Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Article excerpt

Ministers must observe the rather curious 'Seven Principles of Public Life' in the new Ministerial Code published this month by the Cabinet Office. I call them curious not because they echo the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord), but because they seem inconsistent with government.

The Seven Principles are selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. Take selflessness. Selflessness means that 'holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest'. I can't see what the phrase 'in terms of' is doing there. Isn't it just 'in the public interest'? But can ministers really act solely in the public interest? Can they never time an announcement to benefit the party or their careers?

Openness is more puzzling. 'Holders of public office should... take decisions in an open and transparent manner,' the Code declares. This contradicts a section on collective responsibility, which insists on 'the privacy of opinions expressed in cabinet'. It adds that 'the internal process through which a decision has been made... should not be disclosed'. …

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