British pro-homosexual laws becoming unglued
Government plans to criminalise the stirring up of hatred against gays and lesbians are in disarray because of a Cabinet split over the need for such a law. The split – between Baroness Scotland of Asthal, the Attorney-General, and Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary – are likely to scupper plans for a new offence. Baroness Scotland has privately expressed concern about the controversial legislation proposed by Mr Straw, The Times has learnt.
Mr Straw announced the plans last month with the backing of Harriet Harman, the Equalities Secretary. He had said that he would bring forward an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill this month to extend the law that already protects religious and racial groups, carrying up to seven years in jail. He had also said that he would listen to views about whether the incitement offence should be extended further to cover hatred against disabled and transgendered people.
But Baroness Scotland, who is also determined to crack down on the problem of homophobic behaviour, believes that there are sufficient laws on the statute book to deal with the issue. She also has concerns about the difficulities of getting the proposal through the House of Lords, which gave a rough ride to measures on incitement to religious hatred and substantially watered them down. She is understood to have told colleagues that she wants to see more successful prosecutions in this area, but is unconvinced that a new law is the way to do it and would prefer to focus on existing procedures.
It is the second time in recent weeks that ministers’ plans have failed to win the support of Baroness Scotland, the country’s senior law officer. Last week The Times reported that she believed the case had not been made for extending the time that terror suspects can be held before charge.
Mr Straw’s plan was to mirror the offence of incitement to religious hatred. The amendment would cover hatred and invective directed at people on the basis of their sexuality. Ministers insist that it would not prohibit criticism of gay and bisexual people but protect them from incitement to hatred because of their sexual orientation. But, despite strong backing from bodies such as Stonewall, the campaigning group for gay rights, the proposals have caused controversy and been condemned as a threat to freedom of speech, including from some prominent homosexuals. Matthew Parris, the Times columnist, wrote that “some groups may be so weak and fragile as to need the law’s protection from hateful speech. I’d like to think that we gays are no longer among them.”
In a letter to The Times this month, Rowan Atkinson, the actor, criticised the plans, saying that society was “working things out” without the need for any “legislative interference”. He was concerned about the “extendable” nature of the legislation not just to the disabled and transsexuals but to anyone else who could claim that they could not help the way they are. “Men, for example. Or women. Or people with big ears.”
There were warnings that the move could mean that vicars would face a threat of jail for preaching from the Bible; others said that gay rights were being given priority over Christian values and would be used to silence those with strong Christian beliefs.
Most police forces now record hate crimes and the Crown Prosecution Service already deals with hate crime by scrutinising cases for a racial, religious, homophobic or transphobic element. Special “hate crime panels” are to be introduced after the success of a hate crime scrutiny panel in West Yorkshire, which two weeks ago won an award for its work. The panel, which includes members of the “hate crime partnerships” in the area such as Stop Hate UK and Bradford Hate Crime Alliance, has seen a rise in the prosecution of hate crimes in the area and a fall in the failure rate. Courts in England and Wales already have the power to impose tougher sentences for offences that are motivated or aggravated by a victim’s sexual orientation.
Britain: Political correctness infests the pantomime
Whatever happened to the good old-fashioned British panto? Struggling under the weight of political correctness, the much-loved Christmas tradition is not what it once was, report Chris Hastings and Stephanie Plentl
"I've delivered a script?. which I hope ticks all the necessary panto boxes: transformation scene, community song, unspeakable jokes along with songs, slapstick, rewards for the good and punishment for the wicked," says Stephen Fry. "Being Cinderella, there are naturally Ugly Sisters, a Fairy Godmother, a Prince Charming, a Dandini and a Buttons. No Baron Hardup or Broker's Men, which might disappoint some hard-line traditionalists, but damn it, surely I can be allowed some leeway."
It might be seen as a long overdue coming together of two national treasures: Stephen Fry has written a pantomime. And he has certainly allowed himself some leeway. For the audiences of over-15s who attend his version of Cinderella, at the Old Vic, this Christmas will barely have settled into their seats when, in Act One, Buttons comes out as gay. By the end of the show, his journey of self-discovery is complete and he has entered into a civil partnership with the dashing valet, Dandini.
Welcome to British pantomime, 2007. The centuries-old tradition of a Christmas romp is transforming under pressure from political correctness. In Fry's case, the gag can be seen as an entertaining and relatively harmless spoof of life in modern Britain. In other cases, however, the changing nature of modern life is pushing some shows to the verge of extinction.
Traditional favourites, such as Robinson Crusoe and Sinbad, have been all but abandoned by producers, who fear that the depiction of "natives" and "cannibals" will cause offence on race grounds. At the same time, the custom of having a female star playing the Principal Boy, which goes back to the 19th century, is on the verge of extinction because of fears that modern audiences may interpret her relationship with the female lead as a lesbian one. Instead, audiences are being offered revamped versions of such favourites as Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk, which now carry loaded messages on school bullying, waste recycling and gay rights.
Cinderella is not the only festive favourite to be infected by political correctness. Several upcoming productions have been rewritten to accommodate modern sensibilities. Those versions of Robinson Crusoe that have survived tend to have the eponymous hero befriended by the pirates, rather than politically incorrect natives. The character of Man Friday is more likely to be white than black.
Producers are also wary of including anything that may be too sinister or frightening. Shows such as Hansel and Gretel and Babes in the Wood, which used to include scenes in which children were abducted, are either struggling to be shown or are being rewritten to avoid complaints from over-sensitive parents. In a production of Jack and the Beanstalk, at the Riverfront theatre, Newport, this year, the Giant will kidnap the village's livestock rather than the children.
The changes have infuriated panto veterans. Norman Robbins, an actor and director who was also Britain's most prolific contemporary writer of panto, quit the business in 2005 because of "undue interference". He said: "Political correctness, which, to my mind, is absolute stupidity, is doing a lot of damage. It is absolute rubbish to say that a female star shouldn't play the Principal Boy. It is like doing a Shakespeare play and taking away some of the characters. "By having a girl as Principal Boy, you kept the thing in the realms of fantasy. Whatever was happening to the characters, the story stayed light and fairy-like."
The consequence of this cautious climate is that audiences are left with a narrower range of productions to choose from. Tony Gibbs, the chief executive of the National Operatic and Dramatic Association, which has more than 2,500 members, said the ever-sensitive issue of race was encouraging the organisation's members to "play safe". "There is a dilemma and a tension between the need to stereotype villainous characters for ease of identification and the fear of vilifying someone because of their race," he said
Staff involved with an upcoming school pantomime production of Goldilocks and the Three Bears last week posted a message on the theatrical website Amdram, asking whether they should keep the script's reference to "those gipsies" in what the school describes as these "you gotta be careful" days. One respondent advises: "Unless you want lots of adverse publicity, I would change the script. Why not change gipsies to 'vagabonds'?".
Such attitudes would have been unthinkable 20 years ago, when panto revelled in its ability to entertain children and shock parents. In the 1970s and 1980s, established female stars, including Dame Maggie Smith, opted to play male roles in Christmas spectaculars. But Qdos Entertainment, the country's largest producer of pantomimes, says that an actress appearing in the role of the young male hero would now be a rarity.
John Conway, its director, who will oversee 19 productions this year, said lesbianism featured so frequently on television that audiences would automatically reach the wrong conclusion about a romance involving the Principal Boy. Describing the prospect of even a chaste peck on the check as "too risque", he added: "We rarely have girls playing boys now. It is not political correctness - it's awareness of trends."
If over-cautious producers are one part of the problem, the audience itself is proving another. Ian Liston, the artistic director of the Hiss and Boo theatre company, which is producing five shows this Christmas, said: "When we put on Snow White in Truro, recently, there was a serious exchange of letters in the local paper between us and an audience member who was angry that we had used dwarves in the show. He said that it was demeaning and that we should have used jockeys instead. I retorted that that would be demeaning to jockeys. There comes a limit to how much you can do."
Britain's health-and-safety culture is also making an impact with some performers who fear their on-stage slapstick could expose them to legal action. Last year, the producers of Peter Pan in Cornwall had to do battle with health and safety officers who wanted the children in the audience to wear hard hats during the flying scenes. In Preston, audiences were told that the performers couldn't throw sweets at the children in case someone got hurt.
Many panto performers are now beginning to censor themselves. Tudor Davies, a veteran writer, director and actor, said: "Aladdin is becoming one of the hardest ones to do because of Abanazar's role as an Arabian villain. I know some actors in the role are even wary of generating too many boos, because of the race issue. "
Tommy Cannon, one half of the Cannon and Ball comedy duo, is appearing in Jack and the Beanstalk this year at Hull."You are getting to the stage where you are frightened to do anything as a joke," he said. "We used to do Babes in the Wood a lot and we'd play the robbers who kidnap the children and whisk them away in a pram. But people actually believed something was happening to the kids on stage and we would get complaints. "You used to ask a kid to come on stage and give you a kiss on the cheek. You would turn around and they'd catch you on the lips and nose. But we used to get complaints over that. People forget that this is panto and that sort of censorship is so wrong. These pantos are disappearing and they are not coming back."
McCain not correct enough
It was near the end of a long day on the campaign trail for Republican presidential candidate John McCain. The Arizona senator was taking questions at Trinity Restaurant and Bar on Hilton Head Island after his third speech of the day. A woman included a crude reference to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in her query. "How do we beat the .... (rhymes with rich)?" she asked.
McCain initially looked a little confused, glanced away briefly and then smiled. "May I give the translation?" he asked with a laugh, then adding, "That's an excellent question." McCain noted that a recent poll had him slightly ahead of Clinton in a head-to-head matchup. Then he added, "I respect Sen. Clinton; I respect anyone who gets the nomination of the Democratic Party."
Despite that respect, the senator said, he has "fundamental philosophical differences" with her. "She's a liberal Democrat, and I'm a proud conservative Republican," he said. "I believe our country is a conservative nation. ... I will win, I promise you."
