So Mr Macmillan: how was it for you?: When John Major closes his eyes and dreams of Tories past, he will recall what happened to Supermac. Alan Sked remembers old moral nightmares, John Torode and Stephen Ward supply the cast (CORRECTED)

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BY CONTINENTAL standards, corruption in British public life seems small-scale. No British prime minister has yet felt compelled to commit suicide, as in France, over allegations of financial impropriety, or been accused of heading the Mafia, as in Italy. Yet it is precisely because big corruption seems so rare here that governments lose public confidence fast, once even small breaches of propriety are revealed. The British still expect high standards.

Make no mistake, John Major's government is now vulnerable: a political mix of illegitimate children, multiple mistresses, sexual perversion, rake-offs from contracts, allegations of insider- dealing, cash-for-questions, party contributions from shady tycoons, not to mention nepotism at the highest level, will not easily be brushed aside by references to citizens' charters.

Moreover the Government has a reputation for mendacity: it has raised taxes when it promised to bring them down; it was found to be negotiating with the IRA when it said it would not; it scuttled the Disablement Bill with party amendments which it at first denied; its economic recovery, in which few people believe, is based on the failure of its membership of the ERM, while Mr Major has sacked almost every minister in whom he at one stage expressed confidence.

As an example of what could happen to his own government, Mr Major could do worse than read the history of Harold Macmillan's administration. Despite Macmillan's early prime ministerial reputation for being a political genius, before long everything started to go wrong. On top of economic difficulties, his foreign policy collapsed over Europe, and at home scandal eclipsed whatever reputation he still clung on to. Vassal and Profumo, Keeler, Ward and Rice-Davies were to play no small part in ending 13 years of Tory rule.

The very history of the Macmillan period means that voters now expect less from governments by way of moral example than 30 years ago. Yet there is a paradox at work: these lower standards have allowed so many politicians to get away with bad behaviour that Mr Major is now suffering a backlash.

Whereas in Macmillan's day, the Tories were quickly overwhelmed by two huge scandals, today the sleaze factor has built up relatively slowly. Of course, Margaret Thatcher's government was hardly immune to scandal (see right). The steady drip of alleged sexual and financial improprieties that touched trusted colleagues from Cecil Parkinson to Jeffrey Archer all contributed to waning public confidence in the government's underlying morality. John Major now has to face the fact that after 15 years of scandal saturation point may have been reached.

The history of the Macmillan era will soon be rewritten. One young historian, Mark Deavin, is about to publish a book that will revolutionise our knowledge of his European policy (John Murray, out next year). Macmillan was obsessed by European federalism; that obsession and the ambiguities and lies to which it gave rise undermined his reputation for honesty both at home and abroad. But in the popular imagination, of course, it is the sleaze, not the wider political context, that sticks.

Major and Macmillan responded similarly to their respective scandals. First, there is the refusal to move quickly and take decisive action, the temptation to put short-term party convenience before long-term survival.

Macmillan, for example, was aware of Profumo's affair with call-girl Christine Keeler two months before Profumo's denial in Parliament. He also knew, from American FBI reports, that there was a spy in the Admiralty, yet refused to act until compelled by journalistic investigation. Ironically, too, the most potentially explosive scandals - relating to the use of Tory party finances and Macmillan's personal involvement - were those that remained best hidden from view.

Yet with his government enmeshed in all sorts of political crises - over immigration, de Gaulle's veto over Britain joining the Common Market, South Africa's withdrawal from the Commonwealth - secrets became much more difficult to keep. With the advent of commercial televison and the satirical frontal attacks from the BBC with That Was The Week That Was, government came under ever closer scrutiny. The growing feeling that Conservatism had exhausted itself meant that the government was sucked into an almost self-fulfilling prophesy of disaster.

Mr Major's government has reached a similar staging post. Indeed, he has fewer advantages than Macmillan at the equivalent time. His reputation is smaller; his party is more obviously divided; Tory rule has lasted even longer, and this time has probably been even less successful; the opinion poll ratings are worse; and the threat from Europe is taken more seriously than in 1963.

Then, the Tories almost escaped by acquiring a new leader. That strategy might work again, but the likelihood is that if things continue as they are, nobody in the party will save it. Electoral meltdown Canadian- style could even be on the cards.

