There is something about an end-of-life Government that draws attention to the flaws. There’s nothing you can do about it, it’s not as if they were never there, but somehow your attention is just drawn to them. Governments, it seems, never die with dignity.
And the latest indignity is Baroness Scotland. An error that once would have been in the headlines for a day or two now takes on a much larger significance. Her survival is not so much about what she did, or didn’t, do when hiring her housekeeper, but about the strength of the Prime Minister. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time with the Labour Party conference next week focusing attention on the Prime Minister and his leadership – it has become yet another bit of tittle tattle to focus attention on the failings of his administration.
I confess I’m finding it hard to feel that Baroness Scotland has committed a major sin. I have never asked anyone working in my home for proof that they are entitled to work in this country. It is a hallmark of modern Britain – and Europe – that workers are frequently from other countries.
The argument that, as the government’s senior legal officer and one of the ministers who piloted the relevant legislation through Parliament Scotland should have known better is a powerful one, to be sure. But I’m not sure that is really the killer blow. Frankly, she’s made a mistake. A mistake she shouldn’t have made, and one with which a lot of people will have no sympathy (there are few people who can afford to hire housekeepers, illegally or not), but a fairly simple mistake in not keeping copies of the relevant paperwork.
No, the killer blow for her will be whether Gordon Brown can keep her in the face of criticism from other parties and, potentially, his own backbenches. I’m sure there are plenty of other MPs who have made similar arrangements and will be busy making photocopies of the relevant documents over the next few days, but this doesn’t change the simple fact that this is an issue opposition parties can push to make life uncomfortable.
And for them it’s a win-win situation. Whether Baroness Scotland stays of goes is fairly irrelevant. If they get her scalp they have shown the Prime Minister’s weakness. Even if they don’t it becomes part of the steady drip-drip of the dying administration.
Thinking back to Major’s last administration, how many of the people involved in the sleaze and scandals can you remember. Most would remember David Mellor, although ironically for the Chelsea shirt he never actually wore with Antonia de Sancha. Then there’s Neil Hamilton, who most would probably get because of his subsequent (and rather undignified) career as a ‘celebrity’. Jonathon Aitken has possibly faded into obscurity with the general public. And I’d bet names like Graham Riddick or David Tredinnick would be met with blank stares from most members of the general public.
What people do remember is the feeling. A feeling that the Conservatives were sleazy (even though it was only a handful of MPs from a much larger Parliamentary party) and were no longer fit for government. They were tired and it was time for change.
And that’s the feeling that you can’t help but get from Brown’s administration. In a few weeks most will have forgotten who Baroness Scotland is… but that feeling that it’s time for a change will be just that little bit stronger because of her.