The message here is that it is better to be a prissy, priggish follower of rules than a man of any other virtues - which is a perfect recipe for mediocrity.
But many of you will disagree. Reading the excellent discussion below has caused me to reflect on why I see this so differently from several of my readers and many commentators. In what way are my priorities different, when it comes to choosing politicians?
Here's the thing I think I care about relatively more than most (NB the "relatively" is crucial here):
- How able the person is, how competent - how well they can do the job. The main reason I'm pro-Laws is that - and here, nearly nobody disagrees - this was the most remarkable case of man meeting moment. Everything about his education, professional background, talents, disposition and political positioning made him the right man, at the right time, for this job. Osbourne was correct when, displaying a hitherto unsuspected eloquence, he said it was as if Laws had been put on earth for this role. Nobody thinks Alexander is of the same calibre, but neither is there a better alternative. Given how absolutely vital this role will be over the next year, it would take an awful lot to persuade me that the guy most qualified to do it shouldn't be doing it.
Things I care about relatively less than most:
- Moral probity. To put it flatly, I couldn't give a toss whether a politician is a "hypocrite" or not. As far as I'm concerned, we're all hypocrites in one way or another. I don't think politicians, including ones who fiddle their expenses, are any worse - in fact, let's coin Marbury's Law: people always under-estimate their own hypocrisy and over-estimate the hypocrisy of others. I think Laws's offence was piddling (and if it had been a mum claiming benefits I'd have called it piddling too). Politicians have to reach Berlusconi-levels of moral corruption before I worry about that more than whether they're competent. If the bloke with the moat had been a world-class expert on global affairs and a superb statesman, I'd have had him at the Foreign Office, moat and all.
- Empathy. Again, I couldn't give a flying cellphone whether or not a politician "understands me". If they're at the Treasury I'd rather they understood fractional-reserve banking; if at Education, the data on what makes a good teacher.