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Robin Lustig Headshot

Politician, Heal Thyself

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I have a very simple message for MPs after the events of the past few days: if you want to be respected, behave respectably.

If you don't want us to have contempt for you, don't behave contemptibly.

I mean, how difficult is it to behave like decent, law-abiding human beings? No cheating, no lying, no stealing from taxpayers.

If you're serious about cracking down on "benefit cheats" (just 2% of benefits paid are due to fraud or error, according to the government's own figures), you could start by looking in the mirror. Funny, isn't it, how no one called our recently-departed culture secretary a "benefit cheat"?

And it's interesting, too, how little sympathy from her colleagues there was for Maria Miller, who by all accounts didn't exactly go out of her way to make friends, compared to the outpouring of sympathy for her fellow Conservative MP Nigel Evans, who was acquitted yesterday of sexual assault charges.

Too few MPs, it seems, have bothered to remember the old adage: Be nice to people on your way up, because you'll need them on your way down.

I blame the schools they went to. Did no one teach them the basic tenets of civilised behaviour? Surely they went to Bible classes?

Matthew 7:12: "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them."

Or, if you prefer, Luke 6:31: "As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise."

Perhaps some MPs weren't brought up in the Christian faith. Never mind, Confucius had a similar idea: "What you do not want others to do to you, do not do unto others."

And Jews should be familiar with Talmud Shabbat 31a: "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellowmen." Not for nothing is the principle known as the Golden Rule; just about every religion has a similar precept.

I am, as you may have noticed by now, a passionate believer in parliamentary democracy as the least bad way of organising a country's political affairs. But oh, how I wish politicians wouldn't make it so damn difficult to defend the work that they do.

Not all of them, of course. Nigel Evans, for example, seems to have behaved entirely honourably as he faced a deeply unpleasant ordeal. As a result, he has a pretty good chance of returning to his old job as deputy speaker of the House of Commons. If he can face it ...

So here, because I like to be helpful, is my little cut-out-and-keep guide for MPs in trouble.

1. Always apply the Private Eye test: would you be happy if what you're about to do appeared in Private Eye? If the answer is No, don't do it. Simples.

2. If allegations are made against you and it's a fair cop, say so, explain if you must, then quit. Quickly.

3. If the allegations aren't true, say so, resign if you have a front-bench job, and say you hope to be back after you've been cleared.

4. If you're a minister and your department is responsible for an almighty cock-up, admit it, apologise, and resign. You enjoy the perks when the going is good; this is the price you pay. Does anyone still remember Lord Carrington, who resigned as foreign secretary in 1982 after Argentina invaded the Falklands? It was hardly his fault, but he took responsibility.

5. And one last piece of advice for prime ministers: if a member of your Cabinet is in serious trouble, don't think you can tough it out. You can't, and you'll be damaged goods when you lose.

The late, great political columnist Alan Watkins, from whom I learned everything I needed to know about politics, first as an avid reader of his columns and then as a colleague, used to say: "Politics is a rough old trade." And so it is. No politician should ever even dream of complaining "It's not fair."

If Ukip do well in next month's European parliament elections, I won't be blaming the people who voted for them. I'll be blaming the entire political class who gave them so many good reasons to do so.

Politician, heal thyself.

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