The Cash-for-Questions Affair: Deadly sins dog the Tory party (CORRECTED)

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The Independent Online

JOHN MAJOR's Government has never been far from controversy over the deadly sins of greed and lust.

Protestations of moral and financial probity have been torn apart by revelations of poor judgement and hypocrisy, leaving an underlying feeling of an all-enveloping sleaze. Much of the unhealthy atmosphere is not directly connected to the Government but has occurred as a by-product of earlier legislation. The vast increases in the salaries of the directors of privatised electricity and water companies, for example, are not Mr Major's doing but are bitterly resented by the public.

However, financial irregularities in parts of the health service, the Welsh Development Agency, training and enterprise councils and other quangos have reinforced the bar-room view of politicians on the make.

The questioning of the private morality of public figures has been heightened by Mr Major's ill-fated 'back to basics' crusade and Conservative attacks on single parents.

The value of the word of politicians was weakened by weeks of evidence to the Scott inquiry into the sale of arms to Iraq, which has still to report.

Exposure of the workings of government led to close questioning of senior ministers on apparent contradictions in their evidence. Later, the Pergau dam affair, over a link between arms sales and overseas aid, again raised the conflict between public expectations of moral behaviour and the real world of politics.

Mr Major's difficulties result from the fact that the evidence of sleaze refuses to abate. No sooner had the cases of Graham Riddick, Tory MP for Colne Valley, and David Tredinnick, MP for Bosworth, come before Parliament's Committee of Privileges than further allegations were made about MPs willing to ask questions for cash. Mr Riddick and Mr Tredinnick are being investigated for being willing to accept pounds 1,000 each for tabling parliamentary questions for a Sunday Times reporter posing as a businessman.

At the same time, 61 Labour MPs have signed an early day motion calling for the full disclosure of allegations of insider dealing by Lord Archer. The Tory peer admitted a 'grave error' in his pounds 80,000 share dealing in Anglia Television, where his wife was a director, immediately prior to its pounds 292m takeover by MAI but has denied the transaction was carried out with the benefit of inside information. The affair may in effect have ended any lingering hope Lord Archer may have had of a return to politics.

The start of this year's Tory conference was dominated by newspaper revelations of Mark Thatcher's alleged pounds 12m commission for his role as a middleman in Britain's biggest defence contract, signed by his mother - a pounds 20bn arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

In Westminster, the public hearing into the council's alleged gerrymandering opened this week amid accusations that Dame Shirley Porter's Tory regime corrupted officers and bribed voters.

Such major cases would be serious for any government but they have been mixed with other publicised examples of alleged poor judgement.

Michael Mates resigned as Ulster security minister in June last year over his connections with Asil Nadir, the Polly Peck chief, who has fled to Cyprus. His judgement was questioned when it was disclosed that he had given the businessman a watch inscribed 'Don't let the buggers get you down' while Mr Nadir was under investigation by the Department of Trade and Industry.

Alan Duncan resigned as parliamentary private secretary to Brian Mawhinney, then Health Minister, in January after admitting acquiring a Westminster council house near the Houses of Parliament on behalf of a tenant who was eligible for a pounds 50,000 discount under 'right to buy' legislation. And Gyles Brandreth, MP for Chester, earlier this year denied any wrongdoing in the Government's write-off of a pounds 200,000 debt owed by a company he helped to run.

The comments of Robert Sheldon, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, that there had been too many cases of lowered standards in public life seemed to accord with the evidence presented in the press.

If the public's appetite for examples of questionable financial behaviour has been well fed, the parading of intimate details of personal scandals among Tory politicians would satisfy a glutton.

David Mellor, former Secretary of State for National Heritage, was first to resign after his affair with an actress was paraded in the tabloid press.

However, the damage to the Government was minor compared with the undermining of Mr Major's 'back to basics' slogan by a succession of ministerial indiscretions.

Tim Yeo, Environment Minister and MP for South Suffolk, resigned when it was revealed that had fathered a child in an extramarital relationship with a Tory councillor in Hackney. He later admitted having an earlier illegitimate baby while a student at Cambridge.

Lord Caithness, Minister of Shipping, resigned after his wife's suicide. His mother-in- law accused him in public of having an affair.

Steven Norris, Transport Minister, was said to have had five different mistresses. David Ashby, MP for Leicestershire North West, admitted sharing a bed with a male friend in Paris, but denied any inference of homosexuality. The decision to share the bed was taken to save money, he said.

The death of Stephen Milligan, MP for Eastleigh, added to the sense that something was wrong with the Tory party's sexuality. The well-liked MP died in bizarre circumstances earlier this year wearing nothing but a pair of women's stockings and a length of cord around his neck. He had been indulging in auto-erotic asphyxiation to heighten arousal by starving the brain of oxygen.

Alan Clark, the former defence minister, kept up the supply of sex tales in the spring when he was confronted by James Harkess, a former judge, who said the ex- minister had had affairs with his wife and both his daughters.


Mr Michael Mates MP

We wish to draw attention to two articles which appeared in the Independent on 21 October and 7 November.

In the first, Mr Mates' picture was included in a review of controversies affecting the government beneath the headline 'Deadly sins dog the Tory Party'. We wish to make it clear that the article, in accusing Mr Mates of 'poor judgement', was not intened to imply that he has been guilty of moral or financial impropriety in his relations with Mr Asil Nadir.

In the second, we remarked that 'it was also disclosed that he (Mr Mates) had accepted gifts from Mr Nadir'. We acknowledge that Mr Mates has not received gifts from Mr Nadir and apologise for the error.

(Photographs omitted)