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.”
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?