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between saying "of course we respect people of different sexual orientation, but we don't want Section 28 repealed," one might be forgiven for raising an eyebrow.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

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam