The Yeo Resignation: Minister falls foul of 'back to basics' policy: Swift demise after constituency association released statement

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The Independent Online
TIM YEO once campaigned to end discrimination against illegitimate children but ended up falling from grace when his own child was born out of wedlock and into the new era of traditional family values.

Peter Bottomley, Tory MP for Eltham, claimed in a BBC radio interview yesterday that the hypocrisy lay with the media, including 'quality journalists and broadcasters', rather than the politicians.

According to reports from within the Department of the Environment yesterday, Mr Yeo was staggered to read a report in the London Evening Standard headlined 'Official: Yeo says I resign', hours before reluctantly accepting he would have to go.

But this time, at any rate, the minister's eventual demise was much more to do with yesterday morning's statement from his constituency association. Protestations, repeated by Downing Street yesterday, that John Major's 'back to basics' message had never mentioned single parents have cut no ice in south Suffolk.

Political oblivion may be the eventual upshot. After boundary changes in 1983 the newly-constituted Suffolk South constituency chose Mr Yeo to fight the seat instead of Keith Stainton, who had served as MP for the former Sudbury and Woodbridge constituency for 20 years.

The switch of allegiance was partly the work of Aldine Horrigan, mayor of Haverhill, who in turn triggered Mr Yeo's demise by declaring that she was 'appalled' by his behaviour in a letter to John Major.

The Prime Minister's stance wavered between support and neutrality, though he was more reassuring than Margaret Thatcher might have been to anyone other than a favourite. The eventual withdrawal of this tacit support in the face of constituency pressure sealed Mr Yeo's fate. Whatever he might have thought or said, the pregnant silence of Downing Street as he went off to the crunch meeting in Suffolk on Tuesday night said it all.

There was private anger in the department yesterday over what some saw as a failure by Mr Major to stand up to the party machine. That reflected the insistence by Mr Yeo's supporters among ministers and MPs all week that it was for governments, not the burghers of south Suffolk and still less the tabloid press, to decide who should or should not be a minister of the Crown. That line of argument failed in the (rather different) cases of Norman Lamont, pilloried as a Chancellor who inspired no confidence, and of Michael Mates and David Mellor, finally despatched for accepting a holiday - though not in the case of Steven Norris, the transport minister. Reports of his affairs coincided with a busy news period in the run- up to last autumn's Tory party conference.

Mr Bottomley was among a number of commentators who pointed out this week that Mr Yeo's fate might have been rather different in the event of a divorce, or an abortion. As it was, in the eyes of many of Mr Yeo's constituents, the outcome cut directly across a key government policy, the avowed commitment to traditional and family values, to which ministers, whether they agree strongly or not, are collectively bound.

To the irritation of Richard Ryder and colleagues in the government whips' office, nothing was ventured until fairly recently about the birth of the child, Claudia-Marie, to Julia Stent last July, although it had been discussed in political circles in Hackney, where Ms Stent serves as a Tory councillor, months earlier.

The convention that MPs and ministers volunteer difficulties in their private lives to the Chief Whip also appears to have been flouted in May last year, when Mr Yeo was promoted from Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Health, responsible for personal social services and community care, to Minister of State at Environment. Ms Stent was already seven months pregnant.

The clash between collective government theory and an individual's human story brings to an end, for the foreseeable future at least, an already chequered career. He was undoubtedly earmarked for a future Cabinet post after earning a degree of respect from the social services world.

As a new MP in 1984 the Charterhouse and Cambridge-educated Mr Yeo urged the end of discrimination against illegitimate children years before it became fashionable to do so. But the start of his ministerial career in 1990 was delayed because of whips' concerns over a 1970s City scandal when Mr Yeo's Security Selection financial services company was the subject of a Stock Exchange inquiry over dealings in Bonsor Engineering shares.

Bowing out of the City in 1980, he arguably more than redeemed himself as director of the Spastics Society, boosting donations from pounds 8m to pounds 23.5m in two years.

Leading article, page 17

Tea and moral rectitude, page 19