When allegations of child abuse arise it is essential that they are rapidly and thoroughly investigated and the culprits — if any —brought to justice. No one is arguing with that. And so, when children’s homes operated by Islington Council in north London were said to be hot beds of paedophilia, prostitution, drug-taking and violence it became legitimate — essential, even — for newspapers to probe and ask questions. The London Evening Standard did just that, and its investigation revealed a terrible catalogue of ineptitude, neglect, fear and political manipulation resulting in the dreadful exploitation of children in Islington’s care.
According to the paper, this evil had been going on unchecked for years. The Standard claimed that the council’s equal opportunities policy — applied, they said, with Stalinist zeal — made it impossible for staff to complain about the nefarious doings of certain people, simply because they were from racial and sexual minorities. If anyone blew the whistle, went the argument, they would be accused of racism or homophobia and their careers would be ruined. Political Correctness, we were told, ruled the roost in Islington and common sense and the protection of children went out of the window.
The London Evening Standard was furious when its initial reports were dismissed as “gutter journalism”. But they have only themselves to blame. Newspapers have published so many stories about Labour local authorities which have turned out to be unfounded that they should not be surprised when nobody believes the ones that are true.
Eventually Ian White, director of Oxford social services, was commissioned to investigate the alleged horrors of Islington child care policies. His report was published to a predictable howl from the right-wing press about the insidious ethos of “political correctness”. Or, as The Sun put it: “A left-wing council’s obsession with being ‘fair’ to gays may have led to child sex perverts being employed as care workers.” The paper said that “Gay men were given preferential treatment. Their references were not investigated.”
The Sun, as always, needed a scapegoat, and they found it in the shape of Margaret Hodge MP, who was leader of the council when all this alleged abuse was going on. Ms Hodge is now a high-up in “New Labour”, a fact which The Sun was keen to exploit. “Margaret Hodge is the face of the sanitised New Labour,” it editorialised (May 24th). “She smiles, wears smart suits and is close to Tony Blair. But this woman once led the hard-faced harridans of London’s loony left. She presided over a regime which recruited homosexuals and left the door open for perverts in the name of gay rights… Remember her smug words if you are ever tempted to vote Labour.”
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, here you see the let’s-make-political-capital-out-of-the-poofs technique in full operation. And believe me, you are going to see a lot more of it before Mr Major eventually chucks in the towel.
And if you need more evidence, just look at what right-wing propagandist Norman Tebbit said about the matter in his column in The Sun: “Many of us who know Islington’s Labour council suspected for years that its equal opportunities policy for gays and lesbians was used as a cover by perverts to prey on children in care… It is an appalling catalogue of corruption, all going under the sick banner of equal rights for sex perverts.”
The Daily Express agreed. In an editorial (May 24th) it said: “Left-wing town halls, which pander to the gay lobby and race industry, have become a joke. For children in the care of Islington Council this fashionable obsession proved little short of tragic. Social workers there were allegedly able to corrupt boys and girls for whom they were responsible because of doctrinaire disinclination to investigate complaints against them. Political correctness discounted suggestions that gay social workers could be paedophiles.”
But it is surely The Daily Mail that is playing the “political correctness” card for all it is worth. It accused just about everybody who doesn’t share its neo-fascist view of the world of being politically correct. It fingered the police as being PC for (a) wanting to curb the yobbish sexism of its male officers and (b) advertising jobs in the gay press. The BBC’s drama department is also stands accused of PC because, apparently, it doesn’t commission plays from a right-wing perspective.
Then the paper’s star columnist, the fanatically anti-gay Richard Littlejohn did his bit to exploit the Islington affair (May 26th) by linking it with the appointment of a gay “New Labour mayor” in the neighbouring borough of Haringey. According to Littlejohn, Mr Alan Dobbie has “announced plans to tour schools explaining to children ‘what happens behind the bike shed— and to talk about safer sex. Mr Dobbie later insisted that his visits to schools would be nothing more than ceremonial, but he was quoted as saying: “Parents’ little treasures know more than their parents think, so it’s important to tackle the issues that are sometimes embarrassing to talk about at home.”
Mr Littlejohn fumed: “Even if some children find it difficult to discuss sex at home, what makes him think that parents want their `little treasures’ to learn about it from a 28-year old politically-motivated, tub-thumping homosexual.”
But before we run away with the idea — which is being promoted for all it is worth by the Tories and their press toadies — that New Labour is the gay-lovers’ party, let’s not forget that it was a New Labour council in Ealing, west London which was recently accused of refusing to allow a long-standing “out” gay councillor to become deputy mayor. The Ealing Gazette (May 12th) reported: “Last week we revealed that Cllr John Gallagher had been unceremoniously dumped at the eleventh hour, despite being seen as the heir apparent for the job [of deputy mayor] for the last six months… some party insiders believe that one of the reasons why Cllr Gallagher was dropped was because he was gay… The Gazette has been told that the move was made after advice from Labour’s London regional office, which advised that having a homosexual mayor at the next election in 1998 could lose the party support.”
