Another week, another scandal in Westminster. This week, it is the news that the Prime Minister, his wife and the Chancellor of Exchequer have all been fined by the Metropolitan Police for breaking lockdown rules. The story erupts before the ink is dry on headlines about married Tory MP David Warburton, who’s photographed with what appear to be lines of cocaine and accused of sexual misconduct – although he has robustly denied any wrongdoing.
How on earth does fiction keep up with this endless slew? Well, it’s giving it a good go. Netflix’s Anatomy of a Scandal lands on our screens this Easter, with Sienna Miller, Rupert Friend and Michelle Dockery starring in a drama about a torrid affair that ends with an allegation of rape in a House of Commons lift.
The drama tells the story of how “Britain’s most fanciable MP” – serving Home Office minister James Whitehouse (Friend) – is outed by the press for cheating on his glamorous wife (Miller) with an aide. And the drama has a strong claim to veracity, beyond the clear evidence of our own eyes. It’s based on a novel by the former Guardian political correspondent Sarah Vaughan, and the consultant on the series is a sitting Conservative MP, Craig Whittaker, who has held the swing seat of Calder Valley in West Yorkshire since 2010.
Whittaker, who grew up in Australia before returning to the UK in his early twenties and building a career in the retail sector, does not have the sort of public-school/Oxbridge background that James Whitehouse and PM Tom Southern (Geoffrey Streatfeild) share in Anatomy of a Scandal, but he says it’s the press that promotes “this idea of ‘toffs’ and a ‘lying, privileged elite’” in relation to partygate. “The reality is, if you go and knock on the doorstep, like we do every working day, it is… actually the aspirational working-class that love him to bits, and say, ‘Well, you know, it’s Boris, we all know what Boris is like.’”
The series digs deep into the practice of “strategic lying” by politicians. Of course, we’re now seeing fines go out from the Met for the Downing Street parties, when the Prime Minister had previously insisted that he had “been repeatedly assured… that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”. I ask Whittaker whether that is an example of strategic lying in practice? “I don’t think it is,” he says. “I mean, you’ll know, as I know, having a party in Downing Street is not like having a party in a two-up two-down in Brighouse [in Whittaker’s constituency].”