The Dissenter's Voice

The ocassional comments, opinions, rambling and rants of a liberal dissenter in New Labour's Britain

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Not quite so liberated afterall

It's now almost 4 months since I left Lambeth Council by popular demand and I discover belatedly that I'm the subject of a short piece in the 'Radical Bulletin' section of Liberator (head nod to Donnacaidh McCarthy) the self proclaimed guardians of British liberal conscience.

The June edition of that august journal contains a comment on the South London Press's sexpose of my personal ad on Gaydar, a popular gay dating site. For those who don't know it the SLP is a local tabloid newspaper with a reputation for - how can I put it - 'sensationalist' reporting.

The SLP published the article just before this years local elections in Lambeth where I was standing for re-election to the Council. The article accused me of posing naked for explicit photos 'too shocking to publish in a family newspaper'. Using carefully chosen words it implied that the pictures were of me performing some kind of sexual act. While I have never denied posting the ad I've been silent about its central allegation of a sexually explicit photo.

Given that the Liberator has chosen to perpetuate this accusation I think it’s now time to set the record straight.

Like 250,000 other gay men in the UK I have a profile on Gaydar. However, there are no sexually explicit photos on my ad and there never have been. What there was though, in common with very many other ads on the site, was a full body shot with my private parts obscured by my hand.

Was this a reckless thing for an elected councillor running for re-election to post on the net? Certainly. Was it naive to think that it shouldn't be an election issue? Probably. Was it wrong? Definitely not!

Liberator seem to take a different view however. Their article was disappointing, its not just that they took at face value the comments of a tabloid newspaper owned by a Labour peer, its not just that they failed to ask me whether or not the accusations were true, its not even the fairly obvious pleasure they take in seeing the downfall of a fellow liberal who has taken an opposing political line to them in internal party debate. What is so disappointing is the whole tone of the piece - which is just so.....illiberal.

You see Liberator seem to argue that there should be a different set of behaviour for those who seek office from those who a elect them - in their words "when one voluntarily enters public life there are some constraints". Apparently if you are in public life it is only acceptable to live a modern gay lifestyle if you are secretive and embarrassed about it - a sort of 'don't ask, don't tell' policy for politicians. Well I'm afraid I am comfortable and happy with who I am. I refuse to accept that what is perfectly acceptable in everyday life should be treated as something shameful & shady in public life. I don't believe that it is wrong in 2006 for a man, gay or straight, to look for dates over the internet. Indeed, to be fair, no-one has really suggested that it is wrong - just that I was wrong to be so open & public about it. Well, I came out when I was 16 and I'm not about to start sliding back into the closet now. If the price of being open about who I am is to lose office then that is I'm afraid a price well worth paying.

I doubt I'll ever run for office again - having been a political activist all my adult life now that I've tasted freedom I must confess that I rather like it. However, this isn't just about what happened to me - it's about what kind of politicians we want as a society. How often have we heard the complaint that politicians are aloof and separate, that one of the causes of political disaffection is that they lead lives completely divorced from the experiences of the electorate. Now we are told that it is only those people who conform to an imagined ideal of behaviour who are fit to hold office. Surely we can't have it both ways.

Yes 'when you voluntarily enter public life there are some constraints' the public have a right to expect certain standards from their elected representatives. They have the right to expect that they will not break the law, the right to expect that they will not do or say one thing in public and another in private, they have the right to expect that they will not do anything that stops them fulfilling the job to which they were elected. But what they do not have the right to is determine how a politician lives their private life. By private, I don't mean hidden and unseen - I mean that part of their life that is not accountable, whether it be that they go to church on Sunday, have a secret taste for barn dancing or they get dates on the internet.

If we want to have politicians who are vaguely recognisable as members of the human race then we are going to have to stop attacking them for being...well....frankly...human. That is particularly true of those who so presumptuously claim to be in the vanguard of liberal thinking. For me the role of Liberals is not to criticise people for exercising their freedoms it is to defend them.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

'A smile like the brass plate on a coffin'

I've been having a horrible recurring dream for the past week, a menacing bald man, with a sinister smile is standing waving to the crowd before entering No. 10 as Prime Minister. No it's not IDS raised from the political grave, it's someone infinitely more rightwing and authoritarian....John Reid.

