Title: Political Scandal: A Tale of Two Politicians Credit: Craig Young Comment Friday 16th September 2016 - 1:18pm1473988680 Article: 18796 Rights
Often, political scandals are viewed with annoyance and resentment by political parties and serious political commentators. However, is this because of a lack of systematic thought about what they do signify? And is it more than 'straight versus gay?' Well, yes. Let's compare two newsworthy political scandals from New Zealand and the United Kingdom. As one might guess, the New Zealand example is the plight of the hapless former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig. At present, Mr Craig is being sued by Jordan Williams of the centre-right New Zealand Taxpayers Union for the production and circulation of a pamphlet that accused Mr Williams, Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater and former Conservative board member John Stringer of an orchestrated campaign against Mr Craig. This has led to several court cases. One group is being waged by Mr Craig against Mr Stringer and Mr Slater seperately, while another is reciprocated, charging that in the aforementioned pamphlet, Mr Craig defamed Mr Williams and others. It also forced Colin Craig to stand down as Conservative Party leader to respond to the allegations in court. At present, Mr Williams has made allegations that former Conservative Party media manager Rachel McGregor was either manipulated into an intimate relationship with Mr Craig, or subjected to sexual harrassment, which resulted in her departure from her position just before the last New Zealand General Election in 2014. Mr Craig has stated in his defence that the two had a close working relationship, but nothing improper occurred. Ms McGregor has replied that this was not the case and that Colin Craig allegedly engaged in cumulative sexual harrassment and did not pay his party media manager for prolonged periods. Another witness, John Stringer, alleged that the Conservative Party had appointed anonymous chaperones to insure matters did not get 'out of hand.' In the United Kingdom, a different political scandal has engulfed senior Labour MP Keith Vaz. Mr Vaz has been the Labour MP for Leicester East since 1987 and is the UK Labour Party's longest serving East Asian MP. Under the Blair administration, he was Minister for Europe (1999-2001) and appointed to the Privy Council in 2006. Mr Vaz attended Cambridge University and served as a local authority solicitor for two London borough councils before he shifted to Leicester in 1985 as a prelude to his political career. In Opposition, he was a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons (1992-1997), which he later led (2007-2016). He has also served on the House of Commons Select Committee for Constitutional Affairs (2002-2007) as senior Labour MP. He has been particularly active on anti-racist equality concerns within the Labour Party. This is not the first time that Mr Vaz has been in trouble. He called for censorship and prohibition of Salman Rushdie'sSatanic Verses(1989), suggested that the British Army was storing ordinance at the time of an IRA bombing in Leicester before the cessation of hostilities in Northern Ireland (1990), was said to have received several thousand pounds from solicitor Sarosh Zaiwalla which he had not declared and obstructed an investigation from the Parliamentary Watchdog (2000), and was embroiled in a case of alleged preferential immigration access for the Hinduja brothers, two corporate executives with strong donor links to the Blair era Labour Party, along with Labour Minister Peter Mandelson. Payment had been concealed in the latter instance, but Vaz was judged not to have directly benefited from his relationship with the Hinduja family, although his wife's law firm did so. In 2001, it was also revealed that he had been involved in trying to insure Anglo-Iraqi billionaire Nadhmi Auchi was not extradited to France. In 2002, he was suspended from the House of Commons for a month after he was found to have made false allegations against Eileen Eggington, a former policewoman, over allegations related to the non-existent employment of an illegal immigrant as nanny to Vaz' children and the aforementioned Hinduja affair. In September 2008, there was further controversy when Vaz intervened in a case that involved allegations of particular intrusive scrutiny related to the law firm of a friend, Shahrokh Mireskandari, who had pursued several racist discrimination cases against the London Metropolitan Police, asking why the Solicitors Regulation Authority was specifically targeting their law firm. Other controversies have involved his support for stringent anti-terrorist legislation that has infringed civil liberties according to some quarters, parliamentary expenses, questionable lobbying relationships and support for homeopathic alternative medicine's continued availability on the UK National Health Service. However, in early September 2016, a particular scandal arose over Vaz' alleged involvement with two Eastern European male escorts, cocaine use and unprotected sex at his London MP's flat. Vaz was also accused of sourcing poppers for the occassion and looking at gay