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

At last! A judge speaks up for British laws but when will we wake up to the REAL folly of human rights?

An interesting example of how a series of assertions do not equal an argument, from Melanie Philips:

“Lord Hoffmann, the second most senior Law Lord, has questioned the court’s constitutional legitimacy, ridiculed its judgments and said it should get its nose out of our national affairs.

Given the fact that human rights law has effectively become a secular religion for the higher judiciary, this is what you might call a flying wig moment.”

The moment in question is this lecture to the Judicial Studies Board, which is a good and an interesting read. To nutshell it, Lord Hoffmann has no problem with the concept of universal human rights, but feels that their interpretation and application should be a national matter. He fears that the unelected European Court of Human Rights is appropriating political power, after the fashion of the American courts, something it is ill-placed to do given its lack of understanding of the British context in which laws are applied and its inconsistency in application. Or, as Melanie puts it:

“For this country has seen its laws and values turned inside out because of the obeisance paid to the rulings of the European human rights court.

In some cases, these have unilaterally challenged moral norms without public opinion even being consulted, and have undermined concepts such as family life, truth, social order, citizenship and law itself.”

It is very difficult to know which specific laws and values Melanie is referring to, and so how she thinks the European Court has undermined them. It would be interesting, taking just the example of the undermining of family life, to see examples, as the Court is specifically set up to defend, among other things parental rights and the respect for private life, family life, the home and correspondence. If it is undermining the concept of family life, it is doing very badly. I would suspect, given Melanie’s feelings on the subject, she is thinking here of things like the defence of civil partnerships and of adoption by, and IVF for, same-sex couples. If this suspicion is correct, I think we would disagree – here the right to a family has been extended from its conventional limits to others who previously fell outside of it; this isn’t an undermining, but a confirmation.

Moving on from these vague assertions, Melanie says:

“But the issue is much deeper than how the European judges have behaved. The real problem lies with human rights law itself.

The liberties of this country traditionally rested on the fact that rights were not codified but grew out of English common law. As a result, everything was permitted unless it was expressly prohibited.

Once codified into statute law, however, rights became dependent on what the courts said they were. So, far from expanding our liberties human rights law has diminished them.”

Which is a specific assertion, but again one that appears implausible given that our initial objection to the Court was its application of universal liberties without regard to local context. When a petitioner asks the Court to rule on whether their national law is depriving them of their human rights, and are successful, their liberties have been extended – liberties that had been denied them by their local legal system and which, through the compound interest of case law, would have meant denial for future generations, not just in identical cases but also in vaguely comparable ones. The very point of the Court is to look at things which have been expressly prohibited and extend liberties by expressly permitting them.

In addition to this, the idea that you could somehow lose rights by writing them down is an odd one. What is codified in the Human Rights Act (1998), and the principles which the Court is enforcing, are essentially a set of benchmarks, standards which laws must not fall beneath. The situation with regards courts defining rights is the same as it ever was because courts were, and still are, the arbiters of what behaviour is in correspondence with the law. The difference now is that we have an appeal against that law and its enforcement. Essentially, we all now have the liberty to question the justice of laws and their enforcement through the appeal to an outside observer. This is an exponential expansion of liberty. In the face of this, Hoffman’s objection is a somewhat weak one – the very point of a universal principle is that it ignores local context; if your trials deny human rights, they deny human rights, regardless of whether the local populous think they’re fine or historically they’ve always been that way.

Melanie is right to highlight Lord Bingham’s thoughts in this area:

“Lord Bingham, the former senior Law Lord, actually declared that the Human Rights Convention existed to protect vulnerable minorities against the majority. So majority opinion, it seemed, was essentially illegitimate and the judiciary would use human rights law to do it down.”

I don’t think I can improve on Lord Bingham himself in providing a riposte to this argument:

“It is, however, plain that the robust and independent-minded member of Parliament is rarely able to make an effective impact when faced by a determined government. Governments for their part are understandably anxious to retain the support of the electorate and accordingly concentrate on measures which will earn the gratitude of a majority of the voters. Thus Parliamentary opinion is likely to reflect the opinion of the majority and show less concern for the interests of minorities. It is accordingly possible, looking back over our history, to identify a number of groups who have been either unpopular or disregarded and whose rights and freedoms have as a result been of little or no Parliamentary interest: Jews, Roman Catholics, dissenters; vagrants, vagabonds, beggars, gypsies; married women; children; prisoners; mental patients and the disabled; immigrants of various kinds, asylum seekers, aliens; homosexuals; strikers; single mothers; paedophiles. All of these have had occasion at some time or another to feel that the defence of their rights by a sovereign Parliament was something short of whole-hearted.”

