Why can’t the BBC understand that we are STILL a Christian country?

A couple of things are striking about today’s offering from Stephen Glover:

“Despite being required under its charter to provide religious programming, and despite being funded by licence-payers who overwhelmingly describe themselves as Christian, the Corporation has been increasingly pursuing what can only be, at best, described as a non-Christian agenda and, at worst, as an anti-Christian one.”

These two striking things are the claim that this is a Christian country and the jumping off point for this particular article on religious persecution, the appointment of a non-Christian to the head of religious broadcasting at the Beeb. Taking those in reverse order, Aaqil Ahmed, a practising Muslim who believes that “there should be more coverage of Muslim matters in the media”, has been appointed as head of religious broadcasting for the BBC. He comes from a similar post at Channel 4 and replaces Michael Wakelin, a Methodist lay preacher. Or, as Stephen breaks the news:

“On Monday, the Corporation announced that it has appointed a Muslim as head of religious broadcasting. This is not a joke, I can assure you.

The person responsible for overseeing the BBC’s — so far — largely Christian output will be Aaqil Ahmed, a practising Muslim.”

There appears to be an implicit assumption here that to accurately represent a group you have to be representative of it. On this basis, to take an obvious example, in every constituency in the country, half the population are disenfranchised through the gender of their MP. Generally it is felt that this is not a pressing concern, as someone good, nay merely competent, as an MP should be able to see beyond their own concerns as a gendered individual and extend their representation to those of the wider community. Anecdotally, MPs at least do seem able to do this to some extent – despite being predominantly straight, parliament has over recent decades been able to roll back legislation discriminatory to gays; despite being predominantly monied, we have on the books a small number of laws running against the monied classes in favour of the underprivileged. One would imagine that it would be a condition of Mr Ahmed’s terms of reference, and the oversight that ensures he keeps to them, that he shares similar representative skills.

It’s also worth noting that, for all the use of ‘Christian’ as a concrete noun, the set of items covered by the label ‘Christian’ is very broad. If you need to have an understanding of the beliefs of a group to fully represent them, the Catholic population of the UK, for example, may well have had reason for concern over the appointment of the previous head of religious broadcasting. Methodism is a non-hierarchical denomination, structured as a direct democracy with doctrine discussed and decided on the level of elected national committees. It’s not that unlike the Women’s Institute in that respect. A Methodist lay preacher could reasonably be expected to find it difficult to fully justify the practices of a church based on the doctrinal opinions of an elderly celibate in slippers, appointed in secret by other such elderly celibates and claiming authority through a direct lineage from an apostle of the human incarnation of God. This is no small issue given the research in 2007 which suggested that Roman Catholicism would surpass Anglicanism¹ as the country’s biggest Church and so, presumably, the biggest subset of BBC-funding licence payers. Although under Mr Wakelin’s watch the religious coverage of the BBC may have become, in Stephen’s opinion, more “anodyne”, he still managed to make it through without claims that Catholicism was being ignored or slighted, or that there was a noticeably Methodist slant to coverage. The fact he was non-representative of the vast majority of the Christian population of the UK didn’t seem to affect his ability to represent them.

For this reason, there is something slightly unsettling about the claim that Muslim will not do the job as well as a Christian (and the attached claim that a Hindu won’t be as good at organising ‘Songs of Praise’), and taking their appointment as evidence that the BBC is sidelining Christianity. If we’re happy with a member of a minority denomination handling the role, and we’re happy in other areas of public life that you can represent without being representative, there seems to be no reason to see a Muslim’s appointment as a potential punchline to a joke.

Moving on to the other striking thing:

“No doubt [the BBC’s] secular suits assume that Britain is as anti-Christian as they are. They’re out of touch again.”

On the face of it, this is an uncontroversial claim – the last national census (2001) showed that (of the 92% of the population choosing to answer the question) 72% of the population felt themselves to be Christians. However, whilst there is a very vocal population of Christians in public life, 72% seems like a very large number given the number of non-Christians encountered in everyday life. Looking at more recent alternative data, the last British Social Attitudes report to look at the subject of religion (2007) found 69% of respondents did not belong to a religion or attend religious services. Leaving aside the possibility that the intervening six years of anodyne religious broadcasting had persuaded a large chunk of Christians to pack it in and worship capitalism instead, there is a big gap between these two results which needs to be explained. Part of it may be the way the question is posed – in the census you are asked ‘What is your religion?’, a formulation implicitly implying that you have a religion of some sort that is both nameable and listed on the form, while in the BSA you are asked ‘Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion?’, which is much more open-ended and places ‘no’ on a par with ‘yes, and it is …’. In particular, in the BSA version of the question, the onus is on the respondent to say that which religion they follow, rather than having a list presented from which they can select the best that fits. It avoids the danger of people who were raised Christian or passed through the Christian school system feeling the need to tick the box as it brings in the idea of active pursuit of the religion rather than mere membership. This seems a much more meaningful measure – to take another political analogy, we would consider someone a ‘Conservative’ only if they voted Tory, having been raised in a Tory household but now not voting would be insufficient.

