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Friday, 16 November, 2001, 17:15 GMT
The private life of politicians: do we expect too much?
Jack McConnell has emerged as the only candidate for the position of Scottish Labour leader and first minister.

Mr McConnell is aiming to take over from Henry McLeish who sensationally resigned last week over his expenses.

Now Mr McConnell has sought to "clear the air" over an affair he had seven years ago. He said the disclosure was aimed at putting the record straight and stopping any intrusion into his personal life.

Has politics become too personal and do past indiscretions really matter? Or should politicians expect intense media scrutiny of their affairs, business or otherwise? Do we have unrealistic expectations of our politicians?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

You are either honest or you are not

Simon Icke, UK
Message to all politicians and leaders in public life. If you want to enjoy the privileges of power and all the status that goes with it then don't be surprised if the public demands absolute integrity including honesty in your marriage! If a man or women lies in small things they are not to be trusted in bigger things. You are either honest or you are not.
Simon Icke, UK

If the media aren't careful, we will end up with politicians who are mind-numbing dull and lack any sort of personality. To be a good politician you must be able to draw on and adapt your experiences in life and how can you do that if you've never lived?
Jonny Reynolds, UK

It is a sorry old state when the Scottish Parliament in its infancy has so few competent politicians to fill the post of First Minister. McConnell looks and acts like a club doorman with the sophistication of a council bureaucrat. Can he really be the First Minister of a UK parliament? Labour need to get their act together and fast - this is not acceptable.
Keith Fulham, London

The important thing is that the Parliament delivers progress for Scotland

Neil, Scotland
The problem we have is not with our politicians but our press. Here we have the Daily Record going to extreme lengths to prevent an individual who has delivered results for the Scottish people leading the government. Then we have the rest running the 'look what they've written' story. The important thing is that the Parliament delivers progress for Scotland. That requires leadership. Apparently, our Labour MSPs think that Jack is the one to lead them and I tend to agree with them.
Neil, Scotland

Do we really want people with no faults who've never had any problems, running the country? I'd rather have real people who've dealt with real life. Jack McConnell wasn't right to have an affair but the only person with the right to judge him is his wife. If we continue this absurd witch hunt we will end up with useless politicians living in ivory towers, afraid to do anything even slightly risky.
Richard Gee, Scotland

All politicians have to be whiter than white otherwise they are not fit to do the job

Andy W, UK
If politicians cheat on their other halves, how can we trust them not to cheat on us? All politicians have to be whiter than white otherwise they are not fit to do the job.
Andy W, UK

The trouble is that a lot of the time politicians feel that they have the right to lecture the general public on their morals and way of life, from the right wing moralising about whether people should live together and have children without being married to the left moralising about drinking, smoking and all the -isms. So, to be honest, they are fair game. However, an affair should not disqualify them from public office so long as they accept that, if they are caught, they should be prepared to put up with a certain amount of mickey taking.
John, UK

If a politician espouses "family values" whilst in private carrying on an affair their hypocrisy should certainly be made public.
Tom K, Britain

Mr McConnell's private life is irrelevant. What is of more concern to me is that he is the only candidate to replace Henry McLeish. Hardly democratic is it?
Alex Banks, UK, living in Ireland

Take your pick for leader. A man who drank a quart of whiskey every night, a man who had affairs or a man who worked hard and rarely drank. The first was Churchill, the second Eisenhower and the third Hitler.
Gerry, Scotland

Politicians are just human like the rest of us (believe it or not). If Jack McConnell proves to be a competent First Minister then no one will care about these recent revelations. We should be scrutinising the media in this case - their intrusive and salacious coverage will hurt the individuals involved in this 'private' matter, and will not hurt a teflon-coated political career. By the way - Reverend Paul Boorman, how do you define morals in this day and age? Have you NEVER sinned?! What about a bit of forgiveness?
CW, Scotland

Have we no morals left?

Reverend Paul Boorman, Scotland
It is vital that this information comes to the public domain. We have already had one first minister who was 'economical' with the truth. Now it seems he will be replaced by a philanderer. Disgraceful. Have we no morals left?
Reverend Paul Boorman, Scotland

I don't want to hear about "The Private Life of Politicians" - unless, perhaps, it's a David Attenborough documentary. If you crave the details of others' private lives, then your own isn't interesting enough. We should be more concerned with how our ministers do their jobs than about the human details of their existence. Of course, integrity is important, but even this isn't a whitewash trait - the most committed politician could be the most faithless spouse. Everyone has facets to their personality.
Russ, UK

I believe we should expect the highest standards from our leading politicians. We have too many anti-heroes in the modern world and we need people to hold up and show as examples of integrity, honesty and high moral standards. We should expect our top politicians to fulfil this role. Their failure to do so is one of the reasons that the Country has become turned off by politics.
Martin, England

Their personal life has no influence on whether or not they are good at their job. Imagine if every job were partially judged on these merits. Who does not have a skeleton in their closet? No one would be allowed to work!!
Sandra, UK

