The British slang word ‘dodgy’, meaning less than trustworthy, was in circulation long before the political rise to prominence of Keith Vaz, but it might have been invented for him. Dodgy covers a multitude of sins and Vaz seems forever to be engaged in more than his fair share of them.
Vaz is the Labour Member of Parliament for Leicester East. He is also the chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, which among other specifics has oversight for the police, drug use and sexual criminality. He certainly qualifies as an expert on ‘home affairs’, having just been caught by a newspaper consorting with two male prostitutes, in the process allegedly asking them if they could make available certain drugs called ‘poppers’, used to enhance sexual performance.
As the press has reported with a certain degree of triumphal glee, Vaz is a Catholic married man with two children. But it is not Vaz’s sexual indiscretion in itself that has journalists chortling. He is, after all, not alone among MPs known to be leading a double life, and most reporters, even those from the tabloids, turn a blind eye to such sexual transgressions. But in this case there is also a question of where the money to pay for the rent boy services came from. One newspaper alleged that it was paid in the form of cheques from Safe Star, a diabetes charity chaired by Vaz. The Charity Commission has said it will investigate the report.
This has yet to be proven, but Vaz has been in Fleet Street’s sights for some time, not so much for his sexual misconduct but for a series of questionable past actions involving unusual financial transactions and charges of influence-peddling. These have included a £3000 payment to his wife, a lawyer, from the notorious Hinduja brothers, a pair of Indian-born chancers whose business dealings have come under scrutiny at times by parliament and the police. A minister in the Blair administration, Peter Mandelson, resigned over his intervention in the brothers’ application for British citizenship, opening a sequence of revelations that became known as the ‘Hinduja Affair’. Vaz himself was implicated but was not found to have done anything illegal, although a parliamentary standards commissioner, Elizabeth Filkin found that he had ‘colluded’ with his wife Maria to conceal the payment.
Vaz is never found to have done anything illegal. He skirts legality with the adroitness of a mountain goat on a sheer cliff face. Not for nothing is he known to some of his parliamentary colleagues as ‘Mr. Teflon’. In short, he may not be a criminal, just ‘dodgy’ – or as one columnist put it “as fishy as a rotten sardine”.
As of this writing, Vaz is refusing to relinquish his chairmanship of the Commons committee, but his critics are now coming out of the proverbial woodwork to see that he does. The Vaz Affair, as undoubtedly it will become known, gives them considerable wood to munch on.
As titillating as readers of the tabloids may find the revelations about his sexuality – and leaving aside for the moment the question of who paid for the rent boys – that is not what will bring him down. It will be, rather, his long-accumulated and unappetising reputation as a hypocrite and general ‘greaser’ in a Westminster establishment that is turning voters off in droves.
He may not be a criminal – that remains to be seen – but he is without question a slippery character and a pompous self-serving one at that.
Politicians don’t resign as they used to when caught undermining the dignity of their profession. Vaz probably won’t either without a struggle.
But the sooner he goes the better for all concerned – Westminster especially – and good riddance to bad rubbish.