(and “gay cures” on the NHS)
I think it was Enoch Powell who said that there’s no more point in a politician complaining about the media than a sailor complaining about the sea. He was right, of course. So I try very hard not to respond to what looks like deliberate provocation, never mind defamatory fictions and lies, in the press — nor indeed the often even more outrageous calumnies in the social media. Some appalling stuff was published in the papers during the Euro and Newark election campaigns, and for the most part I avoided comment. But now that both of those campaigns are over, I’d like to respond to a couple of the more egregious claims.
A few weeks before the euro elections, a Sun journalist called me up and asked about my attitude to homosexuality. I have to say that this was not an issue high on my policy agenda, but being a courteous sort of chap I gave him and answer. We in UKIP (I said) are a broadly libertarian party. Whatever consenting adults choose to do together, it’s no business of ours. But we do condemn prejudice, and discrimination, and hostility, and (especially) violence, against any minority group.
I added, for good measure, that nonetheless we had to recognise the right of the individual to have personal preferences with regard to sexual behaviour, as in any other area or activity or walk of life.
This was reported in The Sun as “UKIP MEP says it’s OK to despise gay people”. Next day the Independent, without ever checking with me, upped the stakes and made it “UKIP MEP says it’s OK to hate gay people”. (My emphasis). How you get from “OK to have personal preferences” to “OK to hate gay people” I’m not sure — especially as in my conversation with The Sun I had explicitly condemned hostility and prejudice.
Then, during the Newark campaign, I was stunned by a headline in The Mail on Sunday: “Retired Colonel, 70, calls for gay cures on the NHS”. This (you may be surprised to hear) referred to me.
For the record, I have never expressed any view as to whether it may be possible to change a person’s sexual orientation. I simply have no idea, though I know there are those who assert that it is possible, and others who assert with equally vehemence that it is not. But I have certainly never endorsed “gay cures”, nor claimed that they are effective, nor suggested that homosexuality is in any sense a disease that might need to be cured. Still less have I “called for gay cures”. And I am appalled by the idea of “gay cures on the NHS” (whether they are effective or not).
So what did I actually say? I merely insisted, as a libertarian, that if an individual believes that such a procedure or treatment (call it what you will) works, or might work, they should be free to pursue it voluntarily, without the sort of strident vilification from the gay lobby that we saw in the press three years ago.
For the Mail on Sunday to report this as “calling for gay cures on the NHS” is perverse, defamatory, and a deliberate attempt (in my considered view) to damage a leading candidate in a high-profile by-election. It is (again in my considered view) a prima facie breach of electoral law. In fact their headline is false in every possible respect — except that they got my age right.
The Huffington Post (and other media outlets) repeated the Mail’s story, again without any attempt to check with me, and it has now passed into the social media as an established fact, proving again the clichéd adage that “A lie is half way round the world before the truth has got its boots on”. No doubt it will be repeated for years. But it was, is, and remains, a lie.