Boris Johnson’s baby news exposes double standards
PUBLISHED: 12:35 05 March 2020 | UPDATED: 14:25 05 March 2020
MITCH BENN says the right-wing media’s reaction to the prime minister’s announcement is hypocritical.
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So, our prime minister has announced having conceived a child "out of wedlock", as our recent ancestors might have tersely put it, while still at least technically married to his last wife (one is given to understand that a divorce has in fact recently been finalised but what one knows of human biology would suggest the pregnancy predates that) and this announcement has been hailed in the right-wing press as some much-needed good news in these turbulent times and not a career-terminating scandal.
One could, if one were of extremely sunny outlook, regard this as a sign that our popular media and perhaps even our society is finally maturing a bit with regard to how relationships actually work in the real world.
For a more jaded observer such as me, it's difficult not to suspect that had such a story broken about a non-Conservative prime minster - or indeed, just about anyone else other than the current prime minister - the tabloids and Tory broadsheets would have been altogether less forgiving. Unfortunately it'll be a good few years before testing this hypothesis becomes even a theoretical possibility.
Certainly there's already been a fair bit of hypocrisy on display; many of the columnists and commentators currently admonishing their fellow pundits to lay off Carrie Symonds, on the grounds that it's just not on to go after a young woman pregnant with her first child, showed no such compunction or restraint when the equally expectant Duchess of Sussex was in the press's crosshairs a few months ago. And that pregnancy was far more 'orthodox' than the one now under discussion.
Let's face it, what we're seeing here is not any sort of progress away from pious judgment where sex and relationships are concerned, but merely the most vivid example yet - in this country anyway - of the codification and open embracing of the Double Standard as a way of life.
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A degree of hypocrisy is baked into all political discourse - unless one has achieved Spockian levels of logical detachment one can't help but cut one's own side more slack than the opposition. It's worth remembering that while liberal American commentators were horrified by the allegations that Donald Trump had been conducting an affair with the 'adult performer' Stormy Daniels while his wife Melania nursed their newborn son, they did nothing whatsoever to dent his approval numbers among Republican voters. When rather similar adulterous stories surfaced about president Bill Clinton back in the 1990s, his popularity among Democrats was likewise unaffected.
What does seem to be new is that this sort of paradoxical thinking isn't an unconscious reflexive thing any more; it's a choice, and a proud and open choice at that.
It's no longer the case that we can't help but condemn in our opponents' faults which we would forgive in our allies, we choose to do so and see nothing wrong in this. Of course it's okay when our side does a thing because our side is good and their side is bad.
In fact this sort of 'Protect The Tribe At All Costs' attitude is now so prevalent that some people seem to be confused when they don't find it. Over the last week or so a few conservative (big and small c) commentators have opined that the reason "liberals" dislike Priti Patel is nothing to do with her conduct in office (currently, I would remind you, the subject of multiple enquiries) and everything to do with the fact that she has the temerity to be right wing while being both a woman and of Indian heritage, two things that "the liberals" believe should have placed her firmly on "their side", with some going further and suggesting that for women and minority ethnic pundits to criticise Patel is disloyal, and that in everyone else's case it's sexist and/or racist.
But surely insisting that people should feel a debt of loyalty to an individual who shares their gender or ethnicity regardless of what that individual actually says or does is itself a sexist and racist assumption.
Must I, as an urgent matter of solidarity, endorse everything said or done by a middle-aged, straight, white guy? I'm not sure that's even possible. There just isn't time, for a start. Or are we straight, middle-aged, white guys the exception to this rule (as we are, let's face it, to pretty much every rule)?
Meanwhile, going back to the happy announcement from Number 10, I'd like to congratulate Symonds on her news and indeed on her superhuman powers of optimism. And the story has at least served its primary purpose of banishing Patel's ongoing travails from the front pages. There may not be a magic money tree in Whitehall but there does seem to be an endless supply of dead cats.
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