Monday, 27 July 2015

Moral panic

The media have ruthlessly ganged up on the hapless Lord Sewel for snorting coke and using prostitutes*, as if this is the most outrageous behaviour ever and he should obviously be hung, drawn and quartered and buried in an unmarked grave.

The stink of hypocrisy hangs over this weird vendetta. Since plenty of his fellow peers and MPs must have taken illegal drugs of some kind, or cheated on their womenfolk by visiting prostitutes or having affairs (or both), the singling out of one politician unlucky enough to be spied upon by the Sun surely deserves sympathy rather than vilification.

What's really outrageous is a newspaper secretly filming Lord Sewel in his own flat, doing things he assumed were entirely private, and then publishing what they had filmed with the quite deliberate and cynical aim of wrecking his political career.

What's equally outrageous is that his colleagues, rather than commiserating with him, condemning the sleazy tactics of journalists, and pointing out that what he does in his own flat is his own business and nobody else's, have castigated him for his "shocking", "unacceptable" and "disgraceful" behaviour and agreed with the media that his political career is over.

Why taking coke and using prostitutes (in his own home) should make him no longer fit to do his public job of overseeing the work of House of Lords committees is anyone's guess. As far as I know, nobody has ever suggested he's falling down on the job or was too strung out to grasp a piece of legislation.

The simple fact is that if the Sun hadn't intruded on his private life, he would still be happily doing the job he was asked to do, and his political competence would never have been questioned.

Don't get me wrong. I have no time for men who use prostitutes. It's an activity that does huge psychological and emotional damage to the women who're lured into it, and the pathetic creeps who keep it going should know better.

And goodness knows what his wife Jennifer makes of it all.

But the media have no right to splash Lord Sewel's private activities across front pages unless they're of genuine public concern - which in this case they blatantly aren't. It's a classic knee-jerk moral panic over something quite piffling.

* allegedly


  1. Well, I have to disagree with you on this. My opinion is that people who are in positions of authority should not be breaking laws. Period. The 'everybody's doing it' mentality reminds me of what children say when they get caught.

    Paparazzi filming someone in their home is, of course, ridiculous.

    I'm writing all this under the assumption that cocaine possession and prostitution are illegal there?

  2. Bijoux: Possession of cocaine is illegal, also allowing the supply of cocaine in premises you occupy. Prostitution isn't illegal, only related activities like kerb crawling. Paying for sex is illegal in Northern Ireland but not in England.

    I'm not saying that "everybody's doing it" makes it right, only that he's being unfairly persecuted for activities that are rife among politicians. And as I say, nobody would even know about it if it wasn't for the Sun's secret snooping.

  3. Why are you too (!) giving this air space, Nick?


  4. Bijoux: Many MPs and peers break laws but still continue in official positions. Like Ed Balls, who has committed several motoring offences; Harriet Harman, who was caught speeding; Sir Tony Baldry, who drove into several cars; and Zac Goldsmith, who was banned from driving after several speeding offences. Personally I would say that motoring offences are more serious than possessing cocaine.

  5. The other politicians aren't really outraged - they're just relieved it's not their turn to be found out this time.
    Anyway, we know they're all liars and crooks and not to be trusted so frankly none of this comes as a surprise.
    It's a bit like being shocked that a popular rock band has trashed their hotel room, vomited copiously in the pool, and shagged the manager's wife on the bar.
    It's a given, and I'm not impressed. Just a teensy bit jealous perhaps...

  6. Personally I'm in favour of the Nordic model: prosecute the johns and end trafficking in the flesh of women and children.

    That out of the way, didn't it cross your mind that this was a set-up? Thee "exposures" almost always are, he has trod on too many toes and they're hanging him out to dry.

    Also I wouldn't want a cocaine user as an elected official/minister in my government.

    And yeah, I know, there probably are addicts crawling all over parliament and purchasers of rape.


  7. Who did he upset in the Murdoch set up?

  8. Apparently the problem is he did too much moralizing. Not a good idea. The same with Bill Cosby here in the states. If he had just been an entertainer people would have said, "Why would you expect anything different?" But he had such a clean image and went around preaching.

  9. Dave: It certainly doesn't come as a surprise, which is why I'm baffled it's being treated as some sort of international scandal. The analogy with a rock band is a good one. Cocaine, prostitutes, expenses fiddling etc - doesn't it all come with the territory?

  10. www: Prosecuting the punters is now the law in Northern Ireland, though I've yet to see any prosecutions. You could be right that he's trodden on someone's toes somewhere and they're getting their own back.

    Rumour has it that certain cabinet ministers take coke regularly, but who knows?

