Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The sewers spread more smears

If you want to smear a politician, there are many accusations you can make: espionage, perhaps, or corruption; if you want to get domestic, it could be adultery or using prostitutes; but, boy, you really get your shaft home if you accuse a leading figure of paedophilia.

So that’s what the Daily Mail, which passes as a newspaper in Britain, has decided to do to Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party. Caught up with her in the smear is her husband, Jack Dromey, a Labour MP since 2010 and a leading trades unionist before then. Because it’s best to do these things in threes, the Mail has also got its knife into Patricia Hewitt, a former Labour Health Secretary.

Harriet Harman: the Daily Mail's latest target
Now you can make a smear up wholesale, and the Mail has done just that in the past. But it’s best if you can give it some slight basis in fact, on the no smoke without fire principle. All three these people worked for the National Council for Civil Liberties, now called Liberty, at different times in the seventies and early eighties. In the 1970s, the NCCL accepted an affiliation from a body called the Paedophile Information Exchange. 

It never should have taken that affiliation. Shami Chakrabarti, who now heads Liberty, apologised for this grave mistake only last year, saying that “it is a source of continuing disgust and horror that even the NCCL had to expel paedophiles from its ranks in 1983 after infiltration at some point in the 70s.”

In those days, the NCCL had 1000 affiliates, and to my knowledge just one rotten apple. On almost all questions, they and its successor pop up regularly on the right side of questions: defending individuals from injustice, police violence or limitations of freedoms. It made a mistake and a serious one over the PIE, but I can understand people like the Mail’s victims choosing to stay with the organisation despite it.

In any case, the Mail is attacking individuals and not an organisation. The nub of their charges is that Harman herself was soft on paedophilia. She, they claim, worked to get the age of consent reduced to 10 and to soften regulations against taking photographs of children.

The reality, as she made clear, is that she never advocated reducing the age of consent to 10. She asked for the age of consent for homosexuals to be made the same as for heterosexuals. As for photographs of children, she was endeavouring to ensure that innocent photos of children taken by parents (perhaps in a bath – and I know I have some glorious ones of the aftermath of my boys’ unilateral decision to repaint their room) or pictures used for sex education, should not be criminalised.

The reality is that Harriet Harman’s only offence is that she’s taken a political stance that doesn’t appeal to the Mail.

And what of the Mail itself?

Well, it has quite a colourful track record. For instance, Britain has been struggling with a series of measles epidemics over the last few years, because a since struck off doctor called Andrew Wakefield published now discredite research suggesting that the Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine was dangerous. The ensuing panic led to major drop in vaccination rates and the subsequent epidemics.

Who gave his results the publicity they needed? Why, the Daily Mail. And they’re publishing articles still: Melanie Phillips, the star journalist on this story, is still writing material giving credence to Wakefield’s continued rants.

But that’s only the most recent of the Mail’s journalistic triumphs. They reached the high point of their existence came in the 1930s, when they supported Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists. And as supporters of his, they naturally also approved of his good friend, Adolf Hitler.

Even earlier, in 1924 the first Labour government in Britain was facing a general election it was likely to lose. Just seven years after the Russian revolution, Grigory Zinoviev was still a leading member of the Soviet Communist Party. Just four days before the election, the Daily Mail published a letter from him to the British Communist Party suggesting how advantageous a Labour victory would be.

Did the letter lose the election for the Labour Party? Possibly not. But the Liberal vote collapsed and the Tory vote rose: the general interpretation is that anti-Socialist Liberals switched in droves to the Conservatives.

And the letter? It was a forgery.

Every country needs its sewers and its cesspits: they serve a vital role. It’s just a pity when they masquerade as newspapers. And poison the minds of anyone they can reach.


Anonymous said...

The Daily Mail is beyond the pale.


David Beeson said...

And cast a pall on all they touch