I care about Paul Johnson's love affair with Tony Blair - not about his adultery

Suzanne Moore
Tuesday 12 May 1998 23:02 BST

PAUL JOHNSON, "the man who preaches morality to the nation" (in the words of yesterday's Express), has apparently been a very naughty boy. He has had an affair for the past 11 years with "freelance journalist" Gloria Stewart, while at the same time ranting on in his inimitable style about family values. I wish, quite honestly, that I was shocked by this news, but, of course, the phenomenon of right-wing men who spout family values in their day jobs and like to be spanked at weekends by their mistresses is one that most of us have become immune to by now.

Somewhere it must be written in the job description of a Tory minister, a successful businessman or a paid moralist that you must have a fragrant wife waiting at home laying out your towels, while you have an affair with your secretary or at least employ a prostitute to degrade you. The sheer predictability of men who dominate public life needing to be dominated in their spare time is as tiring as it is loathsome.

The repertoire of male sexual behaviour is so limited, I could almost feel sorry for them. Almost. Actually, I do feel a bit sorry for Johnson's wife. Marigold. but as she has survived 40 years of being married to a man who, depending on your take, is either a passionate polemicist or a deranged eccentric, I am sure she will survive this little hiccup.

Johnson, who has in his time written of the secrets of a successful marriage, is being accused of hypocrisy. He denies this: "I've been having an affair - but I still believe in family values." He admits to being a sinner. Everyone is shouting hypocrisy, especially his mistress who was driven to tape him secretly because, she says, she was angered by the article he wrote on his 40th wedding anniversary. Perhaps this was genuinely the first time she noticed her lover's penchant for saying one thing and doing another, his completely illogical rants against Michael Grade, Channel 4, anyone with looser morals than his own and whoever else he was paid to maul on behalf of the Daily Mail.

Johnson may be a public figure, infamous not only for his vitriol but well documented inaccuracy, but he is not in public office. For many years now the only consistency in Johnson's views has been that they are consistently wrong. However, the aspect of Paul Johnson's private life that I find most depressing is not what he does with his 50-year-old mistress but what he does with Tony Blair.

This one-time admirer of Margaret Thatcher - "She at least gave the impression that we lived in a world of absolute morality, clear distinctions and ethical certitudes" - has switched his allegiance to Tony Blair, his new best friend. They lunch together and their tete-a-tetes have led Johnson to conclude that the Prime Minister "is the first top British leader to recognise that family breakdown is right at the centre of our ills".

Johnson's own contribution to this cause is now laughable. But as he is also nearly 70 and a grandfather of six he may even qualify as a likable rogue. As he said to his mistress "Well, I am a very hopeless person, aren't I?"

The only time I ever met him he failed to acknowledge my existence except to shout "lovely girl" across the table every time I managed to open my mouth. Also at the table were Peter Hitchens, AN Wilson and Mary Kenny. Kenny, like Johnson, has also travelled the well-worn route from left -wing youth to right-wing dementia. My problem with these characters is not that they are right-wing or even opposed to much of what I believe, rather that they are so barking it is difficult to understand why they are taken seriously in the first place.

For some time now, Johnson's view of the world has had no internal logic or coherence. He and his camp followers live in a fantasy world which is peopled with politically correct lesbians trying to force vege-burgers down their throats. They rage against the dying of the Thatcherite light rather than accepting that the world has changed. Even a populist figure such as Richard Littlejohn is these days forced to construct a parallel universe to lambaste in his blokey fashion.

Meanwhile, the public is fairly tolerant of homosexuality, abortion, single mothers and even transsexuals winning the Eurovision song contest. The truth is that the threat of rabid loony lefties taking over the world has not been defused by the likes of Johnson but by what in the good old days was their worst nightmare - a Labour government.

That Johnson, with his pernicious hectoring about family values, should be hoist with his own petard fulfils a different kind of fantasy altogether. One secretly hopes that the offspring of such rent-a-moralists are addicted to crack, that their wives run off with other women, that they are caught with the hands in the till as well as their trousers round their ankles. Unfortunately they merely have affairs, beg forgiveness and - I predict in Johnson's case - write an article about human frailty and the virtues of Catholicism.

Johnson's idol, Thatcher, was, as we know, perfectly capable of turning a blind eye to the adultery of her ministers. Thatcherism was shot through with such ideological contradictions, indeed it thrived on them. Major had to put up with Mellor, because according to Johnson at the time, "We have a topsy-turvy society in which virtue goes unrewarded - when it is not actually penalised - and vice coins it ... Adultery pays."

Blair, who would rather remain above the fray, has already been drawn into the murky depths because of Robin Cook. In many eyes, the fall from grace of the arrogant and assured Foreign Secretary came about not because of his "ethical foreign policy" but his perceived lack of ethics when it came to his own domestic crisis.

Johnson managed to huff and puff recently about Cook; but I think that Johnson actually believes what he says - that he does believe in family values even though he has had an affair. He is a man of his generation who may think that the secret of a successful marriage is simply to have a wife who puts up with her husband's peccadilloes.

The publications in which he writes tend also to be of the "Do as I say not what I do" variety. Johnson's advice to Mellor was that he should endeavour "to rehabilitate himself by some worthy activity, involving self-sacrifice". May I suggest that, for once, Johnson walks the walk as well as talks the talk and makes the ultimate self-sacrifice by never writing another word.

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