The Profumo affair 50 years on: The collapse of the old establishment has not brought enhanced democratic participation

Wyn Grant looks back at the Profumo affair and suggests that it represented the beginning of the end for the old ‘establishment’. In the place of ‘club government’, a more rule bound regulatory state was created. However this transformation has been arguably incomplete, with politicians still being drawn from a narrow range of occupations and not being representative of the population they are supposed to serve.

On a recent visit to the National Portrait Gallery, a small exhibition on the Profumo affair was attracting more attention than any other exhibit in the free part of the gallery. Why is there so much fascination with this series of events fifty years on? The whiff of corruption and sleaze in high places that was so evident? The cast of characters such as Mandy Rice-Davies whose comment on Lord Astor denying sleeping with her [probably he didn’t] ‘He would, wouldn’t he?’ has become a catch phrase? The iconic and much reproduced photograph that was taken of Christine Keeler? The sexual dimension, some of which was greatly exaggerated in accounts provided at the time and since, not least in the report by Lord Denning? As a schoolboy, I went with friends to the local railway station to buy French papers to find out what was ‘really’ going on with such characters as the ‘man in the mask’, rumoured to be a Cabinet minister, but in truth a businessman. Continue reading