Dave, leader of the ‘Heather has two Mommies’ Party…

As Alone in the Dark was on hiatus for a couple of months I thought I’d trawl back through some of columns and articles written in The Mail during that time to see if there was anything worthy of note. Well, there’s quite a bit and as we’re still fighting our way through the silly season, it seems as good a time as any to bring one of these up and have a chat about it. Who better then to start with than Mr. Peter Hitchens who, back at the beginning of July brought his this little joyful piece regarding his views on the Conservative Party and its new relationship with the LGBTQ community.

Peter begins by listing all the things he thinks the Conservative Party should apologise for. Let’s have a look shall we?

  • Privatising the railways
  • Joining the Common Market
  • Loading the police with paperwork
  • Devastating the Armed Forces with cuts
  • Introducing the GCSE
  • Flattening half of British industry by accident in the early Eighties
  • Failing to oppose the Iraq War
  • Sacking the brave miners of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire who defied Arthur Scargill’s bullying mobs
  • I could go on….

So could I Peter and I shall… I’d actually agree that we could use apologies for some of these things from the Tories. The privatisation of the railways has been a disaster although I’d be intrigued to see how Peter would respond to a government take over, especially if it upped his tax rate. The Conservatives have never been anti-war so why Iraq should have been any different is beyond me. The treatment of the miners from the removal of their jobs to the brutal attacks by police is horrific especially as the government failed to create any viable alternative employment.

However, for some reason, Peter has missed a few other things off this list for which personally, I’d like to hear the word sorry uttered by someone on the blue benches.

  • Being drawn into a war in the Falklands over land we neither needed nor used in any particular way.
  • The stigmatisation of single mothers, working class persons, teachers and immigrants throughout the 1980s.
  • The removal of funding from classrooms across the country.
  • The cutting of funding for the NHS.
  • The constant harping on about moral and family values whilst many Tory MPs got involved in sex, money and drug scandals.
  • Allowing public hysteria to stamp on freedom of speech in the video nasty debacle.

Oh… and Section 28. Surely that piece of hateful prejudicial legislation is something that definitely deserves an apology isn’t it Peter?

Peter?

David Cameron journeyed specially to a ‘Gay Pride’ event to kowtow to the sexual revolution and simper: ‘We got it wrong. It was an emotional issue. I hope you can forgive us.’

Forgive them for what? Section 28 resulted from a fuss over the appearance of books aimed at children, intended to spread the view that single-sex couples could bring up children without any disadvantage to those children.

I still remember the titles: ‘Jenny Lives With Eric And Martin’ and ‘Heather Has Two Mommies’.”

A fuss. Well, that is one word for how it came about. The original catalyst came from a well know newspaper (guess which) that published an article in 1983 regarding the two books Peter so helpfully named. The paper claimed that these books were promoting homosexuality as the ‘new’ lifestyle and were part of a campaign for the abolition of the family. Within a matter of years, thanks to the hard work and dedication of MP, Jill Knight plus other prominent Conservative party members, Section 28 was introduced in parliament and after a few attempts was included as an amendment for the 1988 Local Government Bill and became law on 24th May 1988.

Using this clause it was now technically possible to make sure councils, teachers and public figures could not attempt to promote homosexuality or (as they were referred to) ‘alternative sexual lifestyles’. At one point the National Union or Teachers tried to claim that it only impacted on councils and not on the schools themselves (in what I assume was a bid to remove themselves from the murky prejudicial waters the law had gotten them into) but this was quickly overruled, once again by Jill Knight who said.

“This has got to be a mistake. The major point of it was to protect children in schools from having homosexuality thrust upon them.”

So the UK which had openly gay and lesbian figures on TV and several openly gay men in the higher echelons of the political arena was suddenly in a position of wondering what it could and couldn’t say about sexuality to children.

Peter however, didn’t and still doesn’t see this as much of a problem.

“Less than 25 years ago, only revolutionaries such as Ken Livingstone endorsed this sort of thing.”

I.E. Talking to children about sexuality.

“Mainstream politicians and newspapers alike were as doubtful about it as most people still are in their private thoughts.

Nowadays, opinion formers and MPs have been scared into conformity, and the unhappy majority have learned to keep quiet about their concerns, for fear of the Thought Police.”

