Gay Marriage: Beware The Backlash

Gay marriageYesterday, by 400 votes to 175, the House of Commons approved a marriage equality law that finally allows gay men and women to marry on (almost) the same basis as heterosexuals. It was a historic step for the UK, especially as the bill had been pushed hard by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who is desperate to modernise his party (or at least, to convince the public that the Tories have modernised).

It was a great day for progressives; the Commons split roughly along the same lines that the public had done in polls. Many people looked back in astonishment at the fact that homosexuality had only been legal in the UK since 1967, and public tolerance of gays only reached a tipping point in the past two decades. We’ve come a long way, Britain.

However, Cameron seems to have miscalculated. While his popularity in the country was no doubt lifted by yesterday’s vote, his own party split down the middle; those Conservatives voting in favour of gay marriage were outnumbered by those voting against, and a number abstained, wavering between a personal wish to support the measure, but pressure from their local parties to oppose it. We learned two things yesterday: Britain has become a more tolerant place; and the Conservative Party still has a long way to go. Rather than demonstrate that the Tories have modernised, Cameron helped expose the fact that they haven’t; and in the process he antagonised the powerful right wing of his party. He emerges from these events weaker, and will now be under immense pressure to bring the dinosaurs back on board.

And that’s where we should worry. The Tory right (and its inbred cousin, UKIP) has been on the warpath recently on a number of social issues. Abortion has been put back more firmly on the agenda than at any time since its legalisation, with the Health Minister Jeremy Hunt declaring support for halving of the time limit from 24 weeks to 12. And just as worrying, the “sexualisation” bandwagon (which is an all-fronts attack on “explicit” sexuality in the public eye, from music videos to children’s clothing) seems to have gained mainstream acceptance.

The obvious reaction to the “sexualisation” panic is to introduce more “morality police” to oversee TV programming, approve Internet censorship controls and create a “slut-shaming” atmosphere in the public space. Right-wing Tory MPs such as Claire Perry and Nadine Dorries have long been pushing for such actions; an angry, mobilised Tory right may now be in a position to force a weakened David Cameron into giving way on these issues.

The short-term outcome from yesterday’s win on gay marriage may be some rapid government moves against abortion and in favour of more censorship. Once we’ve finished celebrating yesterday’s victory, we may have more battles to fight.

Theresa May Creates A New Moron Myth

Theresa May Moron
Hang Theresa May? Some mistake surely..

The annual Tory (Conservative) Party conference is of course the height of moron season in the UK, and this year’s is (so far) no exception).

Yesterday’s choice moment came from Theresa May, the Home Secretary (not to be confused with Teresa May the porn star – take care when Googling). Right-wing Tories are upset that, due to being in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the Tories in government haven’t yet herded ethnic minorities and the poor into extermination camps. It’s therefore the job of conference speakers to say insanely stupid/dishonest things that will cheer up the moronic wing of the party.

May delivered in style, attacking the Human Rights Act (the HRA is a pet hate for British morons, as you’d imagine) with the claim:

“…illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat…”

Readers of the British moron press (aka the tabloids) will be familiar with this kind of claim, which is a common enough feature of British political discourse; indeed, most Sun, Mail and Express readers will be able to regale you with tales of paedophiles freed to strike again, murdering immigrants who can’t be deported in case they’re tortured, and so on.

The right hates the HRA for a variety of reasons, including:

  1. It classes immigrants as human,
  2. It classes Muslims as human,
  3. It was given to us by the EU, and perhaps most appallingly,
  4. It’s used to defend human rights.

May’s claim about the immigrant’s cat therefore pleased the moronic Tory right by attacking the HRA, the EU and immigrants in one short sentence.

Anyone (at least any non-moron) watching the speech would have immediately been wary about believing the claim because a) it was said at Tory Party conference, b) Theresa May said it, c) she used the words “I am not making this up” and d) almost all such claims ever made have been thoroughly discredited. True to form, it turned out to be a lie: the man in question hadn’t been deported because he was in a long-term relationship with an EU citizen. The cat only came into the story because it was one of the pieces of evidence presented to demonstrate the veracity of the relationship.

To his credit, my favourite Tory cabinet minister Ken Clarke (from a shortlist of one) was the first to challenge the claim, and Channel 4 News quickly checked and discredited it.

Morons though will have already added this lie to their list of reasons as to why the HRA, the EU and immigrants are all evil, and it will no doubt circulate in moron circles forever.

