Good riddance to the freak show that shamed Britain (and no, it wasn’t Big Brother)

Back to the present today and another biting article from the sharpened pen of Richard Littlejohn. His target here is New Labour and that really isn’t the issue. Everyone is entitled to their opinion on political parties and he just so happens to have a very public platform from which to air his. I was going to just ignore this article as it really isn’t saying anything new and feels a bit like a slow news week filler (because the death of Ted Kennedy, continued election protests in Iran, the ‘end’ of the war in Darfur and continued ramifications of the ‘Libyan Inncident’ are seemingly not worthy of Richard’s comment right now). However, I couldn’t get past a few of the comments he makes which we shall look at now.

The entire article is written in what I imagine he hoped would be a witty and sly allegory between the end of Big Brother and of the New Labour party. So he uses contestants instead of MPs and audience instead of electorate… Anyway.

“New Labour has demeaned its contestants and audience alike, coarsened our culture, debased living standards, promoted a climate of bullying and exhibitionism and lowered Britain’s standing around the world. It has become a byword for corruption and incompetence, obsessed with sex, greed and racism.”

Well let’s just start with this shall we. Exactly how has our culture been coarsened by New Labour. What does that even mean? It seems now every time someone says something on television that is deemed immoral, insulting or just displeasing to the readers of Richard’s very paper, there are swift apologies, sackings, resignations and the sphere of freedom given to entertainment is contracted that little bit further. If anything, I’d say culture is being tamed and is much the worse off for it.

Britain’s standing around the world has been on a decline since people started pointing out that travelling about in boats, occupying and enslaving countries and calling them ‘ours’ was perhaps not the nicest thing and maybe we should give things back. Under Richard’s beloved Conservative party we saw the unnecessary and damaging war over the Falklands because we felt we had the right to some islands on the other side of the world. Britain supported the first gulf war, made no action to stop the atrocities occurring in many African nations throughout the eighties and nineties and put across such a euro-skeptic and isolationist from for most of those two decades it’s a wonder the Channel Tunnel ever opened.

Finally, how exactly are we anymore obsessed with sex and greed (we’ll get to racism in a moment). That Thatcher and Major governments were devoted to the accumulation of wealth and the building of a fully operational consumer society. As for sex, we saw just as many so-called scandals in the Tory party as we have in Labour. The truth is less that New Labour themselves have bred corruption and sleaze and more that any party in power for a long period of time will be to some extent overpowered by it’s own success. This isn’t a New Labour problem, it’s a power problem.

As for racism, I for one am glad we’re a country ‘obsessed’ with racism (if that is indeed the case) as perhaps we can use that obsession to lessen the amount of it that occurs. Richard is always so worried about his freedom of speech being limited he rarely stops to consider his responsibility of speech. The freedoms given to him to say whatever he likes about whomever he likes should be used with the respect they deserve, not to decry anyone of a different faith or with a different skin tone or (gods forbid) someone with less money or no job. If New Labour has instilled us with an obsession regarding prejudice then this is not something we should be critisising for. I don’t want to live in a country that’s regarded elsewhere as the place where ‘they don’t like anyone different’.

“Housemates included an effete public schoolboy, a former ship’s steward, a dour son of the manse, a blind man and his dog, a gay public relations man and his exotic Brazilian boyfriend, and a scary, former convent schoolgirl who quickly became known as the Wicked Witch.”

I have noticed a trend with Richard and other Daily Mail columnists to be much harsher on female politicians and public figures than male. They get the cruelest names, the most attacks on their looks and the constant disparagement of their ability to do their job. Of course this should not be a surprise to anyone as a fair number of the columns are solely about the non-existence of misogyny or how women have ‘never had it so good’. Whatever your views on Ruth Kelly, is it fair to label her as scary and call her the wicked witch whilst the men are pretty much given a label of what they are. Peter Mandleson is predictable defined by the fact he his gay and had a partner who was not British. Really Richard? Thirteen years and you’re still on that tired bandwagon?

“More than four million CCTV cameras were erected all over Britain so that every move of the audience could be captured, too, and used in evidence against people putting out their dustbins on the wrong day.”

Oh and this bandwagon too (ir should that be rubbishwagon). I will never understand why the rules of dustbins upset him so much. In a world where close to 2 billion people have no access to clean drinking water and a good 75% of them are also starving, I would think the fact out rubbish is taken away on a weekly or biweekly basis would not be something to fill pages and pages of newspaper every single month. We could of course go back to the Victorian era where everyone was white, no-one talked about sex, queers will killed and everyone knew their place. Oh and rubbish was generally left in the street or dumped in the rivers. Yes, I’m sure Richard would enjoy that life much better, especially if he had to work in a factory as he believes every unemployed person should be forced to.

“From the start, the show was mired in controversy, after one of the housemates, Cookie, was caught having sex with another contestant, a flame-haired civil servant called Gaynor.

Ally, the house bully, a recovering alcoholic and pornographic novelist, with a history of mental illness, forced Cookie to leave his wife or face eviction.”

Yes because being about to write erotica AND having overcome an addiction AS WELL as suffering from depression means you should definitely not be in power. Actually, you shouldn’t be allowed to have a job at all, better go on benefits wouldn’t you say Richard? I always felt sorry for Robin Cooke that he was made a total scapegoat for New Labour’s obsession with being the anti-sleaze party. I’m not condoning infidelity but as one in two marriages now ends in divorce it’s going to happen in parliament and sometimes, the details will leak. In the grand scheme, I’m not sure it should be punished or require public apologies but there’s a discussion for another day.

