Sex predators who make our MPs look like choirboys!

So the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has fallen on his sword as rumours of sexual impropriety swirl around Westminster. This despite the fact that the only public allegations made against him so far are that he touched the knee of a female journalist some years ago and made a lewd comment to Leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom.

With that in mind, I shudder to think of what today’s Westminster Press corps would make, for example, of the Victorian statesman Lord Palmerston who, staying with the Queen at Windsor Castle in his mid-50s, crept into the bedroom of one of her ladies-in-waiting and was only repelled when his victim screamed for help.

But as far as Palmerston was concerned, this was merely par for the course. In his diaries, he used weather references to record his conquests; a ‘fine night in the garden’ with ‘E’ meant a liaison with his mistress Emily Cowper.

Former Prime Minister David Lloyd George, left, was nicknamed ‘The Goat’ and slept with his son’s wife 

In later years, he earned the reputation ‘Lord Cupid’. The story goes that he died at the age of 80 while having sex with a maid on the billiard table.

While almost certainly apocryphal, historians used to tell that story as a semi-comic tribute to the Liberal leader’s potency. In today’s climate, though, we might see it very differently: a shameless predator, preying on a helpless woman.

The truth, of course, is that politics and promiscuity have always gone hand in hand. As the former Tory MP Matthew Parris wrote in his memoirs, ‘nobody without a gambling streak, a taste for uncertainty and a belief in his own luck would embark on a Commons career’.

Politicians might pretend to be loving, family men, Parris wrote, but in reality they tend to be risk-takers, addicted to the thrill of the chase and the satisfaction of conquest. ‘No unadventurous family man in search of security,’ he remarked, ‘is likely to want a career in politics.’

Prime Minister Herbert Asquith made women fondle him and fell for a girl 35 years his junior

Prime Minister Herbert Asquith made women fondle him and fell for a girl 35 years his junior

I think he was right. After all, just look at the men who led Britain in the first two decades of the 20th century.

In today’s climate, the Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith, who led Britain for eight years after 1908, would last barely a week. He enjoyed a close marriage with his fantastically snobbish wife, the hatchet-faced socialite Margot, who bore him five children.

But when a doctor advised her, for the sake of her health, to sleep in a separate bedroom, Asquith began his career as a world-class groper. Not even his own colleagues’ wives were immune.

Winston Churchill’s wife Clemmie complained that Asquith was always trying to look down her dress, while the socialite Lady Ottoline Morrell reported that he would ‘take a lady’s hand as she sat beside him on the sofa and make her feel his erected instrument under his trousers’.

On top of all that, Asquith developed an unhealthy obsession with his daughter’s friend Venetia Stanley, a whopping 35 years his junior, and used to write her love letters.

Even during World War I, when he was supposed to be masterminding Britain’s military survival, he was scribbling explicit notes to her during Cabinet meetings.

But when Asquith finally got the boot in 1916, the Liberal-Tory coalition replaced him with the one politician in Britain who was even more predatory and promiscuous than he was.

Even at the time, David Lloyd George’s penchant for the ladies was very well known, earning him the nickname ‘the Goat’. As one of his own aides put it, the brilliant Welsh orator was ‘mental on matters of sex. In his view, a man and a woman could not possibly be friends without sexual intercourse.’

Conservative MP Bob Boothby bedded a PM's wife and a host of East End gangsters

Conservative MP Bob Boothby bedded a PM’s wife and a host of East End gangsters

The list of his conquests could probably fill every page of this newspaper. Within months of his marriage to the stolid and long-suffering Maggie, he had already strayed, impregnating a Liberal activist known only as Mrs J.

Not content with also impregnating his wife’s cousin, Kitty Edwards, Lloyd George had affairs with ‘Mrs Tim’ who was married to his friend Timothy Davies, as well as Julia Henry, another Liberal MP’s wife.

He also carried on for decades with his secretary, Frances Stevenson, whom he forced to have at least two abortions. And there were many more — so many that nobody has ever produced a definitive count. He even slept with his son Dick’s troubled wife, Roberta, and this when he was well into his 60s.

