It’s always interesting to observe the off-balance reaction of Conservatives when they are attacked by their own side, particularly around issues of sexuality. But on this occasion, I have some sympathy and respect, and I don’t think the reaction is at all off-balance. It’s the attack that’s way off-balance, and it’s no surprise to see it emanating from that bastion of all that’s putrid and poisonous, the Daily Mail.
Tory blogger and political publisher Iain Dale has blogged about a diary story in the Daily Mail which, on the face of it, draws sneering attention to the fact he is a gay man seeking to enter elected politics. The Ephraim Hardcastle diary has this to say:
“Overtly gay Tory blogger Iain Dale has reached the final stage of parliamentary selection for Bracknell, telling PinkNews: ‘I hope any PinkNews readers who live in Bracknell will come to the open primary on October 17 to select their new candidate. You don’t even have to be a Conservative to attend.’
“Isn’t it charming how homosexuals rally like-minded chaps to their cause?”
Dale has written to the editor, Paul Dacre (see p 721 of Alastair Campbell’s diaries to read about my brush with Dacre). He has also made a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission. Dale rightly complains about being described as “overtly gay”. What does overtly gay mean? militant? flamboyant? predatory? dangerous? camp as Christmas?
Dale says on his blog “I’m afraid I have had it with the Daily Mail and their particular brand of hate”.
Well said, though I would have to agree with his pessimistic view that he’s unlikely to get anywhere with Dacre or the PCC. Dacre after all, as well as editing the Mail, is Chair of the Editor’s Code of Practice Committee, which ‘reviews and revises the voluntary code of standards overseen by the Press Complaints Commission’. When he was elevated to that giddy height, he said “I am a passionate supporter of the principle of self-regulation, Press Freedom and a Code which reflects both the concerns of newspapers and needs of the public which it serves.”
Or in other words, he believes that papers should be able to print whatever suits their agenda. Fair enough for papers to have an agenda, but in this case, the Dale diary story is typical of the Mail’s “brand of hate”. The subtext is: here is a homosexual with the effrontery to want to stand for Parliament, he’s obviously trying to get others of his sort to infiltrate the selection process in Bracknell, let’s try and ‘queer’ the pitch, guffaw, guffaw.
The Mail should be ashamed but of course it won’t be. When I was a press officer, of the Labour persuasion, I regularly had to deal with Mail hacks who seemed to have long ago crossed the line of fair reporting to glory in inflicting misery and damage on people in politics. I was the defender, so to make my job more difficult and theirs easier, they would call at times that would make it all but impossible to sort out and present the facts – late at night, last thing on a Friday afternoon, twenty minutes before the paper went to bed, you get the picture. Even when the facts were presented to the sneering voice on the other end of the phone, they rarely appeared intact in the story, or an inaccurate story appeared despite having been doggedly knocked down for not being accurate or not a story at all.
I don’t share Iain Dale’s political views but he has a right to them. He also has a right to be respected as a person of experience and character who wants to serve people as an elected politician. His sexuality should not be imposed by others as the issue that defines his candidacy, it should be his values and his policies.
I was born very near Bracknell and know it well. Obviously I would like to see Labour winning there, but that doesn’t stop me wishing Iain Dale good luck in the open primary, particularly if unfair obstacles are being set up for him, as seems the case. I hope none of his fellow candidates in the primary are engaging in smear tactics. Primaries are a positive attempt to break away from the backstabbing and backroom dealing that only contributes to cynicism about politics, so it would be depressing to see such behaviour creeping in. It should be for the people of Bracknell to make their decision in the primary and then their choice in the general election, not narrow-minded Daily Mail journalists.