Apparently, according to a variety of relatively reliable sources that include the man himself, the Labour MP for Rochdale, Simon Danczuk, is in the habit of accepting money from a paparazzi agency in exchange for advising them how they might best snap pap pictures of the Labour MP for Rochdale, Simon Danczuk.
Is this not one of the most amazing facts you have ever learned? Every bit of it — that tabloids want these photographs; that photo-graphers will pay for them; that an MP can earn a tidy sum by secretly facilitating them — simply boggles me. Are they all at it? Maybe that’s why we keep seeing those vile pictures of David Cameron fatly jogging, or Jeremy Corbyn dressed like Tony Soprano taking the bins out. You never know.
Back to Danczuk, though, for he has had quite a fortnight. On New Year’s Eve it was revealed that he had been sending explicit text messages to a 17-year-old girl who had applied to him for work experience. Whether she truly wanted work experience with a Labour MP is a moot point, not least because it later emerged in the Sunday People that she runs a dominatrix fetish website via which she sells used underpants and toenail clippings, and such things normally only run concurrent with political aspirations in the Young Conservatives. Still, she got flirty, and he offered to spank her, and she went to the Sun.
That’s not all. Danczuk’s girlfriend, a Labour councillor, had already dumped him, partly (she told the newspapers) because he’d been messaging other people, but also because he’d kissed somebody else. Although so had she, and that somebody (in her case) was Danczuk’s second ex-wife, Karen, also a Labour councillor, whose breasts you may remember being in a lot of newspapers because she kept taking photographs of them. Danczuk apparently didn’t mind about that kiss, though, not least because he was watching. They were all in a restaurant.
Now, after the texts emerged, Danczuk’s first ex-wife (not a Labour councillor) popped up to call him a drunk and a bully and a drug fiend, and the second ex-wife laid into her, calling her a leech. She also had a crack on Twitter at the now ex-girlfriend [note to subs: would some kind of diagram help here?], whom she accused of having oral sex with another Labour MP, although he denied it, and then so did she and called the police. Which is a shame, because they once appeared to get on quite well (second ex-wife and ex-girlfriend, that is), not only because of the kiss, but also in some chummy photos of the pair of them and Danczuk himself. Which it now appears were taken by the paparazzi agency aforementioned.
There’s also a rape accusation, which he strenuously denies, and suggestions of a drink problem. And some fuss about posing for gleeful selfies with the girlfriend (very shortly before she was the ex-girlfriend) while his constituents struggled with floods. In the midst of all this, anyway, Danczuk was suspended from the Labour party, mainly due to the stuff with the 17-year-old, and decided to launch a fightback. This he did by going on Newsnight and saying — and this is a direct quote — ‘I can’t deny the fact that I prefer young women. Different people have different preferences. My first wife was ten years younger than me, my second wife was 17 years younger than me, my last girlfriend was 17 years younger than me, and I should just make that point.’ Which reminded me of a glorious recent sketch on the US comedy show Saturday Night Live, where Tina Fey and Amy Poehler host a spoof quiz show called Meet Your Second Wife! in which a variety of unremarkable grown men are confronted with little girls and told they’ll be marrying them in about a decade. Not that large age gaps are perverse per se, but most older men at least declare them irrelevant. Rather than, like Danczuk, thigh-rubbingly admitting they’re the whole point.
All in all, then, let’s just say that he probably wasn’t expecting to land a plum job in Jeremy Corbyn’s reshuffle. Or indeed any other reshuffle ever again. Yet the flip side to all of this is that Danczuk is not merely a clown. He has a knack for being in the thick of things, as can be seen by his lurking presence in the background of photographs of Gordon Brown having his fateful encounter with ‘that bigoted woman’ Gillian Duffy in 2010. His kamikaze approach to, well, everything really, can have clear upsides, as seen with his bold role in revealing the paedophilia of the late Cyril Smith. And he has been gleefully indiscreet about Labour’s backbench turmoil while colleagues with better comprehension of things like consequences have stayed cringing and mute.
And yet clearly there’s something awry. His Twitter feed remains astonishing; a barrage of car-crash interviews (by him) and retweeted headlines about him, via which he often appears to be calling himself ‘the disgraced MP Simon Danczuk’. By political standards, he seems on the very edge of collapse; you can only hope that somebody is looking out for him. Although if they are, they should take away his iPhone.
But maybe these are the wrong standards. Really, these are the travails of a Strictly contestant, or a rogue presenter of The One Show. He’s gone the full Lembit, and even Lembit never did that. This is politics with one eye on the future — a future not of directorships and ermine, but of reality shows and jungles. And along the way, through sheer inadvisable exuberance, it makes politics reach places it otherwise would not. There will be a book in all this one day, and it will be splendid: Alan Clark meets Alan Partridge. I’m glad he’s there. Although I don’t think he will be for long.
Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.