It was just hours after the news of Nigel Evans’ reselection as Ribble Valley’s Conservative parlaimentary candidate that I heard him referred to as “the Teflon Tory” – the implication being that no matter what is thrown at him, nothing sticks.
As we all now know, the fact is he was fully and unanimously acquitted in April this year of the nine allegations of sexual offences levelled against him – one rape, two indecent assaults, five sexual assaults and one attempted sexual assault.
As the five-week trial unfolded it became increasingly apparent the case against him was built on weak foundations, especially for the most serious charges. It seemed the lesser sexual assault charges were there only to prop up the main ones and stop them collapsing, yet even some of the prosecution witnesses said they did not consider what happened to them a criminal act, but little more than an awkward flirtation.
Quite rightly Mr Evans walked free from court, an innocent man and – in theory at least – unblemished, without a stain on his character.
The reality, of course, it that mud sticks and some stains are hard to shift. The high-profile court case threw a very bright spotlight on Mr Evans’ private life, if indeed any politician can have such a thing. It showed him as a gay man who, at least before he “outed” himself, struggled with his sexuality and was prone, perhaps excessively so, to embarassing indiscretions when “in drink”.
Most importantly for me, a picture emerged of a man living something of a double life – a responsible and respected, serious and sober figure in his Ribble Valley constituency, but a gregarious “Champagne Charlie” character in Westminster, where he had earned a different reputation.
As to the accuracy of that picture, I suspect it is grossly exaggerated, but I do not know him well enough in either setting to be sure.
Since the trial he has worked hard to rebuild his political career and reputation as a senior statesman. Just as he had from the very start protested his innocence, he then declared his firm intention to remain as Ribble Valley MP. He was taken back into the Tory fold and is now their chosen champion again.
And it could be that, as he claims, his ordeal has only served to make him stronger, a better man, a better MP, tempered by the fiery furnace of adversity. If he can return to Parliament with renewed vigour allied to his massive experience he could be a mighty force in politics. But only at next year’s General Election count will we discover whether, like Teflon, something once so tarnished can shine again.