It’s one rule for them, an­other for ev­ery­one else

Western Morning News (Saturday) - - News -

The main but un­spo­ken deal when it comes to news­pa­per colum­nists is that they are sup­posed to be fairly wise peo­ple who can write well enough to be able to com­ment on just about any­thing.

Um. That begs the ques­tion how it is I’ve man­aged to hang on to this slot at the WMN for so long. Be­cause the older I get the more I ad­mit to be­ing clue­less about so much that goes on.

Here’s an ex­am­ple. I was in Italy this week (see to­day’s food pages) on a visit which, not for the first time, made me think hard about Brexit.

Mi­lan seemed to be a wellto-do kind of place. I’m not just talk­ing about how most of the shops seemed posher than ours (Ar­mani ver­sus Pound­land?) – even the tube trains seemed bet­ter, more roomy and faster. The cars which peo­ple were driv­ing seemed newer and shinier.

I found my­self think­ing:

“So this is meant to be one of the use­less EU bas­ket cases we’re so des­per­ate to es­cape from be­cause they are drag­ging us down? Which bit of that Great Es­cape am I not get­ting my head around?”

Yes, I know they’re meant to be poorer in south­ern Italy – and also I saw some pretty grimy bits of Mi­lan. But in gen­eral I did not think I’d trav­elled from a Land of Milk and Honey to a tin-pot Third World coun­try where they hap­pened to serve spaghetti.

Mil­lions of Brits go abroad each year so I can only as­sume they’ll have wit­nessed the same sort of busy sense of well­be­ing across Europe. Which makes me won­der how the “Europe is fail­ing, let’s get out as fast as we can” bri­gade man­aged to con­vince us that the EU was on a hid­ing to noth­ing.

One rea­son, of course, is be­cause of a mes­sage they painted on the side of a bus. But no one – not even the most en­thu­si­as­tic Brex­i­teer – is talk­ing about the NHS get­ting an ex­tra £350 mil­lion a week any more. Just about ev­ery ex­pert has de­clared that it just wasn’t true.

So here’s the bit my brain can­not un­der­stand. Many busi­ness and eco­nomic ex­perts say Brexit will be a dis­as­ter for this coun­try. It might be, it might not. Let’s hope the lat­ter is true. But if it is – if it’s a sham­bles – will we be send­ing the peo­ple who painted the false­hood on the side of that bus to jail?

I’ve not heard it men­tioned as a pos­si­bil­ity. Yet if you were to imag­ine some dodgy busi­ness­men stand­ing ac­cused of telling mis­lead­ing un­truths in a court­room, you’d by think­ing in terms of prison sen­tences.

“You have been con­victed of telling false­hoods to mil­lions of ci­ti­zens. One of the cen­tral sell­ing points upon which your busi­ness suc­ceeded turned out to be a lie. You knew this sales-pitch was backed by no hard ev­i­dence. Be­cause of your ac­tions great harm has been done to the na­tion. Mil­lions are in hard­ship be­cause you lied to have your own selfish way.”

I can hear the clink of the prison door now. For a dodgy busi­ness­man, that is. But we al­low politi­cians to get away with this sort of stuff. We even give them well-paid jobs or knight­hoods af­ter they let us down.

Look at Tony Blair. He told this na­tion a lie about weapons of mass-de­struc­tion in Iraq. He con­vinced us there were such things and that the world was in dan­ger – and news­pa­per colum­nists like me wrote things like: “The WMD thing must be true be­cause no Prime Min­is­ter would dare tell such a lie. Why? Be­cause apart from any­thing else, it’s the kind of porky-pie that can eas­ily be found out.”

Blair did it any­way. There were no WMDs, yet we went to war and 179 UK mil­i­tary per­son­nel lost their lives.

Whether you agree that crazy Sad­dam Hus­sein needed re­mov­ing or not, Blair know­ingly sold us a bla­tant un­truth. His pun­ish­ment? To­day he’s oc­ca­sion­ally in­ter­viewed on TV where he is greeted with el­der-states­man sta­tus. And he is a mil­lion­aire.

No won­der elec­torates in places like Bri­tain and Amer­ica have be­come dis­il­lu­sioned with pol­i­tics and politi­cians. But maybe that’s be­cause grass­roots folk like me just don’t re­alise how things work.

Take Michael Gove as an ex­am­ple. When he did that last minute stab­bing-in-the­back of Boris in a Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship ker­fuf­fle, the world reeled with dis­gust and just about ev­ery com­men­ta­tor re­viled the be­spec­ta­cled lit­tle chap.

“That’s the end of Gove,” they said. “No one will ever trust him again. Least of all the vot­ers.”

Now he is Sec­re­tary of

State for the En­vi­ron­ment.

If I stitched up my mates for my own selfish ends, I’d be os­tracised. But politi­cians work un­der a dif­fer­ent set of rules. And this is the bit I don’t get. I’m not sur­prised politi­cians want to get away with it – but I am sur­prised that we let them do it, and so eas­ily for­give them for it.

Gove vis­ited Ex­moor re­cently and was treated with awe and re­spect. Not by me, he wasn’t. But who am I? Just a not-very-bright news­pa­per colum­nist who of­ten gets things wrong. At least I’m hon­est enough to ad­mit it.

‘If I stitched up my mates for my own selfish ends, I’d be os­tracised’

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