It's the public who are more hypocritical than the politicians

R Horsburgh, Edinburgh
I'm fed up with people attacking politicians and their private lives. All these people who pontificate about politics never actually stand for election - or leaflet in the rain like those of us who are involved in politics. They demand political parties leaflet, knock doors etc in our own spare-time, but they never give up their time to help society. It's the public who are more hypocritical than the politicians.
R Horsburgh, Edinburgh

Politicians don't have a private life. They gave it up when they decided to be accountable to the people. However this does not mean the 'details' should become common knowledge and the media should refrain from 'digging the dirt'. On the subject of electing the leader of the ruling labour party, it seems Scotland is a bit low on suitable candidates. Could Scotland be about to join the list of countries that were actually better off before they went independent.
John, France

We expect too much and never forgive our elected officials. If a doctor makes a mistake, he gets a reprimand, if a politician makes a mistake then media/opposition/affected people & NGOs crucify him. Is a doctor who cheats on his wife at every opportunity unfit to treat me, of course not. People need to realise that every time a politician's private life is raked through the media we damage our political system, a system that relies on 'representative' democracy. Is it any wonder that people are put off real politics, MOST people don't vote, and how many of us would be willing to become a politician knowing the grief they get?
Christopher Cox, Solihull, UK

The personal requirements for a role in politics should be the same as for any other profession - integrity, honesty and a willingness to take on board professional criticism

Edwin Thornber, Britain
The personal requirements for a role in politics should be the same as for any other profession - integrity, honesty and a willingness to take on board professional criticism. Unfortunately our politicians seem to think themselves above any such requirements and also above accountability for their failures. The recent debacles of the Scottish First Minister's position and that of Stephen Byers vividly illustrate this point. Not only have these two politicians obviously lied in their respective parliaments without admission, but they continue to attempt obfuscate and repeatedly lie again in order to try to save their careers and further embarrassment.

This type of politician has caused deep cynicism in the whole electorate and have relinquished lost any right to claim the title of "Honourable members of the house". Tony Blair's failure to recognise this and his repeated backing for ministers who bring their positions into disrepute shows that his administration is morally no different from the previous ones.
Edwin Thornber, Britain

In some respects we do expect more than is reasonable from our politicians - they have their responsibilities, which (as far as we know) for the vast majority of them, they achieve. It is very much like idolising film stars or musicians to put inflated standards onto politicians - they are all human after all and have failings the same as the rest of us. It does strike me as a bit of a put-up job however to just accept the one nomination as gospel - although when one of the alternatives is to call a general election, is anyone surprised? That would really come across as an admission of defeat....
Mary, Perth, Scotland

We as a nation are so obsessed with politicians having to be whiter than white

Simon Moore, UK
I don't really care as long as they are good at their job. It does strike me as somewhat amusing that we, as a nation, are so obsessed with politicians having to be whiter than white. Is the population at large really that squeaky clean? Of course not. Politicians are just people, why should they be any different? I think it's a case of "sort your own life out before you start worrying about other people's".
Simon Moore, UK

I fail to see why we should prefer a straight-laced political incompetent to a top class politician who might have had a few stray encounters from time to time. Surely we've gotten beyond expecting politicians to be priests and I'm not convinced that it's any of our business anyway. For once I wish we had Europe-wide elections so that the French could ridicule our stupid ways. Notice, however, that I have not yet examined whether Mr McConnell is in fact a competent politician.
Rhys Jaggar, England

To a certain degree, you'd like to think that someone's personal life was just that - personal, and of no business of anyone's except those directly involved. Having said that why should I trust promises made to me by someone I don't know when he has admitted that he was unable to keep promises made to someone he loves? Most aspects of our politicians' lives should stay out of the public eye, but anything that calls into question their honesty, integrity, decency or honour affects us all and should be one of the things we are able to consider when going to the ballot box.
Stuart, Scotland

Officegate has shown that Scottish politicians are nothing but a bunch of chancers. They promote their own self-interest at the public's expense. Take a good look at the farce that is the Scottish leadership race. With only one contender we are looking at a party that has decided it is a much better idea to divvy-up the jobs than have an open debate on ideas and policies. I have no sympathy for our politicians, they deserve all the mud that's thrown at them.
Mac, Dundee

In terms of private, it should be just that - private

Neil Anderson, Scotland
I think that to a certain degree the politicians have to uphold the reputation of the Scottish Parliament, which McLeish certainly did not do. He allowed himself to be dragged into a messy and unseemly stooshie about something that quite frankly most people couldn't give a flying monkey's about. In terms of private, it should be just that - private and I see no need to dwell on the topic of McConnell's marital indiscretions. That's for him and his wife to sort out. At least he has brought it out in the open now and not left it as a weapon for the "Scottish" to whip out when they run out of things to say. I have to agree with Mac from Dundee though - one candidate is not a leadership contest.
Neil Anderson, Scotland

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