Oi, Lib Dems! Let’s quit the moralising over Lord Sewel

by Stephen Tall on July 28, 2015

A couple of weeks’ ago, when Channel 4 News was trying to goad Tim Farron to start defining what constitutes sin, Lib Dems sympathetic to our new leader (like me) were quick to draw the divide between private views and public actions. It didn’t matter what Tim’s own attitude to gay sex might be, so long as he continues to stick by the liberal view that the state doesn’t seek to legislate against what consenting adults choose to do behind closed doors.

And then Lord Sewel (or ‘Lord Coke’ to give him his Sun soubriquet) hit the headlines. Here was a peer caught bang to rights in a classic tabloid expose, paying prostitutes for sex, snorting cocaine, wearing a bra. It’s the sort of behaviour which, as Alan Clark might have observed, merits a horse-whipping from his wife and family. Cue Lib Dem outrage. Tim Farron fulminated:

“Lord Sewel’s resignation is welcome, albeit 24 hours too late. But this is not just about one bad apple, it’s about a system which is rotten to the core and allows unelected, unaccountable people to think they are above the law.”

Now it’s true that some of what Lord Sewel appears to have indulged in behind closed doors is illegal — although I hope a liberal government would decriminalise such activities. (To be clear, bra-wearing is as far as I know already allowed; it’s by no means the most far-fetched regalia required of a male peer of the realm.) But it’s his private affair, quite literally.

Yet my party, which admittedly may feel it has to shout loudly to get any kind of hearing right now, has made the conscious decision to publicly moralise. Sometimes we fully deserve the holier-than-thou accusations that get flung at us by other parties. And while I’m all for the abolition of the House of Lords and an elected second chamber, the idea that no elected politician will ever turn out to be a “bad apple” has been amply disproven.

There is much talk in Lib Dem circles at the moment about the need for the party to grow its core vote. I find it hard to believe we should start with those voters salivating over Lord Sewel’s personal humiliation. As Alex Wilcock wrote way back in 2006:

I have a radical suggestion. Rather than damning with faint neutrality, when any sex “scandal” comes along – provided it’s not a rape or underage, or otherwise a clear offence without consent – Lib Dems should queue up to say, ‘So what? They were adults, they knew what they were doing, and it’s none of your business. Good luck to them,’ and never say anything that can sound like a word of canting criticism. For a Liberal party, we may not attack people for having sex but we make ever such codedly disapproving noises.

It’s not just about self-protection, though goodness knows we could have done with a bit of that earlier in the year, but improving the political and social culture. Constantly humiliating people for deciding to have sex just does nobody any good. What’s the point? So we might upset a few curtain-twitchers. Well, they’re unlikely to vote for us anyway.

What’s happening now is nothing to do with public interest. It’s more the ‘Mum’ test; it’s taken as read that it’s a scandal if a paper publishes something you wouldn’t want your Mum to read about / look at. Well, big deal. …

I’m (probably) not going to suggest we adopt as our formal slogan, ‘Liberal Democrats: the party that says sex is all right’. Still, we’ve had worse, and – if slightly tongue-in-cheek – I’ve yet to hear a better suggestion for one likely to make people sit up, take notice and think, ‘Oh, that’s what the Lib Dems are for, and I like it.’

We don’t have to approve of Lord Sewel’s extra-curricularism. But we can make a point of saying, “Move along, folks, nothing to see here.” You never know, we might gain some respect from those members of the public who want more than just cheap oppositional hits and who, though they may enjoy a chuckle at Lord Sewel’s expense, reckon it’s bad form to exploit his humiliation for political gain.

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5 comments

Presumably, cock-eyed Stephen Tall reckons the Liberal Democrats should rejoice in bestiality sex? Hmn, there ARE limits!

by David Charles on July 29, 2015 at 9:26 pm. Reply #

You think bestiality is conducted between consenting adults, do you?

by Stephen Tall on July 30, 2015 at 8:37 am. Reply #

[…] 8. Oi, Lib Dems, let’s quit the moralising over Lord Sewel by Stephen Tall on Stephen Tall. Stephen says it’s bad from to make political capital about a private matter. […]

by Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen #425 on August 2, 2015 at 7:00 pm. Reply #

[…] Tall argues that the whole thing is a private matter — Sewel deserves “horse-whipping from his wife and family,” but that’s it. The illegal aspects should be decriminalized anyway, and it’s none of our business what kind of sex “consenting adults” engage in. […]

by The Lord Sewel ‘scandal’ should be about misogyny, not drugs » Feminist Current on August 5, 2015 at 1:47 am. Reply #

[…] Tall argues that the whole thing is a private matter — Sewel deserves “horse-whipping from his wife and family,” but that’s it. The illegal aspects should be decriminalized anyway, and it’s none of our business what kind of sex “consenting adults” engage in. […]

by The Lord Sewel ‘scandal’ should be about misogyny, not drugs | Feminist Current on September 17, 2015 at 8:50 am. Reply #

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