2007 - 2020

Sleazy Does It

From Jeffrey Archer and Monica Coghlan (1986), and his subsequent conviction for perjury (2001) through to David Mellor’s resignation after press disclosure of his affair with Antonia de Sancha and on to the Cash-for-questions affair with Neil Hamilton and Mohamed Al-Fayed (1994), then on again to Jonathan Aitken and his conviction for perjury after his failed libel action against The Guardian, the Tories seem to be immersed in sleaze forever.

That image of David Mellor in a Chelsea strip is seared on my mind.

Aitken and Archer ended up in Belmarsh but far too many escaped any sort of justice.

Far from fulfilling his promise to “cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism”, Aitken’s libel action succeeded only in destroying almost every aspect of his life. At the time we heard that debt collectors took his Rolex watch and cufflinks, among other possessions from his house in an effort to recoup his outstanding £2m legal costs. “Loadsamoney” and Page 3 were everywhere.

All of it feels like a bad hangover from the 1980s when the News of the World still existed as something before it became so shameful that it reached even James Murdoch’s conscience, and Tory prurience and sexual hypocrisy were at their peak.

If the seemingly endless parade of Tory sleaze over the decades has seemed wearily familiar this week feels different.

From Weinstein to Terry Richardson from Kevin Spacey to #MeToo to the cascade of allegations around Westminster and Holyrood it feels like the dam has busted.

Two key things make this moment feel different.

One is the sizeable momentum of the feminist movement and the demographics behind it. The bizarre interventions of Edwina Currie, Nadine Dorries, the mutilated Anne Robinson and Kaye Adams plumbing new depths of offensively inane broadcasting (“What EXACTLY is sexual harassment, do we even know?”) only added to the affect of a generational gulf in expectations and aspiration. Sexual shame doesn’t have the power it once did and so we’re left with power and exploitation.

The second is the damaged and fragile Prime Ministership of Theresa May and her weak and widely derided party. When May rose to respond to Lisa Nandy revelation that she had asked Theresa May on three separate occasions to look into sexual abuse allegations in Parliament at #PMQs today, the Prime Minister looked visibly shaken.

This is a societal problem and therefore a cross party problem. But it’s the Tories who are rocking.

The feeling of not just a government but an old order on the edge of there precipice is palpable. As writer Henry Porter today noted: “It’s about to move. Gov has run out of steam. Brexiteers have nothing but a suicide pill to offer. Prices and NHS crisis will begin to tell.”

Today Stuart Cullen has been suspended by the Scottish Conservatives pending an investigation.

In an interesting intervention Michael Fabricant, the Tory MP for Lichfield, today suggested that politicians who are drunk should not be accused of committing serious sexual assaults such as rape. Speaking to BBC Newsnight, Fabricant said that people who commit acts of sexual assault should be considered ‘blameless’ if ‘everyone was sloshed at the time’.

Fabricant – you might remember – recently threatened to punch the writer Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the throat, then argued he’d been tragically misunderstood.

Backlash is inevitable.

As Kirsty Strickland has suggested:

“It feels like we are heading towards a tipping point in tackling misogyny, but we should be mindful of what could follow. The word that keeps being used is ‘power’. An imbalance of power – and the exploitation of it – is a real issue. But those that are being called out and exposed still have power. And often when women express concerns about it, they feel its full force.” She recounts the experience of how she called for a BBC presenter to be sacked, after he made comments on his radio show about how rape victims should ”keep their knickers on” and ”if you yank the dog’s tail don’t be surprised if it turns round and bites you” in response to the Ched Evans case.

She was threatened by him that she needed to get a lawyer and that the BBC had been monitoring her petition, and that it constituted harassment which had incited violence against him. He suggested that she get a lawyer, and there would be a meeting within the BBC to decide whether to make a complaint to “Strathclyde Police”.  Her point is “women that come forward will undoubtedly be dismissed, discredited, and worried about consequences. And that’s what we need to tackle.”