  11. Helen: Good question. You do have to ask why he in particular was targeted and not all the other misbehaving politicians.

    Jean: I don't think he did any moralising as such, though he was Chairman of the Lords Conduct and Privileges Committee, which upholds standards of conduct among peers. Oops!

    Yes, those politicians and preachers who cultivate a clean-cut, holier-than-thou image regularly turn out to be just as scurrilous as anybody else.

  12. Lord Sewel has now resigned from the House of Lords "to restore public confidence in the Lords." But since the damage (if any) has already been done, in reality he's just avoiding the endless embarrassment of getting up to speak and everyone imagining him snorting coke from a hooker's bra.

  13. i don't know why... but one of my favorite movies came to mind when reading this post!
    have you seen 'the birdcage' with robin williams and nathan what's his name? and gene hackman plays the uptight holier than thou politician in it! it's tears streaming down your face hilarious!

    why ANYONE would want to hold public office or be a celebrity today i do not know.
    not even the point that they'd be doing anything they shouldn't...
    there is simply no privacy in their lives at all. that's sad to me.

    though one would hope that the supposed 'leaders' of our lands were honorable people... the truth is... they're all mostly little high school boys until caught! can you tell i do not hold politicians in high regard?

  14. Tammy: I've never seen The Bird Cage - I must check it out.

    I do agree about not wanting to be a public figure or celeb. You're in a goldfish bowl the whole time. Like you, I value my privacy, and privacy must be almost impossible with the hacks and paparazzi stalking you day and night.

    A lot of people absolutely loathe politicians, but I wouldn't be quite so harsh. They're human beings like the rest of us and expecting them to behave perfectly at all times is unrealistic. And they're willing to do the horrendous job of trying to run the country efficiently, while people like me just stand on the sidelines and criticise.

  15. well... it's true. it is easy to be critical.
    but yours may be different from ours.
    we have just endured the single worst congressional bunch on the planet. they squabble continuously and get next to NOTHING done.
    it's really become unbelievable. and for it all they get ridiculously high salaries!
    and YES! you must see the bird cage nick. you will absolutely love it!

  16. I can't muster up any sympathy for the guy. I'm with WWW on this one - "prosecute the johns and end trafficking in the flesh of women and children." Amen to that.

    And I also second Tammy's movie recommendation. I loved the Birdcage.

  17. Tammy: The political situation in America sounds horrifying. All those die-hard Republicans steadfastly refusing to implement anything progressive like tighter gun laws or a free (tax-based) health service or easier abortions.

    But as for squabbling and getting nothing done - that describes the devolved administration in Stormont perfectly. They're incapable of making decisions on any major issue and just throw insults at each other. It's gridlock.

  18. Agent: Amen to that as well. I'd love to see prostitution totally abolished and a historical relic. But in the meantime, I still think the way the Sun got their photos by invading his privacy, and the certainty that other MPs and peers have indulged in similar activities, makes him a quite unjustified scapegoat.

  19. Nick, your reply to Secret Agent in which you say you'd "love to see prostitution totally abolished". Be careful what you wish for. Both on behalf of the user and the provider.


  20. Ursula: What's the problem? The prostitutes would find their way into better and healthier jobs and the punters would have to find other, less misogynistic ways of satisfying their sexual urges. It's a win-win situation.

  21. Sorry, Nick, your desired scenario is a lose-lose situation. In more ways than one.

    No 1: What on earth makes you think men using prostitutes are misogynists?

    Secondly: Prostitution like any other ware in the world is a question of supply and demand. And where there is a demand there will be a supply.

    You say that "prostitutes would find their way into better and healthier jobs". Better jobs? REALLY? Better in what way? Sure, it's easier to say "my mum earns minimum wage stacking shelves at Tesco" than "my mum fucks to the tune of £200 a shot for thirty minutes leaving her with plenty of time for looking after me".

    Needs must, Nick. And how do those 'punters' you mention "find other ways of satisfying their sexual urges"? How? Name me one way without mentioning masturbation. Masturbation a lonely pursuit. Emphasis on 'lonely'. You are treading dangerous ground. Prostitutes - and don't all women know it - provide a public service. That they should be well paid for it goes without saying. After all: Who wants to suck cock you have no emotional connection with?


    PS May I add that prostitution is not limited to women offering themselves. Another subject which, no doubt, will keep for another day.

  22. I thought that prostitution was the act of performing anything (not just sex) that everyone is capable of for money. Am I wrong? Engaging in promiscuous sexual relations especially for money is not something I am or ever was interested in any more than smoking cigarettes in public or private. To each his own.

    This whole episode reminded me of a conversation my father had with one of my younger brothers about fifty years ago. The young buck called a particulaar female a whore.

