The Trial of Keith Vaz: Are Our Private Lives of Public Interest?

A new political scandal has hit the headlines of news outlets this week, with the media spotlight being thrust on none other than Labour MP Keith Vaz. Known less admirably as “Vaz-eline” and the”Teflon MP”, the nicknames allude to Mr.Vaz’s less than squeaky clean record as an MP in the last 29 years, with allegations of illicit payments, fast tracking passport applications, and lavish expenses claims. Despite this he had, thus far, remained unscathed. The latest scandal to hit the Leicester East MP, however, seems to have undone him. Caught in the act with a male escort and supposedly asking for “poppers”, a legal drug he recommended against banning as part of his role as chairman of the home affairs select committee, he has faced much criticism and stepped down from the role, with questions still around his legitimacy to remain an MP.

This type of scandal is nothing new. When the media catches on to an embarrassing story of an influential celebrity or politician, be it Cliff Richard or Simon Danczuk, it seizes it with both hands and rips it into the public sphere. But this begs the question, was it ever our right to know in the first place? Should a person’s private life naturally be made public ground as soon as they become well known? Keith Vaz’s case presents an interesting dilemma, that’s why, for a minute, I’d ask you to pretend we’re overseeing a court case. I’m the judge and you’re the jury, but in this particular case, we aren’t debating anyone’s guilt, but instead an entire idea. The prosecution begins with their speech as to why they believe we as the public do indeed have the right to know about Mr.Vaz’s private life.

“First of all your honor, I would remind the Jury of Mr.Vaz’s role as an MP. He is a publically elected figure. As the Prime Minister Mrs. May stated this week, people want confidence in their politicians, they want to feel like they know them on a personal level. Would people have voted for Mr.Vaz if they were aware of what he did in his private life? Although technically not breaking the law, he came very close, even asking for Cocaine. How can people have faith in politicians, especially ones tasked with reviewing drug policies to the government, when such elements of their lives are held back? Surely this aspect biased him when it came to determining whether his influential home affairs committee would recommend whether “poppers” should be made illegal or not. It seems clear to me that when such crucial aspects of a person’s private life become apparent to the media, it is their duty to report it to the public so that they may be fully informed of a person’s motivations.”

The prosecution raises an interesting point. In this case, the MP’s private life surely affected his public role, and perhaps this did merit it being revealed to the public. Would this have been necessary however in other cases? Would it be fair to reveal such intimate details of someone’s sexuality and private life if it did not affect his job? In my view, it wouldn’t. The defense is called to the stand and begins their speech.

“Your honor, members of the Jury. The painstaking detail of the Mirrors report was wholly unjustified. Not only is this man’s career on the line, but so too is his family life. Imagine if your deepest secrets, kinks or fantasies were brought out to your family. Could you imagine the shame and the embarrassment? Multiply that, imagining that everyone you ever knew and will know also found out. Yes, Mr.Vaz’s actions were dubious, but is this fair and just treatment of a person, as fallible as any single one of us? Nobody is perfect. Mr.Vaz’s private life should’ve remained just that, private. His actions did not affect his professionalism in his work, in fact being around “poppers” and escorts probably made him more aware than most of the reality of what the government and the committee’s recommendations could or could not do. Should all politicians meet a certain moral and ethical standard? Who are we to say that Mr.Vaz’s sexuality and actions prevented him from being a good MP and Chairman? What one person chooses to do in their private life, as long as it does not break the law, does not have a place in the public sphere.”

The case presented by both sides is a compelling one. The reality is, as is sadly often the case, somewhere in the middle, in those powerful shades of grey. Aspects of Mr.Vaz’s private life did bias him to his role as Chairman of a powerful committee that does shape policy around prostitution and drugs, but aren’t others similarly as biased if they don’t take such substances and are inclined to dislike it? The way his sexuality was broadcast to the world was not in any way favourable, and for his family, it must’ve been equally difficult. Ken Livingstone today came out to defend him (Whether that’s a help or a hindrance) and similarly claimed that “Someone’s private life should be private” but maybe in our modern society with gossip columns, tabloid newspapers, and social media, we are naive to think that anything truly is “private”. After all, we ourselves are the ones electing to make everything more public.

Although I’m only the imaginary judge, with the imaginary wig and all, I ask you the Jury to come to your decision. Aspects of the argument have been put before you by both sides, but really it is you who has the casting vote. You can decide by your own reaction, click, or purse. You choose whether you want to live in a society that accepts these forays into private lives, or not. Choose wisely.

 

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