Watching brief - Amanda Platell muses about Byers in bed

The problem with Stephen Byers's sex scandal is that, like everything else about his political caree

When the red tops' front pages screamed "Byers, Byers, pants on fire", in parody of the old "liar, liar" schoolyard taunt, few of us had any idea that there was more to the heat in the former Transport Secretary's Calvin Kleins than met the eye. Pants on fire indeed, according to the woman who briefly shared his bed one Saturday night in February this year, Barbara "I regret everything but forget nothing" Corish.

One of the more curious aspects of this tale, revealed in the News of the World, is that Ms Corish is 52 and not your average kiss-and-tell girl - she's more eggshell than bombshell, brittle and perhaps rather naive. She must be the only person in Britain who has ever had great expectations of Stephen Byers.

I have long thought that the whipping boy of British politics could be partial to the odd whipping himself, but who would ever have suspected that he liked to talk dirty in bed? So dirty, in fact, that his partner for that one night at a local government conference in Cardiff was so offended by his language she was forced to storm out of his hotel room - albeit not before 4.20am.

"In the throes of passion he whispered the most disgusting thing I have ever heard," she said.

Now we are all left guessing: what did Byers say? What was the "obscene filth" he groaned in her ear? Did he call Barbara the "s" word (the four-lettered one rhyming with "shut"), or the "T" word (councillor, you're dirtier than a Tory), or the "c" word (the ancient Germanic one, oft referred to in polite company as "see you next Tuesday")? In my experience, the only men who use this word in reference to women are the most worthy beneficiaries of the term themselves.

The problem with this sex scandal is that, like everything else about Stephen Byers's political career, it is consummately second division. Even the seduction scene in the black socks could not save Byers from mediocrity. And as with all sex scandals, the devilment is in the detail.

If Ralph Halpern had only been able to manage it four times a night, Fiona Wright would never have had a successful career as a lingerie model. If Hugh Grant's hooker had been called Doris Brown instead of Divine, and the act had taken place at the back of King's Cross, it would have been a local story, not an international scandal. And you would think that an affair between a soft-porn actress and a Secretary of State would be enough, but no, it was the seduction scene in the Chelsea strip that sealed David Mellor's place in the Hall of Infamy.


Opening the Times's T2, I was struck by the most shuddering sense of deja vu. Louise Barton's sexual discrimination action against her employers was the peg for ransacking the mid-Eighties Today newspaper archives and coming up with a cover story, "How to survive in the City - a woman's guide", illustrated with a picture, shot from behind, of a caricatured career woman in a short skirt walking purposefully through a crowd of suited men.

Inside, along with insightful tips such as "Look out for No 1", "Think before you speak, think again, then speak" and "City girls don't cry", was a large picture of, you guessed it, a power-dressed woman in a short skirt taken from behind, this time with some skyscrapers between her legs.

What else to illustrate Sexism in the City, but a sexist photograph?


If someone had told John Pilger that he would one day inspire a gay pop star to make a video in which he attempts, among other things, to have sex with the Prime Minister's wife to illustrate the unnatural relationship between Tony Blair and George Bush, even he would be, if not amused, then bemused.

First the Daily Mirror's editor, Piers Morgan, becomes a convert; now George Michael worships at the altar of John Pilger. "I read Pilger . . . and I got angry with the world," said the pulpit pop star. Launching his new single "Shoot the Dog", Michael said he was inspired by a front page of the Mirror post-11 September which depicted Blair as a poodle of President Bush. Somehow that gave him the idea to do a video in which he attempts to have sex with Cherie Blair. Confused? You won't be. George Michael's flogging a new album.


In his BBC documentary Portillo in Euroland, Michael claims that "the Conservative Party couldn't win an election whatever their policies", and certainly not until they have lost what his supporters call their "repulsive image". Has it not yet occurred to the Tories that self-loathing is the most unattractive of characteristics?

As long as Tories go around despising themselves, there is no chance that people will ever vote for them, whatever their policies. Perhaps that's the plan.