Reid has had a good week in political terms, with many believing that he handled the latest "Terror Crisis" well while Big Tony was at the seaside. He's now being touted as the only credible candidate to beat Gordon brown when Tony Blair finally calls it a day. It's a terrifying thought.

While the chorus of praise is being sung its worth taking a little closer look at our brave Home Secretary. he started his political life at Strathclyde University as the Student Communists (yes this was when the British Communists thought that Uncle Joe Stalin was just misunderstood) political enforcer - the political & physical heavy who 'persuaded' recalcitrant party members to toe the line.

Perhaps it was this aspect of his personality that led to him striking up a friendship with Serbian war criminal Radozan Karadic. He stayed for 3 nights as a guest of the charming Karadic in a luxury hotel while he was a Defence Minister.

Reid comes across as a brute, an intelligent one, but a brute none the less. He is charmless, cold and unsympathetic. He has a total lack of empathy, whether it's his past as a communist bully boy, his friendship with war criminals, his complete disregard for civil liberties, his crude political populism & opportunism or his swaggering self-importance. Reid’s Labour party defenders are welcome to him.

If it wasn’t for the awful things he could do with even more power I’d welcome him as Labour leader as I think he’d be a disaster in an election and at least we could be sure of getting rid of the rest of this tabloid government as well!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Why I'm not yet convinced....

It's a liberal's job to be sceptical, so I guess you can't blame me for being increasingly concerned about just how justified the latest Terror Alert has actually been. I'm not a crazed conspriacy theorist, almost always it is a combination of incompetence & opportunism that is the answer when things don't seem to add up, rather than conspriacy. That I suspect is what's going on here as well.

We've been told that the 24 arrests averted an horiffic 9/11 style attack, that following the arrest of fugitive terrorist mastermind in Pakistan information was 'discovered' that made it imperative to arrest the suspected bombers straight-away before they could put there plan into action.

However, it's now emerging that none of the 24 arrested had actually bought an airline ticket, indeed a number now appear not to even have valid passports. They literally could not have got on board a flight, let alone blow one up. Virtually all of them have been under long-term surveillance by the Security Services. Surely this means that they did not have the capacity to launch an 'emergency' attack, and that any attempt to do so would have been easily spotted & stopped?

I don't doubt that most of those arrested have extreme views, and that many of them will probably have been taped making wild threats, or indeed to be actively involved with extremist jihadist organisations but given the Police's recent record I'm not so convinced that there was much hard evidence of an actual terrorist conspiracy. Lets remember that as Craig Murray has pointed out only 12% of the 1000+ British Muslims arrested under new terrorism legislation have ever actually been charged and that of those 80% have been acquited once they got to trial.

Remember the 'Dodgy Dossier'? What that showed us was that inteligence isn't black & white, there are a lot of judgement calls, and balanced evidence that needs to be assesed calmly. What I suspect has happened is that some weak evidence against a group of home grown extremists has been used to justify action which is very politically convenient for both Tony Blair & George Bush.

The evidence remember comes from the government of Pakistani Dictator General Musharraff, which is anxious to stay in the West's good books despite its continued links with elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. In particular the details of the alleged plot came from the confession of Rashid Rauf, a Birmingham born man on the run for the murder of his uncle in the UK. Tayib was arrested by the Pakistani Secret Service, the ISI (yes that's the same ISI that continues to train the Taliban), who routinely use torture to get information from suspects. As we know, torture is a very reliable way of getting information - it's not however a very reliable way of getting the truth as those tortured will say anything to make it stop.

The whole thing looks a mess, I don't think anyone sat down to plan out a conspiracy, but I do suspect that political expediency has led to pressure for 'action' whether the evidence justified it or not.

I could well be wrong, and this might have been an amazingly piece of intelligence work from the guys who rbrought us iraqi WMDs & the Forest Gate bomb factory but it will be very interesting to see how many of the current crop of suspects are actually charged, how many go to trial and how many are actually found guilty in the end.

Time to get typing

This was alweays meant to be an occassional endeavour, however what with holidays & work it's been even more occassional than I'd envisaged. I'm going to make a little bit more of an effort to post more regularly, not least because so much keeps happening whenever I stray away from my PC.