Tory gay bomb shell set to blow
Scallywag issue 21, 1994
Westminster and the gay community have been rife with paranoia as the real gay scandal, brewing in Parliament for months, seemed ready to blow on the back of the death of Stephen Milligan.
The sordid Milligan tragedy's exact details had at first been unclear; was a sexual accomplice involved, and what were the exact causes of death? But, after intense pathologists' reports and a full postmortem, the police had managed to gather no evidence that the death had been anything other than self-inflicted.
Immediately the police got into a contretemps with Westminster over how they had handled the press, with Tory MPs and ministers openly accusing them of actually being in the media's pay. But it now emerges it was far more likely the hapless Milligan secretary, Vera Taggart, who had discovered the body, called the dead MP's girlfriend and Daily Telegraph lobby correspondent, Julie Kirkbride, and probably others, to report what she had found BEFORE she dialled 999.
This would explain the time discrepancy between when police believe the body was found and when they arrived. Quite clearly, if Ms Kirkbride was seen in the commons press office sobbing uncontrollably, and the story had whipped around that lobby, it would have got to news desks within a handful of minutes, even seconds. The tabloids are not slow when they sniff a big one. Only after this did Ms Taggart call the police. This curious time difference is why she was interviewed by police a second time.
But as the initial shock of Milligan's death subsided, paranoid rumour was gripping Westminster. Police had quickly conjectured this may well be a homosexual-connected ritual death, if not murder, and the heat was quickly put on the gay community. This proved negative, but the Tory whips went into action to ward off any further flak as, buffeted by almost every other kind of scandal, their big secret gay scandal seemed about to burst.
Knowing full well that Scallywag, followed by almost the entire cross-political media, had been investigating the secret gay factions in Westminster, Tory whips were scared the continuing disaster was going to head off in a new, damaging, direction. By Monday reactions were at fever pitch and the next day's Independent (a paper which has kept very close to this story from the beginning) published a report saying 14 suspected gays had been 'given a good talking to and told to marry before the next election'.
Leaving aside the morality of asking a man to marry a woman for political gain, and the fairness to the woman, this meant the Major administration could no longer ignore the political implications of its secret homosexual cliques.
In fact there is no evidence that constituents give much of a toss about an MP's sexual persuasions, as long as they are good constituency members, so, perhaps paradoxically, almost every person either facing scandal or on the whips' 'suspect hit list' was first class at their jobs and most were hovering on promotion.
Nevertheless, by the time of the Milligan death, there were by now many, many, questions (only guessed at by a perplexed public who were not at all sure what the hell was going on) without convincing answers.
Fly-by-nights such as Lindi St Clair, also known as '"Miss Whiplash", notorious casher-in on any political scandal but highly discredited, burst onto the scene; and then, not without expectation, Justin Fashanu, the openly gay footballer. We thanked Ms St Clair for her call but did not call back,
Fashanu had to be taken more seriously because we had heard from perhaps half a dozen sources that he had shared a bed with Portillo and Lilley over a number of years and had joined in toy-boy romps at a house in Westminster owned or rented by the two ministers. He had boasted of this widely, and not just within the gay circles he enjoyed frequenting. It was parlour-talk in sporting circles, throughout the media, and most certainly in Westminster - talk fed mainly by Fashanu himself.
Notwithstanding, here was one person who was actually saying: "I copulated with two government ministers and I'm willing to name them."
Fashanu, perhaps sending the story might break without him being able to cash in, decided to take the initiative and go to both the News of the World and the Sunday People. The People had been fascinated by the gay story and was busy following up every lead they could find. It agreed to fly the footballer to London, put him up for a few days in some style, and give him a £1,000 cheque for his 'trouble'. During that interview he blurted his mouth off, asking for £300,000 for his 'exclusive'. Several hours of taped and witnessed words resulted, in which Fashanu specifically stated and confirmed the three-in-a-bed romps with Portillo and Lilley.
