Honourable members who just can't stop pressing the flesh

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The Independent Online
The disclosure of Maggie's father's groping brings back into the public gaze that well-documented syndrome - Politician's Wandering Hands.

PWH was once so rampant it was taken for granted. The writer AN Wilson recounted last week the experience of an 18-year-old girl who told her mother that Herbert Asquith "had seized her hand under the dinner table and thrust it into his trousers". The mother replied that since he was prime minister, he could do as he liked. "At least he was better than Lord Kitchener," she added, which prompts all manner of speculation.

Veteran MP Brian Sedgemore wrote in his Insider's Guide to Parliament that members and peers are "like most men, ruled by their cocks, not their heads."

At Westminster, sexual harassment by "touching or innuendo" is common, he claimed. "Virginia Bottomley said she only learned what sexual harrassment was when she entered the Commons." Chief victims are secretaries - "who suffer in silence".

Generally speaking, the higher the rank, the more wandering the hand. On a British Airways flight to Paris, Robert Rhodes James, the former Tory MP and political historian, noticed George Brown, the Labour Foreign Secretary, pinch the stewardess's bottom. "That kind of thing would cause an incident today," he muses.

"George was pretty keen on stroking anything."

Politicians inherited a culture of virtual droit de seigneur. Lloyd George's sexual appetite was formidable. He had a long-standing mistress, but anything in skirts was at risk. And Oswald Mosley couldn't keep his hands to himself. "I well remember Lady Roseberry telling me she had a hell of a fight with him," recollects Robert Rhodes James.

Ernest Bevin, Brown's portly predecessor and "friend of the girls", took a strong fancy to Lady Diana Cooper, wife of Duff Cooper, the British Ambassador in Paris. Then there is the case of the senior minister in John Major's government who you wouldn't want your wife or girlfriend to sit anywhere near.

British politicians are not alone in their "affliction". Boris Yeltsin, the Russian president, was photographed goosing a shocked and shaken woman secretary two years ago.

In the USA, Congressional gropers abound. Texas Senator John Tower failed to become Defence Secretary because of his "indiscreet conduct towards women". He was a serial groper, like Senator Bob Packwood of Oregon, who, for 24 years, harrassed women he employed before being brought to book. And in Japan, to be touched "playfully" is considered part of a woman's duty, according to author Lisa Martineau.

The real surprise about Thatcher pere's groping was not that it happened, but that it took so long to come out.