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Harriet Harman, paedophilia - and double standards

Amazing recent news.

It’s emerged that a very senior Shadow Cabinet member once said that sexually explicit photographs or films of children should be legalised - unless there was evidence that the child had been harmed.

And at the time (the late 1970s), the spokesman was a senior figure in a libertarian group that wanted the age of consent lowered to 14, and incest decriminalised.

Furthermore, paedophile organisations were affiliated to the group - which said that "childhood sexual experiences, willingly engaged in, with an adult result in no identifiable damage".

Some of you are asking: what's going on?

Where's the Government reaction, you ask?  The Labour backbenchers calling for Cameron to sack the spokesman?  The Labour frontbenchers not going quite so far, but murmuring that he - or she - has “questions to answer”?  The BBC top billing for the Labour reaction?  The Guardian ringing round parents' groups for quotes, hunting down former members of the libertarian group, and straining to give the story legs?  The left-wing commentators who want the Conservatives to lose - and Brown to win - announcing proof "of what we've always known - that the Tories can't be trusted with our kids".  The right-wing commentators who collaborate in wanting the same result denouncing "the culture of moral depravity which taints the top of the Party"?  The Mirror doorstepping the Shadow Minister? The pressure building on him to resign?  The election campaign thrown into turmoil?  The plunging opinion polls?

The rest of you have seen the point.

The story did indeed break yesterday.  (The Daily Telegraph had it.)  But -

  • The politician in question wasn't a Shadow Cabinet Minister.  It was no less senior a Cabinet Minister than Harriet Harman, Leader of the Commons and prospective Labour leadership candidate.
  • The organisation wasn’t a libertarian group. It was that establishment body, the National Council for Civil Liberties.
  • And although Tim Loughton, our Shadow Children’s Minister, judged our reaction to the story well, there was – guess what? – little BBC reaction, no sign of a right-wing media ring-round, no reaction from the conservative commentariat: no sense of a story gaining momentum.  I can’t find anything significant on it in today’s media.

My point isn’t that Harriet Harman wants to ease the legal restraints on paedophile activity.  (It should go without saying that she doesn’t.)  Nor is it that her views during the late 1970s are worth the kind of media rampage that I sketch out above  It’s simply this.  Had a Shadow Cabinet Minister taken the same view in the late 1970s as Harman did, and the Guardian (say) rather than the Telegraph broken the story, there would have been if not a rampage, at least a big flurry of media interest.  But there wasn’t.  Why?

Because Britain has slowly developed a deep, sustained, self-reinforcing anti-right cultural bias – which helps to drive media double standards.

Now there are of course anti-left cultural biases, too.  For example, it’s widely assumed (I think rightly) that the left’s head is in the wrong place – in other words, that the socialist economic model doesn’t work.  The corresponding ant-right cultural bias is that the right’s heart is in the wrong place.  The industrial-scale murder, mass starvation, institutionalised tyranny and economic collapse of communism has done astoundingly little to dent it.  It’s the default setting of the academic establishment, the state-subsidised arts, the license-fee funded broadcaster, and the big charities – the cultural equivalent of “the commanding heights of the economy”.  And it spreads outwards from there.

It’s easy to believe that the two biases cancel each other out.  They don’t – at least, not during the run-up to a close election.  If Labour politicians are assumed to be good people – perhaps with some wrong-headed ideas, but good people none the less – their motives won’t be questioned unless personal gain is involved.  Consider what would have happened had the politician in yesterday’s Telegraph story been not Harman, but a senior Tory.  Isn’t there something in the picture I sketched out earlier?  Wouldn't the double standard have come into play?

It’s certainly done so elsewhere.  Imagine the reporting if the leader of a flagship Conservative council (rather than Labour-controlled Glasgow Council) had resigned after admitting drug abuse.  Or if CCHQ had issued leaflets simply making up stories about Labour - accusing them, say, of planning to end free bus travel and scrap TV licences for the over 75s?  Or if some Tory councillors in a shire county had the same relationship with a fascist group that some Labour councillors in the East End have with the Islamic Forum of Europe?

On this site, we’ll be watching for anti-right double standards closely and flagging them up unsparingly during the run-up to May 6.

Paul Goodman