Joss Whedon’s Serenity is one of my favourite films. It’s fun, exciting and smart. In it, there’s a certain scene where the bad guy confronts the director of a facility from which a “patient” has escaped, and delivers this telling little line:
“You know, in certain older civilized cultures, when men failed as entirely as you have, they would throw themselves on their swords.“
It’s that line that occurs to me today, as political disaster after disaster explodes, rocking the ship of government to the point of capsizing. Politicians desperately scramble for excuses, for any scapegoat that will save their skins from the situations they have put themselves in.
Look to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt was well and truly “dropped in it” yesterday by James Murdoch’s testimony to the Leveson Inquiry. Hunt, it seems, was leaking information to News International and helping get their bid to take over Sky approved- a bid that he was adjudicating on.
What is Hunt’s response? He’s forced out his special advisor, trying to create a scapegoat despite the fact that the ministerial code clearly says that it is Hunt himself who bears responsibility.
Another example: today saw the announcement of the growth figures for the first quarter of 2012. They were terrible. So terrible, in fact, that we are now technically back in recession. This is a double dip that George Osborne assured us all that we would not suffer, and that anyone saying we would was wrong and profoundly irresponsible.
What was Osborne’s response? A lot of fluff about how it’s down to the Eurozone. When Labour left office the economy was recovering. Conservative economic policy started to turn that recovery into another downturn before the impact of the Eurozone could reasonably be blamed.
Both men have failed in their duties. Both have tried to deflect blame and responsibilty to save themselves and their positions. The scrabbling around to look for excuses is utterly undignified.
I’m not saying that previous administrations have been innocent of this same political grubbery, because they haven’t. It’s not just down to these particular individuals, but rather a malaise that has infected our political sphere as a whole, from top to bottom.
Look, for example, more locally to Wokingham. In the light of the disastrous new rubbish scheme the Conservative administration: firstly went into hiding; secondly came out fighting trying to smear anyone who criticised them; thirdly blamed anyone else they could think of.
There is a slimy, selfish inability to take responsibility in a dignified and honourable way that has taken hold. The present government seems, in every aspect, to embody this. From Theresa May’s spurious claims about cats, to Jeremy Hunt’s shadowy connections to News International, to the shattering mismanagement of the economy at George Osborne’s hands. If someone of import at least displayed a willingness to fall on their sword in penance for their failures, then there might at least be some confidence in the political system.