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.

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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.

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Jacko and a sad day for British values…

I’m totally baffled by Amanda Platell’s column today, I can’t work out whether she’s for the rule of law or against it:

“What possessed Jack Straw to grant Jack Tweed (already convicted of a vicious attack on a 16-year-old) another extension on his curfew, just days after being convicted of a second offence of assaulting a taxi driver?

Spending a night at the bedside of his new wife, Jade Goody, Tweed says: ‘I just wish I could be there all the time.’ The irony is, he could have been – if he wasn’t such an unmitigated thug.”

It’s not the most compassionate of positions, but there’s an argument that the Law should be dispassionate and that punishments should be meaningful, so it seems fair enough. If the Law says Tweed’s punishment is a curfew, Amanda’s question of why this isn’t being applied is a reasonable one. However:

“The scenes of hysteria as Michael Jackson announced his farewell tour in London were as bizarre as they were troubling. Why on earth is a man who admits to having slept with young boys in his bed being welcomed to Britain at all?”

There are a few reasons why a non-EU national would be refused entry to the UK, a list of which can be found here. The mere sharing of beds with boys is not on the list. Odd and questionable though this behaviour most certainly is, it’s not actually a crime – it might be a reason for us to be wary of letting our youngest sleep over at Michael’s, but it’s not enough to keep Michael out of the country¹. However, Amanda can do better:

“Jackson may have been cleared on charges of child molestation, but the details that emerged at his trial four years ago paint a picture of a deeply perverted man. One whole section of evidence was devoted to the pornography he kept at Neverland, inluding two books featuring pictures of naked young boys and DVDs called Barely Legal.”

This isn’t much better, as she lets slip that Jackson was cleared of molestation charges, but it’s a decent attempt, as it implies that this exoneration was unsound. There are a couple of things to note about this. The first is that her basis for this opinion is his possession of legal pornography (the title should have given her a clue) and two legal books², which doesn’t make for a particularly compelling case. More worrying though is her implication that she, as a reader of the foreign press coverage of a court case, is in a better position to judge the innocence or guilt of a defendant, overturning as it does the idea of the fair trial. Taken to its logical conclusion, this would dispense with trials completely, allowing instead the Press to fit the more lurid bits of evidence into whatever narrative they felt was most compelling with media pundits working out guilt and innocence along the way. This is a hellish vision of utopia. If being cleared in open court isn’t enough for you to be considered innocent, what chance does civil society have? How acrid would our relations become if suspicion were considered guilt?³

Now I know that my desire for consistency across mini-articles on the same page of the same newspaper by the same author is almost as unfair as it is anal, but I’ll ask this anyway: how can Amanda complain with one breath that the Law is being stretched in one place, while attempting to sideline it completely with another? I imagine she thinks she’s being consistent as the two subjects of her disapprobation are, in her mind, guilty and all she’s seeking is to see that they’re punished. What she’s missing is that while Tweed is not being punished as the Law says he should be, Jackson is. Until her opinion is accepted as Law, this distinction will continue to make a fool of her.

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¹ Actual paedophilia would be as it’s a crime carrying a sentence of more than 12 months so a reason for excluding entry, although it’s worth noting here that the crime exclusion appears in the section looking at discretionary refusals (see here for a handy explanation), so Jackson could still be let in even then.

² My source for this is the BBC’s article on the evidence bit of the trial. The books listed there are ‘Boys Will Be Boys!’, which is available on Amazon, and ‘The Boy: A Photographic Essay’, which is also available on Amazon, and images from which are available here. I admit I haven’t read either of these, so Amanda may well be in a better position to judge this than me, but on the basis of this evidence, casting these as paedophilia pornography is not unlike casting Titian’s ‘Cupid With The Wheel Of Fortune‘ as the same. [Edit – the Titian link doesn’t work, try this]

³ Probably about this acrid: “Don’t forget, the only reason he needs the money in the first place is to pay back the massive loans he incurred thanks to years of monstrous extravagance. Bailing out greedy and incompetent bankers was bad enough. Bailing out Jacko is just asburd.” Here Amanda is against someone trying to earn themselves out of debt by selling their services freely on the open market, merely because she would not, hereself, buy their services. Jackson’s behaviour sounds like someone taking responsiblity for their actions, which, in other areas of people’s lives Amanda is dead keen on: “It’s bad enough we have to pay for their gastric bands, diet-induced diabetes and stomach stapling; now we learn that thousands of obese people are on benefits because they’re too fat to work. If they want to be fat, that’s their choice. But why should the rest of us pay for their Krispy Kreme cravings?” The clash between these two is striking. But I digress.

Sorry, why should the NHS treat people for being fat?