The problem Lord Bingham highlights is not the illegitimacy of majority opinion, but the fact that, where it is illegitimate, it is very difficult to overturn. The judiciary’s job is to ensure equality under the Law for everyone who comes before it – at some point that has to mean rejecting unequal laws. Or, as Melanie puts it:

“As a result, it has been used as a judicial battering ram by those determined to up-end this country’s core values. The police and even the security service have been paralysed by the fear of damaging the rights of one ‘grievance group’ or another.

Christians have come under the human rights cosh for expressing a preference for heterosexual couples to adopt children.

Most egregiously of all, human rights law reduced asylum and immigration policy to chaos and destroyed this country’s control over its own borders.

This was the result of the uniquely zealous way in which English judges interpreted Strasbourg’s rulings against torture, making it impossible to deport suspected terrorists to any country suspected of abusing human rights.”

I was not previously aware that condoning torture had been a core British value, that receiving public funding to discriminate against a minority was a core British value or that having the security services and police target and isolate specific communities was a core British value. That these are core values and, if so, that they are defensible one is something I will need to be persuaded of, which Melanie does not attempt. Notice she also doesn’t here invoke her earlier complaint about liberties being lost through codification – although in a real sense liberties have been lost, they were liberties to infringe the liberties of others, which is not a liberty that’s readily justifiable. I am not sure what the Act or the Court has done wrong here, and do not see the argument made. So when Melanie concludes:

“To some of us, of course, that is precisely why we should leave the EU, in order to restore our powers of self-government and democracy as expressed through our own laws.”

I cannot see why she does so. She appears to be yearning for the days when the law was arbitrary and political, merely because the application of external benchmarks has prevented the persecution and discrimination of groups she doesn’t like. Which is exactly the sort of diminishing of liberty she protested about the Court making.

Lock up your pies – here comes Sir Liam Donaldson

Another genuinely baffling piece, here from Keith Waterhouse:

“The good news is that Gordon has turned his stubbly thumbs down on a proposal by his chief medical adviser, Sir Liam Donaldson, to set a stiff new minimum price on alcohol.

Apparently, the alternative is that we are turning ourselves into a nation of drunks with sots on every street corner reeling about and yelling: ‘Hey, Jimmy, is it me you’re looking at?'”

Now, the Chief Medical Officer’s report is always a good read, as you would expect from the nation’s appointed medical expert. Reports going back to 1996 can be found here, with the current one being here (the bit relevant to Keith Waterhouse’s article starting on page 17 ). The case against ‘passive drinking’ is well put – Dr Donaldson notes the strong negative relationship between the cost of alcohol and its consumption, the differential impact of price increases on the consumption of light and heavy drinkers, the cost to society of drinking and a recent study by Sheffield University researchers into the likely effects of price changes. The conclusion is one that seems obvious – imposing an artificial floor on prices will have a large effect on those drinking cheap alcohol without adversely affecting moderate drinkers of pricey stuff. To take an example from Dr Donaldson’s report, the price of wine would rise to a minimum of around £4.50 a bottle, while a large bottle of cider would rise to £5.50. Readers of Waterhouse’s column, refined souls that they are, are unlikely to lose much on the deal. Meanwhile, ‘Binge Britain’ (eg.) is forced to behave a little more responsibly, not by having their rights or freedom’s in any way eroded, but through the regulation of the market (which we’re generally all for). Indeed, the position is identical in structure to Melanie Phillip’s planned re-regulation of drinking times, in as far as it hopes to give drinker’s less opportunity to indulge without taking their right to drink if they choose away from them, but actually with slightly less inconvenience to your average responsible drinker.

So what’s not to like? Well, this:

“‘Sir Liam Donaldson was self-satisfied to the point of complacency. ‘Tobacco puts nails in the coffins of 120,000 people a year in this country. Acting on second-hand smoke would put a further nail in that coffin.’

I have noticed that the more graphic the statistics, the less reliable they are likely to be. The National Guesswork Authority has no record of 120,000 coffin nails a year. Like all projected figures, they are better at guessing the future than recalling the past.”

