Death by a thousand smutty jokes: Neil Parish did the right thing in resigning – it’s time to give him a break

Humiliated beyond reason, he has decided he can’t put his family or his constituency through any more of this

The BBC Politics South West presenter gifted this onanistic scoop kept asking Parish what on earth had been going through his mind

Tractors. That was basically Neil Parish’s route into pornography, which is to say it was slow, quite noisy, and by no means smooth. I’m not at all sure which website specialising in gentlemen’s interests he could have accidentally happened upon while he was looking for tractor brochures. Tractor Hub? MassiveFurryOne? CockRotator.co.uk? Ploughing.com?

It seems implausible. I’ll certainly admit that autocorrect can play havoc. I once narrowly escaped embarrassment some years ago when I was economics editor, and writing yet another article about the housing market, wealth inequality and intergenerational fairness.

The Microsoft Word spellcheck function, usually a bit of a lifesaver, unfortunately rendered the unfamiliar jargon word “intergenerational” as “intergeneration anal”, which admittedly might sound more fun, but was not strictly germane to the argument. Maybe that’s what Neil was looking for. He is 65, after all.

So that bit of Neil Parish’s mea culpa, the “Whoops, that doesn’t look like agricultural machinery but let’s stick with it” bit, did sound a touch disingenuous, shall we say.

Yet he was man enough to admit that he ought not to have gone with it in the incongruous setting of the House of Commons during a debate on, I don’t know, famine relief or something, and that he was certainly stupid to have had another swift glance at the carnal delights in question while sitting near honourable friends.

He says he wasn’t being brazen about it, which I can believe. I doubt he’d have leant forward to say, “Here, Boris, you’ll like this.” But of course that wasn’t really the point, which he acknowledged.

The BBC Politics South West presenter gifted this onanistic scoop kept asking Parish what on earth had been going through his mind. He didn’t have much of an answer, except “stupidity” and “a moment of madness”, which you may recall was the line used by the ill-starred Labour cabinet minister Ron Davies when he got himself into some bother during a night safari on Clapham Common. The cameras caught the word “sorry” written in biro on Davies’s hand when he made his humble apologies, which didn’t help his case.

All that said, Parish cut a surprisingly dignified figure – close to tears at one point, brave, and pretty honest. With his combover, olive farmer’s jerkin and purple tie, he looked like the epitome of the country gent.

Humiliated beyond reason, he decided he couldn’t put his family or his constituency through any more of this. He and his loved ones were facing death by a thousand smutty jokes. Having tried the “I await the outcome of the inquiry” defence, patented by Boris Johnson, he was seemingly persuaded by his wife that the situation was beyond hope, and that to remain in his role would invite further pain and mockery.

It would be ridiculous to believe that he had been watching the porn without realising he was watching porn, or that it might have been OK if female MPs hadn’t been subjected to it – “ambushed by filth”.

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Unlike Owen Paterson before him, he didn’t want to cheat the system and twist the truth about what he had done, which, despite being against Standing Orders, wasn’t against the law.

Indeed, his willingness to confess his “crime”, as he calls it, and quit with some honour, subjecting himself to a four-and-a-half-minute mini-trial via regional television programme, was an act of rare humility and dignity – in striking contrast to the actions of Johnson, who has been fined for breaking the law.

Parish told the truth and did the right thing. He gave a proper apology and some public account of himself, and for that, Neil Parish should be thanked. He is driving his tractor to redemption.

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