Romping through the excitement of working for the national press in the early sixties, Tom Mangold gives a personal perspective to the Profumo affair that many suggest brought down the Conservatives from power.
But the main focus is that Stephen Ward should not guilty of the charges that he was convicted on.
The documentary is also broadcast as “The Trial of Christine Keeler” BBCtv drama series concludes.
But what might we really learn and be able to apply nearly 60 years on –
1. that a War Minister and a Soviet diplomat were having sex with the same woman’s presented as a security risk, and the licence therefore for public interest; but this overlooks that the War Minister and the Soviet diplomat were at long drinks parties, and one journalist has suggested that the Soviet Diplomat visited Profumo’s home and may well have taken in documents that were left lying around; the security focus was misplaced;
2. journalists may have been able to pay those involved, although the practice undermined the prosecution case in the 1979 Jeremy Thorpe trial; what it didn’t do was enable a support service for a suicidal Ward, even though one journalist was near him to nearly the last;
3. it was the Transport Minister who was actually using prostitutes – something the Government only found out by chance from the subsequent Lord Denning inquiry; the Minister was retired some time after;
4. exposure of misconduct in public life needs a higher degree of public resource (such as auditors and corporate assessment inspectors); our versions of scrutiny at national and other levels don’t do it either; questions from opposition sometimes hit;
5. none of the findings from the Profumo Affair has enabled a system that can truly expose and condemn practices such as awarding public money contracts to sexual partners, being racist or sexist in public;
6. neither has satire such as Private Eye, Have I Got News for You and The Thick of It; instead, what has developed is a dumbing down of what can be expected from those involved in public life;
7. nor has Freedom of Information helped much.
So what would I suggest? Drop the emphasis on clever individuals – be they lawyers, journalists or politicians in opposition – grinding out the truth.
– refreshed codes of governance, including justifications against key themes, and fuller use of risk analysis; also clearer support for officers to follow codes of governance;
– papers to support Ministerial decisions, being reviewed by MPs, in much the way local government did with committees; and giving journalists something substantial to work with;
– independent review of databases used to support decision making (and ongoing censuses);
– understanding that national government should set out a national direction and framework for local decisions, but enabling other public authorities to deliver more effectively;
– embracing the American principle of public spending decisions being made by people who are elected.