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Hamilton in March 2008.

Mostyn Neil Hamilton (born 9 March 1949) is a former barrister, teacher and Conservative Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom. Since losing his seat in 1997 and leaving politics, Hamilton and his wife Christine have become media celebrities. In Who's Who, Hamilton now describes himself as being a writer, actor, broadcaster and entertainer.

Contents

Background

Hamilton was born at Fleur-de-Lis, a Monmouthshire pit-village near Blackwood. Both of his grandfathers were coal miners, but in the 1950s Hamilton moved to Ammanford as his father was a chief engineer for the National Coal Board. He grew up in Tirydail, and joined the Conservative party in 1964.

Following education at Ammanford Grammar School in Carmarthenshire, Hamilton studied economics at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, and law at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he studied for a post-graduate law degree between 1976 and 1977.[1][2]

Whilst at Aberystwyth he was a leading light in the Federation of Conservative Students, of which he was a member between 1968 and 1974. At the 1970 Conservative party conference he called for mass privatisation but first came to national attention after attending and addressing, as a delegate from the Federation of Conservative Students, the 1973 conference of the Italian neo-fascist party, the Italian Social Movement (MSI).[3]

Monday Club

He was for some years a member of the staunchly right-wing Conservative Monday Club, and was elected to its Executive Council as early as 1972. His membership ended in 1973.

Early career

At the Conservative Party conference in 1971 Hamilton spoke against entering the EEC, as it was then called. In 1973 he stood as chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students against David Davis but was defeated. Then at the February 1974 general election, Hamilton stood as the Conservative candidate in Abertillery and at the 1979 general election as a parliamentary candidate in Bradford North

He worked as a teacher between 1973 and 1976 at St John's College, Southsea, privately studying for the Bar in his spare time. Hamilton also taught constitutional law at Hatfield Polytechnic between September 1978 and July 1982. From September 1979, Hamilton was a barrister, specialising in taxation law. However, after he lost his seat in 1997, he vowed never to return to "that constipated profession" and in April 2001 Hamilton said, "If I am bankrupt, [which he was the following month] I won't be able to return to the bar but even if I was able to do so, I couldn't contain myself from saying what I thought to some of the judges."

Elected to Parliament

Hamilton was also European and Parliamentary Affairs Director of the Institute of Directors during this time. He was selected as the Conservative candidate for the newly-created Tatton constituency on 12 March 1983, after being runner-up for Bournemouth West and other constituencies. He was elected to Parliament three months later, at the 1983 general election as the MP for the Tatton constituency. On 4 June 1983, five days before polling day, he married Mary Christine Holman in Cornwall.

In 1984 Hamilton strongly supported leaded petrol and criticised the leadership of his own party for seeking to abolish it, saying that there was no evidence it was damaging to the environment and that jobs would be lost in his constituency if it was banned, as it later was.[4]

Despite holding very strong Thatcherite views, such as being anti-trade union, immigration and child benefit, and being pro-free market and supporting capital punishment and privatisation, (he also supported the freedom to smoke, the right of people to sell their organs, which the Thatcher government refused to allow, and Welsh as a national language - Hamilton speaks Welsh, French and German as foreign languages), he was not favoured or given rapid promotion, largely because of a controversial libel action against the BBC (see below). Hamilton was in favour of coal mine closures and nuclear power as an energy of the future. He was also one of ten MPs to vote against the government on an EEC bill in April 1986.

BBC libel case

Hamilton and fellow MP Gerald Howarth, also one of his closest friends, successfully sued the BBC for libel in October 1986 after a Panorama programme, "Maggie's Militant Tendency", broadcast on 30 January 1984, stated that the MPs had links with far-right groups in Europe and in the UK. The programme had alleged (not admitted as evidence in court), that he gave a Nazi salute in Berlin while 'messing around' on a Parliamentary visit in August 1983.[5] According to the Guardian, he later admitted in The Sunday Times that "he did give a little salute with two fingers to his nose to give the impression of a toothbrush moustache."[5]

The two MPs' case was financed largely by Sir James Goldsmith though David Davis, then a director of Tate and Lyle, persuaded the company to donate a sum to the cause. Lord Harris of High Cross, who helped to finance Hamilton's failed libel action against Mohammed Fayed 13 years later, also raised around £100,000.[6]

