Peter Mandelson borrowed money from Geoffrey Robinson, a fellow member of the Labour Party, and everyone cried foul. But there have in the past been dozens of members of parliament who borrowed money from colleagues. This practice was carried out quite regularly on both sides of the house. Yet Mandelson was forced to resign, sold his house and went to the backbenches.
Lord Irvine redecorated – not personally – his office in the House of Lords. His choice of wallpaper created an outcry. The generous Mr Robinson was found to have offshore accounts. Keith Vaz, once minister of Europe, was instrumental in collecting
a group of Indians to support the Labour Party financially – among them the Hinduja brothers and Lakshmi Mittal, who became the subjects of scandals. The list of parliamentarians involved in what might broadly be called sleaze is almost endless. Henry McLeish, the Scottish first minister, was forced to resign; a shadow has been cast over the integrity of Ken Livingstone; even William Hague forgot to declare that he was using Lord Archer's gym. Archer and Jonathan Aitken, both former Conservative MPs, have been in jail.
On the European scene, Helmut Kohl, once chancellor of Germany, and Francois Mitterrand, the former president of France, have been accused of corruption. France's current president, Jacques Chirac, has also had his share of accusations.
Unless you are like Caesar's wife, take no decision, take no action, know nobody and do nothing, you will at one time or another have a scandal attached to your name. Usually, it emanates from within your own ranks. It is so much easier, and indeed so much more fun, to kick the ball through your own goal. The Westland scandal was not about helicopters, it was about the overwhelming ambition of Michael Heseltine. Margaret Thatcher could not understand what all the fuss was about. And because she could not, the scandal grew from a minor disagreement into an argument that seemed, for a moment, to be in danger of precipitating her resignation.
Should Blair be worried? By golly, he should, because this sleaze or slur shows all the signs of getting out of hand
For the past few years, scandal and sleaze seem to have dogged Anthony Blair. Nothing too personal, but over time, those around him have gone. Now Byers hovers on the brink; pundits count the days to his departure as a referee counts the seconds as a boxer sprawls dazed on the canvas. Officials go;
Jo Moore and Martin Sixsmith are gone. Alistair Campbell has a gambler's urge. The odds are long on his departure, at the moment but political odds can shorten with the speed of the Solway Firth's incoming tide.
And now we have the Mittal scandal – a bizarre story about a donation, a letter and funds to buy a Romanian steelworks. Should Blair be worried about it? By golly, he should, because this sleaze or slur shows all the signs of getting out of hand.
For some time Blair has been believed to be an admirer of Thatcher; whether this is true or not is hard to tell. One thing, however, is true: he has studied the Thatcher years with great care.
He may, however, have overlooked the full significance of the Westland crisis, which Thatcher misjudged. "Why on earth are we wasting the cabinet's time discussing this tiny company?" she asked. Blair no doubt is saying – with some justice – the same about the Mittal affair. "But the figures here are minuscule"; £125,000 in a gift to Labour – hardly the largest sum the party has ever received. Only £7m of taxpayers' money lent to buy this Romanian steelworks – hardly the largest overseas loan the government has been involved with.
Lord McAlpine is a writer and former treasurer of the Conservative Party.