On Saturday afternoon, for want of anything better to do, I watched a film called SOFT LAD. It is about a 22 year old lad called David who has an affair with his brother in law, Jules, played by Billy off Coronation Street. David then seeks to break off the relationship when he meets someone his own age, Sam. When David and Sam decide to go serious, Sam wants them to stop using protection and have a monogamous relationship. They both have an HIV test, but it turns out David is HIV positive. He’s only ever slept with Jules and Sam so he knows that it must be his brother in law who has infected him. To cut a long story short, it turns out Jules has also infected his wife.
Little did I know that only a matter of hours later life would imitate art when a married Labour MP would be accused of having unprotected sex. OK, that’s where the analogy ends, because so far as I know Keith Vaz has not had an affair with his brother in law. I’ll come onto the political fallout in a moment, but let’s consider the personal fallout first.
I read a book once called THE MARRYING KIND. I had conducted a phone in on marriages which fall apart when the wife discovers the husband is gay. I could hardly believe the number of calls I got and afterwards was sent this book by Charles Neal. He had interviewed lots of gay or bi men who were married. Believe me, there’s a lot of it about. I suspect that had I been born ten years earlier, I too could have been one of them. Keith Vaz is six years older than me.
Married men, and indeed politicians, have always taken risks to satisfy their sexual urges. In the 1960s and 1970s they would meet men in public toilets. In the 1990s they might visit a gay sauna, miles from where they lived. Nowadays dating apps like Grindr make casual sex with anonymous men all too easy. Gradually the stigma of paying for sex has also gradually dissipated. And when you have an ego the size of Keith Vaz’s, you think you are untouchable and can get away with anything.
The trauma experienced by Mrs Vaz over the last 48 hours can only be imagined. Perhaps she knew of his proclivities, perhaps she didn’t. It’s astonishing how many women acknowledge their partner’s hidden sexuality and deal with it. Sometimes the coping mechanism is to ignore it and not speak about it. Sometimes it is to confront it and accept it. The most horrifying part of this for Mrs Vaz will be the realisation that by having unprotected sex, her husband had put her at risk too. That’s something pretty difficult for a wife, or their children, to forgive. A one night stand can be forgiven. Even an affair can be forgiven. But that? Difficult.
I have long since ceased judging people for what they do in bed. Everyone has a weakness in their sexual makeup and the ones who judge most harshly are usually the ones with something pretty dark in their own private lives. So in theory I don’t want to judge Keith Vaz, at least not from a moralistic point of view. It’s up to him what he does with his private parts, and if he pays someone to help him, so what? As long as it’s all consensual, who are we – if we are not his immediate family – to condemn him?
But, I’m afraid condemn him we must, not just because he is a politician. I have long given up any thought that politicians can be held to a higher moral standard than the rest of us. They are human beings, with all the flaws of their fellow human beings. But when you go into politics and you hold positions of office, you know that you have to be whiter than white in terms of conflicts of interest and hypocrisy. Nowadays you can get away with the odd sexual misdemeanour, but corruption and hypocrisy remain [rightly] unforgiven by the general public.
When you are the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee you are judged by higher standards than a normal backbench MP. You deal with crime enforcement. You deal with drug policy. You deal with prostitution laws. You deal with immigration. Any Home Affairs Select Committee Chairman who thinks he can get away with offering to procure class A drugs (even if they are not for himself) for his rent boys, and pays them through his diabetes charity, is either delusional or just thrives on living on the edge.
Keith Vaz, like anyone else, has a right to a private life. What he does not have is the right to escape public scrutiny into conflicts of interest or rank, outright hypocrisy. This is not a ‘private matter’ as Jeremy Corbyn seems to believe. If Keith Vaz were not chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, perhaps it might be. But he is. So it isn’t.
If he does not voluntarily resign his post as chairman of the Select Committee – not just stand down temporarily – then the Committee members must force him to and withdraw their confidence in him.