It really is quite easy to click on internet pornography by accident.
There’s a persuasive argument that the whole of the modern world, as shaped by the internet, is an accidental by-product of the insatiable global market for new, easier, cheaper, faster and more private ways of looking at bare boobies.
The clean and useful bit of the web is, in this account of it, but an apologetic cluster of barnacles hitching a ride on a great grizzled baleen whale of filth.
Far and away the most plausible thing about Neil Parish’s account of himself, then, was his claim that he’d arrived on a pornographic website by mistake. There is the mortifying ring of truth about his claim that, in fact, he came a cropper while shopping for tractors on the internet: ‘I did get into another website that had a very similar name and I watched it for a bit, which I shouldn’t have done.’
Funnily enough, this very story – in a sort of brain-frying postmodern mise-en-abyme – caused me to navigate to a pornographic website myself. I’d seen mention on social media of an MP caught watching smutty stuff in the Commons, so of course I instantly Googled ‘porn MP’ to find out what was what (the situation was made worse by my typing ‘MO’ instead of ‘MP’ the first time, and autocomplete thinking I meant ‘mommy’ – which, gosh). But we’ve all been there or thereabouts. I look back on partygate (‘BJ punishment’) and the Libor scandal (‘rate pegging’) with a shudder.
So, sympathies to him there. And, I guess, some sympathy with the ‘moment of madness’ he confessed to subsequently – when he navigated to ‘Tractor Mommy’, or whatever it was called, for a second time deliberately. When you chance on a bit of filth by accident, the content does tend to be what I believe those in the business like to call ‘sticky’.
Clearly, a remotely sensible and responsible person, even if that first glimpse had his eyes bouncing around like deely boppers, would have waited for a private moment to return to the scene; rather than, say, logging back on a quiet corner of the Commons while waiting for a vote.
Yet one way and another, this incident has led to a good deal of editorial bloviating about the ‘culture of misogyny’ in the House of Commons, and a wider fusillade of tut-tutting about pornography itself. Is pornography an evil? Does it encourage the objectification of women or participate in their exploitation? Does it degrade the moral character to look at it? The answer to these questions, if you ask me, is: sort of, almost certainly, most of the time, search me, and thank goodness for private browsing mode.
But these questions, worthwhile and serious though they undoubtedly are, seem to me gigantically beside the point in this case. This poor booby, who has reached the front pages for the first time in the most humiliating way possible, offered an excuse that rivalled Ron Davies’s badger-watching (remember that?) for sheer Pooterishness – and which also, surely, missed the point. Though the fact he was looking at porn undoubtedly makes his transgression more embarrassing, that is not the substance of it. The substance of his transgression, to put it simply, is that he was dicking around on his phone when he was supposed to be helping make the laws of the country.
He was on the clock. What possesses him to think – and hence to offer as an excuse – that shopping for tractors while he’s supposed to be attending a Commons debate would have been absolutely fine, while shopping for MILFs is a resigning matter? That, if you ask me, is the only wider question in this whole sorry saga. Is there any good reason that MPs should be allowed to have their smartphones in the Chamber of the House of Commons at all? We pay these people to pay attention to the details of legislation. The basic principle of representative democracy, to paraphrase Edmund Burke, is: they listen to each other drone on so we don’t have to. We certainly don’t pay them to sit playing Candy Crush or catching up on Slow Horses, to tweak their Sainsbury’s shop, check their follower count on Twitter or drool covetously over the vital statistics of the new season’s Massey Fergusons.
As for the porn aspect of it, incidentally, it seems a bit rum that the people in charge of the WiFi in the Palace of Westminster have yet to tumble to a technology that every family with an eleven-year-old has long known about – that is, Sky Broadband Shield. It’s the matter of a moment to set the router of any major broadband provider to block adult content.
In our house, we know that children, no matter how piously they promise to be good, can’t be trusted to keep the web browsers of their smartphones on the straight and narrow; and certainly can’t be trusted to have Minecraft within arm’s reach when they’re supposed to be doing their homework. That’s why we remove the temptation from them at source. Middle-aged MPs have considerably more sense of entitlement and far poorer impulse control than most eleven-year-olds, so should be treated accordingly by the grown-ups in the building. Let’s turn SafeSearch firmly on – and have everyone hand his phone in for safekeeping before he’s allowed to sit in the Chamber. <//>
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