A little less whingeing, Ms Smith

Oh, puh-lease! I have yet to hear a word of former Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith’s up and coming broadcast on pornography – though I am looking forward to it with an interest that is both deeply personal and professional at the same time.

How could I not? I seem to be one of the few journalists in the UK capable of writing about these topics without either a) having an attack of the vapours or b) descending into childish sensationalism at the first mention of nipples.

So I shall be more than a little interested in what Ms Smith has to say on the issue of porn – not least because New Labour presided over a decade of more intense sexual law-making than i believe any previous government has managed to achieve. Some good stuff. Some bad. Some positively hairy.

It’s a bit early to be writing the history books on the topic yet (though if all goes to plan, I may soon be starting a doctorate on just this): but I think the views of a woman in office as Home Secretary for a portion of that decade are definitely something worth hearing.

But puh-lease! Again. Can we not have the sort of whingeing victim drivel we have heard from Ms Smith before – and again today – when she claims that the reason the press pored over her expenses was “because she’s a woman”.

For feck’s sake! NO!!! The press – myself included – were interested in the expenses of politicians, period. We were also especially interested in instances where a claim was of particularly humorous or ironic value.

An anti-hunting MP subscribing to Horse and Hound would probably qualify. MP’s with excess gardening expenses or moats were also fair game.

Oh. And a Home Secretary who was busy implementing a series of measures that, however you viewed them, were likely to transform our relationship to what material we, the public, could view freely online and in the privacy of our homes: well such a person, male or female, would obviously be in the firing line.

I remember well the day the story broke. I had to hammer out something suitably hack for one of the publications I was working for. I called the Home Office for comment – and was passed to a “special adviser”, on the grounds that Ms Smith’s expenses were not an official matter.

They, in turn, appeared astonished, astounded even, that I dared to go beyond the bog standard line of questioning and to ask – shock! Horror! – what porn her hsuband had been watching. Such a question was “irresponsible journalism”.


To be honest, it struck me as one of the most germane questions to be asking, since on the menu at some of the channels that Smith husband was alleged to have been watching was material that she might be looking at (officially, I hasten to add!) with a view to making its possession unlawful. So the question of “what was he watching?” becomes relevant in a way that ordinarily it wouldn’t.

Hmmm. The idea, back then, I guess, was that I would be shamed…cowed into not asking awkward questions because it wasn’t proper journalism. I wasn’t either. I suspect I am a thoroughly shameless girl when it comes to finding out what I want to know – and I was definitely uncowed.

So it is depressing to find Ms Smith at it again in the pages of today’s Indie. She is quoted as saying: “(I) know that it was my expenses people looked at first because I was a woman and should have been at home looking after my husband and children.”

Sorry. That’s just tosh. The papers looked at everyone’s expenses and gloried in the least discrepancy they could find.

They took the scalps of a number of minor ministers: and they were cock-a-hoop to discover that her partner was looking at porn not just because it made for good smutty copy (it did) but because it went to the heart of her job. It exposed Ms Smith, in a way that improper claims for restaurant bills would not have done, to the suggestion that she was hypocritical if she had the slightest inkling of what her partner was up to.

That’s why they homed in on this.

Last word, then: an appeal of sorts. I respect you enormously, Ms Smith, for what you achieved. Not many women make it to cabinet. Even fewer to the great offices of state. You did that and you should be proud of it.

Please accept and understand: in this instance, the press did not pursue you for some presumed anti-woman agenda. They came after you because of impropriety. Period.

And to attempt to claim otherwise makes you look like a weak and rather pathetic whinger. It does nothing for the cause of women: it is an insult to feminism.

I’ll be listening when you talk about porn next week – but please lay off the victimhood. It really doesn’t suit!



About janefae

On my way from here to there
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