The Scottish blogger SNP Tactical Voting suggests that elections and politics are Probably the Best Spectator Sport in the World. I tend to agree.
As an armchair spectator who hates the Red team, it has been pure joy watching them being caught out over the last few weeks by the complexities of an off side rule, that they themselves introduced. It was sad to see one of the Red's better players sent off last week (and I really don’t like the sub). I am amazed that Wendy Alexander, one of the dirtiest players in the squad, is still in the team.
It's fun to see the Reds appealing to the ref that the Green/Daffodil yellow (home and away strips) team were guilty of dirty play too and that just because they had permission from a linesman first, didn't make their foul any fairer. It's even more fun to see them pointing out fouls by the Blue team 13 years or more ago and telling the ref that as they did it then you can't complain about us doing it now. Whilst forgetting that the Blues have been relegated to the opposition benches for the past 11 years as a result of their mistakes.
However that is all part of the fun of the game, the rough and tumble of politics.
As many observers have noted politics in these islands are remarkably free of real corruption in comparison to many other places. Using "aliases" to hide funds from legitimate (if embarrassing) donors, which are then used for honest politicking isn't really corrupt, its just bloody stupid.
Of course many young men, especially, have criminal records because of stupid acts. Stupidity can be mitigation in such circumstances, but it doesn’t stop the law being applied. Convictions for stupidity are one of the reasons why I am a spectator rather than a player myself. So if Peter Hain and Wendy Alexander have broken the law then no ifs, no buts the law should apply to them as much as it applied to the drunken lad who pissed against the back wheel of a police car, because (being too clever by half) he thought that pissing against the back wheel of a car was a defence.*
However, a danger in the sport of politician baiting is that we don't distinguish between what the Americans call crimes and misdemeanours. We don't distinguish between that which deserves a 10 bob fine, an ASBO or a kick up the arse and that that is inexcusably wrong and deserves a prison sentence and/or a huge fine.
If a foreman in a factory pretended that his son was on the payroll, when the boy wasn't working at the factory and the foreman submitted false time sheets to obtain wages for his son and submitted false expenses claims in his son's name, most employers would treat the matter as a very, very serious incident.
The foreman would be suspended as soon as any doubt came to light. The police would be called in immediately. The foreman would be charged with a range of very serious offences, including theft and false accounting. If the son was party to the fraud he would also be charged and the chances are both would receive substantial gaol sentences and or very big fines. On conviction the foreman would, of course, lose his job and his pension rights.
Derek Conway MP stole money in this way twice. He was not suspended pending investigation, the police were not called in and his punishment is a 10-day loss of parliamentary privileges (a fortnights holiday).
Mr Conway has been lucky. Because those of us who enjoy the spectator sport of politics have been screaming "sleaze" and "corruption" at those who may have committed misdemeanours, he is getting away with a serious crime. Complaints against Mr Conway's theft, fraud and real corruption are being drowned out by the noise of a crowd baying for Hain and Alexander's blood because of pissing incidents.
* I was a Happy Young and Foolish Burp in those days.