This week, leaked decontextualised private exchanges from several years ago from Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch were published in Vice magazine.
The first article claimed that she went on an “anti-LGBT rant”. However, the article provided no recording as evidence and no context for the supposed rant. It quoted her as saying:
“It’s no longer about minority rights in terms of race any more or nationality,”
“it’s not even about sexuality now, it’s now like the whole transgender movement, where, OK well we’ve got gay marriage, and civil partnerships, so what are transsexuals looking for?”
Here, the minister is clearly having a casual conversation where she’s asking reasonable and fair questions about contemporary LGBT activism and its goals in light of major civil rights gains such as gay marriage. This is an ongoing and contentious debate that is happening right now within wider society andLGBT circles and groups such as LGB Alliance, Stonewall and Mermaids. So, what’s the problem?
In another leak, this time of private Whatsapp messages Kemi Badenoch stated “I don’t care about colonialism because [I] know what we were doing before colonialism got there. They came in and just made a different bunch of winners and losers,”
She stated: “There was never any concept of ‘rights,’ so [the] people who lost out were old elites not every day people,”
In this message, the minister, who spent significant parts of her childhood living in Nigeria, is providing her interpretation - a view echoed by several influential historians about pre-colonial Africa, and the nature and consequences of the British Empire.
I’m struggling to see what the problem is here. In fact, in my view, the problem isn’t what Kemi Badenoch said as such but instead, is the expectation that political figures shouldn’t have their own views, that they should deny their own conscience, their own beliefs and thoughts about the world, that they should self-censor, not out of mere politeness or general norms of communication, but to appease an aggressive, seemingly ideologically-motivated section of the commentariat.
In a political time starved of vision and leadership, the demonisation of MPs that have their own mind and perspectives and aren't afraid to express them, only contributes to a political culture that is highly spun, sanitised and bereft of risk-taking and imagination. I don’t want automatons as MPs, I want people with courage and ideas. You can disagree with her interpretation but that doesn’t mean she was wrong to express them.
The leaking of private Whatsapp messages also creates a culture of paranoia and cynicism within politics and only benefits those that are willing to backstab, betray and threaten to get to where they want to go. It destroys trust and demoralises those that want to do the right thing and stand up for what they believe in as they may fear what they may have said and where and when, leading them to toe a safe, pre-agreed line rather than express their true thoughts.
Absolutely, if there is evidence of wrongdoing, corruption or criminal behaviour, then that is in the public interest.
But, expressing mainstream views in a private conversation? Give me a break.