Political scandals in the United Kingdom
Political scandals in the United Kingdom are commonly referred to by the press and commentators as "'sleaze".
A number of political scandals in the 1980s and 1990s created the impression of what was described in the British press as "sleaze": a perception that the then Conservative government was associated with political corruption and hypocrisy. This was revived in the late 1990s due to accounts of so-called "sleaze" by the Labour government.
Conservative Party cash controversies
In particular, the successful entrapment of Graham Riddick and David Tredinnick in the "cash for questions" scandal of 1994, the contemporaneous misconduct as ministers by Neil Hamilton (who lost a consequent libel action against The Guardian), Tim Smith, and the convictions of former Cabinet member Jonathan Aitken and former party deputy chairman Jeffrey Archer for perjury in two separate cases leading to custodial sentences damaged the Conservatives' public reputation. Persistent rumours about the activities of the party treasurer Michael Ashcroft furthered this impression. At the same time, a series of revelations about the private lives of various Conservative politicians made the headlines.
Back to Basics
John Major's Back to Basics campaign backfired because of media focus on its moral aspects, where they exposed "sleaze" within the Conservative Party and, most damagingly, within the Cabinet itself. A number of ministers were then revealed to have committed sexual indiscretions, and Major was forced by media pressure to dismiss them. In September 2002 it was revealed that, prior to his promotion to the cabinet, Major had himself had a long-standing extramarital affair with a fellow MP, Edwina Currie.
Sleaze in the Labour Party
During its term in office from 1997 to 2010, controversies affecting the Labour Government such as David Blunkett's affair with Spectator editor Kimberly Fortier and financial scandals involving senior ministers and officials shifted the focus to sleaze within the Labour Party. There was some perception that sleaze may be endemic in British Politics as a whole.
List of scandals
- Liberator Building Society scandal, in which the Liberal Party MP Jabez Balfour was exposed as running several vast fraudulent companies to conceal colossal financial losses. Balfour fled to Argentina, but was eventually arrested and imprisoned.
- Marconi scandal  of insider trading by Liberal Party Ministers including:
- Rufus Isaacs, 1st Marquess of Reading, the Attorney General
- The Master of Elibank, Lord Murray, the Treasurer of the Liberal Party,
- David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, the Chancellor of the Exchequer
- Herbert Samuel, 1st Viscount Samuel, Postmaster General; was falsely implicated. (1912)
- Shell Crisis of 1915, which led to the fall of Herbert Henry Asquith's Liberal Party government during World War I.
- Lloyd George and the honours scandal. Honours sold for large campaign contributions (1922)
- Zinoviev Letter (1924)
- Winston Churchill secretly accepted £5,000—the equivalent of perhaps millions in today's money—from Burmah Oil (now known as BP) to lobby the British government to allow them to monopolise Persian oil resources. (1923)
- Soviet agent John Vassall working for Minister Tam Galbraith (1962)
- Profumo Affair (1963): Secretary of State for War John Profumo had an affair with prostitute Christine Keeler (to whom he had been introduced by pimp and drug-dealer Stephen Ward) who was having an affair with a Soviet spy at the same time.
- Corrupt architect John Poulson and links to Conservative Home Secretary Reginald Maudling, Labour council leader T. Dan Smith and others (1972-4): Maudling resigned, Smith sentenced to imprisonment.
- Earl Jellicoe and Lord Lambton sex scandal (1973): Conservatives, junior defence minister Lambton is arrested for using prostitutes and Cabinet minister Jellicoe also confesses.
- Labour MP John Stonehouse's faked suicide (1974)
- Harold Wilson's Prime Minister's Resignation Honours (known satirically as the "Lavender List") gives honours to a number of wealthy businessmen whose principles were considered antipathetic to those held by the Labour party (May 1976)
- Peter Jay's appointment as British Ambassador to the U.S. by his father in law, the then Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan. At the time Jay was a journalist with little diplomatic experience.(1976)
- "Rinkagate": Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe was arrested and tried for allegedly paying a hitman to murder his homosexual lover, model Norman Scott, while walking his dog on Exmoor; the hitman only shot the dog, Rinka. Thorpe was forced to resign due to his clandestine gay affairs, but was acquitted of conspiracy to murder.
- Joseph Kagan, Baron Kagan, earlier ennobled by the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson's notorious Lavender List (1976), was convicted of fraud (1980)
- Cecil Parkinson affair with secretary Sara Keays resulting in their child, Flora Keays (1983)
- Al Yamamah contract alleged to have been obtained by bribery (1985)
- Westland affair (1986): The Defence Secretary, Michael Heseltine resigned from his Cabinet job in a disagreement with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher over the Westland affair. Mr Heseltine walked out of a meeting at Number 10 concerning his views on the future of the Westland helicopter company were being ignored at the time.
