The voters of Tatton can now judge

Share
Related Topics
Suppose that Neil Hamilton, supported by his local Conservative association, does not yield to pressure to retire and actually fights the general election in the Tatton constituency. And suppose that the Labour and the Liberal Democratic candidates really do withdraw in favour of a single, independent, anti-sleaze candidate, as they promise to do. Can we imagine what such an election would be like?

Mr Hamilton's first instinct, I assume, would be to try to conduct a normal campaign. He would stand pat on the Conservative manifesto, he would extol the Government's economic success and he would demonstrate the virtues of Tory policies for law and order, education, Europe and so on. He would say that the Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates had stood down precisely because they feared debating such issues.

I cannot believe that such an approach would carry Mr Hamilton very far. The electors of Tatton can learn as much as they wish to know about these matters through the national media. Their response to Mr Hamilton would surely be "Yes, but ...", and so he would straightaway lose the first skirmish and be forced to fight on the ground his enemies had chosen.

Mr Hamilton would then, I imagine, continue with his tactic of complaining about the way in which his evidence to Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, had been presented by The Guardian. He would repeatedly state that The Guardian's reports were "selective and were manipulated to show my guilt", and that the transcripts of Mohamed Al Fayed's evidence indicated that he was "motivated by hatred for me and revealed that there is no independent corroboration for his allegations".

He would rail at trial by newspapers and call in evidence the entrapment of fellow Tory MP Piers Merchant by a 17-year-old night club hostess, financed by The Sun. Mr Hamilton would position himself as the victim of injustice calling for impartial treatment.

But would an appeal for fair play work? After all, it is commonplace that when serious accusations are made, the person concerned may have to stand aside. In the case of criminal charges, the accused may have to await trial in prison; and where professional misconduct is alleged, the person concerned is usually suspended from his or her duties while an investigation is carried out. Moreover, Mr Hamilton has taken steps to correct the record. In the Sunday Telegraph at the weekend, he published excerpts from the evidence given to Sir Gordon Downey by his chief accuser, Mr Fayed, which he believed were favourable to his cause. Two leaks may not make a right, but again I fancy the electors of Tatton will respond to Mr Hamilton: "Yes, but...."

Pretty quickly, therefore, Mr Hamilton would find that the election campaign in Tatton would focus on the transcripts of his and Mr Fayed's evidence to the Downey inquiry.

Where would an anti-sleaze candidate lay most emphasis? Probably not (repeat, not) on the most lurid aspect of the alleged transactions between Mr Hamilton and Mr Fayed: whether or not cash was passed in envelopes stuffed with pounds 50 notes. Mr Hamilton says that Mr Fayed and three aides are lying when they say this. The electors of Tatton would not know whom to believe.

Instead, an anti-sleaze candidate should concentrate on two, simple charges - that the Tatton MP had lied to Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, and that he had engaged in a fraud at the expense of the Inland Revenue. Either one is so devastating, if true, that everything else could be ignored. Neither requires the evidence of Mr Fayed. On the question of the lie, we have The Guardian's transcript of Mr Hamilton's evidence to Sir Gordon and Mr Hamilton's letter to The Times last Saturday, in which he adds a statement he made that The Guardian omitted.

A Cabinet Office memo notes that Mr Hamilton has given Mr Heseltine "an absolute assurance that he had no financial relationship with Mr Greer [the political lobbyist] and the President of the Board of Trade [at the time, Mr Heseltine] has accepted this".

Counsel put to Mr Hamilton that he did have such a financial relationship. Mr Hamilton replied: "I did not mention the commission payments when I spoke to Mr Heseltine ... politics is a rough game ... I knew that if there were to be another cause for adverse media comment against me ... it could be used as a very big stick with which to beat me and to cause my resignation to take place." What did The Guardian miss out? Mr Hamilton's further statement that he was "satisfied in my own mind that there was no deliberate misleading of" Mr Heseltine.

So there we have it: Mr Hamilton misled the Deputy Prime Minister, but not "deliberately". He was either a fool or a liar.

As to whether a tax fraud was committed, The Guardian extracts indicate that the MP's tax return for 1988-89 showed as an expense (ie an offset) the cost of a flight (pounds 1,430) which in fact had been paid not by him but by Mr Greer. What was Mr Hamilton's response? Perhaps his weakest in the whole saga: "my accountant ... prepares my tax return". Yes, but the taxpayer must sign the tax return, stating that the "information I have given is correct and complete to the best of my knowledge and belief". Mr Hamilton knows how solemn is this undertaking; he trained as a barrister specialising in tax.

In my picture of the Tatton election, with an anti-sleaze candidate in the field against the sitting MP, the issue of whether bribes were taken to represent certain people in Parliament and in their dealings with government would remain in the background. That question could wait until publication of the full Downey report and deliberation by the new House of Commons. The anti-sleaze candidate would not seek to usurp that process, nor wish to appear as if he or she were the candidate of Mr Fayed. Instead, equally crucial questions relating to the honesty of Mr Hamilton would be tackled head-on: is he a liar? is he a fraud?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
 

Any chance the other parties will run their election campaigns without any deceit or nastiness?

Nigel Farage
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste