A Reflection on Ministerial Scandals and the Memory of the Major Government
The recent scandal involving a Tory Cabinet minister and his alleged extramarital affair, publicized by tabloids, is evocative of the sleaze that tarnished John Major’s government before it lost power in 1997. During that time, ministerial scandals primarily revolved around adultery, which undermined the Prime Minister’s socially conservative “Back to Basics” campaign. However, it was the exposure of “cash for questions” that ultimately led to the Conservatives’ downfall at the ballot box.
While ministerial infidelity is no longer considered a resigning matter, Boris Johnson’s electoral success in 2019 despite his complicated love life has contributed to this shift in public perception. Nonetheless, the recent revelation of Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s liaison with Gina Coladangelo has occurred in the context of an accumulation of financial scandals. This, in turn, could reinforce the public perception of Tory ministers prioritizing their own interests over those of the voters.
Mr. Hancock’s scandal, in particular, would have been less scandalous had he not been caught kissing someone who was an aide or non-executive director in his department and had he not violated social distancing guidelines during the pandemic. As it stands, he is at risk of breaching the ministerial code and has admitted to breaking social distancing guidelines, potentially violating coronavirus laws.
The public may perceive his hypocrisy regarding social distancing negatively. Meanwhile, Mr. Johnson faced criticism from his standards adviser in May for his “unwise” refurbishment of his flat above No. 11 Downing Street, which was apparently funded by a Tory donor. The Electoral Commission is currently investigating this donation.
Moreover, there is the matter of financier Lex Greensill’s lobbying of ministers through former Prime Minister David Cameron’s conduit. While no serving ministers allegedly offered any favors in return, this story may contribute to a wider perception of ministerial sleaze.
The accumulation of financial and personal scandals, alongside the recent scandal involving Mr. Hancock, risks creating an impression of widespread ministerial sleaze. Furthermore, the Tories’ prior experience of scandals during the Major government serves as a reminder of the negative electoral consequences that such events can have.
While ministerial infidelity may no longer be a resigning issue, the accumulation of scandals risks perpetuating public skepticism regarding Tory ministers’ integrity and commitment to serving their constituents. In this context, it is essential for the government to address any wrongdoing and take measures to restore public trust.