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Sex, politics and the new blasphemy
December 2017 / January 2018

At Westminster, a Conservative MP, Charlie Elphicke, likewise had the whip suspended without knowing why. The first he knew of it was when a journalist rang him on a Friday evening, for the press had already been tipped off that the announcement would be made in time for the ten o’clock news. Julian Smith, the Chief Whip, rang him a few minutes later, but would not tell him what he was accused of, and instead issued a statement which said “serious allegations . . . have been referred to the police”.

Elphicke’s wife, Natalie, protested at the extreme unfairness of doing this before the allegations had even been investigated: “Taking away the whip is a political punishment. It will never be the right action to withdraw the whip before the police have had a chance to consider whether to take action — or before an independent body has had a chance to consider appropriate action.

“To suspend the whip in such circumstances is to put at risk the rule of law itself and the chance for a person to have a fair hearing. It makes the job of the police harder. We have seen in other situations that taking precipitous action can result in extreme prejudice and false allegations.

“I cannot begin to describe the hurt and strain, the confusion and fear for me and my family . . . I ask her [Theresa May] to stop the desperate madness, to put an end to these kangaroo courts by political central offices and to support a creation of a truly independent and non-political arbitrator. To support the rule of law, and allow all claims made by any complainant to be handled in a professional, independent way.”

The whole subject is so serious, both for victims of sexual harassment and for alleged perpetrators, that there is now general agreement on the need for a properly impartial system. The leaders of the political parties, and parliamentary authorities, know that unless they get a grip on the sexual harassment scandal, their own careers are in peril. A single mishandled allegation — a horrible incident which is hushed up, a horrible accusation which turns out to be false — can lead to disaster.

And yet this newfound seriousness is not the end of the matter. For in the wider nation, not everyone shares it. Some are devout believers in the need for urgent and thorough reform. But some are, as it were, blasphemers. They think the whole problem has been grossly exaggerated, and is being used to institute a tyranny of prigs and prudes, who wish to ban harmless flirtations, and can’t take a joke.

Just now the reformers have the upper hand. Whether in Hollywood or in Westminster, they want to root out abuses. Any hint of opposition arouses their wrath, and they are determined to suppress dissent. As Charles Moore has pointed out, they have a tremendous belief in diversity, except diversity of opinion. There they become unselfconsciously intolerant. For like the Church of old, they know their own doctrines are the only true ones, and that false teaching will subvert the whole basis of society.
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Lawrence James
December 21st, 2017
10:12 AM
We are well rid of the old blasphemy for law. It was always unfair since the victim [ s ] were never present in court for cross-examination.

F Hugh Eveleigh
December 7th, 2017
8:12 AM
What a well written and argued article. As one born in the late 1940s I have sufficient memory of what was allowed (or not) in earlier times as to be able to understand the transient nature of much of the current madness. We are all human beings but the 'sapiens' part of our Latinate descriptor is sometimes a little suspect because many of us have at some stage said or done something spontaneously which could 'offend' someone somewhere and which in retrospect we might have managed in a more nuanced manner. As most of us are not politicians, actors or widely known in any sense our actions are a part of the somewhat idiosyncratic cut and thrust of daily living and go unnoticed. Balance and 'common' sense are lost in the current flurries of outrage and offence. It will, like most trends, pass in due course but in the meanwhile many public lives are being ruined because of PC reactions to alleged misdemeanours of word and deed.

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