Role reversal for MP in `Sun' sex storm

Journalism provided first foot on career ladder for ministerial aide
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The Conservative MP Piers Merchant will not have been surprised by the force of the media tempest that blew into the front garden of his Beckenham home last night after the Sun's allegations that he has had an adulterous affair. Before he embarked on a career as an MP, he was a journalist.

He joined The Journal newspaper in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1973, becoming chief reporter in 1978 and news editor in 1980.

Last night, however, he found himself making news in a different capacity, announcing outside his mock-Tudor house that he "may make a statement tomorrow" on the revelations.

Mr Merchant began his political career in 1983 when he became Conservative MP for Newcastle Central, a seat he lost in the 1987 election, but not before he had undertaken a controversial "life on the dole" house swap. He spent a well-publicised week living with his wife (an accountant) and family in a two-bedroom council flat in the Scotswood area of Newcastle, experiencing life on pounds 60.80 supplementary benefit.

In 1992, he successfully applied to become the Conservative candidate for Beckenham in Kent, going on to win the seat in the election of that year with a 15,285 majority over Labour.

He climbed the first rung on the ladder to a future ministerial career when he was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to Peter Lilley, the Social Security Secretary, in June 1992. He has served on the International Parliamentary Group on Human Rights as well as acting as vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Aids.

Mr Merchant got a taste for politics at Durham University where he was a committed student activist and the treasurer and then chairman of the Durham University Conservative Association between 1970 and 1973. In 1975, he was elected as a Fellow of University College, Durham. He married Helen Burrluck in 1977. They have two children, aged 12 and five.