Mr Hague makes a belated but welcome move towards tolerance

Share

The speech by William Hague to the Society of Editors in Cardiff yesterday contained confused messages. The Conservative leader made it clear that he remains determined to keep the offensive legislation of Section 28. His assaults on political correctness, too, can be seen as code for permission to make intolerant comments about foreigners and asylum seekers.

The speech by William Hague to the Society of Editors in Cardiff yesterday contained confused messages. The Conservative leader made it clear that he remains determined to keep the offensive legislation of Section 28. His assaults on political correctness, too, can be seen as code for permission to make intolerant comments about foreigners and asylum seekers.

Overall, however, there is a welcome sense that sanity may now be allowed to prevail as Mr Hague at last begins to follow his presumed better instincts. Until now, he has seemed to labour under the delusion that he would only look like a true leader if he also sounded like a reactionary buffoon. It was as though he had never grown up from that teenage schoolboy at the Tory party conference, who was so eager to impress the grown-ups with his ferociously right-wing views.

There has never been any evidence that Mr Hague himself is a homophobe or a racist. But he apparently believed that, by pandering to such prejudices (under the guise of "common sense"), he could make himself look like a powerful leader. If he has finally moved away from that short-sighted philosophy, so much the better.

Mr Hague has been frightened of the bigots in his party for too long. After all, how can they hold him to ransom? Which party would they flee to, if they desert Mr Hague out of pique? Neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats would provide a natural home. In that respect, Mr Hague's return to moderate views hardly has an electoral downside. The bigots can grumble, but they can't hide. The moderate ground is therefore easy to occupy.

There were obvious contradictions in yesterday's speech. When Mr Hague declared that there was "no contradiction" between saying "of course we respect people of different sexual orientation, but we don't want Section 28 repealed," one might be forgiven for raising an eyebrow. In reality, the contradiction is plain. The main practical effect of Section 28 - theoretically intended to prevent the "promotion of homosexuality", as though it were a brand of soap powder - is to stigmatise gays.

Just as importantly, however, Mr Hague seems ready to move away from the moral absolutism (and lack of understanding) of Ann Widdecombe and others in his party, with his championing of "tolerance, mutual respect and the rich diversity of our country". This intolerance is not just wrong in its own terms. Crucially for Mr Hague, it has also come to seem increasingly out of touch. One distinctive feature of Big Brother, a programme noted for its exceptional popularity, was that the series itself, and the pattern of voting, showed a complete lack of racism and homophobia: black Darren and lesbian Anna were two of the most popular characters of all. For all its faults, Big Brother was clearly a programme of our time. Mr Hague, who needs the support of all the Big Brother viewers he can get, should take note.

The gentler, softer Mr Hague may prove to be a nine-day wonder. But we must hope not. The left-right arguments in British politics should not simply be between the tolerant and the intolerant; the Labour Party needs a more intelligent challenge than that. Already, the clock is ticking before the next general election. It may be too late for Mr Hague to save his party's political bacon. He is, however, moving away from lunacy. For that at least, we should be duly grateful.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage pose for a photograph as thousands gather in Dublin Castle  

The lessons we can learn from Ireland's gay marriage referendum

Stefano Hatfield
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine