From Keeler to Arcuri, the Tories would say that

By David Osland

There is little evidence for the fevered assertion of a senior Tory that free school meal vouchers represent convertible currency in the crack dens and brothels of Mansfield.

What we do know is that Boris Johnson, in his former incarnation as mayor of London, funnelled £126,000 of taxpayer money to businesses controlled by a woman with whom he was conducting a relationship while his wife had cancer.

How much should anyone care? It is easy to write this one off with a dismissive ‘that’s their business’, which of course it is. There is a natural temptation to reduce the proceedings to smutty jokes and seaside postcard ribaldry. Heard the one about the PM and the pole dancer? Snigger snigger.

Such responses miss the point. The issue is not the bonking, it’s the backhanders.

The analogy may be less than exact, but in many ways, the Arcuri imbroglio throws as clear a spotlight on the morality of Tory government in 2021 as one of its forerunners did on the Tory government in 1963.

John Profumo served as war minister at a time when political job titles were obviously somewhat more candid than today.

And when not cavorting around the swimming pool at Cliveden, he was sleeping with what the argot of the day designated a ‘call girl’, who was simultaneously sleeping with a Soviet defence attaché.

Newspapers had tentatively lost the deference on which the likes of Lloyd George had safely depended, and for the first time in history, the British press reported a political sex scandal.

By way of any plausible justification for moral outrage, the Cold War security angle was more apparent than real, although it seems NATO plans for missile deployment formed an element of the pillow talk.

Inevitably, the reportage was freighted with references to class. Posh boy Profumo was an alumnus of Harrow and the Bullingdon Club, and his wife Valerie may have been more distraught at the plebian origins of his paramour Christine Keeler than at mere marital infidelity itself.

Profumo opted to bluster his way out of the hole, telling the House of Commons: “There was no impropriety whatsoever in my acquaintanceship with Miss Keeler.” Or, as a future US president was to phrase it, he did not have sexual relations with that woman.

After that, his career was toast, forcing him to quit office and devote the rest of his life to charitable endeavours in the East End.

The Tory government responded by changing prime minister from Old Etonian Harold Macmillan to Old Etonian Alec Douglas-Home, staggering on for another year or so before a Labour election win ended an extended period of Tory rule.

Fast forward to another extended period of Tory rule and another surfeit of Old Etonians in the upper echelons of power.

When a Tory peer married to a Tory MP is appointed head of ‘NHS’ Test and Trace without any discernible qualification for the role; when the wife of another Tory MP and Old Etonian contemporary of the prime minister heads the vaccine taskforce; when a company with a Tory MP on its payroll gets a £133m contract to produce Covid testing kits; when all the opinion polling goes to firms owned by close political associates of Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings; then the electorate is surely entitled to ask whether a six-figure bung to a politician’s girlfriend is more than felicitous coincidence

If the London mayor funnelling enormous quantities of dosh to the object of his amorous attentions is not misconduct in public office – which is a criminal offence – what even is?

Yet the Independent Office for Police Conduct has decided that there are no grounds for criminal investigation, and as far as I can ascertain from Google, a Greater London Authority inquiry into his actions has yet to report.

No perceived need for scapegoats this time. Not even fibs to Parliament. Boris has just brazened it out.

Let us not be inured by the subsequent decades of kiss and tell journalism. What Johnson did is at least as serious as the actions of Profumo, and fully deserves to function as the harbinger of a Labour return to office. Sadly, there is no indication that it will.

Meanwhile, the Tories are telling us that there is nothing to see here. But as one of the other Profumo protagonists famously put it in the dock all those years ago, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

David Osland is a member of Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP and a long-time leftwing journalist and author. Follow him on Twitter at @David__Osland.

Image: Christine Keeler. Source: Author: Hugo van Gelderen / Anefo, an image from the Nationaal Archief, the Dutch National Archives, donated in the context of a partnership program, made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

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