In court, Hamilton said that he was "The Mike Yarwood of the Federation of Young Conservatives".[7], and that he frequently sent up public figures such as Frankie Howerd, Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, Charles De Gaulle and Enoch Powell. Hamilton did an impression of Hitler whilst in the defence box by putting two fingers under his nose. Hamilton claimed he had blacked up in 1982 as an Idi Amin look-a-like and dressed as Canon James Owen on a boat on the River Cam.[8]

The BBC capitulated on 21 October. It had to pay the pair's legal costs. Hamilton and Howarth were awarded £20,000 each and in the next edition of Panorama on 27 October, the BBC made an unreserved apology to both.[9]

In a Sunday Times article, Hamilton denied that any malicious intent was behind the salute. He also pointed out that one of the party present, Julian Lewis, was a Jew himself and that a "number of his relatives were killed by the Nazis during the war".[10] Both Hamilton and Howarth dropped their libel action against Philip Pedley, who was the principal source of material in the programme, as they believed that extracting an apology from him was not "worth the bother of obtaining".[11]. In early December 1986, Hamilton and Howarth both agreed to pay Pedley's costs incurred in the six weeks since they defeated the BBC, as the case was formally brought to an end.[12]

After the libel case

After winning the case, Hamilton was appointed a Parliamentary Private Secretary to David Mitchell in December 1986.

In Parliament, Hamilton became known as a punchily partisan speaker. In 1987 he told Frank Dobson during a debate on amputees that "He does not have a leg to stand on"[13]. Later that year, he told Jeremy Corbyn that some of his IRA friends could be used to get rid of pensioners [14]. During a debate, Greville Janner said he that lost half of his family in the Holocaust. Hamilton allegedly replied "Unfortunately, the wrong half"[15]

In 1989, he won the Spectator parliamentary wit of the year award. He jokingly remarked that when told of winning the award, he thought it was for being the "Twit of the year".[16]. Hamilton was combative in the House of Commons, and enjoyed making jibes against the Labour Party, though he respected Eric Heffer and a few other Labour left-wingers[17]. Hamilton attended Heffer's memorial service on 10 July 1991.

Margaret Thatcher made him a whip in July 1990.

Hamilton vehemently urged Thatcher to fight on to a second ballot in November 1990 during the leadership contest and was devastated when she resigned. Hamilton had initially leaned towards voting for Michael Heseltine, as had a few other Right-wingers, such as Michael Brown and Edward Leigh, because they took the view that "Heseltine had stabbed Thatcher in the front". He saw her at Downing Street late on 21 November 1990, with Michael Portillo, Michael Forsyth, Michael Fallon and Ian Twinn, in the desperate hope of persuading her not to resign, and to fight a second ballot. At a meeting earlier that week, when Peter Lilley argued that Thatcher could not survive, Hamilton subjected him to a barrage of "sarcasm and heckling" [18].

Hamilton eventually voted for John Major, (though Norman Tebbit had to persuade him to do so as he and Christopher Chope, a close friend with identical views, were going to write "Thatcher" on their ballot papers as a protest.[19] For a while after Thatcher's resignation, Hamilton's enthusiasm for any type of Conservative government waned [18].

Hamilton was the minister for deregulation and corporate affairs from April 1992 to October 1994 in John Major's government. Despite being hostile to the Maastricht Treaty, and being delighted on 2 June 1992 when Denmark rejected it, he was loyal to the Major government, persuading several right-wing ministers not to resign, mainly over Europe, but also over several other issues. Hamilton remained loyal to the government, even after his resignation in October 1994, although he voted for John Redwood in the 1995 leadership contest. Hamilton was bitterly disappointed when Michael Portillo did not challenge Major for the leadership, as he believed he was a far more saleable commodity to the public than Redwood and if he had, he would have obtained more votes, forcing Major to resign.

"Cash for questions"

On 20 October 1994, The Guardian published an article claiming that Hamilton, and another minister, Tim Smith, had received money, paid in the form of cash in brown envelopes, from Harrods' owner Mohamed Al-Fayed, for asking questions on his behalf in the House of Commons. The subsequent furore became known as the "Cash-for-questions affair". Smith admitted his guilt and resigned immediately. Hamilton claimed innocence but was eventually forced to resign his position as Corporate Affairs Minister on 25 October.

