Whilst that odious Jabba Tom Watson weeps crocodile tears over the suicide of Carl Sargeant, seemingly oblivious to the blood on his own hands, the excuse for an administration perched on the opposing benches could have done without what passes for a ‘sex scandal’ in 2017, certainly on top of everything else. But whilst rolling news channels prefer the ridiculous spectacle of helicopters trailing a returning member of the Cabinet en route from Heathrow to No.10 as though she was OJ Simpson being chased by the LAPD, there’s nothing the tabloid end of Fleet Street loves more than what happens, as Peter Wyngarde once said, ‘when sex leers its inquisitive head’. Parallels with John Major’s similarly shambolic Cabinet have come thicker and faster in recent weeks, though it’s no great surprise. One has to go back 25 years to find the nearest comparison of a governing party so viciously divided over Europe and simultaneously saddled with wandering hands.
When the disaster of Black Wednesday hit and Britain was forced to leave the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, a move that cost the Treasury £3.3 billion as desperate attempts to defend sterling’s value proved futile, the same week saw the resignation of high-profile Major Minister David Mellor, following a proper sex scandal. The fact Major dithered over replacing Norman Lamont, his Chancellor during Black Wednesday also suggested the PM was weak and indecisive; even though the economy was slowly improving and unemployment was beginning to fall, confidence in the nation’s leader had plummeted. The inauguration of Back to Basics, unveiled at the 1993 Conservative Party Conference, was seen by many as an attempt by Major to salvage his dwindling reputation and appeal to the right-wing tabloids that had begun to waver in their support.
In retrospect, Back to Basics can be held responsible for the public perception of the Tories as the ‘nasty party’ as much as any of the divisive policies pursued by Mrs Thatcher in the 1980s. Hallmarks of Tory policy that have continued into this century via the likes of IDS were key to this horrible, desperate gamble by Major, singling out a small section of society as the cause of society’s ills, safe in the knowledge that this small section were powerless to fight back.
Along with single mothers, there were criticisms of soft sentencing on the part of the justice system, painting a picture of Britain’s inner cities as lawless hotbeds of unchecked criminality; illegal raves were also held up as a further example of the country’s lapse into immoral anarchy. The blame game is always a sure sign that an administration has run out of ideas, and whilst Major’s accusations chimed with editorials in some of Fleet Street’s more reactionary publications, the vast majority of the press and public found the whole Back to Basics project utterly ludicrous. And, as luck would have it, within a few months of Back to Basics being unveiled, a steady stream of scandals emanating from the Tory party undermined Major’s credibility and highlighted the hypocrisy at the heart of this most ill-advised of political projects.
In 1990, Tory MP Tim Yeo had made a speech in which he declared – ‘It is in everyone’s interest to reduce broken families and the numbers of single parents. I have seen from my own constituency the consequences of marital breakdown’. Just three months after the launch of Back to Basics, the man John Major had appointed Minister for the Environment and Countryside was forced to resign when the press revealed Yeo had fathered a ‘love child’ with a Tory councillor. The same month as Tim Yeo quit the Cabinet, John Major’s Government also lost its leading Peer when the Earl of Caithness resigned following the suicide of his wife, who had shot herself upon discovering her husband’s affair with another woman. The following month, Stephen Milligan – MP for Eastleigh, a former journalist and ‘rising star’ of the Tory Party – was found dead in his flat from apparent autoerotic asphyxiation, strangled by an electrical cord with an orange stuffed in his mouth; elements of cross-dressing and self-bondage made this bizarre, lurid tragedy a gift for the more sensationalist corners of Fleet Street. It also triggered a by-election that was won by the Liberal Democrats, dealing a further humiliating blow to John Major’s shaky administration.
But these weren’t the only scandals to affect the Conservatives in the middle of the 90s. There was also was the Cash-for-questions affair, involving ‘The Egyptian Grocer’ and Neil Hamilton – Minister for Deregulation and Corporate Affairs, no less – not to mention the dramatic downfall of Jonathan Aitken, Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Aitken’s libel proceedings against allegations by both the Guardian and ITV’s ‘World in Action’ dragged on for two years, but resulted in him being charged with perjury and perverting the course of justice and receiving a sentence of eighteen months behind bars. His cell wouldn’t be vacant for long, however.
Jeffrey Archer, one of the most public advocates of Back to Basics, was brought back into the Tory frontline by John Major, who elevated him to the peerage. Archer had evaded prosecution over the Anglia Television ‘shares affair’ in 1994, but when he was selected as Tory candidate for the London Mayoral Election five years later, Rupert Murdoch’s newfound love-in with Labour saw the News of the World dredge up Archer’s 1987 libel case against the Daily Star, when he had been found not guilty of paying a prostitute for her services, and was awarded £50,000 in damages. The new allegations that emerged in 1999 presented strong evidence that Archer had committed perjury during the 1987 libel trial by fabricating an alibi. The Tory Party immediately dropped him as their Mayoral candidate and expelled him from the party for five years. Archer was charged with perjury and perverting the course of justice in September 2000 and when the case came to trial in the summer of 2001, Archer was found guilty of the offence and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment, of which he served half.
