As Sir Malcolm Bruce (“He misconducted himself as a Minister”).splutters a truly dismal assessment of public office on live national radio, saying that if we were to kick out every MP & government minister out of the House of Commons who has told a lie it would be empty, John Aberdein examines the Carmichael saga.
On March 6 a civil servant in the Scotland Office phoned a French diplomat who had been present at a high-level meeting and then, from what was gleaned on the phone, wrote a third-hand account of that meeting. A month later the account was leaked to the press during the General Election to attempt to damage the SNP and Labour. But crucially, as Alistair Carmichael now admits in his May 22 letter of apology to Nicola Sturgeon, ‘the details of that account are not correct.’
Did Mr Carmichael seek to check the accuracy of the document before authorising its leak? Far from it. In his May 22 confession on BBC TV Mr Carmichael said he’d ‘never actually seen this document, you know, be quite clear about that.’
This is astonishing. For the Scottish Secretary of State to authorise the leaking of a document without inspecting the limitations of its origin and content is either incompetent, the action of a fool, or the action of someone being used by his political superiors in Westminster as a tool.
The Cabinet Office Inquiry statement, covering a single page, taking 48 days to produce, and disgracefully not published until 15 days after the Election, doesn’t enlighten us as to why Mr Carmichael had not even seen the document he permitted to be leaked by his adviser.
But whether Alistair Carmichael on this particular occasion acted as fool or tool, for party political advantage or to obey the Prime Minister, there can be no doubt that he fell from the diligent standards he displayed in the earlier years of his time in Parliament.
He used the power of high office to assent to an unfair action during a General Election in order to damage the reputation of opposing parties; and then chose to mislead the public, including local electors, about his complicity in that action.
The LibDem leader in Scotland, Willie Rennie, says he deserves a second chance. But that is not a question for Willie Rennie to decide, and certainly Alistair Carmichael is deeply mistaken if he thinks he can simply award that second chance to himself.
Only the electors of Orkney and Shetland can adjudicate on whether Alistair Carmichael deserves a second chance. And for that to happen, he has to resign his seat immediately and submit himself to scrutiny in a by-election.
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