Friday, 25 July 2008

Max Mosley's Magic Member

Let me make one thing clear. What Max Mosley does with his willy is absolutely none of my business. A newspaper thought it was their business and decided to tell its readers what he did with it. This week a High Court Judge ruled that Mr Mosley's willy is not a matter of legitimate public interest. With any luck the ruling will make editors reflect on what is and what is not other people's business

The newspapers have been exposing matters of the trouser for many years but it is only relatively recently that they have done so in respect of people whose private affairs do not impact on their work or their livelihood. Two categories have been considered fair game for a long time, actors and politicians. Even with these people hypocrisy used to be a necessary precondition to their adventures being exposed to general gaze. That made a lot of sense.

An actor whose public profile and, therefore, earning potential involves a squeaky clean family-man image can hardly complain when the lie is made public. The newspapers serve a legitimate public interest in exposing the man's image as bogus, in this there is no difference between reporting his adultery and reporting the use of illegal drugs. Someone who promotes his career by saying "look at me I'm a really good chap" invites attention to his habits so that the paying audience can decide whether their inclination to see his work and put money in his pocket is affected by the truth coming out.

Very much the same analysis applies to the exposure of philandering politicians although there is sometimes a further factor. In addition to claiming "vote for me, I'm a really nice family man" some of the more stupid politicians have been unwise enough to point at an opponent and say "don't vote for him, he's an adulterer". The bases on which someone could be persuaded not to vote for an adulterer are that he is a hypocrite and that engaging in adultery makes him unfit for political office. The first basis is sound both logically and ethically because it gives rise to legitimate concern about the honesty of the candidate. The second basis is one I have never been able to understand.

Some very able politicians have been serial adulterers and some have been chronic alcoholics; what matters is whether those activities have affected their abilities adversely. Similarly some hopeless politicians, promoted way above their ability, have been teetotal and faithful. Nonetheless, there has been thought to be political mileage in suggesting a connection between bedroom habits and fitness for office. The ludicrous John Prescott was a master of this art, scoffing and flapping his blubbery jowls at the likes of David Mellor and Tim Yeo when the Conservatives were last in power. "Unfit for office" was one of his catch phrases and was the hook on which he hung his garbled calls for resignations.

It goes without saying that a moronic hypocrite like Mr Prescott did not consider his own adultery to undermine his fitness for office. In one respect he was correct because he was never fit for office in the first place but, more importantly, his blatant double-standards made him a laughing stock among the very few who did not already consider him as such. To my mind his affair with his diary secretary was relevant only in that it exposed him as a hypocrite. A useful contrast can be made with the late Alan Clark who had the good sense to promote himself as clever rather than nice and whose exposure as a class-one shit caused hardly a ripple.

With any luck the legacy of Max Mosley's Magic Member will be a realisation that adultery is a private matter unless it involves not just hypocrisy but relevant hypocrisy. Adulterous hypocrisy is relevant only where the adulterer promotes his fidelity in the furtherance of his career. Beyond that there is no public interest in any real sense of the term.

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