Clegg must speak up against web snooping

It is Clegg, not David Davis, who should be leading the liberal charge.

What should be giving the Lib Dem leadership pause for thought today is how the grassroots of the party found it all too easy to believe that reports of the new internet snooping legislation were 100 per cent accurate.

How have we come to the point when a report of a potential assault on our civil liberties is greeted by howls of anguish from party members who automatically presume that some back room deal has been done by "the quad. We steel ourselves for the speeches "positioning" the change as a "careful balancing act" between protecting civil liberties and "the safety of the nation". We await reports of the off-the-record briefing reminding everyone that even unanimous motions passed at conference are not binding on a government in power.

It's not helped that while David Davis leads the liberal charge, we get the odd blog post reminding everyone that it's not yet clear exactly what is being proposed. There should be a Lib Dem leader out there intoning the words of the coalition agreement:

"We will implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and state intrusion".

Nothing less will do. And don't give me any of the "we don't comment on rumours'"nonsense. Two years ago, Nick was willing to go to jail to defend civil liberties. What's wrong with saying that again? Today?

There is, it seems, an increasing gulf between the party members and the leadership. First on tuition fees, then the NHS, now this. Even if these rumours are nonsense and the reports hopelessly inaccurate, the fact that Lib Dem members all over the country assumed it to be true speaks volumes for how distant the leadership seems from the grass roots.

The Lib Dem members of the government need to reconnect with the base of the party. We need to know that every word of the motion on civil liberties passed by conference just three weeks ago will be followed.

Currently, the silence is deafening.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.

There is an increasing gulf between Lib Dem members and the party leadership. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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The Daily Mail’s reaction to Tom Daley’s baby is a reminder we’re not all equal yet

Columnist Richard Littlejohn seems to find it hard to cope with the idea of a gay couple having a moment of happiness.

Seeing as it’s LGBT+ history month, you would be forgiven for thinking that, just maybe, Britain could make it through 28 short days without a homophobic media controversy. But sadly, where optimism appears, the right-wing British press too often follows.

After the news that British Olympic diver Tom Daley and Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance-Black are expecting their first child via a surrogate, radio station LBC quickly found itself in hot water. The station asked Twitter users whether, in their opinion, there is anything “sinister” about the woman carrying Daley and Lance-Black’s child being absent from the majority of media coverage. While there has long been a debate about the ethics of surrogacy, there are plenty of straight couples who have also turned to this option, and many nuances depending on the context, so the timing and wording of the question seemed pointed. LBC subsequently apologised for the “badly worded debate”.

But meanwhile, the printing presses were whirring.The main course to LBC’s starter, the Death Star to its Vadar and the hot dog to its mustard was springing into action. Otherwise known as: The Daily Mail.

Seemingly unable to cope with the idea of a gay couple having a moment of happiness, the paper employed its most un-lethal weapon, Richard Littlejohn, to put things right. In a piece entitled “Please don't pretend two dads is the new normal”, the columnist condemned the pair’s social media announcement, before expressing his discomfort at women being treated as “breeding machines” (again, note the sudden interest in the surrogacy debate). Next he takes aim at the media, lambasting them for covering this news just like any other baby announcement. Littlejohn then asks a series of erratic questions in quick succession. “Is Daley or his husband the father? Was it Bill, or was it Ben? Or neither of them?” Like a GSCE candidate who failed to revise for the exam, he soldiers on: “More pertinently, never mind Who's The Daddy? Who's The Mummy?”

By this point, you can practically picture Littlejohn, sweaty and misshapen, frothing at the mouth as he pummels his keyboard. Sensing that he’s out of material but still has half a page to fill, he haphazardly directs his hostility towards a trans woman who appeared in the news earlier this week, because why bother being homophobic when you can be transphobic too? Concluding the piece on a crescendo of awfulness, he “jokes” that he’s looking forward to the pictures of Daley breastfeeding, because apparently you can’t be a parent if you don’t breastfeed.

I suppose I should thank Littlejohn for proving, yet again, that the best way to transform male right-wing columnists into strident feminists is an opportunity to remind gay or trans people that they’ll never be seen as equals. Pre-emptively defending himself against accusations of homophobia within the article, Littlejohn claims he supported civil partnerships (but notably not same-sex marriages) long before “it was fashionable” to do so. Yet in 2004, the year that civil partnerships were introduced, Guardian columnist Marina Hyde dedicated an entire column to tracking his obsession with LGBT issues. “In the past year's Sun columns, Richard has referred 42 times to gays, 16 times to lesbians, 15 to homosexuals, eight to bisexuals, twice to 'homophobia' and six to being 'homophobic' (note his inverted commas), five times to cottaging, four to "gay sex in public toilets", three to poofs, twice to lesbianism, and once each to buggery, dykery, and poovery.” She writes, concluding: “This amounts to 104 references in 90-odd columns.”

The reaction to Littlejohn's latest piece was quick. Several organisations pulled out of advertising in the Daily Mail, a signal that the days of men like Littlejohn may soon be over. But whether published or not, this brand of homophobia is still prevalent in Britain. It appears when people claim not to have a problem with LGBT+ people, until one of their children comes out as gay or has a gay friend. It appears every time a person starts a sentence with “I’m not being homophobic, but…” It appears when gay parents, even those who have won Olympic medals and Academy Awards, are still only seen as a marginally better option that children being left to, as Littlejohn puts it, “rot in state run institutions where they face a better-than-average chance of being abused”.

As I suspect Littlejohn knows, no one is claiming that two dads is the new normal. Two gay parents is still a relatively new image for media and the public to digest, which has enabled this “debate” to happen. When 58 per cent of gay men are too afraid to hold hands with a partner in public, the idea that gay relationships are accepted enough to be considered anywhere close the “new normal” is ridiculous.

Yet Daley and Lance-Black’s announcement has revealed that, while homophobia is still mainstream enough to make it on to major platforms in the UK, it does not go unchallenged. We might not know what the tomorrow’s “normal” will be, but relics like Littlejohn represent the very worst of the past.