Labour’s Vaz Suspended from Commons over ‘Coke and Rent Boys’ Scandal

Keith Vaz, Labour MP listens to speeches on the third day of the Labour party conference in Liverpool, north west England on September 25, 2018. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

MPs have approved the recommendation from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to suspend Labour’s Keith Vaz from the House of Commons following an inquiry into his “coke and rent boys” scandal.

The left-wing Sunday Mirror exposed in 2016 that married Vaz had exploited male migrant prostitutes and that he had “jokingly” describing himself as a “pimp” in an audio recording.

At the time the scandal broke, the Labour MP, previously Minister for Europe in Tony Blair’s government, was a member of Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee and leading an investigation into illegal drugs.

He stepped down from the Home Affairs committee once his interactions with the prostitutes, which included references to abusing cocaine and “poppers”, were made public. But he was, within a matter of weeks, elected to the Justice Committee in a move Tory parliamentarian Andrew Bridgen branded at the time as an “utter disgrace”.

A previous Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards investigation into Vaz was suspended after claims he was “too ill” to face it. However, he continued to serve as an MP. He also made several international visits to countries including India and Saudi Arabia, leading to widespread allegations of a cover-up.

Mr Bridgen observed at the time that Vaz was “the most healthy-looking ‘ill’ person I’ve ever seen” and pointed out: “At the end of the day, if he’s unfit to be held to the standards of an MP then he’s not fit to be an MP.”

The Standards investigation was finally resumed in mid-2018, thanks in no small part to Bridgen’s efforts to keep the scandal in the public eye by raising it with then-Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow — a close personal friend of Vaz.

The resulting report finally concluded with a recommendation that Vaz be suspended from the House of Commons for six months for his “apparent willingness to purchase controlled drugs for others to use”, “disregard for the law”, and “conduct… disrespectful of the House’s system of standards”. MPs voted in favour of the suspension on October 31st.

Then-Speaker Bercow, on his final day in the chair, clashed with Andrew Bridgen over the report ahead of the vote in favour of Vaz’s suspension. Bercow berated the Tory MP for being “nasty” and making “ad hominem” attacks on the Labour MP and furiously denied allegations that he was “defending the indefensible” with respect to his friend’s conduct to the “fag end” (the ‘very end’) of his speakership.

Despite Bercow’s defensive claims that he did not provide any cover for Vaz and behaved entirely properly throughout the years-long debacle, he has previously been accused of using his powers to protect his friend. The accusation came from no less than the publicly-funded British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) — widely regarded as a left-leaning institution and, as a rule, far from hostile to establishment Europhiles like Bercow and Vaz.

In an article titled ‘How John Bercow keeps Keith Vaz’s secrets’, then-BBC policy editor Chris Cook described Bercow’s dubious invocation of 17th-century rights of “parliamentary privilege” to block the release of documents pertaining to allegations that Vaz was bullying clerks on taxpayer-funded committee trips.

Bercow — who has faced bullying allegations throughout his tenure but escaped any real sanction due to what officials have described as an “establishment stitch-up” — had “personally intervened and gone out of his way to bar [BBC] Newsnight from asking the Information Commissioner or a judge” to release the Vaz documents under the Freedom of Information Act, according to Cook.

“The net result is that the Speaker, who denies bullying, has made an order to hide information about the behaviour of his close personal friend, Keith Vaz, a man who also denies bullying – supposedly to protect MPs’ freedom of speech,” Cook explained.

“[Bercow] then [went] out of his way to use a personal veto to make sure no-one could even consider reviewing that questionable decision.

“You can understand why staff are so suspicious about whether MPs will ever let themselves be judged by outsiders when it comes to bullying and harassment.”

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