What do we expect of public figures?

There are three strong camps in the debate over whether John Terry had to resign as England’s soccer captain.

The footballing pragmatists say it should be settled solely on how well he is doing the job. His private life, they say, is no concern of the team or of England. If the Manager backed him the media would have to back off and he could continue. Many of them detect no sudden loss of form or authority on the pitch that worries them. They want a captain who plays football brilliantly. They do not expect him to be a saint or even a great role model off the field.

The media realists agree that you cannot prevent a man being England’s captain just for errors in his non footballing life. There are , apparently, few top flight footballers without something in their private lives that might cause concern or give opportunity for the media to criticise. They take the view that if a player can get away with it, so be it. If, however, a recent scandal leads to an overwhelming weight of media criticism and attention then they feel reluctantly the man has to go. You might call it Labour’s 3 day test. If something bad is leading the news three days running then action has to be taken to remove the source of the concern. It is a “distraction” from the main job.

The third group take a more traditional moral stance. They say that if someone aspires to lead in various walks of life, including in the high profile area of international team sports, they need to show discipline in their private lives as well. They do want great footballers or golfers or rugby stars to be people the young can look up to. They do not want them on charges for assault, or guilty of alcohol excess, or cheating their wives, or some other anti social conduct.

I invite my bloggers to send in their thoughts on where we should be in modern Britain. Should a clergyman lead by example and always behave honestly and decently? What should we expect of our political leaders? Should they be expected to live up to the moral standards expected of a Bishop? Should a sporting leader be required to behave better or allowed to behave worse than a government Minsiter? Is a business leader allowed to be unfaithful to his wife or to behave badly in a pub or club where a footballer or a politician is not? Is a business leader of a well known public company rightly more at risk for misconduct than one who leads a lower profile business?

Are there any absolute standards that all must meet? Are there graded standards that people with differing degrees of power and responsbility need to adhere to? Or is it now the case that the media is the judge, and all hinges on how long a story runs and how intense it is? Do the press in this case speak for the nation, and have they judged it right that people wanted Mr Terry to resign?


  1. Devil's Kitchen
    February 7, 2010

    "Are there any absolute standards that all must meet?"

    Um… Yes. It's called "the law".

    "Are there graded standards that people with differing degrees of power and responsbility need to adhere to?"

    Yes. Where public servants are disbursing money that has been stolen from other people, i.e. taxes, the "it was in the rules" excuse is not a reason not to be prosecuted.

    Especially when the rules clearly state that expenses should only be claimed if incurred as a direct result of that job.


  2. Barry
    February 7, 2010

    more importantly than a footballer we should be considering what standard of honesty and integrity we expect from (pseudo)scientists like Dr. Phil Jones of UAE. If he was "just a scientist" (Sunday Times) He would have opened his data to open peer review instead of hiding it and dissembling.

  3. Norman
    February 7, 2010

    I personally believe that if someone holds a public position that is held in high esteem then they should accept that responsibility comes with that position and if they err they should resign.

    However, the door should always be open for someone to be rehabilitated. I'd far rather that a public figure held in high esteem admitted fault, learned a lesson and came back stronger for it than either say that they have a right to a private life (despite earning millions in endorsements) and have done no more wrong than many others or are vilified for a transgression for the rest of their careers.

    If John Terry accepts what he has done is wrong and makes amends privately with his family there should be nothing to stop him coming back as England captain in the future.

    I'd hold pretty much the same standards for anyone in a position of authority – to hold moral authority, and a leader must have moral authority, one should have a strong sense of morality.

  4. William
    February 7, 2010


    John, if possible as a politician, can you be honest. He managed to do what (some politicians-ed)wanted to do, hide it from the Public. Sweep it under the rug never to be seen again.

    He got caught, (some of them-ed) got caught.

    First. John Terry messed around on his wife. Thats the fact here not "It was an EX of a teammate". The Sin was doing it in the first place.

    Second. He used to Sell himself and do anything for a quick buck.

    (I am seeing political material here I think)

    What we the public want is simple. Half as much more honesty as we get now, and half as much more respect.

    If someone calls you something, defend yourself, don't just sling mud back. If someone calls you something, Stand Up and be counted.

    Jonathan Aitken, He Stood Up, He Said it was all Lies, He Stood Tall, he went Down, but he was strong. But he lied and he paid for it.

