Two cheers for Alistair Carmichael

I’ll not pretend. I’m almighty glad the election court case against Alistair Carmichael, LibDem MP for Orkney and Shetland, was thrown out.

I’m proud to say a put a few bob into the online appeal that was launched to help fund his defence.

That statement will doubtless offend many.

I’m not a LibDem. I don’t think his behaviour and the lie he told was that great. But I couldn’t abide the combination of sanctimonious and vicious behaviour that seemed to drive his persecutors, the vast majority of whom, at least in terms of funding the case, must have come from outwith Orkney and Shetland. Nor could I stand the silence from the SNP hierarchy. Not supporting the case but standing benignly by while the useful idiots did their work.

Many have said it, but if you’re going to criticise a politician for telling ‘a lie,’ you won’t have to look far, certainly not as far as the Northern Isles. That’s not an anti-politician remark, which is why I placed the word ‘lie’ in inverted commas, just a recognition of reality.

Nor are politicians significantly different from the rest of us in principle.

There’s an interesting series of programmes on BBC Radio 4 called The Philosopher’s Arms. The edition on Monday was called Lying and Misleading and it’s definitely worth a listen (that edition is available online for another few weeks).

One of the non-philosopher witnesses they had was Damien McBride, former special adviser to Gordon Brown. Contrary to his former rottweiler reputation he was very thoughtful on what he called the political art of ‘Lying without lying,’ for example

  • Misleading people without being quite caught out
  • Using the formula ‘We have no plans to do that’ (but … )
  • Getting out of the truth on a technicality (‘Is that number right?’ ‘No’ – alter the number marginally)
  • ‘I don’t know where you got that’
  • ‘I wouldn’t believe what you read in the papers’
  • ‘I wouldn’t go out on a limb if I were you.’

Why do they do it? Well one reason, McBride said, was that it evolved with the political interview from the respectful (‘Is there anything you wish to tell the nation, sir?) to the more challenging style we’re used to now (remember Alex Salmond’s avoidance of an independence referendum interview with Andrew Neil).

So Carmichael wasn’t a great role model, at least not compared to Gandhi or Mandela. But how many Gandhis and Mandelas are there amongst the politicians of any party?

And do, please, listen to other politicians, not least our current SNP bunch. Spot how many times you can catch them out lying without lying. I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at how often they’re at it. If Alistair Carmichael only deserves two cheers, so do the rest of them.

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