Rather noxious little piece today by Amanda Platell. To summarise briefly, we shouldn’t waste money treating fat people, because they deserve their fatness.

“Ah, say the fatties, but you can’t deny us medical treatment, any more than you can refuse to treat an alcoholic who needs liver surgery, or a smoker who develops lung cancer. I agree that these, too, are the result of individuals choosing an unhealthy lifestyle.

But the crucial difference is that you cannot cure cancer by stopping smoking, nor replace a liver by becoming teetotal. The vast majority of the chronically overweight, by contrast, could ‘cure’ themselves simply by following a healthier lifestyle.

Quite simply, with a cash-strapped NHS that can’t even afford to treat the dying, we must stop indulging the self-indulgent.”

And, to summarise again, what the column misses is the fact that the similarity between the clinically obese and the alcoholically is often precisely that they didn’t choose their unhealthy lifestyle. This is something Amanda edges round the side of in her anecdote about her doctor friend and the patients completely unable to follow a healthier lifestyle, but then totally misses:

“I have a friend who runs a weight-loss clinic at a London GP’s surgery, and she tells me that at times, it’s the most soul-destroying job. ‘I have patients who come in and swear blind that they eat a healthy diet, and can’t understand why they’ve been piling on the pounds,’ she says.”

When said doctor asked them to list what they were eating, the patients reported “fizzy drinks, fried food, snacks throughout the day”. Amanda concludes from this that they were lying when they said they were eating a healthy diet. Not they were telling the truth, but weren’t aware that the junk food was bad for them, which would seem to be the more obvious conclusion to draw from the guileless admition that they were eating unhealthy food after initially saying that they weren’t. Presumably Amanda is keen to avoid  the trap she subscribes to ‘liberals’:

“I laugh outright when I hear the oh-so liberal lament that the obesity crisis is due to the gap between the rich and the poor. The poor, we’re told, eat junk food because it’s all they can afford. The rich have the ‘luxury’ of a healthier diet.

Set aside, for one moment, the monstrously patronising premise contained within this theory, which implies poor people are too stupid to take care of themselves.”

This is a straw man¹. We can happily accept that the patients above are not stupid while still seeing them as ill-informed. Which is unsurprising, when papers like the Mail actively agitate against health education schemes as redolent of nannyism. Amanda may well be able to take care of herself, watching ‘Jamie’s Ministry of Food’ and having been brought up in an Enyd Blyton novel:

“We swam, ran, climbed trees, played football. We ate healthily and lived healthily.”

but for those living on council estates, situated in the middle of food deserts, attending schools whose playing fields have long since been sold off, whose benefits do not stretch to free access to the local swimming pool and free lessons to enable them to use it, whose habit of processed food makes healthier options taste bland, things are a lot harder. It’s fine for Amanda to claim that the gap between rich and poor doesn’t cause obesity, but she’ll have to explain the very solid link between poverty and obesity (here’s the Office of National Statistic’s most recent dataset) by some other means. The idea that it’s self indulgence alone is less convincing than the more nuanced view that it’s to do with the lack of ready access to healthy food, a cost disencentive to buying healthier, less processed food, a lack of access to sporting and recreational facilities, a lack of education about healthy foods, the generational compounding of the above, co-incidence of contributary factors like alcohol consumption and smoking, a lack of employment and incentive to self-development, and a lack of social support. Especially since it conveniently ends up concluding that the best course of action is one that serves the interests not of the poor and obese, but of Amanda Platell and her middle class friends:

“In principle, I’m against any form of NHS rationing. The great joy of the health service is that it is free at the point of use, regardless of the medical condition that necessitates it. But obesity isn’t an illness. It’s a self-induced condition.”

Frankly, if you’re against any form of NHS rationing then you’re a fool – there are, and always will be, treatments whose benefits are so marginal that they are not worth the expense. Obesity treatments do not fall into this category – they give a chance to people society have failed. It’s easy to call for things to be taken away from people we don’t know, and don’t spend time with. It’s easy to say:

“The fact is, the current politically correct non-judgmental policy is not only failing to solve Britain’s obesity crisis, it is actually fuelling it. What’s needed instead is some tough love.”

when you don’t feel any love for the people in question. That’s self-indulgence; having someone else take the hit so you don’t have to. Only these people will be paying with their lives. This is repugnant.

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¹ While we’re talking about straw men: “Consider, instead, a simple truth: it is no coincidence that the poorest nations on Earth do not suffer from an obesity crisis – only the rich ones.” Which must be a joke inserted by a mischevious sub-editor.

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.

Welcome to Britain, land of the rising scum…. We’ve cornered the market on welfare layabouts, drug addicts and feral gangs

Another one I’m not going to spend too much time on, because it says everything it needs to. No point, no arguments, and no conclusion. Just overtones of misplaced superiority, self-pity and nihilistic defeatism.

“Then again, they could just have been scum.

You know what? I’ve just thought about it again. I’m going with scum. Sorry, but there’s no other word for it.”

The word he’s looking for is ‘people’.

For years he made fun of the absurd, gold-plated public sector jobs in the Guardian. As unemployment in the REAL world heads for 3m, Littlejohn’s patience runs out

Rather unimaginative column today from Richard Littlejohn, in that it’s clearly (another) well rehearsed argument¹, but also in the sense that it rests on the premise that if Richard can’t think of a reason for something, that thing must be useless.

“But you have to ask why the NHS needs equalities and human rights ‘champions’.”

Well, off the top of my head: because we’d like everyone to have access to treatment from, and employment within, the NHS. Not only is that demanded by justice, but in the long-run will ensure we’re all healthier.

“Barnet Council, in North London, is desperately seeking a Head of Internal Audit and Ethical Governance, on £80,000 a year, plus the usual perks. How on earth have they managed without one all these years?”

As one of the comments on this column points out – it’s actually a very good question². Without auditors, who would keep a track on spending? If Barnet have genuinely been operating without one, that’s a bad thing.

He even manages to tacitly acknowledge the usefulness of one group in his rogues’ gallery, while busily reaching the opposite conclusion

“There was the great Aids scare, when no self-respecting council could bear to be without an army of HIV prevention workers. At one stage, I worked out there were more people in Britain earning a good living from Aids than were actually dying from it.”

Somehow here the lack of deaths from Aids is proof that the prevention workers weren’t necessary, not that they were a good investment that reaped results – obviously they couldn’t have been, because they were local government employees. This cynicism is circular – the job must be useless, because it was created within the public sector, and the fact that it is useless confirms that jobs created by the public sector are useless. This argument reaches its fulfillment somewhat unexpectedly in:

“Local government, in particular, is increasingly a conspiracy against the paying public, extracting ever more taxes in exchange for an ever-worsening level of provision. They’re more interested in dreaming up exciting new rules, fines and punishments and finding elaborate excuses for not doing what we pay them for  –  such as emptying the dustbins once a week.”

If we were putting together an argument, logically building up from our premises and the evidence we had, and we reached that conclusion, it would be safe to say that we’d got something wrong. What it claims is no less than that public bodies, across the nation, are actively and deliberately deciding that rather than achieve the aims of the democratic bodies from which their legitimacy stems, they will make life harder for people for no better reason than that they don’t like doing what they were originally appointed to do. On the balance of probabilities, it’s not a conclusion that does too well.

The reason conclusion is ridiculous is that the premises don’t stand up, entirely due to Littlejohn’s imaginative failings – local government is necessarily a Utopian exercise and his view of the improved society is very different from that of the person appointing lesbian defence instructors. The latter’s involves vulnerable members of the community being protected so they can play a full role in it; Richard can’t imagine that as a reason, even as he motivates his argument on the vulnerability of the those in the ‘competitive’ economy. The idea that there might be a good basis for these posts is never considered, entirely because he can’t see that there are inequities to resolve. His utopia doesn’t encompass the marginalised, the vision of a better world is this one but with more security and money for the lower middle-classes. The posts don’t benefit him, so he can’t imagine that they are beneficial.

This limited view of the world will ensure that he will always feel that people are misspending his money – as times change, the marginalised change, and so do the drains on taxes for him to object to. I hope for his sake that his patience hasn’t really run out, because there’ll be a lot more to come.

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¹ “My columns and TV shows have featured regular Nice Work If You Can Get It sections, diligently spotlighting the ingenious and often hilarious jobs invented by councils and quangos to expand their empires and devour our taxes.”

² Its worth clarifying that the role of internal audit is to help management identify and manage its risks across all parts of the organisation. I am sure you will agree, especially given the global financial crisis, that helping to create a culture of risk awareness and ensure a professional approach to the management of the many risks facing any given organisation (not just local authorities), is in fact a very worthwhile investment.” – Phil Gray, Communications Director, Institute of Internal Auditors.

As £170,000 a year is spent on an Afghan single mother… A story that sums up the howling insanity of modern Britain

Just so we’re under no illusions, Richard Littlejohn has nothing but respect for people seeking asylum

“Let me make it clear, I don’t blame anyone for coming here to make a better life.”

it’s just that

“we get more than our fair share”

You see, it’s about fairness.Why should

“those in secure employment [who] are pulling in their horns in the face of soaring food and fuel prices and the mounting burden of taxation”

watch while the government spends their money on asylum seekers who

“would clearly be happier in a country with which they were more culturally aligned”?

