Tom Sutcliffe: Honesty is in large part a social virtue

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I don't have very high hopes for the Honesty Lab, an online research project set up by a group of academics in order to assist judges to gauge shifting public attitudes as to what counts as culpable (or punishable) dishonesty. The problem is apparently this – that some juries feel the black and white intransigence of the law isn't a good match for the murky shades of grey one encounters in life, and have a tendency to acquit in cases where they have a sneaky sympathy with what the perpetrator has done. I thought the whole point about juries was their perversity – that an assembly of one's peers would temper the inflexible severity of the law with a consensual understanding of morality. But apparently there's some anxiety that it's all been getting out of hand recently, so the Honesty Lab website sets out to take an audit of public attitudes to varying forms of dishonesty so that judges will be able to aim off in giving their directions.

Unfortunately right now it seems to demonstrate only that the public can't even agree with itself about what's dishonest and what's not. One of the tests consists of a series of short videos in which various people confess to being economical with the truth. One man has bundled in an own-fault bit of car damage with a later collision to get everything covered by his insurance.

Another woman has picked up a dropped lottery ticket in a shop, which later wins £30,000. And with each of these you're asked whether you think the behaviour is honest or not and where it falls in a kind of league table of dodginess. At this point 48 per cent of people think the lottery ticket woman was dishonest while only 25 per cent apply the same word to a man who finds a £20 note in a supermarket car park and pockets it.

A little later though finding cash in the street and keeping it has suddenly shot to the top of a table in which it is compared to staying silent when you're undercharged in a shop or – oddly enough – finding a lottery ticket and pocketing it.

That's the nature of online research, of course. I suppose there might be a way to correct for the fact that it gets boring about halfway through and people can't be bothered to be consistent. But it's also possible that the very narrow range of options given in the online test makes people indifferent to weighing up their options very carefully. Besides there's also a real difference between a book knowledge of dishonesty and a judgement that can be applied in the real world. The theory says that, on finding a £20 note one schleps all the way to the nearest police station and hands it in – though this may not be practical at the time. Hand it in at the supermarket – and confer your own good fortune on someone less honest than you? Stick it in the nearest charity box as an offering to virtue? Pursue the likely looking woman putting her shopping in the boot? What you would do – and how harshly an onlooker might judge the doing of it – would depend on a huge variety of circumstances, each of which would have to be weighed carefully and, perhaps, deliberated with others.

Honesty, after all, is in large part a social virtue. You'd need to have detailed evidence presented to you and then deliberate for a time with your peers before deciding. It would look a bit like a jury trial – the findings of which might actually give a more honest account of what people take to be honest than an online questionnaire.

Boris's blond ambition in the Queen Vic

It's slightly dispiriting news that Boris Johnson has been given a cameo appearance in an EastEnders episode – part of a storyline involving Peggy's foray into local politics. I quite enjoy the episodic soap opera that is the Mayor's life – falls into rivers, set-tos about his journalistic salary etc – but I can't see why a real soap believes it will be in any way enriched by giving him a walk-on part.

The truth of such stunts is that the celebrity involved almost always benefits in terms of profile and reputation as a "good sport" (they wouldn't do it if not), while the drama itself is obliged to take a dip in quality during their brief stint in front of the camera. Or the microphone, for that matter. The Archers presumably felt it had secured a coup in getting sculptor Antony Gormley to turn up at the village fete and inspect Linda's mini-plinth last week – and the idea was quite fun. But actually listening to the short scene in which he appeared was purgatorial. For about a minute it stopped being the "everyday story of country folk" which all its fans love and became a weirdly stilted media happening.

The same thing, I'm pretty sure, will happen when Boris pushes through the doors of the Queen Vic. Suspension of disbelief will crash to the floor as Boris demonstrates that he shouldn't ever give up the day job.

It's your persona not your sexuality, Rupert

"If I'd been straight? I'd be doing what Colin and Hugh do, I suppose". Rupert Everett's suggestion, in a recent interview, that his career might have suffered because of his sexuality raised an interesting issue.

He's a good looking man, so I don't suppose it's impossible that it would have been him diving into the Pemberley pond or stuttering amorously through Four Weddings and A Funeral. But isn't it possible that it wasn't his private life that limited the offers so much as his public persona? In the same interview he reveals that, although public school accents were a bit of a liability when he started acting he never bothered to hide his own. "I was such a show-off, I was always hamming it up", he said. That's the Everett brand – languidly superior, a little catty, unabashedly "I am what I am".

So it surely isn't entirely surprising that he wasn't the first name that sprung to mind when someone was looking for a conventional romantic lead. This isn't to suggest that he should have opted for a Rock Hudson strategy of closeted deception, incidentally, only to point out that one of the things a casting director is looking for is the ability to pretend well, and if you can't be bothered to pretend at all they may turn to the actor who can. I don't suppose Vinnie Jones gets offered many parts in Oscar Wilde plays either, having so consistently spurned his inner aesthete.

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