Minister attacks Telegraph ‘smear’ as ‘homophobic’


4:02 pm - May 9th 2009

by Chris Barnyard    


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A junior health minister today attacked the Daily Telegraph as “homophobic” over the way it reported a story concerning his expenses.

Ben Bradshaw MP said on Twitter that the Telegraph “smear” was “factually wrong and homophobic”.

The Telegraph published a story titled, ‘Ben Bradshaw: Mortgage bill paid on home part-owned by boyfriend‘.

The story reported:

The minister became the first MP to enter into a civil partnership when he went through a ceremony with Neal Dalgleish, a BBC journalist, in 2006. At the time Mr Bradshaw, the MP for Exeter, claimed his allowances on his second home in his constituency in Exeter.

However, shortly after the pair entered their civil partnership, he started to claim his second home allowance on their joint property in Hammersmith, west London. The pair have jointly owned the terrace house in west London since August 1996.

Last night a spokesman for Mr Bradshaw said: “Although the mortgage is in their joint names, since their civil partnership Mr Bradshaw has paid the full bill. Before 2006 Mr Bradshaw only claimed for half the mortgage interest for his property, although the rules would have allowed him to claim the full amount.

“Since his civil partnership he has claimed the full amount. All of his claims have been approved by the Fees Office as within the parliamentary rules.”

Chris Smith, the former Cabinet minister, was the first MP to declare his homosexuality but Mr Bradshaw is thought to be the first to have done so before being elected.

Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, hit back on Twitter by saying

if you doubt today’s false smear of [me] by the Torygraph is homophobic ask would they have written the same piece about the Camerons?

Over at Next Left, Sunder Katwala added:

That seems to me a pretty good point. If that is wrong, will the Telegraph be challenging other married MPs with similar arrangements?

Full coverage of the Daily Telegraph’s expenses scandal is here.

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Chris is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is an aspiring journalist and reports stories for LC.
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Reader comments


1. Lester Holloway

If that’s homophobic, then references to Keith Vaz’s silk cushions must be racist as it conjours up images of a stereotypical Asian family’s front room!

Given so many ministers were exposed today, nobody would notice Ben Bradshaw amongst the other scandals if he hadn’t spoken out.

I’m more concerned that Phil Woolas thinks he can get a decent bottle of red for £3.49p.

Only if they reported that Keith Vaz still kept them in the original plastic covering – that would have been stereotypical!

Joking aside, the question is whether they would do a similar story about someone who had merely split costs with their wife/female partner.

Bradshaw takes the term “skin crawling” to a new level.
He makes me quite ashamed to be gay.

4. Graeme Archer

You know, I hate it when people write comments that start “as a gay man…” so forgive me, but, honestly, as a gay man I can’t for the life of me see what is homophobic about this? Perhaps “boyfriend” is a bit tabloidy. Plenty of ungay MPs are being exposed for having performed creative accountancy to burnish their property portfolios; why does Mr Bradshaw expect to be exempt? Perhaps I’m missing something.

As a straight man I share Graeme’s mystification.

I wondered how long it would be before the “homophobic card” was played.
Thanks for not letting is down Ben.

Graeme.

I agree with Sunny @2.

Would the Tel have run the Vaz story in precisely the same way if the same circumstances referred to , say, his predecessor as Home Affairs Committee Chair. Of course.

Would they have run the Margaret Moran story about a male MP. Of course.

Would the Tel have run the story where the Bradshaw circumstances were replicated were he a straight male (or indeed femaie MP), and was claiming for a mortgage on a property which had been partly owned his his/her wife/husband?

Perhaps they would say that they would, and are going to,

But that is what seems in doubt here. The tonality of “boyfriend” rather points in that direction too.

I’m with Graeme @ 4. I’m Gay and there isn’t a hint of homophobia about this article.

Bradshaw is simply seeking to deflect criticism. Sorry Ben, it doesn’t wash. Another one caught with his hands in the till.

