How much do we value integrity in public life? Well we’ve had an answer back from the House of Commons standards committee. 5 Conservative MPs were found to have breached standards by writing letters to judges in relation to the disgraced former MP Charlie Elphicke who was found guilty in July 2020 of sexually assaulting two women. They had supplied character references and then wrote again concerned that there was a plan to publish the character references.
Now, it may be that there was a case for character references being submitted but what the committee have found is that this went further than that. The MPs and a peer, using HoC headed paper were not acting in a personal capacity but using their position to put pressure on the judges. Furthermore, the question at this stage is not about whether or not the MPs had breached standards but what the penalty for that should be and the answer is, one day suspension from the House. One day will not make any difference to them, there’s a good chance they wouldn’t have been present apart from votes anyway and the impact on the Government is fairly minor too given their majority.
So, what value do we place on integrity in public life? The answer seems to be “not a lot.” It should grieve us that we had an MP who acted so cruelly and shamefully towards women. It should concern us that fellow MPS don’t seem to take that seriously and a re more concerned with protecting the perpetrator’s reputation than protecting victims. But it should really trouble us that the official conclusion is that this doesn’t matter too much.
This of course is a pointed reminder of recent events in terms of abusive behaviour from church leaders in prominent public positions. How seriously have we taken the cases? Has our concern been to protect the victims or to protect the reputation of perpetrators and institutions? How seriously do we take integrity?