Presumably, the point here is that we can’t trust Sir Liam this time when he says that acting on drink would be helpful because he made up his figures on smoking-related deaths. I can put Keith’s mind at rest here, the figure of 120,ooo deaths comes from an independent report from 1998, Sir Kenneth Calman was CMO at the time. Second-hand smoke is happily acknowledged by no less a Mail-friendly source than Cancer Research UK as a bone fide carcinogen. No ‘National Guesswork Authority’ is necessary – we know something causes harm, we know that harm causes deaths, we can reason that removing the something will avoid the harm and save lives.

This radical thinking seems to have passed Waterhouse by – he gives no consideration to the harm alcohol causes, just makes jibes at the Cheif Medical Officer:

“In case you imagine these were simply the ravings of a health fanatic – which, of course, they are – perhaps I should remind you that on such issues Sir Liam has form.”

Of course Sir Liam has form. He’s the guardian of the nation’s health. It’s his job. That’s why he stopped Keith from smoking in enclosed public spaces – it was harming people’s health. It’s why he’s seeking to find a way of stopping Britain from binging, as the Mail so often has it – that is also harming people’s health. You might disagree with his method, but how Keith manages to disagee with the motivation is beyond me.

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.


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.

Britain’s a world-leader in sharia banking – but we haven’t grasped the sinister and dangerous implications

Right, just a quickie, because this is fast becoming a blog about Melanie Philips, but my attention was drawn to this and it seemed a little, erm, questionable.

The $18billion (£12bn) in assets of Britain’s Islamic banks are said to dwarf those of Muslim states such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey and Egypt. And there are also 55 colleges and professional institutions offering education in Islamic finance in Britain – more than anywhere else in the world.”

Just to start with, having more money invested in sharia compliant banks than Bangladesh manages is not what I’d call impressive, or threatening. While being a Muslim nation, Bangladesh is also very, very poor. I haven’t the time to check what the status of sharia compliant banking is in, say, Egypt, but I’m guessing you don’t know how popular/legally accepted it is either. All we have is a list of countries, we know nothing about their circumstances. Before we know how impressive the £12 billion is, let’s not panic.

What they refuse to acknowledge is the real price that is to be paid for this. They don’t understand that the spread of sharia banking in Britain and America is a significant part of the attempt to Islamise Britain and America. Acceptance of sharia finance furthers the Islamist objective of gradually legitimising Islamic sharia law more generally in the west.”

I vaguely remember something similar reminding me of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – who has this nefarious scheme to Islamise the West? A few terrorist groups do not an international conspiracy of Masons and bankers make. And surely the legitimisation of sharia banking only helps legitimise sharia banking, not the whole system of sharia. I can approve of a tidy return on my capital without also agreeing that apostates can be stoned.

The point which is being missed is that all who use it must conform to the dictates of sharia law. Sharia financial institutions may not be making this clear now – they don’t want to frighten people away – but at some point that IOU of sharia-compliance will be called in. This is how sharia-compliance will be spread to both the Muslim and non-Muslim population.”

While there is still capital available for lending in a competitive banking system, any company whose sharia compliant loan is called in will find one elsewhere. The price of pork is unlikely to fall on the basis of lending blackmail anytime soon.

Any Western institution that endorses sharia-compliant products therefore effectively endorses the extremist ideology behind it of conquering the west for Islam, whether it knows it or not.”

No, again, you endorse the product you’ve bought into, not the principles behind it. In exactly the same way, worshipers of the Church of England do not, merely by virtue of weekly donations, endorse the arms companies the Church invests in. You are still entirely free to oppose them or to find alternative places of worship run along similar, but less offensive, lines.

The most important point to grasp is that Islam recognises no authority superior to sharia. Sharia banks will therefore not recognise the superior authority of the law of the land. When trillions of pounds and dollars are locked into them, who will argue with them?”

A redundant point – the Law still recognises no law higher than the Law.

But charity in Islam is more like solidarity. So some of this money donated to Islamic charities may well find its way to organisations promoting jihad and supporting suicide bombing including Hamas, Hezbollah, the families of Palestinian suicide bombers and Islamist madrassas in places like Pakistan.”

See earlier point about the Law – particularly in this case the laws on money laundering and funding of proscribed groups – and watch them try.

Only certain Islamic authorities are entitled to issue the religious rulings or fatwas that can recognize investments as sharia-compliant. But the people and institutions making the decisions about where this money is sent are themselves often highly questionable.”

Indeed they are, which counsels caution on which product you invest in/borrow from, but doesn’t demolish the principle of sharia banking as such. In the same way, the fact that some banks have been very badly run does not mean you should avoid usury.

