GAY TIMES July 1996

Reading The Daily Mail is rather like being hypnotised by a snake — you know it is going to poison you, but it’s difficult to take your eyes off it.

One person who has had closer dealings with the reptile than most is Polly Toynbee, The Independent’s excellent standard-bearer for liberal values. She writes the sort of stuff that makes Paul Dacre, the spiteful, malevolent, yet unimpeachably moral editor of The Daily Mail, go blue around the poison gland. Toynbee espouses sympathy for single mothers, tolerance for divorcees and, recently, support for gay rights. She also hates religious fanaticism.

Ms Toynbee recently became aware that The Daily Mail was out to get her. The paper’s journalists were snooping around her neighbourhood, questioning neighbours and friends, generally trying to dig the dirt. Ms Toynbee’s house was broken into, although she ascribes this to coincidence. When she became aware that the Mail’s dirty tricks department was closing in on her, she took pre-emptive action. “The Mail stands for everything that stinks about moralising hypocrisy,” she blasted from the front page of The Independent.

This started a rash of navel-gazing in the press. The Guardian detected a conspiracy at the Mail – a conspiracy to denounce powerful women on the Left of politics. Andrew Marr, the Independent’s editor, wrote that his paper would take on The Mail if, as it threatened, there was an “exposé” of Polly Toynbee.

It’s good that the liberal press is at last standing up to the boorishness and downright evil of the tabloids. It’s a resistance that is long overdue.

Needless to say, The Daily Mail also has a case to answer in its treatment of gay issues. Anybody who exposes themselves to The Mail’s daily dirge of misanthropy will know that it is to the nineties what The Sun was to the eighties: The Gaybasher’s Gazette.

For instance, the predicted upsurge in pre-election homophobia in Tory newspapers is nowhere more apparent than in The Daily Mail, which can spin even the most innocuous gay happening until it becomes a stick with which to beat the opposition.

On 15th March the paper headlined: “If Blair wins so will we, say the gay campaigners.” This headline was over a report which began: “Gay campaigners intensified their pressure on Tony Blair yesterday, demanding a raft of new rights from a Labour Government. And they are confident, on the basis of a promise from a shadow minister, that homosexual sex at 16 will be allowed if the party wins power.” So there we have it. Labour is the gay-lovers party.

The story was based on the publication of a “manifesto” by The Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights. As well as lowering the age of consent, the group is also apparently demanding “the lifting of the forces’ ban on gays and the presentation of positive images of lesbians and gay men in schools. The policies would then be enforced by a Gay Rights Commission.”

In 1987, just before the general election of that year, The Daily Mail wrote an almost identical story which it headlined on the front page: “The Left’s plan for a gay charter”. Once more it was based on demands issued by The Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It was equally distorted and misleading. Seems The Daily Mail knows the tricks that work and recycles them endlessly. (But, of course, whatever Labour does, it can’t win in the pages of The Mail. The paper had already reported, a few days earlier, that “Gays accuse Blair of betrayal as he misses vote on Forces ban.”)

Then, when the former Archbishop of Canterbury made his now famous admission that he had knowingly ordained gay priests during his time in office, The Mail inevitably sought the opinion of York Minster’s malevolent Billy Bunter figure, “The Venerable” George Austin, who said: “If an Archbishop flouts the policy where does that leave everyone else? Does he close his eyes to a man’s promiscuous heterosexuality or to someone who is financially untrustworthy? Scripture is quite clear in its condemnation of homosexuality.”

All this led The Mail to exhort the virtues of Islam: “Anglicans who are desperately trying to believe in their Church can be forgiven for envying the simple moral certainties preached by Islamic clerics in the fast-growing networks of mosques across this green and pleasant land.” (Presumably Mail readers would like to see the return of decapitation for adulterers and limb-severance for shoplifters? Not to mention stoning to death for shirtlifters? And if Paul Dacre likes authoritarian religion so much, why doesn’t he bugger off to Iran?)

The Loony Left, of course, is never far from Mr Dacre’s thoughts, and he must have been rubbing his hands with glee when he found out that “Lesbians working for local authorities are eligible for ‘paternity’ leave at public expense when their partners have a child.” The policy, which apparently has been accepted by “many of the 480 local authorities around the country”, allows five days leave with pay to “the child’s father or partner, or nominated carer of an expectant mother at or around the time of birth.” But better still, left-wing Islington Council in London has doubled the leave entitlement to two weeks.

A few days later, the Chief Executive of Islington Council pointed out in a letter to The Mail’s sister paper, The London Evening Standard, that the policy was generally accepted throughout the country and made no specific mention of lesbians – a “carer” could be a sister or a mother. He said: “This misleading report will only damage Islington’s reputation at a time when we are doing all we can to attract companies and organisations into the borough to provide jobs for local people.”

So why had The Mail introduced lesbians into the equation and singled out Islington Council? Why, because Labour leader Tony Blair is a resident of Islington, and if they can whack him over the head with a lesbian they’ll do it. The fact that the whole thing was total distortion was of no consequence to the moral bankrupts at The Mail.

