13 JUNE 1998, Page 14


Amid the accusations against British attitude towards people like himself

OUR JURY system of '12 good men and true' goes back 800 years. Together with the presumption of innocence until proven guilty it is a foundation stone of English justice. When I was accused over the Moni- ca Coghlan affair, the jury found unani- mously in my favour, and awarded me a symbolic £500,000 in damages. And yet anyone can still take a crack at me any time they like just by saying under their breath, `Don't forget the business of the prosti- tute.'

And they can fill a couple more column inches by referring darkly to the 'unan- swered questions' about Anglia shares. The Department of Trade and Industry set up an independent inquiry, headed by a prominent QC. They grilled me, my wife and my acquaintances for many hours, in great detail and under oath. As a result of their investigations, the DTI concluded that a jury of '12 good men and true' would be likely to find me innocent.

How much longer can people attack me with a nod and a wink and a snigger? The answer, of course, is forever. But let us be quite clear about this: what they are really attacking is not just me, but the whole idea of British justice and fair play.

It is so easy for cynics to refer smartly to the 'case of the missing A levels', when in fact I never claimed to have A levels, or the `1975 Toronto incident', when I moved from one part of a store to what I believed was another part with two suits over my shoulder: the very book that reveals it (Michael Crick's hostile biography of me) says that my 'confusion was understand- able. A British person would be unfamiliar with the idea that in North America two competing shops might co-operate by pro- viding an inter-connecting passage for cus- tomers. Moreover, if Archer had intended to steal the suits, leaving by the walkway wasn't the best way to do it — since he then risked being stopped by the next shop's security men. Simpsons agreed to drop the matter; Archer was not charged, and the police released him in time to catch his flight back to London.' All this has been around for years, and yet I am asked again and again to 'answer the ques- tion'.

I quote this at length for one simple rea- son: the cynics always rely on most people not having the full details. That's why it's so easy for them to have another pop at me. I have now answered all the allegations against me line by line in a double-page spread in the Evening Standard. I will not deal with these issues again. But I don't for a moment expect that my critics will now `Since he's been going to that dog psychiatrist, he's been a lot more introspective and analytical.' treat me fairly. Of course, it really doesn't matter if I am attacked week after week. After all, I am in politics. I may be running for mayor of Lon- don. I expect to be attacked. Whoever suc- ceeds in becoming mayor will be scrutinised and criticised for everything they do, day after day. That's part of the job. But we must understand that this is also part of the new British disease. We are get- ting too much joy out of sly and nasty com- ments. We delight in destruction. We build people up to tear them down. I could have given up public life months ago when the attacks first started. Ironically enough, in one of my darkest moments, it was my sons who convinced me to stay on. I am glad their resolution was so strong, and hope — although I am not optimistic — that it is shared by many others of then age. Can there be any sort of incentive for young people today to strive for high-pro" file and responsible jobs when they have to witness the destruction that present-day fig- ures are suffering daily? What sort of exam- ple can it be to the young people of tins country if figures such as I simply stand down each and every time we are vilified?

Why would anyone want to set out to suc- ceed in the public arena — whether M the arts, in sport, in politics or whatever they know in advance that the moment they get close to their ambition, people will try to destroy them? We are asking adventur- ers to go out on the high seas, while getting the torpedoes ready. The whole point of my life has been to keep trying, to keep moving forward, and when people knock me down to get uP again and keep doing what I think is right. If I achieve nothing else in politics, I "loge at least that I can prove that it is still possi- ble to rise above the sniping, that you can have dreams and ambitions and that Y°° should stick to them through thick and thin. Otherwise, let us not complain about the fact that fewer and fewer people are corning forward to serve their community, that It's getting harder and harder to persuade peo- ple to stand as councillors and MPs. When try to encourage them, so many now say, `You must be joking, Jeffrey. Who needs it?' This new British disease is thriving owl. where, not just in politics. Alan Shearer, the captain of the England football team now 10 France, was quite right when he said earlier this week, 'The mentality of this countrY is to build up their stars to knock them down. I don't know why.' What sort of state have we arrived at when one of our great new national football talents, 18-year-'31., Michael Owen, must fear to succeed in ea% he suffers the same treatment as hi heroes? fY? And who is all this supposed to sans u It's not enough for people just to i shr their shoulders and say, 'Well, that s pano, and parcel of being i in public life.' It so in other countries. It doesn't need to be so here. s