    Not one person of public standing has the guts to do what he did, why? Because they know what is being reported about them is true, and they can not defend themselves.

    We want people who are in public standing to be strong and honest, and defend themselves.

    (Now I know you'll say they know one will care if we are found to be in the right, we will be tainted by the fact we had to defend ourselves) Well thats your problem, its the same for any other poor person who is found innocent.

    Things will never even up, politicians will always be crooks, because it is power, and human nature is if you have the ability to step on someone you will.

    Sports stars will always be idiots, well more in the UK than in most other countries, because of poor education and money allows them to keep the public at an arms length.

    Honesty is dead, one rule for you, and another for the peons, is the way it will be forever and a day.

  5. JimF
    February 7, 2010

    I think the J Terry case is an exceptional one because his borrowing habit stretched to his team mate's ex-. Given that this was likely to prejudice his performance on the job, as it were, I think his position as England Captain was untenable. If it wasn't likely to affect the team performance, it's probably irrelevant to the public although it might not be to his family and friends.
    The same principle should apply to other professions, politics, religious leaders, business etc. I believe EXCEPT where one's position is held on the basis of a particular moral stance or belief. So an anti-hunting MP caught chasing down a fox, or a McDonalds' exec going on a diet could in some small way be called hypocrites and their beliefs be called into question.
    Of course, we won't mention the much laarger hypocrisy of Socialists bailing out Bankers to the tune of billions, shall we?

  6. alan jutson
    February 7, 2010

    Ah the moral conundrum.

    Yes a National figure at the top of his or her proffession should first of all be more capable than the majority, so that they lead by example.

    They should be able to be trusted to lead, encourage and inspire others to give of their absolute best.

    They should be selfless in so much as the Nation, the Team, The Business, The Council, The Party etc should matter more than the individual.

    No one is perfect, and so a little indiscretion is no reason for resignation, as long as the mistake is admitted, acknowledged corrected, and learnt from in some way.

    What we cannot have are lies, underhanded dealings, personal gain at the expense of others, whitewash investigations, and coverups.

    Apply this to John Terry and everyone else in a similar position no matter what proffession.

  7. Pat
    February 7, 2010

    I would expect everyone to remain within the law, otherwise their only responsibility is to do their jobs properly.
    For a footballer to do his job properly certainly involves playing well- but it also involves maintaining the confidence of his team (must be difficult if they think you're after their girlfriends) and pleasing the paying customers (or there wont be a team at all). But so long as he acts within the law the matter is only of concern to those concerned about football.
    A priest must further and encourage belief in his religion. If he fails to abide by the precepts of his faith then he will fail in this- a matter which is of concern to those of his religion, and likely
    to be pointed out by holders of rival faiths.
    A legislator must obey the law- else the people will conclude that they are morally entitled to do likewise, and his profession is devalued as are the laws passed. So long as he acts within the law he is free do do as he likes- subject to the views of the electorate.
    Of course everyone falls short of perfection- we need to pick the best footballers, priests and politicians available- not hold out for perfection.

  8. Bill
    February 7, 2010

    I find it difficult to accept that John Terry's actions have had no impact on the team, particularly the other team member involved. Doesn't it say something about their morality if the team remains unaffected by this (I almost wrote "this affair" – inappropriate choice of words!)? Are we able to judge them? The problem with judging things like this opens the "back to basics" box. What happened was wrong, no two ways about it. But What Terry did in trying to conceal it says a lot more about his morality than any judgement we make.

  9. Emil
    February 7, 2010

    The moral hypocricy, and disgusting front page of NOTW today, amazes me. Meanwhile none of these moral crusaders bat an eyelid when self confessed drug abusers from Status Quo, not to mention Sir Mick or Sir Paul, get New year Honours in our wonderful nation.

    In a week when an ex PM got away scot free whilst his body language gave the game away big time, our current PM pathetically goes for the sympathy vote on ITV, 3 MPs are caught bang to rights and stick two fingers up to taxpayers, and idiot G7 finance ministers act like wise monkeys the non stop media witch hunt against a footballer is completely and utterly missing the point – and after your excellent article in the Express today John I'm actually very disappointed that you lower yourself into blogging about this comparitively meaningless issue.

  10. Kevin Peat
    February 7, 2010

    Football is given far more importance than it warrants. Political broadcasts have been rescheduled so as not to clash with the 'footie'. That shows why taking away our liberties has been as easy as removing candy from babies. Our priorities are all wrong.

