The second of my three criminal acquaintances is former Tory MP Keith Best.
When I first met him, Best was an ambitious and hyper-active young Brighton-based barrister and TA artillery officer. In the late 1970s he was nursing the safe seat of Brighton Pavilion, on the wrong-headed assumption that the incumbent (the Tory grandee Julian Amery, brother of the hanged traitor John), would soon retire. In the meantime he had to fight the mandatory no-hoper seat and was duly selected for Anglesey (Ynys Mon, if you must) in the sure knowledge he'd lose. Unfortunately for his Brighton plans, in 1979 he won it on a three-way split with Labour and the Welsh Nats. Never mind, he thought: I'll lose it next time for sure. Meanwhile, let's enjoy the gig - and he threw himself into foreign affairs interests, travelling extensively on parliamentary boondoggles (as well as continuing to be active in Brighton ... and Westminster ... and Anglesey ... like I said, he was hyperactive).
Then along comes the 'Falklands Election' of 1983 and, wouldn't you just know it? - he gets re-elected in Wales! Damn! That wasn't the plan at all. Still, there are always those overseas boondoggles, eh, Mr Q?
And then came the era of the big 'Sid' privatisations. Stagging was all the rage, and when the BT flotation came along, Best didn't just stag it, he made multiple applications for shares - a criminal offence. But not just multiple bids: he made them all in different variations of his own name! It didn't need much detective work to run him to ground. He was caught, convicted, gaoled (briefly), and had to resign from everything he held dear: the Bar, his Commission, his seat - the lot.
But here's the thing. He wasn't any kind of Alan B'Stard whatsoever. At one point I had a lot of contact with Best, and would have unhesitatingly classified him as a good chap. He was very much on the 'social conscience' wing of the party, which doesn't always sit easily with hacking away for a safe Tory seat: but he didn't hide or compromise his views. Hyperactivity aside (which can be a bit of a syndrome), he was level-headed and fairly sage - certainly thoughtful. I've chatted with him for many a long hour over a drink or two in a German pub, and he's the sort of fellow I'd reckon you'd go to for his views if you had a problem.
So where does he get off on blatant, nay suicidal multiple share applications? I've pondered this one long and hard.
One possible explanation is a blown gasket - to hell with it, I'm never gonna get that safe seat, nor any ministerial promotion: let's throw caution to the winds! But that cap never really fitted: like most young and ambitious politicians, he was playing a long game (he was well in with the whips - hence the boondoggles - and reliable in the lobbies) with time on his side. The nearest I can come up with is that he fell into a kind of entitlement trap: everyone does multiple applications and makes a fast, victimless buck - why shouldn't I? Remember that around this time, in lieu of a recommended pay-rise (which the privately-wealthy Thatch decided wasn't on), MPs were explicitly told by their whips to get a copy of the John Lewis catalogue and fill their boots on expenses, no questions asked.
Not a very satisfactory explanation, actually, but it's all I can come up with. He never explained himself to me, anyway - and it's hardly a topic you press someone on. (Come on, Keith - what sort of loony are you?)
And since his time in the slammer? He's gone for the Profumo path to redemption, quietly working away - with characteristic commitment and energy - in leadership roles for several charities, see wiki for details.
A strange story indeed. Human beings, eh?
PS: there won't be a separate post on Jaibird 3 because nobody will have heard of him. I'll add something BTL in comments over the weekend on him ...
UPDATE: done - in comment #5