Our view | Sources and lies

Morten Bødskov may have had to do the wrong thing by lying to parliament, but he did the right thing by stepping down

Politicians, most people would say, lie. Whether it’s campaign pledges that get broken, or flip-flopping in order to keep up with public opinion, most voters, though affronted by politicians’ relaxed attitude towards the truth, accept that it’s a part of the job. In the worst cases, politicians who get caught not telling the truth are still forced to resign.

Morten Bødskov found himself in the latter position this week. After he first “apologised deeply” for lying (though he himself never used the word) to members of parliament’s Justice Committee about the reason for seeking to cancel a 2012 trip to Christiania, he later saw himself without the support of a majority of MPs.

If you choose to believe Bødskov’s explanation, the motive was honourable enough: the police had received reports of increasing tensions between gangs that could put the MPs in harm’s way if they visited. In cancelling the trip, he sought to avoid a conflict. By fibbing, he hoped to avoid revealing the source of the information. He accomplished both (if only temporarily delaying the visit by a few months).

To the end, Bødskov clung to the argument that, in the intelligence game, the source of the information is often more important than the information itself. Bødskov’s decision to lie protected the identity of the informant, who may have since contributed more information to law-enforcement officials about criminal activity.

True or not, it wasn’t an argument MPs were buying. Lying to voters is apparently one thing, but lying to other lawmakers is something else entirely. And in the end, it was the apparent lack of trust in his fellow MPs that they couldn’t keep a secret that cost him his job.

Prior to his own departure, Bødskov’s fib had already led to one public official being fired. Sticking to his guns would only have made the situation worse. Stepping down, in the end, was the right choice.

Because, lying, as we tell our children, is always wrong. (Even if, sometimes, it’s necessary.)