    I believe that football has been part of the panem et circenses in the deconstruction of Britain. That's why politicians have been keen to be seen to show interest in it. It is used as a distraction.

    But now that a Premiership player is punished for his transgressions perhaps this does represent a turning point in public standards. If so then of course it's a good thing. I'm only sad that it took an Italian to make a declaration of how amoral we have become as a society.

  11. English Pensioner
    February 7, 2010

    One of the English Captain's jobs is to try and get the team to pull together on the field. I can hardly see how someone can do this, if at the same time, they are having an affair with another member of the team's wife or girlfriend. Instead of concentrating on the job, he would have at least part of his mind occupied by the possibility of being found out and dealing with the consequences. There could also be another member of the team possibly looking for some form of revenge, and devoting part of his thoughts as to how he might achieve this. Hardly good for morale!
    Reluctantly, I accept that few people seem to honour their marriage vows these days, but in this case he didn't even have enough sense to bear in mind the old (rather rude) saying "Don't s*** on your own doorstep"

  12. TrevorsDen
    February 7, 2010

    I agree with Barry. Terry has behaved in whatever way he did, but privately.

    Jones has consistently sought to undermine the science on which billions of pounds of taxpayers money is spent. He should be in jail.

    Terry's position is purely down to how his actions affect his team and that is the responsibility of the manager.

  13. Frugal Dougal
    February 7, 2010

    It's time for sports-stars to stop living in their amoral world both on and off the field. Success matters, but is not an absolute. i apologise for posting a link to my blog – something I've never done before – but I blogged on this yesterday:

  14. GJ Wyatt
    February 7, 2010

    What do we expect of public figures?
    If you're asking what do we *want* of public figures, then of course it is impeccable standards all round.
    But if it's what do we *anticipate about* them, then nowadays I'm sorry to say it is usually to be disappointed.

  15. Chris Goften
    February 7, 2010

    If a person in public service or politics has authority over the general public then their standards should be higher than those they seek to legislate over otherwise they have no moral authority at all.
    However personal relationships or problems that do not infringe the law and do not affect their work should not lose their jobs because of them. Once the law is infringing they should be out within the hour or at minimum suspended until the case is proved either way.
    If a politician, or anyone else, lectures others on morality, fidelity, or lifestyle and is then found guilty of hypocrisy then they deserve everything they get. This is especially true of government figures, after all Blair is guilty of the most extreme hypocrisy (not to mention war crimes) over Iraq and Afghanistan.

  16. Jonathan tee
    February 8, 2010

    I don't support the social conservative position on morality and persons in authority. Morality changes so much over time that it cannot be an objective measure of fitness to hold office.

    The only test should be whether the private action directly renders the person unfit to continue in post. Either because it provides strong evidence of violent or larcenous character inconsistent with the demands of the role, gross hypocrisy, or disrupts working relationships severely and chronically.

    For example a solicitor convicted of fraud or a GP convicted of a serious assault, any Crown servant consciously or negligently harming the interests of the nation.

    Less straightforward, but gross hypocrisy where a person in the course of their duties advocates one position whilst acting contrary to it in private. For example an MP demanding the abolition of Grammar Schools on grounds of equality and sending their child to a Public School; a politician denouncing individuals on Biblical grounds whilst embarking on an affair; a legislator supporting restrictive rules on expenses in the private sector whilst supporting lax rules where it benefits them personally. Let the Fourth Estate snap at their heels!

    Disrupting working relations (presumably the reasoning behind calls for John Terry's resignation) has to be mitigated by an expectation that colleagues act reasonably. No-one should be forced out because of the personal prejudices of co-workers – the private action would have to be something severely provocative. A matter of judgment which Fabio Capello (un-enviably) had to make in the England Captain's case.

    What we shouldn't support is tyranny of the majority forcing good people out of office on grounds unconnected to their duties. For this reason I think the US Senate's acquittal of President Clinton was a very wise decision consistent with the classical liberal thought behind the US Constitution.

    I think Labour's 3-day rule has had unintended consequences – it's encouraged rather than deterred media attacks on ministers and promoted short term thinking. If it is so easy to drive a government off course, then the vessel must have a weak motor.