Naomi Wolfe called it the moment a “rend in the fabric of the patriarchy”.

But if people like Michael White still exist the rend will be patched up.

White, the former political editor of the Guardian, faces calls to apologise after saying on BBC Radio 4′s Media Show:

“The power doesn’t all lie on one side. Clever, attractive young women looking for stories, they can play the power game to poor old ugly backbenchers.”

When asked if he meant that the female journalists were therefore to blame, he added:

“I didn’t say [it was their] fault, I said they were the predators – of course.”

This is such offensive shit but that it comes from the former political editor of the Guardian shows that  the issue is generational, institutional and structural.

It’s about male behaviour and about power and will only be challenged when men change and demand wider and deeper change with it.

Now can someone get me some eye-bleach for that Mellor image?

Comments (12)

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  1. Ian says:

    “It’s about male behaviour and about power and will only be challenged when men change and demand wider and deeper change with it.

    Like you, I welcome with delight this wonderful maelstrom of outrage with intent against predators and sexual violence. I completely agree that the vast majority of perpetrators are male.

    I also remember the girlfriend of my school’s toughest hard man who regularly used to grab my balls on the way out of higher maths and ask me in a loud voice if I had enjoyed it. I survived and forgot about this for decades. I don’t offer this as being in any way comparable to what others have suffered – because it isn’t. But please can we remain open in our language to the possibility that this is about the abuse of power and sometimes, even if it is only very occasionally, it is not always a male who is the perpetrator.

  2. SleepingDog says:

    My understanding is that the British intelligence services traditionally monitor the private lives of officials and office-holders including their sexual behaviour and vices. Supposedly this was mainly to identify blackmail risks. So if they’ve done their job right, this behaviour should have made it to official records and reports, some of which would be summaries not suppressable by recourse to the Data Protection Act.

    So where are these reports? An analysis of such secret papers might yield a lot more insight into the culture than Parliamentary statements, and is surely in the public interest. Of course, an MP might use Parliamentary privilege to read one out in the House during a relevant debate, which would then be recorded by Hansard and enter the public domain.

  3. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    You refer to Jonathan Aitken and, when he was sent down, I felt a frisson of happiness. However, some years later, after he was released from prison, he addressed the Glasgow Philosophical Society. Clearly, prison had been a salutary experience and he seemed, sincerely, to have undergone a Road to Damascus conversion. He spoke frankly, with dignity, acknowledging his appalling conduct and arrogance. He had become prison reformer and made a very powerful case against the incarceration of so many. He seemed to me to be someone who demonstrated that there is redemption (I am not a religious person). I mean, learn the error of one’s ways, atone for it and do the right thing.

    I hope that many of us can look back at things we have done in our lives and admit to ourselves that we have done bad things, and, where possible apologies to those whom we wronged. As an adult, I have not committed any crimes against another person, nor have I attempted any physical intrusion of their persons. However, I recognise that there have been occasions when I have spoken unpleasantly and, in the course of what I thought was ‘banter’ or ‘badinage’ or ‘joshing’, that I was causing embarrassment, hurt, insult. I realise that these things were ‘unwanted’ by the persons to whom they were directed and, therefore, ‘harassment’. I did not intend that, or, perhaps, I deluded myself into thinking that I did not – maybe Freud’s explanation is the right one.

    If the current exposures and debate about sexual harassment leads to an atmosphere where people who feel harassed are unafraid about complaining, if those of us, particularly men, are more aware of the effect we have on others, then there is a chance things will be lastingly better.

    Serious crimes and misdemeanours have to be dealt with by the law, but, for the majority of us, we have to use the opportunity to redeem ourselves.

    I hope this is not interpreted as ‘being sanctimonious’, but I accept that it might be. Writing this has been, to an extent, cathartic.

