I’m sure our esteemed regular commentator Mudplugger won’t mind me quoting one of his comments on Monday’s post in reference to the current hysteria over David Cameron’s legal tax evasion; he made the point when it came to political scandals that Tory ones traditionally tended to be centred around sex whereas Labour ones usually concerned money. He memorably spoke of ‘some Tory MP caught back-scuttling the mace-bearer’ as a pointer to Westminster morality resuming its proper running order when it seemed as if the latest mini-scandal appeared poised to break the mould. How refreshing, then, that news has emerged of the classic ingredients – Conservative Cabinet Minister/conflict of interests/dominatrix prostitute. Welcome home!
The Minister in question is Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, the man in charge of overseeing changes to press regulation and the latest in a long line of Culture Secretaries to hint at giving the BBC a good kicking while Mr Murdoch rubs his hands together in the backseat. His side of the story is that he, as a single man, met a lady on a dating site and embarked upon a relationship with her, even taking her as his ‘plus one’ to the MTV Europe Awards. The six-month relationship was apparently prematurely curtailed when Mr Whittingdale discovered his dream date actually had a day job as a sex-worker specialising in the oldest British fantasy in the book, regularly utilising her talents at a knocking-shop with a built-in dungeon. Oops!
Mr Whittingdale was involved in this relationship before being appointed to his current post, but as a former occupier of the moral high-ground who grilled Max Mosley over his private life whilst a chief interrogator for a Parliamentary Select Committee, perhaps it’s no great surprise that the incumbent Culture Secretary declined to mention it prior to his appointment. What has leaked out over the past 24 hours, however, is that four separate Fleet Street rags knew of this liaison and, rather remarkably, chose not to spill the beans in their pages. Considering the fact that many tabloid revelations on MP’s private lives have had less dynamite to work with, it seems inexplicable that none of them went for it. But maybe a handy bit of dirt to have on the man entrusted to tackle press invasions of privacy in the immediate aftermath of Leveson was enough to ensure curbs of their freedoms to pry wouldn’t be as severe as the post-hacking fallout had suggested.
Another recent post on here dealt with the super-injunction taken out to prevent British media outlets naming an A-list celebrity allegedly involved in a threesome; we all know who the mystery man is, but Fleet Street can’t point the finger at good old Reg, throwing their toys out of their prams all week because the law won’t let them. Yet, they’ve mysteriously sat on a far more interesting story for months, one that there were no legal restrictions on them reporting as they all, to a man, decided the sex life of the Minister in whose hands their future right to rummage through the bins of the great and the good rests was not in the public interest. Now, there’s a surprise.
From Profumo through to Lord Lambton, onto Stephen Milligan and the whole ‘sleaze’ affair of the mid-90s, few extracurricular political activities have had the press frothing at the mouth more than a good old Tory sex scandal; MPs with their hands in the till never attract the same level of excitement as MPs with their trousers down, and one would imagine John Whittingdale’s confessions of a relationship with a lady of the night – even if he was ignorant of her occupation – should have provided Fleet Street with the kind of sensational headlines they’ve made their speciality for decades. That they unusually eschewed their penchant for printing this sort of story undoubtedly emits an odour bearing the distinctive scent of an aquatic animal.
Granted, the components of this story are hardly original; indeed, were they the basis of a novel, it would be castigated as incredibly clichéd and placed on the charity shop bookshelf alongside the collected works of Edwina Currie. What consenting adults – even holier-than-thou Honourable Members – get up to in their private lives is entirely up to them. But it’s not so much what Whittingdale apparently did between the sheets that is of interest here; it’s more how knowledge of his dalliance has been suppressed by those who stand to lose if the Culture Secretary takes the hardline approach to press regulation recommended by Leveson.
Now the story – or at least Whittingdale’s side of it – has belatedly entered the public arena, the threatening advantage Fleet Street could have had over him is no longer there; but the uncharacteristic suppression of a scandal tailor-made for the tabloids raises many questions as to Whittingdale’s potential impartiality and independence were it to have remained a secret. He may not have been a naughty boy by the standards of contemporary mores, but his judgement on the press could certainly have been compromised if he himself viewed his assignations as something to be ashamed of.
© The Editor