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Monday, June 7, 1999 Published at 21:44 GMT 22:44 UK


UK Politics

Aitken: A glittering career cut short



Political Correspondent Carole Walker looks back at the dramatic rise and fall of Jonathan Aitken

It is more than four years since Jonathan Aitken, then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, called a news conference and vowed to fight to clear his name.

"If it has fallen to my destiny to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play, so be it." he said. "I am ready for the fight."

Those words were to haunt him as one of the most glamorous figures at Westminster saw his legal battle collapse, his lies exposed.

It has been one of the most dramatic of political downfalls. Lord Lamont, the former chancellor who has known him since university said he was certain Aitken was destined to be prime minister.

The tragedy was that his terrible errors meant his potential would never be realised.

The son of a Tory MP, Jonathan Aitken went from Eton to Oxford. Through his great uncle, the newspaper tycoon Lord Beaverbrook, he became a journalist on the family-owned Evening Standard, and campaigned for the freedom of the press.

He covered the brutal war in Nigeria in the late 1960s, and was prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act for passing a document on Britain's role in it to a sunday newspaper.


[ image: Aitken's spurning of Carol Thatcher is said to have held back his career]
Aitken's spurning of Carol Thatcher is said to have held back his career
Though he was acquitted, his political career suffered an early setback as he had to withdraw from the safe Tory seat he was due to fight at the general election.

In 1974 he did enter parliament as MP for Thanet East, but under Margaret Thatcher he languished on the backbenches. The gossip was that he was frozen out after ending his romance with her daughter Carol.

At TVAM in the 1980s Jonathan Aitken was at the centre of the highly public boardroom wrangle during which Anna Ford threw that infamous glass of wine at him.

He resigned over his failure to disclose his Saudi financial backers.

By the time he became Minister for Defence Procurement in 1992, he had built up a network of business and personal relationships in the Middle East and was central to some huge defence contracts.

'Something of a buccaneer'

A millionaire, host of glittering social gatherings at his house a short walk from the Commons, he cut a dashing figure at Westminster.

Lord Pearson a long-standing friend describes him as "something of a swashbuckler, something of a buccaneer, a Robin Hood always ready to stick up for the underdog against overmighty bureacracy".


[ image: Now bankrupt Aitken has been stripped of almost all his possessions]
Now bankrupt Aitken has been stripped of almost all his possessions
He made it to the Cabinet in 1994 but the allegations against him mounted up. Many were refuted, but the web of lies over his bill at the Ritz hotel in Paris lead to his downfall.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind who as defence secretary was once Aitken's boss will speak on his behalf in court on Tuesday.

He says Aitken is a changed man. "He's become very realistic about his fate, he blames himself entirely for what has happened. He recognises he behaved very foolishly and does show genuine remorse," he says.

On Monday night, Aitken dined quietly with friends. He has been declared bankrupt, his Rolex watch and cufflinks seized by bailiffs.

Friends say he is resigned to spending time in prison. He accepts he made colossal mistakes and must pay a heavy price.



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