“The risks of this exhaust would be bad enough if they simply suppressed frankness, muted our freedom to express ourselves and provided a terrifying capability for authoritarian states to co-opt. But the problem is, the playing field isn’t level. There are two groups that float on, unconcerned by the death of ambient privacy.
The first are the angels: those whose innermost thoughts are already safely expressible, who never need to talk behind someone’s back because what they want to say is acceptable to deliver to their face, and who cannot have a throwaway comment come back to bite them because every comment is perfectly thought-out and expressed first time round.
Such people do not exist.
The second group are those who dismiss the very idea of consistency, who elevate rudeness to a virtue and undermine the entire concept of a shared reality. If you build your reputation on consistency and honesty, then a single hypocrisy can be ruining. If you get elected as an MP after you have already been fired from a newspaper for making up – sorry, “ sandpapering ” – quotes, then, well, you can get away with writing pretty much anything. You could even put it on the side of a bus, couldn’t you, Boris Johnson?
Similarly, it is the height of unambassadorial behaviour to call someone inept behind their back. But if, like Nigel Farage, you make a habit of telling your negotiating partners to their faces that they have “all the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk”, how could a leaked letter possibly hurt you? You might even suggest yourself as a successor to the clearly hopelessly biased civil servant. You, of course, are unimpeachable: your reputation for plain speaking is all the proof anyone needs. And for even more plain speaking, your fans can hear you on the radio five days a week!”