THE IoS PROFILE: Shirley Porter; Rich, Fashy and Corrupt with It. She's Nothing like a Dame ; the Lady Owes Pounds 27m for Her Part in Britain's Most Notorious Vote- Rigging Scandal. with a Pounds 70m Personal Fortune, She Can Afford to Pay It. but You've Got to Catch Her First

By Sean O'Grady | The Independent (London, England), December 16, 2001 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

THE IoS PROFILE: Shirley Porter; Rich, Fashy and Corrupt with It. She's Nothing like a Dame ; the Lady Owes Pounds 27m for Her Part in Britain's Most Notorious Vote- Rigging Scandal. with a Pounds 70m Personal Fortune, She Can Afford to Pay It. but You've Got to Catch Her First


Sean O'Grady, The Independent (London, England)


British public life produces relatively few political exiles. Victims certainly, such as Peter Mandelson or Michael Portillo; and villains, too, like Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer; but no one who has been forced to leave the country because of their record in government. And local government at that.

But Dame Shirley Porter, former leader of Westminster council, looks like becoming our first politician to move abroad permanently in the wake of her misdemeanours. For last week's unanimous ruling by the House of Lords marks the end of Dame Shirley's battle to clear her name over her authority's notorious homes- for-votes policy in the 1980s.

It is worth recalling just what this entailed. Her "homes for votes" strategy was simple: a four-year plan to ensure the 1990 local elections were won by the Conservatives. Council homes in eight key marginal wards would be put up for sale, under the "right to buy" policy, thus attracting more voters inclined to vote Conservative; the poor and the homeless (more likely to vote Labour) would be placed in "appropriate wards". In practice this meant decanting some of them into two tower blocks contaminated with asbestos. The BBC's Panorama programme investigated the scandal in 1989 and this was followed up by a damning report by the district auditor and a decade of legal battles.

Now Dame Shirley must also hand over pounds 27m as a surcharge - effectively a fine - for her part in the affair. Remarkably, she could afford to pay a debt of that magnitude, and still have some change, thanks to her personal fortune, estimated at pounds 70m. But she won't be parting with her cash any time soon because she and her funds have taken up residence in Haifa, Israel.

What she has lost, however, is any remaining shred of credibility. The language used by the Law Lords sees to that. Her policies represented "a deliberate, blatant and dishonest misuse of public power" and "wilful misconduct". She and other Tory councillors were guilty of "disgraceful gerrymandering". Worst was the condemnation of her and her former deputy, David Weeks, as corrupt. In the words of Lord Scott: "The corruption was not money corruption. No one took a bribe. No one sought or received money for political favours. But there are other forms of corruption, often less easily detectable and therefore more insidious. Gerrymandering, the manipulation of constituency boundaries for party political advantage, is a clear form of political corruption."

It is a bleak denouement for the "iron lady of the town halls", a Thatcherite star when she took over Westminster in 1983, who pioneered the privatisation of local services and set a poll tax of pounds 36. Until the homes-for-votes scandal broke, her most notorious act was to sell off Westminster's public cemeteries for 15p to a Panamanian-registered company. They were later sold for pounds 1.2m. It was the sort of audacious move that enraged the left and pleased her mentor Margaret Thatcher in equal measure. Indeed Dame Shirley had a good deal in common with Mrs Thatcher. They were about the same age, they both enjoyed a scrap and both were grocers' daughters. Dame Shirley's father, Sir Jack Cohen, was the more successful, having built up the Tesco empire, while Alderman Roberts never progressed beyond his corner shop and sub post office in Grantham, but they both inherited a good deal of drive and homespun philosophy from their fathers.

Shirley was born in Clapton, east London, Cohen's youngest daughter. Legend has it that Jack started out selling matzos from a barrow. By the 1930s he had three or four shops, having co-operated with a merchant called TE Stockwell whose loose teas he packeted.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

THE IoS PROFILE: Shirley Porter; Rich, Fashy and Corrupt with It. She's Nothing like a Dame ; the Lady Owes Pounds 27m for Her Part in Britain's Most Notorious Vote- Rigging Scandal. with a Pounds 70m Personal Fortune, She Can Afford to Pay It. but You've Got to Catch Her First
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?