To watch the Daily Mail is to view an unfolding tragedy of hypocrisy, cant and revulsion. Paul Dacre, its hypocritical editor who takes European money to prop up his already-lavish lifestyle while lambasting the excesses of Brussels and welfare-dependency, is a man who would be despicable scum if he had any aspiration to better himself. Its proprietor, Lord Rothermere, is a tax-avoiding humbug whose peddling of the demagoguery and hate-filled bile his newspaper contains to the small-minded, fearful bourgeoisie is a prime demonstration of aristocratic contempt for the little people. The vision of Dacre being manipulated, like Sooty, by a succession of right-wing propagandists and spin doctors, is one that should bring a wry smile to anyone to the left of Nigel Farage.
The Mail's current witch-hunt is against a number of Labour party luminaries who were active in the National Council for Civil Liberties in the 1970s. The allegation is that they were not merely inactive in drumming out the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) but complicit in its continued affiliation with the organisation. In terms of rightist dog-whistles, this hits home at every level: Labour, civil liberties and sex. Given the hypocrites pursuing it, the prurience and the sheer unreason is hardly surprising.
Liberty is uncomfortable for the Dacres of this world. Their definition appears to be the freedom for people to agree with them and to be subservient to their agenda. The inspiration for this is in the totalitarian states of the 1930s, which, after all, were cheered on by Rothermere's ancestor and his editorial stooges. The Mail has never apologised for this act of calculated and sustained treachery, yet seems to imagine that it, as the moral tribune for its own sectarian interests, has the right to demand acts of contrition from others.
Paedophilia is repugnant and disgusting, principally because it is a fundamental and grotesque abuse of power. For the Salemite tribunes of the right, irony is an alien concept - for all Dacre does is exploit the position that he occupies to commit outrages against civilisation. Morally and philosophically there is less separation between sexual and political abuse than perhaps he would wish to acknowledge. The prurience of the papers and their soft-core website, devoted to titillation through celebrity gossip and the exploitation of the cult of idealised youth, is not exactly the high ground from which such a vitriolic call for a witch-hunt should be emanating.
Yet paedophilia hits every button - as to even question the ethics and approach of the Mail is to invite accusations of apologism for criminality. This is the trump card that they want to play against Labour in the run-up to the election, given the absence of any compelling reason to support their narrow-minded crusade against anyone who dissents from their authoritarian nostalgia for the 1950s. If you dare to question their retarded agenda then you are by extension supporting every evil they can define - the Lynton Crosby approach at its crudest and most revolting. The scum, when backed with tax-avoided cash, rises to the surface.
Sexuality is not a matter of absolutes - although there are rightly legal boundaries that cannot be crossed and, where transgression does occur then offenders should be pursued through the law. Instead its gradations and subtleties are individual tastes and choices - consent is central to its deployment. The idea of the inner life, and the freedom of the individual, is anathema to those who seek to control and confine both thought and action to a narrow band of externally-defined acceptability. Taken in this context, Dacre's approach to the world around him would not have been out of place in the kind of dystopian fantasy (such as 1984) with which he, and the second-order rightist cretins such as Simon Heffer and Melanie Phillips, use his diseased organ to castigate the so-called libertarian left.
People make mistakes, misjudgements and decisions based around incomplete information all the time. Reflection and the passage of years should mean that these are understood and regretted, as part of a journey through life that results in fewer screw-ups as one gets older. Hewitt, Harman and Dromey might have done less damage by a speedy public apology, but the way in which the Mail operates raises legitimate suspicions that even this would have been twisted - and made to fit the subliminal agenda that anyone who doesn't agree with the neo-fascist narrative is an immigrant gay child molester, and by the way the Labour party is full of them.
For those equipped with mental faculties, which clearly excludes Dacre and his cronies, complexity and relativism become more important in understanding choices. Yet when you have the shield of cretinous certainty to hide behind, nothing ever changes. Apologising for not holding a set of views thirty-five years ago or not responding in the way people would today is apparently the bare minimum, yet the Mail has never seen any need to regret its idolisation of Oswald Mosley or its support for appeasement in the 1930s.
What is cheering, though, is that it is able to continue its exploitation of the repellent and the unthinkable without considering the implications. When Harriet Harman had the temerity to point out that while excoriating the civil libertarians of forty years ago, it was printing pictures of pre-pubescent girls in bikinis, this rang home as a stark demonstration of the gap between its public outrage and its recognition that there is a market to be exploited for such repellent images. It uses the Savile scandal to continue to vilify the BBC, yet never seems to refer to the close relationship enjoyed between him and its deity, the former Prime Minister whose legacy it celebrates all the time.
In recent months, the Mail has passed from being a deranged but legitimate part of the political spectrum into a parody of the kind of propaganda sheet that would not have gone down badly in Germany or the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Perhaps Rothermere has decided that the North Korean Communist Party wants to franchise its daily newspaper, as his flagship paper's exploitation of the black arts is textbook totalitarianism.
In a final irony, the NCCL (now Liberty) made all its material from the 1970s available some years ago. If this was so interesting, why has Dacre waited until now to spring out from under his EU-funded stone? If one were as paranoid and ignorant as the other side, there is always the suspicion that mud is being flung at the left because there is worse to come for the right. Here's hoping - because lowering the discourse to this level deserves an equal and opposite reaction.