How the Channel 4 News interview with Zac Goldsmith could have gone...
Zac: Thanks for allowing me to come on the programme. I know I've got some difficult questions to answer, but I first want to just say that the fact that you've brought this to the public's attention is important. What I've done looks odd - and that's because it's a broken system, in which a certain amount of bending of the rules is 'how it's done'.Jon: Really? And this bending of the rules is acceptable? That doesn't sound like Cameron's 'new politics' to me ...Zac: No - it most certainly isn't. It's very much old politics - but it's old politics that was in place before we were elected. We only have the opportunity to change things going forward - and no doubt a part of the review that Nick Clegg is undertaking of our whole political process will include a good look at spending during election campaigns, and how we keep a level playing field but get rid of the very complex and blurry guidelines.Jon: So you don't deny that you were blurring the lines - fiddling the figures to come in under the limit?Zac: Of course I don't - the notion that you could run an election campaign in a borough like Richmond and only spend eleven thousand pounds in the short period is insane. Susan Kramer will have employed many of the same formulas to get extra value into her campaign while still technically staying within the regulations. I checked everything, at every stage, with Conservative central office.Jon: And they directly approved the transfer of £700 of boards - bearing your face and your name - onto the local election budget? You can prove that?Zac: They did and I can. And just as importantly - the Lib Dems and Labour will have approved the same for many of their candidates. Why do you think Labour MPs weren't out this morning baying for my blood? It's because they know that all over the country the same formulas and techniques are used for calculating the short period spend. If the electoral commission find against me then they'll also be finding against hundreds of other MPs across the country - possibly all 650.Jon: There's no doubt that others are also playing the system - we've looked at the expenses of 30 MPs that we feel have questions to answer - but yours were materially different from the others.Zac: If that's the case - and I'm not convinced it is, but I haven't looked at the returns of every MP - then the electoral commission will no doubt carry out an investigation. This was my first election and I sought advice every step of the way - especially on spending. If we've got it wrong then the people of Richmond can expect my apology and a by-election - and I will be happy to run, and win, against Susan Kramer again, under new, clearer spending guidelines.Jon: You'd resign your position?Zac: I'd have no choice. But this practice is widespread, so if I'm forced to resign then it won't be just me - it will be MPs up and down the country, and at a time of difficulty that kind of uncertainty - not to mention the expense to the public purse - is not in the national interest, so I would hope that the outcome would be more balanced - probably a completely overhaul of the system under Nick Clegg's review of the whole electoral process that is happening anyway.
But these would be the defences of a sensible, mature, intelligent person.
Instead, Zac Goldsmith entered into the most staggeringly self-centered and short sighted display of arrogance I have ever seen on television. If you haven't watched it (and you should, unless you're a friend of Zac's, in which case I'd advise that you do everything possible to avoid it), here's the video.
A democracy can be judged by its ability to tolerate criticism and inquiry. Withstanding - and even encouraging - the challenge of the democratic process itself is vital for refreshing democracy, preventing it from falling out of step with the electorate's felt-truths.
For Zac Goldsmith to believe that his injured pride, and the ins and outs of an email exchange with C4 News that he only entered into after six days of refusing to give a statement, is worthy of nine minutes of prime time news is staggering. He clearly believes that the electorate have no valid interest in the workings of the electoral process. He doesn't understand democracy, and whether or not he went over the line in the massaging of his electoral spend figures, he's shown himself not fit to be an MP.