    1. waramess
      February 8, 2010

      I agree entirely. The witchunt is still a sport favoured by many

  17. Lindsay McDougall
    February 8, 2010

    The most important thing is that people like Woods and Terry should be hit very hard in the pocket, where it really hurts. They have lost or will lose a lot of sponsor and advertising revenue because they are no longer credible as role models; and quite right too.

    At least Terry is a team player and can lead by example on the field even when he is not captain.

    Woods has never been a team player. His Ryder cup record is not the best, and it is believed that he never enters a tournament unless he thinks he can win it.

    We are our own worst enemies in our obsession with celebrities. Bob Dylan got it right all those years ago: "Don't follow leaders, watch your parking meters".

  18. Mark M
    February 8, 2010

    Unfortunately part of the job of being England football captain is public image. That is also part of the benefit though, and anyone in that position would do well to remember it. One cannot use 'England football captain' as an image to sell themselves and then complain when their private life comes out.

    In my view if, although someone's private life is nothing to do with the public, they job has a heavy reliance on projecting a good public image then that image must be maintained.

  19. john malpas
    February 8, 2010

    Is it really any of your business?
    The bloke captains a football team. No doubt he has a contract. that is where it ends.
    Film stars regularly titillate the public without penalty but then they are pretty.
    As for the media – when did they start having morals .

  20. eeyore
    February 8, 2010

    I have low standards, I fear. I'd be happy with a government that was merely honest and competent. In fact one that's honest OR competent would be enough. Frankly, even one that's dishonest and incompetent would make an agreeable change, so long as it was led by a Prime Minister who retained some shreds of sanity – at least in public.

    Ever thought of being PM yourself, Mr Redwood? At least you don't blub on the telly.

  21. Matt
    February 8, 2010

    Well it’s not like the law of gravity.

    I don’t think that you can come up with a macro solution, a formulae that when provided with an input of behaviour, as you’ve outlined,weighes up the issues, then the handle is cranked and “Should he stay or should he go” is decided. There is usually a wealth of variables involved.
    The present system is the best and the only workable one.

    Where indiscretions are judged between the parties concerned.
    The director and his board, the MP and his constituents, the professional and their professional body, a minister and the PM and in the instance that you’ve outlined John Terry and the FA.
    It’s only in this way that you can have an unwritten code that’s capable of evolving, and of being applied to the circumstances in question.

    On the specific issue of John Terry. I think it best that he went as captain, not because of his private life, rather because the world cup is just around the corner and the press would have went on and on about this right up to the tournament.
    It would be too big a distraction; this may allow the team to settle down.
    So in the case of football, the media is a big factor.

  22. waramess
    February 8, 2010

    Shame on you Pat for such a sexist thought. Girlfriends are thinking people with a choice and they elect to change partners out of choice.

  23. Neil Craig
    February 8, 2010

    I don't know the "right" answer to this & suspect there isn't one. However in the particular case of a clergyman whose entire living is made on the basis of claiming a higher morality & link with the Creator he is clearly disqualified if he doesn't achieve it. Politicians occupy an intermediate situation claiming to both competent management & to be moral arbiters for society. Traditionally the Conservatives have claimed more economic competence & Labour more to be a crusade, whether accurately or not. While that was the case Labour ministers could rightly be castigated for sending their children to private schools where tories couldn't. The anti-sleaze campaign that did for the last Tory government followed John Major's ill advised "Victorian values" words. Neither Churchill nor LLoyd George could have survived today's media which would have lost us 2 world wars.

  24. APL
    February 8, 2010

    JR: "There are three strong camps in the debate over whether John Terry had to resign as England’s soccer captain. "

    Football is an irrevelance.

    JR: "Should a clergyman lead by example and always behave honestly and decently?"

    Yes, he is supossedly trying to teach a moral message, that includes honesty and decency.

    JR: "What should we expect of our political leaders?"

    A good start would be an ability to keep their fingers out of the public till.

  25. NigelC
    February 8, 2010

    Lord Browne, ex leader of BP one of the UK's largest companies, has admitted he lied about his private life (Today programme this morning). He has been elevated to the Lords. This is (wrong-ed)

  26. Mike Paterson
    February 8, 2010

    It's a matter for Capello and no one else. Only he knows the dynamic within the camp. And Capello hath spoke. There's potentially all sorts of other Terry-related bad juju in the pipeline, I reckon he decided that's the last thing he and England need while preparing for the finals. As ever, he acted decisively and quickly (once returned to these shores) – this should be a comfort to all England fans. A little less whinging and hand-wringing required, I feel: leave it to Fabio!

