Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Why Iain Dale is wrong about Parliament Square

I must confess I like Iain Dale, he is one of those few Tories who is prepared to argue stuff rather than just restate things over and over again Gobbels-style like most Tories do.

So it is bearing this in mind that I have to respectfully disagree with his blog post today about the protest camp in Parliament Square. Iain argues that this is unslightly and a disgrace and that we should not allow it. Falling back for a moment into traditional Tory mode he derides those who disagree with his position as being "lefties" and associates by implication those who occupy this space as scroungers and the like. Strangely he also argues that the camp is effectively denying others the right to use the square, although quite what anyone else would want to do in the middle of a roundabout that is busy 24/7 is beyond me.

However his view on this is taken from a typically Tory POV; Tories have never had to struggle to get their message heard by large numbers of people, if not by everyone in the UK. The protesters in Parliament Square have never had that luxury. They do not have right-wing billionnaires who own national newspapers trumpeting every inch of their cause; The Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, the Sun, The Daily Express, the Times, the Evening Standard, Sky News, etc, etc, etc...

Those who wish to have issues raised which the super-rich owners of these papers do not want to have discussed find themselves effectively censored, their arguments not publicised their activities unknown to huge swathes of the population. Let me give you an example of this censorship.

A week or so before polling day this year, a friend of mine felt compelled to go public about one of the Tory candidates, one Philippa Stroud, the Tory candidate for Sutton & Cheam and now one of Theresa May's special "advisers" (and I thought the government was supposed to have been cutting out such 'consultants'). She related how Stroud had funded a church in which gay and trans people could be taken for strange voodoo-like religious rituals to "cure" them of their homsexuality or to "fix" their gender identity "problems". She felt compelled to do this because David Cameron had been at pains to tell everyone how much the Tories had changed and were no longer the homophobic bigots many of them quite clearly are.

Stroud was living proof that the Tories' "liberal" approach to human rights was neither as firm nor as embedded as Cameron would have liked us to believe. This information being made public just before an election could have deterred a lot of people from voting Tory on the mistaken premise that the hateful bigots were no longer part of modern "progressive" Conservatism; that interesting and ultimately meaningless contradiction in terms. Apart from the Observer this story was reported nowhere, with the notable exception of the Telegraph (which prides itself on the quality of news, even news which sometimes undermines its own editorial positions). Nobody ran it. It was effectively censored.

Just to compare, so that the argument cannot be made that it was not important enough, the story about a no-hope, maverick Labour candidate in an unwinnable constituency, who had been disowned not only by his local party but by his own mother, criticising Gordon Brown made headlines everywhere at the same time.

So people who espouse causes which do not fit into the manufactured news agenda of the wealthy far-right supporters of the Tory party are familiar with the concept of the artificial invisibility of some information, stories and arguments. As such the only means they have at their disposal to publicise them is to use tactics such as occupying prominent places, so this is very much a free speech issue. Free speech, is only an academic right, if no-one else can hear you. It becomes a huge issue when certain information is deliberately and systematically censored by self-appointed private-sector censors; "Banned in Boston" still lives on today in the UK media. Until the media in the UK becomes less one-sided, more democratic and stops resorting to censoring information it doesn't like, the existence of the demonstration in Parliament Square will be as justified as the existence of Iain Dale's blog.

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