How Leon Brittan lost his job as home secretary – Charles Moore’s fascinating account 30 years on

Leon Brittan when he was EU commisisoner in late 1980s

Leon Brittan when he was EU commissioner in late 1980s

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While the  Met police continue to investigate  now into whether top figures were involved in a Westminster paedophile ring in the 1980s a fascinating account of the beginning of the fall of Leon Brittan in British politics has appeared in the second volume of Charles Moore’s authorised biography of Lady Thatcher. Amid all the rows over the miner’s strike, Westland and Europe, are three pages describing the events that led effectively to the demotion of Leon Brittan and how rumours of child sex abuse reached the ears of Lord Armstrong, the Cabinet Secretary, and Lady Thatcher herself.

They explain probably why even today there is controversy over Leon Brittan – such as the recent row over Tom Watson’s intervention over whether the Met Police should have quizzed him over an alleged rape. It also explains why they are still today disputes between those like David Aaronovitch and Dominic Lawson who say he has been unfairly maligned for years and those who are convinced that he was involved in hidden sexual activities.

Charles Moore- who is meticulous in researching every fact  from Thatcher’s private papers – reveals that Leon Brittan – was heading for the chop as home secretary  in the September 1985 reshuffle. He is described as ” the weakest link.”

His book – Everything She Wants – shows that without any rumours Brittan had no Parliamentary following,was seen as a bad TV performer, and even suffered from anti-Semitism from some Tory backbenchers.

He writes: ” He also suffered from rumours that, though married,he was homosexual and even that he had been a child abuser (too often in those days the two were conflated in the minds of man). No one produced actual evidence for either accusation.”

Opinion in the press and government was divided. Michael Jopling, a former chief whip,said: ” I never heard a whisper about Leon at the time”. Sir Bernard Ingham, her press secretary said: ” He always seemed as quaint as a coot to me”- but he had no evidence.

However The Mail on Sunday – contrary to  the view of the Mail today – took a different line and all this is reported to Thatcher by Lord Armstrong.

Jonathan Holborrow, an associate editor of the paper, had met Richard Ryder now Lord Ryder, then a junior figure in the Treasury and according to Ryder told him the paper was ” on a very good thing” about Leon Brittan’s private life.

According to Charles Moore though the memos did not spell it out ” they seem to have involved accusations of child sex abuse, including an alleged relationship with a boy in his early teens said to live in Brittan’s constituency”.

He goes on; ” Its sources was a reliable one, Holborrow said, but ” their investigations had run into the sand, and they really had no usable evidence.”

An attempt was made to say Michael Bettany, an MI5 officer caught trying to spy for the Russian in 1984, had got wind of this and had tried to use for blackmail. But this was knocked down by MI5 who said Bettaney had said no such thing.

The book  reveals that Thatcher did not believe the allegations but did believe that they were troublesome for a home secretary responsible for MI5.

But whatever the truth the knives were out for Brittan. John Wakeham, the chief whip, thought Brittan had been ” promoted a bit high and too quick” and ” wasn’t up to the job.”. And Brittan was moved to the Department of Trade and Industry – a post that he regarded as a demotion in the ” pecking order”. He was later to leave altogether to become a trade and industry commissioner at the European Commission.

All this is worth noting because of a sense of deja vu – even after his death. He again faces similar accusations – though this time it is part of a  full scale police investigation into other figures – and again there is a ”  reliable ” source -a survivor of abuse who came forward.

The outcome is still not known – but the divisions about whether Brittan was involved in such unsavoury activities is as strong as it was 30 years ago.

2 thoughts on “How Leon Brittan lost his job as home secretary – Charles Moore’s fascinating account 30 years on

  1. No, there actually wasn’t much division about Brittan then and there isn’t now. No one could stand the story up – not Paul Foot, not the editor of the News of the World. Geoffrey Dickens expressed his disbelief. More recently, Tom Watson actually dismissed what is almost certainly the same story in an article for Labour List, perhaps not realising he had just undermined the whole Brittan myth. You try to muddy the waters by hinting there was something mysterious about Brittan’s departure to Europe. In fact it was due to the fallout from the Westland affair, as was laboriously explained in every one of Brittan’s obituaries.
    I’ve no idea who your ‘reliable’ present day source is. Although an embarrassed Scotland Yard is still persisting with a very attenuated version of Operation Midland, all the individuals who have publicly made such allegations now have powerful question marks over their credibility.

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    • I don’t suggest the move to Europe in 1987 had anything to do with this – it is all about the 1985 reshuffle. And the current police inquiry is not being attenuated – there are 27 detectives on it at the moment according to the Met Police who rely on the source being ” credible”. With police resources being stretched this is a big commitment.

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