They say power corrupts, but could it really be our quaint seaside town?
Westminster was rocked recently by news of an outside influence burrowing its way through the dusty hallways and offices of the epicentre of British power. It’s target: mild-mannered Labour MP Barry Gardiner.
Whilst the commentariat baulked at the large amounts of money that the Chinese Communist Party was funnelling towards the MP for Brent North, The Saint strode in a different direction entirely. Any profile worth its salt proclaims Mr Gardiner as an alumnus of our very own University of St Andrews, prompting a very low-key investigation into the extent of the University’s infiltration of the upper political echelons.
The search was exhaustive but not extensive, and began with Mr Gardiner. He read Moral Philosophy here from 1981 to 1983, finishing (as his LinkedIn profile is keen to note) top in the year. For this he received the Sir Henry Jones Memorial Prize.
How efficacious this supposed training in morals was has since been laid bare for all to see. Last week Sir Lindsay Hoyle sent out a warning to the House of Commons via email stating that an Interference Alert had been issued by MI5.
Mr Gardiner had been targeted by the CCP due to his status as an “over-extended mediocrity”. He had not found it prudent to question whether the £427,290 donated to him by Ms Christine Lee might have actually been an attempt by the Chinese government at subterfuge. This despite Ms Lee’s company website stating, quite clearly, that it was “the first and only UK-Chinese law firm to operate in China… ideally placed to serve the needs of UK companies looking to trade in China and Chinese firms looking to invest and develop their businesses in the UK.” Such companies are well-known as being fronts for financial donations that are made covertly to obscure the origins of such payments.
To be fair to Mr Gardiner, he is a very busy man, and such details understandably may have slipped him by. He was in the past reprimanded by the Commissioner for Standards for failing to register the paltry sum of £30,000. “That period was busy,” he said in response, “Two of my staff had been ill and one caseworker had left.”
In future, perhaps Mr Gardiner will return to the subject he studied whilst at St Andrews for appropriate guidance in such matters.
Winning his seat in the same year as Barry Gardiner MP was another St Andrews graduate, though he sits on the other side of the chamber. Sir Desmond Swayne studied Theology here from 1975 to 1978, and claims that a Christian understanding of the world strongly influences his politics.
It surely cannot have had any bearing on Tom Peck, of The Independent’s latest claim that Sir Swayne is “The Stoat” (Stupidest of All Time). This was written in response to Swayne’s claim in Parliament in December that, over the Christmas period, "carnage on the roads" was killing more than Covid, the occasionally deadly disease, was.
Other recent remarks emitted from the Conservative back bench from which Swayne delivers his sermons could, quite potentially, confirm the moniker. During the retreat from Kabul (the 2021 version, not the original of 1842 ‒ though considering Swayne’s Victorian-esque demeanour you’d be forgiven for thinking so) he quite cleverly and wittily pointed out to the House that the retreating Afghans might sooner join the resistance against the Taliban than queue at the airport.
Perhaps such an illustrious career in politics (Sir Swayne was the Personal Private Secretary to David Cameron) could have been predicted early on. He says of his time at St Andrews, when the infamous Enoch Powell was patron of the University Conservative Association, that he “became a convinced free-market conservative, albeit fairly socially conservative.”
What’s more, Swayne found himself, in 1977, on the University Students Representative Council (SRC), whose meetings stretched on into the early hours. So early, in fact, that those students left the meeting only to claim the baker’s warm, first morning bread.
Splitting his time between that very same Committee and intense games of Conspiracy was a name known to every Scot: Alex Salmond.
Name since somewhat tarnished, at St Andrews Mr Salmond made a name for himself ‒ and what more might we expect from an Economics and Mediaeval History major ‒ for being a uniquely talented debater.
A report in The Northern Times states that:
“It would be wrong to suggest that Salmond was puritanical, he enjoyed a joke, although there was usually a political edge to it.
“Yes, well, what I would like to say is...” at this Salmond would swing round and fix the intrepid (hapless?) speaker with a glittering eye, an eye that missed nothing, virtually bored right through you and the bricks of the wall behind you.
"You had to think carefully before you decided to take on this man. His excoriating verbal sallies and ripostes were more than menacing, they could draw real blood. A quick smile and a cheerful word – they both hid a rapier…”
Menacing stuff. Potentially less so, however, than the numerous allegations of sexual assault that have followed Mr Salmond since 2018. He finds himself embroiled in a legal war with his political protegee Nicola Sturgeon, having previously used a crowdfunder to fight the way the Scottish Government handled these claims.
His recent political project has dive-bombed since its inception. The Alba Party was set up as a Nationalist alternative to the SNP, but retains only two seats in Holyrood.
Charles Gilchrist Brodie (endearingly referred to as “Chic” ) is also a St Andrews almnus with a history of political entrepreneurship. He graduated in the same year that England won the World Cup, in 1966, with a degree in Mathematics and Economics.
Eight years later he ran for a relatively local seat, Dundee East, but it wasn’t until 2011 that he was able to enter the Scottish Parliament, after a string of different political parties and second, third and fourth placed finishes.
Mr Brodie’s expenses have come up in the public forum, because alarmingly he retains the proud position as being the largest claimant in the 2013-14 session.
This has not stopped Mr Brodie in his meteoric rise to stardom, however, as he has since gone on to found a political party himself with a devilishly catchy name: Scotia Future.
Like his alma frater’s party it is Nationalist, demanding independence from the UK and the EU.
From the looks of things, campaigning is going well, with most Facebook posts released by the party hitting at most single digits in likes.
One whose political star has risen humbly but successfully is Jamie Stone. He also found himself at St Andrews in 1977, when he graduated having taken History and Geology. Scottish to the core, he made the transition in 2017 into the House of Commons.
Despite the odd hiccup (he unfortunately claimed that the cull of Liberal Democrat MPs in the 2015 General Election left the remaining MPs like “survivors of the Holocaust”, for which he later apologised), Mr Stone retains a very low profile.
Upon further research however, this comes as a surprise, as Mr Stone, the MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, is an unironically self-confessed “thespian”, having been a star of the stage during his time at St Andrews.
He tells a story of his initiation into the world of dramatic arts:
“Someone said to me the other day, wait a minute, if I remember rightly at St Andrews, you were in Endgame. A mate of mine and I were having a pint on a Sunday and we were walking down North Street. There was a sign that said: Auditions Now. We were half cut, so we went in and did the audition for a lark, you know, just two lads and I got a part. And that launched me on the stage at St Andrews University.”
It is heart-warming to learn that pints and panto might constitute a serious route into politics.
Stephen Doughty MP, the Labour Member of Parliament for Cardiff South and Penarth since 2012, is more of an enigma, and seems to have spent less time at St Andrews. My request for information regarding his degree and attendance years was not returned in time to be included in this article, but nevertheless the brevity of his stay here seems to have influenced his politics considerably.
In 2016 Mr Doughty, Shadow Foriegn Minister in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, resigned from the post on grounds of principle, live on the Daily Politics programme. This was in response to the sacking of Pat McFadden over his views on the reasons that terrorists carry out acts of terror, which Mr Doughty shared. Thus demonstrating a sense of principle that today’s inhabitant of Number 10 Downing Street might wish to emulate.