Lord Prescott loves to play the political grandee – using Twitter to imply he is setting the running for his colleagues in the Commons. Unfortunately, just like the meat in a cut-price cottage pie, the reality doesn’t necessarily match the hype.
On Saturday night, the Sun’s Dave Wooding retweeted Prezza’s message urging “every member of the Shadow Cabinet” to “think twice before writing for the Sun”, followed by two telling updates on the contents of the latest Sun on Sunday:
There is a particular type of news story which British politics alone produces. Maybe it’s to do with our politicians, our media or our national sense of humour, but it’s undeniable that Westminster has an amazing capacity to produce scandals which give a prominent part to odd (and otherwise insignificant) items.
The case of Rebekah Brooks’ horse, which it has emerged was ridden by David Cameron once despite No 10’s previous denials, is a classic example. The story is interesting due to its part in the ongoing discussion of relationships between politicians, the media and the police, but in itself it’s not that interesting. On paper, it doesn’t deserve front page billing – and yet it is almost certain to be on the front page of several of tomorrow’s papers.
What propels into media stardom is the very fact that the whole thing centres around a horse – and it is this kind of peculiar political prop that British journalists and audiences absolutely revel in.
In order to further the study of this phenomenon, here are CrashBangWallace.com’s Top 10 Weird Political Scandal Props:
1) Ron Davies’ “badger”
The former Secretary of State for Wales was forced to quit politics after being photographed by The Sun apaprently cruising for sex in the woods. So far, so run-of-the-mill sex scandal. It was, however, his claim that he had been “watching badgers” that made the story famous, notorious and memorable. The badger is distinguished particularly by being a Political Scandal Prop which did not actually exist. (As an aside, almost as memorable a prop provided by Davies was the word “sorry” which he wrote on his hand before TV interviews to remind himself to say it…)
2) Michael Foot’s Donkey Jacket
Michael Foot was a disastrous Labour leader for many reasons (not least the “longest suicide note in history”), but he is still remembered for wearing what appeared to be a donkey jacket at the Cenotaph on Armistice Day in 1981. As it turned out, it wasn’t a donkey jacket after all, and the Queen Mother reportedly liked it, but the impression that he was treating the ceremony with disrespect stuck both on his reputation and in the memories of the public.
3) The Duck House
In modern times, the £1,645 Duck House claimed on MPs’ expenses by Sir Peter Viggers is undoubtedly the pinnacle of the Weird Political Scandal Props genre. The fact that no-one knew what a duck house was before Sir Peter gave the UK’s duck house industry a publicity boost helped the story to come to be emblematic of the entire MPs’ expenses scandal. Ask someone in the street what they remember about MPs’ expenses and they are certain to mention the accommodation facilities provided to Viggers’ mallards.
4) John Gummer’s burger
In 1990, at the height of the BSE/CJD panic, Agriculture Minister John Gummer attempted to calm the public by feeding a beef burger to his daughter. As if the deployment of a young child, or the attempt to feed her allegedly dangerous meat, wasn’t bad enough, young Miss Gummer refused to eat it, so her father tucked in for the cameras instead.
5) David Mellor’s Chelsea Kit
In the firestorm of scandals engulfing John Major’s Government, David Mellor’s affair with Antonia de Sancha still stands out – purely due to her claims that he asked her to wear a Chelsea shirt while they had sex. In the 90s, sleaze was all too common, but sleaze with such an odd prop proved legendary.
6) William Hague’s baseball cap
The newly elected leader of the Conservative Party, in opposition for the first time in 18 years and battered from the grim decline of the Major years, went on an immediate drive to appear young and in touch. For some reason, this involved wearing a baseball cap on a log flume at a theme park - a move which was roundly mocked from the left and the right. (A close runner up for William Hague was the 14 pints that he claimed to regularly drink in a day when younger.)
7) Humphrey the Downing Street Cat
Shortly after the Blairs moved into Downing Street in 1997, Humphrey the cat, who had been in residence since 1989, was unceremoniously forced to move out. Medical reasons were cited for his retirement (“spending more time with his family” presumably being inapplicable), but rumours abounded that Cherie Blair had taken a dislike to him – or even had him murdered, according to Alan Clark.
8 ) The egg that hit John Prescott
In 2001, countryside protester and mullet-wearer Craig Evans threw an egg at John Prescott. The one thing he probably didn’t expect was for Prezza to wallop him in return. There were calls for a resignation, general sympathy for wanting to punch someone who pelts you with food and the famous Blair response “John is John” – all started by a simple egg.
9) Michael Mates’ engraved watch
One of the odder parts of the Polly Peck scandal in the early 90s (which is only now coming to court, with Asil Nadir’s return to Britain) was when Michael Mates, then Northern Ireland Minister, sent Nadir a watch engraved with the words “Don’t let the buggers get you down”. Somewhat embarassingly for Mates, who had been defending Nadir in public as well as sending such tokens in private, the businessman skipped bail and fled to Cyprus. Mates resigned.
10) John Hemming’s girlfriend’s cat
Before the scandal over Rebekah Brooks’ horse, Lib Dem MP John Hemming had provided the most recent animal-themed controversy. Hemming, a repeat adulterer who has been a little too open about his sex life for some reason, apparently annoyed even his hyper-tolerant wife so much so that she stole his mistress’s pet cat. The cat was reported to have been found, but there have since been allegations that the cat that was handed over is not the real cat after all. The mystery deepens…
There are plenty more Weird Political Scandal Props out there – which are your favourites?
It’s all very well for an Opposition to oppose, but doing so in direct contravention of things you yourself actually did in Government has a remarkable capacity to make you look stupid. I was going to write about this in hypothetical terms, but happily John Prescott has kindly stepped in to provide a perfect case study.
You’d have been forgiven for thinking when he was sworn in as Lord Prescott that it was the pinnacle of political hypocrisy. Well, it seems that was actually just a dry run for the things he intended to say once he was snugly in the ermine.
Yesterday, his Lordship posted a withering attack on Twitter:
“Con Dems slash housing benefit for poor but happy to pay £30,000 a year private school fees for diplomats – £15m a year”
This got up my nose a bit. After all, he seemed to have no problem paying these fees when he was in Government – and whilst they are excessive their existence doesn’t magically invalidate any other spending cuts.
Furthermore, when he was in power I vividly remember them scrapping Assisted Places, removing the only opportunity for bright kids who couldn’t afford the fees to get into private schools. Didn’t he do that, I pointed out, whilst at the same time paying the exact same fees for diplomats’ kids that he is now criticising?
Cue awkward silence. Eventually, the best Lord Prescott could muster was a complaint that the TaxPayers’ Alliance had given “no quote” on the topic.
Unfortunately for him, the Daily Telegraph, Sky News, the Metro, and even his favourite The Mirror record in black and white that the TPA has criticised this spending for years. I should know – I wrote the quotes and gave the TV interviews!
The question for John Prescott is this: he didn’t lose a minute’s sleep about these school fees when he was in power, so why is he suddenly howling about them in Opposition? What changed?
It couldn’t be that his Party lost the election, could it? No, a man of principle like Lord P would never bend in the political wind of base tribalism. The more charitable answer is surely that he was persuaded by the arguments of the TaxPayers’ Alliance and changed his mind. Nice to see you joining the programme, John.
PS To be absolutely clear, I do understand why the children of diplomats (and members of the Forces) may need to be sent to boarding school when their parents are abroad. I just think we could save money by sending them to one of the many excellent state boarding schools, rather than Eton.