Wales politics

Seb Coe: Rod Richards' downfall gave me political break

I bought it for the inside story of athletics triumphs and London 2012. But Seb Coe's autobiography sheds new light on the political career of a former Welsh Conservative MP.

Coe was a Tory MP between 1992 and 1997 and then worked for William Hague during his time as party leader. His memoirs tell how, as a backbencher, he took his first step up the ministerial ladder as a result of Rod Richards' sacking from his job as a Welsh office minister.

It began with John Major's "back to basics" policy which was designed to promote traditional values but, as Coe puts it, was sold to the media as a moral crusade as a result of mishandling by the press office.

It led to Major pursuing a policy of zero tolerance of colourful private lives. Coe writes: "In June 1996 the News of the World published photographs of junior minister Rod Richards, suggesting an involvement with a young woman not his wife. He was immediately sacked, in parliamentary parlance he "resigned", as per the now standard procedure."

Half a dozen Tory MPs from the 1992 intake took Mr Richards [then MP for Clwyd West] out for a commiseratory lunch, during which Coe was called to an interview with the government chief whip, the beneficiary of the musical chairs that accompany a resignation.

"Once Rod Richards departed the Welsh office, someone [Jonathan Evans] from the solicitor general's office took his place. Then a west country MP, a solicitor, was moved to the now empty chair in the solicitor general's office, which left a vacancy where the solicitor had been: the whips' office."

Coe swiftly discovered the ways of the whips, as his new colleagues delivered what sounded like intelligence reports to an office meeting. A fellow whip announced: "Rod Richards left the house [of commons] at 12.20, in the company of John Sykes and Sebastian Coe. They took lunch at the Golden Dragon in Gerrard Street..."

Coe writes: "I was stunned. There I was, meandering through London's Chinatown, completely oblivious that our every move was being noted. And this was just one of an index of MPs' lunch arrangements that were recorded that day. They knew everything. And that, I soon discovered, was my new job. To know everything."

Both Coe - and Richards - lost their seats in the 1997 general election. Richards recently joined UKIP, fuelling speculation of a political comeback in next year's European elections. Coe, a life peer since 2000, may still retain electoral ambitions although they appear confined to the presidency of the IAAF, the International Association of Athletics Federations.