Thursday, 8 October 2009

Embarassing allies and constructive solidarity

There are some good questions to be asked of the Conservatives about how they are dealing with concerns about the reactionary elements among their new European allies in the new European Reformists and Conservatives group in the European Parliament.

But The Guardian surely went over the top in one part of its reporting yesterday.

Although the fringe event was carefully stage-managed – terse political lines trotted out and limited time for questions – there was one unfortunate mistake. The basement room in which delegates gathered to hear the controversial Tory allies was in Manchester’s Midland Hotel, a building Hitler is said to have liked so much that he would have made it his northern residence if he had invaded.

Those whose political history memories are rather shorter might associate the Midland Hotel more with Damian McBride's 3am briefing in the bar last year. But with so much political and fringe activity taking place in the hotel - not to mention an unfortunate champagne theft controversy last night - to claim there is some significance in a supposed Nazi connection of the hotel seems a low blow too far.

Perhaps surprisingly, this was also picked up almost verbatim in the Mail in an online news report in what was a fairly straight piece of reporting, so to speak, on the homophobia row.

The fringe meeting was carefully stage-managed, but there was one very unfortunate mistake - it was held in Manchester's Midland Hotel, one of Hitler's favourite British buildings.

There has been a lot of discussion of the controversy over Latvian history, the role of the SS and wartime commemoration: The Observer's Peter Beaumont makes what I found a convincing case that the Tory response has been rather glib.

Less discussed has been the views of the Conservatives' new Lithuanian allies on gay rights. So I wanted to flag up some good investigative digging on that by the blogger Soho Politico, reporting on new homophobic legislation in Lithuania and also revealing that the Conservatives abstained on a European Parliament vote on the issue.

It is a good piece of work and I learnt new information from it.

I do continue to think that the Conservative shift on social liberalism is an important and welcome one. I simply don't find it a plausible idea that the embarassment over these new alliances demonstrates that the party remains secretly racist or homophobic and is hiding that for domestic political reasons.

The more nuanced argument that it may have been too quick to overlook these issues in the interests of finding Eurosceptic allies is more credible.

So it is not a "gotcha" argument to say that there is a legitimate challenge here to the Conservatives. I think that part of the test of the party's new equality commitments is how it responds to these challenges.

There may be some difficult issues in precisely how it should do so - such as the right balance between public and private criticism, for example - but I do think that they have been rather too quick to dismiss every concern raised as partisan propaganda, which seems implausible given the range of serious voices involved, such as Stonewall, who have consistently given the party credit where it has made substantive moves on gay rights.

I also think that a fair challenge to those criticising the party is to ensure they demonstrate a substantive commitment to solidarity for those promoting gay rights in Lithuania, or other Eastern European countries, and to avoid that cause becoming only a means to the end of scoring a domestic political point against the Conservatives.

Raising the issue over here, as SohoPolitico has done, seems to me a very good initial step.

This is also good example of where I think it would be useful to seek to offer a voice and platform to advocates of equal rights in Lithuania, to find out what forms of support and solidarity they want from outside - but also whether there are examples of types of external criticism which could make their struggle still more difficult, and prove counter-productive or help their reactionary opponents.

Perhaps that is one way in which major liberal outlets such as The Guardian, as well as outlets like Pink News or campaigning groups like Stonewall could help to ensure that those whose rights are at stake do not simply become means to an end in a British domestic political argument.

It might help to offer an opportunity for Conservatives who want to reassert their liberal credentials to speak out too - and to challenge them to take it up.

1 comment:

Newmania said...

New Labour dumped Britain into an arena where anyone not of their progressive kidney would be isolated. This is the result and your Nazi sniffing only alienates further the residual tolernace of the EU in the majority Party

You are saying we do not fit in here , we do not have a voice we are different