So is it influence and prestige? Maybe it’s the promise of doors willingly opened by sycophants; heaps of public respect from a grateful electorate – and those who don’t even bother to exercise their democratic rights and responsibilities.
But then, as we have been so graphically reminded recently, there are huge risks. In the current context of ‘trough snoutery’and name-calling, I feel genuinely sorry for those politicians – and there are indeed many – who conduct themselves with decency and have genuinely lined up with the ideals of probity and public service.
Because of the actions of the chancers, they now find themselves tarred by the sleaze brush which has already applied the primer and is now liberally slapping on a universal topcoat.
Politics can be a notoriously greasy pole to slide down. Any rumour of fingers in the till – a chance insult, whether it be of death wishes or crookery – in a self-righteous Chamber besmirches all its occupants.
There’s little escape, too, from the practitioners of the well-known politician’s art of schadenfreude, the more so in our own legislature which lacks the safety net of party leader loyalty and team support. Tall poppies everywhere risk falling in the path of the reputation avalanche.
How heartening, then, to read from an impeccable source that our own new Chief Minister has quietly amassed a larder of brownie points by rejecting the established precedent of claiming his expense ‘entitlement’.
Not so across the water. The exposure of blatant exploitation by MPs in the mother of all parliaments, of generous allowances on second, even third, house supplements and excessive claims for the sort of ‘ordinary’ living expenses any ordinary citizen is expected to meet from his or her pay packet before tax has shamed every level of government.
They may not have broken the letter of the law, but they have seriously tampered with its spirit. ‘Staying within the rules’ – which incidentally they have concocted for themselves – actually means getting away with as much as they can.
The fact that such manipulation has gone as high as Cabinet level discredits an entire administration. The more so because of the affront with which the perpetrators have rebuffed criticism. Even after their misdemeanours were exposed, the leaping lords felt that they had done nothing wrong by accepting inducements to influence law change. And surprise, surprise, their peers found ways to excuse them scrutiny and censure.
For a ‘serious’ professional in the public eye, the tipping point into the slough of disrepute comes when excesses prompt universal ridicule. What price a reputation which has been dragged below watershed level and found guilty as charged in the court of public opinion?
Currently topping the UK bill of porky gourmets is the effrontery displayed by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, whose only admitted ‘mistake’ was to forget that she had claimed for her secondary residence housemate’s porn. Somehow, she also appears to have forgotten her married name too!
I suppose that having two subsidised residences does split the attention of the attendant paparazzi. Being greeted outside your place of work by an orderly crocodile of local schoolchildren, outraged by a slur on their playground behaviour, must also be a salutary experience too.
But while we bridle over sleazy purse-strings, and equally loose buttons in the jaw department, the manipulation of power and influence to gain advantage or conceal ineptitude runs them a close second. Arrogance or ‘hubris’ – which is merely a posh word doing the rounds as a linguistic smokescreen – and betrayal are sins equally to be reckoned with. Implied financial threats to the viability of institutions – whether it be the governance of Sark or management of a Jersey care charity – if voters don’t toe the line are hard to justify. The GST volte-face was a stinging disappointment for electors who felt that promises loudly made at election time were summarily cast aside within six months of the polls.
Then there are the latest contenders for the local hubris award. It goes like this: ‘If we don’t like the legal constraints of the current electoral framework, we feel free first to ignore it, and then, when caught out, to try to have it changed. After all, we ARE the legislature. If we don’t like it, we change it. And if that fails, there’s always recourse to the appeal of last resort – our human rights!’
So is there really one law for public figures and another for the rest? Surely not. They’re ultimately governed by accountability, aren’t they? Back in the UK, conscience appears to have been pricked at the highest level, prompting an inquiry into the expenses gravy train – which was apparently going to happen anyway – being hurriedly brought forward.
It would indeed appear that fulsome apologies are in vogue from pension-hoarding bankers to grovelling politicians. However, you may find that you need a code-book to decipher them.
So is this genuine contrition or personal irritation for having been so humiliatingly caught out by impoverished shareholders, the House of Commons Accounts Committee or a BBC Radio Jersey microphone? Come on, folks – you know when you’ve done wrong. Digging is a poor option. In the end you’ll have to live with it.
As they said when the bottom began to fall out of the stock market: ‘It all hinges on confidence.’ It looks as though the political high ground could do with a stiff injection of recession-proofing.