Hamilton sued The Guardian, along with Ian Greer, and had a 300-year-old law changed so he could do so, which was the Defamation Bill - altering the Bill of Rights 1689 by permitting what had been said in Parliament to be questioned in the courts. The Defamation Act 1996 gained Royal Assent in July 1996. However, on 30 September 1996, a day before the libel trial was due to begin, Hamilton and Greer claimed that a conflict of interest arose and both men dropped the libel action, saying that they could not afford to continue. They each paid £7,500 to The Guardian's legal costs. All the cash for questions evidence was sent to Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. On the evening of 1 October 1996, on Newsnight, Hamilton took part in a televised live debate with Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian.

During the 1997 General Election, Hamilton was determined to hold on to his parliamentary seat in what was then the fourth safest Conservative seat in the country. Hamilton's majority at the 1992 General Election was almost 16,000. Conservative Central Office said that selection of candidates was purely a matter for the local party and refused to intervene. On 8 April 1997, he won a candidacy selection vote by 182 to 35, although 100 members of the local party abstained. Hamilton said that if the Downey report found against him, he would resign as an MP.

Loses seat

When the well-known BBC war correspondent Martin Bell decided to stand as an independent candidate in Tatton, the Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates stood down in order to give him a clear run against Hamilton. Bell trounced Hamilton, winning by a majority of over 11,000 votes, in the early hours of 2 May 1997. Despite vowing that he would return to Parliament in the speech he made afterwards, this defeat marked the end of his political career.

Cash for questions findings

Edwina Currie, the former health minister, told the cash-for-questions inquiry how Hamilton had been unmoved, in May 1988, by a set of photographs showing cancers that could be caused to young people by a product he was promoting[20]. Hamilton apparently said that they were not relevant. The Thatcher government banned the sale of Skoal bandit products in the UK in late 1989. Both Hamilton and Michael Brown received a £6,000 fee and hospitality from Skoal bandits[21].

Hamilton was found guilty of taking cash for questions, along with Tim Smith, by Sir Gordon Downey on 3 July 1997. Hamilton and Smith were both severely criticised in the report, along with Michael Brown and Michael Grylls. The recommendation was that if Hamilton and Smith were still MPs, both would have been given a substantial suspension from the House of Commons. Downey said that that evidence that Hamilton took cash from Al-Fayed for asking questions was "compelling" and that he was unlikely to have taken less than £25,000. Also, according the report, Hamilton deliberately misled Michael Heseltine, then President of the Board of Trade, in October 1994, when he said he had no financial relationship with Ian Greer. In a phone conversation, Hamilton gave an absolute assurance to Heseltine that there was no such relationship. In fact, he had received two commission payments from Greer in 1988 and 1989, totalling £10,000[22]. According to the report, Hamilton asked for payment in kind so the money would not be taxable. He also failed to register his stays at the Ritz in Paris and at Al-Fayed's castle in Scotland in 1989.

Hamilton rejected these findings, whereas Smith, who had stood down, accepted them, apologised for his conduct, and retired from politics altogether.

Hamilton launched an appeal on 14 October and appealed to a new committee, which on 6 November only partially endorsed Sir Gordon Downey's findings, but still criticised his behaviour whilst an MP. In March 1999, George Osborne was selected by the Tatton Conservative association to be their candidate for the next general election.

Second libel case

Hamilton then sought to sue Al-Fayed for libel for what he had said in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme in January 1997. Al-Fayed had claimed that Hamilton had demanded and accepted cash payments, gift vouchers and a free holiday at the Paris Ritz, in return for asking parliamentary questions on behalf of Harrods.

Hamilton was given permission to sue on 31 July 1998. Money was raised, with again, the late Lord Harris of High Cross being one of the chief fund raisers, along with the Earl of Portsmouth and Taki, a journalist, another donator to the 1986 libel action against the BBC. Other contributors to the fund included Simon Heffer, a Scots Tory Peter Clarke, Lord Bell, three wealthy right-wing Americans, Gyles Brandreth and Gerald Howarth, who sued the BBC along with Hamilton thirteen years before, with around 40 Tory MPs, out of the party's 165 at the time.

Hamilton took Mohamed Al-Fayed to court for libel in November 1999, but after he and his wife Christine had been cross-examined by George Carman QC, he lost on 21 December when the eleven jurors determined that he had corruptly taken and demanded £10,000 from Mobil Oil in 1989.[23]. Hamilton demanded the money as payment for tabling an amendment to a Finance Bill on behalf of Mobil. At the time, Hamilton was on the Commons finance select committee.

