The “affair” is none of our business – but how did it get in the papers anyway?

Today’s Daily Mail carries a story of a love affair which, apparently, has shocked David Cameron so much and got Downing Street panicking to the extent that they are worried about his political agenda being derailed.

From the story, which has no names or much in the way of detail, we can deduce that two middle aged people had an affair which is now over and which caused distress to others. No current cabinet ministers are involved and, from what I can gather, no Liberal Democrats either.

When you get down to it, it seems that the Mail has published a story based entirely on gossip, on what they have been told by their source which has not been verified independently. Presumably that’s why they can’t publish details for legal reasons, because they wouldn’t have anything to back it up if they were sued.

It’s hard to see how any relationship between two consenting grown-ups could have such the seismic political impact that the Mail suggests. So, it is surprising to see a Labour front bencher, Chris Bryant, suggest, hyperbolically, that it could sink Cameron:

This was in response to a tweet from Guido Fawkes implying that the names of the couple are so shocking that he’s surprised Twitter hasn’t rumbled them yet.

Political opponents generally say that it’s a personal matter and get on with their business, so indulging in this sort of exchange is unbecoming to say the least.

The only political fallout I can see is that it might put Cameron’s silly marriage tax break on the back burner. That’s not something that worries me, or anyone else except some Tory backbenchers.

I am as guilty as anyone else in being curious as to the identity of the people involved  but I wouldn’t claim that to be a good aspect of my character. It is, ultimately, absolutely none of our business. We should be more interested in how people are doing their jobs rather than the salacious aspects of their private lives.

I do wonder, though, how the story made its way to the Mail in the first place. The story mentions a “senior source.”  Why would anyone connected to the Conservative Party, presumably close to Cameron,  leak to the press something that they may not have found out on their own and which could have an impact on one of their initiatives?  We know the Tories are divided, but are they really willing to go to those lengths to sabotage their own side? If that’s the case, it is 1995 all over again.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • A couple of points with this thread..

    1. Could the legal reasons not also be an injunction / super injunction?

    2. You do not know yet that it is not relevant. For example, whilst I agree that personal lives should be allowed to be conducted in private, where a politician uses their personal circumstances to advance their public life they lose this right. For example the MP who uses strong family values in their literature and then turns out to have the opposite reaps what they sow. Their constituents have a right to know that their MP is not the person they declared themselves to be. The other way in which it could be relevant is if it has already led to a distorting of, or advantage being given, within the political process. For example, if one of the protagonists had the opportunity to give advantage to their alleged lover and appeared to do so.

    If it is just gossip like you I have no interest, but I think it needs to play out a bit more first.

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Jun '13 - 10:58am

    I trust a person who has deceived or is deceiving their own spouse, to whom they have made profound promises, A LOT less than I distrust someone who has made political ‘promises’, which they might later need to reconsider, to a wider audience. You don’t have to make those promises. If you don’t want to keep them, don’t make them.

    Choosing to allow adulterers to make decisions at the pinnacle of our society only confirms the extent of the moral decline which has overrun our part of the world which most people, clearly, do not bother much about. Nobody really expects any standards in our public life, be it personal, financial or political. It is, effectively, saying “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” which is an abnegation of personal morality which is an abnegation of morality per se.

  • If it’s Ian Duncan Smith having an affair with Jo Swinson then I’m mildly interested. If it’s anything less than that I seriously dont give a toss.

  • nuclear cockroach 2nd Jun '13 - 11:33am

    I understand that Paul Staines (nominative determinism in action) and his one handed readership might derive voyeuristic delight in the goings on in someone else’s bedroom. My own reaction is more of a yawn.

  • Peter Watson 2nd Jun '13 - 11:44am

    Scrolling down the Daily Mail page I had a shock when I saw pictures of Nigel Evans and Patrick Mercer. Turns out they were just references to other alleged scandals.
    Like others here, I feel that such gossip is irrelevant and an unfortunate feature of a certain type of journalism. But I still want to know who are the not-so-happy couple!

  • Peter Watson 2nd Jun '13 - 11:47am

    On a more serious note, is it possible that the affair is a same-sex relationship between figures prominent in the recent debates over marriage? I could understand how that would have significant ramifications.

  • Andrew Suffield 2nd Jun '13 - 12:00pm

    It is understandable that Paul Staines is obsessed with the sex lives of politicians, that being apparently his only stock in trade. But since he hasn’t published any purported facts about it, and has demonstrated in the past his willingness to post any crumb of supposition on this subject, we can conclude that he’s just blowing smoke.

    Nothing good has ever come of prying into people’s personal lives this way.

  • Simon McGrath 2nd Jun '13 - 12:05pm

    @Andrew Suffield “it is understandable that Paul Staines is obsessed with the sex lives of politicians, that being apparently his only stock in trade. ”

    Have you ever actually looked at his website ?