    Daddy: Whore? What does that mean?
    Brother: (dropping head), "I don't know.
    Daddy: Can you spell it?
    Br: No.
    Daddy: Where did you hear that word?
    Br: In school.
    Daddy: Well let me tell you that there is only one way you can know for sure if a woman is a whore... by partaking in the activity!

    So which of the stalking paparazzi was turned away from the party and not allowed to partake in the activity????

  23. Ursula: Clearly you believe in the idea that men have insatiable sexual urges that have to be satisfied at all costs, and prostitutes assist in that essential need. A lot of people, including myself, believe that men's sexual urge is no stronger than any other urge, that they can satisfy it (or ignore it) without the need for prostitutes or cheating on other women, and that prostitutes are severely damaged by their use as a sexual receptacle by unloving, anonymous males. I'm surprised that you so passionately defend the men who do so much harm to vulnerable women.

    The idea that most prostitutes are earning fortunes and enjoying plushy, carefree lives is just absurd.

  24. Grannymar: Technically I think you're right. Prostitution can refer to anything and not just sex. I've never indulged in promiscuous sex either, or had any desire to pay for it in some mechanical, loveless transaction.

    The way women are so often called "whores" by contemptuous, misogynistic men disgusts me. Strange, isn't it, that women never refer to men as "rent boys" or "pimps"? They wouldn't descend into the gutter so easily.

    You could be right about the snubbed paparazzo getting his own back!

  25. By the way, Ursula, why is personal sex always seen as "lonely"? Reading a book, listening to a CD, going for a walk, or watching TV, aren't seen as "lonely", so why this strange distinction?

  26. Oh, Nick, don't pull one of my mother's stunts on me. I do NOT believe anything. Urges are facts. Not choice! End of story. There was a theory a long time ago (I hope it's gone away) one I do not necessarily subscribe to that if prostitution weren't in the market place the incident of rape would most certainly increase.

    I am sorry, Nick, but you cannot, through some highly artificial outrage, deny nature.

    Which brings us to the loneliness of the masturbator (you calling it "personal sex" does make me laugh. Is that the opposite of impersonal sex with another person?) Your comparisons don't match: Reading is (by definition unless you read out aloud to someone) solitary, listening to a CD is (unless there is someone else in the room) a solitary occupation, same with TV. Indeed, and mostly, thinking your own thoughts is supremely private and solitary. Humans crave touch. So much so that many are prepared to pay for it. Don't sneer at it.

    Your reply to Grannymar: I dare say that far more women than men refer to prostitutes as 'whores' in a derogatory way though I will not deny that, for many men, there is something in the Madonna/Whore conundrum. As an aside, and you probably won't find this amusing, a friend of mine's surname is Hoare. Yes, really. Snigger. You say women never refer to men as 'pimps' and 'rent boys'. What planet do you actually live on, Nick? Which reminds me: Don't rent boys qualify as prostitutes?

    You romanticize prostitutes. Sure, some are damaged cases indeed. Some make it a life style choice. Let me put it another way. Some, like Grannymar, are thick skinned (not that she is a prostitute) and take life on the chin. Others well ... they'd be well advised to grow a hide. And then there is the exception ... to whom neither applies.

    Let me ask you a question, Nick, do you actually KNOW any prostitutes (male or female) and have truly truly spoken to them or do you zap your knowledge and fake outrage from the gutter press?


  27. Ursula: Blimey, an essay. Comments duly noted and disagreed with.

    Do I actually know any prostitutes? No, but I know some women who do. And they're pretty sickened.

  28. Sorry... what was the question again...?

  29. Ms Scarlet: Oh, er, um, nope, it's no good, I can't remember. Something about an elderly gent with a snorting bent?

  30. Just an added note from a clinician's perspective: The women I've worked with who are in prostitution have all come from childhood sexual abuse histories. They have dismal self-images, are taken advantage of by their pimps and "customers." In addition, many women/children are coerced into prostitution. It's a terrible and unhealthy life. Research on neuroplasticity shows that neural pathways laid down that reinforce the desire for that sort of objectification/non-emotionally intimate sex can be altered if the activity isn't available. So I agree with you (and WWW) that abolishing the sex trade would be the best answer. And if the men who formerly used prostitutes have to masturbate because they are too emotionally unhealthy to get into an actual relationship? Too bad. And if anything, you could as easily argue that rape would decrease in a culture which valued and empowered women. There's no such thing as a legitimate need for prostitution and using prostitutes only reinforces the impulse to abuse women.

  31. Secret Agent Woman, I do follow your blog and often admire the concise wisdom you leave in many a comment box of other bloggers. However, on this subject I cannot agree with you. For once, and it's so unlike you, you simplify.

