The Aitken affair: Glittering prizes out of grasp

The wilderness years

JONATHAN AITKEN had the good looks, the family connections and the intellect to take the highest prizes that the Conservative Party could offer, but the glittering career was flawed.

Some of his friends said his determination to make his own way without the Beaverbrook millions led him into the Arab business dealings which were to prove his downfall.

His first big money-spinning venture was with the company Slater Walker (Middle East) Ltd, and there also were banking connections with the Middle East.

Although he won his Thanet seat in 1974, he languished on the backbenches for 18 years. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was implacably opposed to making the Tory young turk one of her ministers throughout her 11 years in office.

He was a patrician Tory, and a member of the "blue chip" set, whom she gradually weeded out of her government.

Having been regarded as the Commons pin-up for two decades, Mr Aitken, a Eurosceptic, joined forces with another troublesome thorn in Thatcher's side, Sir Teddy Taylor, who acted like her conscience on Europe from the backbenches.

Together Aitken and Sir Teddy formed a two-man ginger group to oppose the perceived slide towards Europe, leaving Aitken oddly forgotten on the fringes of the Tory Party in the Commons.

It was not until two years after Mrs Thatcher's resignation in 1992, that he was plucked from the backbenches and appointed a minister by John Major.

Why did the then prime minister lift Aitken into his government? He was appointed - from the relative obscurity of the backbenches - the Minister for Defence Procurement, and put in charge of the arms deals worth billions of pounds to Britain.

This was a mystery to many colleagues.

Some ministers privately claimed the Arab princes in Saudi Arabia had made it clear to Downing Street they would prefer not deal with Malcolm Rifkind, the then defence secretary, a Jew, in the sale of Tornado jet fighters to their country.

Aitken, who had impeccable Arab contacts, was the obvious choice to sell arms in the Middle East.

It was the job that led to his downfall.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk