I have some sympathy for the Conservative Member of Parliament for Tiverton and Honiton, lately retired, whose hanging offence has been that, in the chamber, he was observed viewing porn on his mobile, not once, but twice. Once he was identified, in relatively short order, he had the wrath of the female of the species descend upon him, the whip was withdrawn, and the opposition parties inevitably ganged up on the Tories to demand an explanation as to why it had taken so long. Mr Parish reported himself to the Commons Select Committee on Standards, and was minded to tough it out, but, no doubt oppressed by the weight of the opprobrium, he chucked his hand in and resigned. The din of censure did not abate. There was even consideration of the idea that Mr Parish had broken the law, and ought to be reported to the police. I don’t like to see a man being kicked when he is down.
But what exactly is pornography? Here is a challenge: construct a dictionary definition. This is the Oxford Dictionary of English:
Pornography noun, printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement.
But is that right? Compare it with the definition from the same dictionary of “erotica”:
Erotica – erotic literature or art.
Erotic – relating to or tending to arouse sexual desire or excitement.
All this would imply that pornography is merely a somewhat more explicit form and rendition of erotica. Erotica is classy; pornography is coarse. Erotica can be high art. We established this in 1960 in the case of the Crown versus Penguin Books in 1960, vis-a-vis Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Before 1960, Lady C was mere pornography. There was a notion amongst some elements of the small c conservative establishment in 1960 that giving Lady C the green light would open the floodgates to every manner of thoroughly filthy fellow wielding his lewd pen, and indeed from such a perspective this prediction turned out to be quite accurate. I remember that great puritanical reactionary Malcolm Muggeridge prophesied that in next to no time sexual coitus would be portrayed on screen and in film. At the time, even the most liberal minded poured cold water on such an idea. Then in 1970 the film Ryan’s Daughter portrayed the act of love in a most tasteful fashion, and rather obliquely, utilising the so-called Pathetic Fallacy to convey sexual climax as a surge of wind through the forest canopy. Remarkably, at the time this caused something of a sensation.
But it won’t do merely to say that erotica is high, and pornography is low. Pornography is a pejorative term, and not merely because it denotes bad erotica. Here is Chambers:
Porno(o) in composition, obscene. – n. and adj, porn, porno, coll. shortenings of pornography and pornographic… pornography (Gr. graphein to write) description of prostitutes and prostitution: obscene writing, painting, and the like (Gr. porne, a whore).
It is this invocation of the world’s oldest profession that gives a sense of why the female members in the chamber were so outraged. Prostitutes are, by and large, victims of abuse. Pornography is meretricious.
Yet poor old Mr Parish stumbled on to that website the way he might have mistaken a bordello for a citizens’ advice bureau. He was looking for something about tractors! That conjured in my mind images of provocative femmes fatales draped across various marques of agricultural machinery. Flagrant delectation aboard the combine harvester.
But then, fatal error: he revisited the site.
Now there are going to be all sorts of enquiries relating to sleaze, misogyny, predatory behaviour and the like. All well and good, but it seems to me that, with regard to Mr Parish’s fall from grace, it would be quite simple to prevent a recurrence. Just get all the sitting members to switch off their phones while in the chamber. That is de rigueur in all sorts of venues – the school classroom, the concert hall, the opera house, the theatre, the cinema, any place in which a group of people convene in a communal act of interactive concentration. But if you watch PMQs any Wednesday lunchtime you will see dozens of MPs preoccupied with their devices. What, aside from damsels aboard threshing machines, are they all looking at? And if the trolls’ tweets are so malign and so toxic, why on earth would they bother reading them? For pity’s sake, log off. Twitter is puerile. If Mr Musk wants to spend $45,000,000,000 on a “platform” that has no existence in reality, good luck to him.
I thought Mr Parish was dignified in defeat, graceful in cancellation. I admit that doesn’t count for much. After all, even Mr Lavrov sounds very plausible, especially when he speaks in remarkably fluent English. Still I think the body politic should cut Mr Parish some slack. He put up his hand and said, “Mea culpa.” Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
There will a by-election in Tiverton and Honiton. I wonder if Mr Parish might be minded to stand as an independent candidate. He had a majority of 25,000. He must be doing something right.