The Daily Mail even managed to entice New Labour star David Blunkett into showing his true colours in an article entitled “Labour and the lunacy of political correctness.” Mr Blunkett (who you will remember voted against equalising the age of consent for gay men) says that he has been dogged by political correctness all his life. He repeated all the discredited mythology about not being able to use the word “black” (as in blackboard or black mark) and “man” (as in chairman and spokesman). He doesn’t seem to know that most of it is lies — lies repeated so often that they have now entered the public consciousness.
Barmy Blunkett then went on to say that medical advice to avoid exposing the skin to excessive sunshine because of the risk of skin cancer is more “political correctness” and that “surely enjoying summer is one of the last things we should have to feel guilty about.”
This confirms it — the man is crackers. The rate of skin cancer in this country is accelerating at an alarming rate. What does Blunkett want — even more people dying from the horrendous effects of melanoma?
The concept of political correctness is a useful one for the Right. It gives a rationale (albeit spurious and senseless) for their endless bigotry (or, as The Independent put it: “The phrase `political correctness’ is spat from the lips like a gob of expletive. They are not words with meaning at all but mere invective.”) PC relieves people of any guilt they might have about harbouring racist opinions or homophobic impulses. To have hostile feelings towards these traditionally unpopular minorities is now, it seems, OK because suppressing them or challenging them is the realm of the “fanatic” and “extremist”, the “mind-controller” and “Marxist”.
Where it might lead can be seen with these latest attacks on equal opportunities policies. The message is clear: “Homosexuals shouldn’t be employed in jobs where they might come into contact with children.” From there it could easily move to “Homosexuals shouldn’t be given special privileges” and then to an atmosphere where the exclusion of sexual orientation from equal ops seems reasonable.
The problems in Islington were not caused by its equal opportunities policies, but by the bad management of those policies. If managers were afraid to discipline gay, black or disabled workers when they did wrong, then there is surely something amiss with the disciplinary process. It is not the fault of those black, gay or disabled workers who are entirely innocent of any misdemeanour that an ethos of fear had developed.
Sneering about “political correctness” means that the issues of injustice and unfair treatment in employment don’t have to be addressed. The catalogue of racist insult and anti-gay abuse that some local authority employees have to put up with is sickening. The Commission for Racial Equality reports that twice the number of young black men are out of work than white. The British Crime Survey reported 32,000 racially motivated incidents and 26,000 acts of vandalism against blacks. And recent reports from Stonewall and Social and Community Planning Research paint a dismal picture of large-scale discrimination against gay people in employment.
Nobody should have to spend their working lives on the receiving end of the contempt of bigoted colleagues. No one should be denied employment because of their colour, sexuality or a disability — so long as they are the right person for the job. And no one should be denied promotion because their boss is “non-politically correct” (i.e. a racist bastard who hates “poofs and cripples”.)
In an article in The Guardian (June 1st), Herman Ouseley, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, asked: “Who are the gurus of political correctness? Where are they? And what areas do they represent? The answers are: unknown; hardly anywhere; and virtually none.” He says: “The advocates of the ‘political correctness’ plot rely on trivia, silliness and political excess to exploit people’s fear and intolerance.”
Political correctness has recently been defined in The New Concise Oxford English Dictionary as “the avoidance of forms of expression that exclude, marginalise or insult racial or cultural minorities.” This seems to me like a noble purpose, but the way it has been perverted into something sinister by the right-wing press is contemptible.
It does, however, give us a glimpse at what is to come as the election draws closer. Attempts to move the gay rights agenda forward will be increasingly presented as nothing more than “political correctness gone mad”.
The arguments being put forward by those opposed to gays in the military are curiously sad and mean-minded. John Keegan, the defence editor of The Daily Telegraph, wrote (June 8th) that whichever liberal way society at large might be drifting in the matter of homosexuality, the military remained implacably opposed. “Generals and admirals are adamant. So are sergeants, aircraftmen and Wrens. They do not like serving with homosexuals who reveal their orientation. They go even further. Despite a service ethic amounting almost to omerta against splitting on comrades to those in authority, they undoubtedly do split on homosexuals.”
Isn’t this something of a pathetic argument? If there was no sanction against being gay in the military what would there be to split on?
Keegan says that “Once the knowledge [of a serviceperson’s gayness] got about, once juniors felt under threat, once equals or seniors developed a simultaneously watchful and protective attitude, administrative action ensued as if by the action of an unseen hand.”
But that unseen hand has a name: bigotry. It has another name: injustice.
Fortunately, much of the excuse-making garbage pouring out of the Tory press was balanced by more enlightened features in the liberal papers. Both The Guardian and The Independent were unequivocal in their demands for change, and The Indy (June 8th) gave us the thoughts of Andrew Sullivan, editor of The New Republic in the US and a conservative gay man, who sees the political ground shifting. Gay rights, he asserts, are no longer the province of the loony Left, but have intruded into even the most reactionary of institutions. “A new political language has been born,” he says. “It is the language not of separate cultural existence, but of equal human dignity. It echoes with the resonance of the noblest of causes in our recent history. And it will surely, eventually, win.”