Earlier this year I wrote a piece about a photo purporting to show 4 Iranian gay men who had been hanged, which spread far and wide on the net. As I noted in the piece, people seem to share such images without thought or hesitation but, if and when they transpire to be incorrect, almost no-one bothers to correct their error. It’s as if their veracity is irrelevant provided the target is one no-one will question.
Which brings me to this picture:
This started to spread across Facebook and Twitter as soon as Maria Miller was announced as Minister for Equality on Tuesday. Presumably someone immediately jumped onto Public Whip to check her credentials. Yet it’s a strange image – there are no sources, no identifier as to who put it together, and the wording of some of the claims is very peculiar. So, after seeing it shared for about the 200th time, I thought I’d check it out (Edit: To make it absolutely clear, all of these votes and bills come from Public Whip. It’s very easy to use – search by MP name or bill title. Maria Miller’s page is here)
- I voted against gay adoption rights
Same-sex adoption was voted on in Parliament in 2001/2002, in a series of votes on the Adoption and Children Bill. Maria Miller didn’t become an MP until 2005. The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations in 2007 had some bearing, being the legislation which led to a dispute between Catholic adoption agencies and government – but this certainly wasn’t a fundamental question of whether gay people could adopt. In any event, Maria Miller doesn’t appear to have voted on this bill at all. So as far as I can see, this claim is a complete fabrication. If anyone can point me towards something which shows otherwise, please comment below.
- I voted against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which would give lesbian couples the ability to receive fertility treatment
This one is a bit more complicated. There were approximately 20 votes on this bill, covering various amendments. Maria Miller did vote against the second reading of this bill In fact, as pointed out by Ben Millwood in the comments, she voted in favour of the second reading! She also voted for two amendments. The first opposed changing ‘father’ to ‘supportive parenting’ in:
“A woman shall not be provided with treatment services unless account has been taken of the welfare of any child who may be born as a result of the treatment (including the need of that child for a father), and of any other child who may be affected by the birth” in favour of changing it to ‘a father and a mother’.
The second opposed changing ‘father’ to ‘supportive parenting’ in:
“A woman shall not be provided with treatment services unless account has been taken of the welfare of any child who may be born as a result of the treatment (including the need of that child for a father), and of any other child who may be affected by the birth” in favour of “supportive parenting and a father or male role model”.
Both these amendments could certainly be presented as homophobic. It’s worth noting, however, that Maria Miller toed the Tory line on these votes. She also voted the same way on these amendments as figures like Andy Burnham, John Bercow, David Blunkett, Peter Kilfoyle, Kate Hoey, Austin Mitchell, Chris Mullin and previous Equalities Minister Ruth Kelly. Folk like Diane Abbott, Alistair Darling, Tom Watson and David Miliband didn’t even turn up to vote. For the third reading of the bill, the one which ultimately led to it becoming law, Maria Miller did not vote
- I voted against the process of the Racial and Religious Hatred bill
This bill made it an offence to incite hatred against a person on the grounds of their religion. It caused a major stir – as you can see here, comedians such as Rowan Atkinson spoke out against it, as did the National Secular Society. Prominent activist Peter Tatchell has repeatedly raised concerns about such acts, believing in the primacy of free speech.
Every Tory who voted on this bill voted against it. So did principled left-wing MPs such as Paul Flynn, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.
- I voted in favour of defining homophobia, racial hatred and prejudice as simply just ‘freedom of speech’
This is the oddest of the charges against Maria Miller, lacking as it does any context or explanation. However in presumably valuing freedom of speech, even when offensive, she is far from alone. We are at quite a place if opposition to specific ‘hate crime’ legislation marks you out as a bigot – indeed, if this is the case I stand guilty alongside Tatchell and co.
So really, out of the four charges against her only one (relating to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill) really stands up – and given that the vast majority of Tories who voted on these amendments voted the same way, it hardly seems worth mentioning. Indeed, it’s peculiar to fixate on the voting records of individual ministers when the party is led by a man who voted against gay adoption, against the repeal of Clause 28 and thinks it appropriate to take digs such as this at the opposition leader in Parliament.
There are plenty of reasons to hate the Tories – the prime one being, of course, the class war they are waging against the poor and vulnerable under the guise of ‘austerity’. We should unite in opposition to its attack on benefits, its attack on employment rights, its attack on the NHS, its attack on students. Fabricated outrage over half-baked understandings of the voting record of a minister few had previously heard of only distracts us.
The bigger issue here, of course, goes back to the ease with which we share these memes. I’d be curious to know how many people who clicked ‘share’ on this image actually took a few minutes to check its claims, to look deeper. I suspect if it had been a ‘friendly’ face (such as a popular left-wing figure) many more would have. Because it’s a Tory, almost no-one will. It will just keep being passed on in mock outrage, then quickly forgotten about. This is what gives ‘clicktivism’ a bad name – the facile, superficial engagement with issues which has no purpose other than to affirm the individual’s position on the ‘right side’ of the fence. No-one is informed, no one is challenged, no one is engaged. It’s little more than an extension of ego.
I’m well aware that in challenging these things I put myself out there as a harbinger of ‘bad feeling’. Smug, self-satisfied, self-righteous, tedious and all the rest. Heck, blogging certainly requires ego. Yet nothing would please me more than an honest discourse where we are unafraid to challenge each other – more profoundly, to challenge our perceptions of ourselves. These memes are a lazy, dishonest obstacle to that.