|Mind the Gap|
The phrase "Mind the gap" was coined in 1968. It was an automated announcement to warn tube passengers of the danger awaiting them. As London Underground had chosen to use solid state equipment and as data storage capacity was expensive, the phrase had to be short. The danger? Because some platforms on the London Underground are curved and the rolling stock that uses them are straight, there is an unsafe gap when a train stops at a curved platform. Sound engineer Peter Lodge recorded an actor reading "Mind the gap" and "Stand clear of the doors please", but the actor insisted on royalties. Lodge, however, had already read the phrases to line up the recording equipment for level and so those were used instead. 'Mind the gap' has now though become a part of the tourist scene in London. Tourists, especially Americans, regard it as being quintessentially British.
Unfortunately, the idea of a gap is also becoming very British in another sense – it is the gap between how we say that we should act and what we actually do. Hypocrisy has always been with us. People have had affairs, claimed to be acting in the interest of others when lining their own pockets and done many other things which they would have condemned in others. That doesn’t mean, though that we should simply ignore it when it happens now. But it is true that our moral code has moved on.
The Profumo affair led to a period in gaol for the former Defence Secretary after his perjured testimony in which he denied his frolics with Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. John Major’s government fell apart because he espoused the idea of family values as a rallying cry. It turned out though that his ministers were busy creating alternative families and John Major himself was having intimate ‘conversations’ with one of his ministers, Edwina Curry.
But times have moved on and no longer is it unacceptable actually to be found, as Max Moseley was, in a torture chamber, having his taste for masochism catered for by ladies other than his wife. Instead, that episode became part of an attempt by people in the public eye, led by Max Moseley, to reclaim their privacy. It lead to the award of damages for the breach of his right to privacy against the scandal sheet known as the News of the World and the ultimate collapse of that organ. The subsequent Leveson inquiry lead to a tightening up of the justification required to reveal someone’s private indiscretions, much to the relief of many in the public gaze.
Matt Hancock’s woes, however, have not been spared even under the new regime. Not only were his hands unlawfully wandering into the 2 metre zone, his paramour, appointed by Mr Hancock personally, also had a paid job with the NHS. Sara Vine, however - she who actually chose to marry Michael Gove - has written in her column in the Daily Mail an explanation of how it is that politicians, in particular, are susceptible to falling for another woman. She says that most marriages suffer when one partner works in politics.
It seems that when a person reaches high political ranks they require their partner to be “as much a courtesan as a companion, one who understands their brilliance.” (I’m trying not to imagine the Gove household!) “Not someone”, she continued, “who thinks it’s all a monumental nuisance and wishes they would get a proper job that doesn’t involve people poking cameras in your face and commenting on your poor choice of footwear. The problem with the wife who has known you since way before you were king of the world is that she sees through your façade… She knows that, deep down inside, you are not the Master of the Universe you purport to be.”
But, she said: “Ministers are surrounded by people telling them how brilliant they are...How can anyone be expected to put the bins out when they’ve just got home from a day saving the world? She added: “It doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to see how you can go from being happily married to the kind of person who gets caught so unfortunately on CCTV.” An interesting viewpoint and no doubt a warning to Michael Gove. I wish though that I could get upset about these extra-marital affairs, but I’m afraid that caught on camera it all seemed a bit adolescent.
What is far more important is – well a huge number of things. Amongst them are that, firstly, Hancock had insisted last year that Professor Ferguson resign for something similar, professing such overwhelming shock at what he had done and saying that the Professor could not possibly stay on as a member of Sage. Quite some gap. Secondly, that he who had insisted on celibacy for very many singletons had chosen to ignore the rules when it came to his own libido and, thirdly, that his decision, and that of his boss, was to tough it out: they believed that Hancock’s authority with the British public had in no way been diminished by his hypocrisy.
But fourthly, there is the question of his unlawful use of his private email account to arrange procurement contracts from his mates for the NHS. This came to light in a case brought by the Good Law Project over just one example. We now learn that such use is rampant in the government. Although, the law says that such emails are disclosable should there be a Freedom of Information request or should there be any query regarding the government’s actions, the problem is knowing that they exist in the first place. It’s so easy to cover your tracks. It’s an invitation to corruption.
I wish that it stopped there, but unfortunately we have so many examples of this government ignoring the rules. Just a reminder of one or two of them:
On 9 June, Michael Gove was found to have broken the law by awarding a £560,000 contract to a communications company called Public First, which is run by associates of himself and Dominic Cummings – a decision tainted by “apparent bias and so unlawful”, according to the High Court judgement. No attempt had been made to see if any other company might be suitable. And, of course, Dominic Cummings was also allowed to remain in his role despite going to Durham for an eye-test.
In May 2020 the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, finally accepted that he had unlawfully overridden Tower Hamlets Council and the government’s own planning officials when he granted permission for a housing project – one day before a community infrastructure levy of £45m would otherwise have been payable by the developer, a Tory donor, to the local council – justified because in Jenrick’s view, the local councillors were communists.
We celebrated this month the 5th anniversary of the decision to leave the EU following the lies told to a gullible electorate and unlawful advice given to the Queen, leading to a prorogation worthy of a dictatorship and which had to be annulled by a landmark Supreme Court judgement permitting Parliament to reconvene.
Over time we shall see the effect there is on the economy and our lives as a result of this government’s blatant dishonesty and its destruction of our country's repuation by its refusal to uphold the rule of law.
My rant is over. I shall retire to a darkened room...
29 June 2021