At the time, people joked that Lloyd George had a love child in every town in Britain.

The story goes that one day Dick Lloyd George went into a pub and fell into conversation with a stranger who looked just like him. The stranger eventually confessed that Lloyd George was indeed his father, and was secretly paying him £400 a year.

Things were different then, of course. Politicians were, almost without exception, men and were often fuelled by a sense of entitlement that now seems highly distasteful. As a Labour minister in the 1920s, the future fascist Sir Oswald Mosley claimed that his motto was ‘Vote Labour, Sleep Tory’. He once told his friend Bob Boothby, himself a Tory MP, that he had confessed all his affairs to his first wife, Cynthia.

Home secretary Roy Jenkins was a notorious groper who slept with his best friends' wives

Home secretary Roy Jenkins was a notorious groper who slept with his best friends’ wives

‘What — all of them?’ asked a horrified Boothby. ‘Well, no,’ Mosley admitted. ‘Not her sister or her stepmother.’

Boothby himself would be another candidate for the stocks today. Openly bisexual, he had a decades-long affair with Lady Dorothy Macmillan, wife of the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, and was alleged to have fathered at least one of Macmillan’s children.

On top of that, almost incredibly, Boothby had affairs with male East End gangsters, including the cat burglar Leslie Holt. This brought him into the orbit of the Krays, who used to arrange orgies for him and allegedly supplied him with compliant young men.

As for Macmillan himself, he may have lived as a virtual monk (since his wife preferred to take her pleasures with the shop-soiled Boothby), but his government included some of the most notorious rakes in British history.

The story of John Profumo, the War Minister who slept with the topless showgirl Christine Keeler, is well known. Less so are the shenanigans of Ernest Marples, the Transport Minister, who was often described by Westminster wags as London’s prostitutes’ most reliable client.

When the then Master of the Rolls Lord Denning was drafting his 1963 judicial inquiry report into the Profumo scandal, Marples almost made a cameo appearance as the ‘Man in the Mask’, who had supposedly been involved in various orgies, naked but for a Masonic apron and mask, along with a sign saying, ‘If my services don’t please — whip me’.

Defence Minister Lord Lambton paid a call girl to watch him have sex with men

Defence Minister Lord Lambton paid a call girl to watch him have sex with men

Whether Marples was indeed the masked man, or whether this was just cruel gossip remains controversial. To the disappointment of the Press, however, his name was kept out of the published version. Then, as now, the Tories’ supposed addiction to ‘sleaze’ worked in Labour’s favour, paving the way for the advent of Harold Wilson’s government in 1964.

But despite their holier-than-thou image, Wilson’s ministers were no angels.

Wilson himself, for example, had a very strange relationship with his political secretary, Marcia Williams.

He once told his aides that after a particularly blazing row, Marcia had gone to see his wife Mary and announced: ‘I have only one thing to say to you. I went to bed with your husband six times in 1956 and it wasn’t satisfactory.’ Wilson himself maintained that this was untrue, but many of his own colleagues were not convinced. But perhaps this was because their own lives were less than straightforward.

His Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, the architect of the ‘permissive society’, was a prize example.

Westminster gossips often claimed that Jenkins was very permissive with his hands: the historian A. N. Wilson has written of his ‘ever-stirring right hand, sometimes to emphasise a debating point, sometimes to feel along a hostess’s thigh’.

As Herbert Asquith’s biographer, perhaps Jenkins was trying to live up to his hero’s reputation. In any case, after he married his wife Jennifer in 1945, he wasted little time in demanding the freedom to pursue ‘variety elsewhere’.

Liberal Leader Jeremy Thorpe was addicted to rent boys leading to a scandalous trial

Liberal Leader Jeremy Thorpe was addicted to rent boys leading to a scandalous trial

Among his conquests were the wives of two of his best friends, the Tory minister Sir Ian Gilmour and the Liberal MP Mark Bonham-Carter. Not only did the two women come quite openly to Jenkins’s Oxfordshire home — even when his wife was in! — but their families even used to holiday together in Tuscany.

