Tory sleaze is back and it will cost them – just as it did in the Nineties

Tory sleaze was the dominant force for my early adolescence, writes Katy Brand, and this sense that rottenness goes hand in hand with political ambition has never quite left me

Friday 05 November 2021 21:30
<p>Owen Paterson resigned as an MP this week following lobbying allegations </p>

Owen Paterson resigned as an MP this week following lobbying allegations

I remember very clearly the day Margaret Thatcher resigned. It was November 1990, and I was 11 years old. I was sitting on a coach going from my school in Hertfordshire up to London to sing in a commemorative church service with the choir. The coach driver had the radio on, and the announcement was gravely made over the airways. I was up front, as I liked to be, and I heard it clearly. I turned to my somewhat nonplussed school mates and said with eyes wide, “Thatcher’s resigned!” Yes, I was a bit of a weirdo wonk even then.

But what I remember feeling was fear too, because although she was generally referred to in my family as “that wicked woman”, she was also all I had ever known. I was born a few months before she came into office as prime minister, and my whole life to that point had been dominated by Thatcher’s ideology and policies: it was every person for themselves, or at most for the protection of your family unit. It was about loosening credit restrictions so you had more money in your pocket, or at least more of someone else’s money. It was about owning your home and selling off council stock. It was about there being “no such thing as society”. It was not a happy time for me.

But my childlike fear was that something else would come in her place, and it would be even worse. And in some ways it was – a now legendary procession of Tory sleazebags dominated the news between 1990 and 1995, before the Nolan Report into ministerial standards was finally published to try to put the genie back in the bottle. Even though they had long ago lost the bottle top, at least the bad behaviour could be temporarily controlled before it seeped back out again.

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