“[Blair’s] emotional reaction when the popular royal housemate, Diana, was killed in a car crash in only the third episode made TV history and proved to be the defining moment of series one.”

Yes, even Richard finds it hard to critique this one, especially as his favourite royal family did not come off so well from the whole affair. Better to just breeze over it I think.

“New Labour’s resident village idiot, Two Jags, was captured on film punching a member of the audience during the warm-up to the second series. He was the clown you loved to hate, always raiding the fridge while the other housemates were asleep.”

But surely Richard giving those protesting layabout sum the old one two is exactly what they need? Hasn’t the country wanted leadership that wasn’t afraid to apply the carrot as well as the stick? Or does that only apply when said leader is not a working class man from Hull? (Again, I’m not condoning John Prescott’s actions, violence is never, ever the answer and I do not want politicians in power who lash out because their suit get’s a bit eggy. All the same a surprising about face for Richard “bring back corporal punishment” Littlejohn).

“Then there was Blunkett, the first blind character, who formed a passionate attachment to the only American housemate, Kimberley, drafted in on the strength of her performance as Snow White at Disneyland.

Viewers were captivated by Blunkett unravelling as he launched a demented paternity suit to prove that he was the father of Kimberley’s baby.”

Of sex and infidelity, by my count, the Conservative 1979-1997 run is still in the lead.

“Today, the programme is a shadow of its former self. Only two of the original cast remain: dour, Scottish sociopath Gordon and gay PR man Mandy, the self- styled Prince of Darkness.”

NEVER FORGET THAT PETER MANDLESON IS GAY. HIS POLITICS DON’T MATTER, ANY GOOD HE DOES IS IRRELEVANT WHEN COMPARED TO THE FACT THAT HE IS A GAY MAN! HE HAS SEX WITH OTHER MEN!!! DIDN’T YOU KNOW? AND HE LOOKS A BIT LIKE A VAMPIRE. A GAY VAMPIRE. BECAUSE HE’S GAY. THE GAY.

“After Blair was evicted in 2007 and went on to become a global star, earning millions of pounds a year, Gordon attempted to become the main character, but ratings continued to slump and he soon realised there was nowhere to hide.”

Once again, if this is truly supposed to be a commentary on thirteen years of Labour government, Richard is somewhat ignoring some key events that have led to the current unpopularity of the party.

“Other housemates were drafted in, notably Jackboot Jacqui, a disciplinarian schoolteacher from the Midlands who marked her arrival with an ostentatious flash of cleavage. For a while, the tabloids were fixated upon her breasts and her enthusiasm for punishment.”

WOMAN HAS BREASTS! AND DOESN’T WANT TO COMPLETELY COVER THEM! Ok, I’m going to have to stop accidently hitting caps lock. Honestly for a man who writes so often about the Burqa and the Niqab, Richard get’s very upset when any woman decided to wear something any less than a nun’s garb. Unless they’re a ‘smoking twenty year old hottie’, then it’s “phwoar ma’am don’t mind if I do”. Am I being unfair? Possibly a bit and for that I apologise but this sort of comment after at least discussing some of the policy of the men in the party infuriates me. He takes Jacqui Smith and reduces her to nothing more than a dominatrix figure to be laughed at. How carefully Richard uses disciplinarian and then mentions her breasts and how she likes to punish. Not ten paragraphs ago he was talking about how New Labour had brought on an obsession with sex, I think we might be seeing where some of the impetus has come from..

“As New Labour has resorted to increasingly desperate and cynical stunts, viewers have stopped watching, the sponsors have dried up and the show has run £1.3trillion over budget.”

Well the budget is somewhat overrun yes, I don’t think anyone can argue that the current financial status of the country is relatively dire but I would love to know how any other government would have dealt with a global economic crisis of the scale we’ve seen across the past two years.

I also note in this whole article Richard doesn’t mention anything about what the government has achieved in it’s time in office. No comment on fox hunting bans, smoking age changes, improvement in education from the Major years (in terms of funding and teacher training), legalising civil partnerships, championing the Northern Ireland Peace process, devolution, regulating the House of Lords… some of these things are subjective but they have none the less been achieved. The government is far from ineffectual, they’ve done things I don’t agree with and things I do but to reduce the whole thirteen years to an allegory with a low quality reality TV show is simplifying things to the level of pointlessness.

On second thoughts perhaps this is nothing more than slow news week filler, even if it is filled with Richard’s usual stereotypes of women in power, gay men, liberal ideology and of course those ‘bloody bins’. Don’t worry Richard, under the next government, I’m sure that your favourite ‘dole scum’ will be hired to come and eat your rubbish on a daily basis. And you can whip them while they do.

“The final episode is due to be broadcast next May. We will all be glad to see the back of it.”

And how long will that last I wonder? And which party would you like to replace them Richard… oh, he’s gone home.

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And if you thought WPCs in burqas were ridiculous

If you’re going to start somewhere, it may as well be with the big guns. Richard Littlejohn has decided to explore gender identity in the police force. Let’s see what he found out.