Welcome to LC, Chris Barnyard!

10. Shatterface

I rarely prefix my sentences with ‘as a straight man…’ because it puts me in the company of Ernie Wise and Sid Little.

If the Torygraph published a similar story about a straight couple, they are off the hook. How difficult can it be to find one?

1. Lester Holloway. I expect Woolas will be buying a crate of spirits soon to drown is sorrows.

Graeme, #4: “as a gay man I can’t for the life of me see what is homophobic about this”

Because there is no suggestion in that article that Bradshaw has done actually anything wrong, that he was (as you suggest) “caught with his hands in the till”. As the article notes, plenty of married MPs do exactly what Bradshaw does and they’re perfectly entitled to do so under the rules.

The other cases the Telegraph has reported are either illegitimate claims, frivolous claims, or (again, as you say) examples of creative accountancy to boost their property portfolios. None of those seem to apply to this report about Bradshaw.

The Telegraph story is that after Bradshaw entered into a civil partnership with his boyfriend, he began making a claim he was therefore entitled to start making as a married man. The only apparent reason that the Telegraph believes Bradshaw’s claims are newsworthy, is that Bradshaw’s other half is another man. That does seem homophobic to me.

13. tokyonambu

If the Torygraph published a similar story about a straight couple, they are off the hook. How difficult can it be to find one?

It doesn’t matter. It just shows how laughable the Labour Party are at doing politics since TB and AC sailed off into the sunset.

This is going to cause a massive blast of alienation from politics on the part of the electorate, and the Labour Party will come off worse because (a) they’re in power (b) people expect more self-sacrifice from the left and (c) it’s likely the Labour Party _are_ worse, because rich Tories arguably have less incentive to risk public opprobrium for a few grand than honest socialists cast adrift amongst rich Lunnon folk, guv. Labour MPs genuinely are the sort of people who have to buy their own furniture, after all.

But Harman et al have made their stall. They hatcheted Sir Fred on the basis that although his pension was within the rules, it would not stand up in the court of public opinion and on that basis should be stopped. So, what’s their first response to accusations against their expenses? “It was within the rules”. No sign of the court of public opinion there, eh? So that’s a non-starter of an argument.

Now they’re going to try some flimsy process stories. “The Telegraph stole some of the information”? Yes, and so did Woodward and Bernstein. If MPs try that angle, they’ll just get crucified. “Some of the stories are —-ist”? Perhaps. But not all of them: an awful lot of white, heterosexual, able-bodied men seem to be on the take as well.

14. Graeme Archer

Gregg, thank you, that hadn’t occurred to me. I think I noticed the “flipping” of the “second home” as the fault, not with whom he shared it. I suppose Mr Bradshaw will use the Balls’ defence, that his second home changed when he got married, which is – just – more defensible than, say, the position of Mr Vaz. Or the Winterton horrors. Or Mr Hoon, ad nauseam.

I still think “homophobic” is a bit strong. It’s not a word which should be used as a synonym for discrimination, surely.

15. Shatterface

‘Balls defence’ is about right!

So… if I’m understanding this correctly – a man gets married enters into a legal partnership, and starts to treat his finances, including his expenses, like many other married legally partnered people do, and it’s newsworthy… how?

As the only reason I can think of for the Telegraph to be running the article is because they don’t consider what Bradshaw has with his husband partner to be equivalent to a ‘real’ marriage. Which to me implies this is a homophobic article.

If Sunder hadn’t pointed it out, I was going to – the word ‘boyfriend’ is equally dismissive. He is not Bradshaw’s boyfriend, he is his spouse.

Graeme#14,

Out of curiosity and at risk of derailing, which word would you use to mean ‘prejudiced against homosexual people?”

I voted for Bradshaw when I lived in Exeter. I met him later, shook his hands at the Freshers fair when I was helping out on another stall (I didn’t join Labour, unsurprisingly). He is a typical new labour apparatchik, and I regret my 2001 vote.