  • “If it’s Ian Duncan Smith having an affair with Jo Swinson then I’m mildly interested. If it’s anything less than that I seriously dont give a toss.”

    Some people get off in some strange places! Probably a specialist website for you somewhere! 🙂

    Staines is late on this one. All he’s done is pick up from the Daily Mail.

  • @jedibeeftrix:

    Setting aside the question of whether any Lib Dem member would have such bad taste, I should point out that any suggestion that anyone might even contemplate straying brings them into disrepute, which might not be good for either the author or the site. Unlike the Duncan Smith/Swinson suggestion by MBoy, which is so obviously relating something which will presumably be taken by every reader as having the same probability as a major asteroid hitting Milton Keynes tomorrow morning at 8.53am precisely. But one would advise discretion.

  • Caron’s article is a voice of sanity on this one. It’s easy to overestimate the political impact of anything when you follow it closely, and unless they are household names (and probably even then you’d need an angle like one giving the other good media coverage) the rumours will be more interesting than the fact;

    Two more thoughts though:
    1-if we believe in strengthening marriage, as many of us have argued in the gay marriage debate, does it not make sense to support tax breaks? We spend too much time saying that we don’t want to be prescriptive about families, but all evidence shows that marriage gives stability and improves the life chances of a couple’s children, so we shouldn’t be afraid to support this.
    2-Tony Dawson has a point; if someone can’t manage a family, particularly where they break promises they have made and spoken about these publically, it casts doubt on whether they can be trusted with affairs of state.

  • david thorpe 2nd Jun '13 - 1:50pm

    whilst I broadly agree with Caron-its impossible to say that its irrelevant to wider political discourse until we know the names of the people invooved-it may well be that whtat follows is a great ‘So What’ moment-but it may not be-there are very many conceivable situations where such an affair could force major ructions…

  • I have difficulty seeing how this affair could “sink” Cameron. I think when the truth comes out most people will be mildly disgusted for a time, but compared to the economy, the health service and so on, it will be perceived as an irrelevance. Of course, this is speculation: if such an affair was final proof of mendacity or hypocrisy, then maybe, just maybe, it will bring Cameron’s leadership to an end.

  • david thorpe 2nd Jun '13 - 2:40pm

    @ christopher-

    there are hundreds f possibe scenarios where this could serious enough to end the PM’s career-if for example national security was perceived to have been compronised or potentially so-cf the profumo affair-
    as for the hypcrisy angle-if tis nt about a servine politician-and we not its not about a serving cabinet member-then I dotn think the hypocrisy thing is a runner

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 2nd Jun '13 - 2:44pm

    Guido: I’m fairly certain we won’t.

    Steve: if it is someone like that, then perhaps it will have made them more understanding and less puritanical.

    Tpfkar: The reason the marriage tax break is silly is that if one person leaves the marriage, then the person left behind has a tax rise – while the leaver is free to marry someone else and get another tax break.

    Tony: that’s a bit judgemental. People are human and do silly things from time to time. Politicians are no less likely to make human failings than anyone else and we shouldn’t expect more of them.

    Peter: Apparently it’s a man and a woman, so that won’t be the case.

  • @ Guido

    The only possible occasions that this could have the level of effect you and the mail are hinting at:

    It involves illegality (not much chance of legal reasons stopping that publication);

    It involves a minister and someone with a conflict in their portfolio (e.g. Maria Miller [who it can not involve due to being a serving cabinet minister] and Huge Grant).

    The possibilities that would have the snigger factor (but not really an OMG moment) would have to be:

    People from opposite ends of the spectrum (Charles Kennedy and Douglas Carswell [again not much chance there]); or

    Nick Clegg or David Cameron

    @ David Thorpe

    Most possible combinations of affairs are not likely to cause “major ructions.” It will be a Westminster storm in a tea cup. The public won’t care, one parliamentary party or other could work themselves up in to a tiz and made it an issue but then it is the reaction rather than the event.

  • Dick Barton 2nd Jun '13 - 3:04pm

    “It is, ultimately, absolutely none of our business”
    What arrogance!!
    Just because it doesn’t matter to you, does not mean that it doesn’t matter to anybody else.
    What you should have said is:
    “I regard it as, ultimately, absolutely none of MY business, though others are perfectly entitled to take this, or any other personal matter, into account when exercising their democratic rights”.

  • The story and its telling in The Mail are so weird that it might as well be a spoof. What possible parallel to the affair between John Major and Edwina Currie could be imagined. Surely if it had involved Cameron, he would have known about it!? Most liaisons (such as one between Guido Fawkes and Chris Brant) would elicit little more than a smirk.