In effect, the Sunday People stitched him up, using the story (but not the names), and on the very next day Fashanu made a grovelling and silly denial that the interview had even taken place. He put on a token press conference on the steps of his house, but was sacked from his job anyway. Even if he had been telling the truth, he'd blown it through greed and, anyway, the two-man team from the People, well-known to us for their thoroughness, didn't believe him (he was unable to substantiate a single thing over and above his own word, which quickly became suspect).
Did he panic when he realised the full implications of any possible link to the Milligan death? Or, between the time the interviews took place and his Monday morning denial, had Fashanu been 'got at'? Had he been threatened, or even bribed? We knew of the existence of a significant slush fund set up by Tim Sainsbury to bail out problem MPs - there are tens of thousands of pounds set aside by Conservative Central Office for such occasions. It seems plain that if Fashanu had not been paid off or menaced, then it would have been in his interests to rescue the dregs of his credibility by standing at least on the hypocrisy issue and saying: "I don't care about the money, but these people should be exposed."
With Fashanu out of the way it looked as if the Tory gay bombshell, despite the panics over Milligan, may have been defused. But the volcano was still spitting. Paddy Ashdown's former mistress, Tricia Howard, who worked in Ashdown's office for several years, revealed that some of the self-righteous MPs who had condemned her were actively gay and enjoyed nothing more than dressing up as French maids. She quoted "several ministers" but, once again, the deadly media lawyers wouldn't let anyone elucidate more specifically. Ms Howard has no real axe to grind and her affair was virtually forgotten. In our opinion he is most credible.
Scallywag's offices were inundated by an almost unprecedented amount of fresh information. Most was tantalisingly off the record or anonymous; given by phone, letter, or at carefully contrived lunches in which at least one MP we had names as gay (Scallywag 20) enjoyed our hospitality. Some was vindictive balderdash. Many were trying to get information from us, or telling us stuff they could not print in their own organs. It was all fascinating, but we were acutely aware we had become central to the 'Rumour Factory.'
This curious phenomenon embraces Westminster, the media, the gay 'establishment' and Whitehall, adventurous freelance journalists, and freeloaders, and every trader in illicit tittle-tattle and innuendo, in addition to plain liars, after notoriety. A rum bunch when taken in a cocktail.
Nevertheless, curiously, the same names from entirely unrelated sources kept coming back, and so our questions went on.
The Peterhouse Connection
Central to our own enquiry was Peterhouse College, Cambridge. Peterhouse holds many keys and the doors they open become more and more fascinating. We had a rather loose allegation that the young, but bitingly ambitious, Michael Portillo once had an affair with his college history tutor, Maurice Cowling, and that they had been caught on the floor, in the act of flagrant copulation, by a fellow student. We called Cowling, a brilliant historian, in his present-day hideaway in Long Island. He said Portillo was a dangerous and ambitious man, and dismissed the story as "absolute crap": the incident had simply not happened. He admitted he knew Michael, but had no idea of his private life outside college. On the direct question of whether he was himself gay he would only say: "I have never been found in any kind of compromising situation with any student." We pressed the point, but he would merely repeat himself. An interestingly-constructed denial!
Cowling lied to us and we challenge him to test us on this. Behind the scenes at Peterhouse (where he ruled the political roost) he was a very powerful and manipulative, ultra-right wing, eminence grise. Politically at least, this put him extremely close to Portillo and their friendship extended far, far, beyond tutorials.
Portillo, meanwhile, was ruthless and totally single-minded. A college contemporary remembers Portillo looking back on his own father's life with disdain, saying: "My father was a Spanish republican with principles and, by God, he suffered for it. I don't have any principles. I just want to get to the top and bring as much pain to as many people on the way as possible".
We talked to many Peterhouse students. In the early to mid-seventies Cowling did in fact run a most interesting political group of extreme right-wingers, within which Portillo quickly became a darling. One fellow member was a self-confessed 'queen', Alan Beck, known by the group as 'Sister Latex'. With only some 120 student at the college, 'all lived in each other's pockets' - politically, sexually, socially, and academically. Portillo is portrayed by his contemporaries as vicious, ambitious, self-adoring, brilliant, conceited, dangerous, wholly amoral, sexually promiscuous, and exactly what that particular group of extreme right-wingers thought would make an excellent future prime minister. As such, Cowling decided to sponsor him politically and to 'handle' his early political career. He even introduced himself to group newcomers as "the future prime minister's patron."
