Commentary (The Times)

MT: "Gratitude and much respect at end of journey to redemption" (death of John Profumo)

Document type: Press
Source: The Times , 11 Mar 2006
Journalist: Andrew Pierce
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 739 words
Themes: Conservative Party (history)

Gratitude and much respect at end of journey to redemption

By Andrew Pierce

The Prime Minister led tributes to a former politician whose later career restored his reputation

POLITICAL tributes to John Profumo were led by Tony Blair, who said: “He was a politician with a glittering career who made a serious mistake, but then underwent a journey of redemption in which he gave support and help to many, many people.

“He will be remembered not just for the events which brought his political career to an end, but also I think he will be remembered, and should be remembered, with a lot of gratitude and respect for what he achieved in his later life.”

Lord Deedes of Aldington, a lifelong friend and former Cabinet colleague of Mr Profumo, who typed the statement that was to destroy his reputation, said: “Jack never ever talked about it but he once wrote me a note saying, ‘Oh, how it goes on and on’.

Jack realised that a knighthood which had been mooted would have been controversial and would have stirred it all up again. It’s why he said he would not take one.

“At Mrs Thatcher’s birthday party he was sat at the right-hand side of the Queen. For him that was a wonderful token of forgiveness and esteem that was much more important than a knighthood.”

For the Queen, who had agreed to Mr Profumo’s request to be stripped of his membership of the Privy Council in 1963, it was a sign of her belief that Mr Profumo had wiped the slate clean.

For years Mr Profumo was shunned by many Tories, and Baroness Thatcher was one of the first to extend the public hand of friendship. A spokesman for Lady Thatcher said: “When we see what Jack Profumo has achieved in the 40 years devoted service to Toynbee Hall, and the thousands of people who owe him an enormous debt of gratitude, we realise what a great loss he was to public life.”

Lord Deedes, a former Editor of The Daily Telegraph, recalled being summoned to the Chief Whip’s office at 2am after Labour MPs had raised the Keeler affair: “There were six ministers with Jack to agree what line the Government should take. We did not cross-examine Jack about whether the allegations were true. We presumed that had been done already.

“When the confession came I was surprised but of course I forgave him. He was not the only adulterer in the Commons. We became closer friends. I felt protective. He has long since atoned. In death, at last, he will have peace from all that.” Mr Profumo, a war hero and scion of an aristocratic Italian family, began by making the tea at Toynbee Hall.

He went on to chair the charity, set up a housing association, a unit for former offenders and build a family centre.

Luke Geoghegan, its chief executive, said: “John Profumo was an inspiration to us all. His tireless commitment to the organisation’s development, and particularly fundraising, continued to the end. I think the scandal turned out to be a pivotal point for him. Perhaps if the scandal had not happened he would not have come to Toynbee Hall when he did but in his heart he was always a fundamentally good person.”

Anthony Howard, the political biographer, said that the political fallout had been immense. “It did do tremendous damage, the country went hysterical. People went absolutely crazy. But then for 40 years or more Jack Profumo, first of all with his wife, he devoted himself to social work in the East End. He never wanted to talk about the Profumo affair ever.”

Lord Carrington, the former Foreign Secretary, said: “He was a good friend. It was a great tragedy. There’s nobody in public life that has done more to atone for telling a lie to the Commons as he has. He worked selflessly for years for Toynbee Hall. Whatever he did, every year there would be a new book or film about it and he was haunted about it for the rest of his life. He was an admirable character. He did not talk about the affair very much, nor did one want one to ask. ”