GEIDT PULLS STUMPS
Some say that the phrase ‘Spirit of Cricket’ is pompous and patronizing. The fact that I’ve given it initial capital letters might be evidence. Other commentators have dismissed it as ‘meaningless guff’, a cloud floating three or four miles over Lord’s cricket ground.
Mike Brearley - former President of the British Psychoanalytical Society, and one of England’s greatest cricket captains – isn’t quite so dismissive.
THE GOLDEN RULE
In his 2019 talk to the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), he explained why he considered the Spirit as the ‘conscience’ of the game. Indeed, it is the preamble to its 42 Laws.
“The Spirit is like the Golden Rule found in some form in all world religions. In Hindu, ‘Make right conduct your main focus; treat others as your treat yourself’. In Islam, ‘None of you truly believes until he wished for his brother what he wished for himself’. In Christianity, ‘Do unto others as you wish others to do unto you.’
“The Spirit is meant to be vague. It doesn’t specify the solution to all problems presented in cricket.” It gives us a compass to fair play.
The problem of ‘Mankading’ is a perfect example. But first, a couple of basics to explain it for outsiders:
A cricket pitch is a 22-metre-long rectangular area where all the bowling and batting take place. At either end are three sticks – stumps - that the bowlers attack and the batters defend. Simple.
Four feet in front of the stumps is a line called the ‘popping crease’. As bowlers run up, they must get part of their front foot behind this line when releasing the ball. Batters must keep a part of their body/bat grounded behind the line, or they may be ‘run out’ or ‘stumped’.
During the Indian tour of Australia in 1947, a player named Vinoo Mankad twice ran out Bill Brown, the home nation’s wicketkeeper. Mankad approached to bowl, and Brown had left the crease. Stumped! The Australian press went incandescent about the unfairness of this, labelling the dismissal ‘Mankading’.
However, the MCC Laws of Cricket are clear. If the batter at the bowling end has left the crease, this dismissal is allowed.
Brearley ponders: “We know it’s legal, but many spectators also feel that it’s wrong.” It’s outside the Spirit, outside the moral framework within which we hope to play.
As Aristotle puts it: ‘Morality is largely a matter of establishing good habits or behaviour so that doing the right thing happens as the result of our second nature, if not our first.’
Brearley closes with the thought that ‘the Spirit of Cricket’ is not limited to cricket. “It should apply to all areas of life. Even, dare I say, politics.”
Dare indeed, Brearley. Dare indeed.
RULES OF SEVEN
Two weeks ago I wrote about Sue Gray’s Partygate report. Since then, morality in politics has made the loudest UK headlines. Not that we have a monopoly on the issue: Washington’s Jan 6 Hearings are worth a look in the search for truth. But here at home, I wondered what laid behind the ‘ETHICS CHIEF RESIGNS’ banners.
Abuse of power is as old as Aristotle – probably older. But we can’t start there, because neither you nor I have the time. So, let’s start the current story of ‘Ethics’ in 1994, and the ‘Cash-to-Questions Affair’.
A couple of Members of Parliament took ‘bungs’ (back-hand / ‘brown envelope’ payments) to ask questions in the House for the benefit of their ‘donors’.
Appalled that such things could possibly happen, the Prime Minister John Major established the Committee in Standards in Public Life. If MPs were that easily lead astray, what else was happening in the wider world?
It’s easy to pore skeptical scorn on such initiatives, but it had the best of interests: How might we public servants return to being the best we could be?
Perhaps the longest-standing impact were the ‘Nolan principles’, named after Lord Nolan the first chairman of the committee.
Remember Stephen Covey and his ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ (Last count, 40 million sales in 40 countries)? Perhaps inspired by the book, in 1995 Nolan and his team set out The Seven Principles of Public Life:
Selflessness; Integrity; Objectivity; Accountability; Openness; Honesty; Leadership
Over the ensuing twenty-five years, the Principles were incorporated into a range of government-related codes, such as the Civil Service Code, the House of Lords Code of Conduct, many Local Authorities, educational and healthcare bodies, charities…
And the Ministerial Code, a document setting out ‘rules’ for UK government ministers.
The Ministerial Code is a rulebook owned by the Prime Minister. (At the risk of stating the obvious for some, perhaps not for others, the job title is the Prime Minister, the first of the ministerial cadre. Like the corporate Chief Executive Officer amongst the Financial Officer, the Manufacturing Officer, the Operating Officer, and so on). The Code has evolved over time, nuanced as priorities have changed.
Its General Principles range from the broad (‘high standards of behaviour’) to the specific (‘official transport not normally being used for [political] Party or private business’).
And it includes Nolan’s Seven Principles.
THE ONLY WAY IS ETHICS
A quick recap: the Cash-for-Questions Affair led to the Committee in Standards in Public Life; the CSPL created the Seven Principles of Public Life; the Principles are included in the Ministerial Code. Which leads us to the Ethics Chief. More specifically, the ‘Independent Adviser in Ministerial Interests’.
