Even Sir Malcolm Rifkind’s strongest political opponents will be aghast at the circumstances of his downfall. On that famous night in 1997 when every Conservative seat in Scotland was lost, his detractors (including me) felt that his defeat left the political landscape in Scotland bleaker.
When Sir Malcolm lost his seat in Edinburgh Pentlands, politics north of the Border lost an inquisitor, a logician, a street fighter and someone who appeared to know the apparatus of power at international level very well indeed.
All the more puzzling, therefore, that he should be duped in the way he was by shrewd investigative journalists. Why on earth did he not use either his constituency office resources or the House of Commons library to check the authenticity of the bogus “company” that ensnared him?
Why did the chairman of Westminster’s intelligence and security committee, of all people, agree to meet these people without first checking on their background?
It seems to be more crass stupidity rather than an error of judgment.
It is all the more incomprehensible when we look closely at Sir Malcolm’s legitimate business interests and his distinguished background in defence and foreign affairs.
It must be difficult in a psychological sense to adjust from the position of Cabinet minister to backbencher. Perhaps this debacle amounts to little more than the old adage about the devil finding work for idle fingers.
It may amount to something more. Many people are arguing that MPs should only have one job. But how busy are existing backbench MPs? Just how extensive are their constituency case loads?
Just how do they spend their time between recesses and waiting for votes in the division lobbies.
Sir Malcolm’s demise may prompt a lot of serious questions about how the legislature he still sits in actually works.
So being an MP is a fine life so long as one’s standard of living is not diminished. But trying to serve constituents’ interests while also pursuing one’s own pecuniary self- interest creates divided loyalties.
The man who set aside his divinity 2,000 years ago to become as poor as the people he came to serve warned then that it is not possible to serve two masters. His words remain true.
The Rifkind-Straw affair will make even more people cynical of politicians and the democratic process.
But it is worth noting that most MPs whom Dispatches contacted wanted nothing to do with the scam.
Who were these MPs? Dispatches owes it to them and to the public to run a follow-up programme giving the MPs a chance to put their case.
Legislation should be brought forward to make it illegal for elected representatives to have other paid employment.
Public service should be regarded with merit and not as a means to earn much more –from contacts, insider knowledge, or “below-the-radar” scheming.
The House of Lords requires total reform also.