From false allegations made against a retired policewoman in 2002, the expenses scandal in 2008-2009, the Patrick Mercer affair in 2014, to the sex-scandal currently unraveling in the news media this week, there have been no shortage of controversies surrounding Keith Vaz’s long 29 years as a Labour MP.
But there is something about this latest media storm that sits a little heavy on the brow. On this occasion, Vaz has been caught on video with two prostitutes, casually talking about cocaine and having unprotected sex with another prostitute, all the while pretending to be “Jim” – a salesman who is a dealer in large washing-machines.
It is not so much the details of this engagement that are of concern (although the disrespect shown for prostitutes, one of the most vulnerable professions in the country, in failing to use protection is very worrying), but the manner in which the information was attained. The two men with whom Vaz had sex were advised and paid (£30,000) by the Sunday Mirror.
The use of spying and entrapment are enduring features of the so-called “free press” in capitalist society, and must be condemned whether they are used against our friends or enemies. These tactics are used for a variety of reasons, most often as a way of smearing organisations or ideas associated with individuals. Certainly the timing of the Mirror’s exposé in the midst of a bitterly fought leadership contest raises a number of questions, especially in lieu of the blatant but bizarre attempt to associate the Vaz scandal with Jeremy Corbyn.
Further to this, the coverage at the Mail and the Mirror, with journalists frothing at the mouths calling for Vaz to resign, is cut through with an undertone of h*mophobia. Given the track record of these news sources, it is tempting to think that their denunciations would not come so thick and fast if Vaz had slept with female prostitutes.
So let us be clear: Vaz should not be forced to resign because of a cynical sting operation orchestrated by the anti-worker tabloid press. (For a recent analysis of the British tabloids, see Tom Watson’s 2012 Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain. He does occasionally make sense!)
This is not to say that Vaz is above reproach. Far from it, in fact. It is just that it is Vaz’s political choices that should be in the public eye, not his sexual preferences. In particular, his unwavering commitment to war and British military interventions abroad, and his commitment to austerity and privatisation at home.
Elected in 1987 as a Labour MP for Leicester East, people once had high hopes for Vaz. During his early years in Parliament, Vaz ranked alongside Corbyn as a proud member of the left-wing Socialist Campaign Group (SCG). His membership of this group was short-lived, however, and Vaz parted company with the SCG in 1991.
Vaz’s departure from the SCG was in many respects a sign of things to come: since then, Vaz has spent the last 25 years supporting every war he was given a vote on. This includes Iraq (1991, 2003, 2014), Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and even ones he was not given a vote on (such as Bosnia and Yemen).
To add insult to injury, Vaz has persistently voted against enquiries into the legality of the Iraq War (in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009).
The result of these wars has been the death of millions of innocent people and the preparation of the political conditions that would lead to the rise of ISIS.
By contrast, the urgent political and economic needs of the residents of Vaz’s constituency in Leicester East seem to have been very low on his list of priorities. Thirty-six percent of children in his multi-ethnic constituency grow up mired in poverty. Support for costly, illegal, and futile wars certainly do not help them. Nor did his decision to abstain on the Jobseeker’s (Workfare) Bill (described by Dr Simon Duffy, the Director of the Centre for Welfare Reform, as a form of “modern slavery”) in 2013, vote in favour of the Welfare Cap in 2014, and absented himself for the vote on the Tories Welfare Bill in 2015.
When Labour were in their New Labour heyday, Vaz also voted for the Education and Inspections Bill, which paved way for academisation (read: privatisation) of our schools. Labour faced a major backbench rebellion of over 50 MPs on this issue. David Cameron, said that the reforms were in line with Conservative Party policy.
Vaz also voted twice to in favour of raising tuition fees for university students, first in 1997 and then in 2004. This was in spite of manifesto promises to the contrary.
It is clear that Keith Vaz has a colourful personal life, but few people would really want to see his downfall linked to an exposé of his private life when an exposé of his political life is so vitally needed.
Mr Vaz’s seeming disrespect for the lives of prostitutes, by partaking in unprotected sex, merely echoes his ongoing disrespect for his constituents, hundreds of thousands of Labour Party members, Jeremy Corbyn, the British public, and all the victims of the needless wars he has supported.