Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

It's dangerous, in my line of work, to promise you'll be anywhere by 8 p.m. I made this mistake recently, saying I'd turn up to a dinner after a Budget discussion -- a 'quad' meeting, where I sit with the Prime Minister, George Osborne and Nick Clegg. We've been doing this for five years, so have come to know each other pretty well. Not that we all agree; on the night in question, Nick was angry about something (I won't say what) and our meeting ran on. I headed back with him to Dover House, a magnificent building where I was based during my tenure as Scottish Secretary. A great job: I enjoyed each of the 17 days I spent in it.

The dinner, organised by the Lib Dems, was fun. Some guests made kind remarks about my role in repairing the economy. One seemed particularly quiet, so I tried to include him in the conversation, and at the end thanked him for supporting one of our candidates. I remember wondering how on earth he coped when he seemed to know so little about the business he said he ran. He asked for a photo with me, then I headed home to more phone calls and a red box.

Later, I found out he was an undercover reporter for the Daily Telegraph . I had been caught red-handed thanking supporters for their help. A guest was quoted warning the reporter that I'm not keen on making any more cuts to the 45p tax rate. So I stand exposed -- saying the same things about my role in government in private that I do in public. I must have disappointed those who expect something else from politicians. I also must have disappointed the Telegraph ; I imagine it takes months to set up such sting, and I feel I rather let them down with my general say-what-you-think LibDemmery.

When the Telegraph story broke, I was in the Highlands and counting my blessings that I represent the most beautiful constituency in the country. I drove from my surgery in Aviemore to attend a pensioners' lunch at a church in Nairn (home town of the editor of this magazine). The journey across Dava Moor is as beautiful as any you'll find in the Highlands. At first, the sky was grey. You could still see snow patches by the roadside. When the descent to Nairn began, the sun burst through. I wondered if I could get away with cancelling my plans and going for a walk. Before I entered parliament, I worked for the Cairngorms National Park and had plenty of excuses to stretch my legs and clear my mind. …

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