Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me, or so we sang at school when taunted by other youngsters. These days, of course, name-calling would be treated as bullying. Except in Parliament, where it is an accepted part of the cut and thrust of politics.
The recent slanging match involves Foreign Office minister Keith Vaz. Most of it is irrelevant to the insurance industry but one apparently juicy snippet came out that dragged Norwich Union (NU) into the mire. The insurer, allegedly, attended a meeting at the Foreign Office where it agreed to pay £175,000 to a businessman associate of Vaz who had suffered a fire that had destroyed his restaurant in London. NU had originally questioned paying such a sum, on what it felt were good grounds.
Insurance Times does not normally support the wall of silence approach, but this time is different. NU is right to say nothing. This attack on Vaz – a witchhunt according to many commentators – is nothing to do with NU and it shouldn't get involved.
It has been put in an impossible position – twice. First, it has the meeting and then it gets the publicity. It was called to a meeting with a minister, at his invitation, at the Foreign Office, to discuss a complaint, not from a constituency member but from someone who would appear to have been a closer contact. NU had no option but to accept.
Whether Vaz should have hosted that meeting is a matter for others to decide. MPs are often asked to help constituents in these matters and insurers will be used to dealing with such cases. But this was special. It wasn't a constituent, the MP was a minister and the meeting was at the Foreign Office.
We can only speculate as to what happened in that meeting. Vaz would not have needed to ask for a favour from NU – just by hosting the meeting he was making plain his views. And who, put in that position, wouldn't use discretion to make a payment? NU had no choice. It is the behaviour of others, not NU, that must be the focus of the questioning.