Even though there was a gap of four years between Major’s Government being thrown out of office and Jeffrey Archer’s imprisonment, the fact that notable players in that administration were still being subjected to the long arm of the law underlined how the malodorous odour of corruption and sleaze continued to hover around the Tory Party like the scent of unwashed feet on a Twister mat. When former gaffe-prone Major Minister Edwina Currie later revealed she and Major were engaged in a four-year affair during the 1980s, it was the belated icing on an especially unappetising cake. As things currently stand, Theresa May has yet to bake an equivalent confection; but the stench emanating from the Downing Street kitchen is beginning to linger.
© The Editor
10 thoughts on “NICE ‘N’ SLEAZY”
The pace of life was so much slower in those far-off days of yore, it took 18 years in power for the stench of sleeze to build to its malodorous Major crescendo – even allowing for the Con/Lib-Dem Coalition period, this time it’s filling the nostrils after only seven. Progress eh?
It’s not yet at the same level for May, but it’s not yet finished: another scalp or two could easily bring the roof down on the vicar’s daughter.
And the “scent of unwashed feet on a Twister mat” is nothing special – well, not if you’ve ever played naked Twister, that is. Happy days.
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Re your last sentence – er…I shan’t pursue it…
All I’d say is it’s rather like visiting an area where you used to live – you spend a lot of time looking up old friends.
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“The same month as Tim Yeo quit the Cabinet, John Major’s Government also lost its leading Peer when the Earl of Caithness resigned following the suicide of his wife, who had shot herself upon discovering her husband’s affair with another woman. The following month, Stephen Milligan – MP for Eastleigh, a former journalist and ‘rising star’ of the Tory Party – was found dead in his flat from apparent autoerotic asphyxiation, strangled by an electrical cord with an orange stuffed in his mouth; elements of cross-dressing and self-bondage made this bizarre, lurid tragedy a gift for the more sensationalist corners of Fleet Street. It also triggered a by-election that was won by the Liberal Democrats, dealing a further humiliating blow to John Major’s shaky administration.”
There was also the odd occasion when the DPP was found by police having an unscheduled lie-down in the street after imbibing one two many at a reception hosted by the Irish Ambassador.
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Sounds similar to the story, which may be apocryphal, of Boris Yeltsin being ‘retrieved’ when discovered wandering down Pennsylvania Avenue in his undies, somewhat merry.
This is the incident I was thinking of:
Sadly his wife, as with the Earl of Caithness’s wife, killed herself shortly after.
^ I seem to have misremembered or else I am confusing two different incidents. I have a recollection that at some point in the early 1990s a public figure was found by police taking an unscheduled lie-down after over-imbibing at a reception hosted by the Irish Ambassador in London.
Another unscheduled departure from public office during the Major years was that of Peter Brooke. Brooke was Northern Ireland secretary during the early years of the peace process. In January 1992, Brooke appeared as a guest on the Late Late Show which back then was a genuinely live broadcast (not sure if it still is). Host Gay Byrne coached him into a rendition of ‘My Darling Clementine’. All very jolly and whimsical. Unfortunately it didn’t occur to either of them that was not a very sensitive thing to do the day after a terrorist massacre. Brooke was dropped from Cabinet a few months later after the surprise Tory victory in the 1992 General Election.
Byrne continued as host of the Late Late Show up until 1998, and still pops up in the Irish meeja now and again. He needs the money having been defrauded by an accountant named Russell Murphy in the early part of his career, and later making unsuccessful investments. Murphy’s grandson is the current Irish Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government- which reminds me of one of my favorite themes, how small Ireland is.
Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government
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Yes, I remember the Peter Brooke incident on Irish TV. There was a period in the late 80s when Channel 4 used to screen the previous weekend’s ‘Late Late Show’ on an afternoon. Glad to hear Gay Byrne is still with us. I remember seeing a memorable interview he once did with RD Laing, when Laing was a little the worse for a pre-show tipple.
Yes the RD Laing episode is on YouTube, but I couldn’t find the interview with Brooke.
This is from more recent years (2002 I think) the Pat Kenny Late Late Show era:
The four parts are worth a watch if you’ve time. Fintan O’Toole vs the republican ballad group The Wolfe Tones (and their fine collection of moustaches 🙂 ).
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If you read the novels of (for example) Anthony Powell or even C. P. Snow, you will see that wife-swapping / divorce / “swinging” (as we would now call it) was by no means unusual among the upper classes of the early to mid twentieth century – it was just what people at that level did. It only became a problem when the likes of J. Major thought that the values of his class (the lower middle class suburban values) applied to all levels of society.
I think that the French are more realistic about these matters than the Anglo-Saxons and Celts.
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