Aitken Gets the Quality of Mercy That We Deny to Children

By Odone, Cristina | New Statesman (1996), January 17, 2000 | Go to article overview

Aitken Gets the Quality of Mercy That We Deny to Children


Odone, Cristina, New Statesman (1996)


Jonathan Aitken may have been studying the Bible in the nick, but as homecomings went, his did not exactly follow the script of the parable: no jubilant rejoicing, no killing of the fatted calf. Instead, his belongings in a bin liner, the jailbird's pallor on his gaunt face, the disgraced former minister sloped home to face the receivers' warrants and not a few people's schadenfreude. The cheerless lot of the pariah awaits him.

Or does it?

I bet that, after a year or so in the wilderness (or at Wycliffe, the Oxford college where he intends to study theology), the man who lied about his bill at the Ritz and forced his daughter to perjure herself will slink into the shadow cabinet. The Tory party holds an impressive record for clemency, even if Aitken will be the first jailbird to test it. Plenty of other disgraced figures have benefited from the Conservatives' faith in redemption (and the party's desperate need for able men). Just look at the fate of three politicos whose scandals filled papers and raised titters -- Tim Yeo, now shadow secretary for agriculture; Cecil Parkinson, elevated by William Hague to chair the party; and David Mellor, now chairman (courtesy of new Labour) of the Football Task Force.

Some might argue that Aitken's spell in prison has earned him a black mark that is rather more solid than the ones his colleagues earned with their trysts; perhaps, but Aitken has ensured his own fast-track redemption by finding God in the clink. A Damascene experience is a tried and tested means to social recycling: Charles W Colson and Jeb Stuart Magruder, two Nixon aides sentenced for their role in Watergate, became born-again Christians while the former heads the Prison Fellowship Ministries, and the latter the First Presbyterian Church. (Their partner in crime, G Gordon Libby, who led the 1972 break-in of the Democratic National Committee, has become a syndicated talk-show host.)

Aitken's religious conversion will not only accelerate his re-entry into polite society; it will earn him the gratitude of those eager to shrug off any responsibility for the 60,000-plus prison population. …

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