashioned sex scandal. Being a married family man, this represents a betrayal of a different sort; more a matter of private morality raising questions of personal integrity than the public perfidy of political treachery. Some would say it hardly matters at all: this is the 21st century and politicians’ private sex lives are irrelevant to their ability to perform their public roles. Others take the view that the capacity to breach a private vow or betray a spouse gives insight into character: if they can’t be trusted by their partners or families, what confidence in them can the electorate possibly have?

For Lord Deben (aka John Gummer), the hope is that Brooks Newmark will “bounce back“. But there is no place in Deben’s Conservative Party for “bigots” like Mark Reckless. Indeed, the wonder for Lord Deben (and journalist Janan Ganesh) is that Reckless was ever permitted to join the Conservative Party in the first place, let alone pass through CCHQ filters to become an approved candidate and an MP.

But these sorts of stories hold buckets of sorrow and pain for those who are nearest to the anguish: both Reckless and Newmark are facing an unforgiving media inquisition as their families cower beneath the newspaper columns of disgust, disappointment and disapprobation. The actions of both naturally raise questions about their personal integrity, and these doubts simply swell the pervasive narrative of cynicism and disillusionment which surrounds our political culture. What, after all, is truth without integrity? What is justice without faithfulness?

For the politician of faith, every activity, every enquiry and every practice ought to aim at some good. Indeed, this ought to be the objective of every politician irrespective of faith, but having a faith ought to keep in mind a specific telos – an end purpose or objective – namely that which Aristotle termed eudaimonia, which has variously (though imperfectly) been translated ‘blessedness’, ‘happiness’ or ‘prosperity’. Politicians in a representative democracy are compelled by the ballot box to foster and promote the well-being of the majority, and any degenerate failing or moral shortcoming – personal, professional or public – soon becomes a hindrance to the pursuit of good works, if not a stumbling block to their apprehension and appreciation. It is essentially why politicians feel (or, for many, used to feel) compelled to resign at all.

Mark Reckless and Brooks Newmark have their sympathetic champions and judgmental detractors. No doubt representatives of both will populate the comment thread beneath with varying degrees of acclaim and censure. But we ought to judge them by their fruits; not pursue an ad hominem inquiry into the moral quality of their personal lives. How well do these politicians – one a Roman Catholic; the other of Jewish heritage – manifest and embody the biblical ethic of the pursuit of the common good and the well-being of the community? What part have they played or to what extent do they have the capacity to contribute to the amelioration of the human condition? You may judge one or both to be deficient in their political allegiance or their faithfulness to the virtues of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. But we are all sinners: all have fallen short of God’s standards. We should judge politicians by the fruits of their public service, not the failings of their private encounters.