Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Adams, Robinson and a private life

Apologies in advance for the festival of self-linking that follows, but I'm pointing to examples of me contradicting myself, so that's OK, innit?

I'm a bit all-over-the-place on the whole Robinson / Adams business in Northern Ireland.

I've argued recently that Irish Republicanism placed the nationalist ideal above a need for common decency and personal honesty, and the situation that Gerry Adams found himself in - essentially keeping quiet about / not informing the police about his brother stem at least in part from that. It would have been a smaller problem for a conventional politician.

I also argued that a leader of any other political party would be finished if they hadn't been able to kill a story like this one within a few days (hours even?)

Yet I would broadly agree with Gerry Adams here about the private nature of the Robinsons' family difficulties. Is it reasonable to expect Peter Robinson to put his personal humiliation aside and march up to some standards ombudsman to file a formal complaint about the business dealings of his adulterous, suicidal and unstable wife?

Would you? I f**king wouldn't - and I don't think you could draw any real conclusions about my fitness for public office from it either.

As Conor Ryan put it a while ago, all you'd know is that he is a human being.

And on my more serious blog, I've argued that there is nothing to aspire to in a politics of personality in which we choose between risk-averse purveyors of public cant with strong individual powers. Politics is about politics. It's not a soap opera.

It follows that it is not a good thing that we've allowed the personal virtues of individuals to supplant this as the key issue. As I argued here, brand management is not a trivial or cheap business. If you only want people who can afford this - people with Richard Branson-type virtues - people with windmills on their houses, for instance - then the politics of personality will speed this process along.

Now, Pete Baker has been pulling together a detailed timeline of what Adams said and did and when. And I think that Adams would struggle to survive a forensic Paxman-type interview on TV.

So, if he didn't handle the question of his brother, his wider family and the impact this would have on his political movement as well as he could have done, does this disqualify him from public office?

Put yourself in his shoes. He had a choice of a number of incredibly unpalatable options all embedded in an issue that people traditionally go foetal on. He could have exposed his brother to the summary justice of the IRA. He could have overridden his ideological objection to involving the RUC. He could have made the question public (or not taken sufficient steps to keep it secret). His family would have been divided, confused and angry about the whole situation even if he wasn't a leading figure in an extraordinary political movement.

Let me tell you now, I would have entirely fucked up on this one. I would have said the wrong things to the wrong people. I would have overridden a lot of my principles and trusted the wrong people at the wrong time.

Putting people in situations of extraordinary personal stress of this kind does not tell us anything about someone's fitness for public office.

I still think that the leader of any other political party would have had to go by now.

I still think that we have learned something extraordinary about the relationship between SF and its support-base that it is prepared to let him stay.

But I also think that - if we had our relationship with elected representatives right, that a politician would be given more by way of understanding and less by way of judgment if they found themselves in Adams' situation.

Perhaps Sinn Fein's voters understand that politics is more important than finding chinks in the personal armour of politicians?



the irish forgive themselves easily

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