This now becomes one of the most fascinating stories of the Peterhouse period. Cowling knew very well the hugely egotistical Portillo would need expert help, backing and advice. And, when the grooming began, Portillo was relentless in using every potentially influential or otherwise useful person who came his way, gay or not.
Central to the Cowling set-up was a certain Alistair Cooke OBE [Lord Lexden], a fellow history student reputed to be another lover of Cowling, who felt (almost certainly with reason) that the real political power lay not in Parliament itself, which he openly considered to be a sideshow. He felt it resided within the guiding bodies of the political parties, like Conservative Central Office, and within the Whitehall establishment which regularly manipulated, with great force, its own ministers. Cooke was reputedly the core of the whole homosexual ring at Peterhouse.
At Cowling's connivance, Cooke quickly entered Conservative Central office, specifically to back Margaret Thatcher until the protoge, Portillo, was ready for office. One of our most convincing sources alleges he managed to mastermind, very quickly, a homosexual inner circle within the CCO and then go on to claim the highly influential offices of the Conservative Political Centre (CPC) AND the Conservative Research Department (CRD). In fact, he became the new epicentre of a a hardcore, self-perpetuating, clique of homosexuals at the very heart of Central Office.
(It is a serious conjecture that when Maggie Thatcher was ousted, CCO masterminded the insipid John Major as interim PM - thinking, wrongly, he'd be a good boy and go when they were ready to put in their own man.)
Portillo joined the CRD almost directly from Peterhouse, under the auspices of Cooke. Lilley and Edward Leigh soon joined him, and the quartet planned their strategy.
A measure of Portillo's political and sexual cynicism is gained from the comparative careers of he and his friend David Nicholson MP. In 1979 both were candidates for positions within the Conservative Research Department. Nicholson was an overt sado-masochist, and would have made little attempt to hide his cravings. Portillo, whilst allegedly sharing many of Nicholson's bizarre sexual penchants, and already himself the victim of rumours about his attraction to bondage and leather gear, profoundly disparaged his colleague's lack of political shrewdness. Portillo was extremely careful: sex, and its darker side, was to be used for political expediency as much as for pleasure. His caution paid off. Nicholson failed CRD's positive vetting while Portillo passed with flying colours.
Outside politics both Lilley and Portillo had other jobs. Portillo had a brief spell with oil company Kerr-McGee, while Lilley was an oil and energy consultant with W. Greenhall. Both worked at that time as consultants for the Conservative Research Department, and Portillo soon became special advisor to the Secretary of State for Energy, the 'notoriously heterosexual' John Moore.
But both men, Portillo in particular, now protected by both Cooke and Cowling, had little interest in these mundane jobs on the periphery of government. In 1982 Portillo began to groom himself for a constituency and was told, quite categorically, he would not get a safe one unless he married. He apparently courted Carolyn Eadie (Portillo was an old boy of Harrow Boys' School, while she was formerly of Harrow Girls' School and Oxford) as quickly as possible, married her, and was promptly voted in at Southgate two years later. In the CRD this was a matter of huge hilarity where his gay tendencies (motivated either by sexuality or ambition) were very well known. Eadie had known Portillo for ten years, roughly the same time he had known the actor Simon Chandler, an old Cowling hand and, lately, Rev Farebrother in BBC TV's 'Middlemarch'.
Portillo met Chandler shortly after leaving school. The 'friendship' continued throughout Polly's Cambridge days, where Chandler was a frequent visitor. The two boys used to stay in the same room and were said, by the many who remember, to be extremely close. Indeed, Chandler then went on to share a flat with Eadie (she is also rumoured to be bisexual).
Chandler is one of the names which keeps cropping up in this story, the more we go into its murky depths. The gay community say they 'know him well'. And we do know he was a constant visitor to Peterhouse during the relevant period. So we contacted his agent, who came back quickly to say his client "refused to comment". Chandler was also contacted by a national newspaper, and had not denied or confirmed the allegation that he had had an affair with Portillo.
