Disagree with Nick? You’re a bigot!
Nick Clegg’s dismissal of gay-marriage opponents as ‘bigots’ reveals much about how the political class operates.
It was quickly retracted, but nowhere near quick enough. UK deputy prime minister Nick Clegg’s press release marking the end of the consultation on gay marriage made it very clear what he thought of opponents of gay marriage: they are bigots.
Following an uproar on Twitter and in the media, a spokesperson for Clegg rapidly recalled the press release, claiming it was an uncorrected draft. That might be what Clegg thinks of critics of gay marriage, the spokesperson seemed to imply, but he is shrewd enough to know that is not something he should say in public. A new, sanitised version of the press release was promptly sent out with ‘bigots’ replaced by ‘some people’. (Given the right intonation, of course, ‘some people’ could easily convey the same meaning to those who, like Clegg, think gay-marriage opponents are just prejudiced idiots.)
It seems that behind closed doors, ‘bigot’ is a commonly used term among the political class. Clegg’s slip immediately brought to mind former prime minister Gordon Brown’s ‘Bigotgate’ moment in the run-up to the 2010 General Election. Furious at having had to talk to 65-year-old Rochdale resident Gillian Duffy about immigration levels while on the campaign trail, Brown was overheard by Sky News calling her a ‘bigoted woman’ to an aide afterwards.
Unlike Brown, however, Clegg was using the term defensively. He was trying to fend off criticism from those who think that there are more important things for the government to be focusing on than trying to push through gay marriage. ‘Continued trouble in the economy gives the bigots a stick to beat us with’, he was quoted as saying. ‘[These bigots] demand we “postpone” the equalities agenda in order to deal with “the things people really care about”.’
This image of poor embattled liberal politicians under attack from stick-wielding bigots is bizarrely divorced from reality. The opposite is the case. In the UK and further afield, gay marriage has become a cause célèbre for the political and media classes, a means for politicians and commentators to demonstrate their right-on credentials. And if you’re not on the gay-marriage bandwagon, you’re a bigot, one of those people who typifies everything that is wrong with Britain today. There’s no middle ground in this Culture War. It seems you can’t even suggest that the government should have other priorities during a double-dip recession. You’re either with Us, or you’re one of Them.
While Clegg himself may have sought to distance himself from the B-word, there were many willing to pick it up and use it on his behalf. Some even chastised him for lacking the bottle to use it more openly. ‘OED defines bigot as “obstinate and intolerant adherent of a creed or view”. [Clegg was] perfectly right’, tweeted an editor at the Financial Times. A writer for the Guardian and New Statesman tweeted, ‘Nick Clegg’s response to this should be: “Yes, I did - because they are.”’ At the Independent, Simon Kelner used his column to implore Clegg to ‘tell it like it is… there are bigots everywhere’. According to Kelner, ‘There are bigots who stalk the land: some of them are in the church, some of them are in politics, and some are, yes, in the media.’
On immigration, on gay marriage, indeed, on any issue where the public may not share the views of the political class, the solution, it seems, is not to engage in a debate - rather, it is to try to shut debate down by branding one side as ‘bigoted’ and thus beyond reason. Labelling those who disagree with you as ‘bigots’ is about marking ‘some people’ out as unworthy of debate and argument. Such people can’t be enlightened; they need to be publicly named and shamed into adopting the right position or browbeaten into shutting up.
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As we have highlighted on spiked previously, there are actually some sensible reasons to criticise the government’s plans to implement gay marriage: it is a top-down initiative bereft of anything like a groundswell of public support; it will allow the state ever-more powers to meddle in our private lives; and the centuries-old institution of marriage, which has great meaning for many millions of people, is being hollowed out to suit the whims of the elite. Even the terms ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ face being casually airbrushed out of some official documents.
Even those who may favour gay marriage should be concerned by Clegg’s ‘bigot’ comment. For it exposes the censuring tactics of the gay-marriage lobby. That is, in the name of equality and tolerance, proponents of gay marriage are branding those who disagree with them as people whose views must not be tolerated. That this tactic of labelling and silencing comes at the end of the government’s so-called consultation on gay marriage reveals the whole exercise to be a fait accompli. This was never a consultation; it was a crusade. As the political elites continue to try to find purpose through their battle against the bigoted hordes who disagree with them, we should ask ourselves: who are the real bigots here?
Patrick Hayes is a reporter for spiked. Visit his personal website here. Follow him on Twitter @p_hayes.