What are the biggest political scandals of all time?

Boris Johnson recently issued a public apology after admitting he attended a garden party during lockdown, in what is arguably the worst moment in an already controversial political career. So, in light of this news, we looked at the biggest UK political scandals of all time for this week’s Business Leader Top 12.

If there’s a political scandal that you feel is missing from our list, please send an email to editor@businessleader.co.uk and we will add it to our list.

This list is in no particular order.

Boris Johnson – attending a garden party during the first UK national lockdown

Boris Johnson has been the subject of so much controversy over his career, from saying that Muslim women look like ‘letter boxes’, to insulting the families of the London terror attacks – it’s hard to list just one thing. But as his attendance of a garden party during the first UK national lockdown is the most recent, we’ve gone with that.

Reportedly, 100 members of staff from 10 Downing Street were invited to the event on 20 May 2020. At the time, lockdown rules dictated that people were allowed to meet just one person from outside their household in an outdoor space and at a safe distance. When apologising for attending the event, the Prime Minster said it was work event and that it “technically” broke no rules.

The Labour Party – Bernie Ecclestone’s £1m donation in 1997

Back in 1997, the former Chief Executive of Formula One, Bernie Ecclestone, switched his financial support from the Conservatives to the Labour Party, giving them a £1m donation a few months before the 1997 General Election.

However, eyebrows were raised after the Tony Blair-led Labour Party changed their policy to allow Formula One to continue being sponsored by tobacco manufacturers. After news of the donation become public, it wasn’t long before the party gave Ecclestone his money back.

The Dominic Cummings Scandal

Back in 2020, Boris Johnson’s Chief Adviser, Dominic Cummings was involved in another Tory Party scandal that took place during the first national lockdown.

Reports emerged that Cummings and his family had travelled from London to County Durham in March 2020 whilst experiencing symptoms COVID-19, going directly against the restrictions at the time, which included staying local and self-isolating if you had symptoms of the disease.

John Profumo’s affair with Christine Keeler

John Profumo was the Secretary of State for War in Harold Macmillan’s Conservative Government, and in 1961, he began an extramarital affair with Christine Keeler, a 19-year-old model.

Dubbed the Profumo affair, the high-profile politician denied the affair in a statement to the House of Commons. However, weeks later, a police investigation took place and proved Profumo’s statement was a lie, severely damaging the credibility of Macmillan’s government, which led to the resignation of Profumo and Macmillan.

John Stonehouse – faking his own death

Former Minister of Posts and Telecommunications under the Harold Wilson Labour Government, John Stonehouse is best remembered for faking his own death on the 20th of November 1974, when he left a pile of clothes on a Miami beach.

In actual fact, Stonehouse was on his way to Australia, but was arrested in Melbourne on Christmas Eve 1974 after arousing suspicion. He was later deported to the UK and convicted to seven years in prison for fraud. More than 20 years after Stonehouse’s actual death in 1988, it was revealed that he’d been working as a spy for Czechoslovakia.


In 1992, four Directors of machine tool manufacturers Matrix Churchill were put on trial for supplying equipment and knowledge to Saddam Hussein-ruled Iraq. However, the trial collapsed after it emerged that Matrix Churchill had been advised by the government on how to sell arms to Iraq and Tory MP Alan Clark admitted he had lied under oath about what he knew on the government’s policy to sell arms to Iraq.

The Arms-to-Iraq was one of the biggest scandals to hit John Major’s Conservative Government, but it is also notable for highlighting limitations of constitutional convention regarding individual ministerial accountability.

Harold Wilson – 1976 Prime Minister’s Resignation Honours

In 1976, Prime Minster and Labour Party Leader, Harold Wilson announced his sudden resignation, and as is common practice with outgoing Prime Ministers, he released his resignation honours list.

However, Wilson’s list caused a lot of controversy after his list of honours included several wealthy businessmen whose principles were considered directly opposed to that of the Labour Party. Included on Wilson’s controversial list were industrialist Lord Kagan, who was convicted for fraud in 1980, and Sir Eric Miller, who took his own life whilst being investigated for fraud in 1977.

Jeffrey Archer – prostitution and perjury

Back in 1986, Jeffrey Archer was serving as Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party but resigned after the Daily Star accused him of paying money to a prostitute. The following year, Archer won a court case against the tabloid and received £500,000 in damages.

However, in 1999, news emerged that Archer had lied during his 1987 court case, which led to Archer revoking his candidacy to become the first Mayor of London and his imprisonment in 2001 for perjury and perverting the course of justice.

David Cameron – “Piggate”

Whilst David Cameron’s involvement in the Greensill scandal is likely to be fresher in people’s memories, many will still remember “Piggate” from 2015.

At the time billionaire Michael Ashcroft, then serving on the Conservative benches of the House of Lords, published a biography of the Prime Minister. The biography claimed that during his university years, Britain’s most high-profile politician had inserted his private parts into a dead pig’s mouth as part of an initiation ceremony.

This particular extract was published in the Daily Mail and it wasn’t long before the name “Piggate” was adopted by the media. Cameron and a few other sources have gone on to say the story is false.

The Windrush Scandal

The Windrush Scandal began in 2017 after it emerged that hundreds of Commonwealth citizens, many of whom were from the ‘Windrush’ generation and British subjects, had been wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights. This was linked to the ‘Hostile Environment’ legislation introduced by Theresa May in 2012.

There were at least 83 cases where people were wrongly deported and the Conservative Government of the time came under heavy criticism, eventually leading to Home Secretary Amber Rudd resigning in April 2018.

Angus McNeil – “Heavy petting and kissing”

Many might remember Angus McNeil as one of the politicians who initially complained to the Metropolitan Police, leading to the beginning of the Cash-for-Honours scandal in 2006.

However, not long after the scandal began, McNeil was embroiled in some controversy of his own: news emerged of some “heavy petting and kissing” in 2005 between the member of the Scottish National Party and two teenage girls, bearing in mind McNeil had two children and a wife who was pregnant with their third child at the time. McNeil was later forced to issue a public apology.

Shirley Porter – Home for Votes Scandal

The Home for Votes Scandal took place from 1987-89 and involved Westminster City Council, which was led by Shirley Porter.

In 1986, the Tory-led Council narrowly won the 1986 local council election, and in attempt to secure control, they began rehousing homeless people and selling off council houses to groups that were more likely to vote Conservative in marginal wards. However, this practice was later deemed illegal in court, and news emerged that homeless people were being rehoused in condemned accommodation.

This resulted in Porter being ordered to pay £43.3m, although personal circumstances meant she was able to settle her debt for £12.3m in 2004.