I've turned away broadcasters wanting to interview me about David Chaytor tonight, and I wouldn't be writing this if I weren't flying out of the country  tomorrow for two weeks, so that no one will be able to ask me any follow-up questions.

I like David Chaytor. I did not recognise the old, ill, white-haired, haunted man whose gaunt, terrified face stared out of tonight's papers.  I have happy memories of a tall, erect, dapper, kind and occasionally rather amusing man, and of an intelligent and able politician, who knew, understood and cared about the environment and education; a politician of some integrity, held back by his independence of mind - if he'd been more willing to toe the Blair line, he'd have been in government.

 I'm sure his lawyer was right to describe him as a broken man. I saw the start of the decay. It began fast - probably at that dreadful moment in New York when he took a telephone call that effectively told him he'd been found out.  I met him a few weeks later. The ease and the poise had gone completely.  Every syllable shrieked tension and a growing sense of doom.  His judgement, always rather steady, had deserted him - I think he really thought it was all a Tory plot to harm Labour in the runup to the election.  He knew he was finished, though.

I emailed to tell him I was sorry he was ceasing to be an MP, and he could be proud of some of the things he'd done.  I meant it. 

David cheated the public purse of £18,000. It was very wrong, and he'll pay dearly for it.  Maybe18 months in prison is too harsh, a kneejerk response to public indignation and media sanctimoniousness, but no one can call it a miscarriage of justice. 

But it's not his crime which has created our desperate financial plight.  His crime is being used cynically to distract attention from the swindlers who really matter - the men in bankiing and finance whose greed has made us all poor.

I suspect one of the many things he'll torture himself about for the rest of his life is what a small sum of money he destroyed himself for. Bankers, financiers, Tony Blair, none of them would cross the road for £18,000. The people who ruined the country, and the man who arranged for some of its young men to die in an illegal and unwinnable war, will enjoy all their lives the fruits of their greed.

David Chaytor, I think, may never enjoy anything any more.  I know I am not the only old chum who has declined to talk about him tonight, and I am sure we are doing so partly to protect the causes for which we campaigned alongside him.  Maybe he deserved his fate.  But there are many people who deserve it far more, and who won't suffer it. If he fancies a pint when he comes out, the first round's on me.