International Papers

A Major Scandal

Former Conservative minister Edwina Currie’s revelation this weekend that she and former Prime Minister John Major had a four-year extramarital affair in the early ‘80s provided plenty of fodder for the British press. Several papers expressed a grudging new admiration for Major, who was seen for so many years as an extraordinarily bland politician. The Guardian declared, “For years, Mr Major always laboured under a legendarily grey public image. Now, though, Mr Major is revealed as a flesh-and-blood chancer—indeed almost in the Bill Clinton class.” The Daily Mirror’s Sue Carroll was shocked by the realization that Major “is actually a bit of all right. In fact, lurking beneath that boring exterior exists a man silently simmering with sex appeal. Never have so many plaudits been heaped upon a man who popular opinion (and ghastly ensemble of beige knitwear) would have you believe was capable only of turning on a light switch.”

The most common response, though, was to attack Major’s hypocrisy. The Mirror’s Tony Parsons began his column, “Liar, liar, grey Marks & Spencer Y-fronts on fire.” Parsons was outraged by the former prime minister’s double standards: “John Major built an entire career around presenting himself as the Tory party’s answer to Doris Day. … This little grey man, with all the dirty secrets surrounding his nasty little cocktail sausage, is a walking, talking definition of hypocrisy.” Elsewhere, the Mirror reported that British bookmakers are offering odds on other famous women John Major may have bedded: Film star Joan Collins is quoted at 33-1, “pop pixie” Kylie Minogue at a long-shot 500-1, and Baroness Thatcher at 50-1.

Several papers wondered how history would’ve differed if Currie had revealed the affair earlier. The Mirror’s chief political commentator dreamed: “What a pity this scandal did not break when it would have had most impact—sometime late in 1992. It would have stuffed the last Tory government overnight. Major would have had to resign and John Smith would almost certainly have been elected Prime Minister of a sensible Labour government. We would have been spared the unspeakable sham of Tony Blair.” The Sun saw things differently: “Major would never have become PM, the Tory Party would have been split over the euro and Labour loser Neil Kinnock might even have won the 1992 election. … Had Kinnock won in 1992, it would have been Labour who would now be seen as unelectable instead of the Tories.”The Independent hypothesized yet another outcome: If Currie had come clean after Major made his famous “back to basics” family-values speech in 1990, “he would undoubtedly have been toast, and required to resign. … It is entirely possible, however, that with the Government’s slender majority already shrinking because of by-election defeats, the whole administration might have crumbled.”

The Sun, which was loyal to the Conservatives until 1997, when it embraced Tony Blair’s “New Labor,” said the Major-Currie flap “matters because it reminds us all why we voted Labour. … For women especially, the Tories look dated, austere, sexist, irrelevant and finished.” For the conservative Daily Telegraph, Major’s administration was hobbled by his fear of exposure: “It explains … why he was always so nervous of the press and obsessed by it, why he dealt so badly with the sex scandals that plagued his term of office.”

The Times reported that two magazines Major successfully sued in 1993 “over claims that he had an affair with a Downing Street caterer” are considering legal action against the former prime minister. “Scallywag was forced to close as a result of the legal action. The New Statesman was crippled financially.” The caterer, Clare Latimer, angrily accused Major of using her as a “decoy” to distract attention from his relationship with Currie.

Major wasn’t the only former senior Tory having curry trouble this weekend. The Daily Mirror reported that “an angry prisoner hurled hot curry over Jeffrey Archer at Lincoln jail.” According to the story, other prisoners believe the disgraced former Conservative Party deputy chairman, who was recently moved from an open prison for rules violations, has “taken the p*** out of the prison system.”