It’s an excruciating watch. A pink-faced, straw-haired Tory MP clowning around on national television as if he doesn’t have anything better to do. Thank goodness it was just a re-run on Dave of a 2009 episode of Have I Got News For You… Oh, wait.
It’s not 2009 – it’s last night and it’s Michael Fabricant, MP for Lichfield, appearing on a celebrity special of First Dates.
There he is, fist-pumping himself in the mirror of the loos and sharing a pina colada served in a pineapple. In a week when the predatory behaviour of male politicians is being revealed every day in starker detail and the entire culture of UK politics is being interrogated, an MP is literally on television, leaning into the camera, suggestively raising his eyebrows and saying, “I am looking to find a girl for companionship, a bit of sex maybe.”
It wasn’t particularly amusing to see Fabricant suggesting on Twitter that he may have to resign over the “embarrassing” appearance, while his party was handling the actual resignation of defence secretary Michael Fallon over serious claims of inappropriate behaviour.
While Fabricant was joking, “We’re sharing each other’s saliva,” on primetime, investigations were being launched into Conservatives Damien Green and Mark Garnier, Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins was suspended and BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg was describing threats to silence her.
Imagine the sigh of despair at Tory HQ to witness one of their MPs telling his date: “I remember secretaries at the House of Commons and we would get on really well and then they would say, ‘But where is this leading? We want babies. We want mortgages. We want a house.’”
I remember secretaries at the House of Commons and we would get on really well and then they would say, ‘But where is this leading? We want babies. We want mortgages. We want a house’
The show was not live – Fabricant’s upcoming appearance was mentioned by the prime minister in the Commons back in early September – and it is arguably never an appropriate thing for an MP to participate in, but in light of current headlines, the timing could not have been much worse.
And routinely described as one of Westminster’s most colourful and outspoken characters, Fabricant has had plenty to say about the past fortnight’s revelations, warning on Newsnight, “It is not fair, actually to base things on rumour. There has to be evidence and there must not be witch hunts. I feel there is a growing witch hunt mentality currently going on,” and suggesting that people shouldn’t be blamed for incidents where “everyone was sloshed”.
He has also been very upset to have been named on a list of Conservative MPs alleged to have behaved inappropriately, which has been published online and circulated, but remains unverified. Fabricant, who describes himself as bisexual, is listed as behaving inappropriately with a male journalist in the back of a taxi. He told BBC Radio 5 Live that, on seeing his name on the list, “I felt the victim actually,” and described his inclusion and the allegations as “almost ludicrous”.
Thus far, he has not displayed a huge amount of concern over the actual victims of the allegations, joking on Twitter after the programme aired about meeting with his date again (without cameras), he included the apparent gag: “And I didn’t touch her knee.” It seems that Fabricant only takes the sexual-abuse allegations seriously when he is on the receiving end of an allegation, in his words “a victim”.
In fact, on the Channel 4 show, he showed markedly more distress at being mistaken for the foreign secretary, when clearly they lack any similarities: “I hate that. First of all, Boris Johnson has got white hair, pink eyes, a white flabby face.”
But, given their apparently kindred desire to be small-screen stars, the two can be compared and it was a boneheaded move to fail to realise that the funny side of a mop-headed Tory renegade being outrageous on TV has long since passed its sell-by-date. The BBC’s early pandering to Boris looks very different when their punchline has become foreign secretary.
It was an even more insensitive move to assume that this entire television appearance would be viewed as a bit of harmless fun (and if we’ve learnt anything in recent weeks, isn’t it that something is rarely just that?). Fabricant might have seen it as just “making a tit of myself”, but the crisis in Westminster is very real.
And, however innocent in the context of the programme, it just wasn’t the week to watch an MP ask a woman: “Can we have a little affectionate kiss?”