Family values revisited

February 01, 1994

It is bad enough that the British public expects the Royal Family to set standards of morality in private life that the people reject for themselves. Now the prurient attention is switching to elected politicians. The ruling Conservative Party brought this distress upon itself.

Blame John Major, who replaced Margaret Thatcher as prime minister and led the party to unexpected re-election in April 1992. Its House of Commons majority of 17 should insure a Conservative government until elections in 1997, but don't count on it.

With poor economic performance and lackluster image, Mr. Major offered his party conference last October a moral crusade, "Back to Basics." It means family values and war on single parenthood. Unhappily, it seems to imply that preachy Tory politicians should lead exemplary lives. This, not all are willing to do. So far in 1994:

Tim Yeo quit as a junior environment minister after admitting having fathered a child born last year to a Conservative city councilor.

The Earl of Caithness stepped down as Tory minister for shipping and aviation after Lady Caithness committed suicide, following an argument about his relations with another woman.

David Ashby, M.P., admits having shared a hotel bed with TC gentleman friend on a New Year's holiday in France, after a 28-year marriage became "tempestuous." Mrs. Ashby, in a sensible comment on the matter, told the BBC: "It's very well saying you're going back to moral values, but if you want to keep the family together you should change the [late night] hours in Parliament."

With every British reporter staking out every M.P., the heat is off the Royal Family for the nonce. Increasingly it appears that the Conservative Party spouted pious blather about morality, meaning nothing, while politically bankrupt.

It is all too reminiscent of the disintegration of a previous Conservative government, after war minister John Profumo in 1963 was spotted in company with a young lady of pleasure whose other friends included a Soviet military attache. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan resigned, and the opposition Labor Party won in 1964.

Americans know something about prurience and hypocrisy in politics. The moral is that politicians ought not to make an issue of values they are not prepared to live by.

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