As the Tory leadership contest is coming to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about 1963 and an incident that brought down the Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government.
In 1961 John Profumo, the Minister for War, had a six week affair with dancer/model/says-she-was-never-a-call-girl, Christine Keeler. The affair didn’t last very long and was relatively inconsequential to them both (at the time), though Keeler does claim in her autobiography that she became pregnant with Profumo’s child and subsequently lost/aborted it.
In 2019, a MP having an affair isn’t exactly groundbreaking (we’ll come to Johnson soon) and it’s hard to see how a few nights with Keeler could bring down a whole government. But this is the 60’s, and fear was in the air. Keeler had also had a liaison with Eugene Ivanov, a Soviet naval attache and in true British style we got all paranoid about what information Keeler might have passed between the two men.
Of course, it is probably the case (whatever the tabloids report) that Keeler did not pass any kind of sensitive information between Ivanov and Profumo; in fact, I doubt they had much to talk about at all. Two years passed before Profumo was asked about the affair in the House of Commons, which he initially denied. Then, when he was about to be exposed, he admitted the affair to his wife (actress Valerie Hobson) and quit his position as an MP. He went on to devote his life to charity work and gained a CBE for it.
In the end Stephen Ward, who had introduced both Profumo and Ivanov to Keeler, was scapegoated by the establishment and paid the price; he was charged with solicitation and ended up taking his own life before the guilty sentence could be passed.
The Profumo Affair opened a door that can never be closed – the public had been exposed to the idea that politicians were fallible, were sexual, were mischievous and were cheaters.
The Johnson Affair(s)
And so here we are, 56 years later, and our potential next prime minister has had not one 6 week affair, but a number of extra-marital partners, a fact that seems to have become a joke, and not a serious concern.
In 2004 Johnson was forced to resign from his position under Michael Howard, when he failed to disclose the whole truth about his affair with Petronella Wyatt. The aforementioned Wyatt’s mother had found out about the FOUR YEAR affair and reported it to the press after Wyatt had become pregnant and had an abortion. Initially, Johnson lied, calling the allegations an ‘inverted pyramid of piffle’, but was exposed, stating:
I am very sorry this decision has been taken in response to tabloid stories about my private life. I am very much looking forward to continuing to promote the policies we have developed on the arts, and will do my utmost to serve my constituents in Henley.Johnson on his affair with Wyatt
If this were 1963, that would have been the end of Johnson. But this is the NAUGHTIES, after all, and scandal is very much over.
Initially, Boris’ wife (with whom he had four children) threw him out, but took him back and they resumed their marriage. However, Johnson wasn’t done, not with his affairs, and not with politics. Anna Fazackerley, a journalist at the TES was Johnson’s next squeeze, once, in 2005, Johnson (allegedly) flew from China to Paris to hook up with her. By 2008 Johnson was Mayor of London, which is the first election I ever voted in (I voted Green), when I was 18.
In 2009 Johnson fathered a child with Helen Macintyre, prompting his wife to throw him out, again, and take him back, again. Details of this affair were only revealed after Macintyre lost a three-year long battle to stop the press naming Johnson as the father.
Lawyers for the press said that it should be revealed because it was:
[an] issue of recklessness and whether on that account he was fit for public officeLawyers for the Daily Mail
Johnson’s (soon to be ex) wife has finally seen the light and is divorcing him. He is currently dating 31 year old Carrie Symonds.
Why should we care?
I hate to agree with anyone associated with the Daily Mail, but their lawyers have a point. Profumo quit his position in government and never returned. Britain was shocked, the press called it a tragedy. Should someone who is in public office be admonished for their private affairs?
Heading into the 2020s, along with an open-ness about sex that I fully advocate, Britain has adopted a strange attitude. When Michael Gove admitted he had taken cocaine when he was a journalist, he was held to a higher standard, he apologised, he said:
All of us will occasionally fall short in our lives. But that doesn’t mean the principle is wrong.Gove on his “occasional” drug use
So shouldn’t we be doing that with Johnson? Holding him to a higher standard? He lied and cheated and treated women with disrespect. This man, who has so far proven himself to be not only a womaniser, but one who denies his indiscretions instead of facing them, could be our next Prime Minister.
We’re not repeating history, we’re forgetting it, we’re moving on from it, and into a place where this man will be the one who leads us out of the EU and into an uncertain future.
Thanks, Tories, thanks a bunch.