From the title onwards, this article makes two basic and intrinsically incorrect assumptions.

Firstly, it assumes that “You”, as in “Me” or rather as in “Everyone” thought the idea of WPCs in burquas was ridiculous. I will be honest and say I’ve never really considered the matter but if I were to make a personal (and totally impulsive) judgment call, I’d say as long as the dress wear doesn’t interfere with the job, then it’s all fine by me but obviously there is a police uniform for a reason. Interestingly, when I went back to look at the article in question, it had nothing whatsoever to do with Muslim women in the police force wanting to wear burquas while on duty. It was, as Richard himself states in his opening paragraph:

“three soppy policewomen in Sheffield had kitted themselves out in full burqas and gone shopping, so they could empathise with fundamentalist Muslims.”

Now, he makes sure to get his opinion across whilst stating this fact with the words “soppy” and “fundamentalist” because, as we are all aware, only someone with the bleeding heart of Jesus himself would ever dream of trying to understand another culture by adopting their style of dress and, more importantly, it is only fundamentalist Muslims who wear the burquas. You know, the ones who want to kill us all. This statement alone could fill a column by itself but we are here on other matters, so…

Secondly, it makes the assumption that transgendered persons are totally accepted in society with no issue and that their being in the police force is so common place that they have no need for a special interest group to support that. Of course, this argument wouldn’t matter either way to Richard as he makes it clear:

“As I wrote at the time, police officers should be defined by the uniform they wear, not the colour of their skin, their sexual inclination or their religious beliefs.”

You know what? Fine. Absolutely fine. Being in the police is a vocation, choosing to devote your time in the service of the law and the protection of society. When you’re doing your job, those features that are used to define you should not impact on that job to any significant degree or bias could easily slip in, a trait police officers must try to quell. That said, just because you’re out there, doing your job and not thinking about your race, religion, gender or sexuality does not mean that others aren’t thinking about it including the people you work with.

What Richard appears to miss time and again (or possibly just gloss over) is that interest and support groups aren’t there to champion one section of society over another. They’re not their to stage a coup or make everyone’s life harder or separate us into more boxes than we already have separated ourselves. They are certainly not there:

“serving only to foster a culture of division, grievance, permanent unrest and opportunism.”

They are there to make sure that those who ARE in a minority, whatever that may be are treated with the same respect and understanding as the majority treat one another.

Let’s step back for a minute and let Richard do some talking shall we?

“Every time I bring you one of these stories, I wonder where it will all end. Now I discover that there’s a National Trans Police Association, too.”

He goes on to repeat the mission statement from the NTPA website and then displays some high levels of ignorance, especially as he is writing an article on the topic. In response to the fact that whilst they list many types of gender identities, they do not go as far as to assume they have infinite knowledge and have added a caveat, somewhat like “and many more” but with much more tact, a trait Richard fails to emulate.”

“Note the ‘but not exclusively’. You might have thought that any outfit encompassing transgendered, androgyny and intersexuals (whatever the hell they are) had pretty much covered the waterfront.”

“The criteria is so widely drawn that, theoretically, it could also include centaurs, who are currently under-represented in the ranks of the Old Bill.”

“There appears to be no limit to the number of obscure subcategories the police can split themselves into.”

He says more along these lines but you can read that in the article yourself if you so wish. In these three statements alone Richard has shown his lack of knowledge regarding sexuality, mocked those with gender identity issues by comparing them with a mythical being and once again made the assumption that this is all about splitting the police into different groups, rather than supporting those people in the police who do not fit the ‘traditional’ majority mould.

This it would seem though is not his main problem. All the above has merely been leading up to the point were Richard could stand it no longer and just had to write of this new case of liberalism gone made

“An application for Home Office funding is sure to follow and is almost certain to be granted.

It can be only a matter of time before a transsexual officer sues for discrimination after being turned down for promotion or demands that the police funds his gender reassignment surgery.”

It’s not about gender, it’s not even about special interest groups or support teams. It’s about money. How much will it cost? Will he have to foot the bill? As Richard lives happily and permanently in Florida, I think that even if the police started offering gender reassignment surgery to the whole populace, it wouldn’t impact too much on his bank balance. He continues:

“No doubt I’ll be accused of stirring up ‘transphobic’ hatred. For the record, I have no more objection to transvestites forming a club than I do to philatelic societies. But it should be done in their own time and not at public expense.”

Well, I won’t be accusing Richard of anything today. What he is and isn’t guilty of is up to you. However, after demeaning most gender identities, he goes on here to ignore all transgendered people and just focus on transvestites. Actually, rethinking, what he’s really doing is LUMPING all transgendered people together and calling them transvestites. He seems to be under the impression that the desire to dress in clothing which is not traditionally assigned to your gender and to have the physical and mental issues that come with being born a sex you are unhappy with, to feel no attachment to either sex or to feel you inhabit several genders are the same thing. I’m sorry Richard, as years of research from institutes around the world will show you, they are not even remotely the same thing and some would say they are not even connected in any way other than both can sometimes influence the choice of clothing and of course, come under the umbrella heading of “Gender Issues”.

Oh and he also makes sure to mention the money thing again.

He tries to recover with some sense of understanding:

“I acknowledge that some people have gender ishoos and are entitled to understanding.”

