LONDON -- Can the party that promoted family values survive sex, financial lies and still more sex.
The question looms over the ruling Conservatives after yet another minor minister was forced to resign in the wake of an alleged "three-in-a-bed" sex romp.
In the last two years, 16 government officials have been ousted in sexual or financial scandals, and a 17th was found strangled after a solo sex act. The 18th is already in the doorway with a boot swinging toward him.
All of the disgraced government officials have been men and almost all were forced to depart after Prime Minister John Major gave a fall 1993 "back-to-basics" speech extolling family values.
This time, it was a guy named Richard Spring who was served up in the tabloids.
Before Sunday, few in Britain had ever heard of him, much less could have identified the job he held as an assistant to the Northern Ireland secretary.
But then, the News of the World, the nation's top-selling tabloid, hit the streets with a five-page spread on Mr. Spring's alleged bedroom escapades with a Sunday school teacher and her executive boyfriend. Also included in the story were Mr. Spring's alleged quips about the sex lives and physical attractions of Britain's mighty and powerful.
He allegedly suggested that the prime minister and his wife, Norma, have sex 1.1 times a year. He also allegedly admired the "wonderful thick lips," of Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth's daughter.
Before sundown Sunday, Mr. Spring had resigned from the government. But, like most of the others, he maintained his seat in Parliament.
"This government has a higher casualty rate than normal," says Patrick J. Dunleavy, a professor in government at the London School of Economics and author of several books on contemporary British politics.
The high casualty rate went even higher after Mr. Major instituted a policy that called for scandal-plagued politicians to resign swiftly.
"With that policy, just about anybody who was anybody couldn't have served in government," Mr. Dunleavy says. "[David] Lloyd George. Randolph Churchill. The only one left would have been Clement Attlee."
Government ministers have been forced to resign over a "love child," extramarital affairs, spousal suicide and a homosexual relationship with a student. One minister was ousted after admitting that he had shared a hotel bed with a man during a vacation in France, though he denied that anything improper had taken place.
Two others were canned for accepting cash in a parliamentary sting run by the Sunday Times. The story smoked out a third minister who admitted accepting cash from Mohammed al-Fayed, the Harrods' chairman.
Another minister resigned after allegations that he had accepted hospitality at the Paris Ritz, a hotel owned by Mr. Fayed.
Others have resigned over links with controversial business people, lobbying on behalf of a man charged with importing cocaine and pulling government strings to gain a low-interest loan for a friend.
And then there was the former Scottish Office minister who left quickly and quietly after threatening highway protesters with an ax.
One man who won't go quietly is Jonathan Aitken, the embattled chief treasury secretary, whose links with the Saudi royal family, before he assumed his government post, were dissected yesterday by the Guardian newspaper.
The paper alleged that Mr. Aitken "tried to arrange girls" for Saudi business partners and that he asked his secretary to conceal his connection with a Saudi prince from the voters in his district.
Among the items the paper said he tried to hide from the public were a luxury car he received as a gift, visits to the Middle East and his help in purchasing for the prince a BAC-111 plane at the Paris air show.
Mr. Aitken said yesterday that he will sue the Guardian for libel and added that Britain is plagued by "the cancer of bent and twisted journalism."