Below is Mr Major’s account, from his book, John Major – The Autobiography, relating to the Piers Merchant controversy before the 1997 General Election. The book was published in 2000 and relates to the period at the end of March 1997.
Piers Merchant, seeking re-election in Beckenham, a quiet enough place where I had once lived, was exposed in the Sun as having an affair with a seventeen-year-old Soho hostess. A photographer, handily placed behind a hedge, produced photographs as evidence. “What on earth does he think he’s doing?” I remarked when the news reached Downing Street. A few million other Britons, over their breakfast newspapers, must have been spluttering in similar vein.
Merchant’s wife supported him, but Michael Heseltine came close to suggesting in public that his constituency association should drop him. I did not know that Michael was about to say this, and although, in terms of the Conservative Party’s immediate needs, he was probably right, his call ignored the fact that local associations are loyal to a fault. A Prime Minister and his deputy can do many things, but sacking a Conservative candidate is not one of them – the same problem which faced us over Neil Hamilton. Following several days of unsavoury publicity Merchant was adopted by the Beckenham Association as their candidate for the election. After protecting his innocence and winning narrowly on polling day, he then returned to the hostess and did – at last – resign.