Public Interest, Personal Agenda

News of politicians doing something that they shouldn’t be doing doesn’t really capture my interest nowadays.  It was only when The Times ran with the news of Damian Green MP having porn on his computer and how that’s leading to another government implosion that I started to look.

The prime minister is under pressure to sack her deputy but her Brexit secretary has threatened to also leave if that happens.

Mr Green, 61, the first secretary of state, is being investigated by the Cabinet Office over allegations that pornography was found on a Commons computer seized in 2008.  Of course, there is a back story that doesn’t make the affair particular simple.

In November 2008, Green was the subject of an inquiry into Whitehall leaks.  The then shadow immigration minister, was arrested.  Police raided Mr Green’s parliamentary office without a warrant.  This was when information about Green’s browsing history was seized.  They said nothing about the alleged pornography and he was never charged.

However, the raid didn’t go down well and MPs vented their fury at Met officer called Bob Quick.  Various allegations to and fro happened and then Quick was photographed holding a piece of paper marked “Secret” on which counter-terrorism plans were visible to photographers. Within months he resigned.

After his resignation he made several attempts at disclosing the fact that porn was found on Green’s computer which ended last month with Green calling Quick “tainted and untrustworthy”.

This is where another character comes in.  His name is Neil Lewis and he is the man who originally investigated Green’s computer, and he’s also not best pleased about the attack on his former colleague.  He gave two reasons to the BBC why this whole thing is supposedly important.

The first is that the police have a duty to reveal a moral rather than criminal act from a public figure.  One could use a whole other blog post to discuss the morality of pornography (I took 5000 words to do it at university, and was then asked whether I would like to write some more).

However, there are other aspects of workplace morality that could also be looked at which begs the second question of when it becomes important for the Police to manage workplace appropriateness.  Most companies nowadays will have sufficient website blocking tech to not allow certain websites to be viewed in the workplace, but if No. 10 allow it and Green felt the urge to view porn and go for a sneaky five finger shuffle, is it really for the Police to call that out as wrong?

This, for me, is just another instance of the contention around what actually constitutes a matter of public interest.  I always feel that something is publicly interesting if it affects a figure’s ability to do the job, or the public’s trust in them to do it.  Albeit with very little facts I can find about the extremity of the content in question (former Metropolitan police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said it involved “no criminality, no victims, no vulnerability” apart from, I would assume, patriarchal supremacy) given that the content was found in 2008 and Damian Green is still working at the top of British politics, one would assume that it hasn’t affected his ability.

Green has denied the existence of the material.  If it’s proven that it was there, then it genuinely will be in the best interests of the public to see the issue dealt with appropriately.

Until then, the subjectivity involved in public interest debate means that we’re always going to be in a position, as the police have seemingly done here, to imply an interest to serve a personal agenda.

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