But the substance of this article is correct. Most MPs share a home with their wife, and that home is co-owned, they still claim expenses on it as they’re allowed to.

Attacking him for doing what every other married MP does seems weird—the only rationale seems to be because said partner is another man.

If that’s not attacking him for being gay (and therefore, by definition, homophobic), can someone explain to me why not?

The expenses rules stink—they’ve stunk since Thatcher reformed them in the 80s, and they’ve only got worse since. But Bradshaw was elected in ’97, 10 years after the last serious change to the system. They should’ve been changed, but he’s not broken any rules, and doesn’t even seem to have come close, unlike a lot of others.

19. Graeme Archer

Hi Debi. I am wary of the quasi- and pseudo-medical ‘tone’ of the word ‘homophobia’ and – & I know this is probably the fastest bus route to unpopularity on this estimable site – I would prefer not to label discrimination according to the (assumed) psychological intent of the perpetrator – does that make sense? I can ‘see’ discrimination, and I can ‘see’ the target of the discrimination, but I cannot make a window into the soul of its perpetrator; the rationale for their discrimination I cannot ‘see’.

If I can be less prosaic. I can tell when people don’t like me (it happens a lot!) but I’m never certain that their dislike is motivated by their dislike of male homosexuality, though sometimes it must be. When gay public figures are disliked by the media, much of the verbal description of them is couched in terms designed to flag up a sneering dislike of their homosexuality — see for example all the descriptions of Peter Mandelson ‘flouncing’. It’s pretty clear what the writer means, but it’s not what I would call ‘homophobia’, because if Peter Mandelson weren’t gay, they would have found some other set of pejorative adjectives to employ.

Some people may well suffer from a psychological dysfunction which we may label as ‘homophobia’. But I don’t think that public discourse – or the position of gay men and women – is helped by labelling every sneer, every use of innuendo or any other debasing use of language as ‘homophobic’. And nor do I think that such dislike, or distaste, is the same thing as psychological dysfunction.

Thank you for your question, you have made me think.

I think I noticed the “flipping” of the “second home” as the fault, not with whom he shared it. I suppose Mr Bradshaw will use the Balls’ defence, that his second home changed when he got married,

Going by the article itself, I don’t see that he even has to do that, though. Because though it does start off by implying that he flipped because he got married, it later indicates that he flipped because of the change in advice given to MPs. So he was claiming on the constituency home between 2003 and 2006, as that was the advice during those years; but the home he has been claiming on since 2006 is the same one he was claiming on before 2003, and claiming on the London home was the advice before 2003 and has been again since 2006.

As far as I can tell, the only thing that has changed – the only thing the article is criticisng – is that since his wedding, he has claimed the full amount on his joint mortgage – which he is perfectly entitled to do as a married man. I think much of the Telegraph’s coverage of this expenses scandals has been pertinent, but this article seems desperately thin and I think Bradshaw is right to be angry that the Telegraph has lumped him in with the likes of Hoon and Blears as exploiting expenses to build a property empire (which he does not appear to have done). The entire matter of the article is that he’s gay – I can’t see anything else substantial in there, so unless there’s something they accidentally left out, the Telegraph did simply smear Bradshaw as being somehow dodgy because he’s married to a man.

I still think “homophobic” is a bit strong. It’s not a word which should be used as a synonym for discrimination, surely.

I really don’t want to get into a debate about definitions but, acknowledging that it is not always without controversey, the term has nevertheless been used as a catch-all for anti-gay discrimination for best part of thirty years. The Telegraph’s implication (conscious or unconscious) is that homosexual relationships are not equal to heterosexual relationships, and that’s a homophobic sentiment.

Funny, I don’t remember the Daily Torygraph showing much interest in the expenses scandal in the Wesh Assembly a couple of months ago.

