Letter from Westminster 17.04.09

Politics can sometimes make a habit of throwing the very best in with the very worst in one week and leaving you scratching your head, trying to make sense of it all.

This being the Easter recess for the House of Commons, I am able to spend some time getting out and about. Last week I was in Stronsay and Eday in Orkney. This week I was in Fair Isle and today I shall be in Fetlar. The contrast from West­minster could not really be greater and as well as catching up with what is going on locally in the outer isles it leaves me feeling refreshed.

This visit to Fair Isle was all the more cheering for seeing John Best up and going about his business with determination. If strength and deter­mination could be bottled and sold, the man would be a millionaire. Even in Fair Isle, however, once the serious business of the day has been done (the inadequacy of the surgery, Flybe, the inter-island plane service and the television reception, etc) people still want to talk about the contents of the Sunday newspapers.

The sending of emails concocting stories that are at best wildly mis­leading and at worst pure fiction from a spin doctor in 10 Downing Street is the sort of thing that most people would see in a television drama and dismiss as entertaining but unrealistic. I was reminded of Ian Richardson and his role in the BBC’s excellent House of Cards from the late 1990s. You may remember his delivery of the line: “You might think that, I couldn’t possibly comment.”

The problem is that this is no television drama and the story is anything but entertaining. It is the sort of thing that confirms everyone’s worst suspicions about politics and politicians and we are all damned as a consequence. Is it a case of there being one bad apple in the case that has now been removed or is there more to it than this? I do not know but I do know that after a long period in power people in government often start to believe that they have a God-given right to be there. That is when accountability goes out of the window and staying in power becomes the end rather than the means to achieving some greater end.

The problem for Gordon Brown and co is that the drama that unfolded last weekend shocked many people but seems to have surprised few. Sadly this seems to be all that is expected. What a contrast with the heady optimism and goodwill with which New Labour came to power in 1997. Remember the days when things could only get better?

I recall one commentator in 1997 saying (in the context of the then outgoing Tory government) that governments and babies’ nappies needed to be changed regularly and for much the same reasons. When my children were in nappies there was often a stench that told you it was time for a change. Politics is no different. There was more than a whiff of it last Sunday.

Alistair Carmichael MP


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