We should probably be wary of both measures – the question on the census is badly phrased while the BSA is a voluntary survey and so subject to things like selection bias² and both rely on self-definition which is changeable and non-uniform. However, taken with evidence of low attendance of religious ceremonies, low viewing figures for religious programmes and little evidence of religious belief in daily life³, we can have reason to doubt the claim that we are still a ‘Christian nation’. To what extent this means we should change our approach to questions of religious involvement in public life is a subject for another time, but at the very least we should stop seeing such claims as truisms which justify any claim to special treatment.

On which bases, Stephen’s conclusion:

“In appointing Aaqil Ahmed they do not simply offend against this country’s Christian heritage and traditions. They also further weaken the hold and authority of the BBC.”

should probably be taken with a pillar of salt.


¹ Which, although being hierarchical in a way which Methodism isn’t, is much closer to it on issues like same-sex relationships, birth control and the intercession of the saints.

² Although they are actually quite good at avoiding such issues.

³ Where, for example, do we find evidence of Christian belief in our daily newspapers – judgemental, thoroughly lacking in brotherly love and doing a fine line in leery, some might say outright covetous, photos of celebrities – for all their protestations when their privileges are threatened.


What are you ashamed of Ms Winslet… there is absolutely nothing wrong with being middle class

Much ado about nothing, courtesy of Stephen Glover:

“I suspect Ms Winslet may be exaggerating a little. I mean the idea that she was working class is rubbish. And the fact that she is at such pains to lay claim to this accolade tells us a great deal about Kate Winslet, and quite a lot about modern attitudes to class.”

To bring you up to speed, Kate Winslet gave an interview to Marie Claire in which, among other things, she laid claim to working class origins. Stephen feels this is important.

“What fascinates me is that Kate Winslet should be so anxious to pretend that she is working class. Why disown your origins? Is there, in the back of her mind, something wrong with being middle class? Has it almost become a dirty word?”

Stephen here begs the question – he assumes that Winslet is ‘disowning’ her origins, rather than merely disagreeing with him over what they are. For example, Kate may be a good Marxist and believe that, since her father clearly was not party to the ownership of the means of production, he was working class. Alternatively, following Thompson and Hickey ¹, she may feel that the preponderance of blue collar and service sector jobs her father took, combined with his low income made him working class. To put it simply, she may disagree with Stephen’s reading that:

“Her error is to confuse a person’s class with the amount of money which he or she earns. Our Kate thinks that because her family was poor it was working class.

But there have always been people who earn more money through hard, physical work than some members of the middle class do in less strenuous occupations. Equally, there are impoverished members of the aristocracy.”

Here Stephen is confusing class with social grouping – an aristo who relies on his labour to survive is working class, in the same way that a working emo is, for the simple reason that however you define it, class is not an inherited genetic trait. Simultaneously, Stephen appears to be following the aforementioned Thompson and Hickey by calling the professional sector ‘middle’ and the manual sector ‘working’ and ignoring Kate’s assignment of her father to the latter. The money here is a straw man – Kate says that her father was poor and blue collar, not just poor.

From this uncertain base, we get to the meat of the piece, as Stephen has a pop at the sort of person Kate might be:

“There is, though, a sizeable group of people, usually Leftist, sometimes intellectual, sometimes pseudo-intellectual, who sneer at traditional middle-class values.

These might include hard work, thrift, a certain moral conservatism (though that is not so closely associated with the middle classes as it used to be) and a suspicion of fashionable trends, whether in art or fashion.”

The very idea of traditional values and conservatism (moral or otherwise) is a ‘Rightish’ one, based as it is on the status quo which favours the ruling social groups – the money, the landed, the religious and the male – so it is unsurprising that those who sneer at them tend to fall on the left. Indeed, the label ‘leftish’ tends to be applied only to those in opposition to such values, regardless of their actual political alignment – feminism, for instance, tends to be seen as ‘leftish’ despite its clear libertarian underpinnings in the right to self-determination and freedom from constraint. There is also a problem here in Stephen’s post hoc appropriation of traditional values as being ‘middle class’ – the fact that he feels Kate to be of middle class stock yet (possibly) in opposition to these values suggests that they are not definitional, but merely coincidental, that is, values often held by the middle classes rather than values which define someone as being part of the middle class.

So when Stephen asks:

“Why would someone born into this class wish to disown it?”

it’s a non-question. The ‘disowning’ suggests a rigid and obvious categorisation which is not the case. Stephen’s proposed answer (“For reasons of snobbery, I suggest.”) is mere mud thrown at people who disagree with his conception of the the correct values to hold. It is possible to see yourself as middle class and passionately disagree with the values Stephen feels are ‘middle class’, just as you can see yourself as working class and share them. The former position isn’t snobbery, any more than the latter is grasping. Snobbery is feeling superior to someone else merely by virtue of some defining feature, such as being comfortable with your perceived class – and writing an article to prove it.


¹ eg. Thompson, W. and Hickey, J. (2005) Society in Focus Boston, MA: Peason

Why CAN’T Gordon say sorry?

Interesting consideration of the nature of apology and of agency today from Stephen Glover:

“One questions whether this is the letter of a normally functioning human being. He [Gordon Brown] could, and should, have written that he was sorry that Ms Dorries had been hurt by the repulsive email sent by a man whom he had chosen to employ. That would have been the kind and honest thing to have said. But such sentiments are not even hinted at. And because the Prime Minister was at pains to disassociate himself from the activities of his feral sidekick, he was unable to bring himself to apologise.”

A number of claims to unpack here: that Gordon Brown could have written to say he was sorry; that he should have done so; that this normative claim is due to the fact that he had chosen to employ the person who caused the suffering; that this would have been the kind thing to do; that this would have been the honest thing to do; that Gordon Brown wanted to distance himself from Damien McBride; that this was the reason that could not bring himself to apologise. Now, one of these is uncontroversial – Brown could have apologised; one probable – that Brown was trying to distance himself from his employee; one is speculative – that he couldn’t apologise because of this desire for distance; the rest are dubious or incorrect.

Let’s distinguish here between two senses of being sorry – sorry for and sorry that.¹ Only one of these two senses is the apology which Stephen expects. I can honestly say I’m sorry that emails were sent, or that offence was caused – I think the whole affair is thoroughly lamentable. However, I can’t say that I’m sorry for sending the emails, or for causing offence, because I am in no way connected to their sending or the offence they engendered. Gordon Brown has said the second sort of sorry, the letter of his which so disappoints Stephen expressed ‘great regret’ not only for this particular bad thing, but for all bad things of the type that ‘affect the reputation of our politics’. Just so you don’t think this is mere vapidity on his part, he backs up his words with a letter tightening up rules on political advisers, doing, in his words, ‘all he can to avoid this happening again’.

This is an expression of sorrow rather than an apology and that this is insufficient for Stephen’s purposes suggests that he is gunning for the first sense of sorry, being sorry for having done something. Now, Gordon didn’t send the emails and Stephen doesn’t suggest he endorsed, condoned, solicited, commissioned, devised or so much as knew about the emails. As a result, he is seemingly expecting Gordon to apologise for something someone else did.² How meaningful would we find such an apology?

Stephen seems to suggest that Gordon is in some way culpable because he employed the person who sent the emails. It’s worth remembering at this point that Damien was breaking the rules which governed his job and doing something that Gordon regrets. It’s one thing to criticise a man for knowingly employing someone who does regrettable things, it’s another to blame him for actions his employee has done on the sly knowingly contravening the guidelines which are in place to prevent it. It’s like blaming him for funding an employee’s drink problem when that demon is exercised only after work hours – it’s true that the funding is enabling the fulfilment of the addiction, but this is neither known nor foreseeable.³

In light of this then, where do we stand on Stephen’s earlier claims? Would an apology from Gordon been the kindest, most honest thing to do, or would it have been false and inappropriate? Is the lack of apology due to Gordon trying to distance himself, or is there actually a genuine distance there? The reason this matters is Stephen’s climax:

“And now? Mr Brown may have a more developed sense of morality than Mr Blair, yet he employed as a trusted lieutenant a man who disseminated scurrilous emails that would have brought a flush of shame to the face of Richard Nixon.

Mr Brown’s character is writ large in that short, disgraceful letter to Nadine Dorries. It is a terrifying thought that he can employ a man like McBride, while continuing to reassure himself that he has a finely developed moral compass.”