  27. Javelin
    February 8, 2010

    Devils Kitchen said there were absolute standards – called the law. That is true but the consequences are truely miserable.

    First cultural relativism basically says that if its OK under the law then it's OK. The problem with this view is that it is Platonic in nature. That is, it relies on (1) the law functioning all the time and everywhere and (2) the law is an appropriate monitor and response (3) all things that effect our lives negatively should be legislated against.

    Of course if you believe the law should divide wrong from right, acceptable from not acceptable then welcome to 1984.

    Personally I would prefer a world with cultural morals.

    Civilization (whether you believe in society or evolutionary biology) is the triumph of human kind being intelligent self regulating individuals. Once you start to rely on the state making it illegal to behave in negative ways then you are well down the road to absolute dictatorship.

  28. mhayworth
    February 8, 2010

    I think the public wants to see highly paid public figures behaving more like role models.

    These Tory politicians dare to talk about a return to family values and decency while cheating on their own expenses, supporting bankers who gamble with our tax money, supporting Royals who openly cheat on their husbands/wives, supporting the perversion of foxhunters so they can return to terrifying and killing animals – the list is endless.

    Time to vote for the parties who have not brought this country to ruin over the past 30 years. End the three party reign of error!

    Campaign For Decency

  29. Alan Wheatley
    February 8, 2010

    I think that when it comes to other people, in your private life or in business or as public figures, you have to start from a position of believing them to be honest. The extent to which you are prepared to continue that belief as an assumption without evidence depends on the significance of them to you.

    If you discover that a person has behaved dishonestly in one respect you would be unwise to assume that you can rely on them acting honestly in every other respect. That is why “public figure cheats on spouse” and the like is a matter of public interest.

    A public figure having affair with knowledge of spouse (acquiescence, even!) is a different matter. It is not a question of dishonesty, and you can make up your own mind as to the morality and fairness of the matter.

  30. Erik Retallick
    August 13, 2010

    There are many things in society that seem to have improved over the last 100 years or so, medical and technological advancements being 2 particular examples. However, the feel-good factor for many doesn't seem to be there, and many of us tend to be pessimists rather than optimists, seeing the glass half empty rather than half full. I tend temperamentally towards pessimism and see that there is an onward decline in moral standards, particularly in justice towards one's neighbour, especially in business ethics. I experience it on an almost daily basis first-hand. It all seems to be to do with what you can get away with on a moral or legal level, the 'good' example having been set by our leaders (MP's, previous Government and Bankers in particular). This feature is inviting others to join in discussion about how they see things and what they would like to see improved. Personally, I would like to see a return to Judaic-Christian ethics, a good starting place perhaps being the 10 command

    Society seems to have been going downhill in the west, ever since the sixties. Drug use is out of control and moral standards are slipping. So, what is the matter with society?
    For many years, we have followed the traditions passed down to us by society, and for many years, they seemed to serve us well. But, in the last few decades, tradition has been cast off in society, in a way not seen at any other time history.
    In the sixties the hippy movement made a big statement, that it was alright to just do whatever you wanted and not care about the consequences unless you were directly hurtingsomebody. Then, by the time the seventies happened, punks were of the philosophy that you could do whatever you wanted in a society even if you were hurting somebody.
    Now sure, there have always been people like that through the history of society, like thugs and criminals, pirates and vikings, but we are talking about a major shift in the thinking of the majority of people's minds in that generation.
    Times have been harder in history before surely, and society as a whole have been tougher and crueler at different times, but society has never beenall packed in together, by the millions.
    The simple number of people in society today, who show such anti social thinking, hatred and violent behavior, coupled with the higher standard of education and technology today, could lead to one of these psychotic men or women not just shooting up a mall, but destroying all life on Earth.
    Sound unlikely? There are many weapons of mass destruction that if unleashed in the right way could destroy us all. Terrorists and governments are experimenting with these biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, for intended use in warfare, all over the world.
    This is the first time in the history of society where someone with a strong enough will and lots of money could actually destroy us all, even by accident. Now I know that's being slightly alarmist, but nevertheless, it has been a growing possibility since world war two. When world war three happens, it may not be a war at all, but a mass extinction. (Plug for a site removed ed)

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