latest October 27th 2008

MARCH 05 2007
Once again we have the media getting excited about 'conflict of interest', this time in the case of the Attorney General. It is taken for granted these days that a conflict of interest is something to be avoided;.that no individual can make a judgement on anything unless they are independent from all parties to such a degree that it could be doubtful that they understood the merits of any case.

Yet the strength of the office of Attorney General is precisely that he is privy, as an insider and as an expert, to all the pressures of the law and of politics. The government must have supreme legal advice, the justice system must have a representative who is privy to matters at the heart of government. If we are not to have every legal decision put to a jury or to the privy council it must be put to a judge. The best way to make an informed judgement is to get the facts and the understanding of them into one human head with the task of coming to a decision. Otherwise, all we have is an argument, which is then voted on by people who are less informed and less expert

More fundamental still is the function of conflict of interest in every realm of human existence. Conflict of interest is what life is all about. Resolving conflicts of interest is what we are all here for. The judgment of Solomon resolved the argument between two mothers claiming the same child. Every motorist resolves conflict of interest between themselves and at least one other many times on a journey. Matters of law and the interpretation of laws, laws which have indeed been established by the votes of elected representatives which  brings then 'into the ball park', are finally matters of judgment. The judgment may in hindsight be seen to have been rightor wrong, as in the case of a cricket umpire when there is a video recording, or it may be a judgment that stands unchallenged on the basis that it is given by a person chosen for that position.

Such is the office of Attorney General and, having been sure to select a person of character, intelligence, experience and honesty who, unrestricted in access, can consult others on any technical point of politics or law before reaching a decison, it is sensless not to accept their opinion on the matters they have been prepared by public and personal history to pronounce.

OCTOBER 27th 2008
Today there are complaints that when Peter Mandleson as EU Trade Commissioner meets socially with a Russian billionaire aluminium mogul, there is a conflict of interest and should the meeting take place with the businessman as host, this conflict of interest inflates to the proportion of a bribe, accepted in terms of hospitality. Once again the idea is floated and assumed as valid that a conflict of interest is intrinsically wrong. On this basis, if Gordon Brown made friends with Nicolas Sarkozy while Gordon was PM and Sarkozy was President, this would present a really appalling conflict of interest. I would personally hope that an EU Trade Commissioner should spend as much time in private with the billionaires of industry as they need, as it is there they will learn what is going on.

We have to grow up and realise that conflict of interest is what life is all about, so the people we elect as MPs, and those who are accepted by their colleagues as leaders, are exactly those who know how to handle conflicts of interest. They need to be able to weigh things up and act in the national interest, in the regional interest and in the global interest. If, in the course of this, certain individual's personal interest is served, that should only be because those so benefited have aligned their interests with their fellows, their country and world well-being. Conflict of interest is not something to be swep under the carpet, or funked or denied. It is what we should be facing and dealing wth. That is what judgment is all about.

Today we are deafened by the outpourings of people who in oprevious generations were unused to exercising judgment. They were part of a more hierarchical society where they did what they were told. Now they have the privilege of a democracy enhanced by modern communications, mass media and interactivity. With that goes responsibility. So far we have blown it financially by panic and mutual recrimination and a crisis of confidence. If we cannot have confidence in leaders to handle conflict of interest, we shall blow it poilitically.