Toby Neal: Ploughing up a load of trouble over porn

Toby Neal casts his eye on the world of politics.

Neil Parish in the House of Commons
Neil Parish in the House of Commons

This is a new low. On the benches of the House of Commons a farmer MP was spotted looking at explicit pictures of combine harvesters on his mobile phone.

He seems to have realised that somebody was watching because he quickly switched to a porn site, but the damage was already done.

No, seriously, the Neil Parish case is shocking on two counts, firstly for what he was up to, and secondly because mobile phones are allowed in the Commons.

Being an old fashioned sort, I think it is gross bad manners for MPs to be consulting their mobile phones when other MPs are speaking, and perhaps making important points that those in the chamber should be taking notice of.

There was an online petition not that long ago calling for the use of mobile phones to be banned in the Commons, in the same way as their use is banned in many other workplaces, but in the course of six months it gained a paltry 160 signatures.

As for the pornography aspect, he has suffered the worst political fate, which is not resignation, but resignation accompanied by humiliation.

My one and only experience of covering a porn court case was an afternoon sitting of the local magistrates court which turned out to be a confiscation hearing after the police had raided a video shop and seized lots of porn videos.

Before ruling on whether they should be confiscated the magistrates had to decide if the videos were obscene – which meant watching them.

So there we were, a handful of magistrates and court officials, and one member of the press, diligently watching porn videos on a specially set up television in the court.

In such circumstances it is difficult to know what sort of face to put on. A look of shock would have made me look naive, and shamed the hardbitten reputation of the journalistic profession, but there again an insouciant air of having seen all this sort of thing before might not have been a good idea either.

I opted to be expressionless and professional, and busied myself taking notes, which must have looked a bit odd, because as each new development of the writhe stuff transpired on the screen, I would scribble away.

The magistrates decided that the videos were all obscene, only the depraved and debased could be interested in them, and so on. I thought it in the public interest to name the offending titles in my story to warn people to steer clear of such smut.

I later heard, from the police I think, that this had completely the opposite effect, and rather than the offending videos being shunned and avoided, there was a run on them and they all quickly sold out locally.

Meanwhile on to Partygate and Beergate, in which there is a troubling aspect which people have chosen to overlook, that of politicians of both parties seeking to use the police as party political attack arms.

When Donald Trump pressured officials, in Ukraine as it happens, to launch an investigation into his political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter for alleged wrongdoing, it was considered a Trumpian scandal with the whiff of corruption.

But what's the difference between that and the current situation here, where Tory MPs are trying to twist the arm of Durham police to reinvestigate Sir Keir Starmer over that drink of beer, while the Metropolitan police, who were going to do nothing, only started their Partygate investigation after "encouragement" by Labour?

Unlike the Met, who caved in to party political pressure, the Durham plods have taken the entirely reasonable policy decision not to bother looking at potential Covid restriction infringements from yesteryear when their officers have better things to do, like catching murderers, rapists, and burglars.

And as the issue is all tied up with hypocrisy (avoidance of), it might be pointed out that when Sir Keir attacks Boris Johnson in Parliament in tones of suppressed outrage along these lines: “While he was having drinks parties, members of the public were obeying the rules and were denied the opportunity to visit dying loved ones in hospital,” what Sir Keir never adds is “…because of rules I supported, I voted for, and if I had had my way, would have been even more draconian and restrictive.”

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