The tabloid press made merry when Rochdale MP, Simon Danczuk was unceremoniously suspended from the Labour party on New Year’s Eve, after it was alleged that he had sexually harassed a teenager who approached him for career advice. The Daily Mail delighted in a few choice phrases from Danczuk’s texts to 17 year old Sophena Houlihan, and even The Telegraph obliged, with a blow by blow account in time-line form. Manchester Police confirmed that they had investigated the claims and concluded that Danczuk’s actions did not constitute a breach of his duty of a care as a potential employer. But the story remained in the headlines as, one by one, media outlets took it upon themselves to ask whether or not Danczuk should keep his seat in parliament.
Taken at a first glance it seems that Danczuk’s private life, however unsavoury, was unduly paraded before the public. If he didn’t commit a crime, his private relationships should not be subjected to public discussion, permitting that they do not directly affect his ability to represent his constituents. If you think Danczuk’s texts to Sophena Houlihan warrant a resignation, you should probably be arguing instead that this form of sexual harassment should be punishable by law. A more credible reason to doubt Danczuk’s ability to represent the electorate is his failure to react with urgency to the Christmas floods, which made some of his constituents homeless. This latest scandal could well have lost ‘sex text’ Danczuk his seat come another election, when voters will surely consider personal character alongside party policy, but for now, he is not required to resign.
Unfortunately, Danczuk’s admission of drunken guilt was not the last we heard of the story. In a sinister new episode, it was reported on 4th January that Danczuk was being interviewed under caution in relation to rape allegations dating back to 2006. Now the right and wrong of press intrusion seem unclear. On the one hand Danczuk, as before, has not been proved guilty of a crime. Now he is associated with the investigation, it has the potential to jeopardise his career. Yet on the other hand, publicising the allegations may, hypothetically, help other victims come forward. Danczuk had previously denied the allegations and the police took no further action after he attended the interview voluntarily.
Judgement about the extent to which Danczuk’s private life affects his political career can be reserved temporarily however, in light of information printed by the Manchester Evening news on 13th January. It’s claimed that in 2015, Simon Danczuk earned approximately £50,000 from deals with media outlets. Some of these press deals involved tipping off photographers as to his whereabouts so pictures of him could be sold on to the tabloids. It is alleged that in one year he received just under £21,000 from the Daily Mail and multiple media agencies, including ITV, provided pricey gifts like prime tickets to Rugby World Cup matches. The payments from media agency FameFlynet, who help stage and sell on photos intended for the tabloids, increased as Danczuk moved back into the spotlight in December. On 15th January Buzzfeed attributed supposedly candid shots of Danczuk on a night out with both his ex-wife and his partner at the time to FameFlynet photographers. They also cite pictures taken of Danczuk working out with a parliamentary aide who, coincidentally, sued him for sexual harrassment when she worked for him a decade ago, to FameFlynet. This casts the latest scandal, involving the teenager Houlihan, in a different light.
Danczuk has done a great deal himself to blur the territory of public and private. The whole charade suggests a great deal of superficiality, especially now that Danczuk looks to be complicit in his own public downfall. The electorate are entitled to the knowledge that Danczuk was profitting from the exposure his private life. But, it is frustratingly contradictory to insist the electorate take note, considering that Danczuk’s unnerving narrative thrives off public attention. On top of all of this, Danczuk’s disregard for his public image somewhat negates any argument in support of him. He has made sure that his private life matters in politics, and unfortunately has embroiled his party in the scandal. Whilst politicians are of course entitled to a private life that exists separately from their public one, men and women who decide to forfeit their privacy for personal gain should remain responsible for their actions, and Danczuk’s choice to broadcast his private fall from favour will surely prompt a disaster at the polls.
Photograph: Benmil222 via Wikimedia Commons