The recent headlines regarding Keith Vaz and his buying of sex from male escorts remind me of the bad old days of tabloid newspaper sensationalism and invasions of privacy.
Here we have a politician who I personally disagree with on a number of issues. I don't support him or his actions. I just oppose the way he seems to have been stitched up in a tabloid sting and held to 'conflict of interest' standards that are mostly not applied to other MPs.
Vaz behaved recklessly and said some ill-advised things, but as far as we know he has not committed any crime. The closest he came to any criminal act was his vague throwaway offer to pay for cocaine for an escort; though he never actually went through with that offer.
The men Keith met up with were consenting adults, there was no use of cocaine and his past use of poppers was legal. Vaz has supported gay equality and the decriminalisation of sex work, so there are no apparent double standards. It is hard to see why this has become such a big story. Where is the ‘public interest’ justification?
True, Keith did not declare an interest when his Home Affairs Committee was investigating poppers and sex work criminalisation. He should have. But we don’t insist that MPs who happen to drink and smoke declare their personal habits when they debate legislation affecting the alcohol and cigarette industries. MPs with private pension plans are not required to step aside from pension committees. So why should Vaz be treated any differently?
Critics say that because Vaz had used poppers and bought sex he could never be impartial when those issues were being discussed by his committee. How do they know that? Perhaps he is capable of making a rigorous, dispassionate distinction between his own behaviour and what the law of the land should say.
Some people might even argue that because Keith has experience of poppers and male escorts he can bring unique, valuable insights to the committee's deliberations.
Interestingly, no one seems to be arguing that critics of sex work cannot be impartial and therefore should not be on that committee. Impartiality cuts both ways.
It’s not hard to guess at the true motivation of the Sunday Mirror in running stories about Vaz – and it is nothing to do with the public interest and everything to do with the prurient interests of its readers in sex and scandal. In other words, the paper appears to have been exploiting sex as a way to boost sales. There is a whiff of sordid money-making collusion by the newspaper and the escorts. Did they act in cahoots? Whatever, I regard it as an unwarranted intrusion into the MP's private life.
There is also a bigger issue here, which is being missed: the homophobia in sections of the Asian community that keeps Asian gay people like Keith Vaz in the closet. Why are there so few openly LGBT Asian public figures? Go figure.
Keith Vaz is not blameless but it looks like he may have been a victim of family and community pressure to marry and hide his sexuality. If so, we should all be angry about that.