Now here is a heart-warming tale of goodwill and political selflessness to start this cold winter day, a story of how a Lib Dem turned away an extraordinary piece of Tory intelligence and helped scupper Gordon Brown’s election plans.
Who is the man of honour in this a place of skulduggery and low politics? Arise Mike Hancock, the maverick Lib Dem MP for Portsmouth South.
Over the years, a lot of Tory documents have gone astray in Hancock’s email account because his address is perilously similar to that of Matt Hancock, George Osborne’s ubiquitous chief of staff. Most of the misdirected mail never amounted to much and Hancock passed it on to to its rightful recipient.
But then, in the autumn of 2007, against the drumbeat of a calls for a snap election, a CCHQ staffer sent Mike Hancock one of the Tory policy crown jewels: the plan to lift the bar on inheritance tax. It was days before the Tory party conference. Leaking it would have stolen Osborne’s thunder and tilted the scales in favour of an early election the Tories were desperate to avoid.
What did he do with the Tory state secret? He sent it back. The email said “I think this is yours”, or some such. The Osborne policy was unveiled without a blip.
The Tories always presumed Mike Hancock never realised he had political gold in his inbox. But when I called Hancock to ask about this stunning tale, he was happy to admit he knew the value of the email — he just didn’t want to use it.
“I did only what I expect others to do to me,” he told me, as the sweet strings of a harp struck up in the background. “It was private. I didn’t keep it. Mistakes are easily made.” He insisted I report that I heard about this through some Tory sources, just in case people thought he was “crowing about it”.
Did he let his leader know? “I never told anyone. My office knew. But everyone was rather surprised that I returned it.” They are not the only ones.