Press: Scaremongering in the Telegraph

10 March 2010

by Andrew Brown

The row goes on: a follow-up to the civil-partnership debate in the Telegraph

The row goes on: a follow-up to the civil-partnership debate in the Telegraph

I HAD spent a lot of Wednesday last week read­ing the Hansard report of the debate in the House of Lords on permitting civil partnerships to be registered in those religious premises that want them.

I had read Lord Alli, who proposed the mo­tion, saying: “From the outset, I want to make one thing very clear. The amendment does not — I repeat, does not — place an obligation on any religious organisations to host civil partnerships in their buildings. We have made that clear by including in the amendment the words: ‘For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this Act places an obligation on religious organisations to host civil partnerships if they do not wish to do so.’”

I had read Lord (Norman) Fowler saying: “As for this simply being a step to it all becoming mandatory, I have probably listened to Stone­wall — when I was doing HIV/AIDS work in the Department of Health and later — more than many Members of this House. Sometimes I agree with Stonewall and sometimes I do not.

“However, I have never understood the idea that Stonewall has somehow become the arbiter of what this House and the nation are going to do. The decision rests with us. It is absurd to say that, simply because Stonewall says something, tomorrow the whole thing will become man­datory, particularly as the noble Lord, Lord Alli, has put down such a limiting clause, making it absolutely clear for the avoidance of all doubt that nothing in this Bill places an obligation on religious organisations to host civil partnerships if they do not wish to. Nothing could be clearer than that.”

IT WAS rather a shock, then, to read the splash in The Daily Telegraph on Thursday last week under the headline: “Vicars could be sued if they refuse to carry out gay marriages.” Note the absolute lack of scare quotes. They are what tip this over from a tendentious piece of scare-mongering into something rather like an out­right lie. There is nothing in the story to suggest that it is actually true: “Traditionalists fear vicars could be taken to court and accused of dis­crimination if they rejected requests to hold civil partnership ceremonies on religious premises,” says the lead. “The warning follows a landmark vote by peers that would allow the ceremonies to be held in places of worship.”


None of this, I think, makes sense except in the context of an upcoming election. The Con­servatives are in a bind here, because there is no doubt that the vast mass of voters can no longer see anything terribly wrong with gay people; on the other hand, there is a fiercely motivated minority who cannot see anything right with them, and it is certainly a majority in the Churches.

It is worth noting, though, that the Anglican vote on this amendment was split exactly 50/50 with one serving and one retired bishop on each side. So the Conservatives need to whip up some of their supporters in opposition to the amend­ment, and also to avoid being caught actually opposing it. If that is what’s really going on, the Telegraph’s splash makes perfect sense. Claiming that the measure will be a disaster after it has passed inflames the antis while not seriously offending the supporters. So why should anyone worry whether the headline is actually true?

A SIMILAR process is at work over the latest massacres in Jos, in central Nigeria. I am very glad that the British press does not print the pictures that the Nigerian papers do: I would rather read about children with their heads sliced open, if I must, than see them.

But most people are proof against almost any horror in the media. There is nothing that can happen to strangers so terrible that it cannot prove we were right all along. So, Melanie Phillips, on her blog, discovers that the liberal media are concealing the Muslims’ guilt: “The media have described these events as ‘riots’; I would call this a jihadi pogrom. It is but the latest episode in what the media persist in characterising as inter-ethnic violence, but which is in fact a systematic attempt by Muslims to murder and ethnically cleanse the Christian community.”

At the “Liberal Conspiracy” blog, the mas­sacres prove that it is all the fault of religion: “The victims were Christians, those who hacked them to pieces with machetes were Muslims, and it’s a safe bet that none of them had even heard of Richard Dawkins. . . The less input religion has into politics, the better things are for everybody, including believers themselves.”

Perhaps the children could have died happier if they had known how many people halfway around the world would have derived such blessed assurance from their deaths.

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