Jody Corcoran: ‘Is some of the criticism of Varadkar’s note laced with homophobia?’

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Jody Corcoran: ‘Is some of the criticism of Varadkar’s note laced with homophobia?’

Political notebook


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA

Warily, we tread into the language of “isms” and “phobias”. Is the criticism of Leo Varadkar’s note to the pop star Kylie Minogue laced with homophobia; are the views of Peadar Toibin on immigration a dog-whistle to racists; are the expressed comments of Roger Scruton really rooted in both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia? In the case of all three, I would say no, but that words must be chosen carefully and that above all else, context is important.

Last weekend, the former minister for justice and Attorney General, Michael McDowell, a man who usually chooses his words carefully, described the Taoiseach as a “camera slut”. The description came in the aftermath of much comment about Varadkar’s letter to Kylie Minogue, expressing a hope that they could meet at Government Buildings while she was in Dublin, staying at a hotel across the road from his office.

It is undoubtedly true that Varadkar is a most media-savvy Taoiseach, with a penchant for “spin”, or presenting himself and his Government in a better than necessary light. There is a case to be made against him for spin over substance. Therefore, McDowell’s reference to a “camera” in this context is relevant, but the addition of the word “slut” has left some people feeling uneasy.

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We should say that McDowell, a true liberal and, indeed, a strong advocate for same-sex marriage, is in no way homophobic, but the term “slut” could, and by some has been (wrongly) taken as a reference to the perception of the promiscuous gay lifestyle.

In general, though, perhaps hidden within other issues raised around the Kylie letter – Varadkar’s initial reluctance to release the note, for example – there is a suspicion that the repeated reference to or hints at Varadkar’s sexuality is homophobic. There may be some truth somewhere within that suspicion, but it does not exist in the Sunday Independent.

In this regard, I must raise a hand, however. Two weeks ago, in an article which suggested that the only consolation of Leo Varadkar was that he was the Fine Gael leader, and which questioned his image as a modern young leader, I said: “That he is gay? How very Noughties of him…”

It has since been pointed out to me that were that line to be delivered in a high camp voice of the Mr Humphries character from the 1970s classic television show Are You Being Served? it could be perceived as homophobic; when, in fact, the only intention was to point out that Varadkar’s “out” sexuality may have been modern a decade ago, but is no longer so.

Sometimes, I feel you would need to be a mathematician to wind your way through the sensitivities in modern discourse. I am unsure whether the term I am seeking is “converse” or “inverse” to explain that the precise opposite of what was intended can sometimes occur.

In something of the same way, Pete Buttigieg, the young, gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is emerging as the Democrats’ most talked-about potential candidate to challenge Donald Trump for the presidency of the US.

In the words of Andrew Sullivan, the (gay) New York Magazine journalist, Buttigieg is emerging because in style, generation, demeanour, and background, he is a near-perfect way to put a “drop shadow” behind all of Trump’s grandiosity, age, temperament and privilege.

Come to think of it, the argument could be extended in other ways, to suggest that the UK is actually winning the battle with the EU on Brexit.

Here is another way of looking at it: the EU has clearly balked at a no-deal Brexit. A new Tory leader from the Brexiteers’ School will have taken note. So, what really happened in Brussels last week? Europe blinked, is what.

When Europe comes back to him on the backstop in six months, all I can suggest is that Leo have a listen to The Flaming Lips’ cover version of Kylie’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head and move on…

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As it happened, last week I viewed on YouTube an hour-long interview with the English philosopher and writer Roger Scruton, who the very next day was sacked from his position as a housing adviser to the Conservative government in the UK following certain reported remarks he made in an interview with the New Statesman magazine.

The Dutch production, Of Beauty And Consolation, featuring more than 20 interviews with academics, intellectuals and polymaths worldwide, is recommended television.

Scruton came across as he is – intellectual, shy and anxiety-ridden, but with a keen analysis of the dark age that he believes we are living through.

In many ways, I believe his comments in the New Statesman – badly chosen, but which some have taken to be critical of Jews and Muslims – are a reflection of the existential crisis through which the UK is going at the moment, as evident in the Tories (accused of Islamophobia) and Labour (accused of anti-Semitism), and indeed in the football stadia of England and around Europe.

I would urge you to read the analysis of the Scruton controversy by my friend, Brendan O’Neill, in spiked-online.com, and ask yourself whether Scruton’s comments were reported in context, or whether he was behaving as he has always behaved – aiming to provoke, challenge and irritate.

At the root of this controversy, in my view, is that Scruton contends, as did Immanuel Kant, that human beings have a transcendental dimension, a sacred core exhibited in their capacity for self-reflection. He argues, persuasively, that we are in an era of secularisation without precedent in the history of the world. Also, as it happens, this composer of two operas is the organist in his local village church, and hunts fox. If you want to understand Conservative England, and therefore the Brexiteers, then you should view this episode of Of Beauty And Consolation.

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The controversy around Peadar Toibin’s remarks on immigration can similarly be rooted, I believe, in widespread rejection of the traditional Catholic views held by the former Sinn Fein man and his supporters in relation to many, though not all matters, but certainly on abortion.

This is the argument of the current age in Ireland, perhaps an epoch-defining one: whether the country must be on an ever onward, ‘progressive’ march, or whether, as Scruton would argue, there is still true value to be found in the values of Christianity.

In my view, Toibin said nothing much more than Leo Varadkar has said before: that people have concerns about the increasing impact of migration on housing, the health and education systems and so on, and that these fears must be recognised and managed by the body politic.

Indeed, Toibin has been consistent in expressing such views, which I do not entirely share.

The problem, of course, is that those genuine racists and wannabe fans of Donald Trump’s attacks on the pillars of US society – so expertly critiqued by the economist Joseph Stiglitz last week – tend to rally to the holder of such views under the misapprehension that, in this case, Toibin is one of their own.

He is not, but he should be clearer than that – that he is no whistler to the hounds in the manner that was, say, Peter Casey during the presidential election and probably will be again in the European elections.

Toibin should also be careful with his populist criticisms of the “establishment”, elites and all of the rest of it, although we accept that the setting up of a new political party is a difficult process in this country, being repeatedly thwarted by those which already exist.

He still must be careful, though, with his use of language, as careful as must be those who falsely attack his views and genuinely held beliefs in their drive towards that ever-more progressive society.

Sunday Independent

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