What has to be understood is that sharia finance is simply a modern jihadi strategy to help Islamise Britain’s institutions and society. It was devised in the mid-20th century by the ideologues who promoted the radical Islamism that threatens us today.”

And here’s the rub – how, exactly, does the banking ‘Islamise’? What would ‘Islamise’ even mean in practice? The fact the local mosque holds my mortgage does not make me any more likely to worship Allah. It wouldn’t make me any more likely to subscribe to any Islamic principle. So long as there are non-Islamic banks I can seek a remortgage from, it is never possible that they can. I still find their fruitier beliefs repugnant and continue to resist their enforcement through the democratic process. The law is still the law and will still be upheld. Nothing in this article offers any reason to believe otherwise. It’s just paranoia.

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.

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.


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.

Beware this Saudi deal to help bail out Britain. It comes with a devastating IOU

In some ways, Melanie Phillip’s column today is quite surprising. It is surprising how many times we must relive global conspiracies to enslave us all: the Elders of Zion were fictional, the Yellow wasn’t a Peril, the Illuminati and the Masons had their eyes set on nothing higher than getting decent tee-times at the country club. Every messianic theory of global infiltration and control by a minority has been proved wrong. And so, to give away the ending, is this fear that the Saudis are coming.

“No, this loan comes with a devastating IOU — nothing less than a big slice of control over Britain and the West by a regime at the heart of the attempt to bring about the Islamisation of the free world.”

Right. Not content with unaffiliated extremists killing a few thousand people in terrorist acts, the Saudis and the wider conspiracy of Islamic believers are trying to buy the UK. At which point, they’ll Islamise it, Changing Rooms style.

This fundamentally misunderstands both the request for investment in the IMF which prompted this fear, and the concept of investment itself. The International Monetary Fund is an international lending body which lends to countries in financial trouble in return for reforms which it believes will prevent the trouble reoccurring. There is a tendency for these reforms to be perceived as more beneficial to the Western backers of the IMF than they are to those  countries receiving the money, making it something of a controversial body. With much of their money tied up at home, traditional funders of the IMF are facing difficulties when the body is confronted by the possibility of several large countries failing at once. Since someone like Hungary collapsing into bankruptcy would cause further damage to the IMF’s usual backers, Gordon Brown went eastward to see if he could find new funding to keep the Fund, and its beneficiaries, solvent. Understandably, putting more money into a body should mean more influence, which Brown took as an opportunity to move the IMF from its controversial past by encouraging new thinking from Brazil, China, India, Saudi Arabia and other potential backers.

If the call is heeded, this should mean a reduction in conditions attached to loans like ‘privatise all state-owned utilities’, ‘remove all import tariffs’ and ‘allow international ownership of your banking sector’. It almost certainly won’t lead to conditions like ‘stone adulterers’ or ‘make women wear veils’. As conditions, those won’t improve the ability of borrowers to repay their loans or avoid requiring them in the future, so aren’t relevant to the IMF’s aims. Were any strings liked to cultural dilution attached to loans, they would most likely be rejected and the system would collapse – while countries could accept bitter medicine which might make them better, no one is going to take something which is just bitter and indebting.

Even if Brown hadn’t been talking about the IMF, but had just been making a direct call to invest more widely in the British economy, as the reference to Manchester City implies, this wouldn’t lead to ‘Islamisation’ but merely to wider ownership and investment by Islamic-owned companies and governments. The needs of the British company wouldn’t change: they would still need to operate at a profit, obey equal opportunities and anti-discrimination laws and justify their actions to markets and existing shareholders. The most influence they could exert on the cultural life of the nation would be through proselytising their workforce, which would be of limited impact.

We could carry on with this level of detail for Phillips’ other examples of creeping and creepy Islamic influence, but would be missing the point. How menacing we find the spectre of an Islamic conspiracy considering the squabbling diversity of the faith and the social and demographic challenges of its heartland is debatable. However, a minimum it would require to be worth worrying about would be a way of achieving its aims. Phillips doesn’t offer this. All we have is an illustration of what things look like through a prism of paranoid fear: the mere fact of funding for cultural studies centres at universities is evidence that something dodgy must be going on; Saudi threats to stop co-operating on intelligence if they were embarrassed in the British courts is proof they want Britons dead; the development of Islamic banking is a deliberate scheme to somehow undermine the current system of non-Islamic banking. How these threats advance ‘Islamisation’ is undefined. They are menacing purely because their source is menacing.

