Suzanne Fields

LONDON -- British sex scandals have mostly been Tory business, with an upper-class patina of perversity. The men of the wealthy class -- the "toffs," as the English call them -- always feel entitled to the ladies, who are lured by power and old money. Tories go to uppercrust schools, grow up to the taste of champagne, marry thoroughbreds and can afford expensive call girls. 

Labor scandals tend to be about money because Labor politicians don't have as much of it. It's a class thing. Oswald Mosley famously urged "Vote Labor, Sleep Tory." (We have a version of it in Washington: "Date Democratic, Marry Republican." Everybody has to grow up.)

But such distinctions are old (top) hat and out-of-date bowlers. The latest sex scandal is about New Labor, and it has an arriviste vulgarity more of Bill Clinton than John Profumo, the Conservative minister for war who shared a mistress with a senior naval attache at the Soviet Embassy in 1961.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, at 68 well into his goatish years, has confessed to a two-year affair with Tracey Temple, his diary secretary, 45, a blonde divorcee who went public with the lurid details in the Sunday Mail. She told the upmarket tabloid that she had indulged in frequent sexual liaisons with her boss behind an open door in his office while his staff of civil servants worked nearby.

The public outrage, of course, doesn't focus on the sex, which every political ally and enemy bends over backwards to call a "private matter." Privately, of course, the sex is all anyone talks about. The public question is whether Mr. Prescott broke "Civil Service" rules. The Tories put out an official guide of regulations that instructs staffers in the deputy prime minister's office against the "improper use" of workspace during "official time." British euphemism aside, it's hard to characterize hanky panky as proper use.

The devil, of course, is in the juicy details of the sniggering factor. Who can keep a straight face when a Tory MP in the House of Commons asks the deputy prime minister, "What steps will you be taking to ensure that staff working under you are not subject to sexual harassment?"

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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