Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Farewell Malcolm Rifkind

There will be little public sympathy in Scotland  for Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who will be seen as the author of his own demise.

It is a rather humiliating end to forty years on the political frontline, caught out by one of the easiest political hooks in the undercover reporter’s bag, boasting that you work as an MP only part-time and then defending yourself on the grounds that a salary of £67.000 is not enough to live on.

It looks like he was immediately cut adrift by David Cameron. The Prime Minister gave him only half-hearted backing as chair of the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee when the cash for access story broke on Monday.

His rapid dispatch has the hallmarks of Cameron's Australian election guru Lynton “no barnacles” Crosby.

Ten weeks out from an election he would have advised the party to clear the decks of this unnecessary distraction no matter how well regarded Rifkind might be.

In his time Rifkind held one of the high offices of state, serving as Foreign Minister under John Major and as Defence Secretary.

He entered parliament in 1974 as the 28-year-old MP for Edinburgh Pentlands when the Tories had 32 per cent of the vote in Scotland and 21 of the 72 Scottish MPs.
He will be best remembered in his native heath as Secretary of State for Scotland from 1986 to 1990, or as Margaret Thatcher’s Governor General as he was widely lampooned.

With the poll tax being imposed in the teeth of civic opposition, with the country traumatised by the loss of heavy industry, mining and the privatisation of utilities, Rifkind ran Scotland in the high season of Thatcherism.

Despite that Rifkind was himself a moderate Conservative. He changed the development agencies, the SDA and the HIDB into Enterprise Companies with more private involvement but he did argue for Ravenscraig to be kept open. 

To his credit he found money to establish  the Gaelic Television service, his shooting and fishing connection to the late Sir Iain Noble might have played a part in that. As someone who undertook country sports he felt he understood rural Scotland and funded  infrastructure programmes like the A9 and the Vatersay causeway.  
He wouldn’t take the lesson of a changed Scotland when the Tories were routed from Scotland in 1997 and had 900 voters swung the other way in 2001 he would have had his Edinburgh Pentlands seat back.

Instead of going to the Lords, as Ian Lang and Michael Forsyth had chosen, he stood again in the plum seat of Kensington and Chelsea in 2005.

But he took the huff when he did not make the running as Tory leader and David Cameron did not reward him as shadow Foreign Secretary so did not return to cabinet after the 2010 election.

With his Defence and Foreign Office experience he was well-respected in Westminster and was a natural choice to be appointment as chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Given that he is a veteran political operator his self-destruction was surprisingly rapid.

At 68 he launched a stout initial defence of himself when the cash for access sting was sprung this week. But he showed himself to be completely out of touch, and quickly lost the support of colleagues, when he said that it was impossible to live on an MP’s salary.

He may be found to have broken no rules but he lost in the court of public opinion with that one.

Witty, with a light touch in the Commons chamber, he once quipped that the worst thing about losing office as a Minister was going out in the morning, jumping into the back seat of the car and realising that there was no driver.
He will have plenty time to get used to driving himself from now on. 

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