Sorry, just a quick aside, I have never understood Richard’s prediliction for misspelling words he seems to have personal problems with. Perhaps it would be worth keeping a tally of how often he does this. Anyway, back on topic, he also tries to show how much he embraces equality:

“Recruitment and promotion should be solely on the basis of ability, not race, religion, gender or sexual proclivity. Everyone ought to be treated equally.”

But is quickly returned to his real point, you know, the money one…

“The time, money and effort wasted pandering to minorities with an exaggerated sense of entitlement is scandalous – especially when chief constables are whining they haven’t got the resources to keep police stations open and put bobbies on the beat.”

I’ve done a bit of reading around and can find very little terms of chief constables “whining” about resources. There has been the occasional closure of small police stations over the last few years and some articles on the shift of focus to patrolling in cars rather than by foot but nothing to suggest that the force is trying to eke out a meager existence to the point where it can’t finance the same support groups you will find in almost every business in the country. Perhaps I am misunderstanding him. Once again, he is assuming that this group has formed because transgendered people are trying to get one over on him rather than just making sure they are treated correctly.

As Richard rounds up, he can’t help but confuse transvestites with transgendered persons once more as well as purporting the idea that this is all a ploy to overthrow the police uniform as with his opening statement about burquas.

“…at this rate it won’t be long before a cross- dressing copper complains that his stockings and suspenders are chafing under his blue serge uniform and insists on being allowed to go on patrol in a leather mini-skirt and an Amy Winehouse wig.”

It’s unlikely that ANY officer would be allowed to wear the above items of clothing, no matter what their gender identity or religion. Richard cannot let go of his belief that special interest groups are somehow there to change physical things when mostly the only thing they ever change is peoples perceptions, usually for the better.

I am left wondering how many times in his life that Richard has felt like the outsider. How many times has he been in the minority and felt that he was being oppressed, ignored, bullied or negated? As a white, wealthy, middle class male I would hazard a guess that the feeling of loneliness and alienation is not one which often crosses Richard’s mind. I could be wrong of course, this is pure conjecture. Perhaps he is very lonely indeed.

Addendum:

Apologies but I realised I forgot to pass any comment on the lovely little cartoon that adorns Richard’s column this week. Actually, I forgot to comment on the hideously offensive massive cartoon that uses half the writing space. In and of itself, it’s a pretty standard and slightly inane newspaper drawing. When brought into context with the article however, once again, it is stereotyping all transgendered persons into one tired old cliché. I don’t know much about the eponomous “Gary” but I suggest that he, much like Richard, should catch up on some reading from Gender Matters before continuing to deconstruct this exact vein of sexuality.

Share her pain? No, this woman doesn’t deserve a penny

Even by his own standards, a somewhat repugnant column from Littlejohn today, which reaches its nadir about here:

“Where an earlier generation of public servant would have issued a heartfelt, grovelling apology before reaching for a bottle of single malt and a loaded service revolver, Mrs Shoesmith took the modern way out. She denied everything and reached for her lawyers.”

Although I can understand people disliking media hate figures, there’s something about wishing them dead which I find quite unsettling. It’s not just the implicit premise that justice requires blood, or the black and white claims of total guilt and total innocence which the desire implies, but the utter atavism of it. Leaving aside any questions about whether Littlejohn is right in apportioning blame solely and uniquely, and allowing a weak version of his claim that justice requires retribution, this is another human being he’s talking about. But for a slightly different conception of public service, it could have been him.

Hold that thought, because Richard doesn’t, quite, believe that Sharon Shoesmith is totally guilty:

“While the last breaths were being bludgeoned out of the defenceless Baby P, Shoesmith’s sentinels were busying themselves sitting in case meetings, ticking boxes, sipping fair trade coffee and scouring the jobs adverts in The Guardian.”

At least part of Richard’s claim is that the systems in place were inadequate and that by following them the social workers were inevitably failing to protect vulnerable children. Or, as he puts it later: “Theirs is a world where they are never to blame, provided proper ‘procedures’ have been followed, and even when their incompetence is exposed”. The thing about procedures is that they’re put in place to cover situations, to make sure that things aren’t overlooked. Without procedures, you have no way of guaranteeing that people are acting correctly, and no way of guiding them in unfamiliar situations. It’s harder than he thinks to blame someone for following a procedure that isn’t obviously wrong, one that covers most of the situation but still overlooks some things. It’s harder than he thinks to design a procedure that takes account of active deception on the part of the parent. But for a slightly different conception of public service, it could have been him.

Were it him, he would twice have gotten as far seeking legal advice on whether the baby could have been taken into care, and twice been told the legal threshold hadn’t been met. He would have repeatedly visited the home and found no trace of the two men who were living there who would eventually commit murder. He would have dealt with what seemed to all intents and purposes a co-operative mother, with a child who did not show the signs of violence that were so obviously present on its beaten corpse. He would have found himself trapped between a Daily Mail which believes in less State intrusion, and one that vilifies poor parents. He would not have found the evidence unearthed in a police investigation or the patterns which seem so obvious when you’re looking for them. It is very easy to fault procedures once they’ve gone wrong, and to sit in judgement from outside after the fact. It is harder on the ground, where all you have to guide you is a procedure which has, so far, brought you results. But for a slightly different conception of public service, it could have been him.

