For Rishi Sunak it must feel a bit like the famous film “Groundhog Day”. Whenever the British Prime Minister wants to spread a positive message to the people, a scandal within his own ranks steals the show.

This is also the case now: The conservative head of government wanted to be celebrated for reducing the social security contribution rate by two points. But his party colleague William Wragg made the headlines instead.

The incident

The 36-year-old sent intimate photos of himself to a contact he met on a dating app for gay men. The prominent vice-chairman of an important parliamentary group committee has now admitted that he was blackmailed with these sexting images: Fearing that the material would become public, Wragg passed on private telephone numbers of other Tory MPs. He has not yet been suspended.

British media are already asking how big the case will become. In addition to Wragg, another MP is said to have fallen for “honey-sweet” news, as the Times newspaper reported. Other figures from the London parliamentary district of Westminster, such as political advisors and journalists, are also said to have received lure messages.

Bad timing

For Sunak’s Tories, the latest case has once again come at an inopportune time. In polls, the Conservatives have long trailed the opposition Labor party. As of now, they are likely to lose the parliamentary election planned for this year – an exact date has not yet been set – by a landslide and with it a number of MPs will lose their mandates.

Above all, the sexting scandal, which some politicians suspect is a foreign secret service, is far from the first Tory scandal involving bare facts. A good 60 years ago, a case that had all the ingredients for a James Bond thriller brought down the conservative government of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan: the Profumo affair.

Not an isolated case

The married Minister of War John Profumo denied in Parliament that he had a relationship with 19-year-old Christine Keeler, who also became involved with the Soviet naval attaché Yevgeny Ivanov, who in turn was, according to the British, a spy. In June 1963 Profumo was forced to resign after being convicted of lying, in October the Macmillan government fell and Labor came to power.

60 years later, “Pestminster”, as the “pestified” Westminster is derogatorily called, is still talked about every few months. Two Labor politicians have also lost their seats since the previous election in 2019 because of sexual harassment. Above all, Sunak’s Conservatives have been reeling from one scandal to the next for years.

As early as 1997, the US broadcaster CNN reported on the “scandal-plagued Tories”, and 20 years later, Prime Minister Theresa May was allegedly informed weekly about the sexual indiscretions of conservative MPs. “Parliament has been synonymous with sexual misconduct for centuries,” concluded the Economist magazine in July 2022.

In recent years the number of disreputable cases among Tory politicians has increased. Ex-MP Charlie Elphicke was sentenced to prison for sexual assault, as was ex-MP Imran Khan for sexually abusing a 15-year-old.

Several other Tories were expelled from the group: Neil Parish was seen watching porn in the meeting room, Christopher Pincher groped two men when he was very drunk. About a year ago, the opposition Liberal Democrats published an “Alphabet of Tory Felony and Scandals” and listed several cases.

Reasons for the large number of cases

Better protective mechanisms are now in place and more cases are becoming known that would previously have been swept under the carpet, Hannah White from the Institute for Government think tank told the “Politico” portal at the end of 2023. But no one has yet tackled the root causes.

A firmly rooted power hierarchy, a lack of labor rights and long working hours, extreme stress, heavy alcohol consumption – the parliament has its own bars with significantly lower drink prices because they are subsidized – as well as deep party loyalty and the associated obligation to maintain confidentiality are some of the reasons.

“Bullying and sexual misconduct is about power,” Labor MP Charlotte Nichols told Politico. “I often wonder whether people who pursue politics as a career may be more inclined to act in ways that lead to abuse of power.”