Common Sense Champion: Matthew Parris

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Mark Lehain
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This week’s Common Sense Champion is someone who has been in the public eye for a long time – journalist, author and broadcaster Matthew Parris. He has been, and continues to be, a doughty defender of common sense and liberal values – regularly defending the right of others to hold ideas and do things that he himself thoroughly disagrees with.

Parris has worn many “hats” over the years. He worked in Mrs Thatcher’s office when she was in opposition, before becoming a Conservative MP in 1979. On the “One Nation” wing of the Conservatives, he advocated for many significant issues before they became popular or mainstream, including lowering the age of consent for gay men, and road pricing.

He was one of those involved in setting up Stonewall. While the organisation has taken on some extreme views around trans rights in recent years, when it was set up it deliberately took a moderate and mainstream approach to equality on issues of sexuality.

Founded exactly a year to the day after the passing of Section 28, Parris has described Stonewall’s aim then as:

bringing people into the fold, with winning doubters over, with quiet reason, with what unites and not what divides human beings.” 

It was undoubtedly very effective in this. Alas, that’s not how the Stonewall of today operates – and it’s why Parris and many others involved with the battle for gay equality have walked away from it. Notably though, he didn’t make a big fuss when he did this, nor did he call for Stonewall to be cancelled or shut down:

No broadcasting, no splenetic columns, no failure of respect — none — for trans, pan, non-binary, lesbian, bi, or ace (now I’ve looked it up) people. Just a quiet and rather sad walking away…

In this regard, he stuck to his liberal values that people should be free to disagree and free to associate as they see fit.

It’s why as a broadcaster and journalist he’s not afraid to say what he thinks on so many different issues, and happily takes the criticism that comes with it. On Brexit he started off saying he could see both sides of the argument, before coming down hard for staying in the EU. He upset a lot of people in 2014 with his comments about Clacton (and places like Clacton):

I am not arguing that we should be careless of the needs of struggling people and places such as Clacton. But I am arguing — if I am honest — that we should be careless of their opinions.

Given the reaction in Clacton to his comments, it wasn’t such a surprise when it returned Douglas Carswell as Ukip’s first ever MP. And Parris took it on the chin – and continued to make his case regardless, with increasing ferocity and snark as the referendum approached and in its aftermath.

So whilst we don’t agree with him on this issue, it is possible to admire him for sticking to his guns.

He’s come under fire in recent years for arguing against there being a homogenous LGBT “community” that sharesh common values and interests, and for saying that gay equality has been achieved in law and that “(gay people) are no longer prime victims of oppression and we should hold on to that.” He argued that sexuality isn’t set in stone – which didn’t go down well in many circles. 

More significantly, his inner liberal opposes the planned ban on LGBT “conversion therapy”. This is a really tricky and sensitive issue, but Parris is clear what he thinks:

What a totally ridiculous idea. Are you really telling me that if a gay grown-up thinks he can stop being homosexual, and another adult wants to advise him on how this can be done, they’re breaking the law? Preposterous… I hate the very idea of gay “conversion” therapy: it’s insulting, nasty and most unlikely to work. But if some people think you can do it, and some people want it done, are you really telling me this could be a matter for the police?

When Cambridge University recently voted on a new free speech policy, he made a superb case for the right to offend. And as recently as last week he was arguing in the Spectator that “non crime hate incidents” should be scrapped – even though he is on the receiving end of endless vile comments from the public when they take against his columns. His reasoning? “Comes with the territory of being a columnist: water off a duck’s back.”

So for his ongoing defence of the right to say and do as you wish, regardless of his personal popularity, we think that Matthew Parris is a worthy Common Sense Champion.

Mark Lehain


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