    So what could create more than a ripple? I suppose something that affected royal succession could put constitutionalists into a sweat. Security issues possibly – surely no one is having an affair with Christina Kirchner or anyone in the Taliban. Something affecting UK government trade deals would be an embarrassment, but could it derail the political agenda?

  • Tony Greaves 2nd Jun '13 - 3:49pm

    The interesting thing about all this is the only bit of information we have been allowed to know, which is that the alleged coupling is between two people who are “middle-aged”.

    So what does that mean? For young people middle age starts at 40. For 40 year olds it starts at 50+. For 50 year olds it means people who used to be called “elderly”. For people of my age it’s us, even though we are by any rational standard “old” beacsue we get our bus passes, winter fuel payment and so on. So really it means anyone between 40 and 80.

    Pretty well anyone of any political importance, anyway!

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Jun '13 - 3:51pm

    @Caron Lindsey:

    “People are human and do silly things from time to time.”

    ……like bank robbery, rape, mass murder?

    I don’t place adultery on the same scale as any of the above but nor is it the ‘speeding ticket’or ‘parking ticket’ to which our press and politicians appear to have downgraded it. People (me right up there) do all sorts of silly things. But not all sorts of people do all sorts of silly things. Breaking a promise to someone who trusts you is not just a silly thing. If you are a balanced rational trustworthy human being you do not do it. There are no forces on earth which require it. Unless your brain has translocated to being a metre below where it should be. 😉

  • PortoSoller 2nd Jun '13 - 6:29pm

    It has EVERYTHING to do with the public, if someone who is a public servant is the sort of person who’d deceive and sh** on their family. Do the public wish/need to be served by someone without a moral compass? I doubt it. So sick of scummy behaviour by people in public service being treated as if it is acceptable or normal.

  • david thorpe 2nd Jun '13 - 7:18pm

    also why would it be between two mps? and why would it be a lib dem-the affar happened inside downing street and there are no lib dems in downing street-certainly not oens who are nt sevring cabinet members

  • David Allen 2nd Jun '13 - 7:19pm

    G Fawkes says “seismic”. If it turns out not to be, he will look extremely silly. I don’t think he’s that stupid.

  • I imagine it will come out who it is at some point as it is apparently well-nown in the media and political circles – it will only take a slip of the tongue or a European publication to out it.

    Whether it is important or not is difficult to say until we know who – a bit of a conundrum really. To say it is definitely not of public interest is a bit naïve as some of the names doing the rounds on twitter (not from Sally B though) would definitely be in the public interest to know and would raise some questions of political as well as moral probity.

    I suppose we will just have to wait and see what transpires…..

    I feel sorry for those concerned who will have their dirty washing hung out in public.

  • David Allen: the ‘stupidity’ of Guido Fawkes is an open question. I am very much with Joe Otten which is why I suggested the possibility of a spoof (above). Why should we believe that Fawkes is in the know? It is very hard to think of anything that could be “seismic”. I very much doubt that Cameron and Clegg have been conducting an affair, at least certainly not one they were unaware of.

    As for an OMG element , there is certainly more scope, but we are told it is not a serving cabinet minister, so that rules out Eric Pickles!

  • I cannot agree with Tony Dawson; I do not care about personal lives, and to be a political liberal, I must believe in the seperation of personal from the authority of the political. But even more so, I believe people are much more willing to lie in their private lives than in their political lives and so disagree with your premise. That aside, the charge of social moral decline: ’twas ever claimed but ’twas never thus.

    For this to be seismic, it must be cabinet level and cross party, thus breaching a level of trust that is political. Who has visited court recently? And if Guido knows, he should just say, and risk the courts.

  • And another point about Tony Dawson’s comment (sorry for off thread). Totally wrong to equate “speeding tickets” and “parking tickets” as minor offences. Parking can’t usually cause major damage to anyone (except in the unlikely event of parking in the middle of a major road. Speeding, however, can kill, and should not be regarded lightly.

  • Starting to be a consensus on the who now if you care to do some hunting.

    Not seismic but calls into question once more the judgement of the PM and also focuses on some of the decisions he took.

    This week just has confirmed the lack of moral, financial and personal credibility of those in our political parties. And before we get any rewriting of history by the usual suspects here that includes previous cases such as Huhne and Laws

  • Just found out who the two parties are in this “scandal”. Nothing to see here. Guido probably got carried away and thought that, when he found out, we would all lose our minds. But I really, really doubt it. I think this has little to no political ramifications and remains a personal matter between the parties. Fail for Guido. Caron was right after all.

  • David Pollard 2nd Jun '13 - 10:41pm

    Didn’t seem to do Boris any harm.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Jun '13 - 10:54pm

    No law should prevent these names from being published, besides libel if lies.

