A commentary and resource on Law and Sexuality by Professor Chris Ashford and guests
Last night, the Sunday Mirror newspaper exploded a nuclear bomb above Keith Vaz’s life. His role as Chair of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee immediately evaporated. Devastating shock waves continue to wreak havoc. It remains to be seen if he’ll survive as an MP and his marriage, friendships, and relationship with his children are all currently reeling from this ‘blast’. What survives remains to be seen.
A sex scandal in a Sunday newspaper is as British as a cup of tea. Since the decline of the News of the World (aka ‘News of the Screws’), the Sun on Sunday hasn’t quite got back to that reputation. The Sunday Mirror is trying.
Its story today features a video and a series of allegations against Labour MP and (until this coming Tuesday when he formally stands down) the Chair of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. It alleges that he had sex with a number of prostitutes at his flat, and there are other allegations relating to the men (not Vaz) using class A-drugs and also (interesting in light of the Psychoactive Substances Act and arguments to criminalise Poppers earlier this year) a discussion about bringing poppers to the group (and their importance). There’s also a discussion around bareback sex and Vaz describing a previous bareback encounter.
It actually doesn’t sound like that unusual night for many gay men who might engage in group sex bareback encounters, with some guys using class A drugs, many using poppers and perhaps some guys there who are sex workers (who may or may not be performing that identity). The problem here is that Vaz is married to a woman and has as Pink News noted, apparently been outed by this story. Vaz has generally taken liberal positions on sex work and so there’s arguably no hypocrisy there. However, the Committee he Chairs did recently undertake am inquiry into Prostitution/Sex Work and is awaiting a Government response. That Inquiry and it’s final report is all the more easy to now ignore or reject because of these allegations. At least, that’s what anti-sex work campaigners will seek to achieve and you can see that on Twitter this morning. I believe Vaz voted against banning Poppers (so again, no hypocrisy there) and has generally been relatively liberal on drug reform). The Mirror does however note that he recently did support a safe-sex campaign in his constituency.
What the story does however highlight is not Vaz’s hypocrisy but our own as a society. The so-called intellectual class (to which I clearly belong) knows or engages ourselves in drug use and sexual activities described in this story. Whether it’s politicians, bankers or academics, use of Coke, Meth, G, and Weed is widespread. Bareback sex is frequently engaged in by gay men. Sex work is not unknown and anecdotally quite common when one gets to the international travelling class.
As Vaz and his family try to pick up the pieces this morning, we should try to limit our own schadenfreude and reflect on how our society might be different if the private was better reflected in public legal discourse.