- Jeffrey Archer and the prostitute allegations (1986), and his subsequent conviction for perjury (2001)
- Edwina Currie resigns as a junior Health minister for incorrectly claiming that millions of British eggs were infected with salmonella, stating that "most of [British] egg production" was infected (1988)
- "Homes for votes" gerrymandering scandal (1987–1989)
- BSE (1989)
- Nicholas Ridley compares the EU to the Third Reich in an interview in The Spectator magazine (1990)
- Arms-to-Iraq and the closely connected Iraqi Supergun affair (1990)
- David Mellor resignation after press disclosure of his affair with Antonia de Sancha and gratis holiday from a daughter of a PLO official (1992)
- Squidgygate, the covert leaking of a bugged phone call between the Princess of Wales and James Hewitt, although the phrase originally referred to the exposure of the Princess's extramarital affair (1992)
- Michael Mates gift of watch to Asil Nadir (1993)
- Monklandsgate dominated the Monklands East by-election. It mainly consisted of allegations of sectarian spending discrepancies between Protestant Airdrie and Catholic Coatbridge, fuelled by the fact that all 17 of the ruling Labour group were Roman Catholics. (1994)
- Back to Basics, a government policy slogan portrayed by opponents and the press as a morality campaign to compare it with a contemporaneous succession of sex scandals in John Major's government which led to the resignation of Tim Yeo and the Earl of Caithness, among others (1994)
- Cash-for-questions affair involving Neil Hamilton, Tim Smith and Mohamed Al-Fayed (1994)
- Jonathan Aitken and the hotel bill allegations, and subsequent conviction for perjury after his failed libel action against The Guardian, resulting in Aitken being only the third person to have to resign from the Privy Council in the 20th century. (1995)
- Bernie Ecclestone was involved in a political scandal when it transpired he had given the Labour Party a million pound donation - which raised eyebrows when the incoming Labour government changed its policy to allow Formula One to continue being sponsored by tobacco manufacturers. The Labour Party returned the donation when the scandal came to light. (1997)
- Double resignation rocks government. Peter Mandelson, Trade and Industry Secretary, resigns after failing to disclose £373,000 loan from Paymaster General Geoffrey Robinson. (1998)
- Ron Davies resigns from the cabinet after being robbed by a man he met at Clapham Common and then lying about it (1998)
- Jerry Hayes was "outed" as a homosexual by the News of the World. with the headline "TORY MP 2-TIMED WIFE WITH UNDER-AGE GAY LOVER". Hayes had met Young Conservative Paul Stone at the 1991 Conservative conference and that same evening, "committed a lewd act which was in breach of the law at the time". Stone had been 18 at the time, whilst the legal age for homosexual sex in 1991 was 21. He had previously supported Section 28 and other anti-gay legislation. (1997)
- Officegate (2001). Henry McLeish, Labour First Minister of Scotland, failed to refund the House of Commons for income he had received from the sub-let of his constituency office in Glenrothes while still a Westminster MP.
- Keith Vaz, Peter Mandelson and the Hinduja brothers. Mandelson forced to resign again due to misleading statements. (2001)
- Jo Moore, within an hour of the September 11 attacks, Moore sent an email to the press office of her department suggesting: It's now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors' expenses? Although prior to the catastrophic collapse of the towers, the phrase "a good day to bury bad news" (not actually used by Moore) has since been used to refer to other instances of attempting to hide one item of news behind a more publicised issue.
- In 2002, Edwina Currie revealed that she had had an affair, beginning in 1984, with John Major before he became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. This was criticised more harshly than may otherwise have been the case as Major had frequently pushed his Back To Basics agenda (see above), which was taken by the media as a form of moral absolutism.
- The Burrell affair - allegations about the behavior of the British Royal Family and their servants with possible constitutional implications. (2002)
- Ron Davies stands down from Welsh assembly following accusations of illicit gay sex. Mr Davies had claimed he had been badger-watching in the area. (2003)
- The apparent suicide of Dr. David Kelly and the Hutton Inquiry. On 17 July 2003, Kelly, an employee of the Ministry of Defence, apparently committed suicide after being misquoted by BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan as saying that Tony Blair's Labour government had knowingly "sexed up" the "September Dossier", a report into Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. The government was cleared of wrongdoing, while the BBC was strongly criticised by the subsequent inquiry, leading to the resignation of the BBC's chairman and director-general.
- In April 2004, Beverly Hughes was forced to resign as minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Counter Terrorism when it was shown that she had been informed of procedural improprieties concerning the granting of visas to certain categories of workers from Eastern Europe. She had earlier told the House of Commons that if she had been aware of such facts she would have done something about it.
- In 2005, David McLetchie, leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party is forced to resign after claiming the highest taxi expenses of any MSP. These included personal journeys, journeys related solely with his second job as a solicitor, and Conservative Party business, for example travel to Conservative conferences. Conservative backbench MSP Brian Monteith has the whip withdrawn for briefing against his leader to the Scotland on Sunday newspaper.
- Liberal Democrats Home Affairs spokesman Mark Oaten resigns after it is revealed by the News of the World that he paid rentboys to perform sexual activities on him.
