There are times when I wonder when intelligence ceased to exist in the UK and was replaced by self-obsession, stupidity and a blind refusal to admit being wrong. My partner thinks it’s a short-term virus that only affects the snowflake generation. Whatever it is or isn’t, it does occasionally make you smile.
Take today’s storm in a teacup over whether Theresa May’s political secretary Stephen Parkinson was entitled to ‘out’ his former gay lover Shahmir Sanni. If you’re lucky, the sordid little story will have passed over your head. If not, here’s an alternative view to the fake outrage printed elsewhere.
So what’s it about?
Well, Shahmir Sanni was apparently a ‘Vote Leave’ outreach volunteer who then went on to support BeLeave. Nobody at vote leave seems to remember much about him, describing him as “like hundreds of others who occasionally visited the offices”.
Armed with the deep knowledge that comes from being both an outreach volunteer and having a sexual relationship with campaign manager Stephen Parkinson, Mr Sanni recently decided to become a ‘whistleblower’, claiming that Vote Leave”cheated” during the European Union referendum.
Sanni claims that Vote Leave used ‘BeLeave’ to get around spending limits imposed by the Electoral Commission. He claims Vote Leave donated £625,000 to the founder of BeLeave, Darren Grimes, before the June 2016 referendum because Vote Leave would have exceeded its campaign spending limit of £7m if it had spent the money itself.
He claims BeLeave was not in control of how the money was spent and that everything was passed through his then-boyfriend and campaign manager Stephen Parkinson, who is now Theresa May’s political secretary, and that they acted illegally. This week, 22 months after the Brexit referendum, Sanni and other two friends reported the allegation to the Electoral Commission.
And the ‘outing’?
The allegations made by Sanni relate at least in part to Stephen Parkinson. Also, Sanni’s allegations are backed by information that can only have come to him through his role as a volunteer outreach assistant, or through having been the boyfriend of campaign manager Stephen Parkinson.
That being so, and quite predictably, Parkinson issued a statement in response, initially on a blog and later distributed by the official No 10 Press office in which he said: “Shahmir became an occasional volunteer for Vote Leave and other Leave campaigns, and we began a personal relationship. We subsequently dated for 18 months, splitting up — I thought amicably — in September 2017.”
“That is the capacity in which I gave Shahmir advice and encouragement, and I can understand if the lines became blurred for him, but I am clear that I did not direct the activities of any separate campaign groups. I had no responsibility for digital campaigning or donations during the referendum, and am confident that Vote Leave acted entirely within the law and strict spending rules at all times.”
Mr Sanni is upset about this because it turns out that he had kept his sexuality secret from his family. In a statement, Mr Sanni said: “It’s sad that Stephen feels he can’t tell the truth about cheating in the Referendum. I think he understands why I had to do the right thing and let people know what really happened. But I never imagined that he, with the help of Number 10, would choose to tell the world I am gay, in a last desperate attempt to scare me. This is something I’ve never told most of my friends or family, here or in Pakistan, some of whom are having to take measures to ensure their safety. He knew the danger it would cause, and that’s why he did it.”
In what could be called a display of uncommon support, Prime Minister Theresa May refused to either condemn or sack Mr Parkinson, despite the predictable attempts by the opposition to pressure her into doing so.
Speaking on Monday afternoon, Labour’s Angela Eagle addressed Mrs May, saying: “Given that your political secretary Stephen Parkinson was the person responsible for outing the Vote Leave whistleblower using Number 10 paper and documents, what are you, Prime Minister, going to do? You should sack him.”
Mrs May responded: “No, I’m sorry that’s not what I should be doing. My political secretary does a very good job. As I said, any statements that have been made were personal statements.”
But why the smile?
We all know what ex-lovers are capable of doing or saying, and it is always possible that I’m wrong, but this story comes across to me as a spat between an ex-lover and someone in a job that a couple of well-placed allegations could see him sacked from.
Unfortunately, Mr Sanni appears to have been so wrapped up in his own ideas of what was right and wrong that he didn’t stop to think what the inevitable consequences of his actions would be.
In any case, 22 months after the referendum and less than 6 months after splitting up with Mr Parkinson, Mr Sanni decided to reach for his whistle. Mr Parkinson, in response to allegations of illegal behaviour, was more or less obliged to explain his relationship with Mr Sanni – had he lied and said ‘he was a friend’ or ‘he was a work colleague’ he would have laid himself open to blackmail or been sacked for dishonesty when the truth came out.
Mr Sanni’s ‘outing’ was both totally correct and absolutely inevitable in the circumstances.
Let’s be honest; had Mr Sanni been a woman, nobody would have batted an eyelid at Mr Parkinson’s revelation that they were ex-lovers. The fact that Mr Sanni hadn’t told his friends and family about his sexuality is somewhat regrettable, given the circumstances, but while he is absolutely entitled to privacy, he cannot expect people around him to hide the truth in order to protect his dignity when he starts making allegations of illegal behaviour. His indignation at what was evidently an unexpected consequence is just plain stupid.
But what made me smile was actually my partner’s response when he read the story. He told me something his father had taught him when he was a boy: “He said that if you stand close to a wall and piss on it, you can’t complain if it splashes back on your legs.”
Someone should have told Mr Sanni the same thing.