John Whittingdale: The BBC bites back

The culture minister John Whittingdale is embroiled in a story about his relationship with a consort considered unsuitable for a minister of the crown.  It is tempting to link his story to that of the affair of the hapless John Profumo, many years ago

 The context to this story is the febrile political atmosphere in the UK, where there is an appetite for political mischief in the run-in to the EU referendum.

Political activists are lining up to find and or refute stories to discredit other activists. Among several stories this week, there are reports of the dire consequences of a Yes Vote or a No Vote with requisite rebuttals.


The Prime Minister, is unsurprisingly one of the Prime Targets. He has become embroiled in the wikileaks of tax practices of the globally powerful, emerging from from the Panamanian firm Mossack Fonseka.


His reactions in the House of Commons earlier this week produced a remarkable set of actions. Defending his financial arrangements, Mr Cameron published details for public consumption, and announced it would become an obligation in the future for PM and Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lesser ministers and infantry MPs would only do this if their consciences demanded it of them. The Chancellor quickly responded as requested.  So did Boris Johnson for the sake of his conscience or political aspirations, and Jeremy Corbin as a gesture of solidarity towards the forces of political transparency.


Dennis Skinner, the celebrated lion of the labour left, was expelled from the House for refusing to retract his use of the D word (as The Speaker delicately put it, in the term Dodgy Dave). Dennis refused and achieved his much-desired symbolic victory by stalking out of the chamber, head held high.


Then the Whittingdale story bubbled up


Then the Whittingdale story bubbled up. The Open Democracy website had produced a story it claimed that the press had decided against publishing. The extended article essentially was around the relationship between Mr Whittingdale and the Press:


The promotion of the former chair of the House of Commons Department of Culture, Media and Sport select committee to Culture Secretary last year means that John Whittingdale’s lengthy relationship with a professional dominatrix and fetish escort – known to leading national newspaper groups who held back from publishing any detail – left him increasingly open to potential blackmail.


The Case of John Profumo


I was immediately struck by the echoes of a far greatest political scandal which helped change the cultural landscape of sleepy post-war Little England in the 1960s. It was Brilliantly summed up by Mark Steyne in his obituary to Mandy Rice Davis who died a near cultural icon in 2014.


Mandy Rice-Davies was the tarty, assured, provincial teen who toppled a Conservative prime minister, Harold Macmillan, in the summer of 1963, and eventually his successor, Lord Home

John Profumo embroiled in a story with sex parties, masked aristocrats, and Russian spies, resigned – not because he was untrue to his wife but because he was untrue to the House of Commons.


Profumo went on to live a life of blameless self-sacrifice. Mandy went on to national fame, and a court appearance which yielded one of the most quoted defences of the weak facing a claim of innocence by the powerful (‘Well, he would say that wouldn’t he’).  Later she advised in a West End musical musical on the affair.

Back to the future


A little research revealed that the comparison with Whittingale and John Profumo scandal had already been made. The story did not gain traction at the time. It may have been to do with its release on April 1st this year, the day of false stories.


However, the BBC was on the case. Much bruised by John Whittingdale’s view on the future of public broadcasting, it entered the fray. A Newsnight debate triggered further press interest.



The  story has its shoes on and is up and running.  As I prepare a first draft [Wednesday April 14 2016], the first protagonists are heading for the news studios.  Inevitably, expect more non-denial denials to follow from the uncomfortable Mr Bigs waiting for their entrances into the circus ring.

 To be continued

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