- Tessa Jowell financial allegations (2006). Tessa Jowell, Labour cabinet minister, embroiled in a scandal about a property remortgage allegedly arranged to enable her husband to realise £350,000 from an off-shore hedge fund, money he allegedly received as a gift following testimony he had provided for Silvio Berlusconi in the 1990s. Popularised by the press as "Jowellgate".
- In March 2006 it emerged that the Labour party had borrowed millions of pounds in 2005 to help fund their general election campaign. While not illegal, on 15 March the Treasurer of the party, Jack Dromey stated publicly that he had neither knowledge of or involvement in these loans and had only become aware when he read about it in the newspapers. A story was running at the time that Dr Chai Patel and others had been recommended for Life peerages after lending the Labour party money. He called on the Electoral Commission to investigate the issue of political parties taking out loans from non-commercial sources. See Cash for Peerages.
- Cash for Honours (2006). Following revelations about Dr Chai Patel and others who were recommended for peerages after lending the Labour party money, the Treasurer of the party, Jack Dromey said he had not been involved and did not know the party had secretly borrowed millions of pounds in 2005. He called on the Electoral Commission to investigate the issue of political parties taking out loans from non-commercial sources.
- In November 2007, it emerged that more than £400,000 had been accepted by the Labour Party from one person through a series of third parties, causing the Electoral Commission to seek an explanation. Peter Watt resigned as the General Secretary of the party the day after the story broke and was quoted as saying that he knew about the arrangement but had not appreciated that he had failed to comply with the reporting requirements.
- On 24 January 2008, Peter Hain resigned his two cabinet posts (Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and Secretary of State for Wales) after the Electoral Commission referred donations to his Deputy Leadership campaign to the police.
- Derek Conway (2008). Conservative Party MP found to have reclaimed salaries he had paid to his two sons who had in fact not carried out the work to the extent claimed. Ordered to repay £16,918, suspended from the House of Commons for 10 days and removed from the party whip.
- Cash for Influence (2009). Details of covertly recorded discussions with 4 Labour Party peers which their ability to influence legislation and the consultancy fees that they charge (including retainer payments of up to £120,000) were published by The Sunday Times.
- United Kingdom Parliamentary expenses scandal following the disclosure of widespread actual and alleged misuse of the permitted allowances and expenses claimed by Members of Parliament and attempts by MPs and peers to exempt themselves from Freedom of Information legislation.
- The Iris Robinson scandal in which First Minister of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson stepped aside for six weeks in January 2010 following revelations of his wife’s involvement in an extramarital affair, her attempted suicide and allegations that he had failed to properly declare details of loans she had procured for her lover to develop a business venture.
- The 2010 Cash for Influence Scandal, in which undercover reporters for the Dispatches television series posed as political lobbyists offering to pay Members of Parliament to influence policy.
- On 29 May 2010 Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Laws resigned from the Cabinet and was referred to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards after the Daily Telegraph newspaper published details of Laws claiming around £40,000 in expenses on a second home owned by a secret partner between 2004 and 2009 whilst House of Commons rules have prevented MPs from claiming second home expenses on properties owned by a partner since 2006. By resigning Laws became the shortest serving Minister in modern British political history with less than 18 days service as a Cabinet Minister.
- On 14 October 2011 Secretary of State for Defence Liam Fox resigned from the Cabinet after he "mistakenly allowed the distinction between [his] personal interest and [his] government activities to become blurred" over his friendship with Adam Werrity.
- Conservative Party 'Cash for Access' scandal, March 2012.
- In April 2012 Conservative Party MP and culture secretary Jeremy Hunt came under pressure to resign as a result of his closeness to Rupert Murdoch's media empire and alleged corruption in dealing with Murdoch's bid for News Corporation's takeover of BSkyB.
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- "LIBERATOR BUILDING SOCIETY SCANDALS". PapersPast. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
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- "1963: The Profumo scandal". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 February 2013.
- "1986: Heseltine quits over Westland". BBC. Retrieved 6 February 2013.
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- Wintour, Patrick (10 March 2003). "Ron Davies ends political career". The Guardian (London: Guardian News and Media Ltd.). Retrieved 29 July 2009.
- Mp, Labour (16 October 2002). "Beverley Hughes". BBC News. Retrieved 2 April 2007.
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- "Oaten resigns over rent boy claim". BBC News (BBC). 21 January 2006. Retrieved 29 July 2009.
- Owen, Richard (27 February 2006). "Q&A: Tessa Jowell and the Berlusconi affair". Times Online (London: Times Newspapers Ltd. A member of the News International Group). Retrieved 29 July 2009.
- Popham, Peter (2 March 2006). "Jowellgate: Italian judge will press charges over bribery allegations". The Independent (London: Independent News and Media Limited). Retrieved 29 July 2009.
- "Labour loans to be investigated", BBC, 15 March 2006
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7111838.stm "Concern over secret Labour donor"], BBC, 25 November 2007
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7113255.stm "Labour boss quits over donations", BBC, 26 November 2007
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7206812.stm "Hain quits jobs 'to clear name' ", BBC, 24 January 2007
- "Tory MP Conway faces suspension". BBC News. 28 January 2008. Retrieved 28 January 2008.