The memo would not have come to light had it not been for Neil Hamilton's ill-fated libel action against the Guardian for alleging that he had taken cash to ask questions on behalf of Mohamed al-Fayed, owner of Harrods. It was only when the case collapsed that the memo was leaked to the press and subsequently sent to the Speaker.
Mr Willetts is famously clever, his large pate having earned him the epithet of "two brains" but he is not necessarily very smart. Indeed, a smarter fellow might not have put down in a memo the result of the conversation with Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, chairman of the Commons committee investigating the Hamilton affair. Certainly, Mr Willetts was over eager to please the senior whips by showing his diligence.
He had only arrived in Parliament as MP for the safe seat of Havant in 1992 and was made a whip in the July 1994 reshuffle. Mr Willetts is not the sort of chap who should be made a whip. He is likeable and has none of the required bully-boy characteristics.
After a couple of years, he was moved to the Treasury as Paymaster General, where he would have served in relative obscurity had it not been for that fateful memo.
Mr Willetts came to Parliament as one of the Tories' best original thinkers from a career in think-tanks. Born 40 years ago in Moseley, Birmingham, he spent five years as director of studies at the Centre for Policy Studies and was in Mrs Thatcher's policy unit from 1984 to 1986.
His reputation for cleverness did not help at the committee hearing. His erudite hair-splitting did not endear him to the members. The report makes clear he would have been better off coming clean, rather than trying to box clever. That was his worst act of stupidity.Reuse content