Keith Vaz, drugs, the sex trade & conflicts of interest

No contradiction between Vaz’s public stance & private behaviour


The Guardian online – London, UK – 5 September 2016


Should Keith Vaz have stepped down as Home Affairs Committee chair?

The Labour MP has been accused of paying for the services of male escorts. Should this affect his role in policy-making on the sex trade? The Guardian panel give their verdict. Read all five contributors: Paris Lees, Peter Tatchell, Julie Bindel, Margaret Corvid and Joan Smith:



Keith Vaz may have behaved recklessly and said some ill-advised things. I don’t think he’s blameless. But as far as we know he has not committed any crime and is not guilty of hypocrisy.

Buying sex is not an offence, the men were consenting adults, there was no use of cocaine and poppers are legal. Vaz has supported gay equality and the decriminalisation of sex work. There is no contradiction between his public pronouncements and his private behaviour.

So where is the public interest in outing him?

This looks like a classic tabloid sting perpetrated by the Sunday Mirror for sensationalist motives in order to boost sales. The whole scenario may have been set up by the newspaper in collusion with the escorts, in order to entrap the MP. This could even include the paper assisting with the recording equipment and laying in wait outside the flat where the rendezvous with Vaz took place (although the paper denies this). It may even have prompted the escorts to ask Vaz leading questions about drugs.

The Sunday Mirror allegedly paid the escorts £30,000.

This was not about defending the public interest. It looks like a sordid money-making conspiracy by the newspaper and the escorts – a throwback to the squalid tabloid excesses of the 1980s.

To establish the truth, the Sunday Mirror must come clean about whether it knew in advance about the escorts meeting Vaz and whether it collaborated with them. How much did the paper pay the escorts for their story? Was there a signed contract? If so will the paper now publish it?

Given the absence of any public interest justification, there is prima facie evidence that the Sunday Mirror has broken the press regulation code prohibiting unwarranted intrusion into privacy.

It said that Vaz failed to declare an interest when his home affairs committee was investigating a ban on poppers and sex work criminalisation (he opposed both). Perhaps he should have declared an interest, but I am not sure that his failure to do so is a major lapse. After all, we don’t demand that MPs who drink and smoke declare an interest when they discuss legislation affecting the alcohol and cigarette industries. There is never any insistence that MPs who have pension plans step aside from committees discussing pension regulation or that gay MPs must come out and declare themselves before voting on gay issues. I sense a whiff of double standards.

Finally, I sympathise with Vaz’s wife and children. Perhaps they never knew. But we must also remember how difficult it is for gay and bisexual people to come out in some sections (not all) of the Asian community. Homophobia kept Keith Vaz in the closet and we should be angry about that.