Whether it is because I am, for one reason or another, more aware of it, or because it is happening more often, it seems to me that there is a growing preponderance for the things that people say at one time to be out of synchronisation with what they have said at other times, or else the complete opposite of what they themselves do at any one time.
In what follows, I will offer several examples of this phenomenon.
1. The present coalition government has often championed, at least verbally, the view that, because of or in spite of the fact that the British prison system is over-crowded and too expensive, prisons should be more proactive in rehabilitating the incarcerated and moving them on into general society. Even the least liberal of minds would concede that an important aspect of rehabilitation is education.
So, what has Chris Grayling, the current Justice Secretary, gone and done? He has signed-off on new rules that in effect ban prisoners from being sent books by family and friends. It would seem that the new rules from the Ministry of Justice were part of an “incentives and earned privileges regime”. In other words, prisoners are required to behave themselves or be denied a good read!
It is true that the prisons themselves supply readable material. But there is no guess-work involved in knowing which stuff the prisoners would favour reading.
To those who have much, more will be given; to those who have little, even that which they have will be taken away.
2. It has been widely reported that the Secretary for Education, Michael Gove, has been somewhat critical of the number of Old Etonians in the Prime Minister’s inner circle. Gove described the situation as “ridiculous”. Surprisingly, Mr Gove has also stated that he would wish that “every school might be like Eton” – though what he actually meant by this and how it could possibly be achieved is anyone’s guess, not least Mr Gove himself.
This, then, is one of the coalition government’s ace front benchers who, along with his wife, the Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine, recently made much out of the fact that they had entered their daughter in the Grey Coat Hospital Comprehensive School for Girls (Westminter) – a state-funded secondary school no less. It comes as something of a surprise, therefore, to learn that many of Gove’s own appointees in government have been Old Etonians!
These appointees included Henry de Zoete, a special adviser and a close lieutenant of Gove’s; Henry Dimbleby, the leader of his food review in 2012-13; and Charles Taylor, now overseeing the recruitment of teachers across England as the chief executive of the National College for Teaching and Leadership.
However, to be fair to Mr Gove, it should be said that he has not been exclusive in the appointment of Old Etonians. Grandees from other independent schools are part of his inner circle. Two of Gove’s closest associates at the Department for Education are Lord Nash and Theodore Agnew – the former an old boy of Milton Abbey School, Dorset; the latter attended Rugby School.
So, it is not only the Prime Minister who seems to be “ridiculous” with his appointees. What is it said about those in glass houses?
3. There are some houses that are, or at least seem to be, built of rock but, ironically, are built on sand. I speak of the citadels of the Church of England.
A few days ago it became official within UK law that gay persons could get married. I would be wary of suggesting that this was met with universal acclaim within British religious society. Personally speaking, gay marriage is a matter of human rights rather than morality. The former recognises our common humanity; the latter pays obeisance to our varieties of differences and seems to be the throne to which the Anglican Church curtseys.
The Church of England, regrettably, is still recognised as the official state church of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Within this established, but increasingly less esteemed, British institution, gay marriage continues to cause divisions.
The formal, if somewhat paradoxical, position within the Church of England is that Anglican clergy are not able to marry partners of the same sex. There is, however, a significant body of dissent for this position within the Church of England. An aspect of this was recently expressed by the Bishop of Salisbury when he said: “Gay marriage embodies a commitment to be faithful, loving and lifelong. These are virtues which the Church of England wants to see maximised in society.”
Whilst declining to name any specific gay bishops with partners, the Bishop of Buckingham waded into the argument when he said: “I would discourage heterosexual curates from living with partners to whom they were not married and I do not see why it should be any different for gay people”. Yet, the same bishop, along with representatives of Liberal and Reform Judaism and the Quakers, has signed a statement “rejoicing” in gay marriage!
It would seem that very few in the Anglican Church have not been embarrassed by the antics of the anti-gay campaigners. On the other hand, conservatives and traditionalists within the same church, whilst recognising that the battle opposing gay rights has been lost in wider society, nevertheless are determined that the Church of England should not change its stance on what these entrenched groups believe to be a rock-hard Christian moral principle.
Admirable as this stand on principle would appear to be, it is to also be recognised that it might well have something to do with the very negative position on gay rights held by the powerful Anglican Church in Africa. In the meantime, the situation in the UK is that the Church of England is prevented from holding gay marriages by government minister – the very people who have introduced gay marriage into the secular law of the nation!
Is there really no difference between a rock and a hard place?
4. In all the words of rage and apprehension that have issued from western governments, especially those of the USA and the UK, since the Russian annexation of Crimea, none have been as repetitive as the accusation that Russia has broken “the rule of international law”.
In his speech in Moscow last week, the Russian leader Vladimir Putin wondered at the west accusing him of “violating norms of international law”, given its own military interventions. Western countries seemed to believe, he said, “that they can decide the destinies of the world, that only they can ever be right”.
It is not only Putin, however, that can amaze with his pronouncements. He must have gasped as the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, on returning recently from a friendly visit to Israel, immediately condemned Russia’s invasion of neighbouring Palestinian territory as “unacceptable”. Cameron, too, has been vociferous in accusing Russia of breaking the norms of international law.
David Cameron seems to have overlooked the fact that Israel, a state which has been resolutely befriended and defended by the governments of both the UK and the USA, has also been one of the most frequent and flagrant breakers of international law in contemporary political history. When did Downing Street condemn Israel or demand even a referendum over its continuing annexation of Palestinian territory for further Israeli settlements on the West Bank? This action has to be seen against the background of numerous United Nations’ resolutions for Israeli to withdraw from the West Bank, worldwide calls from human rights’ groups and even from opposition within the Israel state itself?
As for Ukraine, we can chide Russia over respect for sovereign borders, if we have the cheek to do so. We can tell Russia to behave better towards small countries. But Putin will not return Crimea to Ukraine. Trying to make him do so is ridiculous. The real job is somehow to get out of this mess. I imagine Putin agrees.
It seems, however, that the British government – for which we, the British people, bear the responsibility of electing – cannot even spell the word hypocrisy.
Am I being too sensitive, or is it the society in which I exist and have my being? Is there in fact a distinct lack of synchronicity between what people in my society (and I include myself in this society) say and do at one time and what they say and do at another time? In other words, is ours the “age of hypocrisy”? The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines “hypocrisy” as “the assumption or postulation of moral standards to which one’s own behaviour does not conform”.
Another way of expressing this is: do not do as I do, but do as I say. Or, again, this is for you to say and do, but not me. It is a question worth thinking about – and not just by politicians!