Saturday, 28 August 2010

Hague warns press not to follow Guido's lead

The Telegraph reports on its front-page that "a Cabinet minister is ready to take legal action to halt a series of increasingly lurid but baseless rumours sweeping Westminster over his sexuality ... Friends of the minister have warned that he will not hesitate to take “action” should unfounded allegations that he is homosexual, which are circulating on the internet, appear in mainstream media".

The minister, not named in this report, is clearly Foreign Secretary William Hague.

His identity would be considerably more closely guarded from Telegraph readers if the newspaper had not already placed itself at the forefront of those using online sources to spread innuendo about Hague, doing so with the subtlety of a brick in its Mandrake diary column on Wednesday.

The Telegraph was quoting a Freedom of Information request from Paul Staines, blogging as Guido Fawkes, who has led the online charge, slightly bizarrely claiming that answering it "amounted to an official inquiry". Paul Dacre's Mail titles have also shown some interest since the weekend.

It now appears that Hague is (probably sensibly) not threatening legal action against blogs, but seeking to warn newspapers not to follow up the online reports. It is not entirely clear whether the route would involve injunctions (which could well prove counter-productive) or rather threats of subsequent PCC or legal action against false or libellous reporting. It might simply be that the generic threat and strength of denial are intended to provide an effective deterrent to reporting in mainstream outlets of rumours and innuendos which the minister dismisses as simple falsehoods. It is a strategy which depends on maintaining the rather blurred boundaries between news outlets, blogs and social media; the dilemma being how to deny the rumours most effectively without fuelling them further.

The Guido Fawkes blog has just come top of Total Politics' libertarian blogs category. The enthusiasm with which it would seek to "out" a Minister perhaps sits oddly with that. (Whether it does so erroneously in this case, while important, is not the central point there). Staines has also again proved willing to host long threads spattered with homophobic comments - some very vile - on his blog. No doubt he would offer a free speech defence of that. It might reasonably be questioned whether that fully addresses the enthusiasm with which they are encouraged and in effect celebrated - such as with special caption competitions in effect offering a green light to further rounds of homophobic comments. (Next Left isn't calling for Staines to be banned from doing this: we are simply publicly criticising him for being willing to so actively encourage homophobic attitudes, when these are thankfully much more marginal than they were a decade ago).

***

Meanwhile, there is a lot of personal sympathy for Crispin Blunt across the political spectrum at Westminster. The Conservative minister's decision to come out as gay, aged 50, and end his marriage again reflects, as Iain Dale posts, very different public and political culture just a decade ago; which was also reflected in David Laws' decision to keep his sexuality private.

Blunt first stood as a Tory candidate in 1992. The point of his decision to keep his head down can be seen in how, as late as 2002, Blunt's own constituency chairman could attack Alan Duncan's decision to come out:


"I would not be happy if we had a gay candidate here - I would always go for a candidate who had a normal background," he said. "Our current MP [Conservative Crispin Blunt; majority 8,000] is happily married with two children."


Blunt's constituency association's reaction yesterday was more sensible.

The Daily Maybe reports that Blunt's own public statements were not always on the side of gay rights: unhappily opposing an equal age of consent on the grounds that homosexuality was a lifestyle choice. That will be challenged as hypocritical, though it must also have reflected an attempted self-rationalisation of his own life choices at the time.

The prisons minister has increasingly become a significant liberal voice in the Conservative party. This may perhaps adding to the sympathy for his personal turmoil among political opponents as well as colleagues, along with the desire to show that we have (almost) all moved decisively on from the days when homosexuality was thought a bar to a public life or political career.

6 comments:

ian-e said...

Why doesn't Hague simply make a public statement along the lines ... 'I have noted that some totally unfounded rumours about my sexuality have been circulating on the Internet. I now want to make it clear that I am happily married and am not, and never have been, gay?' He could then add masked threat of legal action against MSM pandering to the rumours, possibly adding something to show that he is not denigrating any who happen to swing differently.

Sunder Katwala said...

I have removed a comment with link from the blogger "jailhouselawyer".

The comment was "Guido's lead? I think you will find that I ran with the story 24 hours before Guido...". Credit duly claimed.

My problem was the link. The content is strenuously denied by its subject, including suggesting a willingness to take legal action.

I have no grounds from which to disbelieve that denial and have removed the link, since it contains an allegation this website can not make or substantiate. I would appreciate other readers not adding similar links here, though they can of course do as they pleased in their own spaces.

jailhouselawyer said...

Er...?

"Hague is (probably sensibly) not threatening legal action against blogs".

I almost did not put the link, but when I don't people ask "where is the link to back up the claim?".

The comment did not in itself offend, and the link merely gave the title of the story.

Perhaps, if and when Lord Lester's Libel Bill gets passed into law some people will follow Corporal Jones' advice "Don't panic!".

Sunder Katwala said...

Thanks. I repeated your comment, after deleting the post, because your wanting to put on record the claim to have broken the story first is not offensive, so I wasn't intending to delete that. (We don't have the facility to partially edit comments).

jailhouselawyer said...

"We don't have the facility to partially edit comments" I know, it's a bugger. Wordpress does allow it, but I'm not swapping just for that...

JABITheW said...

The way it squares with the libertarian nature of Staines is the suspicion that Hague is diverting our money to his supposed lover,as did Laws. That would be corruption, no different to a straight minister doing the same. It's just that outing him would be a necessary part of the story, if it were true.