He also lost the subsequent appeal in December 2000.[24] In April 2001, he was refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords. On 22 May 2001, unable to pay his legal fees and with costs amounting to some £3m, he was declared bankrupt. He was discharged from bankruptcy in May 2004. Former Granada journalist Jonathan Boyd Hunt investigated the "Cash For Questions" affair and declared in his book Trial By Conspiracy that the case against Hamilton was untrue.[25]

After the scandal

Hamilton's career took an unusual turn on 9 May 1997 when he and Christine appeared on the current affairs satire quiz Have I Got News For You a week after Neil lost his Tatton seat. Angus Deayton, the chairman of the panel game, wore a white suit instead of his usual brown one, in reference to Martin Bell, who wore such a suit throughout the election campaign at which he had just defeated Hamilton.

The subject of numerous taunts about the scandal, the Hamiltons were given their "fee" in brown envelopes at the end of the show. At one point Hamilton quipped, "I've found it's much better making political jokes than being one." Since then they have often appeared on chat shows. They have appeared on programmes such as The Weakest Link and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, as well as in pantomime. In an appearance on a celebrity edition of Mastermind on Boxing Day 2004, Hamilton described himself as being "an object of professional curiosity".

Wrongful rape accusation

On 10 August 2001, Neil and Christine Hamilton were arrested by police investigating an alleged rape, with an inevitable blaze of publicity. The investigation against them was dropped when it became apparent that the accusations were entirely false. The episode of their lives regarding the alleged rape was captured on film by Louis Theroux, who at that time was filming the Hamiltons for an episode of When Louis Met.... In June 2003, their accuser, Nadine Milroy-Sloan, was imprisoned for attempting to pervert the course of justice.[26][27]

In May 2004, Hamilton was discharged from bankruptcy after three years. Then, in February 2005, the publicist Max Clifford, who had acted for Milroy-Sloan, paid an undisclosed sum in damages to settle for the 2001 rape allegations.

Personal and family life

Neil and Christine Hamilton sold their house in Tatton in September 2003 and moved after 20 years of living there. They bought a house in Hullavington, Wiltshire, in October 2004.

References

  1. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/election97/candidates/371.htm
  2. ^ http://www.christinehamilton.co.uk/index.php?f=data_home&a=3
  3. ^ http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/sr180/notes.htm
  4. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1984/dec/04/petrol-lead-and-benzene-content
  5. ^ a b http://www.guardian.co.uk/hamilton/article/0,2763,195592,00.html
  6. ^ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/the-hamilton-affair-the-cost--rightwing-donors-united-by-their-loathing-of-fayed-1134008.html
  7. ^ Daily Telegraph - 17 October 1986
  8. ^ The Telegraph - October 1986
  9. ^ The Times newspaper - 28 October 1986
  10. ^ The Sunday Times - 26 October 1986
  11. ^ The Times newspaper - 27 October 1986
  12. ^ The Financial Times - 4 December 1986
  13. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1987/jan/29/j-e-hanger-and-co-ltd#S6CV0109P0_19870129_HOC_168
  14. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1987/dec/01/elimination-of-poverty-in-old-age-etc-1#S6CV0123P0_19871201_HOC_204
  15. ^ http://timesonline.typepad.com/oliver_kamm/2009/05/more-tatton-tales.html
  16. ^ The Times, 22 October 1994
  17. ^ Hansard - 15 December 1989
  18. ^ a b Bruce Anderson - John Major - Making of the Prime Minister (1991)
  19. ^ Christine Hamilton's autobiography - 2005
  20. ^ The Independent - 5 July 1997
  21. ^ http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199798/cmselect/cmstnprv/030ii/sp01140.htm
  22. ^ The Independent - 4 July 1997
  23. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/575299.stm
  24. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1080920.stm
  25. ^ Trial By Conspiracy, ISBN 0-473-05123-0
  26. ^ "Hamiltons relieved as accuser jailed". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2988208.stm. Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  27. ^ http://www.deabirkett.com/pages/journalism_film/journalism/an_unshakeable_delusion.htm

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Tatton
19831997
Succeeded by
Martin Bell







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