Welcome, seekers of coruscating wit and effervescent humour. Hope you’ve brought a fiendish Sudoku and a packed lunch with you, because I’m finding it tricky to write decent jokes with steam coming out of my ears and my frenetic hammering turning the keyboard into a pile of melted marshmallows.
“These things happen.” A statement of stultifying complacency that we now realise was the casual malice of a mugger gloating over his victim. So, as Alistair Carmichael eases his buttocks snugly on to a Commons bench, smirking all over his jammy fizzog, what things are going to happen next? Unless the UK establishment is forced to change the record and stop being a refuge for smug, double-dealing fartbags, nothing. Not a sausage. Bugger all.
It’s difficult to think of anything more galling over the next five years than Carmichael serenely drifting along as one of the new Lib Dem leader’s Seven Dwarves, stirring his carcass only to lob pat-a-cake Scottish Questions at his fully-washable-knitwear successor Mr Mundell, while the 56 SNP MPs get pilloried for every damn thing they say or do. Ooh, took oath in Gaelic, that’s subversive, may have sneaked in a terrorist sub-text. Ooh, took it in Scots, that’s primitive, is it even a language? Ooh, missed out ‘Queen’, better watch that one in case she puts laxatives in the punch-bowl at the next garden party.
First things first. This is like volunteering to have toothache, but Carmichael’s admission has led to the same old lorryload of drivel being tipped over us again, implying that Nicola really did talk out of turn. So I need to set out the facts once more, in the hope that the cloth-eared media and the Scottish Labour Trolling Ragtime Band will stop sucking their thumbs and pay attention this time.
The Cabinet Office Enquiry report does not say that the leaked memo was accurate. It says that the civil servant who wrote it thought it was accurate, but left open a thundering great possibility that he might have got the part about Nicola‘s comments wrong. And the two people who took part in the actual conversation, plus the French Consul General, who was also present and became the source of the civil servant’s information, have confirmed that he indeed got it wrong. He reported in good faith, only to have the Secretary of State kick him in the teeth by feeding his confidential document into the Telegraph’s whirly-splat propaganda muck-spreader. But, as his own antennae suggested, Nicola simply didn’t express the words and opinions he attributed to her.
One other initial observation. The memo only got into Carmichael’s clammy paws, indeed was only written at all, because of Westminster’s inability to mind its own bleedin’ business. I wonder if, once Mr Cameron’s finished making Scotland the most powerful devolved administration this side of Alpha Centauri, our First Minister will be allowed to have grown-up discussions with foreign diplomats without the Scotland Office peering creepily over her shoulder?
Anyway, imagine this memo, potentially embarrassing for the SNP but with a caveat so huge you could wrap a double-decker bus in it, landing with a dull thud on the desk of Carmichael’s teenage sidekick. In any operation that wasn’t either Toytown or a shameless front for dirty tricks, it shouldn’t have crossed anyone’s mind to leak it for any reason - especially poxy, intelligence-insulting bilge such as “public interest”, which our lords and masters keep shoving at us, presumably to show how much they despise us.
Carmichael says he “should have stopped it”, as if it’s all his wicked assistant’s fault and his error was in not paying attention until it was too late. Sure, that looks likely: the assistant standing in the doorway asking “Well, boss, should I grossly abuse protocol by leaking this unlikely-looking, easily disprovable smear that will totally piss off the French, just because our polling figures look like crap?” and Carmichael, with his gob full of chocolate cake and his mind on a game of Candy Crush Saga, mumbling “Yeah, whatever.”
Or does “should have stopped it” have a different meaning? Is Carmichael, who if the tools in the box were assessed for sharpness would be on a par with an ice lolly stick, being set up as a fall guy for a wider conspiracy? Did the boys in the Better Together band decide to re-unite for one final cacophonous gig? Finding gap-toothed marvel Willie Rennie wandering the streets at just the right time to provide a quote may have been coincidence, but the uncanny speed with which several Scottish Labour luminaries opened up with small-arms fire on Twitter suggests either a degree of orchestration or a lot of sad people with nothing to do on a Friday night.
But let’s return to the man of the moment, and another stunning quote: it was an “error of judgment”. I’m sure Carmichael would never foist on us the politician’s trick of confusing moral lapses with travelling the wrong way down a one-way street, so obviously the “judgment” was that he wouldn’t get caught. This turned out to be erroneous on a Michael Fish “don’t worry, ma’am, no hurricane” scale, since all Sir Jeremy Heywood had to do was identify the source of the calls to the Telegraph as the assistant’s mobile, and there was Carmichael bang to rights, trousers round ankles, hands red as a pillar box and face to match.
In passing, sorry to be narky, and I do humbly appreciate the silky-smooth thoroughness of the UK Civil Service, but, since even Inspector Clouseau would have found this case un morceau de gateau, why by all the toasting forks in Hades did it take Sir Jeremy and his team of razor-sharp intellects 48 days and a reputed £1.4 million of taxpayers’ money to nail it? The voters of Orkney and Shetland, who by any rational analysis have been blatantly conned, might consider a straight answer to this to be in the public interest.
Which brings us to the real elephant, not just in the room, but splayed on the sofa sipping a Pina Colada and hogging the remote. When Carmichael was interviewed on Channel 4 the day after the leak, and maintained the first he’d heard of the whole thing was in a phone call from the Telegraph the previous afternoon, he was plainly and simply lying to us all. No ifs, no buts, no Clintonesque micro-tweaking of language, no “cor, guv, it just slipped my mind”; he lied like a silly schoolboy, his little Zebedee head nodding and grinning manically, with not the faintest notion of how pathetic he looked.
Now that the horse is cantering over the horizon with the stable door swinging in the breeze, Carmichael blithely asserts that if he’d still been in the job he’d have “tendered his resignation”. And he’s graciously “declined” his severance pay. Blimey, must get down to Poundland to buy a bag of party poppers.
Look, mate, you used Government resources to smear the leader of your electoral opponents, then by lying about it you effectively stood for election under false pretences. For that, you shouldn’t have the option of resigning; a burly bloke from Security should be frogmarching you out of the building, while your personal effects get chucked out of the window in a bin bag. Your “severance pay” should be a down payment on the £1.4 million you owe us for wasting everyone’s time. But most of all, the voters of Orkney and Shetland deserve an opportunity to decide whether they really want to be represented by a proven - and so far unapologetic - liar.
The clueless Lib Dems have said they’ll take no action against Carmichael. Yes, a party that contributed a perjurer and an expenses cheat to the last UK Cabinet, and gave an alleged serial groper the benefit of the doubt over the complaints of four different women, has learned the square root of diddly-squat from its election cull. Looks as if we’ll need to get the extra-strength Domestos out again in 2020.
Elsewhere, it’s heartening to see some moves afoot to hold Carmichael to account. The mainstream media can envelop this in whatever blanket of smart-arsery, smokescreen or silence they like. The internet age has taken us long past the time when the establishment could fiddle about until scandals simply blew over; now we’re as mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it any more. Let’s write, shout, protest, agitate and petition until cheats like this are driven from public life and we never hear the words “just one of these things” again.
There may be revelations to come, and these shenanigans may run deeper than we suspect. But let's not hang around in eager anticipation. It's time to make a start on cleaning the place up.
Carmichael must go.