As others see it: Bribesville

THE shadow of a tangentopoli (bribesville) scandal on the banks of the Thames is looming over 15 years of Conservative power. The Prime Minister John Major has been unexpectedly shaken to the core by allegations that two of his ministers were paid to ask questions in the Commons by Mohamed al-Fayed, the owner of Harrods, the store where the Queen does her shopping.

Mr Fayed, who is of Egyptian origin, says he is ready to name other names, including a senior minister. It seems he is furious that the English still treat him with suspicion after he has been in London for 20 years. Two ministers have resigned . . . Mr Major is trying to exorcise a scandal that risks becoming a political avalanche. He is undoubtedly aware of the suspicions surrounding Mark Thatcher, son of the 'Iron Lady', and accused of pocketing a 'mega fee' over an arms deal in 1984 and becoming a millionaire overnight while his mother was in office.

The Conservatives fear that Labour's 25 per cent lead in opinion polls will be boosted by this latest scandal and become unassailable. Mr Major, forced into the role of moral arbiter, is unwilling to strike where it is not strictly necessary. Meanwhile he is waiting for the next blow from the vengeful Mr Fayed. All of England wants to know the name of the minister.

The Tories are bracing themselves for the worst.

La Stampa, Italian daily