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Is Keith Vaz a gifted self-publicist

 

 

How better to investigate the impact of cocaine than by offering it to guests, and observing its effects on mind and body close-up?

How on earth is the Home Affairs committee chair to acquaint himself with the ins and outs of male prostitution, if not by having affairs at home with male prostitutes?

An old-fashioned sex’n’drugs scandal graces tabloid front pages this sabbath – and even without any rock’n’roll to complete the trinity, nostalgists will be thrilled about that. It’s lovely to be reminded of that more innocent age, before the demise of News of the World, when dainty treats of this kind were a Sunday breakfast table staple.

The fact that this one stars Keith Vaz, the erstwhile Home Affairs committee chair, gives extra savour to the dish. He has somehow survived various scrapes since becoming a Labour MP in 1987. Whether he can survive this one seems a long shot based on the facts (and photos, and audio tape) published by the Sunday Mirror.

Vaz says he will resign as chair from the committee, though at the time of writing it isn’t clear whether this is permanent, or a manoeuvre designed to buy time while he works on his latest resurrection.

In the sincere hope that it is the latter, I mean to advance a persuasive defence on his behalf. But before we come to that and the fine detail of the allegations (Romanian rent boys; the condoning, though not ingestion, of Class A drugs; presenting himself as a washing machine salesman), a brief CV for any of you who might be unfamiliar with this grandmaster of bombast.

In almost three decades as the Hon. Member for Leicester East, Keith Vaz has proved himself a gifted self-publicist. For example, he grabbed some headlines by presenting himself at Heathrow to greet the first batch of migrants from Romania when it joined the EU. What a heartwarming show of reciprocal kindness that a few of them repaid that sentiment by travelling to greet him at his Edgware flat.

His mental flexibility, meanwhile, places Keith among the leading Parliamentary gymnasts of the age. Early in his Westminster days, this political Olga Korbut went, within weeks, from backing Salman Rushdie in his struggle against the Iranian fatwah to leading a march of Muslims through Leicester demanding the banning of The Satanic Verses.

In 2001, he was sacked as Europe Minister for his part in the Hinduja passport fiasco. A year later he earned a month’s suspension from the Commons for that and assorted misdemeanours. In 2008, when as committee chair he was an influential player, he abandoned his scepticism about allowing terrorists to be detained without charge for 42 days, and supported the measure in debate. He later denied this volte face had any connection with a remark that he would be “appropriately rewarded” in a thankyou note from Geoff Hoon, Labour’s then Leader of the House.

Overcoming these misunderstandings to maintain his committee chair status earned Vaz many admirers, but even his biggest fan will understand why he has felt compelled to vacate it now (if only for a while).

When the leader of a body that is currently overseeing major reforms to prostitution legislation is revealed to have had sex with male prostitutes, it does look a little like a conflict of interest. When it is also investigating the impact of cocaine, and its chair is recorded offering to fund its provision for visiting playmates, that doesn’t look great either.

Even discounting other revelations which have no legal implications – a request for sexual stamina-enhancing poppers; a reference to having “f****ed” a youthful Romanian without a condom in ignorance of whether the latter was free of STDs; introducing himself as an industrial washing machine salesman called Jim – this story may not play especially well in the court of public opinion.

And yet, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I ask you to ignore any preconceptions about Keith Vaz and approach this case with a clear mind.

Ask yourselves this: is it not a ritual complaint that MPs, being cocooned from real life, pass laws without a clue how they will affect ordinary folk? Ever since the expenses scandal (Keith Vaz was asked to repay a measly £1,514 over items which exceeded his allowance), have we not heard that incessantly?

In this light, it is absurd and vindictive to attack a man for doing everything in his power to understand the issues he is charged with scrutinising.

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