Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sex, lies and perjury: the strange case of Tommy Sheridan

There are obvious differences between Vince Cable and Tommy Sheridan and the state they've got themselves into - the most obvious being that Cable at least had the sense to lie in an election campaign rather than under oath in a court of law. But they also have two similarities: both cases raise serious questions about the conduct of our media - and both cases leave me shaking my head in wonder, asking how it is possible for supposedly intelligent men to be that stupid?

It's difficult to identify the exact point of Tommy's downfall, but I don't think anyone would put it after the moment he arranged a liaison with a tabloid journalist in circumstances that have become excruciatingly familiar, apparently working on the assumption that he could count on her discretion!

Some people have suggested that the story breaking provided an opportunity for Sheridan to declare himself unbound by the constraints of bourgeois morality. This was never a very realistic strategy for a politician who was hitherto happy to portray himself as a paragon of this very morality when the tabloids - non-Murdoch ones, of course - required it from him. He would have been better advised to ignore it altogether. Instead he decided to sue for defamation. That he did so knowing that the allegations were in substance true is a foolishness that has been widely noted. That he did so in the knowledge that his comrades in the SSP did not see perjuring themselves as part of their revolutionary shift is indicative of a recklessness that can only be borne of sheer hubris.

Ego worked for the SSP as there can be no doubt that it reached the level of electoral success that it did largely out of the sheer force of Tommy's personality. But now only the deluded deny that his ego made a significant contribution to its nemesis. Pride cometh before this... There remains only to ask the inevitable question of what all this means for the broader left?

I don't know but I'm not sure that any lessons one might draw are particularly encouraging. One aspect of this case that has stood out is the marginal propensity of the far left to believe conspiracies as a default position. People lie in court all the time - why Sheridan? Dark forces at work, clearly...

But why not Sheridan? Most people don't get £200k as a consequence of their perjuring themselves. But I'm wondering if there isn't a more unpalatable truth that people find difficult to accept. Don't be paranoid: they might be out to get you, if it wasn't for the fact that you're just not that important. Well, not as a politician anyway. Celebrity is a different matter...

One keeps reading that the SSP at their high watermark of 6 MSPs made them the most successful hard left party in Europe. Apart from the fact that it's not exactly a strong field in which to compete, what did this actually mean in reality? About 5% of the seats in a provincial Parliament with no tax-raising powers. And Sheridan himself, despite standing in Pollok where he was raised, only gained his seat on the list vote. While I wouldn't rule out a conspiracy, or some kind of vendetta, one is inclined to assume that conspirators behave rationally and doing this raises the question: what would the conspirators hope to gain? Nothing much, as far as I can see. Maybe if people could dispense with the egoism that is an often unremarked but nevertheless essential ingredient in the conspiracy theory of society, they would be better placed to answer the question of why it is that the message of the SSP did so poorly at the ballot box, the rhetorical gifts of their leader not withstanding?

I've also been wondering if there is a wider message for Scotland. Gerry Hassan certainly thinks so:
"But Scotland made Tommy Sheridan. He springs from our political and public culture. He was only possible because of it and ultimately because of us. We the people of Scotland made Tommy Sheridan possible; we gave him power, potency and status.

And because of this today, as Tommy Sheridan faces the prospect of a life behind bars, while he seems incapable of self-reflection and self-knowledge, we should not go down the same route. We should instead pause and reflect on our own inadequacies and the flawed tribunes and demagogues who we choose to believe in."
I'm inclined to say, speak for yourself - especially given the evidence in the previous paragraph. Still, there's something in what he says. There is something quintessentially West of Scotland man about Sheridan - the machismo, the swagger, the uncompromising rhetoric, the sentimentality. People saw something they recognised. Beyond that, there was an apparent contradiction that Hassan also notes: although ostensibly radical, there was something strangely comforting about Sheridan's rhetoric. He gave them the old-time religion and people felt an affection for what is familiar.

While some insist his Olympian credentials are more or less intact, for many Sheridan has gone from hero to zero. Others who perhaps never held either opinion regret that our public life will be duller without him. While agreeing with this last point, I'm wondering what it is about us that needs to be entertained by our public life and whether this isn't part of the problem? What is certainly part of our problem is this need for heroes - although whether it can be dispensed with, I couldn't say.

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