Redemption and Mr Aitken
Published in: Daily Mail
We journalists are a cynical lot. So the attempt by the disgraced former MP Jonathan Aitken to stand for Parliament once again in his old constituency of Thanet South provoked predictable belly-laughs and raised eyebrows among the press.
The Tory leader Michael Howard blocked his return, showing he has no intention of risking the Tory party's fragile recovery from the toxic stain of sleaze of which Mr Aitken's fall from grace became such a potent symbol. Now Mr Aitken has thrown in the towel and abandoned his attempt.
The former defence minister and Chief Secretary to the Treasury in John Major's government served nine months in prison for perjury. Having previously resigned his ministerial post to fight charges of accepting Arab hospitality against all the rules, he then lied about having accepted it in a libel case he brought against the Guardian newspaper.
Since he had vowed to fight 'journalistic lies' with his 'sword of truth', his conviction turned him into an icon of political mendacity. Now, however, at the age of 61 and seven years after his offence was committed, he thought that society should accept he was a reformed character.
To prove it, he has become a devout professional Christian. Having spent two years studying theology following his release from jail, he served as director of four Christian charities and wrote a book, Psalms for People Under Pressure, in which he observed: 'many people remain, throughout their lives, in a state of denial about their own sinfulness'.
Pull the other one, say the professional cynics, it's got bells on. Christian penitence? Come off it. What a convenient conversion to piety. Once a con- man, always a con-man. And in any event, how could he have returned to the Commons and the public life he had so polluted?
That seems far too harsh. Just as everyone has capacity for good and evil, so everyone is capable in principle of redeeming themselves through remorse, contrition or a desire to make amends.
In political life, the outstanding example of redemption is John Profumo. Forty years ago, he resigned in disgrace after lying to Parliament over his affair with Christine Keeler. Ever since, he has devoted his life to good works in London's East End.
Profumo redeemed himself through a life of service to others and patent humility. From this, we infer that he is truly sorry for the wrong he committed. As a result, he is now held in infinitely higher esteem than members of the Parliament from which he was exiled in such disgrace.
Compare and contrast such selfless behaviour with the antics of the aristocrat Lord Brocket, who was jailed for five years after his