Keith Vaz has always been a target for the right wing press, so an orchestrated, homophobic campaign to remove him from power comes as no surprise. The only scandal here was the progressive left's abandonment of their core values in failing to protect him.
Surviving a political sex scandal is easy: just ask Bill Clinton (multiple allegations of sexual assault and rape), David Cameron (sex with a dead pig's severed head), or even Lord Prescott (extra-marital affair with parliamentary aide).
Of course, these are not isolated cases. There are many other examples, both in the UK and abroad, where traditional conservative moral values have proved ineffective as levers to displace prominent politicians from positions of power and influence.
Unfortunately, Keith has not faired quite so well. Keith exhibits all the textbook traits of a successful, high profile politician: charismatic, well spoken, highly educated, quick-witted and intelligent. Since coming to power in 1987, Keith has played key political roles, both in and out of government. In his most recent appointment as Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith has successfully raised the profile of the Committee to become one of the most important and respected in British politics.
Nevertheless, despite numerous successes, allegations of wrongdoing have never been far from Keith. However, for each charge that has been found worthy of investigation, due process has been followed, and Keith has been exonerated, or dealt with appropriately. This has clearly caused immense consternation and irritation among the right wing press, churlishly branding Keith with the nickname 'Vaseline'. Even the apparently neutral BBC described him as a Teflon politician. How deeply frustrating it must be for the collective media to confront the reality that we live in an advanced western society that values empirical evidence and due process over subjective social justice.
The latest set of allegations against Keith was published by the Sunday Mirror on 4th September 2016. Keith is alleged to have engaged in sexual acts with two male Eastern European escorts within his private flat, and purchased a legal recreational substance, alkyl nitrites. The article is accompanied by photographic and audio evidence, where his private conversations were documented without his knowledge.
Once we strip away the article's obvious undertones of moral judgement, homophobia and xenophobia, we are left with one important question: what exactly did Keith do wrong here?
- On the question of legality, contrary to popular opinion, the exchange of money for sexual services is entirely legal, as is engaging in sexual acts with other men. Ensuring the latter has been the mission of gay rights campaigners for decades, and it has been decriminalised for over 30 years. Alkyl nitrites are legal too. Indeed, banning them would be "fantastically stupid" according to former Conservative justice minister, Crispin Blunt.
- On the question of morals and ethics, extra-marital affairs have long been accepted as an unfortunate, but ultimately necessary, reality of adult life. Modern day politicians now rival Premiership footballers on the list of people we are least likely to view as role models for virtuous moral conduct.
So, other than fulfilling the illicit, net-curtain twitching, voyeuristic urges of a populace of readers who would be mortified if their own internet search history was exposed for all to see, it is hard to understand what Keith has done (legally or morally) that would warrant such outrage. Furthermore, determining where the public interest angle lies is far from straightforward.
Another charge levelled at Keith was one of political hypocrisy: surely a man who has been 'caught' paying for escorts and using (legal) recreational substances could no longer be fit to chair a committee responsible for scrutinising and influencing policy on prostitution and drugs? Again, this line of attack fails to land. It could, of course, be argued that Keith's acquired experience with such things actually puts him in a much more informed position to set policy - particularly in comparison to those whose experiences only go as far as reading books, and judging through a lens of moral values built up over a lifetime of inexperience. Setting progressive policy requires progressive thinkers: those who are informed and enlightened. Suggesting that real-world experience should be a reason for disqualification is, quite frankly, ridiculous.
The only real hypocrisy on display has been that of the Telegraph, condemning the actions of Keith, while condescendingly approving the gay affair of former Tory front-bench spokesman and millionaire, Gregory Barker, as "just one of those things".
Counter to the cascade of anti-Vaz sentiment from the traditional right-wing press, any support for Keith by the left-wing press was conspicuous by its absence. Why would the same news agencies that vehemently champion LGBT rights be so silent in condemning the Sunday Mirror for their sensationalist, regressive attempts to "out" Keith as bi-sexual? A compelling explanation is that Keith simply failed to conform to the left's narrative of a gentrified, normalised, establishment-approved, non-threatening member of the LBGT community. Here was a 58 year-old Asian man, relieving the intense pressure of his job by engaging in thrilling, dissident, secretive acts with a couple of eastern European sex workers: hardly a poster boy for gay marriage. If Keith was transsexual, would he be allowed some more leeway in this respect, and entitled to some basic privacy and human rights?
On the controversial question of whether the story was in the public interest, the Guardian left no room for doubt in their analysis. Leading with the headline "Why the Sunday Mirror was justified in exposing Keith Vaz", the paper descended into lecture mode, boldly claiming "politicians, people responsible for making laws, must live by different standards to those who vote for them". Of course, the Guardian fails to provide us with any definition of what these standards are, and exactly whose moral compass they are based on. Given this is clearly a grey area, it is therefore interesting that the Guardian (with its famously progressive audience) would choose to jump to a binary conclusion, and thus avoid focus on the far more interesting question of the duality of moral standards and their inconsistent application within the careers of prominent politicians.
As always, it is the voting public that come out as the real losers. Our ever-changing set of moral values has, in 2016, determined Keith's (entirely legal) behaviour to be a disqualification from public office... far worse, of course, than having sex with a dead animal's head, and worse than Boris Johnson's string of affairs with multiple women, resulting in the birth of an illegitimate child. Vaz resigns as Select Committee chair, and we consign another high-IQ, complex, interesting, and highly articulate public figure to the scrapheap. All this, of course, leads us ever more surely towards the collection of lobotomised, anaemic politicians we deserve: submissive, boring, uninspired, and unwilling to takes risks and push boundaries.
As Keith's nephew, I have very few worries about him. He is a tremendously strong character: an exceptional, brilliant man. Dealing with negative subjective judgements, and overcoming adversity, are matters of second nature to him. He has nothing left to prove in this respect. He has come through periods of immense personal loss and injustice as a more committed, and more informed, individual. I have no doubt he will do so again.