Chris Sheil has brought us a marvellous story – you read it first in the Australian blogosphere (unless you’re a Guardian subscriber, of course). The Tory Shadow Minister for the Arts, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, also editor of The Spectator, has had to resign after lying to his leader, Michael Howard, about his extra-marital affair with Petronella Wyatt, a Spectator columnist. His initial denial of the affair as “an inverted pyramid of piffle” was fatally controverted by Petronella’s mother, Lady Wyatt’s response to a journalist’s question as to whether her daughter was having an affair with Mr A. B. De Pf. J., MP – “Not anymore.” Go immediately to Chris’ place to read his inimitable take on all the juicy gossip.
As a long time fan of the movie Scandal, I’m of course appropriately titillated by the shocking revelations in the heart of the Tory establishment.
However, a serious point arises – as Chris notes, the UK Opposition Leader fired Mr A. B. de Pf. Johnson, MP not for his carnal sins (it looks like the Catholic proprietors of The Spectator will pre-empt God’s judgement there) but rather for not telling the truth. Which in itself is rather reassuring – it’s a long time in this particular outpost of Westminster democracy since lying has been a sackable offence for frontbenchers.
Are there antipodean echoes of the strange affair of Mr de Pfeffel Johnson, Ms Wyatt and the question of political accountability?
THIS JUST IN: From the SMH: Today, newspapers jumped on the latest gaffe from “Bumbling Boris” when he was pictured wearing flowery patterned shorts and a skull-and-crossbones bandana outside his home.
One of the few casualties of the recent Australian election on the Coalition side was the former member for Parramatta, Ross Cameron, who combined a public confession of an affair with an “exotic solicitor” (whatever that may mean), with a practice of sending out Christmas cards with pictures of his smiling family and appropriate Biblical verses. I’d be inclined to agree with Michael Howard that MPs’ private lives are their own business, but perhaps Mr Cameron’s loud trumpetting of his “family values” and “Bible-believing Christian” credentials contributed to the willingness of the media to run with the story. He was probably also unwise not to enquire of the “exotic solicitor”‘s flatmate what her occupation was – she turned out to be a member of the Canberra Press Gallery – hence his pre-emptive confession.
Despite the inherent and undeniable delights of the story Chris blogged about, on reflection, it might also be worth pondering whether this sort of story has any implications in Howardian “Family First” Australia.
UK politics has always been marked by (often very kinky and entertaining) sex scandals, but the public/private line has mostly remained intact. Even John Profumo was not sacked for his affair with Christine Keeler, but rather because of connections to a shady character from the USSR Embassy which this liaison entangled him in. In the current climate of blurring the political and the religious, and the profile given to “family values” pre- and post- election in this country, how far do the Liberals and Nationals want to push this line – could there be a worry that the media might do a “Cameron” and investigate the private lives of the public upholders of morality?
Or, as I would argue, are we all better off with our private lives kept private and public judgements of accountability being made on public criteria? Oh, and with the Government staying out of the business of laying down the law about how we make private decisions? As another notable Briton, the late film director Derek Jarman, suggested in his film Edward II, shouldn’t politicians “get their laws off our bodies”?