Now that former Central Office favourite Mark Clarke has been banned for life from the Conservative party, he could pursue a career in copy-writing. He seems to have a twisted aptitude for that sort of thing. When leading the Tories’ general election RoadTrip 2015 of young activists, many of them peachy girls, Mr Clarke was said to have had the slogan ‘Isolate, inebriate and penetrate’. Though he denies the bon mot, his approach was apparently wildly successful — which is more than can be said for his attempts to land a parliamentary seat.
Several women, including at least one serving cabinet minister, fell for this plausible smarmer over the years. Mr Clarke called to mind the character played by 1960s film actor Leslie Phillips, who greeted women with the words ‘Well, hello — ding dong.’ Fleet Street, deliriously alighting on Mr Clarke’s ‘Tatler Tory’ moniker, has run pages of copy about him under headlines about ‘Sexminster’. The party of Macmillan and Thatcher, meanwhile, has not had coverage like this since the days of Miss Whiplash, Bienvenida Buck and the cravat-wearing Alan Clark, who bagged not only a mistress but also her two daughters.
Only pure-minded folk such as tabloid editors will be surprised that a political party’s youth wing, in this case RoadTrip 2015, involved rather more bedhopping than doorstepping. Envelopes were not the only things being stuffed. What else are youth wings for? Some of today’s party bigshots joined the Young Conservatives in the 1970s chiefly in the hope of some heavy petting, as it used to be called.
Putting aside more serious suggestions about Mr Clarke concerning blackmail and the bullying of a suicidal young man, he comes across — and here is a word RoadTrippers might scarcely know — as a cad.
The late Norman Douglas wrote that ‘All men fall into two main divisions: those who value human relationships, and those who value social or financial advancement. The first division are gentlemen; the second division are cads.’ In it for themselves, you could say. ‘Cad’ normally has suggestions of goosing — not safe in taxis — but the word also invokes a selfishness; and that is something tolerated and often rewarded in politics.
Boris Johnson? A cad. OK, he is a bumbling cad, a cad who makes us laugh, but his treatment of Petronella Wyatt a few years ago was far from gentlemanly. Does anyone care? Apparently not. Boris ends the year ahead of George Osborne in the next Tory leader polls. A wife-cheating cad in No. 10? He would not be the first.
Once a cad, always a cad. Tim Yeo, who has just gone down in flames at the libel courts — well played, Mr Justice Warby — showed us the cut of his jib in 1993 when he had a much-publicised adulterous affair. Mr Yeo, when he wanted to be, was an accomplished schmoozer, one eyebrow twanging when he wished to win you over. On form, he could be amusing company, urbane, droll in a drawly way, smelling faintly of Italian aftershave, smooth as a lambskin condom. I cannot say I fully trusted him since the day he sat beside me in the Commons galleries and I noticed he was wearing slip-on shoes decorated with a functionless gold buckle. Never trust a man in slip-on shoes, I tell my daughters. Anyway, the silly bugger has just gone down the pan to the Sunday Times in the libel courts to the tune of at least six figures, M’Lud Warby castigating him as ‘unreliable and untruthful’. He might as easily have said ‘caddish’. And what did we expect of an adulterer? Such people are inveterate risk-takers. They gamble that they will not be caught.
This being the age of egalitarianism, today’s cads are not all chaps. Cleavage–flouting, selfie-obsessed Karen Danczuk, Labour MP Simon Danczuk’s scold, has behaved with consistent caddishness in recent months. It’s all me-me with our Karen. Out come those plump little cheeks in a minxy grin and she thinks we will forgive her anything. She may well be right.
Her bad behaviour has earned her quite a career as a ‘celebrity’. Television-show bookers like cads. Cads are good for the ratings, as ‘Nasty Nick’ showed in the first run of Big Brother.
In May, the Commons Speaker’s wife, Sally Bercow, ran off with one of her husband’s cousins, a priapic, blinky vole called Alan Bercow. Again, the press had a wonderful time, not least because the various parties involved blabbed to reporters, even while insisting that it was all a ‘private’ matter. Is that on the record, love? Strong-armed Sally towered over the vole like a mum about to take her (in this case rather bald) little boy to school. Caddishness abounded. The story had an ostensibly happy ending when the other Mrs Bercow — the one married to the vole, not to Speaker John Bercow — fought her corner and won back her husband. ‘She must be mad,’ said daytime television fodder Sally, herself a model of sanity, I’m sure.
Meanwhile, Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow, was caught in the RoadTrip snare. The newspapers were full of stuff about how he had been ‘romping’ with some lovely at his London club, and us lot paying the bill. Caddish? Actually, no. I saw Halfon sitting in the Commons a couple of days later. He looked shattered and had plainly lost half a stone in weight. A real cad would not worry about being exposed.
Cads are careless of others’ feelings, as Norman Douglas argued. When the Lord Sewel scandal erupted in high summer, some peers of my acquaintance quietly said they felt sorry for the Upper House’s chairman of committees after he was photographed dressed in an orange bra and leather jacket, passing the time of day with some prostitutes. The person I felt sorrier for was Sewel’s third and current wife. Let’s drop the idea that caddishness is somehow amusing, that no one ever really suffers. I doubt Lady Sewel would agree.
Sewel even had a caddish middle name — Buttifant! — and was palpably hypocritical to boot, having once been in charge of standards of behaviour at the upper end of Parliament. The public may be slightly hypnotised by blatant caddishness but they do not like a hypocrite.
Bra-strap twanging Lord Sewel may not have been the only cad on the House of Lords’ red leather benches. What about the Lib Dems’ Lord Rennard? The pudgy Rennard, sometime election strategist for Nick Clegg’s yellow terrors, may not look much like a rakish lounge lizard and has always denied the allegations of sexual harassment which have dogged him for the past two years. Might it be safer to call him an alleged bottom-pincher manqué, an unsuccessful cad? Even if he wished it, poor Rennard failed to cop much action in the rumpy-pumpy department. Last month, still protesting his innocence, he was forced to withdraw (dread word) from his party’s ruling body owing to rancour within the party of … er, Paddy Ashdown.
Cads abuse positions of trust. Cyril Smith and Jeremy Thorpe, whose historic sins have been in the news this year, misused their positions, though Smith was rather fatter than one normally expects a cad to be. But those hats of Thorpe — classic cad wear.
Elsewhere we have Simon Cowell, who recently admitted that he pinched his partner off a mate who had invited him onto his yacht to spend time with him and his then wife. In the legal world, middle-aged barrister Alexander Carter-Silk (what a magnificent name for a cad) tried to do the old ‘ding dong’ routine on a comely office new-girl, Charlotte Proudman, and received more than he bargained for when she went public with his internet chat-up routine. Bunny-boiler 1, Cad 0.
There are cads aplenty in the football world. Manchester United defender Marcus Rojo tried to pay off a lass who wanted to tell the world of their affair. At least Rojo was not seeking to have a say in the government of our country.
Quentin Letts’s novel, The Speaker’s Wife, has just been published by Constable.