When you look through still CCTV footage of a candidate for parliament, to see if he is inappropriately touching a stripper while he is on his stag night, we can safely say that the sausage roll voter “bribery” case, Ed Miliband’s dating chit chat on economics, and political slogans on mugs have been eclipsed in the election campaign. We now have close to a sex scandal. The Liberal Democrats. What were the chances?
That this involves Maajid Nawaz has taken me by surprise. The revelations about his behaviour were made in The Daily Mail.
Nawaz has openly said he is a “non devout Muslim” and on Newsnight he made very clear that there are no spokespeople for the muslim community, rather many voices looking to be heard. The problem is how devout a feminist when your spokesperson is reported as saying Nawaz’s “reputation for advocating women’s rights was ‘in the context of Islamic extremism’.” Feminism only an issue when Islam is involved?  That really needs clarifying. Seeing strippers during Ramadan, or drinking booze? Between Nawaz and his God.
The stag do was last June; of course this story has waited till now for maximum impact during the General Election. For cynicism that this is a smear hatchet job, there are legitimate concerns. The allegation that Maajid Nawaz was physically and verbally harassing a stripper for her phone number while bragging about himself falls well short of conduct befitting a member of parliament. Or not being a sleazeball while your fiancee waits at home for your return. Nawaz is mentioned in the article as denying touching inappropriately or ever being warned repeatedly about his behaviour.
Who on earth cannot work out the political ramifications of a lap dance while standing as an MP (never mind the logistics of a lap dance while standing)? It suggests at a personal level a reckless abandon. Many hours and money have gone into supporting his candidacy in a very close three horse marginal seat. Usually, you do not risk undermining those efforts if you feel a responsibility to your supporters.
Stag nights and strip clubs are very much connected. In a piece this month, novelist Nicki Salcedo wrote about the shock of two men when she interjected their conversation to give directions one of them needed to a strip club. Writing about her previous experiences at a strip club, and attending a bachelorette party with stripping men, she concludes:
That burly guy was embarrassed to get directions to the strip club from a soccer mom. That’s the real shame. If you are going to go to the strip club, go. Go proud. The fact that he was embarrassed suggests that even he thinks it’s a bit wrong. Those are his issues, not mine.
I don’t worry about it. What a strange funny world. I know how to get to the strip club and other places, too. On a good day, I can give you directions to anywhere you want to go.
Maybe as a feminist in the context of Islamic extremism, Maajid Nawaz saw no political issues going to a strip club then asking female voters for their support. Perhaps, far from thinking that he was above such potential political controversy, he thought he could have a stag do as any law abiding citizen may. Maybe we should live in a world where what adults choose to do together really is none of our business. Such is the dilemma for political and private life.
The electorate of Hampstead and Kilburn will have less than four weeks in which to see how this story evolves and how to use in making a judgment when voting. In a constituency where in 2010 the Liberal Democrats came third, 841 votes behind elected Glenda Jackson MP for Labour. 841 votes.
That is why going to the stripclub was not a good idea if he intended to win the seat. That no one thought – you know if the Daily Mail gets hold of this your campaign will be sunk – suggests either foolish thinking, lack of judgment or irresponsibility to those campaigning for you.
The bottom line is the allegation of harassing women. The Liberal Democrats have not inspired much confidence in this area when investigating. I sense panic at party HQ that a seat they hoped might be in play may well have been lost at the upcoming poll, and how this may play out nationally.
As we await further announcements, I hope the accusations made by the manager and owner of the strip club turn out to be tabloid sensationalism. Even so, I fear that may not undo the damage to the campaign.
Update Sunday 12 April:
 Even though my “how devout a feminist” refers to the spokespersons comments about women’s rights in the context of Islamic extremism – what about beyond that context (Daily Mail I suspect rather than spokesperson to blame but needs clarifying I feel), people are interpreting as me saying you cannot be a devout feminist going to a strip club. Which is not what I am saying here.
On twitter I have been aghast by comments to me that strippers need to expect groping, that harassing someone for their number is hardly a serious matter, that as part of their sexual allure this is natural. No it is never ok to harass or grope or assault a women whatever her job, whatever she is wearing.
Belittling a woman because she is a stripper does not help Maajid Nawaz. Rather, you are not standing up for women’s rights. As to feminism and stripping, where adults are consenting regarding a sensual or sexual activity freedom exists. Where coercion, pressure or force is applied in no sense can consent exist. A debate about whether patriarchal cultural attitudes deny that freedom is something I invite others to research and think about.
Since I published my article an edited CCTV time lapsed video has gone on youtube. Regardless of whether you believe it shows harassment, someone just having a lap dance, or is inconclusive, I do not see how Maajid Nawaz politically comes back from the public humiliation. “They’ve got art” as the saying goes, and by saying his behaviour was out of order allowed such images to appear in the public domain. In short, it seems an attempt to show up someone publicly who, perhaps naively, felt their privacy was protected by having a private lap dance.
The accusation of harassment may or may not be true. We can cast dispersions as to motive, though suggesting a strip club owner and manager must be automatically untrustworthy seems ad hominem. Rather, they do appear an unlikely duo to stand up for religious probity. However, the manager claims to have witnessed unacceptable behaviour which he felt went against the public persona (as he saw it) presented by Maajid Nawaz.
Whatever Nawaz’s behaviour was, at no point was he thrown out or the police called. So the accusations do come across as a smear campaign timed for the General Election. What we know for certain is that Maajid Nawaz went to a strip club while a parliamentary candidate. With the kind of opponents he has, this becoming public knowledge should have been seen as very likely.
Public humiliation though is not what anyone deserves for being a parliamentary candidate, even if you do something politically stupid as going to a strip club.
Maajid Nawaz has said on twitter today “Yesterday the Daily Mail article hatchet-jobbed me”, and has promised a statement “soon.” I will link to that in a new blog post when it hits the internet. To be honest we needed the statement Saturday considering Friday night the story broke.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog