It strikes me that we live in a period of no shame in public life. By ‘public life’ I mean celebrities, whether by profession or notoriety, elected members of any party, and those who put themselves in the public eye.
However, mainstream and social media are quick to publicly shame some people who would prefer anonymity because something they have done, or something that has been done to them, has caused them embarrassment.
It is also that language once used to call shame upon individuals appears to have lost its bite, or the legal challenge of slander or libel. If I call someone a ‘scoundrel’, or a ‘cad’, it is most likely that I would be laughed at, rather than my target. So what is the language of admonition now, that will cause my target to be embarrassed or threaten me with a court appearance?
There appears to be no defined list of ‘unparliamentary language’. And there are other ways of making the above calumny which will not get you thrown out of the chamber, such as accusing a member of a ‘terminological inexactitude’. All this is governed by the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.
A case that many in the UK may remember is David Beckham’s claim for libel and slander in 2011 pursuing $25 million in damages against an American magazine, ‘In Touch’. The magazine published a story saying Beckham had an affair with a former prostitute, which he denied. The lawyer for the magazine’s publisher said the allegation would be consistent with ‘Mr Beckham’s reputation as a serial philanderer’. The publisher provided no further evidence to support the allegation, beyond the word of Irma Nici, the woman who gave the interview to the magazine.
What the public figures above share is an international reputation, a position of leadership, and tabloid stories about their philandering. In Johnson’s case there has been several divorces and no libel cases. In Beckham’s case, the opposite.
Where the two men differ is their response to the threat of public shame. Beckham may have a financial interest in keeping his ‘brand’ wholesome to maintain the various sponsorships and endorsements that have made him a millionaire.
Johnson is the shameless one who will deny wrongdoing until the evidence is presented, and then skates through in journalism or politics as if any sense of shame for having everything he wants would be for ‘oiks’.