Thursday, 28 May 2009

The odd couple

Julie Kirkbride's resignation will be a tragedy for her and a loss for her constituents, her party and for parliament.

I have wanted to write a brief blog of support. But I have had no better idea of her financial affairs, her domestic arrangements or even her political activities than any other outside observer. It's unwise to propose a defence without knowledge of the facts.

Yet, somehow, Julie has seemed a parliamentarian worth preserving. And of all the 'victims' (venally culpable or simply naive) of the MPs expenses scandal she represents to me an example of possible collateral damage that highlights another unsavoury aspect of our society - the harm the media can do to individuals once they taste blood.

Of course, my concern for Ms Kirkbride is more than likely entirely chauvinistic. She is an attractive female with a pleasant personality who chose the honourable path of abandoning broadsheet journalism for the noble cause of active public service. This was surely not to achieve untold wealth or an easy life.

After the 1997 general election, my constituency party invited several of the newly elected young Tory MPs to attend a one-day political conference. The MPs included John Bercow, Julian Lewis and Julie McBride. Charming though Julian is, I was profoundly bowled-over by the glowing Ms McBride. It was not her intellectual powers that struck me, but her emotional capacity. And I remember thinking she might be vulnerable in the hot-bed of political intrigue that is the Westminster parliament. When I later learned of her impending marriage to fellow MP Andrew Mackay, it seemed an odd coupling - a fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast perhaps.

Far be it for me to comment on others' private lives. Love guides in ways beyond our understanding. Yet Julie Kirkbride's fall from grace is in no small way due to the actions of her husband. She says herself that as a new MP she took lots of advice from her husband and understandably did not question it. Her own expenses claims, as an individual, are not entirely unreasonable. Only as a couple do the Mackays expenses rightly disgust the public.

Who knows what the future now holds for that couple? But it is worth noting that this is the third MPs marriage partnership to fall foul of the current furore. Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper have been left dangling by the media. Nicholas and Ann Winterton have agreed to stand down. And now the Mackays.

The working and domestic partnership of active married MPs, especially with young children and each with constituencies outside London, must be one of the most complex relationships anyone could devise. It is almost a guarantee there will be pitfalls. Julie Kirkbride has fallen victim to the compromises that beset working mothers, the seediness that exudes from parliament, the relentlessness of her former profession and perhaps conceding too much trust to those who offer advice. But I'm sure she will be a survivor in another profession.


Anonymous said...

A theif is a THIEF!

BillyBoy said...

Those in Bromsgrove are livid - and thats an understatement. Even Cameroon may get lynched there!

Anonymous said...

Rather a lookist bit of twaddle.

Pol-e-tics said...

Reply to Anonymous II:
I'm probably guilty as charged. However, my view of JK is based on conversations with her not just appearance. The record shows she joined the Tory party at 14 and always worked in political media. At the Telegraph she was a colleague of Dan Hannan, Boris Johnson, Matthew D'Ancona et al. and I viewed her in their often politically challenging light. The Mackays as a couple, however, seems to be a different story.