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Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Politician regrets public debate! What?

So the UK’s Justice Secretary has “expressed his regret at triggering a ferocious public debate” when he said he didn’t like talking to women wearing bin bags.

Jack Straw famously told a Muslim woman constituent who had turned up at his surgery with only her eyes peeping through the dehumanising garb some of these people feel they have to wear that he felt uncomfortable.

Now, trying to get votes, he’s told a meeting organised by the campaign group Engage that his remarks were taken out of context (they all say that) and he still regularly sees women wearing the full veil.

And, according to the Daily Mail, he regrets having caused the ensuing public debate.

Why should a politician regret having caused a public debate? Isn’t politics about debate and getting the public talking about issues?

No, it seems. Public debates are to be regretted.

“He told a packed hall of local Muslim residents: ‘To be blunt, if I had realised the scale of publicity that they [his comments] received in October 2006, I wouldn’t have made them and I am sorry that it has caused problems and I offer that apology,” the Mail says.

Which shows that he’s willing to tone down his remarks and “regret” that they’ve caused public debate now he’s trying to keep his job.

The fact is that people wishing to engage in public with others – be that MPs, bank tellers, a courtroom full of jurors and lawyers, shop assistants, police or immigration officers – should be ready to show their faces. If they wish to play dress-up in their own homes – because their husbands make them or they believe their imaginary friend wants them to – fine, except that’s it’s in public, not in the home, that these women feel they have to cover up in case men get frisky and try to rape them.

I’m uncomfortable about an outright ban, because, with the litigious government we have at the moment (albeit “on hold” while the election campaign continues – and the next one is not likely to be any different), where will it end? But there’s no excuse for allowing people to hide their identities when it’s important to communicate with others.

Straw should have the courage of his convictions (if he has any convictions left) and say he meant it, that he felt uncomfortable, that he wasn’t calling for a ban, merely that a person should meet him face to face when appearing in his surgery to ask for help or advice.

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