Letter: Michael Mates's puzzling priority

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Sir: The question of the sickening decline of standards in British public life must cover both the business and the political communities, especially when for 14 years a government has preached and practised that the culture of business must be applied to the polity and public service. This is what makes the counter-attack of the last few days against the Serious Fraud Office so odd, or is it a diversionary attack that for the moment has distracted most of the media?

I once followed Northern Ireland affairs closely, going to many conferences and meetings. In the last years of Margaret Thatcher's reign Michael Mates made his presence felt, well informed, forceful, speaking as if for his party (chairman of the Conservative Northern Ireland Committee, after all), obviously eager not just for office in general, which is common enough, but to be a Northern Ireland minister, an unusual and honourable ambition which many have sought to avoid or been given as Greek gift or poisoned chalice.

Any MP gets scores of letters each week about 'injustice by the authorities' and hard-done-by stories, often from the poor and humble - as well as the mentally disturbed. From all these scores, what on earth possessed Mr Mates to take up that one from a constituent who was Asil Nadir's agent, and to push this case with a force that endangered, then destroyed, his ambitions to continue to serve Northern Ireland as a minister of the Crown? A strange priority. How can anyone with common sense believe that this was just bad judgement? It was a resignation statement too like the Kerryman's definition of a net, 'string surrounded by holes'.

Yours sincerely,

BERNARD CRICK

Edinburgh

1 July

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