There were two big arguments going on in non-party-political politics the past two years: lifting the ban on same-sex marriage (England and Wales, 29th March: Scotland, sometime this autumn after the Commonwealth Games and this other thing: Northern Ireland as soon as they lose the court case).
Making it legal for same-sex couples to marry, matters hugely to people in same-sex relationships, obviously, but to everyone else aside from a small number of seriously homophobic fanatics, it’s no big deal: two-thirds of the population of Scotland agreed that gay marriage should be made legal in a 2012 poll.
This other thing that is happening in Scottish politics: the referendum. In the US, where they have referendums whenever they can get enough voters to sign off on one, they went through a phase of holding referenda in which voters were invited to agree that “marriage is between a man and a woman”, which was then held to mean that marriage between a man and a man, or a man and a woman, was unlawful. In the UK we referend much more rarely, and only – so cynics say – when the government thinks they can get the public to vote the way they want.
In April 1989, the Sun published the infamous “The Truth” front-page slander of the Hillsborough tragedy and are still boycotted in Liverpool. It ought to have been a tremendous lesson to the tabloid industry that you can only go so far in peddling hate before you oversell it.
On Saturday 28th September, the Daily Mail published an article about Ralph Miliband. There were two problems with the article: the first, that it wasn’t true, was no different from any other smears the Daily Mail has cooked up in the past.
The second, that it had been published purely to traduce a dead man because he was the father of the current Labour party leader Ed Miliband, was so clear that even the usual supporters of Daily Mail politics found themselves choking on it: of the entire Conservative cabinet, only Michael Gove – who used to work for Rupert Murdoch at the Times and whose wife writes for Paul Dacre at the Daily Mail – defended the Mail: every other Conservative minister from David Cameron downward admitted that if that had been his father, subjected to Daily Mail attack after his death, they’d… well… they wouldn’t have been happy about it. Contemptuously, the Mail – and all the Mail employees, from Paul Dacre downward – have refused to apologise, claiming they were entirely justified in their smears of Ralph Miliband.
Whenever anyone claims that the British press has moved into a new ethical period because of Leveson and so no new legislation is required, remember David Rose of the Daily Mail and the ugly, libellous, hatchet-job he did on Steven Messham.
I wish Leveson had published his report at eight in the morning rather than lunchtime – I could have written this blog before Question Time. But Question Time was illuminating – the BBC chose four grey men in grey suits, and Michael Rosen for the BBC Extra Guest, and the only one who could speak about media sexism from her personal experience on the panel was Charlotte Church: and while better MPs had evidently fled in terror, Church shone. She was easily the most articulate and most intelligent panellist tonight: if the BBC don’t ask her back, sexism has trumped sense. (As it so often does.)
Of the other panellists, Patrick McLoughlin had reason to object to an inquisitive press: his MP expenses were exposed in 2009. Chris Bryant is another of the home-flipping MPs who decides which place is his “second home” depending on how much he can claim in expenses. Simon Jenkins used to edit the Times and the London Standard as well as write for the Guardian. And Neil Wallis used to be executive editor of News of the World, leaving a comfortable two years before Rupert Murdoch tried to shut down all the bad talk about phone hacking by sacking everyone except Rebekah Wade. Neil Wallis and Rebekah Wade were arrested in July 2011.
Last night on Question Time, Owen Jones got Iain Duncan Smith to lose his temper.
Professional politicians don’t usually lose their temper in public except as a calculated electoral shtick. I think IDS just got genuinely angry.
Avedon Carol writes about co-optation to try to fight for the “more liberal” of two not-really-opposing bad policy proposals, which usually come in the same package:
Like, say, maybe some sort of choice between a big “tweak” and a very slightly smaller “tweak” that only kills 9/10 as many people as the larger “tweak” will. Or maybe creating a fight over raising the age of retirement even further, so that you’re fighting over 69 or 70. Are any of those proposals acceptable? No, of course not. But if they are suddenly on the table, we will see people allowing such a fight to become the fight, as if lowering the retirement age back down to where it used to be (or even lower) wasn’t even conceivable. It is conceivable, dammit, and for every nasty proposal, there should be a counter-proposal that goes farther in the other direction than politicians have been willing to talk about. They want to raise the retirement age? We want it lowered to 55. They want to change the calculation for the costs of living? We want to change it so that the amount is higher rather than lower. They want cuts? We want the cap eliminated. Don’t even argue about this crap – just go in the other direction. Continue reading
Today, David Cameron and Alex Salmond meet to decide the terms of the independence referendum. Naturally, they wouldn’t be meeting to “decide” if all the actual decisions hadn’t been worked out already by Michael Moore and Nicola Sturgeon and others, with their civil servants.
The BBC’s “news” report on the meeting that will take place is a fair sample of the “it is expected” style of thing:
It is expected to allow for a vote in autumn 2014 with a single Yes/No question on Scotland leaving the UK.
The deal will also see 16- and 17-year-olds included in the ballot.
The UK government is expected to grant limited powers for the Scottish Parliament to hold a legal referendum, under a mechanism called Section 30.
The Electoral Commission will play a key role advising on the wording of the question and other issues such as campaign finance.
A possible second question on greater powers has been dropped, while the Scottish government looks to have secured its preferred date.