It was in the autumn of 2005 that the Conservative party finally shed its allegedly ‘toxic’ image and embraced modernity and the values of today’s vibrant and inclusive Britain, all through a single photograph on the front page of a tabloid newspaper.
The picture showed the future Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, with a black whore on his lap and three kilos of gak up his left nostril, allegedly. At a stroke, the popularly held image of the Conservative party was suddenly dispelled. No longer could Labour claim that this was a party out of touch with the mainstream, a convocation of desiccated backwoodsmen who thought hip-hop was simply something one did when the prostate was playing up, and more youthful but no less humourless pencil-necked Chicago School-obsessed supply-side geeks. It helped too that the whore in question was unquestionably black, just to banish any lingering suspicions that the party still cleaved to a Monday Club view of the world. I doubt you’d have found Enoch Powell canoodling with a black whore, no matter how much cocaine he had taken, still less Geoffrey Rippon (although it is true that Teddy Taylor used to tell everyone how much he liked reggae).
Anyway, the photograph had been taken in about 1993 or ’94, when Osborne had just started work at Conservative Central Office: perhaps it was there that he met his dealer, who knows. The picture made the front page of the now defunct News of the World, which was then edited by Andy Coulson. I wondered at the time if this was a bit of spin designed to improve the party’s standings in the opinion polls, and my guess may well have been proved right. For as the whore’s lawyer, a horrible little man called Mark Lewis, has pointed out, Mr Coulson later became the party’s chief spin doctor.