    Masturbation, for starters, is a poor substitute for "the real thing". See my reference to something as simple as "touch". Something we all crave, not least dogs, cats, the old and untouched (but that's another subject).

    There is no correlation between childhood abuse and a person (man or woman) selling their bodies. Trust me. If I had a Pound Sterling for every time this misconception coming my way I'd be rich.

    You say "abolishing the sex trade would be the best answer". Are you living in the real world? Sex trade will never ever be abolished. Remember it's the oldest profession in the world. For a reason. What we can do and should do is make it SAFE for all those involved instead of outlawing it.

    I know, by dint of being alive and my research, many men who as you say "use" prostitutes. Not one of them "abuses" them. Their pimps (yes, the "protectors") may, but rarely the punter.

    If anything, on the point of "abuse" I'd look behind the closed doors of marriage and conjugal "rights".


  32. Agent: I wholeheartedly agree with all of that. As you say, many women are coerced into prostitution, which is often just an extension of childhood sexual abuse. Yes, so what if men had to masturbate instead of using a prostitute, the poor little chaps. And yes also, using prostitutes simply encourages a negative and exploitative attitude to women.

  33. Ursula, I wish I was wrong about childhood sexual abuse and prostitution. I'm not. Even setting said the women I've worked with in therapy, here is a sample scholarly article on the subject:

  34. Agent: You mean "setting aside"? I note this part of the conclusion: "In our study, sexually abused women and men were more likely to engage in sex work, to change sexual partners frequently, and to engage in sexual activities with casual acquaintances than people who were never sexually abused."

  35. Secret Agent Woman, I read the article you refer to. It seems to focus on HIV. Which is an entirely different subject.

    If you look at that sample's statistics - and lay people often don't appear to understand 'statistics - we are looking (as per your article) at "half of the women", "15 % of the men" (in a study of fewer than 600 people) who took to prostitution (at some point in their lives) who had some experience of sexual abuse in their early years. Fair enough, supporting PART of your argument. But where does that leave the rest of those who use their bodies to make money? Where do they come from? What is their motivation?

    Going slightly off Nick's original subject: I do believe that people of your profession (and in research) go/get off on the wrong tangent. Sure, no doubt about it: If you, as a child, are made to feel shit about your body, made to do things you don't even understand, then what the fuck? Learned behaviour, one might say. But those people are still in the minority of those who take up prostitution (and I am not talking about kids being coerced which is obviously despicable). I am talking about grown wo/men who make that choice. Yes, choice!

    I'll let you (and all of Nick's readers) into a secret: if I didn't find the thought of exchanging bodily fluids with strangers, servicing someone's physical needs without any emotional engagement so absolutely foreign, disgusting, I'd be there like a shot. You know: the high class hooker/escort. For the life of me I cannot do it. And, by god, do I need the money. Maybe, forgive me for being facetious, I should blame my inability on the fact that I wasn't sexually (and otherwise) abused as a child.

    Anyway, the upshot being, and I do talk on behalf of women and men who, for whatever reason, have taken to what can only be described as the worst profession short of cleaning public toilets, that we make it safe, safe, safe, safe. Not condemn it, not outlaw it but make it safe safe safe safe. Not least by making those arseholes, pimps by another name, redundant, unnecessary. Then we'll be getting somewhere. As humans, as society.


  36. I enjoy being in the minority here and will agree with you one hundred percent!

  37. Ursula: I should imagine most prostitutes also find exchanging body fluids with strangers and unemotional "servicing" pretty foreign and disgusting, but they "get used to it" because they need the money. The prostitutes who're quite comfortable about what they're doing must surely be a small minority. But I don't have any research to back that up....

  38. Ramana: Agree about what exactly? The comments have wandered in a number of different directions! I take it you agree that Lord Sewel is being unfairly picked on for what are commonplace activities among politicians.

  39. I have not followed the case tremendously closely but I think there was a lot of hypocrisy from Lord Sewell himself, and perhaps that is one of the reasons why people disliked him. I personally thought he seemed the most repulsive man from the film of him that I saw with the prostitutes, he literally made my flesh creep but I suppose that's not really his fault!

  40. Jenny: I must admit, just looking at him, he looks insufferably smug and arrogant, but I still think he's been treated unfairly. And absolutely pilloried by the holier-than-thou media. It's common knowledge that loads of politicians take illegal drugs and visit prostitutes. He was simply unlucky enough to attract a gutter-press sting.

  41. Yes. Why hound him for something that he did in the privacy of his home when no one was harmed in any way?

  42. Ramana: Exactly my point. I guess it was all a set-up by someone he'd offended.