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Thursday, 23 December, 1999, 13:00 GMT
A history of Christmas scandal past

The festive season has seen the downfall of many politicians

Christmas and New Year are supposed to bring peace and goodwill to all.

But many politicians have seen their careers collapse and their private lives picked over like leftovers from the Christmas turkey during the festive season.

But this year has been, so far, free of any political scalp-taking.

Christmas stuffing

The only seasonal stuffing has been at the High Court in the libel trial between former Tory minister Neil Hamilton and Harrods' boss Mohamed al-Fayed.

This Christmas will also see Jonathan Aitken enjoying the festive season with his family after spending six months out of a 18 month sentence in prison for perjury and perverting the course of justice.

But the festive season has not always been so generous to our elected representatives.

Disraeli's debts

In December 1825, the City suffered a devastating crash and a young Benjamin Disraeli was ruined.

The future prime minister was thousands of pounds in debt and spent the next few decades avoiding those he owed money to.

As a result, Mr Disraeli wrote Vivian Grey, an anonymous novel which so closely parodied his friends and associates it resulted in several threats of duels.

Parnell's ruin

On December 24 1889, Captain O'Shea filed for divorce from his wife Kitty.

Parnell Charles Parnell: Lover's husband filed for divorce on Christmas Eve
Kitty O'Shea had for many years been the lover of Charles Stewart Parnell, the Irish nationalist hero.

The most conspicuous figure in Irish politics, Mr Parnell had met Kitty O'Shea in 1880.

Two daughters, believed to be Mr Parnell's, were born in 1883 and 1884.

Mr Parnell had been a pivotal figure in both Irish and British politics up until the divorce, but on gaining the woman he loved he lost his political reputation.

There were calls for Mr Parnell to resign and in December 1890 45 members of the Irish parliamentary party left him to begin their own party with a new leader.

Rustling in the bushes

December 1958 saw the end of Tory minister Ian Harvey's political career.

The MP for Harrow East and a foreign office minister was caught in bushes with a Coldstream Guardsman in St James's Park a month earlier after a policeman and park keeper heard rustling noises.

On the way to the police station, Mr Harvey even tried to make a run for it, but was recaptured and on arrival, he attempted to give a false name.

Both were charged with gross indecency and breaching the park's regulations.

When the pair appeared in court on 10 December, the gross indecency charge was dropped and both were fined 5.

After Mr Harvey resigned he was excluded by the party and became a social outcast from his society clubs.

Dead or alive

On Christmas Eve 1974 the news that Labour MP John Stonehouse was alive hit the headlines.

Mr Stonehouse had left behind a wife, a daughter, a mistress and a mountain of debts when he faked his death leaving a pile of clothes on a beach Reggie Perrin style.

Unfortunately, the Australian police who captured the fugitive former minister were disappointed they had discovered a politician and not Lord Lucan.

Two years later Mr Stonehouse was convicted to seven years imprisonment on 18 counts of theft, fraud and deception.

New Years Baby

On New Year's Eve 1983 Flora Keays was born, the daughter of now Lord Cecil Parkinson and his then secretary Sara Keays.

Lord Parkinson Lord Parkinson: Fell from grace
Lord Parkinson had enjoyed a speedy rise through the party but during the annual conference that came to a standstill following the announcement that his secretary of 12 years was carrying his child.

Three weeks prior to the Blackpool conference, the father to be had resigned as party chairman after guiding Baroness Thatcher's Conservative Party to a second victory.

Yeo Ho Ho

On Boxing Day 1993, the tabloids led with the news married environment minister Tim Yeo had a six-month-old "love child" to single mother and Tory councillor Julia Stent.

Tim Yeo: Hit the headlines in 1993
The News of the World ran the story during the quiet festive period and after two weeks of headlines such as "Yeo Ho Ho", Mr Yeo resigned from his position.

Mr Yeo was one in a string of scandal's which undermined John Major's "back to basics" campaign.

Some weeks later, newspapers printed the story that the MP had fathered another child many years ago as a Cambridge student. The daughter had been given up for adoption.

Mr Yeo, who is now the party's agriculture spokesman, was by no means the first casualty of "back to basics", or the last.

Underage relationship

Three years later, shortly after new year 1997, Jerry Hayes, the MP for Harlow, was the subject of The News of the World's "Tory MP two timed wife with underage gay lover".

Mr Hayes claimed the relationship was purely platonic.

Many believe the story broke because of another "family values" campaign by John Major. But the story had been hatched over Christmas with the MP's former lover Paul Stone and publicist Max Clifford.

Minister's son sold drugs

Straw William Straw: Exposed on Christmas Eve
On Christmas Eve 1997 it was not an MP who hit the headlines but the unnamed son of a top politician who was accused of selling cannabis to a journalist.

A frenzy of speculation rapidly descended into legal farce as court orders were imposed preventing the media from reporting that the minister was Mr Straw and the alleged dealer, his 17-year-old son William.

But, once freed by the courts to speak openly a week after the news broke, Mr Straw won admiration for his honest approach to the family crisis.

He had taken William to a police station where he confessed all. The teenager was later given a caution.

Notting Hill Gate

Last year had its own seasonal upset when Peter Mandelson resigned from the cabinet days before Christmas 1998 after barely six months in the job as trade secretary.

Newspapers revealed Mr Mandelson had accepted a loan of 373,000 from his ministerial colleague Geoffrey Robinson, to help him purchase an expensive house in the Notting Hill area of west London.

Mr Robinson, then paymaster general, was being investigated by Mandelson's department over his links with Robert Maxwell.

Both men resigned two days before Christmas in the biggest scandal to hit the Labour government.

Mr Mandelson said he had done nothing wrong and later the Britannia Building Society ruled out action over the loan and said they would not pursue the matter further.

Since then Mr Mandelson has returned to the government as Northern Ireland secretary.

Christmas comes early at Harrods

Mohamed al-Fayed celebrated his victory over former Tory minister Neil Hamilton in the High Court libel trial by saying: "Christmas has come early. This is total vindication."

Days before Christmas, the colourful libel trial between the Harrods owner and Mr Hamilton ended with Mr al-Fayed being cleared of libelling the former Tory minister.

As Mr al-Fayed celebrated winning the long-running trial, Mr Hamilton faced financial ruin after being ordered to pay both sides' legal costs, estimated at more than 1m.

The Harrods boss had been described as a Jekyll and Hyde character while Mr Hamilton had been called a man who had sacrificed truth and honour for his own self-preservation.

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