Sunday, November 11, 2007
Lazarus Act by Jonathan Aitken?
Aguda told The Observer in 2005.
'But it was the opposite straight away. He was one of the chaps.'
While this enconium to Aitken's clubbability, even when the club was called Belmarsh, is impressive, David Cameron ought perhaps reflect on the fact that the person praising the former Conservative high flying Tory Cabinet minister was one Micky Aguda, a career bank robber. Some wag suggested that Aitken survived his time in the slammer so comfortably because Eton had provided him with an earlier experience of not so dissimilar incarceration. However, Jonathan had the sense- having heard improvised songs noisily sung about his imminent anal rape on his first night- to make friends with some of the toughest guys on the block. Politics must teach you this survival skill at the very least.
Is his new position as chair of a working group on prison reform a good idea? On balance I think it is. Willie Whitelaw, when Home Secretary in the eighties, described our prison system as 'an affront to civilised values', with appalling living conditions and the highest rate of re-offending in Europe. Since then overcrowding has become even more acute and re-offending no better, while educational provision has if anything withered on the vine. Prison most definitely does not work.
Aitken claims his spell in chokey has transformed his life and his many interviewers since then testify to his humility and 'born again' interest in religion. He certainly knows much more about prison than any Home Secretary who has ever presided over our penal system and potentially can help produce a very useful report. Will it be a political 'comeback'? Of sorts maybe- given that the attempt by his former constituency, Thanet South, to reacquire the great nephew of Max Beaverbrook as their Conservative candidate was squashed by Michael Howard- but aged 65, there cannot be much time for him to rescale any political heights.
Peter Preston, editor of The Guardian when Aitken brandished his 'cardboard' 'sword of truth' and sued the newspaper for claiming his stay at the Paris Ritz was paid for by a Saudi arms dealer, makes an interesting point, however. Reviewing the case, which revealed Aitken had induced his family to lie on his behalf in his attempt to win his libel case, Preston asks why he was meeting the arms dealer in the first place:
Finding God and a renewed public role is one thing; finding out the whole truth rather another.
Personally, as someone who viewed Aitken as someone who epitomised everything I hated about the Tories, I was impressed by the dignity and uncomplaining honesty with which he bore his humiliation. He has earned a second chance. What worries me most, however, about this political Lazarus act is that it might be a prelude to something similar involving Jeffrey Archer....
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