What a performance. Gail Sheridan’s declaration of faith in her husband Tommy on the steps of the High Court yesterday was straight out of country and western iconography. Talk about standing by your man. Shame Tammy Wynette isn’t still around to sing about it.
Gail’s man had just been jailed for three years for lying about his affairs with party followers and his forays into the sleazy world of swingers’ clubs. The kind of places where ‘the carpet sticks to your feet’, as one of his conquests put it. Yet there she was, without a hair out of place, not a hint of hesitation in her voice, defending him as the peoples’ champion. “The real reason he’s been imprisoned is because he has fought injustice and inequality with every beat of his heart”, said Mrs Sheridan, without a trace of irony. “But it won’t be long before Tommy is back stronger and continuing the fight”.
It seemed churlish to point out that Sheridan had been jailed, not for fighting capitalism, but for lying in court over a £200,000 defamation action against the News of the World. He makes an odd addition to the pantheon of socialist martyrs. Not sure John McLean would’ve been found promoting the cause of communism in Cupids sex club. But Gail Sheridan is probably right about Tommy living to fight another day. Being jailed after losing a battle with the mighty Murdoch mafia is no great blot on any socialist’s character. He lied about his private life, certainly, but so did President Clinton.
Really, the public aren’t stupid. They can see the absurdity of jailing this one particular politician when so many lying MPs in Westminster have gone unpunished for committing far worse offences over their expenses. Or launching illegal invasions killing tens of thousands of civilians. A capacity for telling untruth is practically a job requirement in our political culture. People can also appreciate the irony of someone being jailed for lying against an attack by the News of the Screws - a publication not renowned for its accuracy or its high moral standards, which is being investigated, again, by Scotland Yard for hacking the phones of members of the royal family.
This whole episode has been a farce - and an expensive one for the tax payers who have to pay most of the costs of the police investigation and the trial. Even the sentence was a joke. Sheridan will spent a year or so in Castle Huntly open prison, burnishing his anti-establishment image, then he’ll be back on the streets again, surrounded by cheering admirers. He will use his time in prison wisely, no doubt writing his memoirs - which is how disgraced politicians traditionally use such enforced leisure - and campaigning for penal reform. He may even be back on the campaign trail for the Holyrood elections in 2015. Well, why not? There is nothing to prevent a convicted criminal, even one who lied under oath, from standing for parliament after he has paid his debt to society.
Jail has been very much a part of Sheridan’s career. I know, because in 1992 I interviewed him on live TV from Barlinnie jail where he was banged up over the poll tax - a television first. (where’s yer Twitter noo? ) He spent another brief spell at Her Majesty’s pleasure after a Faslane demonstration a few years later. Shame? Humility? Remorse? Doesn’t know the meaning of the words. Sheridan is already planning the next phase of his war against the Murdoch empire, by publishing a list of prominent people in Scotland who've been the targets of News of the World phone-hacking. The former editor of the rag, Andy Coulson, spent some time in the witness box being cross-examined by Sheridan - who rather effectively conducted his own defence. That court encounter helped convince the Prime Minister, David Cameron, that it was time to sack, sorry ‘resign’ his director of communications. Coulson is out in the cold now, with Tommy Sheridan on his case. And in true country and western fashion, he ain’t gonna quit.
Indeed, it is not inconceivable that, before Sheridan is back on the streets of Glasgow, Coulson might himself be spending a little quality time in one of the nation’s establishments of correction. The phone -hacking scandal is not going away - even Gordon Brown thinks his mobile conversations were being recorded by News of the World hacks - and the buck stops with the editor. Coulson’s insistence that he knew nothing of this illegal behaviour by his journalists is looking less and less credible by the day. Eventually, the email trail will lead to the top. Perjury is a two way street.
Mind you, the police have shown a singular reluctance to pursue serial phone hacking by the News of the World under Coulson’s watch. Even after they received concrete evidence that hundreds of famous names had had their voice-mails broken into and ransacked for news, Scotland Yard resisted any serious investigation. Yet they spent many thousands of hours investigating the ins and outs of Tommy Sheridan’s sex life. Only now, under pressure from everyone from Prince William to John Prescott, are the police taking the phone hacking seriously.
But that is for another day. For the moment there is only the myth of Tommy - the Peoples’ Swinger. All politicians are actors and the perjury trial has been his finest performance to date. In court, and on the pavements, he has acted superbly the part of the wronged man, hounded by the gutter press. He is going to jail with his head held high and his honour - incredibly - largely intact. But in the end, the only reason Tommy isn’t crawling there in ignominy is the astonishing loyalty of his wife, Gail. It was her academy award performance on the steps of the court that has ensured Tommy will be back in business. There will be many of his sympathisers yesterday, and a few of his detractors, who were saying to themselves: well if a woman of her character is prepared to do all that, her man must have some good in him. As the First Lady of Country Music put it: “Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman”.