Sleaze: The State of the Nation
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Never have these words been more true than in the 20th century. If “sleaze” is a term associated with the 1990s, another is “soundbite” and this engaging history of modern political impropriety is replete with ripe quotation, enhanced by the dramatic irony that hindsight brings to bear on the indignant bon mots. Sleaze is a positive delight for those who feed on the political bungee-jumping of the great and the grating.The adage runs that Tories fall to sexual scandal whereas Labour’s achilles heel is financial but, while this is broadly true, there are members who are happy to cross the floor. Lewis Baston assembles the usual suspects of post-war intrigue; some hapless, some unscrupulous, but most lascivious in either boardroom or bedroom: the outrageous Tom Driberg, John Belcher, John Profumo, Bob Boothby, John Poulson and Jeremy Thorpe, through to the familiar faces of the 1980s and 1990s. Understandably, most space is given to recent misdemeanours, including the Mohamed Fayed v Neil Hamilton libel case, but by then the catwalk of audacious miscreants has somewhat blurred through prolificacy. Baston adroitly chronicles the collapse of the symbiotic relationship between the press and MPs, showing how the move from deference to hostility spawned both investigative journalism and its frivolous sibling, “bonk journalism”. Sleaze, in a similar vein to Matthew Parris’s Great Parliamentary Scandals, shows that tales of hypocrisy and hubris can always stand a decent retelling. The best response to the pomposity of this rogues’ gallery is schadenfreuden and Sleaze is as stuffed with delicious bounties as a Mohamed Fayed brown envelope. —David Vincent
A TV tie-in to a Channel 4 series, this book is based on recorded testimonies, giving a no-holds barred expose of the British government under both Conservative and Labour leadership. It investigates MP’s private lives as well as their public ones, considers what they are paid for and party funding.