Last night I finished watching a set of DVDs of the TV drama Our Friends in the North. I had missed the series when it was on TV. I didn't think it was that good, especially towards the end where it slipped the bounds of reality and got itself in a political tangle. Loosely based around the Poulson scandal and corruption in the Metropolitan police in the 1970s, it was at its best when it confronted the conflict and compromises between idealism and self-interest, though I felt it didn't get more than skin deep. But it was about my youth and I liked the nostalgia.
It seemed more relevant when I heard the news today that the former Labour MP, David Chaytor, had changed his plea to guilty for false accounting in relation to his Parliamentary expenses claims. He is someone with whom I had worked in adult education and was a friend. For a long time he was a rebel from the left of the party, consigning himself to the back benches for crimes such as voting against cuts to lone parent benefit. I remember well his hard work and ambition to get elected, but also his idealism and decency. And yet it has come to this. A career that will be remembered only for scandal.
I really don't understand it. We all seek our own benefit, even in the most altruistic of professions, yet this is different. People in public life are more likely to become targets of other people's political agendas, their disgrace neatly deflecting the threat that might be directed elsewhere. But the action remains, now clearly defined as criminal, as does the responsibility for it. It is an old cliché that every political career ends in failure, though not in tragedy. And this is a tragedy; human weakness, the temptations of power and an idealism that dreams of a better world compromised by a touch of avarice. It is all there and yet I can't help feeling that petty, squalid betrayals end in court, whilst more serious ones win you high office.