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Moral Character

Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk. With Ella Whelan, Giles Fraser, Mona Siddiqui and Tim Stanley.

Famously photographed stuck on a zipwire, Boris Johnson is now attempting the tightrope. Unless he falls off, the pollsters suggest, he will alight in four weeks’ time in Downing Street. Perhaps understandably, he is trying to limit the number of buffetings to which he subjects himself in the meantime. Buffetings, however, continue. While it may be fascinating to voyeurs that he apparently spilled wine on a sofa and had a crockery-smashing row with his partner, is that really important? The Boris backers said this was politically-motivated, Corbynista curtain-twitching. The neighbours defended their actions, saying they recorded the proceedings out of genuine concern and passed the audio to The Guardian in the public interest. But was it? How much, if anything, do we have a right to know about a domestic quarrel involving a potential PM? How, indeed, should we balance the competing rights of public figures to a private life and of citizens to know about those in power over them? What about the value we place in moral character itself? It could be argued that honesty in small things is no small thing – as Abraham Lincoln said: “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true”. These days however, politicians should be judged, many insist, not on the content of their character, but on the merits of their manifestos. Yet, paradoxically, it has become a commonplace of Twitter that political foes are attacked not for having bad ideas but for being thoroughly bad people. So what is the relationship between virtue and effectiveness? Is the requirement for moral character in politicians overrated or overdue?

Producer: Dan Tierney

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43 minutes

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