Oh those pesky Thought Police, they do cause Peter problems don’t they getting into his brain and mooching through his private thoughts about what we should really do with immigrants and the political party he’d really like to see running the country. Except I would like to believe that people aren’t supportive and open about LGBTQ issues now because they have been forced to be. I’d like to believe it’s because they’ve realised it’s something that affects millions upon millions of peoples lives, it’s something that is part of people from the day they are born and to try and oppress others because of their sexuality is just the same as any other form of bigotry and hatred even when wrapped up in a nice numbered clause.

Who a person does and doesn’t sleep with providing it is consensual has nothing to do with the government or restricting the rights of that person. I wonder how blasé Peter would be regarding Section 28 had he had a gay or lesbian child during the 80s or 90s in the UK.

“This supposedly wicked law was little more than an expression of opinion by Parliament.”

Well this is an interesting point because it seems whenever Parliament now pass laws based on their ‘opinion’… banning fox hunting, banning smoking indoors, allowing a dying man to return to his country before his sentence, Peter get’s very upset about it. Why then should this opinion be allowed to impact on peoples lives and the others not? Personally, I don’t think parliament should have opinions per se. It’s there to reflect and respect the will of the people and I would hope by 2009, the will of the people would not be to ignore sexuality and LGBTQ issues and prevent children from learning about them to help create a culture of understanding and respect. Anyway, back to Peter…

“Nobody was ever prosecuted under its provisions. Try as they may, the homosexual liberation movement have never produced evidence of any martyrdoms resulting from it.

What they still hate about it is that it was the last stand of those in British politics who were not cowed into silence or acquiescence by the sexual revolution.”

Was there a sexual revolution? History suggests that there have always been a myriad of sexualities in cultures for thousands of years and it’s just depended on how liberal and open that society is as to which of them can be expressed. This so-called ‘sexual revolution’ didn’t make more gay men and lesbian women, it just allowed them to come forward and express themselves for who they were. People don’t hate section 28 because it was about non-conformity, they hate it because it was about prejudice, fear and bigotry.

Oh and whilst Peter is correct in saying no-one was ever prosecuted. There were a few trials brought to court under the legislation and, had the law not eventually been repealed, it’s possible someone could have been prosecuted because of it. Here’s my favorite line of the article.

“That way, there is no chance that the stable married family, or the society it supported, can ever come back.”

Yes, that’s right, that’s what all the gays want isn’t it Peter. When they’re not on telly and in movies, Ian McKellan and Stephen Fry and Graham Norton and Sue Perkins and Sandi Toksvig are all sat in a room working out how best to destroy the ‘traditional’ nuclear family. Believe me Peter, when us queer folk get together (I myself am bisexual) we talk of nothing else than making sure all Fathers are shot as soon as they’ve procreated and all children are brought up as screaming queens. It’s ever so much fun!

Sorry, where were we? What Peter and many of his colleagues at the Mail don’t seem to understand at all is that Stonewall and it’s members are not out to take something away from straight people. This is a tired argument and the same that is brought up against gay marriage:

“But it’s destroying the concept of marriage…”, people say. Well, no it isn’t. It’s just allowing MORE people to get married. Surely that is actually building up the concept of marriage? If more people are doing it? It’s actually more popular? Is this a bad thing? Am I talking to myself again?

Section 28 was there to appease the homophobia and bigotry that was institutional in many MPs in the Conservative Party (and, let’s be honest other political parties too). Through apologising, David Cameron is putting that piece of the party’s past behind them and moving forward without the prejudicial undercurrent. Whether this is a genuine move or one to get votes is another matter but I think the sentiment is important. Peter seems so terrified of this ‘other’ world that appears to be encroaching on the ‘nice’, ‘safe’ one he’s built for himself.

He is sort of right though, the days of a society which believed that “one man-one woman” married families could be the only path to stability is long behind us and I sincerely hope it never, ever comes back. We are past it and Peter needs to get past it too.

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Marriage is dead on its feet, but it’s still the best safeguard for a future Baby P

A glorious example of the pocket intellectual’s most basic argumentative error today from ‘Peter’ Hitchens:

“The Canadian figures show that  a child is 50 to 100 times safer with natural parents than with a step-parent in the home. The British research found married homes were 33 times safer than those with serial boyfriends. Stable marriage safeguards children.”

