Jonathan Aitken has received a fair amount of publicity for his ordination as a C of E Deacon. A picture in The Guardian showed the 75-year old in his priest’s robes, a mugshot which reminded me of the kind of mugshot the police take of suspected criminals. Who would take away from Aitken’s path to redemption, and good luck to him. But his story reminded me of all the other ex-MPs who left their political careers with a cloud hanging over them. Some went to prison of course after the expenses scandal. Others have left when they would rather have not. Prominent in the second category is every Prime Minister since the Second World War, barring Harold Wilson – a fact in itself which raises one’s esteem for the oft maligned Yorkshire lad. Most ex-PMs seem to suffer from a disease known as Former Premier’s Ignominy.
I imagine that one of the biggest problems these former MPs have to face is the loss of relevance. In prison or forced expulsion from No. 10, the sudden loss of influence most probably affects them more than for most ex-MPs. What do they do with themselves? I thought it might be worth seeing how they got on. I have, after all, little better to do then track down websites and share in the grief that being irrelevant engenders. Naturally, in looking at the post-Westminster/Whitehall careers of convicts and PMs I am not saying they are of the same class – merely that a sense of ignominy undoubtedly attaches itself to both. Who is seen as more culpable of failure and a total lack of judgement - David Cameron or his erstwhile Cabinet colleague Chris Huhne?
Cameron seems not to have a website – or at least one doesn’t appear in the first 20 Google search results for ‘David Cameron website.’ But he has a Twitter site, which appears to have nearly 2 million followers. We’ll see if that’s a benchmark for a former PM. His tweets are largely about the charities he supports and his congrats to various members of the royal family on their good fortune. In May he met the President of Mexico. There’s something else he didn’t see coming. He probably makes a good bit of dosh on the Washington speakers’ panel. All in all, he’s got his favourite seat at the Carlton Club nicely warmed, and isn’t that what life is all about? Sherry anyone?
Chris Huhne is a different kettle of fish. His website is, for an ex-convict still of working age, not surprisingly self-promotional. He lists his skills, in fact his entire CV – minus A levels – from a long time ago till now, curiously omitting to mention that he may have picked up some life skills in the nick. Seriously, why leave that bit out? Aitken’s got over it, indeed he seems to be making a virtue of his redemptive qualities. Anyone reading Huhne’s online presence is hardly going to be unaware of his egregious past misjudgement. It’s an interesting omission from an otherwise unblemished path to brilliance. But state retirement age beckons, and having been a Cabinet minister in a generally hopeless coalition government is not the best sell anyway. Time for the slippers!
Denis MacShane comes to mind. Our knowledgeable and affable former Europe Minister, who speaks many languages I assume continues to believe that his time inside was unmerited, since he says that he never made anything from his wrongly claimed expenses for his personal benefit. Denis does not appear to have a website, but has a Twitter feed which is crammed packed with tweets and retweets about Brexit. It’s like reading some impenetrable code, and I guess that’s one of the languages Denis is quite well versed in. It’s not a good advert for his most recent tome, whose title suggests the UK will not be leaving the EU. It is currently 49,647 on the Amazon bestseller list (believe me, that’s quite good) but has only middling reviews (7 positive, 12 critical) ‘Bandcandy’ wrote “Reading this book made me recall what one of my teachers at school once told the class about essay writing. Don’t feel obliged to dump everything you know into your essay. Pick out the most important facts and set them out so you can hang an elegant argument around them. It’s a bit like the difference between dumping a load of clothes, including some which are very lovely, in a heap in a shop window, rather than displaying them artfully to best draw the eye.” Verdict: Must do better.
A real big gun he was, the biggest in the land: Tony Blair. He still is. He has a website (aka the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change), a Facebook page and of course a Twitter account. All of these are no doubt serviced by a vast army of young 1st Class Oxbridge PPE alumni, and for want of a better word, convey a sense of momentum. Tony still makes speeches, and I suspect of all the ex-MPs surveyed here he stills runs on his as yet undischarged, original Duracell batteries. But all this energy reminds me of my theme: irrelevance. The more Tony speaks, the less people (at least those who aren’t paying) want to hear. What went wrong? Never mind Iraq, that was just a side show – Tony’s mission was, and I think still is, the Third Way. He had to speak to some badass folk – ‘W’, Gaddafi, Assad, and other various ‘developing democracy’ types – this was in pursuit of their enlightenment at the master’s knees. Now Tony doesn’t understand what went wrong, and it’s all too complicated for this blog. But TB’s sense of irrelevance my not yet have quite reached rock bottom. Jez may still enter No.10. (And HE was irrelevant before he was relevant, which is some trick.)
Who better to follow Tony than Gordon? No, I mean it. At the time we had no better candidate to ride to a fall than Gordon Brown, who nevertheless by his own Freudian admission saved the world. Or, if not the world then the banking system. Spot the difference. Gordon shares a website with wife Sarah, and that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing in itself – to acknowledge the other – even if the web address merely comes up as ‘The Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown,’ (emphasis added) and one of the featured items promotes an event where ‘Gordon Brown is to reflect candidly on four decades on the front line of politics, interviewed by the woman who knows him best – and matters most – Sarah Brown.’ Expect fireworks? Perhaps not. But even now it may still hurt to be remembered as a ‘clunking fist’ who went down to one of Labour’s worst defeats for which he later said he may have added a further 30 or so Labour losses. The sad fact of Gordon’s career is that he was at his best in Tony’s shadow. His web presence is but a shadow of Tony’s go-to zip-bang-wallop bang-for-your-buck planetary phenomenon. There doesn’t seem to be a lot happening there (but yes, there are good causes). Gordon’s latest tome, My Life, Our Times ranks 53,012 on the Amazon best seller list, coming 3,000 or so behind MacShane‘s anti-Brexit mash. Can’t be good. Time for a reboot.