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Monday, December 7, 1998 Published at 11:21 GMT

UK Politics

Jonathan Aitken - a 'swashbuckling' life

The Independent newspaper described Jonathan Aitken as "easily one of the most debonair and urbane figures at Westminster and something of a toff". Even his enemies at The Guardian newspaper have described him as "swashbuckling".

But how do such plaudits stand alongside the man who has been so recently villified in the British press?

Here we summarise the colourful life of Jonathan Aitken.


Jonathan William Patrick Aitken was born on August 30, 1942 in Dublin. He joined the ranks of a famous, rich and powerful family.

His grandfather was Lord Rugby, the colonial civil servant. His father was a Tory MP - the late Sir William Traven Aitken - and his mother was Lady Penelope Aitken MBE and daughter of the first Baron of Rugby. Great-uncle Max Aitken is better known as the Canadian media baron Lord Beaverbrook.

The ambitious young Aitken learned the value of useful contacts whilst he was at Eton. His family had been out of contact with his great-uncle Lord Beaverbrook since a family feud in 1958. But Aitken re-established a useful and powerful contact.

Oxford and an early introduction to Westminster

A close friend of Aitken's father was Selwyn Lloyd, who became Chancellor of the Exchequer under Harold Macmillan. Lloyd liked Aitken and introduced him to the Prime Minister and it was not long before the young law student was invited to Chequers for dinner. At 19 he spent his summer writing speeches for the Chancellor, and he was to become Private Secretary to Selwyn Lloyd in 1964.

In 1967 he published a book called 'Young Meteors' in which he named those who he thought would make it to the top of British public life. Those names were John Gummer, Roy Hattersley and Norman Lamont.

First brush with the law

Aitken's first career choice was as a journalist. But he became unsettled by his brush with the law over what was called the "Scott scoop".

He was shown the Scott Report by General Henry Alexander, who was a British representative on the International Military Observer team in Nigeria at the time of the Biafran civil war. The report appeared to prove that Britain had been providing the Nigerian government with many more arms than they had admitted.

[ image: Mr Aitken answering press questions]
Mr Aitken answering press questions
Aitken photocopied the document and made two copies. One went to Hugh Fraser, a pro-Biafran Tory MP and the other went to the Sunday Telegraph, who used it as a basis for an attack on the government of the day.

In the ensuing uproar Aitken was charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act - but was cleared at the Old Bailey. However, the incident took its toll on his political aspirations when he was dropped as the candidate for the Thirsk and Malton seat.

Burgeoning business

After the Scott incident, Aitken turned his attention to business and formed Aitken Hume International with his cousin. He also became chairman of Slater Walker Securities.

But, renowned for his charm and personality, Aitken's personal earning power could only be realised after he developed his Saudi Arabian connections.

In 1973 he met Prince Mohammed bin Fahd of Saudi Arabia at a dinner in Paris. On a subsequent visit to Saudi Arabia, Aitken met the prince's personal secretary, Said Ayas, and the two became close friends. Mr Ayas was to support his friend through personal trials later in life.

In February 1974 he became more powerful when he was elected as the Conservative MP for Thanet East (later Thanet South). But his private life interfered with what was a promising political career.

[ image: Carol Thatcher - spurned]
Carol Thatcher - spurned
Thatcher blackball

The young Conservative MP started a relationship with Carol Thatcher. But when he decided the relationship was not going to work out, and ended it, he made a lifelong enemy of her mother. Mrs Thatcher called him "the man who made Carol cry". Not to be outdone, he told a Cairo newspaper that Margaret Thatcher " probably thinks Sinai is the plural of sinus". He had to apologise to her in person in 1975, and spent the next 18 years on the parliamentary backbenches.


In 1976 he met one of Said Ayas's neighbours, Lolicia Olivera Azucki. Three years later, on November 16, 1979 they married.

[ image: Marriage in 1979]
Marriage in 1979
They were married for 18 years before she left him. The announcement that they were to separate came on June 19, 1997 at the end of the libel case against The Guardian. Until that point she had sat beside him every day in Court No 10 - the epitome of the loyal political wife.

Glass of Water

Mr Aitken is also famous for a more dramatic public incident. Former TV-am presenter Anna Ford, disgusted with his way of doing business, threw a glass of water in his face after he had masterminded a ruthless coup of the breakfast television company in which she had lost her job.

Political progress

[ image: Mrs Thatcher - a formidable enemy]
Mrs Thatcher - a formidable enemy
Vacher Dod's parliamentary companion describes Aitken as "adventurous" and "buccaneer". Even The Guardian newspaper - his nemesis - praises this stage of his career:

It said: "His backbench career revealed the best of Aitken. Swashbuckling, well briefed and witty, he was voted the Spectator's 'Backbencher of the Year' for his 'arresting challenges to Mrs Thatcher's treatment of press freedom and civil liberties'. He was on a roll."

When John Major came to power in 1992 Aitken finally found political favour. He was appointed as Minister of State for defence procurement - a position he held until 1994.

Aided by a change in his Euro-sceptic attitudes, in 1994 he succeeded Michael Portillo as Chief Secretary to the Treasury and finally attained the Cabinet seat he had long worked towards.

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