(‘Ethics Chief’ is headline-speak for journalists and editors, worried that the full job title would lose their readers. I have greater confidence in you.)
Prime Minister Tony Blair created the role in 2006. The first Adviser might have said to the reluctant Cabinet guinea pigs: ‘Here is the ministerial rulebook. Against these rules, I’m going to help you manage your private needs, to avoid any potential conflict of interests.’
In other words, I’m here to help you stay out of trouble – individually and collectively.
Until last week, the Independent Advisers in Ministerial Interests was Lord Geidt. He had taken the role in April 2021, believing he could help restore confidence in the role. It reports to the Prime Minister. The Ministers’ Code is owned by the Prime Minister. And the only person who can decide on the guilt of the Minister under investigation is… the Prime Minister.
In May this year, Geidt published two documents:
A. List of Minister’s Interests (produced twice a year). Public appointments, involvement with charities, financial interests, links to their constituency, relevant interests of their spouse, partner or close family members.
B. Annual Report. Not in the financial sense, but to give an overview of how the Independent Adviser has advised.
As you might expect from a man whose previous career includes ten years as Private Secretary to HM The Queen, he is the epitome of diplomacy and keeping his counsel. Even so, there are truths told about his relatively short engagement with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
(from the Annual Report, May 2022)
“Whether unfairly or not, an impression had developed that the Prime Minister may be unwilling to have his own conduct judged against the Code’s obligations.”
“I have repeatedly counselled the Prime Minister official and political advisers that the Prime Minister should be ready to offer public comment on his obligations under the Ministerial Code, even if he has judged himself not to be in breach.
“That advice has not been heeded and, in relation to the allegations about unlawful gatherings in Downing Street, the Prime Minister has made not a single public reference to the Ministerial Code.”
Do you think Lord Geidt felt a little miffed?
PACAC OR PACK UP
Last week, Lord Geidt had his moment in the sun, invited to give evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC). It’s a merry band of MPs, appointed by the House of Commons to examine the quality and standards of administration provided by Civil Service departments.
It might sound as dull as ditchwater; in fact, most of the real work in Parliament is done in Committee rooms like this. Getting to the heart of an issue, without the bellowing and showboating seen on the nightly news.
Here, Lord Geidt was at his most nimble. In the context of the Partygate report, an MP asked what is the purpose of the Independent Adviser (as if they didn’t already know)? And Geidt tiptoed around his existential territory:
“I have attempted to avoid the Independent Adviser offering advice to a Prime Minister about a Prime Minister’s obligations under his own Ministerial Code…
“If a Prime Minister’s judgement is that there is nothing to investigate or no case to answer, he would be bound to reject any such advice, thus forcing the resignation of the Independent Adviser. Such a circular process could only risk placing the Ministerial Code in a place of ridicule.”
(The forced resignation had been his predecessor, Sir Alex Allan. He thought the Home Secretary guilty of bullying her civil servants in breach of the code. But the Prime Minister refused to sack her.)
Another member of the Committee asked: “Now that you have been in the role, do you think it should be statutory?” Which means to give it genuine independence'; not needing to ask permission to investigate and to punish.
“Forgive me, but I will not offer a view because I have not worked that through. I think my role is to work with the proposition in being at the moment... However, as I said, I did make mention to the range of ambition [in my Annual Report], and the Committee on Standards in Public Life believes that it is a reasonable possibility to consider. It requires the Government to work it through and to offer a proposal.”
In other words, Geidt could see the upside of the role having more teeth. At the same time, he could see the downside: The foundation of the Ministerial Code is the responsibility of an individual minister doing the right thing. Giving the Independent Adviser more power would bring with it more visibility, more ‘clout’, but potentially take the personal responsibility. And Geidt's style was not to make a power play. He’d would have prefered to work with someone who took their individual and collective morality seriously.
The next day (16 June), Lord Geidt resigned.
END OF PLAY
In his resignation letter to the Prime Minister, Geidt wrote:
“Your letter in response to my Annual Report was welcome. It addressed the absence of comment by you about your obligations under that Ministerial Code up until that point. You explained that, by paying a Fixed Term Penalty, you had not breached the Ministerial Code. The letter did not, however, address specifically the criticism in Sue Gray's report about your adherence to the Nolan Principles (on leadership, in particular). Neither did the letter make mention that, despite being repeatedly questioned in the House of Commons about your obligations under the Ministerial Code (after paying a Fixed Penalty Notice), your responses again made no reference to it.”
Whether you’re a Lord or not, in Government or not, the kernel issue is the same. When the purpose of your job is defined by a Code, a rulebook, a set of values, but your boss – the owner of the Code – apparently does not give it much store, what is the point of being there?
As in the the Spirit of Cricket, if you’re no longer playing a game you recognize, it’s time to pull stumps.
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