Friday 3 September 2010

Inglorious and a bit fishy; and a question

Inglorious refers to media (both social and commercial) treatment of William Hague over the last few days. What has been done is not only inglorious but shameful and unhelpful. The story has concentrated on the salacious details of sexuality which has served to hide a more pertinent question. The more pertinent question is now being expressed but largely overlooked in the wave of reaction that follows his personal statement.

There are three features to the story - sexuality, privacy and judgement. Homosexuality should not be news, but it is, largely because it sells millions of newspapers to the mentally challenged half of our country. I don't give a stuff whether Hague is straight, gay or a bit of both. I also don't care if he has cheated on his wife: that's an issue for them, not for the rest of us. He says he hasn't. Fine, let it be.

It is shameful that Hague has now been driven to making a statement that reveals his and his wife's private - I emphasise that word, private - grief. I know that there are a lot of people who have put them in that position who unfortunately won't feel the slightest remorse. Politicians lives will always be public, but somewhere there is a limit and we have strayed beyond it here.

But underneath all that froth, and the somewhat sanctimonious response when the true details of the Hagues' situation came out, there is a genuine and serious question. It may not be a big question, but it is a question. Is Hague's judgement as good as we thought it was? At the time of the hotel incident he was shadow Foreign Secretary. He is now Foreign Secretary. He is an important enough person for us to ask small questions about.

He admits now that it was an error of judgement to share a hotel room, because he did not think through how it would look. That's a minor issue. As has been said, if you really are having a secret affair, the last thing you do is share a hotel room. It's how it *looks* that escaped Hague's notice. To me that incident is a cause of puzzlement more than anything. It seems to be generally accepted that sharing a hotel room is a normal thing to do. In some classes and for some purposes that will be true. People share at conference time, for instance, because of the lack of affordable hotel space. But you can bet your life Hague won't be sharing at conference, and never has since he's been an MP. It was a campaign trip, I understand, so it wasn't a hair shirt issue about saving public money, which some people have suggested it was. Hague is one of the Conservatives' biggest guns; he spearheads their election campaigns because he is so popular. They look after him. They plan his trips really carefully. He was also, if I remember rightly, one of the best funded opposition politicians of the last government. So why on earth did they not book enough rooms to go round? Maybe somebody will tell me that this is normal for high status, high value politicians. I don't see it, though. Which leaves a question mark over how on earth did it happen that Hague ended up sharing a room. That is, in the end though, probably more likely to be in the "of interest to the public" category than the "in the public interest" category.

What is in the public interest though is how Chris Myers got his job as a special adviser. He became Hague's third when everybody else was limited to two. Being driver to the shadow Foreign Secretary is one thing. Being special adviser to the actual UK Foreign Secretary makes you one of the most powerful people in British politics. To get that job, and to get it specially created for you means that you should be somebody really special. But Myers' qualifications, while not as poor as some have suggested, don't appear to be stellar. So it is legitimate to ask Hague to justify his judgement. It is legitimate to ask how he arrived at the conclusion that Myers was the person best suited to the job, and how he got dispensation to create the post needed for the appointment. Because our Foreign Secretary has a tricky and demanding job to do and we need to know that he has the judgement for it. But that has been buried, and is likely to stay buried among the slop that the media, including the social media, have poured over the episode.


Unknown said...

I agree with a lot of what you've written, but I disagree with the suggestion that anyone in the press or on the blogs somehow forced Hague to reveal his and his wife's private grief. He could and should have denied impropriety with Myers without bringing his wife's miscarriages into the discussion. In my view, it was unseemly of Hague to announce the miscarriages to the public, and that in itself is further evidence of poor judgement on his part.

Rob Parsons said...

I agree that it wasn't forced out of him. but we don't know the private reasons behind the decision. It might, for instance, have been Ffion saying, "Let's get this over with". So I wouldn't hold that against him without knowing more. He's got enough to answer anyway.