But then that is probably because most of the people doing the dodgy claiming were Tories. Apparently, the average Tory politician in Wales has a yearning for Plasma TVs to fit in their second homes, even though their main homes are about half an hour from Cardiff. One particular Tory woman bought a giant Plasma Tv, and then lost her seat a couple of weeks later. Did not bother returning the TV or the money.

Graeme,

Thank you for the answer, and I’m glad to hear I made you think. The reason I asked it is the reason I disagree with your assessment; common usage of the word ‘homophobic’ is the direct equivalent of words like ‘racist’, ‘sexist’ and other ‘isms’ that denote prejudice against an ‘othered’ demographic.

We don’t, as far as I know, have an alternative term, and I wouldn’t really agree with the creation of a new term just because the term ‘phobia’ is often understood to imply a psychological condition. With its basic meaning as fear/hatred/repulsion, I think it’s perfectly acceptable as a way of describing articles like this that imply a civil partnership is inferior to a heterosexual marriage, and yes, also terms like ‘flouncing’, that imply negatively on Mandelson’s sexuality.

I’m wary of refusing to use a commonly used and understood term just because of shared etymology. No one’s claiming that homophobia is a psychological condition simply because it has the suffix ‘phobia’.

23. Shatterface

Generally, psychologists use ‘-anxiety’ these days rather than ‘-phobia’ when describing psychological conditions, which leaves words like ‘homophobia’ free to be understood according to their common usage without necessarily invoking a lot of psychological baggage, and, as Debi has notes ‘homophobia’ has been a recognized term for anti-gay discrimination in general before most of us where born.

Frankly it gets on my tits when words like ‘homophobia’, ‘racism’, ‘anti-Semitism’, ‘Islamophobia’, ‘misogyny’, ‘fascism’, etc are overused, especially on the internet where this form of argument is used as some kind of trump card, but I think THIS is one case where it’s fair to say that the Telegraph finds this story more ‘shocking’ because it involves same-sex partners.

That’s not to excuse a system where expense claims are rather questionable even where they are ‘within guidelines’, of course, but the sex of the partner is surely irrelevant to the rights and wrongs of the situation.

One thing i can’t understan is why peoples that are gays always is so sore about somethin when other peoples is pointin out that have done somethin wrong and blames them for beein homfobic. But they use al other oportunities to say that they are gay and that they is proud of it?

Anatolie @24: If you turn out not to be LfaT pretending to be a chav, I shall be most disappointed…

26. tokyonambu

they don’t consider what Bradshaw has with his husband partner to be equivalent to a ‘real’ marriage.

Let’s assume that not merely do they think that, but Telegraph journalists spend all evening making up inventive jokes about gay marriage, and routinely write offensive letters to anyone who invites them to cover a partnership ceremony. Indeed, let’s assume that the Telegraph office does a bad line in offensive jokes about gays, child abuse and AIDS. I don’t believe for a second they do, but arguendo: pretend the Telegraph is staffed by nothing but seething, vicious anti-gay bigots. And let’s assume that you can get that onto the front page of every newspaper in the land, and the nation rises up as one to condemn the hateful bile of these hideous people. The Sun prints a Page 3 gay man two days a week and Graham Norton is knighted for services to innuendo.

Now, we’ve got all that off our chest. How, exactly, will that help the Labour Party fight off the stench of sleaze over expenses?

Tokyonambu#26

This thread is not about the expense sleaze; it’s about whether it’s homphobic to single out a civil partnership from many other married couples acting in the same way. The sleaze isn’t the point here; the othering of Bradshaw and his partner is.

Ujnless you are claiming that homophobic reporting is OK if there are party political points to be scored? Because I very much disagree.

28. Adam Neilson

I have to admit that I’ve always found the word ‘homophobia’ particularly objectionable; it is a relief to find that I’m not completely alone on that one. Not just because it is massively over-used like ‘racist’ (itself a word that no-one seems to be able to use correctly these days) but because of the illiteracy inherent in the word itself (I’ve always been something of a pedant – it’s the way I was born, sorry).

Anyway, that’s not really the point. The point is, Bradshaw’s “is it because I is gay?” is beyond the pale, in much the same way as Brown’s apparent complaining of being victimised for being a Scot. Either Bradshaw broke ‘the spirit of the rules’ or he didn’t. The same goes for Byers and anyone else.

If the Telegraph have missed the mark on this particular story then so be it; there seem to be a fair few such stories among the more sensational items they have published. Those stories may happen to be wrong/misinterpreted/whatever, but because there is no convenient peg to hang them on (race, sexuality, disability etc.) are we saying we don’t have a problem with it?

BTW, this is my first time on the site; I note the comments policy suggests that ‘sarcastic … comments may be deleted’. Seems a trifle, erm, illiberal.

Adam @28;

I have to admit that I’ve always found the word ‘homophobia’ particularly objectionable; it is a relief to find that I’m not completely alone on that one. Not just because it is massively over-used like ‘racist’ (itself a word that no-one seems to be able to use correctly these days) but because of the illiteracy inherent in the word itself

Your perception that the word is ‘illiterate’ may represent your generation, but I suspect it more represents the fact that we’re getting it right these days. 50 years ago people were terrified of gay men. There was a government-sponsored idea on both sides of the Atlantic that homosexual men were 100% synonymous with paedophiles. People were genuinely afraid, as in phobic, that homosexuality was touch-contagious. I have a personal friend who was subjected to nine months of ECT in a prison/hospital facility in Devon because he was gay.

Their definition was to strap him to a table which operated broadly like an electric chair and plug him into an alternating current for extended period, several times a day. This was done by his family, with his willing collusion, because they were all terrified that he might infect his younger brother. Fortunately, once the 60s got sufficiently embedded in social values to reach him, he realised that being gay was fine, and has had a remarkable life; but he is still scarred, physically and psychologically.

Homophobia was a word coined when it was accurately descriptive. It accurately describes one of the most unpleasant attitudes among Puritans, be they Christian or Muslim. It is now an entrenched political term; if I have to give up on people who use ‘anticipate’ when they mean ‘expect’, I think you may need to accept that “homophobia” is valid through common useage and move on.

With regard to ‘racism’; who uses the term wrong? What is it that you believe racism to mean?

As I understand it, it means believing that skin colour is in any way relevant to assessing the amount of respect a person deserves. If you think it is relevant, you’re a racist. If you think it isn’t, you’re normal.

In the more common context, ‘racist acts’ are acts where someone makes choices based on skin colour. I have been arrested and incarcerated for being white in the wrong place at the wrong time. That was racism. I have sat in a park eating my lunch and seen three separate teams of cops conduct four on-the-spot S44 searches in the same park in the same 20 minutes. About 50% of people passing through the park were white and all four of the people searched were black. That was racism.

Are any of these uses of the term wrong, as you see it?

*resisting temptation to argue with JQP’s definition of racism*

Yes, the Telegraph piece does come across as homophobic – but the issue is his flipping, and as a politician he should see that is what the public and his constituents will be looking at.

He looks extremely silly as he now appears to be deflecting attention away from himself. He should be a man and face the cameras and explain himself instead of ‘twittering’.

32. Adam Neilson

JohnQP @29:
An interesting response for which I thank you. I do of coures accept that ‘homophobia’ is a valid word through common usage, and the background detail you provide is pretty horrifying to someone of my generation (I think you are imagining me to be about 30 years older than I am, but hey I do come across that way sometimes!). I did concede that I was being pedantic, but liguistically the word surely means fear of sameness, which is the opposite of the context we use it in… I suppose ‘homo’-phobic works though.

As for racism, I do disagree with the extent of the definition you’ve given, but arguing that point would take me way off-topic. Suffice to say that, like ‘homophobic’, ‘racist’ has become something of a catch-all; in this case for prejudice that is colour- (rather than race-) related. “You black twerp” is not racist in the way that “Black people are thick” is. As an indicator just how much of a catch-all ‘racist’ has become, recall the drunk student who was convicted last year of ‘aggravated racism’ for calling 3 shopping-centre security guards “honky wannabe cops”. All 4 people involved were white.

It’s not a purely semantic phenomenon that I’m getting at – words have this way of meaning completely different things at different points in time – but these are emotive words, and pretty much the worst things one can be accused of in some people’s minds; yet they are bandied about left, right and centre as a way of shutting down argument or, as in the case of Ben Bradshaw, deflecting attention (or trying to).

TimF:

Feel free 🙂 I am inclined towards functionalist definitions. Racism, as I understand it, is a process by which someone’s skin colour plays a part in decision making of which they are the object.). Therefore, affirmative action programs are racist. They’re also necessary, one might argue.

Adam Neilson:

someone of my generation (I think you are imagining me to be about 30 years older than I am

I was guessing you at between thirty and fifty.

Suffice to say that, like ‘homophobic’, ‘racist’ has become something of a catch-all; in this case for prejudice that is colour- (rather than race-) related.

Ah, this old chestnut. Colour and race are not technically synonymous, in the jargon fields of xenobiology, paleontology or paleo-anthropology. They are politically synonymous in the post-Enlightenment Western world. Discuss. 🙂

in the case of Ben Bradshaw, deflecting attention (or trying to).

Thing is, this I genuinely disagree with. Not one of the instances where someone heterosexually married claimed against a shared mortgage has been flagged as an ‘abuse’ of the system. This male MP who happens to be married to a man is having that touted as an abuse. What’s the difference?

JQP: Overall, completely agree with you. One minor quibble on racism. The race relations act was specifically worded in order that it included anti-Irish racism (to get rid of “no blacks, no irish” signs, etc). Thus, under English/British law racism includes discrimination on ethnic or cultural grounds—in an old job, a german student of mine was attacked because he was German, the police treated it, rightly in my view, as a racist attack.

I know that’s not popular in some areas of discourse, but I think kicking someone in the head with a steel toe cap because they’re different to you should be treated in the exact same way regardless of whether the difference is skin colour or country of origin.

Other than that, agree completely, Bradshaw made a perfectly legit claim for his family home—either all MPs that are married are abusing the system, or he isn’t, as they haven’t picked on any married MPs doing the exact same thing, he’s in the clear, and he’s right to point out the inconsistency, and is probably correct to ascribe it to homophobia.

Doesn’t stop him from being an oily aparatchik, but that’s not what he’s being attacked for being.

re Anatolie – he’s been popping up all over the place – including CiF – commenting in his idiosyncratic English. I thought he might be someone taking the mick – but if so they’re taking it pretty seriously.

Anatolie has his own blog.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    New post: Minister attacks Telegraph ‘smear’ as ‘homophobic’ http://bit.ly/VDukT

  2. Michael Haddon

    RT @libcon: New post: Minister attacks Telegraph ‘smear’ as ‘homophobic’ http://bit.ly/VDukT (From excerpts it seems that way)

  3. sunny hundal

    Minister attacks Telegraph ’smear’ as ‘homophobic’ – http://bit.ly/MgzNI

  4. sunny hundal

    @BenBradshawMP – Minister attacks Telegraph ’smear’ as ‘homophobic’ – http://bit.ly/MgzNI – maybe you’d like to add to that?

  5. Liberal Conspiracy

    New post: Minister attacks Telegraph ‘smear’ as ‘homophobic’ http://bit.ly/VDukT

  6. Michael Haddon

    RT @libcon: New post: Minister attacks Telegraph ‘smear’ as ‘homophobic’ http://bit.ly/VDukT (From excerpts it seems that way)

  7. sunny hundal

    Minister attacks Telegraph ’smear’ as ‘homophobic’ – http://bit.ly/MgzNI





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