Correlation is not causation, nor does it imply causation. I see ‘Peter”s  research and I raise him, as an example, Sidebothama, Heron and ALSPAC Study Team (2006) Child maltreatment in the “children of the nineties”: A cohort study of risk factors Child Abuse and Neglect 30:497-522:

“This study supports previous research in the field demonstrating that a wide range of factors in the parental background, socio-economic and family environments affect the risk of child maltreatment. By combining factors within a comprehensive ecological framework, we have demonstrated that the strongest risks are from socio-economic deprivation and from factors in the parents’ own background and that parental background factors are largely, but not entirely, mediated through their impact on socio-economic factors.”

The Office of National Statistics don’t collect data on marriage by socio-economic status, but taking a couple of proxies, we can have reason to believe that it is deprivation which is underlying both marriage rates and incidence of child abuse in the UK. Taking the most recent data on marriage rates in the UK¹: starting on page 36, table 3.1 – married couples with dependent children tend to be better educated than either co-habiting or lone parents with dependent children². Turning to maps 5.2 on page 74, the geographical distribution of marriage/co-habiting/lone parent families broadly mirrors the geographical distribution of wealth. If you’re unmarried with dependent children, you are more likely to live in a poor area and have a poor quality education. Taking these as proxies for socio-economic status, unmarried people with dependents are more likely to be poor than their married counterparts. Given the research linking poverty to likelihood of abuse, it seems likely that poverty is co-determining abuse and marriage, providing a sensible alternative explanation to their correlation.

On this basis, ‘Peter”s conclusion is somewhat wide of the mark:

“But all those who have connived at the dismantling of marriage, and continue to connive at it, should recognise their own grave guilt in sacrificing the welfare and happiness of children to the selfishness of ‘liberated’ adults who ought, above all, to be shielding the young from harm.”

Marriage is not the good we should be pursuing, but a distraction. Consider how we might ‘promote’ marriage – the discussion tends to be around tax breaks and other financial incentives. Leaving aside for the moment considerations of the efficacy of such policies³, given that you’re more likely to be married with children if you’re middle class to start with, these policies would have the immediate effect of redistributing wealth to the middle-classes. This wouldn’t necessarily entail a decrease in funding for poverty reduction, but would be less effective in reducing abuse than a comparable increase in poverty reduction spending would be. If our object is reducing abuse, giving money to those who already don’t abuse for living lives emblematic of their low likelihood of abuse as an incentive merely to remain in that emblematic state seems counterproductive. To put it more simply, if marriage is merely a symptom of being well off, and abuse a symptom of being poor, we should be treating the root causes of poverty and the marriage will look after itself.

It’s easy to look at the world at some arbitrary point in the past (‘Peter’ chooses 1965 as the date when, for him, everything started going badly wrong), pick differences between then and now and see patterns. We could draw graphs linking global temperature and Tesco’s market share, women in parliament and divorce, number of countries in the EU and UK birth rates. Their correlation, however, would not be enough to imply a link, or enough to base policy on. The fact that you’re less likely to be abused if your parents are married is not a good reason to promote marriage if it’s only another way of saying you’re less likely to be abused if you’re well-off. It would be nice to believe, as ‘Peter’ seems to, that marriage is the panacea for all social ills, but it’s almost certainly more complicated than that.

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¹ Incidentally, if you’re looking for an eloquent precis of the difference between correlation and causation, you could do worse than the box on page 39.

² Tables 3.9a and b, page 43, show the knock-on effect from this, as you’re more likely to continue in education if you’re in a family with married parents, educational status and marriage acting in a declining spiral.

³ Such policies seem to rest on the assumption that people will happily live together if only there was enough financial incentive – that a couple of hundred a year from the government will save troubled marriages, or that such money will encourage people whose relationship is not solid enough for them to choose to marry currently to form a stable and lasting marriage. Which n those terms, it seems more likely that such policies will merely reward people who were staying together anyway.

Mrs T defeated the miners – and then replaced them with homophobia outreach workers

One of the striking things about the Mail‘s columnists in general is their lack of positive vision – take today’s column from ‘Peter’ Hitchens:

“Margaret Thatcher was a failure. It is time, 30 years after she entered Downing Street, that her admirers forced themselves to admit it.

For a start, if she had been the great success they claim, we would never have needed to suffer the current rule of Gordon Brown, or the disastrous years of Anthony Blair.

Almost every good thing Mrs Thatcher achieved has already been overturned, reversed and wiped out.

By contrast, the Labour Party devotes much of its time to making sure that the damage it does can never be undone.”

So far fair enough – the bit about Labour is entirely negative, but by saying Thatcher failed ‘Peter’ is suggesting at least some sort of positive plan against which her time in government can be measured.

“True, she reduced the number of direct employees of Whitehall.

But the jungle of quangos grew and grew, and so did the slithering, choking, parasitic bindweed of local government and the unwieldy, Soviet-scale monstrosity of the NHS.”

Here we have hints – ‘Peter’ is broadly for smaller government. This isn’t especially visionary, as it assumes that small government is good in itself – particularly in terms of quangos, local government and the NHS – without justifying this or saying where the benefits lie, but it’s a start. We can assume from the Soviet comparison, for example, that smaller government would be less bureaucratic and thus more responsive, so there may be some implicit positive vision. As it stands though, this is essentially an unjustified statement of negation of the current state of things.¹

“Challenged to come up with a lasting achievement of Thatcherism, her admirers often tell us how hard it was, in the days before British Telecom, to try to get a new phone installed.

So it was. But have any of these people had any recent dealings with that fearsome, greedy and arrogant monopoly, BT?

BT and the other former nationalised giants are now regulated by the State but responsible – in reality – to nobody. Is this an improvement?”

This would seem to be quite positive – ‘Peter’ wants renationalisation of State infrastructure – but this positivity is hedged by the sense that we’re returning from the negative present to the negative past. BT, it would appear, was horribly under-regulated both then and now. Taken with ‘Peter”s earlier desire for an end to quangos (which include regulators), it’s unlikely that this would a much better world than the one we live in now. Alternatively, ‘Peter’ wants to retain BT’s freedom, but with tighter regulation from a state employing less regulators, which seems somewhat over-hopeful. We’re left with the feeling that ‘Peter’ is pushing change despite the lack of obvious benefit, purely because he doesn’t like BT.²

“We also used to have a number of state industries – coal and steel – which, for all their faults, made or provided things the nation needed.

They’ve gone. Now we have regiments of condom outreach workers, facilitators and homophobia monitors, all costing much more than coal miners, and far less useful.”

Again, this seems to be a hint of positive vision – ‘Peter’ wants a break with market forces that reduced the costs of steel and coal by making them more cheaply overseas and a return to statist economics where a premium was paid for keeping people in employment. How he hopes to make this fly in the cut-throat capitalist world we’re living in, or how to do this without increasing people employed directly by Whitehall or building up a ‘Soviet-scale’ monstrosity at the Ministry of Industry, he doesn’t say. It’s a bit like those conversations you have in the pub where you suggest bringing Shearer and Cole back to sort out England’s problems up front – it’s positive to be sure, but not the most sensible of visions. It, too, suffers from being hedged slightly as it appears to only be there as a comparison for the list of people currently employed by the State. The idea is that we couldn’t afford either, but at least the coal miners were less unaffordable. Like the return to the unpleasant past when BT really was B, ‘Peter’ wants to go back to the days when the police beat gays with impunity but coal was plentiful. Alternatively, ‘Peter’ might be making the even less nuanced point that everything is rubbish, coal and community work both, and we should scrap the lot. Which isn’t so much a positive vision as an fully negative view of both past and present.

“But what about the unions? Didn’t she defeat them? Well, sort of. But who needs stroppy shop stewards now that we are chained up by the intrusive labour laws of the European Union, so that every employer, large or small, lives in constant fear of a ruinous employment tribunal claim?

The European Union is at least as much of a threat to jobs and profits as the Transport and General Workers’ Union ever was.”

Here, at least, we have some idea of what ‘Peter”s bright new future looks like – a free hand for those whose money is made from the surplus value created by their employees. It’s negatively defined in terms of the removal of the hard-won rights of employees to be treated as human beings and the European Union’s on-going project to stop companies passing things off as things they aren’t³ This, presumably, is where his smaller state is coming from – less rules means less oversight is required and thus less overseers. Essentially we institutionalise the arrogance of BT, even if we are now renationalising it, or at very least shift its arrogance onto its workforce and not its consumers.

“Above all, she failed to fight the cultural revolutionaries who wanted to undermine marriage, dissolve the family, sexualise children and use State schools as an egalitarian sausage machine, turning out brainwashed Leftists by the million.”

Again, we have equivocal positivity – a vision defined in opposition to the present. The case isn’t made for marriage, the circumstances which led to the dissolution of the family or sexualisation of the family (and so whether any government could have held them back) are not considered , the aspects of the school system which are problematic are not named. We’re left to assume that the ideal government would have done something. We’re back in the pub saying that what England need to do is score more and concede less. Which leaves us with the conclusion:

“The real counter-revolution, more badly needed than ever, will have to come from somewhere else.”

The revolution in favour of what? The present is bad, fine, but the past was as well. ‘Peter’ wants less of the bad things of the present – if only we got rid of the bad things, without re-instating the bad things of the past, we’ll be OK. We could regulate some things more, some things less, by employing less people doing different things more cheaply and, hey-presto, inevitable utopia. Things will be better purely because there will be less bad things. As an idea, that’s sound enough, but I can’t help but think it’s a little simplistic – how will things be better, and what effect will the removal of the bad things make (after all, if they’re fully bad, someone would have removed them already)? Running things down is easy, but without an alternative it is completely pointless and does nothing but add to the nihilism and depression that it claims to rail against.

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¹ Looking still at the NHS example, we would have some serious questions, starting with ‘what form does this smaller NHS take?’ – are we talking more private provision, the same provision on a smaller/cheaper staff, an increase in treatments offered, a decrease in treatments offered? Where do the benefits lie – lower taxes, better service for some, for all, a re-adjustment of treatment priorities to maximise utility, an end to ‘post code lotteries’?

² This isn’t to say that our situation wouldn’t be greatly improved by returning national assets to the nation – simple economics suggests that if a company isn’t paying a dividend to faceless investors in return for their purchasing of its shares from a third party in the hope of getting a dividend then that company has that much more money to invest. ‘Peter’, however, doesn’t say this.

³ For every piece of legislation demanding straight bananas, there are any number preventing companies pretending that their ground-meat sandwiches constitute burgers.

We CAN turn back the clock and make our schools places of excellence. Here’s how…

An extraordinarily wrong-headed column on education today from ‘Peter’ Hitchens:

“All the solutions to all our problems are obvious but shocking.”

Which is reassuring, as I had previously thought that the complexities of life from which our problems arise would lead to equally complex solutions. I for one am quite glad that our fixes will be quick, and can only hope that the solutions ‘Peter’ suggests will also be effortless and painless with regard to me.

“Teachers need to be given back the power to use corporal punishment. We should leave the European Convention on Human Rights and other treaties which prevent the operation of commonsense British laws.”

One of the things which is interesting about the argument for corporal punishment in schools is that it’s never made in other areas – for example, if we take that most disciplined of institutions, the British Army, no one suggests that it needs to add slapping its recruits around a bit to its roster of punishments. Even in terms of convicted criminals, the debate tends to revolve more around making prisoner’s lives more difficult through enforced labour and harsher imprisonment conditions than it does around physical violence¹. There seems to be something special about schools and children that renders violence a useful solution to their discipline problems. Were this the case, it would be fascinating, as it would overturn the large body of psychological research that finds that positive punishments are less effective than either positive or negative reinforcement. ‘Peter’ seems to be unaware that research in this area (eg.) in fact suggests that this is not the case, and that corporal punishment is not helpful in putting children on the straight and narrow. We should be careful about enacting commonsense measures which the evidence suggests are ineffecatious.

“The school-leaving age should be reduced to 15. Secondary schools should be divided between the vocational and the academic, with selection on merit.”

This falls short of ‘Peter’s previous calls for a re-introduction of the grammar school system, but suffers from the same problem – its ahistoricity. If we assumed that everyone were the same and started from the same point, the segregation of children’s futures at 11 might not be so objectionable. However, in the world as we live it we have children who are naturally advantaged by supportive parents, nurturing home environments and access to stimulation and a culture of intellectualism at home, while we also have children without such advantages and with positive disadvantages such as family histories of academic non-achievement. To expect schools by 11 to have ironed out these advantages to such a degree that stupid rich children get the vocational education that they ‘merit’ while their intelligent poor counterparts are groomed for the life of intellectual activity that they ‘merit’ seems a bit fanciful. However, should schools not be able to do this we are left with a system which confirms educational and class divides, making them generational. The taxes of the underclass will go to confirming their status in the underclass, which is not so much a restoration of “order in our State” as a further corruption of it.

“The law permitting ‘no-win, no-fee’ lawsuits should be repealed. So should the Children Act 1989 and the other social workers’ charters which have robbed sensible adults of authority for two decades.”