men's profiles on the gay male online hookup site Grindr. He has responded that he has been the target of a sting operation by the right-wing Murdoch tabloidSunday Mirror. However, he has also stepped down from his position as chair of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee and further steps may be taken, given that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is said to be meeting with Labour's National Executive Committee to discuss Vaz' future. He may be relegated to the backbench, pressured to stand down or be deselected either before or at the next UK election, scheduled for 2020. Apart from escorting, most forms of sex work are illegal within the United Kingdom, although the Home Affairs select committee convened an investigation in May 2016 and has subsequently supported decriminalisation, as is the case in New Zealand under the Prostitution Reform Act 2003. As for Vaz' cocaine use, as in New Zealand, cocaine is classified as a Class A drug under the UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Comparing these two disparate political scandals, what is one to make of the comparative examples? As I've argued in previous columns on this subject, it helps to consider the stigma, illegality, magnitude and gravity of what is involved in this context. Minor misdemeanours such as drunk driving without injury to others, cannabis use while at university, isolated episodes of public inebriation and so on are mostly ignored in this context, although during the Clark administration, Ruth Dyson resigned as a Cabinet Minister after one drunk driving incident. Slightly more serious, but still legal although stigmatised, are extramarital affairs- they have never been illegal in New Zealand, but Don Brash found that his indiscretion with a female Business Roundtable member contributed to the demise of his National Party leadership in 2005-6. It is here that Colin Craig's alleged misdeeds fit in. If there is any substance to the allegations, how will Conservative Party directors respond to this, given that marital infidelity would face greater stigma within a religious social conservative party- that is, if there is any substance to these allegations, which may not be the case? The other aspect to Craig's case is sexual harrassment, which are grounds for action under the Human Rights Act 1993, if that indeed occured. After this point, we reach the threshold of illegality per se. Events become more serious, as do their ensuing consequences. In the Keith Vaz case cited above, despite the illegality of sex work in the United Kingdom at present, it is probably the fact that Vaz took cocaine that is more troubling than his gay sexual encounters, although perhaps he should not have chaired the Home Affairs Select Committee while investigating that very matter. In addition, Vaz has committed multiple other infractions of the House of Commons procedural rules, all of which may have cumulative effect in contributing to Corbyn and the NEC's eventual decision about his activities. The Murdoch tabloid newspapers may disagree with this prognosis, but then newspapers have been in decline relative to other media formats over the last three decades. This may not be a simple case of 'outing' a closeted gay politician, given Vaz' past alleged and substantive misdemeanours and misdeeds. Homosexuality alone would not be enough to cause the dismissal of Vaz as a Labour MP, although as noted, cumulative other past problems might indeed have done so. Beyond this, substantive questions of illegality start to impact on one's assessment of scandal. In the case of especially grave offences, there may need to be criminal sanctions applied against the political figure, or they may agree to leave Parliament. Richard Worth and Pansy Wong fell afoul of questions over their financial transactions while Members of Parliament, which was enough to end their careers as National List MPs. No New Zealand politician has ever been convicted of killing someone while drunk or stoned at the wheel of a motor vehicle, which might end in a manslaughter conviction if it were serious enough. Nor have there been current instances of domestic violence and spousal rape during current parliamentary careers. Ironically enough, Graham Capill is probably the leading candidate for gravity and illegality in the context of political scandal, given "Capillgate"- the disclosure that the fundamentalist antigay former Christian Heritage Party leader had undertaken serial pedophile assaults against three female children. Capill plead guilty to the charges and was imprisoned for the next six years. No New Zealand politician has committed an act of murder, manslaughter or rape, or been convicted of political assassination crimes against humanity before an international tribunal. Those would be grounds for criminal trial, possible conviction and immediate dismissal from Parliament. One hopes that will never happen here, as it would be a sign of grossly impaired representative democratic institutions. Recommended: Anna Leask: "Colin Craig defamation trial: All you need to know"New Zealand Herald:09.09.2016:http://m.nzherald. id=1  
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