Have no fear, I will leave political blogging firmly where it belongs here, but given the current furore surrounding 'sloppy
accounting' procedures, a defence I think we may all feel tempted to employ... Your
Honour, in future, I couldn't resist sharing my thoughts on A View From the Foothills, The Diaries of Chris Mullin.
Chris Mullin, MP for Sunderland South, a Labour back bencher who found himself anointed into junior minister-dom by Tony Blair back in 1999 and well placed to document it all.
The inter-departmental pistols at dawn about preferred office space.
The minister's car fiasco...paying thousands for a chauffeur driven car to carry red boxes even if you have no need of it.
The back room manipulation by bleep...don't for one minute think it's chance who you see walking through the door of Number 10 smiling jauntily or glowering with gravitas to camera, it's done under orders and to be seen.
So there was me loving this book with a sort of gasp-inducing incredulity and laughing my hand-knitted socks off at John Prescott's louch and languid attendance heading up departmental meetings in his slippers(or mis-matching shoes) slouched in an armchair holding court and spinning public opinion for all he was worth. Then the expenses debacle struck and I had to stop reading because suddenly this wasn't funny any more, it was sick-making, because Chris Mullin's diaries somehow give quiet, thoughtful and understated voice to every ill that we now know to be sadly true about Westminster.
I suspect Mullin C. (and countless others, yes really) are good apples, I can't bring myself to look at his expenses and discover he's not, because his personal beliefs and principles shine through in his diaries. His own self-effacing manner and refusal to be compromised or conned by those above him speak of an inner strength and integrity that we need by the barrow-load right now.
I don't think I could bear to find that I'd been deceived.
Please God he hasn't had his moat dredged or his 'modest chandeliers' installed on the taxpayer .
Chris Mullin dispenses respect where he feels it's due and is scrupulously fair, working very hard to see the good side of the likes of Two-Jags John (...or was it three? Or should it now be Two-Loo-Seats John?) whilst discreetly outing those who he feels fall below the mark,
'Most people like John and want him to do well....there is a general recognition that, under that volcanic exterior, there lurks a decent human being. At the same time there is a barely concealed contempt among both civil servants and ministers for his absolute lack of management skills, his inability to see the wood for the trees and his flat refusal to listen to anything anyone is telling him.Deep down I am sure he, too, realises he is out of his depth. That accounts for the tantrums. It was the same with Neil Kinnock, who is much nicer now he is back in a job he can do'
From the 200 pages I've read so far it's clear that Chris Mullin found the shambolic shenanigans of
Whitehall ridiculous often verging on the ludicrous, couldn't quite see
how as a man of principle he'd been trapped into conforming to it all and tried his best not to, choosing instead to steer a
level-headed straight and steady course through, make a difference where he knew he could and often very much against
the prevailing tide.
It all reinforces for me, mrs ordinary tax-paying jo public, just how important it is that we know we do have the voice of integrity in there somewhere.
The media has been almost too depressing to watch as the swords to fall on get bigger and sharper and, as dearest Ann Widdecombe says, repentant MPs are queuing up to be seen wearing the hairiest of hairshirts to atone for their sins, which was the only prompt Bookhound needed.
Joking apart, it's nigh on impossible not to tar the whole rotten lot with the same brush but something stops me. Reading these diaries will both dash your hopes yet also restore a modicum of credibility, if only in a handful of our elected representatives. We need more Anns (Ann, you can't possibly retire, we need you for PM, or Speaker or something) and Chriss because in the days and weeks to come, whilst the silt of deceit settles to the bottom, the consequences if figures of honour, trust and integrity don't rise up to the surface and make themselves known to us all very quickly seem far too terrifying to contemplate.
I was browsing Ann Widdecombe's website and came across the Archbishop Derek Warlock Memorial Lecture that she gave on the subject of Faith in Politics; as I read, out jumped this nugget of wisdom,
trust has disappeared between people and politicians. Everyone thinks
we tell lies all the time and that is one of the reasons why so many
people have stopped voting. They think politicians are corrupt, sleazy
and in it for themselves. Those who are driven by faith must also be
driven by truth.
Our ancestors had a much used word: honour. It is honour which has all but disappeared as a concept to be cherished. A well ordered society should be founded on honour.'
Finally, to end with a smile because heaven knows we could all use one, I can't resist sharing this little anecdote from Chris Mullin about The Man (Tony Blair) who on this occasion back in 1999 was taking a computer course.
'Students are apparently tested repeatedly to
see how they are getting on and Tony kept failing. He noticed that the
young man at the neighbouring terminal was getting extremely agitated.
'Am I making you nervous?' he asked.
'No,' the lad replied.
'What's the matter then?'
'It's because you keep failing these tests and I keep passing - and I've been unemployed for 18 months and you're the Prime Minister.'