    1. Thanks Alasdair, really interesting

    2. Jim Bennett says:

      Good insights, Alasdair. Thank you.

  4. Graham King says:

    The Cleansing of the Augean Stables: a Herculaean task.

    1. John S Warren says:

      It appears that Ruth Davidson may now have us believe that she is Hercules. Before she adopts the persona as exclusively her own however, I am trying to remember which Herculean labours she has actually, ever completed?

      1. Graeme Purves says:

        Perhaps the sowing of dragons’ teeth is a task better suited to her talents?

  5. Richard MacKinnon says:

    Mike,
    Im back. Have you missed me? Truth is I have never been away. I just stopped commenting as you asked. But when I read this I couldnt let it go without a quick thank you. You know you never cease to amaze me with you insight. Needless to say my gob is suitably smacked once again.
    Only you Mike.
    The question is why? OK I never saw it myself, but it is so obvious once you point it out. You must have an answer or at least a plausible theory or two to the qustion this article raises. Why? Why is it Mike, that all sexual predators are unionists? Why are there no nationalist perverts?
    Now you have got me thinking, I will tell you my theory, but first of all I want to hear your wise opinion.

  6. Mach1 says:

    The comment about Aitken’s road to Damascus was unfortunate. St Paul was the zealot who found Christ on the road to Damascus.. yes, Paul the woman hater, as he is often referred to, eulogised the status of women as chattel. Perhaps this is the crux of the matter. The proper response to sexual harassment should be to encourage and facilitate those affected to take centre-stage in this debate. No organisation should be above reproach. But is the media really in a position to cast the first stone at anyone?

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      Mach1, I acknowledge the unfortunate connotations regarding St Paul. Sometimes, in responding to blogs, I give insufficient care to such choices. However, I think that Jonathan Aitken is an example of redemption and I think it is something to be encouraged.

      I agree with your point that we need to facilitate those who have complaints to be able to do so. In order to create the correct ethos I think many men have to examine how we speak about aspects, including the use of ‘banter’

  7. IDL says:

    The Jonathon Aitken redemption: I, being eternally sceptical, wonder if a redemption is just the last throw of the dice for a chastened scoundrel. Is there anything else for him to do except to ‘learn his lesson’.
    I have no doubt he is a charming man with a winning way.

    With regards to the matter of abusuve behaviour I also wonder if that painful old saying may apply. Be careful what you wish for.
    I wonder what effect the tightening up of the interactions between men and women will have. I predict ‘unexpected’ ones. These may be welcome, or even unwelcome.

    Progress is never linear, and change is not always progressive, although so many assume it is as it appears to relate to our raised consciousness.

    The problem is that the conditions pertaining to the complexity of human sexual relations have a complex aetiology. That complexity will not be dissolved by what we are seeing at the moment. Weinstein will be a chancer next week and next month. Unless of course he embraces his redemption.

    The problem is that ‘unsuccessful’ sexual risk taking (which is what we are essentially talking about (if we discount actual criminality) ), is neither confined to men, nor is it made to go away by social disapproval, or a re-drawing of conventional etiquette. (If only it was so simple).

    I have had many a irked moment when reading Michael White but the comment here:

    “This is such offensive shit but that it comes from the former political editor of the Guardian shows that the issue is generational, institutional and structural”

    simply does not hold up to much scrutiny.

    The idea that women are guileless, and without instrumentality in their own outcomes, and endlessly victimised, is much more insulting than much of what is now being highlighted.

    In a sense, I agree with this bit- that the problem is ‘ generational, institutional and structural’
    but such pre-conditions of discrimination and prejudice will not be fixed by tinkering with etiquette, and barbed articles in the Guardian by its defenders of women, or by the haughty offence of Andrea Leadsom to Michael Fallon’s , admittedly vacuous and probably trivial, comment about warming her cold hands, and his subsequent resignation(no sympathy for Fallon implied). The idea that Leadsom is not playing politics is risible.

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