Were it him, his reaction would almost certainly one of extreme guilt and remorse:

“I don’t know how anyone could live with themselves knowing they could have prevented a vulnerable child meeting a ghastly death, but had failed to do so.”

We can be fairly sure of this, because of the reaction of Sharon Shoesmith, who it actually was:

“”You do consider how to stop it all, you know. You can just walk off the end of the tube platform and stop it all and I certainly did think about that on occasion, and there was certainly another occasion in the middle of the night when I gathered up all the paracetamol that existed in the house and there was nothing like enough.”” (“‘When a dead child is known to us, that’s the biggest horror. We knew the size of that’“, Friday, 6 February 2009, The Guardian)

But for a slightly different conception of public service, it could have been him.

The point here is not that Shoesmith is blameless or that Haringey Social Services are blameless. It’s more that Sharon Shoesmith is a human being, and that Haringey Social Services is staffed by human beings, and that sometimes human beings make mistakes, sometimes they construct mistaken systems, and sometimes the consequences of those mistakes are grave. That doesn’t negate their humanity, it doesn’t make them any less like Richard. Richard is clearly capable of imagining what it must be like to know that a child died on your watch, just as, in different circumstances, he would be capable of imagining how he would respond to a trial by media and summary breach of contract. Somehow, though, he doesn’t make the leap to imagining how he might reach that point. He just assumes that, because he has the knowledge after the fact, he would have had it before, that Sharon Shoesmith was uniquely fallible in a way he wouldn’t be. That is one hell of an assumption to balance a life on.

Under this rule, even Osama Bin Laden is British

Although to the outsider sometimes disturbing, I’m starting to see some comforting familiarity in Richard’s columns. Take this, from today:

“Some years ago, in the wake of the Afghan hijack fiasco at Stansted, I invented a spoof game show called ‘Asylum!'”

which reminded me of a story I’d previously touched on, in which Richard reminisced:

“Around the time of the hijack, I even invented a spoof game show called ASYLUM!, which is still doing the rounds on the internet.”

which made me think there might be more, and indeed there are, such as this gem:

“A few years ago, after the Afghan airliner hijack at Stansted, I invented a game show called ASYLUM! in which contestants from all over the world merely had to set foot in Britain to be showered with benefits, free homes and cars.”

or this:

“A couple of weeks after the Siege of Stansted, I invented a spoof game show called Asylum! Hijack An Airliner And Win A Council House.”

Although I still don’t find the concept amusing, I can at least now greet it as a part of the furniture – it’s an anecdote Richard and I share, because like him I know the punchline. Now, far be it from me, who has never invented a spoof game show in my life, to mock another man’s pride in what is clearly, to him, a beautiful child, but it seems to me that the punchline is somewhat flawed.

The thing about asylum, which should be obvious from the name¹, is that it is a type of refuge. We offer it to people fleeing persecution, war or threat to their persons. Such people tend to have trouble fleeing – if what your government really wants to do with you involves spark plugs and water, they’re unlikely to issue you with a passport or let you across the border as a substitute. If what you really want to avoid is your government having fun at your expense, a different tack must be taken. Since the legal ways are not options, the only options are illegal. The fact that you have needed to forge your passport or hijack a plane to escape almost guarantees you access to asylum – firstly because the fact you’ve gone to the trouble suggests something was up with you in the first place and secondly because, if your government did like you originally, they’re unlikely to look on you so kindly after you’ve been publicly on the run. Part of the problem with Richard’s putative game show, and his asides at Abu Qatada later in his article, is that asylum isn’t granted in these cases in spite of the illegal means by which the country was entered, but partly because of them.

The second problem again relates to the nature of asylum as flight from persecution, warfare, or threats to the person. All three of these make the hiring of a removal company to get your property out in good order, and the access to your bank accounts to do the same with your finances, somewhat difficult. Not only do you lose your country, livelihood and lifestyle, but you also lose everything you owned and had spent a lifetime building up. Even an asylum seeker who’d lived a life of Littlejohnian prudence and accumulation would arrive unable to support themselves. Throw in any problems with the language, the fact that qualifications may not be readily transferable and a sometimes unwelcoming local community and the alternative to a council house is homelessness and beggary. That is not my definition of asylum, and it is an unattractive alternative to winning Richard’s game.

Which is also a long way of saying that Richard’s prescience:

“It was supposed to be a joke but, as always, was based on fact. I can remember writing that none of the hijackers would be deported and they’d all end up living here permanently, courtesy of the mug British taxpayer.”

is not so prescient after all.

For Richard, this long interlude is merely a way of introducing his main subject, the ‘undesirables’ who were granted refuge. Now there are two obvious problems with this – the one raised above that hijacking a plane doesn’t make you an undesirable but merely someone desperate enough to hijack a plane, but also the simpler point that refuge is not immigration. The people who we would normally want to keep out, and Abu Qatada seems as objectionable as any, arrive fleeing persecution. To send them home is to condemn them to whatever it was they were trying to avoid. If that thing is sufficiently bad that we would take them if they weren’t ‘undesirable’, it is hard to see how we can morally send them back to it. To put it simply, there are some things you would not wish on an enemy. As soon as that’s the case, we’re stuck with them, and in our benefit situation previously outlined. It’s not ideal, but it’s the right thing to do.

