Saints and sinners

This week, the Pope will name Sir Thomas More as the patron saint of politicians. It's some accolade in a profession not known for saintliness. But who were his rivals on the hustings? Here, we can exclusively reveal the candidates for political canonisation - and damnation
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The Independent Online

The Pope's choice of St Thomas More as the patron saint of politicians will hardly shock those who saw Paul Scofield's indelible performance in the film of Robert Bolt's A Man For All Seasons. The last Catholic Speaker before the present incumbent, paragon of honour, loving husband and father, More was beheaded after refusing to approve Henry VIII's defiance of Rome in divorcing his wife. More's cry to the young Richard Rich, who betrayed him to become Welsh Attorney General - "All this, Rich, for Wales!" - echoes down the ages as a dismissal of worldly office. Whether the papal decision will elevate the politics of Europe is another matter. It has helped to validate More's claim to be one of the greatest and most honourable of British politicians. But he could also be ruthless, spying on and burning heretics. Nor was he a stranger to the darker political arts, allowing his more militant supporters to risk their careers while he - temporarily - preserved his. And political saints, as we shall see, h

The Pope's choice of St Thomas More as the patron saint of politicians will hardly shock those who saw Paul Scofield's indelible performance in the film of Robert Bolt's A Man For All Seasons. The last Catholic Speaker before the present incumbent, paragon of honour, loving husband and father, More was beheaded after refusing to approve Henry VIII's defiance of Rome in divorcing his wife. More's cry to the young Richard Rich, who betrayed him to become Welsh Attorney General - "All this, Rich, for Wales!" - echoes down the ages as a dismissal of worldly office. Whether the papal decision will elevate the politics of Europe is another matter. It has helped to validate More's claim to be one of the greatest and most honourable of British politicians. But he could also be ruthless, spying on and burning heretics. Nor was he a stranger to the darker political arts, allowing his more militant supporters to risk their careers while he - temporarily - preserved his. And political saints, as we shall see, have not always been greater than sinners. ANGEL RATING: 3

Parliamentary angels... Stafford Cripps

The "austerity" Chancellor, who devalued sterling in 1947, was a devout, high-church Anglican, a Christian socialist and a man of unimpeachable personal integrity. So much so that he insisted on a calling a February election in 1950 - because he believed it would be immoral to give a pre-election Budget. This was despite the fact that electors had to trudge through the snow to the polling stations in a season which folklore holds to be particularly unpropitious for a high Labour turnout. His severe anti-inflation measures, based on high taxation, proved to be unpopular with the electorate. But he was always resolute in continuing to believe they were right. An early supporter of Indian independence, Cripps was also, according to the civil servants who worked most closely with him, unfailingly kind to his staff. ANGEL RATING: 2 William Gladstone

Some would dispute the sainthood of the Grand Old Man but he remains one of the most morally driven of all politicians in British history. Beside the great Liberal Prime Minister's commitment to economic, social and constitutional reform, his restless - and arguably rather modern - quest for a just peace in the Balkans and in Ireland give him an especial stamp. The critics harp on his - admittedly bizarre - preoccupation with the prostitutes whom be befriended. But this seems to have stemmed from a determination to expose himself to temptation and then resist it. After his visits to them, however, he would frequently whip himself. Thomas More, it should be noted, was also a self-scourger, though not for consorting with fallen women. ANGEL RATING: 2 Sir Thomas Dugdale

In what is usually portrayed as one of the most spectacular cases of ultra-honourable ministerial resignation, the Conservative Agriculture Minister, Thomas Dugdale, stepped down in 1954 because of deficiencies by two of his civil servants over which he had no control whatsoever. The issue, now long forgotten, was the Ministry's failure to release a tract of Dorset farmland. While one factor behind the resignation may have been that he (unfairly) lacked backing from his colleagues, it remains a copybook resignation of a sort that would be unthinkable now. One of Dugdale's junior ministers at the time, Peter Carrington, was to resign equally honourably in 1982 over the Foreign Office's failure to predict the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands. ANGEL RATING: 3 James Hamilton