The fear is vague. I don’t think Phillips herself could say why IMF funding is frightening, what control over British lives she thinks it will mean. She just knows that the Saudis are bad, thus what they do must have bad results.

“I fear the British Prime Minister is in danger of selling this country to those who are intent upon undermining our most treasured freedoms.”

I think she can probably relax. Stopping to think about why she is scared would be enough to calm the nerves.

Why DO women have these tramp stamps?

I almost wasn’t going to blog this column from Liz Jones, because aesthetic opinions can’t be right or wrong, but then I hit the conclusion:

“She [a concentration camp survivor] is proud of her tattoo, an indelible reminder of mankind’s inhumanity to man. Her disfigurement is a badge of courage, not a woolly-headed fashion statement.”

As ever, the column isn’t entirely sure what it wants to be. It starts off solidly enough as a ‘aren’t tattoos awful‘ piece, with tints of ‘isn’t society in decline’ as everyone starts to take on these awful fashion symbols. It then collapses into a list of people who have tats, and where they have them¹, followed by a little history, some ‘tattoos are stupid, in addition to being ugly’ and a barnstorming finish by way of comparing meaningful tattoos to vacuous ones. Liberally sprinkled throughout is some glorious snobbery (“[Tattoos] merely detract from [Angelina Jolie’s] beauty, rendering her cheap and hopelessly common”) and hyperbole (” tattoos, the most tasteless, tacky, tawdry, terrible plague to infect our nation since mad cow disease”²), as we discover that the negative judgement of tattoos has more to do with the sort of people who have them (Dame Mirren’s is fine) than anything actually intrinsically wrong.

To try and pad this out slightly, the second half of the column aims at undermining arguments for tattoos, while resolutely looking past the most obvious one: some people might disagree on points of aesthetics with Liz, and genuinely believe them to look nice. In the same way that expensive handbags do. Or, in the way Angelina Jolie does. In this sense, they need not be any more “a load of self-indulgent b******s” than any other kind of adornment. ‘Scarring’ is, in this light, the wrong term.

Possibly understanding that there wouldn’t be much of a column in ‘aren’t tattoos awful, even if their uptake shows that people disagree with this judgement’, Liz moves on to misinterpreting symbols:

“It is as if the person is trying to say: ‘I love my son/boyfriend/wife more than you love yours.'”

It needn’t be a competition – maybe it is merely an outward sign to the loved one, after the fashion of a wedding ring. Although, obviously, more permanent than a wedding ring (and, arguably, more impressive as a result). The ‘it’s as if’ is entirely Liz’s own take on it – a perceiving of aggressive intent when the benefit of the doubt was a more obvious alternative.

Then she misreads the interplay between belonging and rebellion. Although social mores are a natural target for rebellion, founded as they tend to be by generations other than ones own and thus invested with values that you have not created but merely had passed down, it needn’t be that large scale³. Courting parents disapproval, or challenging the expectations attached to the role of Tory-leader’s-wife would do quite well. Symbols of belonging and allegiance can also be rebellious – combining examples, a teenager wearing the name of their first love is a way of rebelling against their parents through the display of new commitments. Rebelling implies the holding of alternative values, a owning of them and belonging to the group which shares them which you can display in ink.

This lack of understanding of symbols informs the seemingly tenuous conclusion that only concentration camp tattoos are worth being proud about, while a better understanding would have proved the opposite. The Nazi’s tattoos were brands – imposed and unwanted. They symbolise a shared suffering, but also a shared endurance and survival. The pride lies in the object of the representation, not the tattoo which is the representation. In exactly the same way, we can have pride in the commitment symbolised by the name of a loved one, or the achievement of the rebellion in upsetting Tory grandees. One could even take pride in marking oneself out as sharing different ideas from Liz Jones, if one disagreed with her. And if you can do that while adorning yourself in a way you find aesthetically pleasing, I say go for it.


¹ Stat watchers may have noticed 14 of the 40 sentence in the piece (not including picture captions) refer to named individuals, which is a little more than a third.

² And notice the sound of a metaphor breaking as it tries to carry too much weight – tattoos are a plague in as far as they are a bad thing and widespread, but not in as far as they are tawdry, tacky or tasteless. Those aren’t the defining features of a plague, hence them resolutely failing to apply to Mad Cow Disease.

³ Although the very fact that it does still upset Liz shows that tattoos still work as a way of breaking with the values of the previous generation.