Conduct unbecoming

Thursday 28th July 2011

“BELL, Martin: 29,354 votes…”

This was the General Election of 1997, the safe Conservative seat of Tatton. Dimbleby, doing the voice over, called it:

“The great contest between a man in a white suit and the man with the cloud hanging over his head.”

The latter was Neil Hamilton. The cloud had started life as a newspaper report stating that Hamilton had accepted cash in return for asking questions in the House of Commons.

The result was never really in doubt once both Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates agreed to withdraw. Hamilton’s manifesto request ‘to be regarded as innocent unless proven guilty’ was no match for Bell’s ‘standing primarily on the issue of trust’.

Aware of the legal tight-rope he was walking, Bell never directly accused his opponent of bribery, lying or anything else that might be construed as libellous. He referred to Hamilton’s alleged misdemeanours as ‘conduct unbecoming’ – as in ‘conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman’.

The former BBC reporter won the seat with an 11,000+ majority. A rough and ready justice was seen to be done.

When a newspaper owner pretends not to know that his editors have turned a blind eye to the illegal practices of their staff… when one such editor has since held a key position in the office of the Prime Minister… when senior police officers have chosen to ignore evidence of the afore-mentioned illegalities… and when evidence begins to emerge of another murdered child’s family’s grief being exploited by a former editor working for the same newspaper owner, I hope the writer of this piece will not be dismissed as a lunatic conspiracy theorist when he states his belief that the morals of those responsible for such unbecoming conduct are becoming more and more questionable.

Incidentally, despite being urged to stand for re-election, Martin Bell chose not to defend Tatton when his term as the constituency’s MP ended in 2001. The Conservatives regained the seat, won – with an 8,611 majority – by George Osborne.

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