BY NOW, readers may have gained some insight
into my moral standing. To any doubt-ers, I can say that I am honest,
sober and trustworthy, and I have that assessment in my Army
demobilisation papers, written in precisely-sloped letters with
regimental ink, to prove it.
I stand, therefore, on the moral high ground - if not on the
summit - with Estelle Morris whose confession of ineptitude as Education
Secretary still has the British political world muttering in disbelief
at its soul-excoriating, 100 per cent proof, uncorked honesty.
Her passion for truth threatens to make her an eroder of
long-held, cherished and doubtless unfair beliefs of the public that
many politicians - on local and Parliamentary levels - are a
dissembling, overpaid bunch of self-serving, meal- ticket philosophers.
Now, here is a Joan of Arc with a self-immolating desire to be
burningly honest and, in the white heat of near-tearfulness, has
fulfilled the commands of her inner voices to run like blazes from job
responsibility and, perhaps, ignite a conflagration of searing
scrupulousness among colleagues.
In the dreary world of non-combustible politics, an honest
politician seems a chimera, a dreaded, gibbering and squeaking oxymoron,
doomed to haunt the Parliamentary corridors, until the foul sins of
politicos, economical with the actualite, are purged away. We shall
doubtless hear more of Estelle exposing her naked truthfulness. It is a
Honesty in literature is often regarded with suspicion or
cynicism. Hamlet’s Rosencrantz, answering the question, "What news?",
replies, "None, my lord, but that the world’s grown honest."
"Then," ripostes the prince mordantly, "is Doomsday near."
Aristophanes, the ancient Greek comic poet, observed, "No man is
really honest; none of us is above the influence of gain", while Thomas
Otway, the 17th century dramatist weighed in with, "Honest men are the
soft, easy cushions on which knaves repose and fatten", but Robert Burns
piously observed, "The honest man, though e’er so poor is king o’ men
for a’ that", although that is not how investors with value-plumeting
shares see it.
Scrupulous politicians do exist. One, with flinty integrity, was
Clement (later earl) Attlee, the Prime Minister in two successive Labour
governments. He would have undoubtedly forestalled Ms Morris’s
resignation by telling her, as he tersely told a minister who asked why
he was being sacked, that she was, "not up to the job".
A man of no personal ambition or vanity - an even stranger
political phenomenon than the confessional Estelle - he would have
scorned new Labour’s soundbite bombardments, his comments often being
confined to words that dripped caustic honesty like, "rotten, piffle,
tripe", and are sadly missing in today’s maelstrom of spin-doctoring
Honesty as the best policy sounds less a moral choice than a
pragmatic judgment. As a primary school mixed infant, I was an early
escaper from the constricting parameters of truth, occasionally forging
my mother’s handwriting in notes asking teachers to "excuse Albert from
gym as he is under the doctor for ploorisy". Teachers would briskly tear
up the tale of a stricken life and order me to get changed, sartorially
if not morally. These were the first of many literary rejections.
School, religious and paren-tal morality was strictly anti-lying.
As a wolf cub, I was taught by Akela and her Jungle Book acolytes that a
cub was pure in thought, word and deed. For those who fibbed, perdition
could be expected. In this sinful life, parents might, it was suggested,
wash our little forked tongues with carbolic soap.
Falsehoods, we understood, were foreign to the nature of true
Britons who had founded an empire on Biblical truths as well as the
battleship, battalion and balance sheet but were, regrettably,
characteristic of lesser breeds without the law.
The melancholy truth did dawn on us youngsters that we were in a
world of terminologi-cal inexactitudes and prevarications and we often
needed white lies to oil the wheels of compassion, praise or diplomacy
and sometimes, in an emergency, a genuine, if regrettable, truth
evasion. If we were all constantly stark, staring honest, civilisation
would undoubtedly lie in ruins.
While I may not be as blatantly honest as my truth-cascading
namesake, I can state confidently - again quoting Shakespeare - "that I
am as honest as any man living, that is an old man and no honester than
That is the truth as I see it.