Patten and the past

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 March, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 March, 1994, 12:00am

IT WAS almost inevitable that, sooner or later, Governor Chris Patten's past would catch up with him. Now it threatens to do so with a vengeance.

Artful politician that he is, even Mr Patten will have some difficulty explaining away his June 1989 reassurance that ''aid has not been used as a sweetener for defence deals anywhere'', if British Members of Parliament do decide to summon him back to London to give evidence before them.

On the face of it, that statement was simply at odds with the facts. As Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd admitted last week, Britain signed a secret protocol with Malaysia in March 1988, linking aid to arms sales.

The Governor may choose to argue he never misled anyone and there was never any such sweetener, since the protocol was revoked after three months, before any defence deal was signed, following persistent opposition from him and Lord Howe, who was then Foreign Secretary.

But such a defence would be political dynamite in London, since by publicly revealing that he knew the policy was wrong all along, Mr Patten will only increase the pressure on the other British politicians who have become embroiled in the affair, some ofwhom are still serving in the government.

Mr Patten may have a chance to clear his name by appearing before the committee. But it remains to be seen whether he can only do so at the expense of his former British political colleagues.