I read Melanie Phillips's Observer column because, damn it, it raises important questions, like: is she named after the Melanie who so cattle warbled "Brand New Key" or Melanie Wills from Gone with the Wind? Are the poor sub-editors paid danger money? And - it's the $50,000 job - how much longer can Phillips, presented as a Deep Thinker on Social Mores, continue to substitute assertion for research, opinion for argument and statement for fact?

Meltdown may be imminent. Peruse last Sunday's headline: "The attempt to outlaw fox-hunting is all tied in with sado-masochism. Not to mention Gay Pride..." Now, please; no giggling at the back. You might be aware that fox-hunting has absolutely bloody nothing to do with Gay Pride, and that homosexuals are about as interested in sado-masochism as heterosexuals are, but Phillips is entitled to mount a case. If she can. And here it is...

Relentlessly hounding and tearing apart a fox without being polite enough to ask its permission or whether it's having a good time, is the same as S&M sex between consenting adults: "Yet no one seems to care about this at all when humans do it to other humans."

No one, that is, save Melanie Phillips.

Hey, don't shout at me. Shout at her. I know that consenting adults have rights over their bodies, including the right to say "yes", "no" and "Only if you swear you'll be done in five minutes", whereas animals have no rights to speak of; animals are, in that sense, perennial rape victims. They certainly aren't equal, or active, participants in the pleasure and pain exchange. But we'll breeze by that, just as Phillips does: "The argument that in sado-masochistic sex the other party gives his consent is beside the point." Well, obviously, it's precisely the point, except Phillips has decided otherwise. She isn't confused; others are. These shadowy Others whom Phillips weekly chastises, but whom she must force herself to be super-friendly with, her inside knowledge is so extensive.

Or perhaps there's just good ol' supposition behind the following sentence: "Many who oppose fox-hunting, for example, will be the same people who defend sado-masochism." Will they? I really can't imagine the two subjects surfacing in conversation together so often that they would demand philosophical unity - or comparison. If that were so, surely whenever Phillips chipped in with the notion that sado-masochism causes "social harm", some bright spark would have made the easy distinction between fox-hunting - sport and public spectacle - and S&M - sexual impulse and essentially private act (though there are clubs) - and laughingly pooh-poohed preaching to the perverted as a surefire method of "corruption". Anyway, let's agree that the shadowy Others perhaps hold two views because they can distinguish between two questions. However, I suspect we're actually meant to imagine that these blase sophisticates are somehow responsible for the sadism we are soon informed "is now highly fashionable in certain metropolitan circles". First I've heard of it, guv. But I'm no S&M fan, so Phillips might be correct. But I'd like to know how she knows. How is sado-masochism's current popularity measured against, say, its popularity a year ago? Was Phillips assured it was more prevalent? If so, by whom? Have acquaintances suddenly begun to confess, en masse, to secret practices? Or has Phillips merely confused a trend in fetish vestment with something else?

Whatever, Phillips is shocked that we "have a Prime Minister choosing a ban on fox-hunting to prove his moral commitment, while remaining silent about the burgeoning trade in S&M sex". This is awe-inspiring sleight- of-hand. But Phillips's real complaint isn't that Tony Blair has kept mum on a phenomenon we have been given no convincing proof of, but that "last weekend's Gay Pride march... received a message of support from the PM." Anyone care to explain how "best wishes" for a successful Pride implies endorsement of S&M sex? Does Phillips think all gay men, and only gay men, go in for it? Is she also poised to expose how homosexuals have infiltrated the fashion industry, ballet and the air steward business, too?

Could be. What is certain is that our leaders remain ignorant of what Phillips is wise to: "the dismemberment of the trinity of sex, marriage and children, which has corrupted sexual activity into little more than a consumerist right to genital gratification... one of the troubling issues lurking beneath... Gay Pride." I love a faggot conspiracy theory as much as the next queen - so retro - but last time I looked gay men weren't responsible for the Pill, the divorce rate or the single-parent family. We may benefit from this re-ordering, but heterosexuals needed no help in "dismembering the trinity"; they exercised that choice which Phillips loftily insists is beside the point. On the other hand, some homosexuals do want the trinity, but as Phillips doesn't mention them, neither will I. It might sound shrill.

Almost as shrill as Phillips. Pretending to unflappable rationale she nevertheless blends perfectly with the once dominant, now scrabbling voices echoing this week; that disenfranchised chorus loudly howling its protest against the lowering of the age of gay consent, the Synod's decision not to force gay clergy out and the recently launched Equality 2000 campaign, and yet whose sweet reason for raging opposition has lately been reduced to (repeat until fade) "it's unnatural". Grande dame Phillips would definitely disavow such low company, but then she and her ranters-under-the-skin don't even recognise that they've become what they always accused the "militant homosexual lobby" of being: high-pitched, hysterical and - it isn't beside the point - marginalised. Phillips can pose as a moral dominatrix all she pleases, but if I were her, I'd quit playing the whip handn