Where do we start? Well, here’s the definition of ‘refugee’ (a word Littlejohn studiously avoids, in favour of ‘asylum seeker’, a phrase which implies the prefix ‘bogus’ by long association):

“owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

[Source: UNHCR, Convention relating to the status of refugees, 1951 modified in 1966]

And, just for completeness, here’s a table with the number of refugees given asylum by the UK in 2007, set against the number refused by the UK and the number accepted by other selected nations.

Granted Asylum 3,800
Granted Exceptional Leave to Remain 2,335
Refused Asylum 16,755
Total refugees in UK 299,700
Total refugees in Pakistan 2,033,100
Total refugees in Tanzania 435,600
Total refugees in Chad 294,000
Total refugees in Iran 963,546
Total refugees in Ecuador 264,907

[Sources: above line, Home Office, below UNHCR]

I think that probably covers us – what we’re actually talking about is offering sanctuary for people who are being persecuted, we have an ‘open door’ policy which refuses admittance to around 73% of those who ask to come in and, as a result, end up with less than as sixth as many refugees as Pakistan (including considerably less Afghanis). This is a matter of human decency towards the world’s worst off, fair shares should not come into the discussion – but since he’s brought it up: we don’t allow in as many refugees as we could, our burden is a lot lighter relative to the size of our economy than it is for many countries and the real question should be ‘shouldn’t others be doing more’ and not ‘can we get away with doing less because that would be cheaper’.

But then, Littlejohn isn’t really interested in fairness. If he were, that question above would have been quick on his lips – he could have had a pop at the French (151,789 according to the UNHCR figures) and hailed a plucky British second place in the EU humanitarian admissions stakes. I doubt he would have suggested more money to help Chad, but maybe we’d be lucky. Instead, the ‘fair share’ is forgotten as soon as it’s mentioned.

He’s also not actually that interested in the government misspending our money as such – the headline is a world away from ‘Housing allowance blunder costs rate-payers 170k – give us more oversight of spending by bureaucrats’.  If this were the issue, the column would not hinge on an anecdote about a single council interpreting a regulation in a way he himself does not understand.¹ This is a localised error, not an example of systemic misspending. As such, it doesn’t serve to introduce government misspending as a theme. Which is just as well, since instead of picking up that theme, he immediately goes off on a tangent about immigration.

This tangent is introduced quite well, suggesting that, in fact, it isn’t a tangent at all. We have an immigrant, clearly doing better than the average Briton, who is completely unrepentant. We get the ‘like winning the lottery’ quote three times, just in case we missed it – these people are laughing at us. The focus shifts immediately from the council and onto the accidental recipient of their bounty. That this immigrant should be an Afghan, who are all here under false pretences (the Taleban of 2000 and the subsequent war are forgotten while Littlejohn remembers a criminal act eight years ago²) and only leave their mountain paradise because they fancy a council house from which to plot their latest international terrorist atrocity, only makes things worse. Meanwhile, you and I can’t get houses, because

“Mass immigration is one of the main reasons we have a housing crisis”

(Not the Tory sell off of council stock or any subsequent government schemes to promote take-up by tenants, nor demographic shifts towards one-person houses. Just in case you were wondering.) It’s immigration that is the problem – that we should be spending any money at all on refugees is a waste when all they do is sap our resources.

When the  well rehearsed argument about government spending does arrive, it’s to drive home this central point – immigrants per se are just another example of government mispending, and one we can’t afford at this difficult time.

To compare the care of those fleeing death and persecution with

“pulling in [our] horns in the face of soaring food and fuel prices and the mounting burden of taxation”

would be bean-counting of the most despicable kind were the motivation for it not so painfully obvious. The hijackers, the terrorists planning atrocities, the spoof game show with its wearying predictions of people outstaying their welcome, the fatherly concern about ‘cultural alignment’: dressing it up with the faint understanding of “I don’t blame anyone for coming here to make a better life” doesn’t wash. This is odious. The only thing worse than the fact that propaganda like this can find a publisher in this day and age is that it can find an audience. If we really are “all going to hell in a handcart”, columns like this are what’s paving the way.

¹ He’s not the only one. The Local Housing Allowance (LHA), as described here, does not, to me at least, appear to have a weakness for paying above market rents built in. My best guess is that the Broad Rental Market Areas do strange things when you’re looking at houses for 7 in West London. However, since the BRMA offers an upper limit to the allowance, not a full entitlement, something has clearly gone wrong somewhere in the application.

² Note that Littlejohn also fails to question whether they might have committed the hijacking in 2000 because they were desperate to leave the land of their birth for one “with which they were more culturally aligned”, probably because he means this in the apartheid sense of the phrase, rather than the self-determining one.