The writer teaches history at the London School of Economics and is leader of the UK Independence Party.

---------------------------------------------------------------- THE THATCHER-MAJOR YEARS ---------------------------------------------------------------- MICHAEL BROWN ---------------------------------------------------------------- Post Government whip, MP for Brigg and Cleethorpes, member of the right-wing No Turning Back group.

Offence Homosexuality. In May 1994 was reported to have had a relationship with an under-age man and a Ministry of Defence civil servant. Brown was unmarried and the civil servant was a former Tory councillor. Brown said he would sue the newspaper over the under-age allegations.

Fate Immediately resigned as whip.

Timing Followed closely on the 'back to basics' campaign.

And now? Remains as MP, with constituency backing.

Damage: 1 out of 10 ---------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------- DAVID TREDINNICK and GRAHAM RIDDICK Post Parliamentary Private Secretaries.

---------------------------------------------------------------- Offence Being willing to accept payments of pounds 1,000 each in return for tabling parliamentary questions. Trapped by a Sunday Times journalist posing as a businessman in July.

Fate Suspended from jobs as ministerial bag carriers. Case is now before Committee of Privileges, subject to a Labour walk-out over the hearing of evidence in private.

Timing Just in time to leave bad taste in mouth before summer recess.

And now? Awaiting the result of Commons hearings.

Damage: 5 out of 10 ---------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------- MARK THATCHER Post Son of Margaret.

---------------------------------------------------------------- Offence Allegedly abusing prime ministerial name and influence. In 1984, part of a team that secured pounds 20bn contract to supply arms to Saudi Arabia. Never said how much he was paid or if his mother knew the details. She said she was 'batting for Britain' when she helped to push the order through.

Fate He remained unscathed. She retired.

Timing Many journalists continue to probe obsessively. Re- emerges - as in this month - whenever most embarrassing to Government.

And now? Unhappily married and living in Dallas.

Damage: 6 (so far) out of 10 ---------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------- NEIL HAMILTON and TIM SMITH ---------------------------------------------------------------- Posts Minister at Department of Trade and Industry, Northern Ireland Minister.

Offence Allegedly benefiting from a relationship with Mohamed al-Fayed, the owner of Harrods, who released details of how he claimed he rewarded them for helping him in his battle with Tiny Rowland.

Fate Smith resigned, conceding payments undeclared in the register of members' interests. Hamilton has stayed, and is suing the Guardian.

Timing Same week Labour MPs resigned from the Riddick and Tredinnick committee because it was sitting in secret.

Damage: 7 (so far) out of 10 ---------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------- CECIL PARKINSON ---------------------------------------------------------------- Post Trade and Industry Secretary, former Party Chairman, close Thatcher confidante Offence Infidelity and character weakness. In 1983 he impregnated his long-term mistress and Commons researcher, Sara Keays, allegedly promised to marry her, then changed his mind and stayed with his wife.

Fate Kept a cabinet post for a while, made a comeback in 1987, but had lost credibility, and never recovered gravitas.

Timing News of the pregnancy leaked during a Tory party conference.

Where is he now? Life peer, company directorships.

Damage to government: 6 out of 10 ---------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------- KEITH BEST ---------------------------------------------------------------- Post MP for Anglesey, won in 1979 with biggest swing in UK.

Offence Illegal share applications: in 1984 when BT was privatised, applied for more than his share, using false names.

Fate In 1987 was given a four- month jail sentence, reduced to a pounds 4,500 fine on appeal. Suspended as a barrister until 1990. Resigned his Commons seat. Ran a legal advice centre.

Timing Offence chimed with 'loadsamoney' image of City, Tory unconcern for industry.

And now? Director of the Home Office-funded Immigrants Appeals Advisory Service. In 1992 failed to win a council seat in Lambeth.

Damage: 5 out of 10 ---------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------- JEFFREY ARCHER ---------------------------------------------------------------- Post Deputy Tory chairman 1985-86. Party cheerleader.

Offence (i) 1986: A prostitute claimed he had been her client. He paid her pounds 2,000, sued successfully. (ii) 1994: Bought shares for a friend in Anglia Television, just ahead of takeover. DTI investigation found no grounds for prosecution.

