In heated disputes over issues, there are occasions when one side seems to instinctively deflect attention from the fundamental weakness of its own case by seeking to comprehensively - and conveniently - redefine what the issue is actually 'about'. And it almost seems that the more contrived and implausible that redefinition is, the more aggressively it will be promoted. Perhaps because it's themselves that they most desperately need to convince? A classic recent example was the ban on fox hunting, an issue squarely about the prevention of gratuitous cruelty towards animals, but which was somehow magically resculpted into an issue about 'human rights' and 'tolerance towards minority groups'.
We've seen exactly the same pattern in the last few days over the issue of fair access to the proposed leaders' debates in the run-up to the general election. And the arguments that have been deployed have had previous outings, of course. In 1995, when the Scottish courts blocked the screening of an extended interview with the then Prime Minister John Major a week before Scottish local elections, we saw countless column inches bewailing the dastardly judges and politicians who had breached a 'fundamental principle' by interfering in the media's editorial independence. The issue was, in a nutshell, about protecting precious freedoms that had been hard-won over centuries. All of which, of course, amounted to nothing more than a dazzling sound and light display that was there to distract us from the rather more prosaic real issue, the one that had been specifically zeroed in on by the court - do the London-based media recognise that balanced election campaign coverage is just as important in a Scottish context as it is in an English context? As I recall, the judge specifically asked "would you have scheduled this interview one week before local elections in England?" The answer was not 'yes'.
And once again, over the last few days, some have been brazenly inviting us to believe that the attempts of certain political parties to gain fair access to leaders' debates is in fact all about those parties trying to 'ban' and 'censor' things. We've heard all sorts of hysterical references to "Kim Jong-Il" and "Chinese-style censorship". Even the normally sensible Mike Smithson joined in, I suspect due to his very strong enthusiasm for the debates taking place at all costs. His rather peculiar comment was - "Sounds like Switzerland - if it’s not compulsory it’s prohibited."
Those words came back to me a few hours ago, as it struck me that they could be far more aptly applied to a completely different issue. Here we are with countless thousands of over-65s who desperately want (and in some cases need) to work, but are in essence legally prevented from doing so. Yet at the same time we're talking about forcing lots of people who don't want to work an extra year to do just that. Does the left hand actually know what the right hand is doing?