Then came the story that gay sex is now apparently permissible in prison. The Mail headed its version “exclusive” — exclusively lifted from The Pink Paper that is —and then editorialised: “Len Curran, [deputy head of Healthcare for the Prison Service] speaking this month to a conference considering HIV in prisons, said the Prisons Service considers sex between consenting prisoners in a locked cell to be a private matter and therefore legal under the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. The truth is that a sorry mixture of cowardice, permissiveness and political correctness means that the Prison Service would rather condone a perverse regime built around sex and drugs in jail instead of acting ruthlessly to stamp out these growing evils.”

Then the Mail found the perfect opportunity to solicit more predictable quotes from the raving Right after news emerged that Jane Hardman Brown, (described as “a lesbian headmistress who refused to let her pupils see a production of Romeo and Juliet) had been promoted to become a schools’ inspector. “The fact that she is so committed to a homosexual agenda must make it a reason for concern that she should sit in judgement over other schools,” said MP Julian Brazier. The Conservative Family Campaign (an organisation with inordinate influence at The Daily Mail) called for “a proper vetting procedure to be put in place for such appointments.”

In The Mail’s frighteningly one-dimensional world, Ms Brown could not, of course, have been given the job on merit. Despite having her skills lauded in two official reports, The Daily Mail still thinks it’s all down to “political correctness”. In an editorial the paper says: “Many had hoped that Ofsted would deal with the worst excesses of permissive education. Ms Hardman Brown’s appointment suggests that either trendy liberals wield undue power in the educational establishment, or that Chris Woodhead, Ofsted’s director, feels the need to make a token appointment to assuage his increasingly vociferous liberal critics. Either way alarm bells should be ringing.”

The paper wasn’t content to leave it there, though, and a few days later reported that “an education chief who tried to discipline a lesbian headmistress is planning to quit his job.” The man in question is Gus John, Director of Education at Hackney Council. The lesbian being, of course, the aforementioned Jane Brown. The Mail suggests that Mr John has been driven to early retirement because of pressure from “the gay lobby”. In fact his desire to discipline Ms Brown was thwarted not by some homosexual fifth column but by the parents themselves who supported Jane Brown from the very beginning.

Next in The Mail’s firing line was Euan Sutherland, with his battle to get the age of consent law changed by appealing to the European Court of Human Rights (or “his disturbing gay crusade” as The Mail has it). Euan and his parents were interviewed by the Mail’s reporter John Ungoed-Thomas. The subheading over the feature said it all: “This boy is using your money to fight for a lower age of homosexual consent. But does he know his own mind?” Mr and Mrs Sutherland were presented as “permissive” parents for allowing Euan to sleep with his boyfriend in their house at a time when the law forbade it: “What is deemed acceptable in this middle class home is poised to have a possibly devastating influence over Britain’s ever-sliding standards of morality.”

Euan is subtly portrayed as a child who does not know his own mind. “The fact that Euan had shortly beforehand lost his virginity to the schoolgirl he had been dating hardly seems the behaviour of someone who had everything clear in his mind.”

The Mail’s record of hatred and intolerance has a long pedigree. If we go back to its issue dated January 15th 1934 we will find the headline “Hurrah for the Blackshirts!”

The Blackshirts were, of course, the British Union of Fascists. Unsurprisingly, The Daily Mail supported them enthusiastically, even after Hitler came to power.

A long time ago? For regular readers of the Mail it must seem like only yesterday.

QUOTES OF THE MONTH:

“Accused people want their briefs tarted up for their day in court.” David Ashby MP revealed exclusively in a Commons debate on whether judges and barristers should still wear wigs.

“Jason Gardiner’s Dick leaves me quite unimpressed,” wrote Nicholas de Jongh, The Evening Standard’s theatre critic, in his review of the musical, Dames at Sea. His editors were not impressed either. In later editions, the review was changed to read: “Jason Gardiner in the role of Dick…” What were they thinking of?

“Gay marriage seeks merely to promote monogamy, fidelity and the disciplines of family life among people who have long been cast to the margins of society. And what could be a more conservative project than that?” argued conservative American gay journalist Andrew Sullivan in Newsweek.

“I always thought Margo had a certain appeal as a gay icon, so I was delighted to be asked to do the voiceovers,” Penelope Keith, star of the kitsch 70s sitcom The Good Life, told The Radio Times about her new role on Gaytime TV. What would the good folk of Surbiton have to say about this?

“The dafter aspects of political correctness are just that,” Tony Blair commented recently to The Evening Standard when asked about the decision by Islington Council to allow ‘paternity’ leave to the partners of pregnant lesbians. Adding insult to injury Blair said that the action of Islington was not typical of Labour councils.

“Absolutely speechless,” Lady Olga Maitland told The Sun when asked her response to lesbian headteacher Jane Brown being made a schools inspector. If only it were really true then the world would be a much happier place.

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