Which brings us to:

“To add insult to injury, a panel of European judges has awarded Qatada £2,500 in damages for the brief period he spent in Belmarsh prison after 9/11.

Another ten foreign terror suspects held at the same time also received payouts ranging from £1,500 to £3,400 each.”

and the idea of the ‘right thing to do’. Having people such as Qatada, who we would normally send home but can’t, presents something of a problem. We need to find a way of preventing him from causing harm while at the same time being unable to deport him as we would normally. In such a situation, the Law is normally a good rule of thumb to follow. Were he not a refugee, but a UK national, he would be free to go about his daily business until he had done something which was against the law, be arrested for that illegal act, given an opportunity to offer a defence for his actions, and then tried in accordance with the evidence available. He wouldn’t just be banged up on the suspicion that he’d done something wrong before he’d had a chance to consider the charges. Were that to happen, he’d be entitled to compensation. Again, the facts that Qatada is here on a charitable basis and is not someone we’d have chosen to have on any other terms makes this compensation unfortunate, but those facts don’t make his claim for compensation any less compelling².

Which leads us to Richard’s crashing finale on who Britain should defend, citing the case of Binyam Mohammed:

“Binyam Mohammed is an Ethiopian citizen who was granted leave to live in Britain. In 2001, he decided he’d rather live in Afghanistan.”

Were these facts the case in full, Richard would probably have a point. However, I have not found anyone else asserting that he left to live in Afghanistan – Binyam himself says he went to see what the Islamic state looked like, and because he wanted to kick a drug habit away from his familiar haunts. He was arrested less than a year later, trying to return to Britain from Pakistan. Although born in Ethiopia, he’d lived in the UK since he was 15, and had been resident for 7 years. He’s worked here, paid taxes here, had leave to return here and was trying to return here. There is currently no evidence that he planned to commit any crime on returning. This is not quite the same as Osama Bin Laden, Richards reductio ad absurdum. This is just another example of someone who has been accepted under Britain’s protective umbrella  – and so someone who should be accorded the same treatment as anyone else under that umbrella, such as Richard himself. Again, even if we believe that Binyam is an ‘undesirable’, we would have reason to protest him being arrested without charge, tortured, detained without the access of a lawyer and slated to be tried in a kangaroo court that had the power of the death sentence. These are not things that should happen to someone Britain had offered to protect.

Fundamentally, this all comes down to the fact that foreign people are just as worthwhile as people who have always paid taxes here. You don’t buy fair treatment under law, you don’t buy the right not to be tortured abroad or have a foreign government persecute you. There are things that cannot be done to you, and that means there are things we cannot send foreigners home to have done to them and things that we cannot do to them here just because they’re foreign. That’s not the crazed punchline to a game-show themed joke, that’s consistency.

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¹ The derivation I have of it is from the Greek ‘sulon’, referring to the right of seizure, ‘a-sulon’ meaning ‘no right of seizure’. Even without this derivation, we have a long history as ‘asylum’ as a practical synonym for ‘refuge’, as in mental hospitals – refuges from mental illness.

² As a slight aside, it’s worth noting here that this has nothing to do (as Richard suggests in: “And until Britain repeals the pernicious ‘yuman rites’ act, here they’ll stay, indefinitely.”) with the Human Rights Act. Rights to asylum and treatment on reception are enshrined in international law and rights to a fair trial are traditional and would be mourned by Richard if they were ever threatened.

If Del Boy was around today, he’d be trading in carbon offsets

I suppose it goes without saying that I was surprised by Littlejohn’s column today, I’m not really his target audience, but I genuinely didn’t believe that there was still anyone out there who didn’t accept the evidence for climate change. After all, there is a scientific consensus behind it (see Oreskes (2004) for a brief introduction, this letter by various national academies in 2005  or this statement from the World Meteorological Association in 2006) and general governmental agreement (this is the text of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and these are the signatories). Poor naive fool that I am, I took this on good faith and started adapting my life accordingly.

What I foolishly failed to notice is that it’s cold at the moment, and has been warm in the past. If we were really warming, you’d expect it to be the other way around. Ergo, as Richard bravely points out, we can’t be warming. The fact that scientists missed this is probably a sign of some sort of agenda.

“None of this has in any way deterred the ‘global warming’ fascists. They dismiss this glaring, incontrovertible evidence as a ‘blip’ and continue to insist the world is burning up.”

The short answer to this is that Richard has got things the wrong way around – we have consistent findings of global rises in temperature (glaring, incontrovertible evidence, as it were) which he is writing off as anomalous, based on some localised instances of weather that doesn’t fit with the general trend. The trend and the instances are not incompatible though – a trend reflects the set of instances, it doesn’t determine individual ones. It is more than possible to have an unusually cold winter in the midst of generally warming ones – for example, our current cold spell is attributable to the effects of La Niña, the cold end of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (see the Met Office’s explanation here). It in no way undermines the consistent findings that global temperatures have risen.

On one level I can understand Richard’s mistake – it seems common sense that if we’re warming we should be warmer. However, the obvious thing to do when faced with something that runs against logic would be to find out if there was any satisfactory explanation, rather than assuming that the scientific community were a bunch of lying chancers you’ve easily proved wrong. What is striking is not just the solipsism of this (which must be difficult to avoid when you’re being paid for any and all of your thoughts) but the misconception of ‘science’ as an authoritarian monolith.

