What are we to make of the police’s decision not to proceed against the former Minister of State for Europe and ex-chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee?
The police dropped their investigation into Labour MP Keith Vaz, known to his parliamentary colleagues and the wider public as “Vazeline” for his extraordinary ability to extricate himself from any hole, despite his behaviour clearly being reprehensible in the extreme and questionable as to its legality.
One of the things which most shocked us about the MPs’ expenses scandal was the sheer mean-spiritedness and hypocrisy of it all. Here were lawmakers happy to break the law even in the most mundane and petty of matters. All the time they wanted the rest of us to hold them in high esteem and believe them virtuous. That, indeed, is what we wanted to believe and the reason we were so shocked. We wanted to feel that they represented the best of our country: men and women whose examples we should strive to emulate.
All this is what draws me back to Keith Vaz, a man whose whole career has been mired in a succession of questionable activities. This last episode concerning rent boys is only the latest. Vaz is a man puffed up beyond belief who thinks nothing of intruding on private grief to gain publicity for himself or doing all manner of weird and wonderful things to get into our newspapers and onto our small screens (remember him turning up at Luton airport to welcome Romanian arrivals on the day they could seek work in Great Britain?). Yet for all his grandstanding, ingratiating behaviour – particularly to speaker Bercow whom he relies on to give him excessive Commons airtime – and smarmy talk he is held in the highest esteem by his parliamentary colleagues.
On the very first sitting of his Commons chums following those sensational disclosures concerning drugs and rent boys, he was warmly received when he waltzed in as though nothing had happened. Brazenness cannot begin to describe such an entrance. There were mutterings of sympathy and even back-slapping by various of his colleagues. Indeed, the whole atmosphere seemed resonant of a witch-hunt by a pitiless media out to destroy a good man.
One could almost be forgiven for thinking that many in that chamber may themselves have shared Vaz’s predilection for rent boys.
Few of us will ever have witnessed such a shameful and squalid performance by members who like to address one another other as “Honourable”. For all that, I do not believe that any one of the other 649 members would have had the effrontery to show themselves on that particular day. But this is Vaz. Having bare-facedly brazened it out in the Commons so soon after the story broke, it was to be expected that he would do the same a few weeks later at Labour’s annual party conference. And so he did. It will be interesting to see if his Leicester East constituents show their distaste for the way he has let them, and above all their faith, down by pricking his massive bubble of self-esteem and deselecting him.
As news of the scandal broke, Vaz was Chair of the influential Home Affairs Select Committee which recently had been deliberating on prostitution. That conflict of interest in his febrile moment of exposure was too much even for Vazeline to escape. He stood down.
But squalid and undignified as his exploitation of young, vulnerable rent boys was, something even worse was revealed. At the very time he was heading up the committee investigating harm caused by illegal Class A drugs, he solicited a Romanian prostitute to trot off and bring back some Class A drugs. He even offered to pay for them. Now, if that doesn’t constitute criminal activity I’d like to know what does. Isn’t “aiding and abetting” a crime? Vaz was complicit both before and after the fact. The whole affair was confirmed by video footage – prima facie evidence if ever there was. (Vaz’s wealth has long been a matter of public curiosity. He is rich beyond what his parliamentary stipend would suggest and it would be interesting to learn where his unaccounted for wealth comes from.)
Shameless Vaz, with amazing sangfroid, sees absolutely nothing untoward about what he has done to his family, the House of Commons and the wider public. Incredibly, within weeks of stepping down as Chair of the Home Affair Select Committee he put himself forward for the Justice Select Committee. Did this prove too much, or at least too soon, even for his normally indulgent parliamentary chums? You bet it didn’t. Now he’s back pontificating in his own inimical, self-important way on what is just and what is not. Pomposity begins and ends with Vaz. To use a clichéd but in this case totally justified phrase, you really couldn’t make it up.
Am I alone in thinking that Vaz’s parliamentary colleagues, by continuing to indulge his fantasies, display a huge contempt for what the rest of us think?
The police must re-examine the evidence. Are they afraid of the establishment? Do they need to be dead like Janner and Savile before they will act? Perhaps it is that same kind of reluctance which caused them to hold back for so long in the Rotherham grooming of young girls; maybe Vaz’s faith and ethnicity has acted as a protective shield. That, perhaps – and the establishment’s own efforts to defend one of their own – may explain why this most terrible of scandals has slipped below the radar.
Brexit, Cameron’s demise, Trump, Europe’s travails and, most of all, the terrible tragedy unfolding in Syria have all fortuitously come to Vaz’s aid by moving the spotlight away from him. No better time, from the police’s point of view, to bury bad news.
