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“What it says on the tin”

“Does exactly what it says on the tin,” Ronseal's advertising slogan, is David Blunkett's persona.  As he says, “Trust, plain-speaking and straight talking is something which matters so much to me as a politician and as a man …”

Meanwhile his alleged impropriety over a visa application has reopened the debate about public and private life.  Blunkett himself “… hit out at what he called a ‘flagrant attempt’ to link his public role ‘with the deeply personal circumstances of my private life’”, while “The Prime Minister appeared to give carte blanche to his Cabinet Ministers to do what they like in their private lives - as long as it does not have an impact on their ‘public duty’” (Mail 30.11.04).

Commentators are less sanguine.  Sue Carroll (Mirror, 1.12.04) offers “If the Home Secretary can't cope with a scheming minx, how on earth will he deal with a real crisis?” and the more prosaic Times suggests that we should be concerned about “evidence of private judgements so questionable as to warrant concern for the quality of public decisions made by the same person” (29.11.04).

Anglicans at this season remember the life of John the Baptist, whose appearance in Matthew's gospel is marked by an attack on the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Meanwhile chapter 23 is largely Jesus' invective against ‘scribes and Pharisees’, who “on the outside look righteous to others, but inside … are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (v28).  Jesus sums up the link between the public and the private succinctly and powerfully in 12:34b: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Pharisees and the Sadducees each strove for influence at court and for control over the Temple and an associated role in national affairs; it was because they saw themselves as leaders that John and Jesus have much to say to them.  In our own day too, those in positions of responsibility need similarly to beware lest others go astray on their account.

Do we, then, have a right to know everything about everyone else's life?  No, but we could say that everything that is known should be consonant with everything the person says, and the best - the only - way of ensuring that is to behave well in all circumstances.  Like John Monckton, a Roman Catholic millionaire financier, recently murdered in Chelsea, SW London, who was described by a colleague as “a man of the utmost integrity” - integrity: one-ness, all-of-a-piece.

And how to treat others who, we may feel, fall short?  John the Baptist made judgements, but he could hardly be accused of wanting to score points or make himself feel better by criticising others.  You don't feel better without a head (Mt 14:1-12).  His strong language was for the benefit of the individual and for others affected by their conduct.  John also clearly made himself accountable to Jesus and acknowledged him as the standard by whom all of us are judged.  May we do the same and may we do exactly what it says on our tin.

Yours in Christ

Peter Nicholls


Sue Carroll (Mirror, 1.12.04) offers “If the Home Secretary can't cope with a scheming minx, how on earth will he deal with a real crisis?”

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