This is a distraction. Stephen’s drawing conclusions on a man’s morality from the actions of an underling and a letter he sent not apologising for employing that underling. Meanwhile, the economy, schools, hospitals, transport, two wars, any amount of international development, communities, agriculture, the regions, the environment and any number of other things rage outside. While Stephen is constructing intricate orreries of political figures reputations, the world goes on. The moral character of the Prime Minister is not what should be concerning us – the spin and evasion that reduces accessibility of our elected officials, the struggle for power rather than the debate of ideas, the fact that a government employee considered this a worthwhile use of their time, these should be concerning us. The fact that this has become a morality play only further confirms in the minds of the average individual the fact that politics is completely disconnected from their lives. Even if he were responsible for the emails, the problem would not be Gordon’s character, but the fact that he wasn’t doing what he’s paid to do. The longer we waste our time on this, the more important decisions will pass by unnoticed and the more solvable social problems will be overlooked. Let’s judge people on their actions, but do so on the ones that actually matter.


¹ I’m ignoring the sense of being sorry on behalf of, which would only really apply where the person who did the bad thing is unable to form an apology themselves (we apologise on behalf of children, for example), partly because I doubt Stephen wants Gordon to apologise on Damien’s behalf (I think he’d prefer it if they both apologised) and partly because there’s a fairly large debate to be had on the meaningfulness of an apology for something done by someone who isn’t actually sorry themselves.

² Imagine Gordon took this further, and tried to make amends and ask for forgiveness – would it make sense for Nadine Dorries to offer him forgiveness for Damien’s emails?

³ To Stephen’s claim that this was foreseeable  (“In other words, Mr Brown knew the kind of man he was employing. He was drawn to him. He picked him out.”), there are two obvious rejoinders: that you can legitimately hire someone for their desirable aspects even when these have undesirable flip-sides and that one would expect better from a PR guru than to be caught gossipping in writing.

Fred the Shred’s an easy target, but we should all beware of the nihilists of the Left… itching to reduce this country to anarchy

Here’s a cheery column from Stephen Glover:

“There is an emboldened nihilistic movement bubbling below the surface whose beliefs are profoundly anti-progress, as well as being injurious to the poor in the West and the Third World. In a way they are far worse than the old communist Left, which at least aspired to running an efficient state. This new lot abominates cars and aeroplanes and technology – in short, most of the achievements of the modern world.”

The attack on Sir Goodwin’s Edinburgh property was merely the first skirmish of a bigger war, one that threatens the very heart of our civilisation.

“Just remember that their prescription is not to introduce moderate reforms, but to pull the system apart so that, if they have their way, we will end up eating soya beans, riding about on donkeys and growing clumps of maize in our back gardens.”

The anarchists are coming. Be afraid.

There are a couple of things that we might want to consider before we start barricading our properties to protect ourselves against Swampy’s massed hordes. For one, how are we moving from a single attack on a media hate figure¹ to the overthrow of everything we hold dear?

“Listen to the statement made to Edinburgh’s evening newspaper by those who attacked Sir Fred’s house: ‘We are angry that rich people … are paying themselves a huge amount of money, and are living in luxury, while ordinary people are made unemployed, destitute and homeless. This is a crime. Bank bosses should be jailed.’

Simple souls, no doubt. But also revolutionary ones. And they speak for a growing constituency of anti-capitalists whose analysis of the economic recession – if that is not too grand a word – is fatally encouraged by the Government’s and the media’s jihad against Sir Fred Goodwin and his ilk.”

So, Stephen makes two claims: that this view is revolutionary, and that it speaks for a wider constituency. Well, it’s not that revolutionary, it’s actually quite reactionary in as far as it is singling out a small group of people for special treatment as scapegoats, rather than addressing the causes of the imbalances in the system. It doesn’t overturn anything, it merely adjusts unfavourable outcomes after the fact. Revolutionary would be nationalising the whole banking sector and re-organising it as a collection of mutuals run for the benefit of their members and employees, for example. Retaining the same system with the same people at the top creaming off a little less is not a revolution. With that in mind, how broad a constituency do they speak for? Well, quite a large one – the Mail, among others, thinks it is high time we looked at remuneration.

Does this constituency necessarily overlap with those wanting to overthrow the capitalist system? No, not even Stephen can conclude that it does:

“A single attack on Sir Fred Goodwin’s Edinburgh house hardly signifies the beginning of mob rule”

So why the shoehorning? If you want to talk about the anarchist mob, why not just have a run at the Wombles preparing for the forthcoming G20? How can we justify the fear that the media is turning us anarchist?

“Is this really what the Government, even the BBC, wants? No one doubts that many bankers, Sir Fred among them, have made unforgivable errors. The sensible response is to introduce reforms so that the same thing cannot easily happen again. The anti-capitalist brigade wants to tear down the whole edifice. Alone, they were pretty harmless and peripheral. With ministers and the media acting as their helpmates, and declaring that capitalism has disastrously failed, they could become dangerous.”

