Leicester East MP Keith Vaz has found himself splashed across the pages of firstly the Sunday Mirror, and then later editions of the Mail On Sunday, for all the wrong reasons: the married father of two stands accused of procuring the services of male prostitutes, as well as using a variety of potentially illegal substances.
(c) Steve Bell 2016
The Mirror cuts to the chase from the off, telling “Married MP Keith Vaz tells prostitutes in his flat: 'Bring poppers' ... 'We need to get this party started’ … Today we can reveal the Labour statesman, a married father of two, is leading a double life paying young male escorts for sex”. And there was, inevitably, more.
“He is one of the most influential MPs in the House of Commons and is currently overseeing the biggest shake-up of Britain’s prostitution laws in a generation … But today the Sunday Mirror can reveal Keith Vaz, a married father of two, is leading a double life paying young male escorts for sex … Mr Vaz last met two Eastern European prostitutes eight days ago, even though he is chair of a powerful parliamentary group probing vice and drugs”. Then the MoS followed up. The public interest justification was clear as day.
Vaz’ committee is looking at laws on prostitution, and there he is being stung over using the services of … you get the drift. And then another thought enters: the press have been quick not just to run this story, but pile in behind it - although it was not always this way. Those able to think back to April this year will remember the case of (then) Culture Secretary John Whittingdale and his relationship with a known sex worker.
Then, the press came over all coy: the Sunday People, Sun, Mail On Sunday and Independent were all interested … and then they weren’t. It took Byline Media posts by Nick Mutch and James Cusick to bring the story into the open, and then, only after Private Eye magazine ran a full page article on it, and BBC Newsnight covered the affair, did the Fourth Estate get off its backside and actually do something about it.
The public interest justification for the Whittingdale story was clear: here was the Minister looking after press regulation, who was stalling on signing off Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act - the part that could land publishers with paying both sides’ costs if they refused to allow complaints to go to a recognised press regulator’s low-cost arbitration service - being effectively shielded by the same papers whose interests benefited from the stalling.
Compare and contrast with what is happening to Keith Vaz: the starting gun for feeding time has sounded, and the frenzy has begun. With Whittingdale, the results were faux outrage at campaigning group Hacked Off, together with smearing and hatchet jobs directed at Byline Media. This time, the press pack can’t wait to slap one another on the back for a sting well executed. Can you smell hypocrisy?
I give you our free and fearless press, swift to sting politicians … except for the ones who can be bent to their will. What a complete and absolute shower.