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Thursday, 30 July 2015

Looking Back on the Lord Sewel Affair 2015.

There is so much News, we process it very fast, and we Move On. We never sleep on the News, as if it was a tricky problem we have to deal with but only after some reflection.

But if you do sometimes slow down, turn the News this way and that - a bit like a lawyer thinking how to present a case – the world sometime settles into a different pattern to that imposed on it by instant judgement.

Imagine you are the head of some large organisation. You pick up a copy of today’s newspaper and there is a photograph of a colleague – in fact, a senior colleague – snorting cocaine (or, at least, what he hopes is cocaine) through a rolled up banknote. How do you react? And what is the first thing you think to do?

I won’t prompt you with a list; just think about it.

Trying to answer my own question, the first thought which occurred to me was, Call him in to see me. And take it from there.

When Baroness d’Souza, Leader of the House of Lords, saw a photograph of her deputy, Lord Sewel, making unorthodox use of a banknote, her first reaction was to report him to the Metropolitan Police for a suspected criminal offence, possession of a Class A drug.

In France, they would call this a dénonciation and the French have always done a lot of denouncing.

The same is true at the Palace of Westminster. They are always on the phone to the Metropolitan Police. Go back to the 1960s and you can find the Home Secretary, Henry Brooke, calling the Met. and asking them to find some crime (any crime) that can be pinned on Dr Stephen Ward, a chap who was causing the Establishment a lot of trouble at the time. The Met. took up the challenge enthusiastically and eventually got a suicide as a solution to the problem. Nowadays, it may not be so straightforward - though I fear I am being over-optimistic.

London is the cocaine capital of Europe. Research organisations regularly test wastewater in dozens of European cities for cocaine residues which have been pissed out and in 2014 London was top (out of 42 cities). Unfortunately, researchers can’t tell us what contribution the sewers around Westminster make to the total score. You can double-check the wastewater results by swabbing banknotes – yes, all Londoners are carrying coked-up banknotes.

As a result, the Metropolitan Police would be overwhelmed if everyone who thought their neighbour was snorting behind the curtains phoned in to tell them. In fact, I guess it would come very close to wasting police time. I’m pretty sure the police do not want to know.

But when someone at the Palace of Westminster phones up, you have to want to know and the police duly raided Lord Sewel’s flat - with a battering ram, according to newspaper reports, and if so just to prove themselves willing to go the extra boot for the Baroness.

I churn it around and I find myself asking, What crime did not get investigated as a result of this police hyperactivity? * See footnote

I have never taken cocaine, not even to see what it must have felt like to those many Westminster politicians who “experimented” to see what it felt like to some previous “experimenter” and so on back through the centuries via British Prime Ministers and American Presidents. And of course, writers and artists galore.

But I have read that cocaine makes those men prone to loud opinions and general boorishness even more intolerable and watching the video of Lord Sewel I think I understand what was meant. He may have spoken many a true word but the tone is obnoxious.

I really don’t mind if people snort cocaine as long as they don’t do it just before they wave  me into their dentist’s chair or invest my savings or are about to decide whether to bomb a far away country.

Coke or no coke, it seems Lord Sewel was doing a good job running the semi-criminal organisation known as the House of Lords which is undoubtedly full of rogues and bastards (as he put it), albeit with an average age of 71. (Lord Sewel is 69). 

He was very near the top and he had introduced “reforms”. I doubt he would have done a better job if his tastes had inclined him to fox hunting rather than foxy ladies, though he might have had more friends to defend him when The Sun on Sunday attacked.

The foxy ladies brought out the Tricoteuses in the House of Lords who thought the whole thing was more about sex than drugs. But is it or should it be?

In my life time, politicians and police have moved away from the idea that they should take an interest in what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms. It was always a prurient interest and interventions were always tasteless. I recall taking part in a debate alongside the late Reverend Dr Ian Paisley. That was back in 1967. I was intrigued to hear him thunder against the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception. He treated it as (prurient) interference with what happened in the marital bed.

But the backing off has actually turned rather selective. There is considerable reticence around what gay men get up to in the privacy of their bedrooms (or dungeons), though some of it is terrifically baroque. I am not sure that The Sun on Sunday would have splashed its video if Lord S. had been engaged in a gay orgy. Such an action would have been condemned as homophobic.

There is much less reticence about what heterosexual people (aka, men) get up to, and it can be openly spoken about and condemned without risk. Normative standards for acceptable heterosexual activity have been very much in evidence the past week; things have not changed much since I was listening to Ian Paisley.

I could go on churning this around. Unfortunately, there is no need to. Lord Sewel has gone to the guillotine, voluntarily, and the House of Lords can go back to corrupt business as usual.

Added 21 August: I read in today's newspapers that the Metropolitan Police's clear up rate (solved cases) for burglaries now stands at a historic low of 6%

Added 22 September 2015: The Metropolitan Police has announced that it has dropped the enquiry into Lord Sewel's alleged drug taking due to "insufficient evidence". The truth is they never wanted the "case" in the first place and only put on a show to oblige Baroness d'Souza and the Press. 

Added 29 March 2016: I forgot to add that in December 2015 Baroness d'Souza was herself in trouble for some fairly exotic Expenses claims. She likes to keep a car parked outside whatever she is doing inside and this can and does run into three figures each time.

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