Martin Bell, the nation's Sleaze Detective, the ex-journalist and war correspondent and now UNICEF ambassador but the with the nose for the nasty whiff; if it's there Martin Bell sniffs it out and exposes it to air and daylight for that stink to be fully appreciated.
The Parliamentary candidate who opposed and ousted cash-for-questions MP Neil Hamilton, Martin Bell was elected on a wave of people's insurrection and then kept his promise of only serving for one term, but interestingly he rates those four years as the most shocking of his life. Even worse than National Service (not one but two gap years) where after failing the intelligence test not once but twice, he found himself posted quite logically to the Intelligence Department.
The House of Commons is most certainly not about the Best of British in his eyes.
His book The Truth That Sticks gives good account of all the very nasty smells that Martin Bell has uncovered and as I listened I realised that, though Neil and Christine Hamilton may disagree, we need more Martin Bells. The truthtellers who have the courage of their convictions and complete and finish on the task of exposing deceit.
Several revelations that made me sit up and take notice.
So I claim not to be a political animal, I vote but if I'm honest I don't look at it that deeply but I was shocked to hear that not a single member of the current Cabinet has ANY military experience, not a single second apparently and they are responsible for sending our armed forces, our young soldiers to war.
Very sobering thought.
Martin Bell recently returned from the high-profile David Davis campaign, and if the Tories get in at the next election, which he predicts with utter certainty, Davis at least has served in the SAS.
Whilst acknowledging that there are good people in Parliament, Martin Bell's interesting observation that MPs as young as 28-29, with no career prospects outside Parliament if deselected, will follow any whip or mandate to keep their seat and keep power. When it can take a mere five years to rise from the photocopier to a seat in Parliament it would seem to pay me to examine more closely what I expect from any candidate who may seek to win my vote. In Martin Bell's words we need to elect responsible, decent people who we don't distrust too much (complete trust seems to be a bit too much to expect) It's not a quest for a new Jerusalem but we do need integrity and competence.
There were some fascinating questions from the audience.
Do we get the politicians we deserve, why should good people put themselves forward for the inevitable vilification that goes hand in hand with political office?
Is their a place for Sharia law alongside UK law?
Might the next quest on the British Foreign Policy agenda be Nigeria? Martin Bell cut his journalistic teeth alongside Frederick Forsyth in Biafra in the 1960's. Forsyth was recalled and wrote The Day of the Jackal on the back of that experience.
Has our ability to question the infringement of civil liberties effectively been silenced by the climate of fear created by the police and the media?
Martin Bell is a passionate and commited speaker, a man of integrity and this was a thought-provoking opening to the 2008 Festival. He left us with the suggestion that the power lies with every individual 'If you want bad things to happen do nothing' and then a great joke at the end about a stand off between US warships and Canada.
Nor had I any idea that Anthea Bell, that most-favoured of translators here at dovegreyreader because she translates not only Asterix but Max Sebald, Stefan Zweig and plenty more favourites, is Martin Bell's sister.