A Cardiff Councillor, John Dixon, has recently been the subject of a mini scandal about a comment he made on twitter about the Church of Scientology, when walking past their office in London that he hoped “the stupid wouldn’t rub off”. Some time later, the Scientologists complained to the ombudsman in charge of standards in public office in Wales, who ruled that Dixon had broken the relevant code of conduct. For a full overview of the idiocy of the ombudsman’s ruling and the dangerous and pernicious nature of Scientology, I recommend the thorough analysis by Jack of Kent. The issues in this case seem pretty straightforward, Scientology deserves (at the very least) ridicule and no-one should face censure for doing so.
More interesting, I think, is the mindset revealed in the ombudsman report, that people holding elected office are accountable to a higher standard than ordinary members of the public and should guard against saying anything that could be construed as offensive to anyone. I think that this is not a good route to be going down. It could mean that our councillors and MPs will be restricted to automatons who don’t dare even think an original thought, in case it leads to censure by the ombudsman or derided as a ‘gaffe’ in the media.* The alternative is that elected members are constantly on guard, trying to hide what they really think from the public, which I don’t think is very healthy either.
I mean, I should like to think that even I – who have publicly called hundreds of politicians cunts (and worse), made fun of their appearances and made every sick joke under the sun – should be able to make a late dash for public office, should I ever be seized with the burning desire to do so.
As it stands, not only would I be ruled out immediately, but so would absolutely every person I know, including all of you lot.
A rigorously enforced separation between two Venn sets – People You Can Vote For and People You’d Ever Want To Hang Out And Have A Pint With – can only be a bad thing.
Ideally, candidates and holders of elected office would be able to say exactly what they thought, and we’d be able to judge whether or not to elect them. I realise that there could be an issue where a constituent wanted to contact her MP/councillor about an issue, knowing that their representative had strongly opposing views, say if a Scientologist in Adamsdown wanted to speak to Councillor Dixon, then s/he might lack confidence in their willingness to assist. But partly that is true already, and partly that is just another reason for splitting off the constituency and legislative responsibilities of MPs.
*’Gaffe’ seemingly being the appropriate word both for comments that are true but politically controversial (like Clegg accusing Labour of launching an illegal invasion of Iraq) as well as ones that betray a lack of understanding (such as Cameron talking about Britain being a junior partner to the USA during World War II).