The British press is getting worse. Jack-of-all-trade journalists appear increasingly unable to look into the meat of a story. All they want is a cheap and dirty headline. Greg Clark’s recent use of a Polly Toynbee quotation to describe poverty is headlined as if Tories had embraced the Guardian columnist’s whole political outlook. Tony Blair slips during an interview and the whole media scream that he has admitted that the Iraq war has been a disaster – although any reading of the transcript would lead any grown-up to believe that he still believes that the liberation of Iraq was right and justified. Grown-up journalism is increasingly rare, unfortunately, and we have another example of the tabloidisation of every British newspaper in today’s Telegraph. "Gays as parents? They’re irrelevant, says IDS" is the headline above Melissa Kite’s account of an interview with the former Conservative leader. The BBC has taken up the story and I’m disappointed that Iain Dale has rushed to judgement, too.
IDS could have been more careful with the phrasing of his answers but I’ve spoken to him and Melissa Kite spent much of her interview trying to talk about gay rights issues even though a tiny number of families with children are headed by gay couples. Iain Duncan Smith was there to talk about his social justice policy group’s analysis of data on family breakdown (reported here yesterday). It was in that context that he said that less than half of one per cent of Britons were gay. If you look at that context he was clearly talking about the number of gay families with children. Gay parenting may be on the increase but it remains a very small proportion.
For me there are two issues here: Iain Duncan Smith’s views and the importance of the family:
Iain Duncan Smith’s views: Iain is not homophobic. There is much talk of his opposition to gay adoption when he was leader (rightly or wrongly he believed that the most vulnerable children should not be placed in unconventional families). There is much less recognition of the fact that he abandoned his party’s support for Section 28 when he was leader. He introduced a proposal (rejected by Labour) that would not have focused on explicit materials of a homosexual character but would have stopped explicit materials of any character. As leader he promoted opportunities for gay people to become Tory candidates and as ex-leader trekked down to Cornwall to give support to the embattled Ashley Crossley, who had been the victim of anti-gay feeling.
The importance of the family: Melissa Kite’s interview is a clear indication that the metropolitan media would rather talk about their preoccupations than the issues affecting most Britons. I once was talking with Danny Finkelstein when we were both at CCO and said that I’d happily see gay people get just about every right they desired from serving in the armed forces to civil unions if only public policymakers could focus on doing something to stem the breakdown of relationships between fathers and mothers. The issue of family breakdown is the pressing issue in Britain – not gay rights. The Conservatives issue a landmark report on the scale of misery and underachievement caused by family breakdown and Melissa Kite wants to talk about gay rights. She should be ashamed of herself. It really is pathetic. If you want to understand what Iain is really trying to say I recommend his article in The Sunday Times.