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October 11, 2006

Prolonging the story

Harriet Harman, the Minister for Women, has criticised Muslim women who wear veils. This shouldn’t surprise us. Why?

  1. Ms Harman is hoping to be Deputy Leader of the Labour Party when John Prescott steps down.
  2. The media loves to prolong this story.

These two facts are connected and last night’s Ten O’Clock News on the BBC was interesting in this respect. Nick Robinson’s lead report (watch it) was about a number of stories, all pulled together. It was at the top of the bulletin largely because Nick had an exclusive interview with Gordon Brown, and that was because Brown was giving a speech on a range of domestic issues. Nick raised the Muslim veils issue in order to ‘peg’ it to the BBC’s news agenda for the day.

But Gordon Brown knew what he was doing by agreeing to comment on the issue. He knew it would get him the lead item on the ‘Ten’, which helps him in his bid to be Prime Minister. Nick was complicit in this, and that’s the way the machine tends to work.

Harriet Harman is playing exactly the same game as her friend Brown. No one really cares what the ‘Minister for Women’ thinks. She’s not a great moral leader or a role model. But she’s happy to play on people’s fears about Muslim veils in order to get herself on the news. I’m not sure whether to blame her or to blame the system that she’s operating under, but if studying Politics at Warwick teaches you anything, it’s that systems and institutions are ‘sticky’, but should be open to challenge. It’s a shame that Harman didn’t challenge the system by refusing to answer the question and prolonging the debate.

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