Stephen is equivocating here on the idea of the failure of capitalism. Capitalism has failed: it has failed to pull the underclass up, it has failed to to prevent the gap between rich and poor from reaching such unpleasant levels, it has failed to provide stability or security to the middle classes. These aren’t things it was ever aiming to provide, or which, conceptually, it was ever likely to, but from a human point of view it is a system which fails to give us important things. This is not the same as the system failing in the sense that it doesn’t work – it still works better than controlled economy and people are still better off, in some senses at least, than they would be under anarchism or similar systems.² I have yet to find a media source or minister who is proposing an alternative to capitalism (I’m happy to be corrected on this, as ever). While they’re happy to talk about systemic failures, such as the inability to solve poverty, they do not talk about the system failing.

The media and government, rather, seem to be calling for exactly what Stephen is calling for – reforms to make the system a little less abhorrent. His conclusion, on this basis, is completely unjustified:

“Lay off the bankers. Stop exciting the mob. Let’s hear some robust arguments in favour of free trade, capitalism and open markets. They have produced enormous wealth before, and will do so again, while the policies (if they can be so dignified) of the protesters who will be on show in London next week would lead only to anarchy, poverty and chaos.”

This begs the question, because it automatically excludes reforms of banking pay as part of the solution. It excludes discussions of whether free trade does provide enormous wealth, or whether they lead for anarchy, poverty and chaos for some. These discussions are not ‘exciting the mob’, they are the necessary activities of democracy.

Stephen has conjured an image of rabid anarchists attacking the institution of private property³ to conclude that all arguments against the status quo are out of bounds and all critics are as bad as each other. The argument is poor even were the threat not so overstated. If Stephen wants to reduce the threat to bankers, there is no better place to start than looking at his own paper’s coverage of them. From there he can start thinking about how he can modify the capitalist system to be less piratical. Using the damaging of property of a media hate figure as a prop for the entire edifice of expropriation because you don’t want to discuss reform or your own approach to social problems is a much worse solution.


¹ Interestingly, Stephen feels that the BBC is largely to blame for the demonisation of Sir Fred Goodwin (“I freely admit that all newspapers have played their part in turning Fred the Shred into Public Enemy Number One, but the organisation which undoubtedly went further than any other was the publicly funded BBC, which is charged with being neutral and even-handed.”). Now, the Mail provides examples like this: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9; and more throwaway lines as found here: 1, 2, 3, 4; throwing up your hands and saying ‘The big boy hit him harder’ in no way absolves you of the responsibility. This is a common enterprise across the media – the Mail has happily contributed to the construction of Sir Goodwin as a hate figure and the responsibility for people treating him as such lies squarely on their shoulders as much as anyone else.

² For very good libertarian and fraternal reasons, anarcho-syndicalism is still a ‘better’ system if you’re starting from scratch, but given our starting point in a capitalist system, there is no way you could achieve this without mass suffering. ‘Better off’ is relative to where you start, and from where we are, I’ve yet to see a better alternative to some form of capitalism.

³ Using Google Street View – “Incidentally, though there is no evidence that they played a role in this instance, Google’s new on-line street maps will be a marvellous aid for voyeurs, as well as for anyone who might want to burgle or damage your home. They show every house in 20 cities, including Edinburgh, and will be extended to many more. Where on earth is the public benefit?” – which Stephen wants to suppress, in spite, presumably, of robust arguments for free trade and capitalism.

A privacy law would suit Mr Mosley very nicely. Like his father he does not believe in freedom

Not sure where to start with this column from Stephen Glover, so I’ll bow to the obvious: the hypocrisy of a Mail writer attacking a man for not distancing himself enough from his father:

“Members hung on his every word, even if they were slightly discomfited by his endorsement of the far-Right beliefs of his father, the 1930s fascist leader and Nazi sympathiser, Sir Oswald Mosley (although the old man might have overdone it a bit, his son conceded).”

The late baronet Mosley lived a busy life – he served as a Conservative MP, crossed the floor as an independent on the Liberal benches, joined the Labour Party (in whose government he served) formed the New Party, who were corporatist, formed the British Union of Fascists, who were fascist, then, after the war, called for a single European state. He had a lot of beliefs. A lot of them were far-Right, such as:

“We will not tolerate within the State a minority organized against the interests of the State. Jews must either put the interests of Britain before the interests of Jewry or they will be deported from Britain.” (The Times, Monday, Mar 25, 1935; pg. 16; Issue 47021; col D – Fascist Policy)

which sounds not unlike:

“On precedent, even if the British Government pressed for his expulsion – which, of course, it would not, even if he started a bomb-making factory in Southall – the European Court of Human Rights would uphold his right to stay here on the basis that he might face unpleasant consequences if sent home to Ethiopia, which is no bastion of personal freedom.” (The Daily Mail, Wednesday, Feb 25, 2009; Torture is wrong but why, in the name of sanity, should we allow those who hate us to live here?)

