Sunday, 28 September 2014

Sex and Westminster

I love Tory sleaze, and no one does sex scandal quite like the Conservatives. Can you remember the 90s, the decade where John Major urged his party to get "back to basics"? Alan Clark, Steven Norris, Jeffrey Archer, David Mellor, Stephen Milligan. A roll call of Carry On farce and sexual tragedy if there ever was one, rounded off nicely by the revelation that its architect had hypocritically enjoyed an affair himself.

Fast forward to 2014 and things are out of sorts. Sleazy relations between the Tory party and its cabal of shadowy donors abound but barely raise an eyebrow. Likewise, as real scandal shakes its thang in plain sight with nary a complaint, politicians' good old-fashioned extra-marital leg overs have receded into the distance. Curious.

There are some exceptions. Such as the low-level fun with Grant Shapps' Twitter account. When you're as promiscuous as he is ... in following people, we shouldn't be shocked when it turns out he's following a dominatrix and a self-described "porn slut" among 27,000 others.

And then there are scandals like those visited upon Brooks Newmark, late of the Cabinet Office. You know how it is, man "meets" woman on Twitter, flirty direct messages are exchanged and boom, the John Thomas bomb is dropped. Newmark isn't the first to have his exposure exposed, nor will he be the last. But on this occasion, the guffaws occasioning a Tory's downfall are stymied by the circumstances.

This was entrapment. Yes, there is something rather distasteful about the power asymmetry (cabinet member cracking on to a supposed junior Tory researcher in her 20s), but as we now know Newmark was taken for a mug. The young woman in question was a male freelancer using a fake Twitter account and false images to draw him in. He aimed to show how MPs used social media to pursue relationships. All he has done is to snare a silly old fool and make life very uncomfortable for him. Our reporter has damaged a family, not a Tory party putting a brave face on yet another UKIP defection. So shame on the freelancer. Shame on the Sunday Mirror for running this meritless story.

This episode highlights something else about the media's relationship with Westminster. While there are serious allegations about sexual pressure and exploitation, plenty of consensual and gossip-worthy relationships are happening discreetly and not-so-discreetly, as per all workplaces. The former senior cabinet member known for his serial flings with younger women MPs. The spad-turned-politician who bonked their married boss. The back benchers who've been having an affair for years. The MP caught at it on the beach during party conference. No names of course, but they all involve Labour MPs. The question is if these rumours and whispers reached me in a constituency office tucked away down a Stoke-on-Trent side street, then the lobby hacks and the news desks would know about it too. Yet there appears to be something of a gentleman's agreement between MPs and the media. Should an MP stray outside the village's elite - a dalliance with a society hostess here, an ambitious young hack there they're fair game. This was the unspoken rule Newmark transgressed. Within the confines of Westminster itself, between consenting MPs what happens on the green benches stays on the green benches.

What do the press get from not prying into these liaisons? One presumes chummy relationships, leaks, privileged access, inside tracks. Goes to show what goes unsaid can often be as significant as that which is stated.

1 comment:

asquith said...

Does anyone have any idea who this freelancer is that leaked the non-story? Your mate Tim Fenton thinks he might.

This is what dismays me. Brooks Newmark was unpopular with those he dealt with and they frequently voiced criticisms of him that deserved a wider airing. And yet most people had never heard of him before this non-scandal, which only censorious halfwits would care about in the first place.

The public would rather a sex non-scandal involving a no-mark (bad pun but still) than valid criticism of, for instance, IDS, because the latter might require them to admit that their prejudices are wrong. I am tired and becoming more so.