I cannot be alone in having felt a frisson of apprehension as the story of Boris Johnson’s alleged thigh-pinching of journalist Charlotte Edwardes at a Spectator lunch rumbled through the week.
It was invasive and demeaning behaviour, and not to be excused. But here’s what went through my mind.
This incident was 20 years ago. That would be in 1999. In that year Boris Johnson would be in his mid-30s. How many males of that age, and in the more louche sexist culture than prevails now, would be open to similar charges of inappropriate behaviour?
I wince at my own fumbled advances, the rebuffed try-ons and the sexist misdemeanours in my 30s. This was the decade of the 1970s, captured in the decidedly non-PC world of the TV series Life on Mars.
But then, I didn’t have to wait long – never mind 20 years – to be slapped down and exposed. This came swiftly as I recall. Mea culpa!
The past is a foreign country
Now there may be good reasons why Charlotte Edwardes, paramour of TV journalist Robert Peston, has waited so long before exposing Boris Johnson to claims of invasive sexist behaviour.
There were certainly plenty of opportunities to do so – if not at the time, then when he was selected as a parliamentary candidate, or when he ran to be Mayor of London or was appointed Foreign Secretary, or opted to join the Brexit campaign. So why now?
Was it just a coincidence that these claims emerged in the same week as a critical Conservative Party conference and with crucial developments pending in the PM’s Brexit negotiations with the European Commission?
Whatever the reason for the length of this 20-year fizzing fuse, I surely cannot be the only male looking back and fearing similar charges from another time in a distant past.
Would we behave that way now? Experience, discretion, wisdom – and the unsparing, relentless depredations of the years have taken their toll as male chancers have turned into grumpy old men.
Mores have also changed markedly. The past may indeed be a foreign country – but all the more reason, I suspect, why a 20-year delay in being exposed puts the fear of God in us.