Friday, 25 January 2008

To clear his name

Our now ex-Secretary of State declared that he is standing down from office 'to clear his name'. Well, he's always been something of an optimist, I suppose, but it seems to me that that's a pretty unlikely outcome.

The first thing that any police investigation has to establish is whether a crime has been committed. This looks like an easy hurdle; no-one is in any doubt that there was a legal requirement to declare donations within a specified time, and no-one denies that that was not done.

The second hurdle is to identify the miscreant. In the court of public opinion, this is open to some doubt. I, like many others, am quite prepared to believe that he left this responsibility to others, and they have badly let him down. But the court of public opinion isn’t the final arbiter here – the Act of Parliament passed by a government of which Hain was a prominent member makes it clear that the responsibility lies very firmly on the politician receiving the cash. Blaming the hired help is about mitigation, not innocence. I doubt Mr Plod will have too much trouble with this one either.

The third hurdle is whether there is enough evidence to give a reasonable prospect of conviction in a court of law. This doesn’t look like a particularly challenging obstacle either, given the public statements already made.

The final question is whether a prosecution serves the public interest. Whilst there will be some who continue to bay for blood, I, for one, am far from convinced that any great public interest is served by proceeding to prosecution in this case. Although in theory (if convicted) he could be jailed and / or fined, the most probable outcome of a guilty verdict is a small fine and a slap on the wrist. The costs of a prosecution will be high in relation to that outcome, and the real punishment - the destruction of his career - has already been meted out.

So my prediction at this stage is that the investigation will conclude, after several months, with a recommendation that no action be taken, as happened with the ‘cash for peerages’ row. Such a conclusion is probably the best he can hope for – and probably the ‘right’ outcome as well. It will be spun as some sort of exoneration, of course – but it hardly amounts to ‘clearing his name’. And, criminal issues aside, it still leaves a whole host of political questions around the amount spent on an internal election, the provenance of some of the donations, and the rather bizarre use of a 'think tank' to channel some of the funds.

1 comment:

alanindyfed said...

Forgetting is a convenient excuse.
Incompetence is a convenient misdemeanor. The politics of convenience ensures that one keeps one's integrity and the trust of one's constituents. Until they begin to believe otherwise.