It was Chandler who introduced Carolyn Eadie when Portillo was desperately searching for a 'token' wife. (The latest twist, that the whips have demanded gay suspects in the Tory party should find a wife before the next election, therefore seems strangely relevant). Simon Chandler is presently in Ibsen's 'A Doll's House' at the New End Theatre in Hampstead, North London.
The Plot Thickens
Whether Portillo is gay or not, it certainly appears he was quite willing to pose as one if it was politically expedient. Lilley had also rushed into a marriage of convenien, but his quickly floundered (his wife now lives almost permanently in a cottage in Normandy).
Meanwhile, onto the Cowling scene quickly emerged another interesting set of ambitious politicos including Sir Fergus Montgomery, who had re-encountered Cowling during a lecture tour of the USA; Peter Luff, who had married hastily in the same year as Portillo; Matthew Banks MP, who we have already listed as gay; Alan Duncan; and the man who would later become Portillo's PPS, David Amess, and who would be most indiscreet about his boss's inclinations. Luff was very close to Portillo after both of them met at Cambridge, and later they worked together at the CCO's research department. He remains part of Portillo's political think tank and may expect high office is Portillo ever gets to Downing Street,
On to the scene at some stage came David Nicholson MP, masterminded by Cooke. He created a right-win clan known as the "Nicholson Boys" - all predominantly gay. This small but influential group put themselves firmly behind the Portillo-Lilley right-wing potential bid for the party leadership. The plot that had all started 20 years before in the history tutorials at Peterhouse began to thicken.
Another funny old name which keeps cropping up is Tony Hutt, a professional lobbyist and close Portillo confidant whose patron is John Gummer, the Minister for Agriculture. We have absolutely no evidence, not even a suggestion, that Gummer is gay or part of the homosexual clique. But Hutt almost certainly is.
Hutt was a front-runner in the firm of GJW Government Relations, which has a most curious background. It was set up by three former PPSs to Edward Heath, James Callaghan, and Harold Wilson - clearly a case of ambitious juniors cashing in on their newfound influence. He was also a "Nicholson Boy". GJW is the initials if Jaeger, Gifford and Weeks, although we are not sure which represented which party. But Hutt was recruited by them almost as soon as Portillo got a safe seat. (Won, by the way, at a by-election - almost unprecedented for a newcomer).
Other prominent political lobbyists who emerged at the same time as Portillo entered Westminster were the firm of Greer-Russell. Greer was a gay who specialised in recruiting gay MPs. Subsequently Greer and Russell split up their partnership and Greer went into business on his own. According to our sources he recruits only gay researchers, who prey on the homosexual lobby in Parliament.
Used or abused
Contacts at the CCO, maybe out of political chicanery because they were not part of the rampant homosexual clique run by the ever-powerful Cooke, were keen to discredit what they saw as a Peterhouse gay plot which threatened their very existence. But by now the clique was so powerful and so deep rooted that all opposition fell on stony ground. Since reaching office Portillo has surrounded himself with a small think-tank drawn from friends he made at Peterhouse and in the CCO. Indeed, many MPs still refer to them as "Polly's little boys".
There is no doubt in our minds that Maurice Cowling initiated and used or abused a homosexual ring at Peterhouse for his own political ambitions, thinking he could be a power-broker behind the throne; and that the all-powerful Alistair Cooke created, perhaps for the same reasons, a homosexual clique to which Portillo once belonged; that Sister Latex procured men to this exclusive circle, which included the actor Simon Chandler; that Peter Lilley got to Parliament first and helped the Cowling plan; and that Lilley was a protagonist in putting up a right-wing front, based on homosexual activities of one sort or another, paving the way for Portillo's eventual arrival.
Alan Beck (now working as a lecturer in a London university) admitted to us he had 'come out' when he was 16, and that a notorious homosexual ring existed, masterminded by Cowling, at Peterhouse. But when we mentioned his friendship with Portillo, he insisted the rest of the conversation should be 'off the record'.