I’m being slightly unfair here, because Richard isn’t really interested in the scientific consensus – he seems to assume that there isn’t one. His real targets seems to be politicians and busy-bodies who are seizing on poor evidence to justify impositions on honest, hardworking people.

“That’s because this isn’t about the planet, it’s all about them.

‘Global warming’ gives them a reason to believe, provides meaning and purpose to their dismal little lives.”

This, again, seems to be upside-down. I would argue that, given that those who will suffer most dramatically (and who are already suffering) from the consequences of global warming are the world’s poorest (see here for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 working group report), acting to reduce carbon usage is actually about making sacrifices for others. Jacking up the heating because you’re damned if some government minister is going to tell you what to your own house is ‘all about you’, especially if you’re basing your actions on your own experience of the weather rather the evidence and opinions of those best placed to judge.

This kind of self-satisfied and wilful ignorance is irresponsible. There is a dishonesty in attacking a movement because it has the support of politicians when that support is based on apolitical evidence – however untrustworthy you think politicians are, some little investigation shows that in this case they are justified, a fact which should mitigate the mistrust. Instead, the lack of faith in them is extended sideways by association. Meanwhile, the fear of Richard and his readers is focused on the monster under the bed, when they should be worried about the water lapping at their door.

Exposed: The sinister secrets of Labour’s party list

Were it not for the fact that it’s been a very quiet week, I wouldn’t have bothered with this column by Littlejohn, not least because this blog is in danger of starting to revolve entirely around him. This would be a mistake – his writing is designed to upset people such as myself as much as they are to inspire his disgusted readership – posting on him, up to a point, only gives him attention that his views don’t really merit. Having said that, the opinions of others deserve a fair hearing. So here we go again:

“Back in 1997, Tony Blair claimed that the party was nothing less than the political wing of British people as a whole.”

Which is more or less accurate, but taken out of context. To take a similar example, a part claiming to be ‘the vanguard of the proletariat’ does not claim to be ‘made up of the proletariat’ but ‘vanguard leading the proletariat’. It was a hyperbolic exaggeration even at the time, but Blair’s Labour came a lot closer to having the support of the nation as a whole than anyone had recently.

“But the list of members posted on a website shows it to be a declining rump of lecturers, school teachers, social workers, trade union officials and former councillors.”

Not quite: union officials, lecturers and teachers in particular have left the party in droves, objecting to marshal policies in Iraq (and, before that, in the Balkans), micromanagement in education and PPIs. The rump of the party is what it always was – blue collar workers and those in the public sector. Like nurses, and policemen. Incidentally, what’s wrong with teachers now – how is their support to the detriment of a party?

“Many of them have never had a proper job in their lives and harbour dubious histories, in some cases descending into outright criminality.”

Littlejohn is a professional journalist and broadcaster. History is the past. Having committed a crime does not disbar you from holding political opinions.

“They include a significant number of extremists, including plenty who previously belonged to an assortment of Trotskyite and Communist organisations – facts they have tried to conceal from the public.”

Given the number of ideas that are possible, the probability that the first ones you hold are correct is very, very small. Even smaller if you’re a Trot. The fact that Labour members have moved on (and if you think that they haven’t, you’ve mistread Trotsky) to the point where they don’t really want to be reminded of their student beliefs is actually quite encouraging. We certainly can’t use it as a smear: the fact that someone used to think something but now doesn’t talk about it or act on it is not the same as them still thinking it. By the by, who are these brave socialist extremists? Where is the Revolution?

“Some people may be shocked at the news that one of Labour’s most senior figures had been involved in a massive pensions swindle and is also wanted in connection with the disappearance of billions of pounds’ worth of Britain’s gold bullion and foreign exchange reserves.”

A slight misrepresentation: although you could call Brown’s abolition of dividend tax a  ‘swindle’ because he knowingly relocated £5 billion a year from pensions to the Exchequer¹, it wasn’t actual stealing, merely a decision to tax income that wasn’t previously taxed. It reduced earnings for pensions relative to a future in which the decision hadn’t been made, but that’s not the same as theft. And our bullion and foreign exchange didn’t disappear, they were sold off. Arguably foolish, but not malign. People may be shocked when you put it like that, but that’s because you’ve deliberately misrepresented it.

“Approached by reporters, he refused to answer questions and blamed everything on the Americans.”

Not everything – the comments I’ve come across relate to the sub-prime crisis starting in America, which it did. Again, this may well have been more luck than judgement, but the problems of defaulting mortgages have, so far, been much smaller over here so far. It would also be somewhat unfair to blame Brown entirely for a problem with its roots in policies Labour inherited which encouraged people to own their own home. Property fetishism didn’t start under Labour, however much they failed to restrict it.

“Another leading light is a serial offender who obtained a mortgage by deception, was guilty of an outrageous stamp duty scam and was sacked for selling passports.”

Another misrepresentation: the mortgage provider in question investigated and said “Having completed this review, I am satisfied that the information given to us at the time of the mortgage application was accurate., the resignation related to a potential conflict of interests relating to the source of his second loan². He was also cleared of dodgy dealings relating to passports, having resigned to clear his name.

“He is also suspected of using his previous position at the European Commission to do favours for a businessman who has been linked with the Russian underworld in exchange for lavish hospitality.”

