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A reprieve for Pawar
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The Frontline features

Tory scandals

By V. Venkatesan

EVER since British Prime Minister John Major launched his "back to the basics" moral crusade late last year, skeletons have been tumbling out of ministerial cupboards with indecent regularity. The sex scandals--and a bizarre death--that have made a mockery of Major's alliterative slogan may individually seem at worst trivial transgressions; but seen together they show up a Conservative Party mired in sleaze.

Pilloried for sexual indiscretions, four Tory politicians have resigned from government posts in the last two months, while a fifth has, with his death in a mysterious and unedifying manner, necessitated a byelection.

Early in January, Minister of State for Aviation and Shipping Lord Caithness stepped down after his wife shot herself following his "friendship" with a former secretary of Princess Anne. The next day, David Ashby, a married Tory MP, confirmed reports that he shared a bed with a male friend during a vacation in a French hotel, but denied a homosexual liaison.

Barely had the Government emerged, red-faced but unscathed, from these scandals than it was rocked by the death of Stephen Milligan, one of the Tories' rising stars. His body, clad only in women's stockings and garter belt, was discovered sprawled on the kitchen table of his apartment. A plastic bag was tied over his head, a cord wound around the neck. After days of speculation about homosexual sex rings and murder, the police said the 45-year-old bachelor and former journalist may have asphyxiated himself when engaged in an "auto- erotic practice".

And within days, Tory MP Hartley Booth resigned a foreign affairs post after newspaper allegations of an extramarital affair with his parliamentary researcher, who is also a nude art model. The scandal raised another question: were the private lives of politicians being scrutinised too closely?

Liberal Democratic Party leader Paddy Ashdown, whose affair with a parliamentary secretary hit frontpages two years ago, decried the "extraordinary maelstrom of Westminster navel-gazing"; but they have ensured that Conservative morality will be the stuff of headlines even beyond the gutter tabloids in the run-up to local elections in May. n

(Published in Frontline, March 11, 1994)

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