Here I believe ‘Peter’ is referring to The Courts and Legal Services Act (1990) which opened the way for conditional fee agreements. The particularly interesting thing about these is that in the first few years since 2000 when Legal Aid was abolished for personal injury claims the number of people claiming compensation for personal injury fell suggesting that, rather than making it being easy to seek compensation, things are actually harder. It’s also worth remembering that ‘compensation culture’ isn’t about whingers getting money they shouldn’t, but about the realisation of a legal and social right which, in many cases, will largely go towards the costs of incurring an injury. Schools owe a duty of care to their pupils, and this will remain the case if it is harder for pupils to seek compensation for injuries incurred while at school. Making it harder merely introduces injustice into the system while simultaneously removing the incentive for schools to ensure that appropriate standards of care are met. Quite how abolishing the Children Act (1989) – with its seemingly sensible provisions insisting children are educated and protected from ill-treatment or neglect and that local authorities seek to reduce the need for interventions and, where possible, enable the family home to be maintained – will help the education system is unclear. This is somewhat weak – if ‘Peter’ is really proposing genuine solutions, he should at least explain how these solutions will resolve genuine problems, rather than just listing things he dislikes.

“Then we should embark on a Restoration Of The Married Family Act, which would end the many-headed attack on stable married families and restore the lost position of fathers in the home, one of the major causes of bad behaviour by boys.

Divorce should be difficult. Every social institution, every law, tax-break and benefit, should discriminate clearly and unapologetically in favour of those parents committed to each other by the marriage bond.”

Given the obvious benefits which already flow from being in a stable relationship if you have children, not to mention the unpleasantness of relationship breakdown and divorce, it is hard to see what difference tax breaks will make. Divorce is not easy, especially if you have children, representing as it does the failure of a common project with someone who was a major source of support and an independent arbiter of your self-worth. It would be interesting to know who ‘Peter’ is aware of who is having a happy and painless divorce but would have equally happily stayed together were there a little more money in it. Equally, while the incentivisation of stable relationships is understandable, how many people would actually marry for the money? It seems more likely that this would not disincentivise having a child out of wedlock, but merely penalise it further than in its natural state (and being a single parent is hardly easy), meaning further hardships for the child to cope with ensuring further difficulties in school.

“There are plenty of people still living who can testify that when such rules operated, millions of British people lived free and happy lives, learned useful things in orderly schools, did not need to be under police surveillance, pass through metal detectors on their way to classes or be watched by CCTV cameras.”

‘Peter’ is here confusing correlation with causation – the fact that things were different in the past does not mean that these differences are the causes of our current difficulties. For comparison, when such rules operated the Soviet Union held sway over the whole of Eastern Europe, but it is unlikely that the discussion and enactment of the Children Act brought about the end of Communism. Factors such as rising inequality, the generational compounding of such inequality, the lack of access to recreational facilities in our inner cities, changes in diet and  erosion of communities will have played a part. Simply making things harder for children and families on the margin, be it through punitive beatings, restriction of access to legal rights or financially penalising them will not improve the situation.

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¹ Although, if you can find a copy, Smith (1934) Corporal Punishment for Cruelty The Howard of Criminal Justice 4:15-18 gives an interesting view on the state of the debate at a point where people were still suggesting that flogging prisoners would do some good.

Facetious jests … it’s about all these drug ‘experts’ are good for

A veritable potpourri of negativity today from Peter Hitchens. Take this, on the Bafta winning Brit-flick Slumdog Millionaire:

“Be warned. This is not a ‘feelgood’ film and should never have been sold as one.”

Which is quite a claim for someone who hasn’t seen the film, advised by people who haven’t seen the whole film. I would heartily recommend to anyone thinking of going to see a film that they check with the BBFC – the British Board of Film Classification – before they go. Had Peter’s correspondents done so, they would have discovered the reason why the film has been given a 15 certificate (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is a drama about a young street lad who wins the Mumbai version of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’. It has been classified ’15’ for strong language and violence. “), and might have been less surprised by the strong language and violence they saw. They might not have liked it any more, but it’s probably better to inform yourself and decide not to see a movie than it is to go in ignorant and leave less than half-way through, deciding on the basis of the bit you’ve seen what the general feel of the film is.

