Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

This column's theory that, postdevolution, it is harder for Scottish MPs to lead a British political party seems to be taking some time to come true.

Sir Menzies Campbell is considered just the ticket. He looks dignified and trustworthy.

Rather as Colin Powell said that he benefited because he was 'not that black', Sir Ming is not that Scottish. There is only a slight accent, just the reassuring, prudent yet kindly tone of the lowlander who looks after the family money. Friends in Fife North East, where Ming is the Member, tell me that his imitation of the least threatening sort of Tory is brilliant and that his wife, Elspeth, is even better. If you look up Sir Ming in Who's Who, you will see his wife described as 'Elspeth Mary Urquhart or Grant-Suttie, d. of Maj. -Gen. R.E. Urquhart, CB, DSO'. At first I thought that the 'or' must be a misprint for 'of', being one of those Scottish surnames like Macpherson of Cluny. But no, it turns out that Elspeth was once married to a Mr Grant-Suttie, but Sir Menzies eventually replaced him. At their wedding in 1970, when Ming was still famous as an Olympic athlete, the speaker declared that 'the fastest man in the world has married the fastest woman'.

Inthe wake of Charles Kennedy's announcement that he had a drink problem came a good deal of public anger at the fact that this had been an 'open secret' in Fleet Street. 'Why was this important truth withheld from us?' people asked. Actually, there had been plenty of published press discussion of the subject for years, mostly jokes and slight hints, sometimes direct accusations. But the full story was never told because of lack of proof. The episode illustrates the sharp difference between a fact that 'everyone knows' and an actual admission by the person involved. Such admissions are the key thing that the press need before we can declare open season on somebody. Public figures often feel a great desire to make these admissions, partly because they tend to believe, wrongly, tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner. This was the mistake that Prince Charles made with his admission of adultery with Mrs Parker Bowles, and the mistake that David Cameron avoided with his refusal to answer the question about drugs at Oxford. Once the admission is made, it can never be rescinded, and reporters can ask the next question and the next -- When? Where?

Who? Whisky? Gin? How many bottles?

etc. , for ever afterwards.

Poor Lembit Opik MP, with touching but misguided loyalty, explained that lying is an inescapable part of alcoholism, which is true, and that therefore Mr Kennedy should not be criticised but should go on being leader because he couldn't help it. Through the crisis, deployed on both sides of the argument about whether he should stay or go, came the refrain that 'alcoholism is a disease'. I understand why people say this. They want to point out that addiction is a congenital propensity in some people, and that it has physical and mental symptoms which require medical treatment. But it seems misleading. If you have cholera or TB, your recovery cannot be brought about by clubbing together with other sufferers and making an act of will or of surrender to a 'higher power'. We congratulate alcoholics who stay off the bottle because we know that they only continue to do so through strength of character. …

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