Friday, January 25, 2008

Re-Stating The Obvious

I’d like to begin by stating something which seems to have been forgotten in much recent discourse on the subject – by accepting an impermissible overseas donation, Wendy Alexander’s leadership campaign broke the law. Period.

The Labour Party line until now has been that Wendy is confident that she will be cleared, not of breaking the law, but of any ‘intentional wrongdoing’. This despite the fact that she can’t be cleared by anyone of any such thing. Either the law is broken or it is not - intent is something which is neither here nor there, except in determining the degree of culpability when judging what, if any, sanction should result.

Being cleared of ‘intentional wrongdoing’ is therefore entirely a subjective and worthless measure. But today, on Good Morning Scotland, we heard key Alexander ally Jackie Baillie MSP go even further, claiming that even if Alexander was not ‘cleared of intentional wrongdoing’, she should still stay in post to try and clear her name. “She would have even more reason to stay and fight for her reputation”, said Baillie, before delivering the killer line: “Wendy has been getting on with the job she was elected to do and I think she should be given the opportunity to do so”. Really, how can you argue with steamroller ‘logic’ like that?

Alexander’s reputation for honesty and personal integrity is proclaimed longest and most loudly by herself and her supporters. Now, I’m sure she is a fine, upstanding person, but citing a reputation, deserved or not, serves no more as a defence than it would as an indictment. It is a diversionary tactic, just as is Baillie’s rather distasteful and demeaning attempt to spread the funding muck of Labour’s own making in the direction of every other party.

From what we do know, at best, Team Wendy unwittingly accepted an impermissible donation, which was returned as soon as this became apparent to them. At worst, a donation was solicited in the full knowledge that it was impermissible, and kept deliberately below the £1,000 reporting threshold so that this information would not become public.

It is for others to assess whether the truth lies closer to the first, the second, or perhaps somewhere in between. No doubt the detail can, and will, be tussled over - the one unmoveable, unbendable, unspinnable fact is that the law was broken and that as the regulated donee, Wendy Alexander bears ultimate responsibility for this.

Looking ahead, if the Electoral Commission decline to report matters to the police, you can be certain that someone, somewhere will make a complaint of their own. However, even if the Procurator Fiscal, after being asked to consider matters, did decide that there was insufficient evidence to mount a prosecution or that further proceedings would not be in the public interest, this still would not represent the end of her difficulties.

Throughout, Team Wendy has been guilty of arrogance, hubris and arguably, a severe lack of attention to detail. While I’m not convinced myself that the law courts are the best place for this sorry saga to end up, with Peter Hain now gone, it’s hard to see how she can stay in post. The first burning timber has fallen…


Anonymous said...

Jackie gets making the comments becasue she is the only person in the Labour Party prepared to stick her neck out.She does not have the nouce to see,as the rest do, that she will fall when Wendy falls. A real fool is Jackie.

Anonymous said...

Richard - what is Jackie talking about? Wendy wasn't elected to any job, she was the only candidate!

Anon - Jackie Baillie doesn't have a neck, so how can she stick it out?

Richard Thomson said...

True enough, Jim - but not only was Wendy the only candidate, she was also considered by some distance to be the best candidate. Rosemary McKenna must be really proud of the Labour candidate vetting process she oversaw for the 1999 elections.

Jeff said...

Richard, you seem to think the overriding decision that people must make on this affair is whether Wendy broke the law or not.

I think it now goes without saying that she did which is perhaps why you have the impression that people have forgotten.

I would argue however that the overriding decision that people must make is do we really care? It's £950 for a contest in which Wendy was the only candidate. And we all kind of think as Jersey as part of the UK anyway.

So unfortunately for those like yourself who seem to want to see Wendy strung up and tossed to the lions, nobody out there really thinks she's done anything wrong.

The journalists love a good witch hunt and the SNP activisits love to see their opponents squirm but beyond that there seems to be a nationwide shrug of nonchalance on this one.

I do wonder if from your somewhat skewed viewpoint you are able to see that most people really just don't give a rats tail about a measly 950 quid?

Yes, she has techincally broken the law but I reckon it's the political equivalent of doing 80 in a 70 zone or not wearing your seatbelt.

The punishment should fit the crime so let's wait for the Electoral Commission to slap her gently on the wrists and then we can all let everyone out of their respective dog-houses and get back to running the country again.

Richard Thomson said...

Jeff - What's interesting me here is the weasel words about 'intentional wrongdoing', and the way we are now being prepared for a strategy to brazen it out even if matters are referred to the police.

The amount of money involved is completely irrelevant, as is the fact that some folk might think Jersey is part of the UK. With that said, though, I wonder what part of my saying that "I’m not convinced myself that the law courts are the best place for this sorry saga to end up", leads you to think I've got a skewed viewpoint on this matter?

You may be interested to find that at no point have I called for her to go. Instead, I've confined myself to commenting on the circumstances and the pressures she now finds herself under. I'll admit being unsympathetic to her plight, but I think you'd struggle to find anything I've written which suggests a desire to see her in any way 'strung up and tossed to the lions'.

With all that said, I wonder what you make of Iain MacWhirter's piece in yesterday's 'Sunday Herald'?

Jeff said...

I wouldn't call their line of defence brazen at all. Jackie more or less saying 'Yes, we broke the law but we were a bit of a shambles and it doesn't really matter in the long run anyway' is good enough for me.

And I fail to see how the amount of money is irrelevant.

A tax return is equally wrong if it's 1p out or £1m out but I don't think anyone would argue that the 1p difference means nothing whereas the £1m suggests serious foul play.

£950 is quite simply not a lot of money.

