Shirley Some Mistake; Books: Dame Shirley Porter's Misdemeanours Have Cost Her Dear - but Why Did Her Lieutenants Escape?

The Evening Standard (London, England), March 20, 2006 | Go to article overview

Shirley Some Mistake; Books: Dame Shirley Porter's Misdemeanours Have Cost Her Dear - but Why Did Her Lieutenants Escape?


Byline: KEITH DOVKANTS

Nothing Like a Dame: The Scandals of Shirley Porter by Andrew Hosken (Granta, [pounds sterling]20)

HOW easy it is to despise Dame Shirley Porter, the ranting harpy whose corrupt reign at Westminster City Council set new standards of misbehaviour in public life. Who can forget that spooky, gravity-defying hairdo and those padded shoulders as she single-handedly cut a malign swathe through the laws that protect the probity of government in London?

Well, here is a book to remind us. It is a superbly researched, elegantly written mix of investigative journalism and political biography. It lays bare the innermost workings of probably the most dastardly scandal in British local government history and, despite its weighty subject matter, is an entertaining read. As one of many journalists who have enquired into and written about the malpractices of Dame Shirley, I should have loved this book. But it left me with a curious sense of sorrow tinged with anger.

It is not Andrew Hosken's fault. He is the BBC Today programme reporter who turned up evidence that helped expose Dame Shirley's attempts to keep her millions away from a district auditor chasing her with a personal surcharge bill of [pounds sterling]43,321,644.

Hosken did a first-class job, but in writing this book he brings to our attention very important questions which I feel have not been properly addressed. Foremost among them is this: why did almost all of those associated with Dame Shirley's deeds escape?

She was the daughter of Jack Cohen, the man who founded Tesco, and she inherited not only his millions, but his bullying, autocratic style. But she did not - and could not - act alone. When she sold off Westminster's cemeteries for 15p to save the council the maintenance bill, she was amply supported by fellow Tory councillors and paid Westminster officials.

The council was eventually forced to buy back the cemeteries at enormous public cost, but not before Dame Shirley embarked on the escapade that was to plunge her into political infamy. …

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