Privacy, like power and money, is one of those unevenly distributed commodities. And as with power and money, if you want to lay claim to privacy, having a penis is a great place to start. Even when a man’s personal conduct is in direct conflict with his public duties, he can still try to plead his entitlement to a “private life”. That’s the line Keith Vaz’s defenders have taken since Sunday, when the Sunday Mirror published allegations that the Labour MP for Leicester East paid two men for sex and that he did this while chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which is currently conducting an inquiry into the laws on prostitution. The same day Vaz was exposed, the Sunday Times published a list of “childless politicians” who were, inevitably, women: if you’re female, scrutiny is permissible all the way into your uterus, however little it has to do with your work.
The commons committee that Vaz chaired launched its inquiry into prostitution in January stating in its terms of reference: “In particular, the inquiry assesses whether the balance in the burden of criminality should shift to those who pay for sex rather than those who sell it.” In other words, Vaz was involved in an inquiry to decide whether people who pay for sex should be criminalised. The committee’s interim report, published in June, declared that it was “not yet persuaded” that criminalising punters would be “effective”, despite evidence of the policy’s success in Sweden and Norway.