Talking of ignorance:

“I’m quite prepared to consider the possibility that his [Darwin’s] theory (welcomed by all kinds of nasty people because it licensed their genocidal projects or freed them from guilt) may conceivably be true. But I do get tired of bossy people ordering me to believe in it. I also get cross when I’m told by Darwinist bigots that if I dare to doubt Darwin, then I must believe in the literal truth of the Bible. I don’t. Like everyone else, I have no idea how the realm of Nature took its present form.”

A couple of things strike me about this. Once more it seems I have missed one of the dictatorial memos that so circumscribe poor Peter’s life – I can’t recall ever having been ordered to belief in the literal truth of the Theory of Evolution. However, if forced to choose between a viable, evidence-based theory which is central to our understanding of molecular biology, genetics, epidemiology, conservation biology, horticulture, biogeography and many if not all other areas of the applied biological sciences and any other theory, I know which one I would opt for. Given that we can observe evolution in cell cultures, so can be absolutely certain in individual cases how Nature (sic) took its current form, I think we can fairly safely claim knowledge in general. Peter is right that refusing to accept Darwin’s theory as correct does not leave him obliged to accept Biblical literalism as the only alternative, but I would be more comfortable with Lamarkism¹ than with his professed gleeful obtuseness. It’s one thing to say the Earth is flat, quite another to say that the evidence doesn’t allow you to call the debate either way.

Just to round things off, how does that brave defence of open-mindedness sit next to this:

“That’s the reason for his [Professor David Nutt, Charmian of the Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs] babyish scribbling, facetiously comparing people who swallow poisonous Ecstasy tablets with people who ride horses. … Anyone who thinks this is a subject for facetious jests ought, in my view, to go to Hell.”

It’s worth remembering that the comments Peter objects to are the evidence-based position of a Government appointed expert and leader in his field, made in a peer-reviewed academic journal. Peter’s not quite ordering the scientific community to believe in his position, but if discussing risk now merits eternal punishment he’s not offering much of a choice. I realise it must be hard to be consistent across two separate 100-word mini-articles, especially on a weekend, but it’d be nice if Peter could be inconsistent without being rude.

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¹ Sorry, sneakily corrected a typo yesterday without flagging it up, and have felt a little guilty ever since. This was originally spelt ‘Lemarkism’, which is wrong. Apologies for the error, and for trying to correct it on the sly.

We show tolerance to ‘gays’ and get tyranny in return

The Mail is a contrary beast. Some days it mourns the decline of civility, the next it opens our minds to the dark tyranny that civility truly is:

“We cringe to the new Thought Police, like the subjects of some insane, sex-obsessed Stalinist state, compelled to wave our little rainbow flags as the ‘Gay Pride’ parade passes by.”

Quite. It’s like Ceauşescu all over again, only this time he likes same-sex couples, not statist command economics. I must say though, I missed that memo (I assume I was out binging and stabbing the elderly). I thought the most that was ever demanded of me was not to be rude. And, to be fair, that was never really a demand, that was an upbringing supported by the idea that I’d be happier if people got on with me.

This is not a thought that is alien to ‘Peter’¹ – he  doesn’t like rudeness either:

“You think I exaggerate the power and fury of these forces? The totalitarian rage on this subject is quite astonishing. I have had several brushes with it, and been called rude names by its militants.”

Now name calling is almost always wrong. At best, it’s an unwelcome mirror (and we should consider whether ‘unwelcome’ is wrong on a case by case basis). Presumably ‘Peter’ would prefer the basic respect owed to him as an individual – the consideration of treating him as an equal. At the very least, this would involve extending the courtesy he would expect for himself, or a reason why such courtesy should not be extended. In short, civility and civil rights.

We couldn’t say, for example, Daily Mail writers are just not as good as the writers for other newspapers merely by virtue of their set membership, therefore ‘Peter’ shouldn’t be allowed to wear cuff-links. That would be a non sequitur following on from an initial unfounded belief². While we’re talking about unfounded belief, ‘Peter’ might rightly accuse me of prejudice, given that I’m adducing no evidence for disliking Mail journos apart from a general gut feeling. Whether ‘Peter’ would want to call me on that would depend on whether he wanted to wave the mirror at me, and whether he thought I’d see myself in it if he did.