Are we to stand by and let Vazeline get away with it again? For all our sakes we must hope not. Our Mother of Parliaments deserves better than that. The one I feel most sorry for in all this is Vaz’s poor wife. He felt so little love for her that he thought nothing of endangering her life by having unprotected sex with a male prostitute.
Quite apart from the scandal of no police action, with all this and more known by his ‘honourable’ parliamentary colleagues and the institution of parliament being brought into disrepute in a serious infringement of its rulebook, how is it that he has not been suspended from the Commons?
The old ‘Yellow Peril’ with its racist undertones and vision of the ‘Golden Horde’ sweeping towards Europe may have been a thing of the past, but a new one is taking it place. This one is a debt crisis which threatens to take China down.
We have all marveled at the economic miracle which has taken place in formerly backward China during the last thirty years. It is now the world’s second largest economy, and if its double-digit growth continues for one more decade it will overtake the mighty United States. But a very big if hangs over that prospect.
The phenomenal growth that China has enjoyed in recent years has been based on debt – astonishing and unsustainable debt. To make matters worse, it is mired in corruption on an equally gargantuan scale.
One of the prices we in the West have had to pay for China’s breakneck progress is to see many of our traditional industries relocate to the low-wage, low-overheads Far East. The flood of cheap consumer goods helped the West keep inflation down – at the price of seeing its own unemployment rise.
Yet all was apparently well until the banking crisis struck in 2008 and the West stopped buying – at least in the quantities it had. China faced ruin. It had two options: it could either invest heavily in infrastructure and property (it had millions to house who had flooded into the cities) or it could turn its people into a consumerist society modeled on the West and sell to itself – God knows there are enough of them. It chose overwhelmingly the first.
Unfortunately no one knows how to get the Chinese to spend on themselves. It may be this is because there is no safety net of a welfare state to sustain people either in old age or in sickness, so they have to do it themselves and save a much higher proportion of their earnings to make good this shortcoming. They decided not to put their savings under their beds but to invest it in property and to a lesser extent in factories. Unfortunately this launched a runaway property boom. Stupidly this was at the higher end of property market so that the average apartment came out at £300k – 70 times what the average factory worker earned. Consequently, while there are scores of millions in the cities desperately wanting to get out of sub-standard and crowded accommodation, they cannot afford to buy. A similar glut of unwanted factory units has taken place.
This was at the time the Chinese government had ordered its state run banks to open their wallets wide and lend. And, boy, did they obey orders. The result is a debt crisis of unimaginable proportions and one which is set to grow exponentially. The Communist government is at a loss to know what to do about it and still maintain power in a one party state.
It has long been thought an anomaly that a Marxist state can stay communist while operating a capitalist system. The reason the Chinese have so far pulled it off is they have markedly raised the standard of living in the cities – though they have neglected the countryside. This has bought the party time in a country which elevates stability above everything and avoided people taking to the streets demanding more political freedoms. The hypocrisy of the party in abandoning Marxist economics to gain the fruits of the super-abundant capitalist table is breathtaking. China’s volte-face has allowed the party to stay in power while the USSR collapsed. It has delivered materially where the Soviets did not. But the capitalist system which Beijing let rip has none of the constraints and rule of law which developed over centuries in the West.
The ‘entrepreneurs’ which it put in place to run its factories and the like did not earn their spurs through the fierce blast of competition; they were placemen and apparatchiks who had no experience of business. They set about lining their pockets with shady deals and kickbacks which would cause Marx to turn in his grave. And because the system is run by the party faithful right across the country, from the very top all the way down to the lowest jobsworth, there is no chance of reforming it.
The party bosses in Beijing are waking up not just to the enormity of the task ahead of them to address this but to their debt crisis. They are telling their factory managers that the centre can longer subsidise their inefficiencies. They are going to have to lay off tens of millions who will be forced to return to their poverty-stricken countryside homes, many of which have been forcibly taken over by the state for land development. It is a recipe for insurrection.
Already the West is seeing many of the jobs which went to the Far East being repatriated because the economics have changed: Chinese workers have demanded, and got, big pay increases as well as better working conditions. All this costs money and the result is that the Chinese competitive edge is being eroded year by year.
When the West’s financial crisis struck in 2008, we were all enormously relieved that the world economy, chiefly driven by China, kept on growing, albeit it at a smaller pace. Now China must hope that the West’s efforts to restore order in its own financial house will be completed in time to alleviate its own coming time of distress. One pundit opined the Chinese are where we were in 2005-6, so there’s not much time. However, we must never forget that China remains a totalitarian state.
In seeking to restore its finances it has none of the experience and sophisticated tools at its disposal which Wall Street and the City have. If things go wrong, it is liable to lash out in frustration and seek a foreign adventure to rally the people and take their minds off their troubles at home. Galtieri did it over the Falkland Islands and China may well do it over those oil rich islands in the South China Sea.
