SKANDAL | När The Spectator 2009 skulle ranka landets politiska skandaler utsåg man Profumoaffären på 1960-talet till den största.
Skandalen som tvingade John Profumo, premiärminister Harold Macmillans krigsminister, att avgå innehöll allt ifrån sex, politik och ryska spioner.
Clive Irving, som då ledde ett team av undersökande journalister på The Sunday Times, har nyligen i Newsweek berättat om händelserna och hur Macmillan försökte hantera media.
I call Macmillan’s press officer, Harold Evans (in this era the prime minister has no spinmeisters; Evans—not the illustrious namesake who later became editor of The Sunday Times—is a career civil servant, avowedly apolitical). I ask if I can submit a list of questions. Evans invites me to call and present them in person.
I take Wallington with me—his legwork is the reason our timeline has the goods. It’s obvious that Evans is well briefed on where we’ve been, who has talked, and how deep our knowledge is. He goes through the timeline and ticks every box, adding some details about who has been present during interrogations, but denying nothing. The final question then asserts itself: why did Macmillan leave the interrogation of Profumo to others?
Evans asks that we go off the record. Nothing he says can be explicitly used. We have to understand what kind of man the prime minister is—his life, his values, his scars. He sees himself as a statesman. Profumo’s behavior was beneath contempt: members of Macmillan’s clubs don’t lie. That was the shock—not the squalor of the scandal, but the total absence of honor.
I realize as I listen that there is probably only one door between us and the subject of our conversation. Macmillan is working in his study.
But Evans isn’t finished. There is more, he says, and this is absolutely unpublishable. Macmillan had been cuckolded. For 30 years his wife, Lady Dorothy, had been having an affair with a famous bad boy of the Tory party, the bisexual Robert Boothby, and there had been a daughter from the union. Evans is surprised we don’t know—it’s a mark of how wet behind the ears we still are. (Unpublishable but not unknown to older colleagues at the paper, as it turns out.) The prime minister just could not confront a sexual scandal and wished that it would go away—which it very nearly had.
At the time, this revelation had the desired effect on our final judgment on Macmillan in the book we published, that he had shown “willful amnesia.” On reflection, as bizarre as the Macmillan ménage was, its use as an alibi now appears to me to be weak. Double lives like Profumo’s (and other members of the Macmillan cabinet) were a commonplace—whether in domestic arrangements or espionage. As long as it seemed that Profumo could get away with his lie, Macmillan was not disposed to deal with it.