For ‘Peter’ to hop up and down, as so many have in the Mail recently, over the grandparents at the center of this story is to obfuscate and avoid the issue. We can imagine the scenario involving a straight couple and the story not existing. We would have no complaints about “this demand, that they mouth approval of the new regime like the defendants at some show trial” as their grandchildren are brought up by strangers because they are considered too old and too infirm to be entrusted with the care of a vulnerable child. The problem they have is not that grandparents are always better than strangers. It’s that gay couples are never as good as grandparents, even if those grandparents wouldn’t be as good as a straight couple according to the rules for adoption as they presently stand. Unfortunately for ‘Peter’, either he’s going to have to justify that belief, or live with me being rude and calling him a bigot. It’s not totalitarian, he doesn’t have to like it, he just has to accept that until he’s justified his position, I’m going to assume it’s mere prejudice and ignore it for practical purposes.

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¹ I assume that ‘Peter’ wants us to call him by a name he’s comfortable with, which is why I’m putting it in inverted commas.

² Or, at best, no non sequitur and two unfounded beliefs, but I think the belief that lesser writers can’t do justice to cuff-links, even if they have help dressing from better writers, is one that is generally accepted. At least, by anyone not aware of the evidence to the contrary. Which is all lies anyway. But I digress.

Poverty? It’s just a lie the Left uses to destroy the middle class

What I find interesting about today’s column by Peter Hitchens is how close he is to those he opposes without realising it. Take his line on selective schools:

“New Labour’s real untouchable Clause Four has, for the past five decades, been its furious, foaming-at-the-mouth hatred for selective state schools. Why? Because such schools offered real social mobility, earned by merit.”

Now, he’s right that selective schooling is meritocratic, up to a point. Its limitation as a system is that not everyone starts from the same point – as he says slightly earlier in relation to child poverty  “the children in our most deprived households have no responsibility at all for the conditions they live in”, and the same is true of any child. Selective schooling appears to offer every child a chance to climb the greasy class ladder, but below a certain level your chances of having the support, facilities or environment that would allow you to pass the 11+ are fairly small. In a two-tier system, attendance at a selective school offers sufficient advantage to confirm middle-class status while non-attendance reduces your chances of achieving it further. Rather than being a avenue of improvement from one class to another, selective schooling acts to entrench social position. In a selective system, the children who have no responsibility for the conditions they live in become the parents who have no responsibility – they follow the only path open to them, model their behaviour on that which surrounds them (Peter’s “grim mental diet of TV slurry and an almost total absence of good examples in their lives”) and raise children just as innocent of it all as they were.

The reason for the focus on child poverty isn’t because children make us gooey eyed, but more the practical consideration that if you can get them while they’re young, you have an opportunity to break with the past – in the same way as the vision of a meritocratic selection process moving children up from one class to the next. The Labour scheme is, in that sense, identical to the Hitchens scheme. It’s also similar in that, thus far, it’s failed. Peter is right to question it in exactly the same way that we have a right to question the failure of selective schooling to end poverty previously.

To do so on the grounds that:

“[Labour ministers] just aim to ‘close the gap’ between them and the remaining working households, the hated ‘middle class’.”

seems a little short-sighted though. Essentially the complaint here is that the taxation system that has been imposed has been imperfectly redistributive, with the money coming from the wrong people. However true that is, the lack of imagination behind the redistribution is more damning. ‘Closing the gap’ was never going to be enough, because it accepts the distribution of individuals amongst socio-economic classes as it currently stands. It says it’s OK to have an underclass so long as they’re slightly richer than they are at the moment. It is in principal as selective schooling is in practice. It is ridiculous to replace the one with the other.

Peter’s response to this, that the fact that both schemes are failures means we should regress to the one that at least worked on paper, is as illegitimate as his reasoning:

“The middle classes are not good because they are better Off. They are better off because they are good. This is the fundamental truth that socialism has always hated.”

Socialism, as I understand it, says that given the same opportunities, anyone has the same chance of being good, because essentially all people are the same. Peter appears to be accepting this earlier in his piece – children have no responsibility for the conditions they live in, they’re just children. The middle classes are good, by and large, because they came from middle class backgrounds that allowed them to grow up good. Rewarding the middle classes for being good by permitting a two-tier educational system that ensures their children will also be good does not allocate resources on the basis of desert, as he implies, but does so on the basis of the hereditary principal. If Peter wants to oppose comprehensive schooling, he’ll need to do better than that.

Both Peter and Labour want a society in which every individual has the chance to grow up ‘good’. Neither of their plans has worked, and neither will work. That we’re still discussing this 12 years into Labour’s term is staggering. That the solution Peter’s offering is no better than selective schooling is more so.