In the ongoing debate about the UK riots it is important to explore further its causes as well as possible remedies. A great mystery for many is why by no means all of the rioters were from deprived, ill-educated backgrounds. What we have to recognise is that below the veneer of civilised life there lurks an anarchic streak which needs only a few factors to coalesce to release mayhem. (St. Petersburg was the most civilised of cities until its people started to eat one another under the pressures of the German seige.)
One of the factors, I suggest, which let the anarchic genie out of the bottle was the images of the early rioters getting away with stealing much sought after goods with impunity, with the police seeming to be impassive bystanders. The many rioters not normally associated with the lawless underclass saw their acquisitive instincts rise to the fore; they felt powerfully envious and jealous that others were acquiring the things which they themselves valued highly and were doing so unimpeded and without risk, so it seemed, of consequences. Ours, as we are all very well aware, is an extremely acquisitive and materialistic society and the temptation was very great. And so adding to all the other tragedies of the last few days is that of bright young people throwing their futures away. For obvious reasons, and to maintain that veneer of civilised conduct, we must come down hard on rioting. There was a time when rampaging, destructive rioters were shot on sight. As for arson, the law has always bracketed it very close with murder because in so many cases it ended up with just that. Of course those days have gone, although the arson view remains.
Many have drawn a parallel with the blatant and offensive greed we see at the top of society. They are not unconnected, though they are not the same: these people have said that a climate right across society of the devil take the hindmost and every man for himself has had a corrosive effect and they are right; they have further pointed out that the sums involved in what might be called Grand Larceny by the upper classes make their hapless imitators in the lower orders look like pathetic amateurs; perhaps more disgracefully, the big practitioners have used their superior wits and education to mask the wickedness of what they are doing. For the fact is they do know what they have been doing and are still doing. But they have been rumbled (highlighting the need for a free and untramelled press). There is, as a result, a very great anger out there among the public.
Not one of the agencies which shape our lives sets an example of probity, save perhaps the military: not the town halls with their obscene rewards for second rate executives; not the parliamentarians who frame our laws; not the police who receive payment for information; not the press with its eagerness to get an expose; not our financial institutions; nor even the House of Lords who are meant to be above it all, packed full as it meant to be with people we are asked to admire as a result of their lives of supposed selfless service in whatever field they have specialised in. But what of the professions? Have they performed better? Don’t believe it! We have doctors conning a witless government into paying them 30% more for less cover and work. We have ambulance chasing lawyers rubbing their hands with glee as they pursue what should be hopeless Human Rights cases at huge expense to the taxpayer (step forward Cherie Blair). And we have accountants stretching the law to breaking point as they seek ever more ingenious dodges and tax havens for their rich clients. Why do people in corporations such as Sir Philip Green along with the likes of philanderers and ex-drug users such as Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney as well as clean (as far as we know) Cliff Richard and actors such as Sean Connery and Roger Moore, all of whom along with Rod Stewart short-change their country’s treasury get honoured? They are not patriots, they are cheating scoundrels. Sanctimonious Bono’s U2 cheats even poor benighted Ireland of its desperately needed dues. All of these people and bodies have been found wanting and intent only on feathering their own nasty little nests at the public expense.
Corruption, fraud, dissembling all are alive and well in the British state. Oh, for that magnificent body that we once created in distant India – the ICS (Indian Civil Service) – which in over a hundred years of dedicated and selfless service never found one of its servants corrupt. They were chosen after perhaps the stiffest examination ever known to man (the Mandarin exam being a possible exception) and they were expected to be fluent in the language of the area they were seconded to. Setting example, leading from the front, taking the rap that is what all of us look to in our leaders. When did the last politician (David Davis excepted) resign his post on a point of principal or even when a monumental cock-up has been made in their department? Yet funnily enough, Enoch Powell was one of those to do so. Indeed, the last one that I can think of was Lord Carrington over the Falklands and that was nearly thirty years ago. Even lying to Parliament seems not a resigning matter any more. And we have a Speaker who appears little better than a clown (the previous one was no better, being both ignorant and corrupt). What a distance we have fallen. Where oh where, by the way, was the Archbishop of Canterbury in the terrible events of last week? A few words concerning Christian values would surely have not gone amiss.
Not until we show that we will not tolerate reprehensible conduct can we, with justice, expect what used to be called ‘the lower orders’ to respect the law. But meantime we must hold the line on the streets. Let the work begin. Perhaps we can now see a little of that ‘Big Society’ that David Cameron is so keen on. They were there with their clean up operation the morning after the riot.