In the scheme of things, it didn't seem to top a couple of dozen other things McCain said or did that day. So, like several other news outlets, I didn't include it in my news story at the time. But the New York Times was all over it. So was CNN. The network's Rick Sanchez did a full segment. Enter the blogosphere and the columnists.
DemocraticUnderground.Com said - incorrectly - that McCain called Clinton a (rhymes with rich). Then it hyperventilated a bit, ratcheting up the rhetoric. "What would he call (Barack) Obama if he were the front-runner?" it followed up. Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Leonard Pitts, whose pieces run in our paper, raised a similar question. To his credit, Pitts got the facts right, or at least those he chose to present. So he asked how the questioner would have referred to Obama, to Bill Richardson, who is Hispanic, and to Joe Lieberman, who is Jewish. But Pitts omitted McCain's statement of respect for Clinton and the rest of his answer and faulted him for laughing.
As have others, he made the valid point that women in politics frequently face a double standard. That is, men - and women, too - often disdain female candidates with traits such as toughness and assertiveness, which are usually admired in men. That lingering prejudice, Pitts surmised, prompted the woman's word choice and the senator's shruggish reaction.
Maybe. But what was McCain supposed to do? Upbraid the woman for her crude language? It hardly would have worked. He'd just regaled the crowd with a yarn about how his mother once threatened to wash his mouth out with soap. She'd read about some of the epithets he'd hurled at his North Vietnamese captors when he'd been a prisoner of war. Maybe he should have, after having just told a lawyer joke (see below) and an Irish joke, given a stern lecture on political correctness. Get real, folks.
Instead, McCain brushed aside - perhaps not all that deftly - the questioner's characterization. He said he respected Clinton. He focused on the part of the question he thought was "excellent." That is: How do the Republicans beat Clinton? Many people are offering odds that they won't. But McCain's answer - though obviously self-serving - was on point.
Back to that other - not so excellent - question. How would the woman who asked about Clinton have referred to Obama, Richardson or Lieberman if one of them led the pack? It's the silly season, when folks rev up their rhetoric in a quest for extra bases. So why not assume the worst? Why not assert that her tastelessness is the moral equivalent of sexism, or even racism? Here's why: Given the waggish mood in the room at the time, that's far too big a reach. Don't bother to slide; you're out.
I don't know the woman, who, by the way, told reporters she leans toward voting for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. But I doubt that she would have used the sort of racist slurs that some folks speculate about. As likely as not, she would have used a word that almost rhymes with custard. Or should that be basted?
There goes Lawyers for McCain. Some jokes are worth retelling, especially if, as happened in last week's column, a production glitch deletes the punchline. McCain noted in Hilton Head that at least two kinds of humor still pass the p.c. test: Irish jokes and lawyer jokes. He told one of each. Here's the lawyer joke. "How can you tell the difference between a lawyer and a catfish? "One is a scum-sucking bottom dweller and the other is a fish."
Australia: Sometimes you can't win
And trying to protect Aboriginal children from abuse will almost always be an example of that
ABORIGINAL social workers in Brewarrina say the indigenous community there is confused and fearful after the attempted removal of four children from their families last week, which sent two of them into hiding. Grace Beetson, who runs the Ourgunya women's refuge, described "scenes reminiscent of the film Rabbit-Proof Fence" when Department of Community Services workers and police arrived at the children's house to take four of them into care on Thursday.
"Bystanders watched as police used capsicum spray on emotional fathers and ripped two children [aged three and six months] from their 18- and 19-year-old mothers' arms," Ms Beetson said. "Aboriginal women outside of the house and across the street were crying, whilst children were running around distraught, fearful and screaming."
Ms Beetson said neither mother was aware she was under departmental scrutiny, but a spokesman for the department said it had been working on the case and "seeking to engage the family without success".
Two other children aged eight and 11, who were sisters of the young mothers, had since gone into hiding after learning that they were also scheduled to be removed, Ms Beetson said. "Their mother . has desperately requested support from DOCS in the past. These children had been taken into care and then returned when appropriate placements could not be found. Whilst a care plan was drafted and respite specifically requested, the family received no further support or resources from DOCS," she said.
A protest march was being organised in Brewarrina, amid fears that a radical crackdown like that in the Northern Territory was being planned for western NSW. But the department said the two babies were taken into care "amid serious fears for their safety" and that department case workers "were thrust into a scene of escalating violence and personal risk when attending the premises". "The decision to remove these children was not taken lightly. Such decisions are always difficult," the spokesman said. "DOCS recognises the distress of the family and the community in this case but must put the safety of these children first."
Earlier this month, Brewarrina was the scene of the funeral for two-year-old Dean Shillingsworth, an Aboriginal boy whose body was found in a suitcase in a pond in Ambarvale. Dean's death was the first of a series of tragic incidents this month that has put unprecedented pressure on a department already under strain. Dean's father, Paul Shillingsworth, grew up in Brewarrina. Dean's mother, Rachel Pfitzner, of Rosemeadow, has been charged with his murder.
The Minister for Community Services, Kevin Greene, said two new DOCS case workers began work in October in nearby Bourke and two more positions were being advertised as part of a NSW Government strategy to boost child protection resources in western NSW.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.