“When the call was made to my mother she was told by Ms Eggington that she was a police officer and that you had asked her to ring. This occurred on 4th October and she was admitted to hospital shortly after the call… My mother has not returned to her house. Ms Eggington’s action has caused stress to my mother at a time when such stress has direct impact on her health.”
– Complaint to Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards from Keith Vaz MP, 3rd November 2001
Keith Vaz did not enjoy answering questions. The Labour MP for Leicester East had already undergone one investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards into his financial relationships with various businesspeople, which he boasted had resulted in the “complete rejection” of all but one of 18 charges against him. The Commissioner herself, Elizabeth Filkin, took a rather different view, pointing out in her March 2001 report that she had had actually had to abandon her inquiries into no fewer than eight of the accusations because Vaz, at that point a junior minister in Tony Blair’s government, had simply refused to cooperate. “The failure on the part of Mr Vaz to provide full and accurate answers to certain of my questions,” she complained, meant her report was “not as complete… as I would wish it to be.” There were, she pointed out, “outstanding uncertainties” and “remaining gaps in the evidence.”
So when, just weeks later, Filkin received several more complaints about Vaz, she was only too happy to open another investigation. Vaz, however, continued and even intensified his sulky teenager act. Again and again Filkin and the committee she reported to found that he was less than helpful: he gave “misleading information” about his wife’s financial relationship with billionaires Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja; he had failed to register paid employment when he first became an MP and “would have done better to have acknowledged this frankly, instead of splitting hairs”; he “failed to provide the confirmation needed in order to provide a complete picture” of his many property interests for five months, despite it being “readily available”; he failed to register a 1993 donation according to the rules and “should have admitted his shortcoming frankly”. Overall, Filkin reported, Vaz had “seriously misled and sought to obstruct” her inquiry. His approach was one of “obfuscation, prevarication, evasiveness and delay.”
One move by Vaz, however, was truly extraordinary. Eileen Eggington was a member of the public who had submitted a complaint about Vaz to Filkin. In October 2001 the MP reported Eggington to the police, claiming she had telephoned his elderly and infirm mother several times at home in Leicester to harass her. Naturally, being an extremely important man, he went straight to the Chief Constable with his complaint. He then wrote an angry letter to Filkin telling her “I would be glad to know what action you propose to take,” adding for good measure that “My mother is now in hospital.”
It was nonsense. After three months of investigations, Leicestershire Police confirmed they had “found nothing that would lend weight to the allegations” and were “satisfied that no malicious calls were made.” Eggington, who was actually a retired police officer herself – the former deputy head of Special Branch at Scotland Yard, no less – strongly denied doing anything of the sort. “It’s a bizarre allegation, I find it incredible,” she said later. “He was clearly trying to discredit me as a witness.”
But that was not the end of Vaz’s barmy behaviour. Having demanded that Filkin take action over the matter, he then complained about her doing so: by phoning the police to ask about their investigation into the supposed phone call he said she was “interfering in a criminal investigation”, and threatened to report her to her boss, the Speaker of the House of Commons. This was despite the fact that Vaz himself had provided her with the name of the officer investigating the case, and on the very same day had advised the police that he “did not want to waste any time for yourself” by letting them talk to his mother. He later, in the police’s words, “made it entirely clear that he does not wish us to investigate these incidents.”
Eight out of the eleven allegations against Vaz which Filkin had originally set out to investigate were not upheld (including the one made by Eggington). Two of the ones that she did uphold were “not regarded as serious.” But they all paled into insignificance alongside his latest antics. The Committee on Standards and Privileges ruled that he “recklessly made a damaging allegation… which was not true,” and “committed serious breaches of the Code of Conduct and a contempt of the House.” He was suspended from the Commons for a month, one of the most severe sanctions available. He took it exactly as well as you would expect, announcing at a press conference that the ban was “disproportionate” and whining that “with respect to suggestions that I have not co-operated with this inquiry I can only say I believe I have co-operated in every way possible, but I do not belive that Mrs Filkin has followed her own procedures.”
Filkin stepped down from her sleaze-busting job later that year, after it was made clear to her that she would not, as had been expected, be automatically reappointed at the end of her three-year term. She had fallen foul of several other high-profile Labour MPs, including cabinet minister John Reid whose employment of his son Kevin she had investigated (she ruled that on the balance of probabilities he had paid him out of public funds when he was actually working for the Labour party; the committee rejected her findings). “I knew, when taking on this job, that pressure would be applied by some Members when facing an investigation and by their supporters,” she announced in a valedictory statement. “However, the degree of pressure applied has been quite remarkable. In some cases this has been applied directly by Members, some holding high office. In other cases, it has been applied indirectly by unchecked whispering campaigns and hostile press briefings.” One political journalist recalled being informed by MPs that she was a “mad alcoholic”.
Keith Vaz, who resigned as a government minister in the middle of Filkin’s investigations citing ill health, has somehow managed to struggle on as an MP ever since, serving for many years as the high-profile head of the Home Affairs Select Committee. In September 2016 he stepped down after two rent boys told the Sunday Mirror he had paid them for sex and offered to purchase drugs for them. Naturally, that wasn’t his fault either. “It is deeply troubling that a national newspaper should have paid individuals who have acted in this way,” Vaz announced in his resignation statement. “I have referred these allegations to my solicitor who will consider them carefully and advise me accordingly.” His period in the wilderness this time round was barely longer: he was elected to, of all things, the Justice Committee less than two months later.
This was written for my 2017 book “The Lies of the Land: An Honest History of Political Deceit”, but cut from the final edit because the sheer weight of lies by politicians meant we didn’t have room for them all. If you’d like to buy the book (and I’d really appreciate it if you did), go here.