The furore over Alistair Carmichael’s non-resignation this week has served to underline the complete lack of moral compass in either our national politicians or our national press. Their repeated attempts to justify the former Secretary of State for Scotland’s behaviour and apply convoluted logic to convince the public, and indeed themselves, that he has commited no more than a minor offence, has been illuminating if not edifying.
Much has been made of his ‘mistake’ not being so much the deed itself but in seeking to deny he was involved, thereby breaking the cardinal rule of politics. Lying through your teeth is acceptable, getting caught is the sin. You have to wonder how these politicians would react if a burglar was apprehended exiting their premises with a swag sack full of their possessions. Forget it’s a fair cop guv. ‘Sorry officer I appear to have made a mistake, an error of judgement if you will. A momentary aberration which I deeply regret. I’m a first time offender (as far as you know)’. ‘Perfectly understandable my son, carry on, may the force be with you.’
Let us remind ourselves of what he actually did and more importantly why he did it. He authorised the leaking of a memo describing a private meeting between the First Minister of Scotland and France’s Ambassador to the Court of St James. The memo itself, as admitted by Carmichael was untrue.
It suggests that the First Minister would prefer that David Cameron was returned to Downing Street rather than Ed Milliband who she believes is not up to the job. This all in complete contrast to her public position. It is leaked within a day of the First Ministers acclaimed performance on the televised leaders debate.
So far, so bad. This leak also embroils France’s most senior diplomat in the controversy. The ambassador of one of the UK’s closest and most important allies and trading partners. An unpardonable, and believe me the French won’t pardon it, diplomatic folly.
But the really damning part of this episode is why he did it. He did it not not just to smear a political opponent, which is bad enough, he did it to smear the First Minister of Scotland, the country’s most senior elected official which is even worse. And most damningly of all he did it to try and affect the outcome of a UK general election, to usurp democracy itself. The fact he failed in no way lessens the crime. In my opinion such behaviour should quite literally be a crime.
Carmichael’s apologists, and there are many, would have you believe the indignation that has followed these events is a gross over reaction whipped up by an all powerful SNP on a mission to crush all opposition in Scotland. As if the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties weren’t perfectly capable of organising their own demise. An unholy host that must be resisted at all costs. We are of course used to politicians reacting with faux indignation of the righteous kind over mere ripples in a teacup. This is not one of those occasions.
You could fill a book with the articles and comments emanating from unionist politicians and press so I’ll mention but a few.
Sir Menzies Campbell tells us Carmichael made a ‘mistake’ which he has apologised for. An apology assuming it is sincere may express regret but it doesn’t right a wrong and it doesn’t excuse the behaviour. Willie Rennie says it was an ‘aberration’ and everybody deserves a ‘second chance’. Naw, they don’t. The airhead that is Sir Malcolm Bruce tells us that all MPs lie. So that’s ok then. The other night on the BBCs Question Time programme Ruth Davidson complained of an ‘unsavoury witch hunt’ and Alex Salmond ‘smearing’ David Mundell over the affair. Trying to deflect from the facts of the case. We’ll come back to Mr Mundell shortly.
As for the press let’s take just two examples. The first is the paper that published the leak in the first place, the Tory supporting unionist Daily Telegraph. Both the journalist and the editor stand accused of a complete lack of professional integrity. In their eagerness to publish the SNP damning report they made no attempt to verify the veracity of the information. They made no attempt to contact the First Minister or the French Ambassador nor their respective offices. Publish and be damned seems to be there motto. And damned they should be.
The Guardian provides us with our other example in the form of political journalist Michael White. This looney has become famous on social media following his appearence on Scotland Tonight with his stern countenance and unusual facial appendage. Indeed his moustache has even had a song written about it. Doesn’t do to upset the crazy Nats you know. Carmichael’s pursuit by an ‘SNP inspired lynch mob’ has convinced White that ‘Alistair Carmichael’s political survival has become a matter of principle’. That’s the headline on his article. This inpires two thoughts. Firstly that this deranged fellow has no sense of irony and secondly that he has damn few principles himself.
And what of fellow travellers? Who else knew about this leak? There has been speculation that David Mundell who worked closely with Carmichael and shared office accomodation must have known about it. There was a period of around 6 weeks between the writing of the memo and the Scottish Office deciding the moment was right to release it. Ruth Davidson thinks Alex Salmond is smearing Mundell by bringing it up (actually plenty others have as well). This isn’t a smear it is an attempt to get at the truth which so far Mundell has side stepped. On television the other night he was asked if knew about the affair. Now this is a pretty straight forward question requiring a straight forward answer which is either ‘yes I did know’ or ‘no I didn’t know’. He was asked straight out if he knew about it. Mundell said, ‘the inquiry made it absolutely clear that no one else was involved’. When asked again he gave the same peculiar answer. Returning to my burglar analogy that’s a bit like the polis saying they haven’t caught a burglar, doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a break in.
Any person of normal intelligence with a reasonable grasp of the English language would conclude that he did indeed know about it. And if he knew who else knew? No 10 perhaps? The whole affair stinks and has a long way to run. I hope those pursuing this do not bow to pressure or allow themselves to be deflected.
What we do know is that Carmichael was deeply involved in a personal attack on the First Minister, based on a report he admits was wrong, in a covert attempt to influence the general election result. He subsequently lied about his involvement. We should never accept the cynical view that this kind of behaviour is inevitable or excusable. It is reprehensible. Carmichael should go and go now.