The political U-turn - is changing your mind incompatible with integrity?

Theresa May is coming under the kind of ferocious attack that a political pack leader can expect from those in whose interest it is to bring her down. During the recent election campaign, she was castigated for changing her mind on various matters including as to whether there should have been an election. Another political figure, Tim Farron, has resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats, explaining that he could not fulfil his role without compromising his beliefs as a Christian. To me, these are two very different matters.


The term is pejorative - the very reason that we want consistency is that it meets our desire for certainty in a world that is fraught with change and the unexpected. Those who change their view, opinion or position are not to be trusted; trust is based on expectations and when our expectations are not met we are left unsure, uncertain and vulnerable. We are taught to keep our word, to turn up when we are told, and to be reliable. This allows others to depend on us, but should we always comply just to please others?

New Information

Science is a classic example of hypothetical models being ‘proven’ to be true and later found to be otherwise based on new information. A recent example is the discovery of fossils that bring forward the advent of homo sapiens by some 100,000 years. Were experts wrong?  In one sense they were; though in another not, as their judgments were based on the facts as they knew them. What would be wrong, and foolish, would be to maintain their previous hypothesis in the face of new evidence.

Why then do we not allow politicians to change their minds? Why can they not change strategy, tactics and messages when it is plainly wise to do so based on new information?

Values and Integrity

Religions and other belief systems enshrine particular values which have a greater or lesser impact on believers depending on the degree to which they choose to adhere to them.  Parents value their children’s wellbeing while others may value nature and the wellbeing of our planet; these values are akin to priorities. Integrity involves the integration of our values into our daily lives through our attitudes, behaviours and choices. One person’s integrity is not the same as another’s.

Tim Farron has found himself conflicted and has chosen his Christian beliefs over his position in politics. Is he to be condemned for that? I say not. One may disagree with his purported views of homosexuality but it is surely as much his right to have such an opinion as it is for others to have different opinions, provided we do so peacefully.

Political Values

Cynics might say that this is an oxymoron and that politicians are slippery individuals who value nothing but personal and party advantage. I have met a few in my time, of different mainstream parties, and found them without exception to be dedicated people willing to give up anything resembling a normal life for the sake of service to others. They must run the gauntlet of ferocious personal insults and threats from the public, as well as endless criticism from journalists and pundits who have never walked the walk. Are there some bad eggs? Of course there are. However, the vast majority deserve to be allowed what we allow ourselves; namely to change our minds when new information is presented to us, and to stand by our values when circumstances demand.