It sounds like the stuff of some West End farce, perhaps entitled The Permissive Society. For the long-suffering Jennifer, however, it must have been humiliating.

Wilson’s Tory rival Edward Heath was just about the last person likely to be accused of molesting a society hostess, although of course he has more recently been the subject of apparently baseless rumours about the historic abuse of young men. But even his government was not free from scandal.

In 1973 it transpired that a junior defence minister, Lord Lambton, was a regular client of a high-class escort agency run by London’s ‘leading madam’, the aptly named Jean Horn. His favourite was a 26-year-old prostitute called Norma, whom Lambton sometimes paid, rather exotically, to watch him having sex with other men.

Lord Lambton has also a regular with a high-class prostitute with Norma Levy, pictured

Lord Lambton has also a regular with a high-class prostitute with Norma Levy, pictured

In a bizarre twist, Lambton was exposed when Norma’s husband, a taxi driver called Colin, became suspicious and installed a listening device in the nose of her giant teddy bear. Colin sold the story to the News of the World, who sent a photographer to hide in the wardrobe while Lambton was cavorting with Norma and another girl.

Lambton had to resign, of course, but unlike today’s politicians, he made no pretence of feeling ashamed. When the BBC’s Robin Day asked him what he had been thinking, he reacted with remarkable sang-froid. ‘People sometimes like variety,’ he remarked. ‘Surely all men visit whores?’

In the years that followed, a succession of Tory ministers — most famously Cecil Parkinson, who fathered a child with his secretary Sara Keays, and David Mellor, who was falsely alleged to have made love in a Chelsea football shirt — found themselves on the front pages of the nation’s papers.

The Commons has, of course, certainly had its fair share of promiscuous gay men, too.

The most notorious was surely the Labour MP Tom Driberg, who explained his staggering promiscuity on the basis that sex was only fun if you were sure never to see the other person again. During the 1940s and 1950s, he was repeatedly caught by the police in public toilets, but always successfully bribed them to keep quiet.

He only drew the line at men with beards, whom he found repellent. His favourite time of year, interestingly, was Labour’s annual conference, when the only difficulty lay in finding time for all his suitors.

But Driberg had a high-profile rival in the Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe. Acting with almost criminal recklessness, Thorpe not only liked to pick up rent boys on his Mediterranean holidays, but seduced a stable boy, Norman Scott.

Unfortunately, Scott later became obsessed with the idea that Thorpe had used and abused him, and pursued him for years.

In a story too bizarre even for fiction, Scott eventually claimed that Thorpe had arranged through an eclectic series of intermediaries — including a Welsh fruit-machine magnate and a cut-price carpet dealer — for a hitman to murder him.

The hitman duly lured Scott to Dartmoor and shot his dog, Rinka, but then his gun jammed, so Scott escaped to tell the tale. Not surprisingly, Thorpe ended up in court, where he was eventually acquitted of conspiracy to murder — much to the amazement of most observers, it has to be said.

By historical standards Michael Fallon’s defenestration this week looks astonishingly abrupt when you compare him with the likes of Jenkins, Boothby and Lambton, let alone Asquith and Lloyd George.

It is often said, of course, that there would be no politicians left if you kicked out all the philanderers. And there is surely a degree of truth in the argument that politicians often tend to be people with unhealthily over-active appetites, greedy for sex as well as power.

But it strikes me that over the years, this has been a very convenient get-out for misbehaving politicians — a way of excusing, and even glorifying, their seedy and predatory behaviour.

It is surely a myth that you have to be dementedly over-sexed to be a great politician. The most successful PMs of the last century, in my view, were Stanley Baldwin, Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher.

All four were conspicuously devoted to their spouses, pouring their energies into their jobs instead of wasting them on shabby sexual misconduct.

You can no more imagine Churchill cheating on Clemmie, or Attlee groping his secretary, than you can picture Mrs Thatcher molesting a hapless male researcher.

Although the current Westminster hysteria strikes me as over the top, we should be glad the age of the shameless parliamentary seducer appears to be over.

In politics, as in life, there is a lot to be said for decency and fidelity.