What evil deed exactly is Wendy and co being accused of? Pulling the wool over our eyes for £950 which was never required in the first place? And for this she should lose her job? I just don't see it.

My reference to being thrown to the lions was with regard to her having to stand down as leader rather than some sort of criminal charge. In my eyes her stepping down for this would be a gross over-reaction to a very minor crime.

Your finding it "hard to see how she can stay in post" is, I think, a feeling ruled more by party politics rather than an objective broad view of the situation.

And as for Iain McWhirter's piece, he seems to be saying the Electoral Commission should come down hard on Wendy just to show it has teeth. Not the type of angle that would suggest Wendy has done much wrong in the first place.

And besides that, I would never like to cross swords with the great McW himself, but he could get a lot more personal joy out of this story if it ran and ran so he has a form of "publication bias" at play here.

Stirring up drama and ifs and buts will bring in more readers when really there is very little substance to begin with.

One could argue an SNP blogger might be tempted to do the same ;)

Richard Thomson said...

Jackie more or less saying 'Yes, we broke the law but we were a bit of a shambles and it doesn't really matter in the long run anyway' is good enough for me.

It might be good enough for you, but it’s not good enough for the law. Ignorantia juris neminem excusat, after all.

And I fail to see how the amount of money is irrelevant.

Quantum isn’t specified in the PPERA legislation. Therefore, like it or lump it, the sum is irrelevant, unlike the fact that it came from overseas.

Although her campaign broke the law and even though it’s a criminal matter, in my view that needn’t of itself force her out. I’d like to see someone make a closer examination of what went on, and of who knew what and when they knew it. After all, that’s the only way that any intent, criminal or otherwise, can be determined. And it's only when that's been done that anyone can decide whether to prosecute or admonish.

Your finding it "hard to see how she can stay in post" is, I think, a feeling ruled more by party politics rather than an objective broad view of the situation.

You want to know why I find it difficult to see how she can stay in post? Let’s leave the law to one side for a minute. Wendy’s response to personal misfortune has been brittle and defensive throughout. There’s a lingering suspicion that people in her team may not have not been straightforward, and that a concern for minor details is something only the little people need worry about.

Even if there’s no criminal intent, and for what it’s worth, I’d be surprised if anyone did find any, Team Wendy do not come out of this looking well at all, far less looking fit for office. The charge is going to be that 'she can’t run a leadership campaign properly within the rules that her party drew up, even when she is the only candidate. And you expect these people to run the country?'

The party hack in me says I’d love her to stay on under those circumstances. The more reasoned observer in me, though, just can’t see it happening… :-)

Jeff said...

No time for a proper response (which may be a good thing as I fear my ass is getting kicked).

But you make a good point. The ultimate flaw in my argument is that Labour have been in such a sorry mess since Wendy took over, why would anyone want her to leave for partisan reasons?

Whatever and whenever the Elec Comm result, it'll be a full and fun day of blogging I am sure...

Richard Havers said...

Richard while I agree with you I do think your party has to be very, very careful in adopting a position so close to the moral high ground. Just check out one of your own MSP's remarks on the Guardian blog. He's in danger of blowing the SNPs carefully constructed cover on local democracy.

I know it's not the same thing as breaking to law but some of what he said the other week was insulting.

Richard Havers said...

Just FYI, the second para after the poetry is utterly unbelievable.

Richard Havers said...

That disn't work too well, try this

Richard Thomson said...

I've read that paragraph a few times now, Richard, and I still can't see what point he's trying to make, or what it adds to his argument. A red pen would have been useful there, I think.

Re Wendy - I've shown distaste for the spin and blame deflection attempts going on, but I hope I've not been trying to claim the moral high ground here. In fact, I think the SNP, along with the other parties, has most unusually shown a fair amount of restraint. Sure, all parties have made a bit of capital, but despite some obvious provocations, punches have been pulled throughout.

No-one I know got involved in politics for the thrill of form filling and compliance procedures. Politics is a voluntary activity, after all, and I can't see that the furore here is going to do much to make involvement seem any more attractive. People should realise that politics, like any other walk of life, is full of fallible people trying to do their best and that’s partly why, even though she's broken the law, I don't regard Wendy Alexander as a 'criminal' in the sense that most of us would understand the word.

She's been careless, certainly, and will doubtless face some sanction. She does not, though, along with her closest allies, emerge in my view with much credit. This, remember, was the politically astute former management consultant with the formidable attention to detail, who had mellowed and was now ready to assume the mantle of national leadership. A reputation for honesty and integrity can only be attributed by neutrals, and the protestations we hear from team Wendy are beginning to sound, at least to my ears, as being rather self-serving and grating.

A more astute person might have used this to try and let themselves be seen in a more human light and to banish the hectoring, bossy, ‘I’m always right’ image once and for all. As it is, the positives are vanishing and the negatives are being reinforced. Shame, really, because for all her present shortcomings, I don’t see anyone else on Labour’s benches currently who is up to the job.

Richard Havers said...

Richard, I think the problem with Mr. Harvie is he likes Europe more than Scotland. Reading what he says about the people he meets on public transport certainly doesn't put him in a very good light. Actually it puts him in a very bad light.

On one of his other blogs about the Waverley Line he makes a real fist of damning local democracy, as well as having a bit of an anti English pop. Not very clever in the Borders given the make up of the population.

As to your wider points I agree with most of what you say although I do think on the moral high ground stuff the SNP have circled around it :)

For me this whole thing has much more serious implications in turning people off politics. That's a real problem.

Richard Thomson said...

No tme for a proper response, Richard, but without wishing to be pedantic, it's surely possible to circle high ground from any altitude! :-)

Seriously, though, you make some fair points. I think I've said all I want to say on the matter for now - at least until we know what the EC have decided.