‘Suspected’ is the key word here – as trade commissioner, it was his job to meet foreign metals dealers. The idea that the lavish hospitality on offer that his office provided him with was sufficiently poor that it could be trumped by the mere yacht of a Russian arriviste underestimates the opulence of the EU.

“One of Labour’s most prominent members is a school teacher from Redditch, who has an insatiable appetite for punishment and correction and is known simply by her chat room name: ‘Jackboots Jacqui’.”³

Again with the teachers, it’s mystifying. And is Littlejohn against punishment and correction now? That’s unfair – the death penalty has nothing to do with correction, and the sort of punishment he’s thinking about are fines for failing to obey restrictions on bins and speeding. The S&M jibe doesn’t really cover that – some sort of play on the nanny state would probably have been more apposite – but I suppose it’s his article. Again though, ‘punishment and correction’ is a bit of a misreading of the intention to modify behaviour with stick rather than carrot. It’s not the stick that is the purpose of the exercise, it’s merely the method.

“On the afternoon we contacted her at the address listed, she told our reporter that he had been a very naughty boy, demanded to see his identity card and said everything he did was being recorded on CCTV and may be used against him on YouTube.”

Note, however – when the observation is happening to a private individual at the hands of the press, that’s a fine and glorious thing.

“Another couple, from Yorkshire, collect in the region of £600,000 a year from the British taxpayer. We went to the property they list as their primary residence for expenses purposes, only to be told that they spend most of their time at an address in London, where their children go to school.”

For those that missed it, here is the Parliamentary Standards Committee’s on that particular couple. As previously mentioned, the tax man benefited from Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper’s misjudgement.

“One Labour MP, from Sheffield, threatened to set his dog on journalists attempting to question him about his relationship with a wealthy American magazine publisher and his involvement in fast-tracking a visa for her nanny. He then burst into tears.”

And now we’re getting laughs from a blind man and his guide dog? Although, for once, the point about the minister is correct – Blunkett was criticised by Alan Budd’s report into the nanny’s visa decision, saying “I believe I have been able to establish a chain of events linking Blunkett to the change in the decision on Mrs Casalme’s application.”

“Another veteran Labour member lists his occupation as ‘ship’s steward’, but further inquiries revealed he lives in a turreted, baronial-style mansion with two Jaguars in the drive. How he managed to rise to high office without any apparent intelligence, manners, charm or O-levels, remains a mystery.”

Prescott is an interesting target, as he is actually part of what Richard refers to as ‘the real economy’, and Richard isn’t a fan of intellectuals. The only objection I can see is that he’s a bit nouveau – but aren’t we all? It’s also a fairly weak objection, when set against someone clearly intelligent enough to be repeatedly elected (regardless of O-levels, which don’t measure intelligence but attainment, which is something distinct), and actually quite charismatic if not exactly charming. And can we really claim a man isn’t socialist when the grace and favour house in question is owned by the state?

“The website also records one Anthony Lynton Blair as a member of the party. When challenged about it, at his elegant home in Connaught Square – ‘Chez Negative Equity’ – he laughed at the suggestion.”

He’s lost me – I must have missed that one.

“The leaked details also reveal the staggering fall in membership of the Conservative Party since 2005. The names of everyone considered potentially racist, homophobic, Eurosceptic, doubtful about global warming, or even vaguely Thatcherite, have been crossed out.”

A nice touch this, reminding us that all politicians are dodgy, not just those in power. Although surely making the party less unpleasant to minorities is a good thing?  Eurosceptics still have a place on the Conservative Party website, science supports global warming (presumably making science Tory), and the Tory leader recently said this: “Nearly 20 years after she left office, Margaret’s achievements appear, if possible, even greater than they did at the time.Nearly 20 years after she left office, Margaret’s achievements appear, if possible, even greater than they did at the time.”

“The few remaining members of the party all went to Eton and are alumni of the notorious Bullingdon Club, which specialised in getting horsewhimperingly drunk and smashing up restaurants.

Shortly after the leak became public, all pictures of the Bullingdon Club were bought up by a wealthy benefactor and taken down from the internet to protect their guilty secret.”

And, once more, we’re back to embarrassing student days.

“The website also illustrates the parlous state of the Liberal Democrats. One former leader lists his address as the Last Chance Saloon Bar, Priory Clinic.”

Just to round off, we’re laughing at alcoholism.

Now, I said at the beginning that the ideas of others deserved a fair hearing – if nothing else because otherwise we don’t know that they’re wrong. Sometimes I wonder though. This is nothing more than a collection of smears, half-truths and inaccurate jibes. He’s clearly aware of actual areas of debatable policy – like Jacqui Smith’s sticks or Gordon Brown’s tax adjustments, but rather than engage with them he goes for the easy option of attacking their characters. Badly. Literally the only mud that sticks in the entire thing regards an ex-Minster’s poor judgement as he tried to repair his collapsing love life. As ever, the whole thing is ill-judged and nasty. I just hope I’ll have something more interesting to play with next week.

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¹ Torygraph coverage here, Indie here, Moneyweek here and Auntie Beeb here.

² For those who’ve forgotten, Mandelson received a loan from Geoffrey Robinson, a businessman under investigation by Mandelson’s department.

³ As far as I can make out, this is a sobriquet he’s given her himself.