Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sex Scandals: what do they mean?

Sometimes I miss the Tory years. After all these were the days of proper sex scandals - not the "I'm getting a divorce" sort, but the "boy scouts in the wardrobe" kind. So when this story in today's News of World was brought to my attention I had a flashback to the good old days of the back to basics mob redefining what it meant to be part of the "hang and flog 'em brigade".

Johnny Vegas look-a-like and socialist Alan Boyce (pictured, sorry) has the privilege of following in his dear leader's footsteps and has become embroiled in tabloid headlines about his sex life. In this case, unlike Sheridan's, Boyce does not deny the charges that he visited an Eastern European brothel which specialises in broadcasting the client's sessions with prostitutes.

He's quoted as saying "I don't deny it. I did go to BigSister and there is a video of me on the Internet. It was my first week here — I was drunk. I was single then. I'm worried how my girlfriend will take this."

I particularly like the way he brings in the fact that it was his first week in the country. What's he trying to say - visiting prostitutes in Prague is somehow different that visiting them in the UK? He was trying to get to know local customs? I mean, what? Sadly I suspect he's just not very bright and, sucked into the machismo culture of Solidarity, does not connect the consequences of poverty with the rhetoric he was coming out with at the last election.

It's difficult to disagree with the News of the World's conclusion that "today Boyce is exposed as a squirming hypocrite who satisfies his depraved desires in the sex-slave capital of Europe... at one point even sucking on her ARMPIT." Although I'd have preferred them not to mention him "squirming" and I do have to question whether armpits are disgusting. They can be rather nice.

The motivation for the News of the World in printing this story is not about maintaining a strict socialist purity on the left but the large amount of money that was awarded to Tommy Sheridan in last year's court case, money they would rather not pay out. Anything they can do to associate Solidarity with acts of sexual exploitation may help bend things their way.

What the story does raise though, no matter what the motivation of the NotW, is the relationship between personal behaviour and political position. I've never been one for a high moral code that insists on 100% pure behaviour, I think that would be unrealistic, nosey and part of a Calvinist tradition that is frankly alien to me. However, I do think that if you are going to make something part of your political platform you need to follow that up in your personal life as best you can.

I live a far more environmentally friendly life now than I did ten years ago, but hand on heart I'm sure there are lots more things I can do - becoming vegan for instance - which I'm going to have to work up the courage for. I want to see people do their best, but I'm not going to wear a frown every time I see someone doing something that falls short of the ideal. However, it's one thing being relaxed about someone using their car when they could walk, it's quite another when our behaviour flies in the face of our professed principles.

Why were the Tory sex scandals news? Because they'd styled themselves as Victorian style guardians of the nations morals. Why was Jack Straw's son getting done for drug dealing news? Because Straw had insisted that parents should be held responsible for the behaviour of their children *in court*. It was the political platform that made it news, not the behaviour alone.

I think socialists should argue for the need to decriminalise the sex industry but that does not mean we should start wearing "Hurray for porn" badges or putting up "support your local brothel" posters. You can't oppose poverty and sexual inequality on paper *and* visit prostitutes. I'm sorry but you can't.

Hat tip: Cat

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