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Perspective: Time to be loyal - and a time to condemn.

Byline: Jo Ind

'Would you condemn your wife? I will not condemn my wife.' Those were the angry words of Nicholas Winterton MP to reporters quizzing him about his partner, Ann Winterton, the Tory front-bencher sacked for telling a racist joke at a private dinner.

It raises an interesting question, namely what it means to be loyal.

On this occasion Mrs Winterton had been speaking at a rugby club when she told a joke about an Englishman, a Cuban, a Japanese man and a Pakistani on a train.

The Cuban threw a cigar out of the window saying they were ten a penny in his country. The Japanese man threw a Nikon camera out of the window saying they were ten a penny in his country. Then the Englishman threw the Pakistani out of the window saying they were ten a penny in his country.

It makes you wince doesn't it? If Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith felt a conflict of loyalties between his rural affairs spokesperson and the Conservative party it was not sufficient to cause him to dither.

He gave her the option of resigning or being sacked and she refused to quit because she had already offered an unreserved apology. That was how she lost her job and how her husband came to be speaking to reporters on her behalf.

We can admire his loyalty - or can we? Does being loyal to your wife mean you refuse to condemn her in any circumstances? Would he have said the same thing if she had committed a murder?

I cringe whenever I watch Question Time and there is a minister on the panel having to put up a paltry defence of some indefensible Government initiative.

I can see why this is necessary. The Cabinet has got to operate as a team so it won't do to have one minister doing one thing and another sounding off about it.

But at the same time I think it is dangerous when leaders expect party members to be loyal whatever the circumstances. It is a licence for them to behave like dictators.

There is a limit to loyalty's virtue, a fine line between being faithful to your party and being a creep with no mind of your own. When loyalty is stretched too far, it turns from a virtue into a monster. When men like Jonathan Aitken expect family members to commit perjury on their behalf they are twisting loyalty into a vice. I don't think being loyal to a spouse means saying he has done nothing wrong even when you think he has. Being loyal means listening to his point of view, helping him to understand why others see it differently and letting him know you still love him.

It doesn't help anyone, least of all your partner, to be loyal to the point of being unable to say he was wrong.

My partner has left me in no doubt about his views on loyalty.

'Would you condemn your wife?' asked Mr Winterton.

'Yes,' said my husband. 'I'd condemn you if you said something foolish like that.'

Ministers may impose a 9p tax on polythene bags given away at supermarkets.

This is nothing like high enough.

Polythene bags are a menace to the environment because they are virtually indestructible.

They take at least ten years to decompose naturally and, if burnt, send toxic smoke into the atmosphere.

This is a high price to pay for something so unnecessary.

Polythene bags have been around for only 35 years. Before then we used to take shopping bags with us whenever we intended to buy something.

'I don't need a bag,' I say to shop assistants as I load what I am buying into my back pack.

This makes them so uncomfortable that some even tell me I have to have one, though they can never quite explain why.

The Government's tax on polythene bags should not apply just to supermarkets but to all shops, and it should not be a mere 9p but at least pounds 1.

The destructive habit of putting everything you buy into a polythene bag is due to nothing more than laziness and lack of imagination. Charging people pounds 1 every time they do it is the fastest way of getting them to understand that.
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Title Annotation:Comment
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 9, 2002
Words:716
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