They were also against “cheap slave competition from abroad.” (Moseley (1938) ‘Tomorrow We Live’, speech), which isn’t much unlike:

“Even in the boom years, this unprecedented influx put huge pressure on our public services and social cohesion. In this grim recession, the only responsible course for the Government is to shut the floodgates fast.” (The Daily Mail, Tuesday, Feb 17, 2009; The one-way traffic in British jobs)

They had no confidence in democracy, which seems a sensible extension of the Mail‘s lack of confidence in our democrats, they were isolationist, like the Mail‘s opposition to the EU’s open markets and they had strong Christian underpinnings, much like the Mail. It’s not surprising that the Mail‘s position on them was not unfavourable – insert inevitable “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” (The Daily Mail, Monday, Jan 8, 1934; Hurrah for the Blackshirts) jibe here. One wonders whether Stephen is discomforted by his paper’s kinship with the far-Right views of Max Moseley’s father.

Moving beyond the obvious, how does Stephen conclude:

“Max Mosley wants rich and influential men to be able to control the way in which their lives are reported, so that they appear to us not as they really are, but as they want us to imagine them to be. A privacy law would be a charter for the rich and powerful – something that would have, no doubt, appealed to Sir Oswald Mosley. The son, like the father, does not believe in freedom.”

while also holding the belief that:

“I don’t want my e-mails routinely inspected, or my phone calls listened to, by someone sitting in Cheltenham GCHQ, and I am sure neither do you.

I don’t want to live in a country where that is possible. It would not be the country of our parents nor the one our forefathers fought for  –  nor the country that we were told, when we were children, that we were blessed to live in.” (The Daily Mail, Thursday, Oct 16; This will soon be a country more spied upon than Communist East Germany under the Stasi)

Why is it that rich and influential men should be allowed to have their lives pried into, while little people like Stephen’s audience cannot? Why should the Press have the power which Stephen would deny the State? Does Stephen not realise the obvious conflict of interests held by the Press, given its dual role in forming, as well as following, popular opinon? Judging by the following, he doesn’t:

“How very enlightened. Sweep everything under the carpet. Mislead the public. Don’t tell the truth. Pretend that men who are not virtuous are. Doubtless, Mr Mosley would extend this latitude to financial matters so that the secret shenanigans of public figures would go unreported.”

Virtue is a matter of private morality, it is not measured by external objective standards (unlike, for instance, lawfulness and honesty). If the Mail is seeking out the unvirtuous, it will find people who live what they believe to be virtuous lives. As such, its ‘public interest’ is persecutory, and aims at constructing a uniform conception of virtue. That’s not a public interest, but a private one – the homogenisation of private morality along the lines endorsed by the Mail. Whose interest is Stephen concerned for here?

“According to the judge, it is in the public interest for newspapers to report on public figures who indulge in Nazi orgies. But non-Nazi orgies, however degrading to the women involved, however perverted and nasty, can and should be enjoyed in privacy without newspapers having the right to report them.”

Whose standards of perversion (and so normality), degradation,¹ and nastiness are we applying? Moseley clearly thought that free, consenting individuals, harming no one but themselves were not doing anything untoward. The same appears to be true of the people he paid for 34 years for the pleasure. So in whose interest is the Press acting here? In exposing the acts of Moseley to public disdain and ridicule, it does the same for the law-abiding behaviour of a minority, indeed, it does the former through the latter. It is assuming a public interest that coincides with its own interest in rejecting this ‘perverted’ behaviour and uses this to intrude on the private sexual morality of not just Moseley, but any other law-abiding, consensual adults behaving in the same way.

This is not the pursuit of the public interest, but the legislation of private morality. In this way, it is clearly different from other cases that Stephen mentions (the hypocritical moral figure of the adulterous bishop or the cheating sportsman) and clearly different from the case the judge hypothesised about (in which Max Moseley completely failed to reject his father’s beliefs and pretended to be a Nazi – placing him in an odd position relative to his colleagues and clients). Indeed, the Press has a privilege, even on these reduced terms, that Stephen is denying the State – he does not want his private life intruded into even if he is suspected of criminal activity and one would have thought that crime would be the definitional public act. Stephen is already lucky to be able to pry into the lives of others to look for private hypocrisies, to insist on the right to judge private moralities is a step too far.


¹ And notice, here, that given the prositutes in question were regular contractors of Max’s able to choose the services they offered, Stephen is implicitly relying on the false consciousness of the women involed. Here the Press’ pursuit of the public interest extends to them determining private experience.

