What is it about politicians and their sexual urges? The latest scandal involves a Tory MP allegedly propositioning an intern, but the history of indiscretions goes back a long way, and despite the chance of being caught out now almost a given in our media age, our political class doesn’t seem to be behaving any better.
Rob Roberts, who represents Delyn, Wales, is accused of asking the intern to “fool around” with him. The young woman concerned is reported to have felt “incredibly sick” when she received the emailed invitation. The MP has been referred to parliament’s standards body after opposition MPs demanded an inquiry.
Charlie Elphicke, currently on trial for three counts of sexual assault, is alleged while still an MP to have pursued a woman at this home, chanting “I’m a naughty Tory!” A second woman has now come forward. The former Dover MP, whose seat is now represented by his wife Natalie, denies all charges.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon resigned in 2017, because he said his behaviour towards women had “fallen short” of standards expected in the UK military. He told the BBC: “The culture has changed over the years. What might have been acceptable 10, 15 years ago is clearly not acceptable now.”
The BBC’s take on the 50-year-old Profumo Scandal, The Trial of Christine Keeler, had us gripped earlier this year; some viewers were even reported to be “slightly shocked” by the sex and nudity on show. The scandal of the minister, the Russian envoy and the call girl is credited with finally sinking Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government.
John Major’s attempts in the 1990s to promote family values – his ‘back to basics’ campaign – was pilloried after a series of libidinous politicians failed to measure up to their prime minister’s elevated moral compass. Among them was a junior transport minister, Steven Norris, who, while separated from his wife, was revealed in 1993 to be conducting simultaneous affairs with three different women. The existence of a further two long-term mistresses was revealed, prompting the headline “Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Minister!”
While Norris survived, it added to public unease with the Major government and he lost the next election. His successor, Tony Blair, became the first prime minister in more than 150 years to father a child in office. History will judge him on many counts, but sexual meandering away from the marital bed was never one of his faults.
To be fair, it is not just the Conservatives who, to quote Shakespeare’s Othello, “have loved not wisely but too well”. There have been Labour and Lib Dem politicians too who have famously strayed. But the Conservatives certainly outperform the rest.
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A recent Guardian article argued, in reference to the Ghislaine Maxwell case, that it’s time to do away with super elites and their licence to misbehave with impunity. But how do you tame our political class? MPs share some of the same power and privileges of the super-rich, and their sense of entitlement, but of course we freely elect them.
Members of Parliament also (well, most of them) work incredibly long hours away from home. This absorption in public affairs may result in our politicians sometimes forgetting their position in the public spotlight – and how vulnerable they are to their own affairs being exposed. Or maybe they interpret the trust they think they have built up with the inappropriate object of their desires as a two-way street.
It’s abusing this trust that often gets them into trouble.
But maybe we shouldn’t be too harsh on our priapic politicians. History shows that our interest in their misdemeanours is short-lived. John Profumo, who resigned as war minister after his dalliance with Christine Keeler, went on to work for a charity in the East End of London and received a CBE in 1975 for services to charity.
Yes, the hurt promiscuous politicians may cause is unforgivable. And there is a serious point: powerful men – and it is always men – should not have free rein to abuse their position to demand sexual favours. But their misadventures provide us with at least some vicarious pleasure.
If we can change our political masters only once every five years (and then get rid of most of them only rarely) we can at least snigger at their peccadilloes: schadenfreude is at once the most unedifying and also among the most satisfying of our baser pleasures.
Some may abhor the prurience of the public spotlight on private lives; others delight in the gossip. Rob Roberts is only the latest of our elected representatives to be in the subject of voyeuristic scrutiny. He won’t be the last.
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