We put all this to Cowling (having tape recorded all out conversations). When we asked him directly whether Portillo had taken part in gay activities at the college, he hesitated for a long time before saying that, frankly, he did not know. "As tutor and pupil we were very close but I have no idea what Michael got up to when he was not on the campus."
The whole Peterhouse period came at the beginning of the end of Edward Heath, a music-loving bachelor who was also a friend of Cowling. At Cowling's invitation Margaret Thatcher visited Cambridge and was impressed with the young Portillo, who subsequently did not muck around, going to Westminster almost direct from gaining a history first. Indeed, when Portillo left Cambridge, Cowling held a special party for him and again they toasted "the future prime minister". The Peterhouse set of that day are still active, many in key places.
There is no dispute, even by Cowling, that the central core of that political movement was notoriously, even viciously, homosexual. Whatever did or did not happen on Cowling's floor emerged only because a a gay student later told the gay movement to which he belonged that he had himself found them in flagrante delicto.
Then there was a school friend at Harrow Boys' School (not the public school) which Portillo attended who attested categorically that he had slept with Portillo, who was even then emerging as a mercenary politico. But, says our witness, in a school of that sort, mucking about in the bedroom was an everyday occurrence. Indeed, almost every one did that at some stage and a report like this simply can't be taken too seriously.
But then there was the astounding report of election night, 1992. The rumour came from a very reliable source, a highly credible investigative journalist who had prepared several important TV programmes. One of his own very good sources was a high-ranking official at the Department of Trade and Industry. On the day of after election night, when a euphoric Conservative party had got in with a working margin, the DTI inspector called the journalist and said that during the previous night a security guard had disturbed Lilley and Portillo in one of the top offices of the DTI building, doing a little more than celebrating the victory. In fact the guard was quiet specific. The two were giving each other an extremely excited blow job.
According to other sources the guard had made his report direct to the DTI official who had passed it on to the journalist. He had then taken the story to his own boss who had put in an immediate report to the Chief Whip. He in turn carpeted both men. The whips' office could easily put the clampers on the official - all it had to do was threaten his pension. But the lowly-paid guard was a problem. He was offered a better job elsewhere and a substantial sum of money (drawn from that special fund administered by Tim Sainsbury) in return for a written agreement he would never divulge what had happened. To our knowledge, he has never done so. But the story was out already.
At the same time, an MI6 officer who played squash with an investigative reporter on the Independent told him that the security services had placed both men under surveillance. A reliable source on the Observer told us about the house in Westminster visited regularly by gays supplied by the 'Adams Escort Agency', and owned or rented by Portillo and Lilley.
Another name which keeps popping up in this extraordinary sage is Dolphin Square. this is a huge complex of luxury flats on the river, not far from Westminster. We first heard of it when we found HM Customs had followed pornographic mail intercepted at Mount Pleasant sorting office, and coming from Amsterdam, to a flat at that address. It did not result in any arrests, though it did result in a memo to John Major which he apparently ignored (unless it had something to do with his 'bastards' speech).
Because of the Matrix-Churchill affair, now subject to the Scott Inquiry, HM Customs had begun to feel rather chagrined at the present government. Indeed, they were so angry about the government's handling of the situation and the subsequent grey areas of their legal brief, that, at a very high level, they began squawking and squealing. (The government promptly warned them that if they went on kicking up a fuss they would be put in line via a savage curtailing of their powers). Added to their chagrin was the fact that, as borders came down throughout the EC, hundreds of customs personnel were facing redundancy. So, to make themselves useful, they began creating a new role for themselves in surveillance on everything from drugs to pornography.
They stepped up their activities at Mount Pleasant, having the manpower to follow through every item of real suspicion. We know they traced regular deliveries from Amsterdam and elsewhere to a flat in Dolphin Square, which they put under surveillance. We have only been able to follow this through the most confidential information which could never be properly confirmed - others who know of this story have been told by Customs they cannot or will not confirm it. But there is strong reason to believe this surveillance information was used as a direct lever to warn the Prime Minister he should leave HM Customs' powers alone.
