Crack-heads or blockheads? Drug-taking, adultery and the Tory leadership contest

Michael Gove and Boris Johnson are both vying to be the next Prime Minister and have both admitted to taking drugs in the pastReuters

A day or two ago I heard about someone living nearby who had to wait eleven hours for an ambulance to turn up.

Meanwhile, in what feels like a galaxy far, far away, the Conservative Party leadership contest is unfolding. And ladies and gentlemen, in the blue corner we have Michael Gove, who has admitted to taking cocaine; in the even bluer corner, we have Boris Johnson, who in 2007 said he had tried cocaine and cannabis at university; and in a somewhat paler blue corner there is Rory Stewart, who smoked opium in Afghanistan.

In fact (assuming this is a boxing ring metaphor) we haven't got enough corners, because we also need to find space for Andrea Leadsom, Matt Hancock, Dominic Raab, Esther McVey, who have all admitted taking drugs of one kind or another. Even dear old Jeremy Hunt has taken a 'cannabis lassi' – a yogurt-based drink with 'extra' ingredients.

Of course, there's much more to these candidates than drugs. For example, Boris Johnson is also well-known for his adultery, and for a relationship with things such as truth, detail and courtesy that many have found highly questionable.

So, to over-simplify massively at this point... does it boil down to a choice between crack-heads and, er, blockheads? And even if so, does it matter, from a Christian perspective? How might we – if we can muster the weary energy in these turbulent political times – even start to think about the respective claims of the Tory leadership contenders?

In the first place, we have to realise that as soon as we start pointing a finger at the flaws of others, there are several fingers pointing back towards our own heart – and our own equally numerous shortcomings. We are all human; we all make mistakes; we all do wrong things; not one of us is perfect. So no political leader will ever be perfect either.

Secondly, it's good to remember that as society has moved away from its Christian moorings it has lost much concept of 'grace' – of undeserved forgiveness, of kindness, of unmerited second (and third, and ninety-third...) chances. And so it's seen as fair game to track down the past foibles which those in the public eye have committed – however long ago – and drag them, while shrieking with self-righteous unforgiveness, into the centre of the news.

Of course, the charge against Michael Gove has been not only that he took drugs but that he has subsequently been hypocritical – writing an article condemning middle-class drug use at roughly the same time as he was indulging in such things himself. And that's a good point to raise. But, then again, which of us is not a hypocrite in some way, shape or form? Which of us lives up to the standards we proclaim for ourselves?

As one Christian political writer has put it: 'Genuine Christian faith – far from making any individual more invincibly convinced of their own righteousness — makes us realise just how flawed and fallible we all are. I am selfish, lazy, greedy, hypocritical, confused, self-deceiving, impatient and weak. And that's just on a good day.'

The writer continues: 'As the Book of Common Prayer puts it, "We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts...And there is no health in us." Christianity helps us recognise and confront those weaknesses with a resolution — albeit imperfect and fragile — to do better. But more importantly, it encourages us to feel a sense of empathy rather than superiority towards others because we recognise that we are as guilty of selfishness and open to temptation as anyone.'

The name of that writer? One Michael Gove, who penned these words in The Spectator in 2015. Whatever else might be said about Gove then, (and there are many things many people might well say about his time as Education Secretary), from a Christian perspective at least he has owned up to his shortcomings with the clear-eyed, blunt realism that is a hallmark of authentic discipleship.

Of course, that doesn't in and of itself mean he – or any other Christian – would make a good Prime Minister. Even for Christians, faith alone cannot be a criteria of who should lead a nation. Clearly political ability is essential. Nonetheless, it's what is in our heart that is most important to the Lord (1 Samuel 16v7), and it is out of the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks (Matthew 15v11) and wise actions follow (James 3v10-18).

So let's pray for a wise leader with a godly heart, whoever that might be; someone who also has immense political wisdom and courage in these challenging days. And right now, to be honest, I would very much like someone who will make ambulances turn up. Quickly. In less than eleven hours. Please.

David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex, England. Find him on Twitter @Baker_David_A