LONDON - America may be the world's lone superpower, but the British are way ahead of us when it comes to scandal. The Chandra Levy-Gary Condit obsession wouldn't even make the cut for a real English scandal, in a country that once had King Henry VIII and his eight wives, few of whom survived him.
The latest British scandal features Christine and Neil Hamilton. At one time, Neil Hamilton was a Member of Parliament. Unlike Rep. Gary Condit, the Hamiltons regularly present themselves to the media, even posing for pictures as they deny the latest allegations against them that they both participated in the rape of a 28-year-old woman.
The woman, who remains unidentified, is speaking through her mother. She claims she was offered $90,000 to keep quiet about the matter. The woman says the Hamiltons subjected her to a number of sexual assaults. The woman, a divorced mother of four, claims she was told she would be "looked after" in London and found clients if she were to turn to prostitution.
Police have searched one of the Hamiltons' homes and carted off computers said to contain numerous e-mail messages from Mrs. Hamilton to the woman. The Hamiltons, in their numerous appearances before the media, deny everything, calling it "a tissue of lies."
The cast of characters includes greedy politicians supposedly out to end Hamilton's political career (which must be judged successful at this point) and some of the most wonderful tabloid "reporting" one could ever read.
The National Enquirer could take some lessons from The Daily Mail, which wrote of the alleged rape victim: "Miss X is a pub chef who describes herself as a college lecturer. She is said to be a promiscuous bisexual who used drugs and was always after money. A few years ago she accused a man of rape but had to recant when her then-husband confronted him and accepted his insistence that she agreed to sex."
Whether guilty or not, the Hamiltons qualify as a certifiably odd couple. A London Times timeline of their black career (checkered would be a step up), lowlights some of their behavior:
- September 1987, Neil Hamilton and Christine spend six days at the Ritz in Paris as guests of Mohamed al-Fayed (father of Dodi, who would later romance Princess Diana). Fayed keeps the receipts, and leaks them later to embarrass them politically. The Hamiltons even charge postage stamps to his account.
- October 1994, Hamilton is accused of taking payments in brown envelopes from Fayed in a "cash for questions" scandal and is forced to resign as trade minister.
- May 1997, Hamilton loses his seat in Parliament in a clean-up-government campaign by a former BBC reporter.
- July 1997, a parliamentary commission finds "compelling evidence" that Hamilton was bribed by Fayed.
- December 1999, Hamilton loses a libel case against Fayed, leaving him with a legal bill of $4.5 million.
- April 2001, the Hamiltons are forced to sell their home in Cheshire to help meet expenses.
- May 2001, "Miss X" alleges sexual assault against the Hamiltons. Neil files for bankruptcy.
- August 2001, the Hamiltons are arrested, questioned by police and released on bail. They hold a news conference on the steps of police headquarters and pose for pictures.
There is much speculation in the press about whether the Hamiltons are the latest target of a political plot to further damage the Tories, although it is difficult to imagine how such a plot could do more damage than the once-great conservative party headed by Margaret Thatcher has done to itself.
But whatever the political implications, where else can you read, as the Daily Mail writes: "When his wife Christine was photographed kissing a 19-year-old student two years ago, Neil Hamilton tried to leap gallantly to her defense. The former Tory minister, himself captured on film at the same Oxford party swigging neat Scotch from the bottle, defended his wife's honor. 'A good time was had by all, but the good time was not my wife,' he said."
This makes for fun reading and that's why it dominates the news. (One network led with the latest developments, relegating the Middle East suicide bombings to second place).
Americans have a long way to go before they can match the British. Perhaps it's because their "school for scandal" has been in session much longer than ours.