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Lucy Mangan: "Do men in power feel no shame?"


I do actually feel a little bit sorry for the Reverend Paul Flowers (although I am always disproportionately cheered by confluences of circumstance – in this case, a drug-taking minister in the Wesleyan subset of Christian denominations – that give rise to once-in-a-lifetime puns like ‘the Crystal Methodist’).

I can fairly well believe that the stresses of watching the Co-operative Bank you preside over implode beneath you while simultaneously caring for your dying mother might turn you to drink and even drugs for temporary relief.

I just wish that either he could have recognised his inadequacies as a bank chief before the thing nearly collapsed with losses of £700m, or sought the help he said he would as he apologised after the news was made public and he was suspended from the church and the Labour party. But that’s drugs, grief and stupidity for you. They make you a bit muddle-headed.

I wonder what Rob Ford’s excuse is, though? That’s the mayor of Toronto, who’s been caught doing much the same thing as Flowers (bar the rent boys and the fact that his drug of choice appears to have been crack rather than coke-plusenquiries- about-meth) and at time of going to press is still refusing to resign or display any visible sign of regret or remorse.

Or – in a different vein – there’s union leader Bob Crow, who will not leave his council house even though he earns £145,000 a year and there is a growing national shortage of public housing.

Or, of course, there’s David Cameron, cosmically unlucky enough to be friend of both and employer of one of two innocent souls currently on trial for various criminal charges relating to alleged phone hacking, making unlawful payments to public officials for stories and perverting (or conspiring to pervert) the course of justice. Meanwhile, Cameron is using the Flowers scandal to taunt and score political points off Labour’s Ed Miliband.

Or there’s Ed Balls. Would a bit of humility have gone amiss when it became clear that the economy got kinda holed beneath the waterline and kinda sank when he was kinda on deck (though the machine gunning of the survivors did have to wait until the Coalition managed to board the vessel)?

When it’s your mates making the law, you can be sure you’re above it

Or – dear God – contemplate if you can with equanimity for a single minute the smugly pulsating mound of self-love and protean ambition that is Boris Johnson. You get my drift.

What is it about people who get into power? Do they slough off the dead weight of shame and humility along with other dragging, wearisome burdens like compassion and empathy once they get there – or is it that to get there at all you have to possess almost none of them to begin with?

Do you start off normal and then come to believe your own hype? Once you get to a certain level and begin to see who makes the law and how, does it somehow lose some of the mystique that helps subconsciously to keep the rest of us in check? Or is it the fact that when it is literally your mates making the law – and perhaps some others paying its enforcers to look the other way from time to time – you can be fairly sure that you are above it?

I don’t understand how there seems to be so little shame around these days among the people who most deserve to hang their heads. Heaping piles of the stuff must be going unused. Perhaps that’s why the government is so keen to demonise the poor as shiftless benefit scroungers – it can all be shovelled onto them before the mounds start to topple over onto their rightful owners.

It feels wrong even to use the word. ‘Shame’. It feels ridiculously quaint. I feel like I might as well be talking about flintknapping or pannage or heraldry – ‘Gadzooks, my liege, look on yonder Osborne’s family crest – a quartered bumhole on a blotted escutcheon!’ – or something. It shouldn’t sound that odd.

But it’s a good word, a good concept. It’s a useful measure of a man (or of course woman. God, I wish I weren’t such a committed feminist. It plays merry hell with scansion). Can s/he, does s/he feel shame? If not, why not? arrogance? Over-privilege? Psychopathology? I’d like to know. I’d like to ask. I’d like more people to tell us – what makes you so special?”

Image credit: Rex Features



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