None of us wants to be kept alive for ever. But we must never give the state the power to finish us off

Great little example of a straw man argument here from our good friend Stephen Glover. Euthanasia, he feels, should not be permitted because it opens the door to the state bumping us off.

“And I don’t believe that many of us want to live in a society in which servants of the state are officially empowered to finish us off.”

There is an obvious answer to this.It is not an objection euthanasia, but the possible configuration of a future euthanising system. The concern can be avoided simply by insisting that only private practitioners – hospices, say – can carry out the treatment. Without really saying why, Stephen probably wouldn’t agree to this either as in places he seems to want a system where assisted suicide is a family matter:

“When my time comes, I would far rather leave all such judgments to those who love me, if there are any around, and to a friendly doctor, than to a practitioner charged with the power to kill me off.”

This, however, doesn’t chime with the next paragraph, in which he expresses concern that the law is not acting on parents who took their son abroad to end his life, so should probably be interpreted as meaning something closer to ‘I’d rather my family had the power to say when the conditions of my living will had been met rather than a doctor with the power of euthanasia’.

The obvious problem with this is that removing the possibility of euthanasia simultaneously removes any power from your family. In the cases we’re looking at, we’re a few steps ahead of the living will that says ‘switch off the machine’, we’re still trying to actively avoid the machine. If your family agree that dying with assistance is preferable to reaching the stage where it’s a matter of machines their views are disregarded as much as yours are. They can’t enforce or interpret your living will. The best they can manage is a too-little-too-late ‘do not resuscitate’ or turning off of ventilators, a decision probably taken on the recommendation of a servant of the state anyway.

The reason that the argument seems a little half-hearted is that it is a little disingenuous. A fairer reflection of Stephen’s thinking is closer to:

“I do believe that life is sacred  –  or infinitely precious if you prefer non-religious language  –  and that we should strive to preserve it for as long as it is worth living.”

Which still isn’t quite right, because ‘as long as it is worth living’ is not a decision he’s leaving to the individual, but to a blanket rule imposed by the state. It also clashes with his earlier fear that “none of us can know what we will feel when we are close to death or be sure that we might not wish to hang on a little longer when we are faced with it.” This is a fear that he won’t be able to choose his moment of death under a system in which he can sign up for euthanasia in advance. He can’t under the present system, which is why people have to go abroad.

It’s that first bit, about sanctity, that seems to underpin the column, from the second sentence onwards (“My suspicion is that an increasing number of sensible and normally moderate people reject the teachings of the Church and most leading politicians on the subject.”). The straw men are a post hoc scrabbling for secular justification. The Church may teach what it likes, but Stephen should explain why everyone, including any that disagree with the idea that their god (or a god) would want them to prolong a life they didn’t appreciate, should be forced to do just that. To avoid the question is a bit weak. To try and paint a picture in which the state ‘kills us off’ because you want to bolster and argument you accept you can’t justify to non-fellow-travellers is irresponsible.

No longer will we need to watch Life On Mars to relive the drab poverty and political bankruptcy of the Seventies

I’ve been avoiding stories on the economy and the budget, for two main reasons. One is that money isn’t really my area of expertise (in so far as I have an area of expertise), but more important is a sense that no one really knows what the correct answer is, so any speculation is fair. Whether the economy sinks or swims as a result of Darling’s budget remains to be seen – it’s not really something we can speculate on with any great deal of accuracy from where we stand at the moment.

Having said that, we should note a couple of things. The first is that Darling probably wouldn’t have done it if he didn’t think it was going to work. The idea that this was a budget designed to paper over the cracks for long enough to get the government re-elected implies that the government’s sole aim is staying power for the sake of being in power. I don’t believe that anyone operates at that level of abstraction. This isn’t Macbeth. And it’s not like you can do anything particularly interesting with the power, it’s only good if you’re using it for something. In fact, you’d probably be freer and better paid by retiring to a board of executives, or becoming an emissary to the Middle East. Given that the popular opinion of the budget is that it stores trouble up for later, Darling either genuinely believes that to be wrong or thinks it’s the lesser of two evils and something we can clear up later.

The second is that Stephen Glover’s comparison with the 70s is not right. It’s arguably not as off with his previous comparison of the present with the Stasi, but he’s certainly beginning to mark himself out as someone whose analogies are faulty. Let’s start with the scene-setting:

“Viewers of the series are invited to believe that we live in a more enlightened and privileged age. The Seventies, as depicted in Life On Mars, were a drab and dingy decade. The police are supposed to have been unreconstructed brutes.

Whether or not the series is right about that – and I suspect that in some ways the police were more effective then than they are now – it is broadly correct about the Seventies.”