Fate 1986: Resigned as deputy chairman. Close to rehabilitation when 1994 share deal put him back in wilderness.

Timing Shares inquiry leaked this July, hot on heels of cash- for-questions scandal No 1.

And now? Life peer (1992), millionaire from fiction sales.

Damage: 1986, 3 out of 10; 1994, 5 out of 10 ---------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------- HARVEY PROCTOR ---------------------------------------------------------------- Position MP for Basildon 1979-83; for Billericay, 1983-87.

Offence Gross indecency. In 1987 he was found to have caned two under-age homosexual prostitutes at his flat in Fulham High Street, London. The prostitutes had sold their story to a newspaper. Bow Street Magistrates fined him pounds 1,450.

Fate He stood down as MP at the 1987 election.

Timing Was able to leave the Commons without an embarrassing by-election. Conservatives were popular at the time.

And now? Runs a shop selling shirts in Richmond, south-west London.

Damage: 2 out of 10 ---------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------- NORMAN LAMONT ---------------------------------------------------------------- Post Chancellor of the Exchequer 1990-1993.

Offence Chaotic personal life, using public funds for legal costs. In April 1991 it was revealed that a house he owned had been let to a 'sex therapist'. In November 1992 it was found the taxpayer had picked up pounds 4,000 of the legal bill he incurred evicting the woman and handling the press. The same month, found to have been pounds 470 over his Access limit, and wrongly suspected of odd purchases of wine and cigarettes.

Fate Survived scandals, but fired for failure of the economy.

And now? Disgruntled backbench MP.

Damage: 4 out of 10 ---------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------- DAVID MELLOR ---------------------------------------------------------------- Post National Heritage Secretary 1992, Chelsea supporter.

Offence Infidelity, poor political judgment. July 1992, press revealed intimate details of affair with Antonia de Sanchez, a little-known actress. In September 1992 it emerged that in the Gulf war build-up he accepted a free holiday with his family from Mona Bauwens, daughter of a senior PLO figure.

Timing Press had just been warned by Mellor that it was 'drinking at the last-chance saloon' and he planned a privacy law if it didn't behave.

Fate Resigned from Cabinet. And now? Highly paid columnist, sports broadcaster, MP.

Damage: 6 out of 10 ---------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------- MICHAEL MATES ---------------------------------------------------------------- Post Northern Ireland Minister, 1992-93.

Offence Relationship with allegedly fraudulent businessman. In June 1993 it emerged that Mates had lobbied the Attorney General on behalf of Asil Nadir, awaiting charges in connection with his failed Polly Peck empire. Before Nadir jumped pounds 3.5m bail, Mates had given him a watch inscribed 'Don't let the buggers get you down.'

Fate Resigned, insisting he had behaved properly throughout. This was accepted by the Prime Minister and Attorney General.

Timing Linked Tories with every subsequent Nadir story.

And now? Backbench MP.

Damage: 4 out of 10 ---------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------- TIM YEO ---------------------------------------------------------------- Post Environment Minister 1993-94.

Offence Infidelity, carelessness with contraception. Married with children, he had affair with Julia Stent, a solicitor and Hackney councillor. In July 1993 she gave birth to their child, but kept identity of father secret. Story broke in December, and after a month of media pressure he resigned. A week later said he had also fathered a child as a student.

Fate Still an MP, but earned strong disapproval from his constituency.

Timing Scandal broke two months after John Major's 'back to basics' speech.

Damage: 3 out of 10 ---------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------- LORD CAITHNESS ---------------------------------------------------------------- Post Junior Transport Minister, 1992-94.

Offence Infidelity. His wife shot herself in January. Had not hidden the key to the gun cupboard despite repeated earlier suicide threats by his wife. His friends blamed financial worries, her parents said he had been having an affair with Jan Fitzalan Howard.

Fate He resigned the day the news broke.

Timing One of six minor scandals in the same month.

And now? Hereditary peer, subsisting on Lords attendance allowance.

Pictured signing on at Jobcentre, and shopping with Ms Fitzalan Howard.