  • Now we know who the couple are, this is distinctly non-seismic and I expect no LDV OMG articles on it. As for finishing Cameron, I think it takes a bit of pressure off him.

  • Andrew Suffield 3rd Jun '13 - 7:56am

    No law should prevent these names from being published, besides libel if lies.

    There’s one other: you can’t publish material that is likely to prejudice the outcome of a trial. And that doesn’t exactly prevent things from being published, it just delays their publication.

  • I really don’t see how someone having an affair can have a seismic effect on Cameron or the government unless it involved cabinet ministers or their spouses.Even then, so what? Does it really effect their job and that of Cameron or the government?

    Tbh, I don’t really care who is having an affair with whom.

  • This affair shouldn’t change what legislation any MP wants to get through in the remainder of the parliament, therefore the politics should continue as before. If a politician has never had to keep a workplace running effectively despite an unfortunate relationship occuring, then he/she doesn’t have the management experience to be suitable for a ministerial or prime-ministerial role.

  • There are plenty of reasons why an affair can have significance beyond the private distress caused to the people involved.

    It’s not the affair itself that is the issue – at least not for a decent Liberal – but the new light it sheds on other actions. For example, when a man recommends his son for a job, we can immediately recognise this as nepotism. When two people having a secret affair do something similar, we are unaware until we know about the affair. That’s why it can be in the public interest. Prurience only comes in if we start obsessing over the sexual details rather than the political ramifications.

  • Peter Watson 3rd Jun '13 - 12:08pm

    Perhaps it’s all a clever piece of Cameron news management. When the names come out the scandal is defused by a collective shrug of the shoulders and “Is that all?”.

  • Peter Watson: Snap!

  • Peter Watson 3rd Jun '13 - 1:30pm

    My suggestion was meant to be light-hearted, but having now twigged the names (probably) I am pretty shocked and suspect that the news management might be real.

  • A Social Liberal 3rd Jun '13 - 2:35pm

    Normally this would be the business of nobody but the parties concerned.

    However, if the individuals concerned have spent the last few weeks and months preaching that sex is the preserve of a man and a woman, or that sex should only happen within the marriage bed and it turns out that they have been contravening those rules, then there is a public interest in their hypocrisy being exposed.

  • Agree with Andy above (11.49am) – affairs are not normally in the public interest, but there are reasons why it could be, such as if it causes conflict of interest (Profumo etc).

    I also personally think there is an issue of public trust for politicians having affairs – i.e. how can I believe you on public policy if you are the kind of person who would willfully deceive your own partner?

    Finally, before getting too touchy about some of the language used by the media and bloggers, bear in mind it may actually have some relevance and they are just playing at dropping in a few clues and in-jokes. That’s what they do with this kind of thing, even on the front page of a newspaper…

  • William, is it Andy or Alex you agree with pray tell?

  • @Andy – that might sometimes be the case but this time we are told that the pair involved are not in the cabinet, so nepotism shouldn’t be a factor. They are apparently both British, already with some level of security vetting if they are in Downing Street, so security isn’t a factor.

    For those reasons I am inclined to think that when we find out, this is going to be a big story from the “yuck/omg/didn’t think he was like that/is that even physically possible?” point of view, but not actually a story with major political ramifications other than those the people involved allow to happen. Best to do a Mitterand and say “Et alors?”

  • Richard S

    Security clearance – ah yes that could be an interesting question. You would hope that someone who had access to secret information would be vetted at the highest level, who knows who they could be having an affair with that could lead to potential blackmail or other breaches of security?

    The ramifications are in the eye of the beholder – someone who is sympathetic to the Cameron Goverbnment may try to say it is nothing, whilst others would say it is another examople of the shambles of the Government and further confirms some of the accusations of the cosy relationship between Number 10 and other organisations

  • bcrombie – To a certain extent I think the potential for blackmail in cases like this is overstated as a way to try to claim legitimate public interest. If someone went to some minister and said: “I am from the KGB and I know your little secret, so please hand over the codes to allow us to track the movements of your nuclear submarines or we will tell the Daily Star” – I have a high enough opinion of politicians to be pretty sure they would tell .

    As for other organizations, I thought it might be a horse-riding incident at first too, but as it does not involve a cabinet minister then any scandal would show such links to an only a minimal or unfortunate level.

  • Simon Banks 21st Jun '13 - 5:25pm

    I’m shocked. A sexual scandal and a Liberal Democrat is not involved? Are we returning to the John Major era?

    Fred: how on earth can you make deductions about Ed Miliband’s character, even “moral character” from the fact that he cohabited? If you know what his moral principles are, you might discover some inconsistency and that would tell you a bit about his character, but many people of high moral principle cohabit or see nothing wrong with it. They just have different principles from you.

    If these two are politicians, then at least they can’t be accused of not giving a toss.


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