There's a rather strange post from top Tory blogger Iain Dale this afternoon, responding to the news that Derek Conway has bowed to the inevitable and announced he's standing down as an MP:
The last forty hours have not shown the Conservative Party in its best light. The baying mob is something I hope not to see again for a very long time. Whatever Derek did or did not do he did not deserve some of the comments that have been thrown his way.
True, Dale is a personal friend of Derek Conway, and few will begrudge him for being quieter on his chum's wrongdoing than the likes of Guido Fawkes. But the grassroots reaction was spot on. Conservatives in the country saw instantly the damage this story would do to David Cameron's credibility. And just how profound was Conway's actual offence. Paying your children thousands of pounds from public funds for doing a largely fictional "job", just so they can have a cushy time at university, is beyond wrong. It's borderline embezzlement.
Methinks Iain Dale is too much part of the system. He can see the ambiguous nature of the rules which allowed Conway to perpetrate his fiddle. He knows Conway for an honourable man. He doesn't believe his friend would be involved in anything so sordid.
It's called not seeing the wood from the trees. Many close to the centre of action, whether politicians or journalists, fall victim to this sort of myopia. Hence the day's delay before the Conservative whip was withdrawn from the MP. From a distance, however, the forest is all-too-visible, dark and overgrown and much in need of bulldozers. Almost no Tory out there in the country had any difficulty seeing it. Hence the "baying mob" of bloggers and emailers which Dale so resents.
For all I know, Freddie Conway did carry out a small amount of work for his father. Most parliamentary interns are unpaid, or receive only token salaries, for many hours' slaving on behalf of honourable members, and are grateful for the experience. Many of them are university students struggling to make ends meet. All they lack is a well-connected father able to dip into the lavish funds placed at his disposal.
It's a con, whichever way you look at it.
PS Robert Winnett has a hilarious piece of trivia about one of the Conway beneficiaries of taxpayers' largesse, elder son Henry, at the Telegraph blog. Social butterfly Henry, a fashion writer and friend of starlet Martine McCutcheon (platonic, obviously), knows how to compose an eye-catching party invite. Nice to know voters' contributions to his upkeep at Cambridge didn't go to waste.