Sunday 4 September 2016

Keith Vaz and British Politics

The most surprising thing about the Keith Vaz sex scandal is that it took so long to come out. When I was a bag carrier, the Westminster grapevine even extended as far out as Stoke-on-Trent. And one such rumour that persisted, albeit without any details and, conveniently, no proof at all was that some unspecified scandal was attached to Keith Vaz's person. Three years later, out it comes. And so the first question I find myself asking is why didn't it surface sooner? Why now?

The second point is prurience, or the sadistic pleasure our press has in raking over the sex lives of anyone in the public eye. Just because you're famous and/or powerful doesn't mean the rest of the world has a right to know what those people get up to in private. Leaving aside public interest for a moment, it's worth noting this is a forced outing. Using someone's hitherto hidden sexuality as a weapon is pretty shitty behaviour, and for what reason? The only justification for such a thing is where a public figure is persecuting LGBT people or sermonising on sexual morality while hypocritically indulging their heart's desire privately. You can criticise Keith Vaz for the many political positions he's taken over the years, but fanning the flames of homophobic bigotry isn't one of them. Indeed, in 2013 he supported equal marriage when it was put to the House. It wouldn't matter if it was a one-off, but these revelations turn up the day after Bishop Nicholas Chamberlain was forced to come out after threats of tabloid exposure. Again, mayhaps there was justification if he curdled fire and brimstone against "the gays" from his pulpit, but he did nothing of the sort. I both cases it's the joy of exposing someone's sex life to public scrutiny on the flimsy pretext of shifting a few more papers.

Yet, is there a genuine public interest case here beyond snigger-snigger tittle tattle? You might argue there's a conflict of interest. After all, as chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee overseeing laws on prostitution and drugs, being caught on tape soliciting and discussing controlled substances can't be portrayed any other way. And yet the practices of our mighty democracy are riddled with conflicts of interest that never attract as much interest. Conservative members, who just so happen to have holdings in private health, voting for the transformation of the NHS into taxpayer-bankrolled market. Or members from all sides with one, two, many tenants to their name voting down minimum standards for private rented accommodation. Keith Vaz's position on liberalising prostitution and having a softer line on drugs may or may not be related to his peccadilloes, but his is hardly the most egregious example of public and private life coming into tension with one another. There is, just about, a public interest, but the fact heavy media rotation has focused on it so much when other issues of greater import don't warrant that interest is yet another pointer at our rotten politics.


Anonymous said...

All of the above depends on how efficient you believe the media is/are. The truth is, they are shockingly inefficient, reactive rather than proactive, and most journalists' idea of 'investigation' is to perform basic due diligence. This is even truer now than it was 30, or even 20, years ago.

The facts of the matter are that Vaz had been doing this for ages and it wasn't until one of his pick-ups recognised him and went back 'equipped' for the sting that Vaz got exposed. And the fact that the prostitutes went to the dopey and herbivorous Mirror, rather than the sharp-elbowed and rat-like Sun, tells you that they didn't have much of a clue about getting more, er, buck for their bang.

This appears to have been an instance in which a walk-up provided a great scoop. It does happen, but it's rare.

I don't think there's a homophobic element to any of this. To the Mirror's credit, it hasn't played up the LGBT aspect at all. I think pretty much the same story would have appeared if his pick-ups had been female rather than male. But in journalism, as in everyday life, you can only play the hand you're dealt.

jim mclean said...

Due credit to many as on the back of this story this has become a top retweet

Moz1959 said...

The stories have been swirling around Keith Vaz for a long time - since his first term as an MP, over 25 years ago.

Until now, though, little hard evidence has surfaced - in part because the oligarchs in charge of most of the British mainstream media are reluctant to take on individuals with extensive legal knowledge and connections.

In the wake of yesterday's revelations, some of the less cultivated corners of cyberspace have felt emboldened to make further - and very serious - allegations against KV.

But unless and until a mass-circulation outlet gives credence to such allegations, Vaz will remain secure in his position as an MP.

BCFG said...

This guy voted for a war that killed and displaced millions and yet they get him on, well, what? Nothing as far as I am concerned.

This shows the rotten state of British politics, when a war mongering murderer can carry respect and authority but as soon as he, allegedly, has sex with male prostitutes he is suddenly bad.

What hypocrisy! What moral depravity!

David Timoney said...

Surely the key point about Keith Vaz is that he has built a political career providing "content" to the media, to the extent that the Home Affairs select committee has become a byword for egomania and star-fucking.

Vaz's error of judgement was not hypocrisy but a belief that he was immune from this sort of expose because he was mates with lots of journos. You'd think he'd have got the memo about John Whittingdale.

Typically, Vaz decided to respond to the Mirror story with an exclusive statement to the Daily Mail. He's addicted to the press, not poppers or rent-boys.

jim mclean said...

Was there ever a Labour Governmen that did not go all out for war. Aylee's imperialist moves put Blair to shame, Blair believed he was bringing down a tyrant. Returning to Vaz, as the sex workers who support Vaz stated, his, or any outing, is an act of violence.