When I was a gossip columnist in the mid-Noughties, I tipped off a Conservative frontbencher that I was being hawked a story I didn’t want – about him having a gay affair.
He was living with his wife and children and had paraded them for the constituency press a few times, speaking fleetingly of family values. But this politician was a household name in no more than half a dozen households, it was far too grotty for the paper’s readership, and of no consequence to the country at large.
I didn’t know the guy and the telephone call was awkward. His gatekeepers were easily bypassed in the usual fashion (“a personal matter for Mr X, I can’t be more specific I’m afraid...”).
Such gossip, I explained to him, couldn’t ever make our pages, but if a grunt like me was being fed the dirt then probably dozens of other hacks were as well. He seemed embarrassingly grateful for the heads-up, if not delighted to have made my acquaintance.
I was probably misguided, but hoped that the call would allow him to square things with his wife and prepare a few considerate words to say about his family when the proverbial hit the fan, as it surely would. In the end, it appeared to have little effect, and as his life was dragged through the papers, he feigned surprise.
The world does change for the better. I thought yesterday’s “revelations” by a Brazilian male escort about the Lancashire MP Mark Menzies, which prompted him to resign as a ministerial aide, noteworthy for the lack of excitement they caused.
Mr Menzies has received the backing of constituency colleagues – “He said how sorry he was to cause so much inconvenience,” explained Councillor Brenda Ackers. He has not been accused of hypocrisy, has no betrayed wife, and the overwhelming feeling is “so what”. This isn’t the 1980s any more, Dorothy.