Tony seems holier than the rest of us

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The Independent Online
A CABINET minister goes for a stroll on Clapham Common. According to his own account, the expedition is entirely innocent: no sexual encounter takes place, nor is he involved in any exchange involving drugs. On the contrary, he is the victim of a crime, losing his car to robbers who abandon him on a housing estate in south London. He reports the incident to the police and to the Prime Minister, who spends 45 minutes with him the next morning, and then he resigns. Why? No one has offered a convincing answer to that question, not even Tony Blair, who accepted Ron Davies's resignation.

Mr Blair's handling of the affair recalls the business of Caesar's third wife who, if you recall, was divorced by the dictator in curious circumstances. When her would-be lover Clodius invaded the all-female rites of the Bona Dea, which she had organised, his presence was discovered and a charge of sacrilege was laid against him. Caesar immediately divorced Pompeia and was called as a witness at Clodius's trial, where - rather like Mr Blair's office last week - he astounded prosecuting counsel by saying he knew nothing about the charges. Asked why, in that case, he had divorced Pompeia, he answered: "Because I considered that my wife ought not to be even suspected".

No doubt Mr Blair feels his ministers, too, should be above suspicion. But suspicion of what? Mr Davies's account of Monday night's events does not make sense, as Mr Blair had ample opportunity on Tuesday morning to tell him. "Come off it, Ron," Mr Blair might have said, pointing out an obvious lacuna into which, once it was made public, would pour a torrent of speculation. And that is what happened, to the accompaniment of pictures of poor Mr Davies in an outfit which made him resemble the cook in Upstairs, Downstairs; through one of those mysterious elisions that attend affairs of this sort, the rumour quickly circulated that one of his assailants was a transvestite.

I have no idea whether Mr Davies offered up the detail which would explain this bewildering sequence of events or whether Mr Blair decided on a moment's reflection - or after seeking the advice of Alastair Campbell - that he would rather not know. But the effect has been to leave Mr Davies swinging in the wind, his political career at an end and lurid allegations swirling around him. (I should point out here that, if Mr Davies's new acquaintance really was a Rastafarian, it seems unlikely that he was visiting the Common in search of gay sex. Followers of the faith are as hostile to homosexuality as any Southern Baptist.)

Compare and contrast, as they say, Mr Davies's situation with that of Bill Clinton. Although he did not promenade with her outside the Oval Office, the President certainly had sex with a woman who was not his wife. He then denied the affair and involved other people in a cover- up. Mr Clinton has not resigned and his healthy poll ratings suggest two things: the benefit of lying, until you really have no choice but to come clean, and the widespread indifference of the public to what used to be called sex scandals. Either conclusion renders Mr Davies's decision - to tell some of the truth about what happened on Monday night and then resign - even more perplexing.

What we believe about politicians, some of them at any rate, is that their lust for power is frequently matched by lusts of the carnal sort: Lloyd George, John F Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Steve Norris and Alan Clark are random examples. On the whole, Labour politicians have fewer problems in this area because they are wisely reluctant to play the family-values card. Against a background of increased tolerance, Mr Davies's abrupt resignation was bound to lead to unsubstantiated rumours about gay sex, group sex, drugs - you name it. Mr Davies must have known this was so, throwing into question not just his account of Monday night but of what happened afterwards. Did he resign or was he "divorced" by a Prime Minister who places greater store by his reputation than any other consideration? Whichever is the case, either Mr Davies or Mr Blair appears to be a lot holier than the rest of us.

ANOTHER DAY, another story about Diana, Princess of Wales. The extracts published so far from Penny Junor's new book reject Diana-the-victim in favour of Diana-the-stalker, supposedly making death threats late at night to Camilla Parker Bowles. What they reveal is not new facts about the marriage but its status as modern myth, mutating into different versions which suit the mood of the times. Just as the Greeks portrayed Clytemnestra as both a wronged queen and a vengeful fury who could not wait to destroy her unfaithful husband, Agamemnon, when he returned from the Trojan war, Diana is now hero and villain of her own story. And Junor's book is another manifestation of an obsession that cries out to be called, in an analogy with Freud, the Diana complex.