Monday, 3 December 2007

Squalid, shameful, shifty

Slice it any way you like, it is a grotesque parody of any claims to 'joined-up government', to say nothing of the Bottler's much-vaunted 'trust' and 'transparency', that Wendy Alexander should still be leader of the Labour party in Scotland.

She has broken the law. Not merely a law introduced by her own party, one that even those with no more than bird-brain-like claims to common sense would have realised it was essential to honour and to be seen to be honouring, but one that carries with it an unlimited fine or a year in prison.

There has been much comment on the fact that her defence – that there was no 'intentional wrong-doing' on her part – is laughably inadequate. Parallels with those who break the speed limit and hope to get off by claiming they hadn't realised their offence have been widely drawn.

But for me still the most shocking aspect of the affair is that she is being kept in power by the Labour government itself solely in order to protect the Bottler. If she goes, the dominoes topple inexorably. Thus, reportedly, she was ready to step down on Sunday only to be talked out of it – in fact, 'ordered' not to 'in a stark message' - by her brother, Douglas Alexander, who, in the truest traditions of Scottish socialist oligarchical politics, is not merely a member of the Bottler's cabinet but his election supremo.

Which brings us up to the squalid heart of this squalid business. Many have commented that the real scandals of this government are not the petty law-breaking of undeclared donations, even by senior members of the government; nor even the £650,000 illegally channelled to and as illegally accepted by the party.

Northern Rock, 25 million missing personal records, the armed forces chronically and consistently undermined, the rampant spread of killer bugs in hospitals, perhaps above all an economy mired in debt and poised to slide into a painful recession, taking house prices with it: these, it is said, are the real indictments of Labour, begun under Blair, whose greasy finger-prints can all too readily still be seen, and continued under the Bottler.

I disagree. No one can dispute the seriousness of the above crises, the startling legacy of 10 years of ineptitude and top-down big government, the whole at a prodigious and growing financial cost. The economy above all may yet be what does for the Bottler.

Nonetheless, what is so striking about Donorgate is not just the systematic corruption and disdain for the law it has revealed at the heart of the government but that the default party reaction to it is that at all costs the Bottler himself must be protected. And the reason for this is simple.

Gnawing away at the cold, dead heart of the Bottler is a single, all-consuming imperative: that he cannot at any cost join the ranks of those prime ministers whose terms in office have ended in short-lived ignominy. He has not plotted and schemed for so long and with such single-minded ambition only to find himself turfed out of Downing Street to join the unknown also-rans who comprise the footnotes of prime-ministerial history. Not while the grinning features of Tony Blair, prime minister for over 10 years and winner of three elections, would be there to torment him and to remind him of his failure. The humiliation, to say nothing of the cackling glee of Cherie Blair, would be more than he could bear.

It is in effect one man's glowering vanity and sense of self-worth that insists that wee Wendy, to say nothing of Harriet Harman and Peter Hain, remain in office, however creaking, hollow and obviously self-serving their excuses.

It demeans the whole country. And soon, I am quite sure, it will demean the Bottler, too.

His strategy, no less those of his accolytes – and you can be sure that if he falls he takes them with him – is entirely short-term: to stave off immediate damage in the vague hope that it can be massaged away by new laws on party funding. (It is of course worth pointing out that there are already perfectly clear laws on party funding and that the whole sorry fiasco could easily have been avoided had they be adhered to).

Frankly, it seems incredibly stupid. If, as seems certain, charges are laid against wee Wendy, Harman and Hain, then not even the Bottler can hope to save them. And then the exposure will be more damning than ever. Cut them loose now and he can at least claim to have acted 'rigorously and surgically,' in his own phrase. Something, however ignoble, however rancid, would have been salvaged from the wreckage.

Still, that's what vanity does for you.

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