Why Progressives Should Defend Ken Clarke

You won’t often find me defending British Conservative ministers – especially ones who (allegedly) think that some rapes aren’t so bad – but, to quote the song, There’s Something Happening Here…

My 1980s self would be shocked to find me thinking sympathetically about Clarke. He was a minister in the Thatcher government – about as close to an Axis Of Evil that we’ve had in this country. What my young self didn’t know was that even the nastiest, most brutal of politicians can become wiser and more pragmatic with age. Make no mistake, Clarke is still conservative to the core, but some of his views are liberal enough that his appointment as Secretary of State for Justice last year upset many on the Tory right.

What particularly upset the flog-’em and hang-’em brigade was Clarke’s pronouncement that prison sizes have become too large, locking up more people doesn’t make for a better society, and that his goal in government was to reduce the size of the UK’s prison population. That made me reflect on how right-wing and authoritarian Labour had become under the Blairites. When a pragmatic Tory minister makes Labour look right-wing, you know the left has taken a wrong turn somewhere.

Yesterday, Clarke was giving a radio interview about his plan to increase the “good behaviour” time that would be offered to prisoners from 33% to 50% for those who plead guilty. In a discussion about rape, he tried to explain that, in the eyes of the law, there are different degrees of rape, pointing out that “…if an 17-year-old has sex with a 15-year-old and she’s perfectly willing, that is rape…” – in other words, what’s known in the US as Statutory Rape. (Note that the age of consent in the UK is 16).

I doubt anybody reading this would disagree with his point: to claim that a consensual sexual act could be as bad as a non-consensual one would be crazy, and would lessen rape as a crime. However, Clarke went on to talk about “date rape” when (it appears) he meant statutory rape.

The media and political opposition love to jump on apparent slips by government ministers, so yesterday afternoon’s outcry was unsurprising. But by this morning, the attacks on Clarke had ramped up: and were almost entirely from the right-wing media.

Notably, the most outspoken media were also the ones who have a poor record in defending women’s rights.

The right hates the fact that Ken Clarke is attacking one of the things they hold dear: locking people up and throwing away the key. They smelled blood and they went on the attack, calling immediately for his dismissal (“and with him”, you can hear them thinking, “the idea that prison populations should be reduced”).

The right did exactly as you’d expect – no surprise there. Unfortunately Labour leader Ed Miliband and much of the “progressive” Twitterati followed suit. “What? Ken Clarke said something about rape that seems to have upset somebody or other? DISGRACEFUL – FIRE HIM”… kind-of knee-jerk stuff.

Miliband’s intervention was a sad reminder that party politics come ahead of progressive values; most Labour supporters should be pleased that Clarke, rather than someone far more authoritarian, is the Justice Secretary. But Miliband simply saw the chance to score cheap points.

As for those people who instantly decided that Clarke was guilty – remember, we progressives pride ourselves on bring the smart ones? Read what he said. Think about it. Forcible rape really is worse than a teenager having consenting, underage sex. At least, I think so.

The British Government’s Moronic Oil Love

Last week’s budget by Chancellor George Osborne was unlikely to contain much good news, given the ongoing cuts; but right-wing newspapers did their best to find some anyway. The headline-grabber was an action to “help the motorist”, possibly not the constituency most in need of help, but certainly the moaniest. “TAX ON OIL FIRMS TO HELP DRIVERS” screamed the loyally Conservative London Evening Standard (full, grovelling story here), perhaps the publication most desperate to prop up Tory support, given the proximity of next year’s mayoral elections, and the apparently precarious position of London’s right-wing (and car-loving) Mayor, Boris Johnson.

The story was a gushing tribute to Osborne’s “massive tax raid” on oil companies (actually, the £2 billion is roughly one month’s profit for BP alone). But the key point is missed entirely – given that this money will be used to reduce petrol costs at the pump, it ends up being taken from the oil companies… and in large part fed straight back to them by subsidising their own product. Oh! The pain!

Hence a government subsidy to maintain the British addiction to oil is spun by the Conservatives (and more importantly their media friends) as a victory for the little man over the beastly oil giants. And yet the oil industry will have been cracking open vintage bubbly on the announcement: not only have train and bus fares continued to rise above inflation, bolstering car usage, but the government has proved itself hostile to oil alternatives such as solar, as I wrote here last month. Rocketing crude oil prices have pushed oil profits to record levels. And on top of all this, a 2p-per-litre government subsidy to petrol. This is a great time for the UK oil industry.

The rest of us should be more worried: peak oil warnings become ever louder (though apparently the cries haven’t yet reached the ears of George Osborne) and our military seems exclusively and expensively to be used for the protection of British energy supplies. The next great depression will dawn when oil production can no longer keep track of global demand, and those nations that have made a concerted investment in weaning themselves off the stuff have a chance of emerging as the next world leaders. The US is apparently intent on hitting the wall at full speed – and it seems, so is our own moron government.