Movie buffs consistently rate the 1942 film ‘Casablanca’ as one of the greatest films of all time. I certainly rank it in my top five and never tire of its sparking wit. Claude Rains who plays Captain Louis Renault delivers a magnificently insightful line when at one point he describes himself thus; “I’m just a poor corrupt official”. The ethics of officialdom could easy prove a rich and near inexhaustible seam for scriptwriters and playwrights. We only need to look around us to see that the morality of some in both the public and private sector is not only dubious, but often the cause of considerable misery and despair. Whilst in ‘Casablanca’ Captain Renault proves to have some redeeming features, the fact is there have always been and sadly probably always will be some in roles of considerable responsibility who have made it their life’s work to defraud and deceive.
Those who aspire to leadership (political or otherwise) are often not helped by the environment in which they find themselves. Positive role models are often lacking and regulatory bodies or boards of directors appear to take their cue from a key line in Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘A Smuggler’s Song’ :
“Them that ask no questions isn’t told a lie.”
In the book entitled: Developing the Ministerial Mindset – A Global View (2013) I explored a number of the challenges encountered in helping prepare government ministers for high office. The following gets to heart of many of the problems faced by all in leadership roles; “The looser the framework, the greater the possibility that ministers and ministries will stray into areas that could be viewed as ethically suspect. Ministerial Codes are not there to be paid lip service to, but are a constant reminder of the responsibilities of high office. When we examine such a code we soon become aware just how challenging living by such as code is. In the United Kingdom, when it comes to Parliamentary conduct and that of those in Public Office the guiding principles are: The Seven Principles of Public Life, sometimes known as the Nolan Principles: Selflessness; Integrity; Objectivity; Accountability; Openness; Honesty and Leadership. For what it is worth I believe that this veritable Magnificent Seven should be embraced by the United Nations and all international bodies and has much to teach both public and private sector alike. Of all these principles Selflessness is one that sits somewhat at odds with the private sector, especially when in relation to Public Life the principles are elaborated upon:
“Selflessness: Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.”
Whilst some might baulk at these principles and dismiss them as idealistic twaddle, it is important to remember that they were born out of an era of political sleaze and waning public trust and were in effect the brainchild of Lord Nolan (1928-2007), a judge who served as the first ever chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life from 1994-1997. In formulating a code of such universal relevance, Nolan drew on the values that had framed his upbringing, his personal faith and his deeply held reverence for his family and of the common good. One might say that what he formulated were the guiding principles of Nolandia, a place we should all be endeavouring to build or emulate in our respective lives and spheres of responsibility.
Mark T. Jones