Monday, 25 May 2015

A liar and a cheat

The publication of the report into the Lettre Zinovieff affair, in which Paris was forced to make an unprecedented intervention in a Westminster election campaign and which almost caused a diplomatic incident, was delayed until after the election, and then sneaked out on a Bank Holiday weekend by the Cabinet Office, designed to slip under the radar. And to be fair, the Scottish media is helping it do just that, with Reporting Scotland consistently refusing to mention it. 

The report identified Alistair Carmichael, then the Scottish Secretary, as the man who authorised the "leak" of a document to the Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph newspaper which fraudulently claimed that First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, supported the re-election of David Cameron as British prime minister in a conversation with the French ambassador. The newspaper ran the story without its now-discredited Scottish political reporter Simon Johnson running the most rudimentary journalistic good practice of contacting either principal in the story to confirm it. Within minutes of the fake story breaking, Johnson was humiliated as first Sturgeon, then the French ambassador, denounced it as a lie. 

The problem for Carmichael - whose continued position as an MP is being supported, in a less-than-surprising development, by the Tories and Labour - is that a precedent set after the last Westminster election states that any candidate in an election who knowingly lies in the campaign can have his election voided and the contest re-run under Section 106 of the Representation of the People Act. This happened to a Labour government minister, Phil Woolas, in 2010 - his election in Oldham was voided, he was banned from Parliament for three years, and he was suspended from the Labour Party. Another Labour councillor, one Miranda Grell, has a criminal conviction under the same Section. On the surface, it would seem clear that an Election Court would void Carmichael's election on the basis that he had knowingly made false statements during the campaign, and that this had a material effect on the result inasmuch as that he won by 817 votes. Would 409 electors have switched from Carmichael to his opponent, Danus Skene, if they had known that the disgraced Carmichael was a liar, a fraudster, a fabricator and a cheat? 

The expulsion of the discredited deputy leader of the Scottish Liberals from Westminster would leave the party without a single MP in Scotland. And while Willie Rennie refuses to take any action against Carmichael on the basis that he "deserves a second chance" - using much the same logic which saw the Liberals shelter Cyril Smith for decades - the electorate will see it as grubby, self-serving, and aimed only at keeping his mate at the trough. It is a dilemma for Rennie - losing Carmichael will mean no Liberal MPs in Scotland, but keeping him in post will probably lead to Tavish Scott (the party's only constituency MSP) losing the equivalent Holyrood seat in May, and may lead to an even-greater backlash against the party, leaving them with zero MSPs, and essentially defunct in Scotland. 

There remain questions to be answered. 

Suspicions remain about exactly when Willie Rennie became aware that his deputy's office had fabricated a memorandum and ordered it to be leaked to a Tory-supporting newspaper. If Rennie was aware and did nothing - just like David Steel with Cyril Smith - then that is a matter for resignation, not just as leader of the Liberal party, but also from Parliament. His continued talent for making an absolute arse of every situation he finds himself in, whether it's publishing racist cartoons on his website or covering up for a liar, a fraudster and a cheat, continues to awe.

Similarly, David Mundell, now the Scottish Secretary but at the time Carmichael's deputy in the Scottish Office, must admit when he became aware of the memo. Is it conceivable that two men working closely with each other in the same department, both of whom had a vested personal, political and financial interest in causing political damage to the victim of the fake memo, didn't at any stage discuss the matter?

And of course where there is ineptitude and corruption, there is the struggling Scottish Labour party. They had tweets, graphics and video ready unfeasibly quickly in reaction to a breaking "story" late on a weekend evening. One might even think that they were already primed and waiting to go. We'll never know. They will, though. And the grubby, smearing - now-deleted - tweets from the likes of Daily Mail columnist and fanatical loyalist Kezia Dugdale, Better Together boss and Jim Murphy fanboy Blair "Bunter" McDougall, and the other usual suspects, should be a matter of apology. 

Members of Parliament are quick to tell us that conversations between journalists and police officers should be a matter of public record. Perhaps it is time that contacts between political parties and journalists should also be logged. It might stop events like this: the deliberate smearing of a woman who wasn't even standing in the election, for the personal fiscal and political gain of a cross-party gang of Establishment bullies. 

Schadenfreude renders it satisfying that Carmichael's career has collapsed in ruins, humiliating a man whose lengthy political career will now only be remembered for working for the Tories and being a liar and cheat. But it has real political implications: the loss of the only Liberal seat in the Commons from Scotland delegitimises one of the three London parties and weakens the union just a little more. It now rests on the shoulders of the Labour MP for Morningside, a Tory government minister, and a less-than-sparkling array of talent on the Unionist benches in Holyrood which seems certain to be denuded yet further in May.

In launching a conspiracy to try to smear and damage the National party and its leader, Alistair Carmichael has brought the end of the British state a little closer. Cheers, Ally. Your constituents deserve better than an MP who's a liar and a cheat, but you've done the Scottish cause some service through your ineptitude. 

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