Boris Johnson has long had a strained relationship with ethics. But when details of a previous ethical lapse came to light, it further illustrated how disconnected he is from any sense of ethical behavior. Human Risk founder Christian Hunt shares his insights.
Here’s an ethics lesson courtesy UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson who, according to a now-unpublished article in The Times, tried to have his then-lover/now-wife appointed as his chief of staff while he was foreign secretary. The move was blocked by colleagues as it was seen to be a “flagrant abuse of ethics.”
Although we really didn’t need it, this is yet another reminder of Johnson’s ethical incontinence. It is so obviously inappropriate — even if the former Carrie Symonds had been qualified to do the role, there’s a clear conflict of interest — that you don’t need to be an ethics expert to understand why it should not even have been proposed, let alone required blocking.
While we’re all capable of bending ethical principles to our advantage, most of us haven’t yet reached this level of “fluidity” in our interpretation. I am reminded of the words of his classics master at Eton, as reported by the Daily Mail:
“Boris really has adopted a disgracefully cavalier attitude to his classical studies. [He] sometimes seems affronted when criticized for what amounts to a gross failure of responsibility (and surprised at the same time that he was not appointed Captain of the school for the next half). I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation that binds everyone else.”
The fact Johnson is rumored to be considering dispensing with an ethics adviser — having had his second appointee to the post resign in recent days — seems perversely honest. After all, there’s no point in having someone in post to advise you on ethical matters if you clearly have no interest in taking their advice.
Ordinarily, I’d provide you with a link to The Times article, but one of the fascinating aspects of this story is that while it appeared in print editions of the paper (seen here), it has mysteriously disappeared from the website and digital editions.
I can’t think who might have asked for it to be removed. A neat reminder, possibly, that even those who behave unethically understand the importance of at least pretending not to be.
This column was adapted from a LinkedIn post and is published here with permission from the author.