Scotland had the Macbeths and Romania had the Ceausescus. But while Tony and Cherie made a pretty good stab at it, in the annals of notoriety in British politics no husband and wife team can compare to the Hamiltons. Or at least it seemed like that in 1997, when allegations about cash for questions in brown envelopes catapulted Neil Hamilton, the relatively obscure MP for Tatton, into the eye of the storm about to overwhelm John Major’s government. The decision by the former BBC correspondent Martin Bell, in his white suit, to stand as an ‘anti-sleaze’ candidate in Tatton drove Hamilton’s wife Christine to confront him during a press conference on Knutsford Heath, hurling her into the maelstrom as well, and they duly enjoyed their 15 minutes of infamy.
However, as I found out when I arranged to meet and draw them both over lunch at the Gay Hussar Hungarian restaurant in Soho last month, it’s turned out to be a long 15 minutes. It’s also been pretty harrowing. From representing the third safest Tory seat in the country, after 1 May 1997 Hamilton was not just unemployed but also, as he conceded when he told me he was ‘damaged goods’, unemployable too. Then there was his failed libel action against Mohammed Al Fayed, his subsequent bankruptcy when he couldn’t meet his legal fees and, probably worst of all, false accusations of rape which surfaced while the Hamiltons were making a film for the BBC with Louis Theroux.
There is, though, an added dimension to the Hamiltons’ travails. Irrespective of whether they deserved it or not, they came to symbolise a worn out, failing and increasingly squalid government, to the point where they took on the role not just of scapegoats, but also of sacrificial lambs. But it was the nature of the altar on which they were sacrificed which, as a satirist, really interested me.