It’s time to get on the scandal bus. Lord Sewel has been photographed taking cocaine with prostitutes. He’s dressed up in a leather jacket with a bra, in a manner which suggests he is relaxed about having a good time. He sits about chatting politics with women of the night. Let’s all have a laugh. We can all gather round with the reliable English mixture of protestant moralising and lewd childish jeering and have a good old time at his expense.
It’s time to dust off the weird, faded lexicon of the sexual scandal. Lord Sewel gets the “disgraced” moniker – a phrase which implies, but has no actual connection to, legal judgement. It is the tabloid editors who decide when someone is disgraced, although they obviously never choose to apply it to themselves. He has apparently been “cavorting” with prostitutes in a drug-fuelled “romp”. No-one ever seems quite sure what a romp entails. Does a kiss entail a romp, or does it need to be full-on sex? It is like a perfectly-preserved bit of 1980s rubbish, dusted off periodically for a period in which it is completely out of place.
The prostitutes in these stories – who are often part of the sting – are usually the subject of sneering coverage as well. Hacks laugh at how the peer didn’t realise he was getting stung when they wanted to talk politics. Because, you know, prostitutes’ tiny little heads would hurt from all the big adult male stuff.
Even when part of the sting, prostitutes are often subject to the same threats as the subject of the story. The Leveson inquiry was told that after the Max Mosely sting, a News of the World reporter threatened one of the prostitutes that the newspaper would run photos of her and reveal her identity if she didn’t back its Nazi claims. We act like we only judge the powerful man, but it’s not true. Once the moral winds blow, they chill the powerful and the powerless alike.