So when we hear a politician contradicting his party’s official line when he thinks he’s off the record, shouldn’t we be reassured that he has a mind of his own?
This week, Bosse Ringholm was overheard (having failed to hang up properly after a phone interview) telling a colleague that the police are “so bloody idle” (“så djävla slöa”) in the fight against illegal gambling.
Tee-total Ringholm is usually seen as monochrome minister – the government’s accounts clerk, in contrast to glamour boy Thomas Bodström. But the deputy PM’s secretly-recorded fruity language has done more to make him a sympathetic character than any number of dutiful but empty-headed platitudes mumbled on the record.
Just before his outburst he had praised the police in an interview with TV4, and the instant reaction from the media and opposition parties was to accuse the deputy prime minister of hypocrisy.
This charge is pretty hard to argue against, and the opposition was right to point out the apparent inconsistencies between Ringholm’s private and public positions.
But to call for his resignation, as Maud Olofsson did, was to go too far.
Firstly, because we need more honesty from politicians, not less.
Secondly, because politicians who actually believe all the rehearsed clichés they have to trot out in the television studios (and there’s no better-rehearsed cliché than ‘I have full confidence in the police’) are not the sort of politicians we should want representing us. They should be able to think freely and talk honestly behind closed doors, and we can’t always expect them to be as frank in public as they are in private.
There are worse crimes for a politician than hypocrisy.
Being so out of touch that they don’t recognise that there are real problems that require tough talking in areas such as law enforcement – that’s a matter for resignation. But failing to hang up the phone properly is not.