FROM THE BLOG

Men of Straw?

Reputations can be destroyed in an instant

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” – Benjamin Franklin.

The revelations about the gullibility of Sir Malcolm Rifkind or Jack Straw falling for an alleged media ‘sting’, illustrate that despite both having a combined political career spanning almost 80 years, their one moment of ‘madness’ has skewed whatever good either may have achieved during their parliamentary careers.

It also needs to be noted that Straw is facing a legal challenge about allegations over complicity in “extraordinary rendition”, which he denies.

Whatever happens in the days, months and years ahead, the perceptions about their standing is likely to be irrevocably damaged. It will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

This is despite the fact that Jack Straw practically did a tour of media outlets yesterday and didn’t hide away. Making himself available and putting across his side of the story will help to both minimise the damage and kill the story. Sir Malcolm was not so forthcoming and was doorstepped. This and his comments about being “self-employed” mean he’s had less control of the story though his decision not to stand at the next election was a pretty swift one.

People should never underestimate how quickly reputations can be destroyed. They join a potentially long list of parliamentarians who seem, if the price is right, to offer their services.

Of course, it is not illegal but shows how the rules regarding MPs and their consultancy activities need clarifying. I’m not sure Ed Miliband’s knee-jerk reaction will make any difference, particularly if the current wave of polls are to be believed, as he won’t be in a position to make his commitment a reality. If Labour fails to win the general election, or at least be the major coalition partner with Ed as PM, he will surely be replaced as leader and much of his personal policies made on the hoof replaced also.

Will these latest revelations make any difference to the outcome of the election? I remain unconvinced even though the media is getting excited, as it has been since the start of the year, with talk of UKIP, Green and SNP surges, the Lib Dems losing all but one seat, and the Tories and Labour being neck and neck.

Remember the last election, which was after the MPs expenses scandal and we heard how there would be a surge of independent candidates elected. We were told that there could even be personalities like Esther Rantzen in the House of Commons to keep a check on wrong doing.

It not only didn’t happen for Rantzen, who lost her deposit with just 4.4% of the vote, but it also didn’t happen for any of the other 334 ‘Independent’ candidates. What actually happened was that we saw some MPs who were themselves embroiled in the scandal even retain their seats!

In the weeks ahead as we move towards the full-blown election campaign there will no doubt be more ‘traps’ set for politicians and aspiring politicians. They are said to be done in the public interest and providing they are we should welcome and encourage such investigative journalism particularly in this age of transparency where reputation is everything.

As I hear more about Rifkind and Straw it brought to mind an interview I did, as a BBC journalist in Liverpool in the late nineties.

I questioned Jack Straw, who was Home Secretary at the time, for 15 minutes. Not only was it unusual to be given such one to one access to a Cabinet Minister, but the interview was highly illuminating and it was decided to broadcast it in its entirety as he covered everything from Bulger to Hillsborough to Ian Brady.

The one thing that has remained with me more than 15 years later is he asked for the recording equipment to be switched off when he wasn’t too keen to answer a particular question. Oh how he wishes the recording equipment had been switched off during his latest “under the radar” interview.