There should be no doubt – we do live in a more enlightened and privileged age. We no longer have the Black and White Minstrel Show, it’s easier to convict men of violence towards their wives, homosexuals can marry and the European Human Rights act ensures that the reactionaries can’t take any of that away from us. And, although Glover suspects that the police used to be more effective, suspicion is no longer good enough to convict them of it¹.

“Economically, the country virtually ground to a halt. Britain was widely seen as the sick man of Europe.”

The extent of this sickness isn’t mentioned, but is the point of the comparison. The 70s was the decade of the Three-Day Week, the Winter of Discontent, bodies unburied, rubbish on the streets and Sunny Jim wondering about crises. Grim though the future might well be, we’re not talking that grim. No one is. Even Glover can’t bring himself to say it’ll be that bad. But this is the association he’s drawing on. There is a chasm between then and now though, making the analogy unworkable.

You can tell it’s failing with the very first piece of evidence produced:

“The trades unions, rapacious then, have much less power now, though they still flex their muscles.”

Presumably he means the public sector unions and the RMT occasionally working to rule or carrying out one-day strikes, which isn’t quite the havoc of the 70s.  Union representation is much lower than it was, secondary picketing is now illegal and, having had the 70s and the Miners’ Strike, unions are a lot less militant. ‘Flexing their muscles’ now consists of withholding money to the Labour Party. For the record, a strike isn’t, in fact, merely a flexing of the muscles, it’s the democratic expression of the will of a union’s members in response to perceived unfair treatment by an employer. Such as when they renege on a deal to abide by an independent pay review body. The language Stephen uses paints a false picture, and an unnecessarily gloomy one.

“As in much of the Seventies, we do not expect the economy to grow or the stock market to rise. Unemployment is certain to increase, as it did throughout that decade.”

This quote has the opposite problem – rather than trying to stretch the point it manages to say nothing at all. If the best your analogy can manage is that in both the 70s and now we had unemployment and inflation, all you’ve managed to prove is that both had recessions. The comparison suggests a similarity of scale and accompanying social unrest, which is a bit of a leap.

“Such people [entrepreneurs] are bound to be discouraged by the new high-tax regime towards which we are drifting under Labour, which after 14 years of being ‘new’ is reverting to its old, high-spending self.”

The gap between the richest and the poorest in our society is wider than its ever been and considerably larger than in the 70s. The argument suggests that people will be put off earning money, for fear of having it taxed. Which is dubious, and implies the equally dubious ‘trickle down’ theory which practice has proven to be false². A better way of ensuring that the engines of the economy kept spinning would be to keep business taxes low, while still cadging a little bit more off those who can afford it. Which is exactly what the Chancellor did. And if Stephen believes that those earning in excess of £100,000 are the ‘not-so-rich’, then I don’t want to know how poor most of us are.

“By 2014, Government debt is projected to be 57 per cent of GDP, higher even than it was in 1976 when a stricken Labour Government had to be bailed out by the International Monetary Fund.”

This comparison is slightly misleading, as much of the debt currently held is not debt in the conventional sense but distressed assets which may well turn a profit for the taxpayer. On top of that, the government didn’t look for a loan from the IMF to solve it’s debt problem (that would be silly – a loan, to pay a loan) but due to the precipitous fall in the value of sterling caused by the balance of payments crisis and the high price of oil. Suggesting a link between the two as if the current debt foreshadows another loan from the IMF verges on scaremongering.

“Another depressing parallel with the early Seventies is the absence of strong Tory policies that differentiate the party from Labour.”

Just to finish off, if our impending doom weren’t enough, no one is around to save us. Except politics is very different now than it was in the 70s. The lack of distinguishability between the two parties is a result of the homogenisation around the centre of British politics – Labour have become more like the Tories. The Labour of today, even with their slight retreat from their ‘New’ heights under Blair, are unrecognisable from the party of the 70s. Again the analogy of the 70s suggests a more worrying similarity than actually exists – as evinced by doing a search on the Conservatives’ website for “smaller state”.

An arguments by analogy stands or falls on whether the two things being compared are similar. The present and the 70s are superficially so, in that they both had recessions, but the political and social situations were completely different. Glover goes through his article overlooking that, suggesting by implication that the recessions will have the same paths and same outcomes. The dissimilarities mean he is not entitled to draw that conclusion. I wouldn’t be worrying about burying your relatives yet.


¹ He’s also, very clearly and simply, wrong: upholding the law implies being within it, the fact that the guilty sometimes walk free for lack of evidence instead of being fitted up is a mark of a job done properly.

² The graph covers a period of predominantly low taxes for higher earners, which were ideologically justified on the basis that the best way to make everyone rich was to allow the rich to get very rich. The wealth would trickle down. It hasn’t, as the graph happily shows.