20th September 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Letter from Westminster

, by , in Features

The Palace of Westminster went into lockdown last week in honour of the visit of President Obama who was to address both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall.

My office, which is quite close to Westminster Hall, had to be vacated and locked two hours before the address.

I confess that I did not fully understand the logic of this as if I wished the man ill then I could probably do more harm to him in the audience for his speech (for which I had been allocated a ticket) than I could sitting in my office but where presidential security comes into play safety first rather than logic is usually the watch word.

Normally I would use this column to describe what it was like to be there and to soak in the atmosphere and to watch sworn enemies be forced to sit next to each other for an hour, smiling for the cameras while hating every minute of it. On this occasion I have to leave that to your imagination, however, as I, like you, watched the address on television. Having seen a briefing earlier in the week indicating that the ash cloud would lift on Wednesday but might possibly return on Thursday with a change of wind direction I decided to forego the chance of enjoyed the presidential rhetoric and instead to head home while I could.

The speech was interesting if not fascinating. The nature of our relationship with America and whether it is “special” or not, I think, is one that occupies journalists too much. They might want to ponder instead what “special” means in this context.

In the Blair-Bush years it went beyond special and became unhealthily cosy. I think that with the removal of these two men from the scene it has regained some of its previous distance.

As a solicitor I used to enjoy a special relationship with my clients. This was recognised in law. They could tell me anything in complete confidence and I could not be forced to disclose what they had told me.

It also allowed me to give them completely candid advice and to remind them in the strongest possible terms of what the law allowed them to do. Realistically it did not mean that I could stop them from ignoring my advice and breaking the law if they chose to but if they did then I was still there to help them out of any difficulty if they did.

That would be a special relationship worth having – even if it might make for slightly less exciting photo opportunities.

Alistair Carmichael