Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Sex scandals are soon forgotten

I notice an article entitled ‘Can Lib Dems recover after Oaten?’ by Nick Assinder on the BBC News website. It’s a fatuous question and the article doesn’t really give much of an answer.

I say ‘fatuous’ because of themselves sex scandals rarely do much damage to parties, the electorate being canny enough to realise that no party has a monopoly on sexual purity or peccadillos. Sometimes a party can be damaged if there is a whole series of scandals that in combination make it look sleazy or dishonest. This happened to the Tories in 1963–64 and 1995–97. But even the Thorpe scandal didn’t really damage the party electorally (although it did cost us Thorpe’s own seat). A Guardian poll today puts us at 19 per cent, which is remarkably good really. My guess is that in a few weeks only a small proportion of ordinary voters will even be able to remember who was involved in the scandal.

The crucial question for this parliament is whether Cameron begins to look like a prime minister or whether he will be exposed as a lightweight. History suggests that the Liberal Democrats' worst years are when the Conservatives defeat a Labour government – see 1924, 1951, 1970 and 1979 general elections. Often the Conservatives have taken votes disproportionately from the Liberals, so that there was even a net swing from Liberals to Labour.

So it will depend on whether there really is a public appetite to replace Labour with the Conservatives, which we will not really be able to tell until nearer the time. And even in 1979, the party only made a net loss of two seats – down from 13 to 11 – compared to the previous election as MPs used their local reputation to hang on to their seats. Losses of a similar proportion now would still leave the Lib Dems with more than 50 MPs.

Whichever way, the Lib Dem performance in 2009 will not be affected much, or indeed at all by the problems of the last few weeks.

1 comment:

Angus J Huck said...

It should never be forgotten that the actual reason Profumo resigned was because he lied to Parliament, not because he had an affair with Christine Keeler.

Of course, the poor man was under immense pressure from MacMillan and the entire establishment.

In those days, the right believed that society hung together because the lower orders recognised their "betters" as a superior form of creation who had been chosen by God to rule over them. Many ordinary people (especially working-class Tories of the Alf Garnet mould) genuinely believed that aristocrats were paragons of virtue, a warrior caste of unlimited valour and nobility, and that the destiny of the common folk was to defer to them. For much of the British nation, this was an irreduceable truth, ordained by the Almighty.

We have to see the imminent expousre of the Cliveden hijinks in this context. The establishment was terrified that the people would learn the truth - that the upper-class are a bunch of idle, dissipated libertines who would sell the country down the river given half a chance. They feared a catostrophic loss of power and status (quite rightly).

First they attempted to cover it up. Then when they couldn't, they tried to pin the blame on Stephen Ward (and Keeler and Rice-Davies), ably assisted by Lord Denning (a genuflecting judge despite his Poujadist posturings).

I think Profumo did contribute to the Labour victory in 1964, in part because it threw the veil off the establishment and liberated many from the shackles of deference.

Profumo still feels guilty for letting down his class. He shouldn't. Firstly, he was a classic fall-guy. Secondly, the effect that the affair had on the UK body politic was profoundly beneficial.