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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Keir Starmer: “I don’t think anybody should underestimate the risks of getting Brexit wrong”

The former director of public prosecutions is now heading up Labour’s response to Brexit. But can he succeed in holding the Tories’ feet to the fire?

Early in his new role as shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer was accused of being a “second-rate lawyer”. The gibe, in a Commons debate, came from none other than Iain Duncan Smith. Starmer was director of public prosecutions for five years and later stood for parliament in 2015. No novice, then. Within a few days, Duncan Smith stood again in the House, this time to offer his apologies.

A fortnight later, I met Starmer at his quiet office in Westminster. He was sitting at a table piled with papers, in an office that, a discreet family photo aside, was unadorned. He had just got back from a whirlwind trip to Brussels, with many more such visits planned in the weeks ahead.

Starmer returned to the shadow cabinet after Jeremy Corbyn’s second leadership election victory last month. “The series of agreements we will have to reach in the next few years is probably the most important and complex we’ve had to reach since the Second World War,” he told me.

Starmer, who is 54, took his time entering politics. Born in 1962, he grew up in a Labour-supporting household in Surrey – his father was a toolmaker and his mother a nurse – and was named after Keir Hardie. After studying law at Leeds University, he practised as a human rights barrister and became a QC in 2002. In 2008, after varied legal work that included defending environmental campaigners in the McLibel case, he became the head of the Crown Prosecution Service for England and Wales as well as director of public prosecutions, positions he held until 2013.

When in 2015 Starmer ran for a seat in parliament to represent Holborn and St Pancras in London, it was assumed he would soon be putting his expertise to use in government. Instead, after Labour’s election defeat under Ed Miliband, he served as one of Corbyn’s junior shadow ministers, but resigned after the EU referendum in June.

Now, he is back on the opposition front bench and his forensic scrutiny of government policy is already unsettling the Conservatives. Philippe Sands, the law professor who worked with him on Croatia’s genocide lawsuit against Serbia, says he couldn’t think of anyone better to take on the Brexiteers in parliament. “It’s apparent that the government is rather scared of him,” Sands said. This is because Starmer is much more capable of teasing out the legal consequences of Brexit than the average Brexit-supporting Tory MP. Sands added: “It would be fun to watch if the stakes weren’t so very high.”

Starmer is a serious man and refused to be drawn on the character of his opponents. Instead, speaking slowly, as if weighing every word, he spelled out to me the damage they could cause. “The worst scenario is the government being unable to reach any meaningful agreement with the EU and [the UK] crashing out in March 2019 on no terms, with no transitional arrangement.” The result could be an economic downturn and job losses: “I don’t think anybody should underestimate the risks of getting this wrong.”

If Starmer seems pessimistic, it is because he believes time is short and progress has been slow. Since the referendum, disgruntled MPs have focused their attention on the final Brexit settlement. Yet if, as he argues, the starting position for our negotiations with the EU is wrong, the damage will have been done. MPs faced with a bad deal must either approve it or “risk the UK exiting the EU without a deal at all”.

It is this conviction that is driving his frantic schedule now. Starmer’s first month in the job is packed with meetings - with the representatives of the devolved nations, business leaders and his European counterparts.

He has also become a familiar face at the dispatch box. Having secured a commitment from David Davis, the minister for Brexit, that there will be transparent debate – “the words matter” – he is now demanding that plans to be published in January 2017 at the earliest, and that MPs will have a vote at this stage.

In his eyes, it will be hard for the Prime Minister, Theresa May, to resist, because devolved parliaments and the European parliament will almost certainly be having a say: “The idea there will be a vote in the devolved administrations but not in Westminster only needs to be stated to see it’s unacceptable.”

In Europe, Starmer said, the view is already that Britain is heading for the cliff edge. It was May’s pledge, that after Brexit the UK would not “return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice”, which raised alarm. And among voters, there is “increasing anxiety” about the direction in which the UK is moving, he said. Even Tory voters are writing to him.

In the Labour Party, which is putting itself back together again after the summer’s failed coup, immigration remains the most vexed issue. Starmer told me that Labour had “earned a reputation for not listening” on the issue. Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show shortly after becoming shadow Brexit secretary, he said immigration was too high and ought to be reduced. But later that same day, Diane Abbott, a shadow cabinet colleague, contradicted him, publicly criticising immigration targets.

Starmer believes there is a bigger picture to consider when it comes to Britain’s Brexit negotiations. Take national security, where he warns that there are “significant risks” if communications break down between the UK and the EU. “Part of the negotiations must be ensuring we have the same level of co-operation on criminal justice, counterterrorism, data-sharing,” he said.

Crucially, in a Labour Party where many experienced politicians are backbench dissenters, he wants to reach out to MPs outside the shadow cabinet. “We have to work as Team Labour,” he stressed.

It’s a convincing rallying cry. But for some MPs, he represents more than that: a lone moderate in what can be seen as a far-left leadership cabal. Does he have any ambitions to lead Labour? “Having had two leadership elections in the space of 12 months, the last thing we need at the moment is discussion of the leadership of the Labour Party.” He has agreed to serve in the shadow cabinet, and is determined to stay there.

Starmer has found his purpose in opposition. “If we think things aren’t going right, we’ve got to call it out early and loudly. The worst situation is that we arrive at March 2019 with the wrong outcome. By then, it will be too late.”

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage