Picture credit: NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Artillery Row

Wragg must go

He should resign or be fired

In these simple-minded times, it can be difficult for us to appreciate that someone can be deserving of both sympathy and blame. We want our victims pure and our villains absolutely vile.

William Wragg MP does deserve some sympathy. Having sent “compromising things” to someone he had been contacting on Grindr — the gay dating app — he was blackmailed into giving up the phone numbers of other MPs. The BBC reports:

… at least 12 men in political circles received unsolicited WhatsApp messages.

Some had been sent naked images and two MPs are reported to have responded by sending images of themselves.

The men are reported to include a government minister, advisers and political journalists based at Westminster.

Of course, blackmail is a disgusting crime. Wragg must have been under tremendous stress to give those numbers up. One hopes that he has friends and family members around him during what has to be a mortifying experience.

But it remains preposterous that he has not stepped down — and it is doubly preposterous that the Conservatives have not removed the whip.

This is not because he is some sort of vile person with whom no one should associate — it is because he clearly has appalling judgement in both a personal and professional sense. Sending naked pictures to strangers on a dating app is dubious enough, especially when you have an important and sensitive profession. Still, few men could honestly claim that their libido has never encouraged them to do something unwise.

Handing over sensitive information to save his blushes, though, adds disloyalty to irresponsibility. Is there some extent to which it can be understood? Sure. But if you are going to be a member of Parliament you should be able to exercise sound, principled judgement — and this is about as far from sound, principled judgement as a cup of sour milk is from a glass of wine. How can Wragg’s constituents — and British citizens at large — trust that he will represent them properly? They can’t! I wouldn’t trust him with my phone number.

In 2022, John Oxley, writing for The Critic, asked what had happened to shame. He discussed the case of John Profumo — the British politician who, in the 1960s, shared a mistress with a Soviet naval attaché, lied about his affair in parliament and caused tremendous scandal. Profumo, Oxley wrote, largely withdrew from public life:

He never spoke publicly on the incident and left politics immediately. Supported by his inherited wealth, he instead dedicated his time to charity, spending decades as a volunteer in East London’s Toynbee Hall. His connections helped them raise millions, but it was the legend of him scrubbing the toilets which endured.

I don’t know if Mr Wragg is a wealthy man, so he might have to get a normal job rather than scrubbing toilets, but I’m not suggesting that he should devote his life to penitence. That is between him and whatever he believes in.

Yet he has shown himself to have — for now at least — a weak and unreliable constitution. There are worse things to have. It doesn’t mean he should be friendless and destitute. But it does mean he should not be a member of Parliament — never mind chairman of the Select Committee, tasked with scrutinising others. He should be quietly scrutinising himself.

It isn’t shocking that the Tories fail to grasp this. The Conservatives have spent years proving themselves to be, on average, weak and unreliable. Of course they are excessively sympathetic to weakness and unreliability.

Yet it should be shocking. Lee Anderson lost the whip for some ill-judged comments about Sadiq Khan. Wragg hands over the personal information of his colleagues to blackmailers and no consequences appear to be arriving. This is the same William Wragg, by the way, who was insistent that Boris Johnson should resign for being careless about who he had a slice of cake with during lockdown. How can he possibly keep his job?

I don’t like to reach for “the Russians” as a rhetorical gambit but the Russians must be scoffing at how easy it is to get British politicians to give up kompromat and to do their bidding once they have it. How many other MPs are similarly vulnerable? I think the question should be asked.

Jeremy Hunt has called Wragg’s apology “courageous”. No, courage would have been not caving in the first place. Ironically, if Wragg had come out and said “you might see embarrassing photos of me, I’m being blackmailed” everyone would have been sympathetic. Sending the images might have been foolish but the bravery shown by coming forward would have amply redeemed him.

Now, I’m afraid, his only means of retaining some honour from this situation is to resign.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover