It is no secret that Alistair Carmichael is a friend of mine. Not least because he told parliament so in 2005:
“The Government’s signals to the Uzbek regime have not always been helpful. I am thinking especially of their treatment of my old friend, the former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who has done us all a great service in graphically highlighting the appalling human rights record of the Uzbekistan Government.”
Alistair was one of very few MPs who raised the dreadful human rights abuses in Uzbekistan even before I got there. He has a genuine interest in human rights worldwide, and had a much better motivation in going into politics than the large majority of politicians. He was never anything like a diehard unionist in personal conviction. I felt quite proud for him when he was asked during the campaign what would his role be in negotiating for the UK the conditions of separation after a Yes vote. He replied that he was Scottish, and he would be on the Scottish, not the UK side.
I have never chosen my friends by my politics, and I am not one of those people who is only happy in the company of those who agree with me. I am happiest with a few drinks and a good argument in intellectually challenging company. I also do know that all human beings are flawed, and I don’t expect perfection. So I have no intention of ending friendship with Alistair.
All of which makes it hard, but I have to say that I really do think he needs to resign as an MP, and to do so immediately.
It was not just a mistake to leak that memo, it was wrong. It was even more wrong because he himself believed it was written in error and did not give Nicola Sturgeon’s true opinion. But in an election in which the Scottish Lib Dems faced wipeout, he saw the advantage of playing this trick. That was wrong on many levels. I would add that I feel very confident that Alistair would never have done it without consulting Clegg first. Clegg should resign too. And instead of the usual Cabinet Office stitch-up, there needs to be a real inquiry into the whole history and production of that extraordinary minute, and whether Alistair was set up to do it. The Scottish Government needs to be an equal partner in constituting that inquiry.
Alistair has no alternative but to resign because he then repeatedly lied about what he had done. It is much better that he goes now with a full and frank apology to everyone, especially his constituents. When you have blatantly and repeatedly lied about something, you cannot expect people to give you their trust again. That it even seems a possibility is an example of the erosion of ethical standards, of which Tony Blair is of course the greatest example as liar, mass murderer and multi-millionaire.
But we should not lose sight of the real lesson. The corrupt and rotten structures of the UK state are so insidious that they can take a fundamentally decent man like Alistair and lead him to behave so badly. There is something within the rotting organisms of UK institutions in their decline from Imperial power and dependence on corrupt banking and corporate systems, that infects almost all who enter them. While I worked for the FCO I saw really nice colleagues, decent men and women I worked with, go along with organising what they knew to be illegal war in Iraq, and with facilitating the torture and extraordinary rendition programmes. Because that was what paid their mortgage, looked after their children, and above all gave them social status as high British diplomats.
Westminster gives untramelled executive power to a party with just 23% of the support of the registered electorate. The majority of parliamentarians are unelected Lords a great many of whom are themselves mired in corruption – and some much worse. The organs of state power are used to facilitate the flow of money from the poor to the very wealthy, which is the actual cause of the deficit in public finances. The rewards of being on the inside are sweet; those outside are measurably dispossessed of wealth, and measurably alienated in politics. The media is controlled by this corporate state.
Alistair Carmichael’s story is not the story of a bad man. It is the story of what happens to a good man who buys in to UK power structures. The real lesson of the sad story of this period in Alistair’s life is that the UK is evil, corrupt and corrupting, and that the UK state needs swiftly to be broken up.