Saturday, December 06, 2008

Sack him!

I hadn't intended to return to the Damian Green affair so soon – or at all. One becomes a little bored with the whole thing, and more than a little bit despondent at the way the chatterati have dived in with such gusto, completely missing the point.

However, the affair has been useful in certain respects. It has shown up the weakness of the Speaker and the ghastly Jill Pay, the Sergeant at Arms. But more than anything else it has exposed a pathetically neutered parliament that is obsessed about its own standing and privileges and heedless of virtually everything else.

Thus, when the chaps and chapesses wax indignant on Monday about how affronted they all are, remember this is the same parliament that could not be bothered to force a debate on Brown's multi-billion bank "rescue" plan.

It is also – as we keep pointing out – a parliament that it quite content to see its power and authority eroded by the combined forces of an over-powerful executive, the steady march of the quangos and, of course, the European Union. Yet, while its workload had steadily diminished, MPs have awarded themselves increased pay and perks and cushioned themselves with over-generous pensions at our expense.

Most troubling though has been the easy acceptance by the Tory tribe of the misdemeanours of the self-righteous Christopher Galley, the Home Office civil servant who has ridden a horse and cart through the civil service code and breached virtually every rule in the book.

It is of some comfort, therefore – and this is what brings us back into the fray – to learn that Dominic Grieve, the shadow home secretary, has conceded that if the official has "done the leaking" then the Home Office has a right to sack him. He says that the whistleblower will "have to live by that choice."

Grieve is not exactly over-endowed with charisma, which puts him at something of a disadvantage in modern politics, but he is one of the more sensible and certainly one of the brightest MPs in the House. And one senses that he must have been more than a little uncomfortable with a Conservative line that has looked perilously like condoning civil service disloyalty.

That Grieves is rowing back from that position – perceived or otherwise – is a welcome draught of sanity in a debate which has seen more heat than light, and more than a little bit of mindless hyperventilating from the chatterati.

It also seems to suggest that, after the first rush of naked tribalism, cooler heads are beginning to prevail. When a few more people have thought about it – as indeed some are beginning to – the rather tawdry actions of Damian Green will be looked at in something of a different light.

And while others, like the Speaker, have not come out well from the affair, the verdict of history will probably rob Green of his much-prized "victim" status. It may instead cast him as an unprincipled opportunist. One hopes also that Grieve will emerge with an enhanced reputation, which he undoubtedly deserves for breaking away from the crowd and showing some undoubted good sense.