Portillo and Lilley dine regularly, mostly on Friday lunchtimes, in the extensive restaurant at the base of the Dolphin Square building. When we checked on that we were practically evicted by the management. Dolphin Square, one of the largest residential buildings outside New York, has always been a hotbed of political and sexual intrigue and many MPs live there when they are in London.
Not long after their marriage, the Portillos went on holiday with Michael Brown MP. Brown took as his companion a West Indian self-professed homosexual who all three nicknamed 'Golly' [Derek Laud]. It is simply not known who slept with who. Curiously, also with a male friend, went lobbyist Tony Hutt. The party apparently hardly emerged from the hotel in their Caribbean hideaway.
Around the same time, Lilley and his wife were approached at an art gallery by an unidentified male who, according to one onlooker, caused quite a scene. There were tears and pleas and raised voices, before a highly flustered Lilley left for his car.
To our certain knowledge, Today newspaper, the Observer, The Independent, the Independent on Sunday, the Sunday People, the Sunday Mirror, The Mirror, and several TV programmes all have substantial dossiers on gays in Parliament and these dossiers include large chapters on Portillo and Lilley. One reporter, with Today newspaper, approached Lilley with a dossier outside his London home at approximately 5 am. Lilley physically attacked the reporter and had to be restrained by his chauffeur.
Furthermore, it is widely known in the media that just before the last election Mirror newspapers were going to discredit Lilley. In response, Murdoch newspapers threatened to do a similar smear story on Gerald Kaufman. If both papers had gone for the story hell-for-leather, it would made the entire election a farce and, in a last minute confrontation, prevailed upon by top MPs of both parties, the two groups decided to shelve their dossiers "for the time being".
The Rumour Factory is hugely unreliable and self-feeding. You are always coming across the phrase 'everyone knows' and you are fed with a diet of tittle-tattle that rarely checks out. But could all these people be so wrong? The Lilley-Portillo rumours have been something different from the factory's regular products. They have been in an avalanche from almost every quarter.
There are several conclusions which one may come to. Perhaps the story is true but both the duo and the establishment have so far been successful in keeping it out of the mainstream press. Or it is partly true but much embellished. Or it is a complete invention of the Rumour Factory which has got out of hand. Or, more interestingly, the whole thing is a political conspiracy to keep the right wing of the Tory party in line. (If the latter is true it does not seem so far to be working). When John Major was reported to have said at a now notorious dinner party 'I'll destroy the bastards,' did he have this whole affair safely in his pocket? Are these rumours coming from Downing Street?
If our journalistic friends are to be believed - let us say on the incident at the DTI, or the MI5 report on the Westminster house - were these carefully planted 'leads' designed to guide the press towards a scandal? In the murky world of politics this is by no means beyond possibility. Lilley is an enigma, but Portillo has emerged in double-quick time as being aggressively ambitious and self-important. No one questions his brilliance, but his abrasive style has brought him a trainload of enemies and, if the knives are out, almost anything can happen.
MP Jerry Hayes, himself on our original list, claims he can recall exactly where the rumour started. Apparently Portillo had just had a new hairdo and it had come out as a rather flamboyant bouffant. On arriving back at Westminster various people, including Lilley, had given him wolf whistles and called him 'ducky'. It was, says Mr Hayes, as simple and silly as that. Rather an ignominious beginning for a scandal which might just bring down a government.
But no doubt the most worrying conclusion to be drawn is that a small, insular, highly motivated and utterly ruthless clique of far right homosexuals at a college in Cambridge have cunningly engineered British political history for their own ends. If Portillo is the 'man who would be king' and has been groomed from an early age to be just that, how will these men attempt to protect their investment? Was Fashanu's retraction genuine? And were the recent deaths of Milligan and James Rusbridger accidents, suicides, or coincidences? Or were their tragic ends, and the manner in which they died, a way of silencing and discrediting people who knew too much and had become unstable? On one level it is hard to believe in such an insidious, extensive and sinister conspiracy. But when one considers what's at stake for the real powerbrokers behind the Conservative Party, it is equally hard to gauge exactly what they would be prepared to do in order to protect their long-nurtured political plan. Consequently, our investigation continues.