Damage: 3 out of 10 ---------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------- THE MACMILLAN YEARS ---------------------------------------------------------------- IAN HARVEY ---------------------------------------------------------------- Post Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply. Tory MP Harrow East since 1950.

Offence Caught 'misbehaving' with Guardsman in St James's Park. Each pleaded guilty. Fined pounds 5 with costs.

Fate Resigned office, seat and membership Carlton, Junior Carlton.

Timing Less than a year before general election.

And now? Died 1987, after rebuilding career as author and PR man. Came out as a President, Conservative Group for Homosexual Equality.

Damage to government: 6 out of 10 ---------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------- ANTHONY COURTNEY ---------------------------------------------------------------- Post Successor to Harvey as Harrow East MP from 1959. Senior intelligence officer.

Offence Sleeping with female interpreter during visit to Moscow in 1961. Rumours that his anti-Soviet stance was a cover for his position as Soviet agent. In 1965 pictures of the Moscow tryst sent to the News of the World.

Fate Defeated in the 1966 general election.

Timing Rumours fed suspicion that any Tory MP could be a sex-mad Soviet agent.

And now? Died 1988. Was managing director, New English Typewriting School.

Damage: 7 out of 10 ---------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------- SIR IAN HOROBIN ---------------------------------------------------------------- Post Macmillan was intending to make this popular and distinguished Second World War hero a life Peer.

Offence Horobin and young boyfriend charged with several counts of indecency and assault in May 1962.

Fate Four years' imprisonment. End of life's work as warden of residential club for deprived boys he had refounded in 1923 and where he had subsequently lived. Timing Tories already unpopular.

And now? Died in 1976, having devoted final years to publishing his poems.

Damage: 7 out of 10 ---------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------- THOMAS GALBRAITH ---------------------------------------------------------------- Post Under-Secretary of State at Scottish Office from 1959. Formerly Civil Lord at the Admiralty.

Offence November 1962, too close a social relationship with young homosexual Soviet spy, civil servant Willaim Vassall. Vassall had been Galbraith's assistant private secretary at the Admiralty.

Fate Resigned.

Timing Further undermined Tory credibility. Calls for Lord Carrington, first Lord of the Admiralty, to resign.

And now? As Baron Strathclyde, Under-Secretary at Department of Environment.

Damage: 8-plus out of 10 ---------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------- CHARLES FLETCHER-COOKE ---------------------------------------------------------------- Post Under-Secretary of State at Home Office 1961- 1963. Tory MP since 1951.

Offence Shared home with Anthony Turner, boy criminal, February 1963.

Turner arrested for driving Fletcher- Cooke's car without insurance or licence.

Fate Denied impropriety but admitted 'error of judgement'. Resigned in order to take legal action.

Timing Unfortunate, but almost ignored as Profumo scandal broke.

And now Retired. Knighted 1981.

Damage: 6 out of 10 ---------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------- JOHN PROFUMO Post Secretary of State for War.

---------------------------------------------------------------- Offence Lying to the Commons and Harold Macmillan about his role in the century's biggest upper-class sex and spies scandal. He had slept with Christine Keeler, who was involved with Eugene Ivanov, assistant Soviet naval attache; the relationship had developed at Lord Astor's Cliveden estate.

Timing The last straw.

Fate Profumo resigned from post and House.

And now? Devoted to social work. CBE 1975. Widely respected for dignity with which he has rebuilt his life.

Damage: 10 out of 10 After this incredible yarn, the public would believe anything. Rumours abounded that ministers and High Court judges had been involved in orgies. Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls, was required to examine the affair. His bestselling report rehearsed the tales in order to deny them. But the government's credibility had been damaged beyond repair.

Harold Wilson's election victory the following year now seems inevitable.


In the 'Macmillan Years' feature published on 22 October we recalled the resignation of Thomas Galbraith in November 1962 following controversy about his friendship with William Vassal. We incorrectly reported that Thomas Galbraith is now Baron Strathclyde, Under-Secretary at the Department of the Environment. In fact Baron Strathclyde is the son of the late Thomas Galbraith and is presently Government Chief Whip in the House of Lords. We also accept that Thomas Galbraith was not charged with any offence and indeed was subsequently exonerated by the Radcliffe Commission.

(Photographs omitted)