The third Marquis (and first Duke) of Hamilton was a lifelong peacemaker who devoted most of his political career to preventing war between England and his beloved Scotland and trying to reconcile the two sides in the English Civil War. In some ways, he was the purest kind of politician - his main ambition, according to the Liberal Democrat peer Lord [Conrad] Russell, could be summed up by the belief that no difference is so great than it cannot be solved by negotiation. And he was a martyr to his cause. Despite his success in preventing Scotland joining the Civil War for 18 months, it eventually did so. His own army was beaten by Cromwell in 1649 and he was beheaded by the Rump Parliament a few months later. ANGEL RATING: 1 John Profumo

There could hardly be a less-obvious choice. But Profumo's career follows a classic path in much of sainthood: that of the fallen sinner who fully rehabilitates himself. His sin could hardly have been, in political terms, greater. As Defence Minister, not only did he have an affair with Christine Keeler while she was also seeing a Soviet diplomat but he also lied about it in the House of Commons - thus bringing the Macmillan government to the brink of ruin, and almost certainly helping to precipitate the Tories' loss of office the following year. After his resignation on 5 June 1963, however, Profumo quietly withdrew from public life while devoting himself energetically to charitable work in the East End at Toynbee Hall. ANGEL RATING: 1

...and political devils....

Francis Bacon

In some ways the unluckiest and perhaps the least personally culpable of political sinners, Francis Bacon, brilliant philosopher, man of letters and homosexual philanderer, was nevertheless the chief figure in one of the greatest British corruption cases. As Lord Chancellor, and under mounting pressure for taking bribes to influence court judgements, he amazed the House of Lords by dramatically confessing in 1621 "that I am guilty of all corruption and do renounce all defence". As Matthew Parris says in his book on parliamentary scandals, most of the bribes were probably pocketed by his staff. But he was not helped by his lackadaisical attitude to his servants, one of whom, Goderick, he kept as a "catamite and bedfellow". According to AL Rowse, he confessed so as to avoid an imminent sodomy charge. DEVIL RATING: 2 John Wilkes

A fine 18th-century democrat, radical and civil libertarian - who at great personal risk defied, and so destroyed, the ban on parliamentary reporting, Wilkes had an early career mired in sexual and financial scandal. A member of the notorious Hellfire Club, Wilkes was a prodigious womaniser who spent £7,000 on bribes to ensure his election as MP for Aylesbury. The greatest wit of his times, he was once told by an elector he was canvassing: "I would rather vote for the devil." Wilkes replied: "Naturally, but if your friend is not standing, may I hope for your support?" More famous is his reply to Lord Sandwich's barb that he would die "either on the gaIlows or of the pox". Wilkes replied: "That must depend on whether I embrace your lordship's principles or your mistress." DEVIL RATING: 2 David Lloyd George

Successful war leader, radical reformer, and the greatest Chancellor of the 20th century, Lloyd George was, nevertheless, dogged by personal and public scandal. As Chancellor he was lucky to escape ruin for insider trading in Marconi shares. He shamelessly sold off honours when he was Prime Minister. Earlier, as a serial womaniser, he had obliged his wife Margaret to appear beside him daily in court when he perjured himself by suing The People for accusing him of adultery. Pleading for Margaret's help, he told her: "One day I shall be Prime Minister. I shall be a force for public good." He was right on both counts. DEVIL RATING: 2 Horatio Bottomley

Journalist, Liberal MP - from 1906 - and lifelong swindler and con-man, Bottomley is an excellent corrective to the idea that sleaze is something purely modern. His specialism was the pocketing of proceeds from shares and bonds he sold in usually empty ventures. His skills of advocacy helped him to escape numerous charges. A chronically unfaithful husband and, in the end, an alcoholic, he was eventually sentenced to seven years imprisonment for channelling the proceeds of wartime Victory Bonds into his newspapers. Seeing him sewing mail bags in gaol, a prison visitor remarked: "Sewing, Bottomley?" "No," he replied, "reaping." DEVIL RATING: 3 Alan Clark

Although a self-confessed sinner, Clark was a contradictory figure. He was a persistent adulterer who was threatened with a horsewhipping by the judge with whose wife and two daughters he had slept. But he remained obsessively devoted to his wife until his death. He was a hard, right-wing Tory who neverthless lamented the betrayal of the working-class by his own on the battlefields of the First World War. He was kinder to animals than (sometimes) to people. And least attractively, in his latest volume of diaries, he quotes himself as sincerely believing Nazism was "the ideal system". Acute and genuinely charming, he was the most readable political diarist perhaps of all time. DEVIL RATING: 1

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