Boycotting D&G is simply like batting a fly off a rotten industry. Photo: Getty
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Boycott Dolce & Gabbana? Since when did we look to fashion for any kind of moral integrity?

To those boycotting Dolce & Gabbana: are we really looking to an industry that uses child labour, torments women and ignores ethnic minorities to lead the fight for moral justice?

In a way, I’ve been boycotting Dolce & Gabbana my whole life. That’s to say, I’ve been boycotting that particular label, which flogs coats for upwards of £2,000, in the same way that I’ve been boycotting yachts, leopards and Fabergé eggs.

So this week’s call to arms for The Gays to boycott D&G, over Mr Dolce and Mr Gabbana’s curiously conservative stance on IVF and same-sex parents, wasn’t a big ask (for me, at least). My knowledge of high fashion extends as far as quite fancying Cara Delevingne, so I doubt I’d even know a D&G dress if it flapped me in the face with its exquisite satin hem.

But, for the likes of Elton John, who happens to have two children born via a surrogate mother and isn’t exactly un-fashiony, this boycott is something to be taken seriously. Well, depending on whether or not you believe those photos of him toting a Dolce & Gabbana bag a day after he inspired the #boycottDolceAndGabbana Twitter trend were, as his publicist has said, Photoshopped.

But back to the D&G design duo themselves. In an interview with an Italian magazine, the pair slated same-sex couples who adopt and called IVF children “synthetic”. There’s nothing quite like gay-bashing gays. Especially ones who work in an industry that’s, in spite of all other ethical foibles, pretty damn gay friendly (to men, at least).

The designers’ comments were heinous; about that I have no doubt. Like it or not, famous LGBT people have something of a duty to support their community, and backing the rights of same-sex parents is a huge part of that. And I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone for wanting to jump straight on the #boycottDolceAndGabbana bandwagon. At the same time, it strikes me as odd that we look to brands for any kind of moral integrity in the first place.

Fashion designers are good at clothes. That’s their job. Making the world a better place for women and ethnic minorities? Not so much. From Tommy Hilfiger allegedly saying that he didn’t want black or Asian people to buy his clothes, to John Galliano’s infamous antisemitic rant in 2011, making a list entitled “stupid shit fashionistas have said” would be piss easy.

Let’s just step back and take a look at the fashion industry as a whole. You can barely buy a pair of knickers on the high street without being safe in the knowledge that they were toiled over by an eleven-year-old in some distant corner of the developing world. You can’t open a fashion magazine without having female models’ unattainable figures thrust down your pupils. Several labels have been accused of failing to hire models from ethnic minorities. Are we really looking to an industry that uses child labour, torments women and ignores people of colour to lead the fight for social justice?

I’m not sure what those boycotting Dolce & Gabbana aim to achieve. Sure, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana could release some utterly disingenuous press release saying that they had “over-firmly denied”, to use Grant Shapps’s peculiar phrasing, the rights of same-sex parents. And that by “We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one”, they actually meant, “We are 100 per cent in favour of non-traditional families. Babies for everyone. Rainbows! Yay!” In which case, would it suddenly be OK to buy their clothes again? Would it not be more productive overall to use this whopper of a foot-in-mouth moment to open up a dialogue about why these guys are just a pair of thick, self-loathing dicks?

Well-off supporters of gay rights, by all means boycott Dolce & Gabbana. Just remember though that all you’re really doing is batting a fly off an industry that’s rotten to its core. 

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital