Insults that betray the bigotry of gay zealots

Another almost overwhelmingly depressing column today from Amanda Platell. I think of all the Mail‘s writers, Amanda is the hardest to read – her columns are, almost without exception, viciously judgemental, spiteful and negative to a point where they become quite upsetting to read. Working my way through the snapshots of aggression she takes each week is a draining and dispiriting experience and one which sorely tests my sense of living in a world of positivity and hope, surrounded by equals deserving of my understanding and love. I mention this because central to Amanda’s main column this week is a complaint:

“In articles for this paper, I have committed the heresy of stating my belief that married heterosexual couples make the most suitable candidates to be adoptive parents.

In return, I was subjected to a vile and filthy campaign of personal abuse from the gay media. In one online forum, a contributor suggested the only reason I held such views was that I obviously ‘wasn’t getting enough’.

That’s the sordid level of debate we’ve now reached about an issue with profound implications for the most vulnerable children in our society.”

Amanda is completely right – one of the central principles of this blog is that, in responding to negativity, we need to elevate the argument beyond personal attacks and vindictiveness. Although I often feel that my moderation falls just the wrong side of being po-faced, I think it’s important that the debates we have are civil if we are to generate light in them, and not just heat¹.

This is something which works both ways. The following all appear on the same page as Amanda’s justified and fair complaint about personal abuse:

“We’re used to her craven, attention-seeking publicity stunts, but even by Madonna’s standards, the news that she’s exchanging Kabbalah vows with new toyboy boyfriend Jesus is puzzling.

Then again, if the legal reason she can’t adopt Malawian orphan Mercy is because she’s a single mother, it’s not so much a marriage of convenience as of conveyance.”

“He says he [David Beckham] ‘only has eyes for Victoria’. Yes, but what about your other body parts, Dave?”

“Artistic, inspiring and so modest with it. Is there no beginning to Ms Frostrup’s talents?”

“At first glance, the new pictures of the original Calendar Girls 10 years on was a bit much to, er, bare. But in this body-fascist world, any woman who feels good enough about her body to strip naked at 75 earns my admiration. I just pray they don’t do a 20th anniversary version.”

“Pass the sickbag, Sarah. Paris is a tacky celebrity who’s made millions out of being an airhead. Mrs Brown already has one lost cause at home – she doesn’t need to go searching for new ones.”

“The most astounding thing about the ill-tempered exchange between BBC News 24’s presenter Carrie Grace and Lord Foulkes was that this very forgettable, middle-ranking news presenter gets paid £92,000, while co-presenter Simon McCoy gets £190,000.”

So, we have the impugning of the motives of the relationship arrangements of Madonna, a slur on the current fidelity of David Beckham based on old allegations about his sex life, a snide personal attack on a successful broadcaster, an almost hilariously hypocritical review of a charity calendar², a snide personal attack on Paris Hilton rolled into the doubting of Sarah Brown’s judgement³ and a snide personal attack on a news reader. This is the sordid level we’ve reached.

I don’t want to attempt to justify abuse of Amanda Platell, I think it’s wrong. What I will say, though, is that the Buddhists are right when they suggest the world is acting on you as you act upon it. If you live you life in the life states of animality and anger, the world returns your actions to you on the same terms. If your career is based on weekly personal attacks delivered to strangers, can you be so surprised when strangers see you as a fair target for personal attacks? Any such attacks are not justified, any more than an attack on David Beckham is, but they are inevitable.

This is particularly the case when you are seeking to deny human rights based merely on your own prejudices. It is not heresy to suggest “that married heterosexual couples make the most suitable candidates to be adoptive parents” – it is merely incorrect, based on an ignorance on the research that shows gay and lesbian couples to be as suitable as straight couples. To suggest that view is “backed by an increasing weight of academic evidence” is factually incorrect, and I would encourage readers to complain to the PCC to ask them to correct this. As an introduction to research in this area, I would recommend The American Psychological Association’s ‘Lesbian and Gay Parenting‘¨, and for readers to move from there to the massive and increasing number of studies, meta-analyses, reviews and governmental reports in this area. This would be a much more constructive reaction to Amanda’s column than personal abuse would be – a shining of light into the dark.

It would also avoid Amanda’ fear that:

“No, the real danger of this hate campaign is, first, that it unjustly tarnishes the whole gay community, thereby provoking the very homophobia it seeks to condemn. And second, in its rabid attempt to defend the rights of gay couples, it overlooks the rights of adopted and fostered kids to be raised with a mother and a father.”

Instead, it would show up Amanda’s homophobia for what it is – a position taken against the gay community on the basis of prejudice and ignorance rather than evidence. It is homophobic to oppose equal rights for gays and lesbians purely because they are gay and lesbian. Given the overwhelming evidence that gays and lesbians make parents just as good as any straight couple, there is no non-homophobic reason to oppose their inclusion in the adoption system. In opposing Amanda’s attack on such inclusion, this would be defending a much more important right for children – to be brought up in a loving family.


I’m sorry for the over personal nature of this post – I genuinely find Amanda upsetting, viscerally so, and haven’t found a way of distancing myself from that emotion and dispassionately commenting on her negativity and aggression.

¹ And, as ever, where I fall short I hope to be corrected by readers.

²I believe I’ve mentioned before that if you’re apologising before you say something, you probably shouldn’t be saying it. Delivering an ‘anti-body-fascist’ comment either side of a ‘body-fascist’ one doesn’t undo the harm of the ‘body fascism’, but merely underlines it. Particularly when you’re doing so in a newspaper so obsessed with the figures of celebrities.

³ It’s worth noting here that Sarah Brown actually met Paris Hilton, so is arguably in a better position to judge ‘what she’s really like’ than someone basing their opinions on Paris’ public persona.

¨ In passing, we can put this ‘debate’ down as another of the Mail‘s conspiracy theories. Amanda, and fellow columnists, are asking us to believe that every scientific body to have pronounced on the matter, the peer-reviewed scientific journals in which positive research is published, the governments that are advised by such research, the charities (such as the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, whose comments were the starting place for today’s column) who have taken a position in line with the governments’ – that all these groups are acting against the evidence, or fabricating false evidence, to further the agenda of a minority. How ridiculous does your conspiracy need to be before you accept the alternative? What could be the motivation of these groups? Is the American Paediatric Association really run by a gay mafia?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doctors struck off for denying patients the right to die? What a sinister distortion of medical ethics

A fascinating column today from Melanie Phillips, not least for some impressive rhetorical sleights of hand.

“The disturbing fact is that many leading doctors no longer have a clear ethical sense at all. Many of them subscribe to the amoral doctrine now prevalent in our society, which dismisses the motivation behind people’s actions and focuses instead entirely upon the consequences.”

Quite a conclusion, so here’s the background. Chapter 9 of the Mental Capacity Act of 2005 (see here, particularly of relevance are sections 24-36) created a framework to protect the decision making of those of diminished decision making capacity. The basic principle is the preservation, as much as is possible, of the autonomy of the individual, and the Act looks at how we can best ensure that those without the capacity to make decisions for themselves have their interests protected and how we can take account of the life decisions of individuals who lose their decision making capabilities.¹

The mechanism it lays out for solving this latter problem is the ‘advance decision’, which does exactly what it says on the tin. It gives you the ability to decide in advance, while you still have the capability to do so, up to what point you will be treated. This extends the traditional principle that we have the right to refuse treatment, even life-saving treatment, if we have the competence to do so. In the same way as the refusal of treatment, this protects our autonomy and so our ability to define ourselves, give meaning and coherence to our lives and take responsibility for the sort of person we are². We might not agree with someone who does not seek to prolong their life, any more than we might agree with someone who refused a blood transfusion on religious grounds, but part of respecting them as an individual is respecting their right to live their lives as they see fit. The advance decision allows individuals to make that choice while they still can, enabling us to take responsibility for a part of our lives which previously fell out of our hands.

In light of this legislation, the GMC has revised its guidelines on the care of those who, while dying, could have their lives prolonged but who are not capable of making decisions themselves. (See here for the guidance in full, points 14, 95 and the Appendix outlining the new position, the sanction for ignoring it and the legal thinking behind it.) To summarise briefly, the new guidelines suggest that the law, in the form of advance decisions, should be complied with unless there is reason to belive that the decision may not longer be in force. Or, as Melanie puts it:

“As a result, the terrible truth is that doctors will now be struck off and may be sent to prison for refusing to kill their patients.”

There is clearly some space between my reading of the law and Melanie’s and it comes in that word ‘kill’. There is a fundamental difference between an act and an omission, the former being something that you do and the latter being something that you don’t. While your omission may lead to the death of someone, it does not cause their death, it merely fails to avert it. Now we are not talking here about, for instance, insisting that doctors give slight overdoses of pain medication as a form of passive euthanasia – this is illegal and thus not something you can decide in advance. Instead we are talking about the suspension of feeding. Or, as Melanie puts it:

“The crucial point is what is now included in the accepted definition of ‘treatment’. It has always been an important medical principle that no patient should be forced to have treatment against their will. Patients have always had the right to refuse treatment, whatever the consequences to their own lives.

Ever since the landmark case of Tony Bland, however – the Hillsborough disaster victim whose feeding tubes were disconnected after he was left in a persistent vegetative state – ‘treatment’ has been held to include giving patients food and liquids through feeding tubes.

But although the tubes involve a medical procedure, food and drink are not ‘treatment’. They are simply what we all need in order to stay alive. And so stopping feeding someone who would not otherwise die is simply and straightforwardly to kill them.”

The stopping of feeding is not so much an act as it opposite, its negation. It is no longer acting, or, in the terms used earlier, an omission to feed. As such, it is not the active ‘killing’ but a letting die. Note here that the patient is not being starved, they are not having food withheld, they are merely not being fed. The distinction is subtle, but immense. Were the patient able to feed themselves, the food would be on offer for them to take but as they are not, and they have been asked not to be fed when they cannot eat freely, food is not fed to them.

The sense in which this is a ‘treatment’ should be obvious – it is a treatment in exactly the same way that a tank of oxygen is a treatment for those who cannot get enough from the air, despite oxygen being ‘simply what we all need in order to stay alive. Melanie invokes the comparison between the patient and ourselves when she points to our common need for food, then ignores the fact that we do not need to be fed, but to feed ourselves if we are to avoid death. It is a treatment precisely because it is feeding, artificially sustaining life for someone who would otherwise die.

It is in this context that we have the advance decision to refuse treatment. While capable, the decision is made that life should not be prolonged beyond the point where we are incapable of feeding ourselves and, when the time comes, the doctor is caused to act on this decision by not feeding us. At this point, in the words of the GMC (see earlier link, point 79) “In all cases you should assess the patient for the presence of distressing symptoms, for example signs of pain, breathing difficulties, confusion, and dry mouth. Symptoms should be alleviated appropriately following up to date professional guidance”. That is to say, the doctor should ensure that the patient suffers as little as possible. Or, as Melanie puts it:

“To give doctors no choice but to comply forces them to act against their ethical principles and their conscience.”

By which she means that the traditional principle of ‘First do no harm’ is being violated and doctors are forced to kill their patients. The latter point, I hope we’ve dealt with, the former hopefully requires only reconsideration of the principle of not treating those who are competent to refuse. Take the well-worn example of Jehovah’s Witnesses and blood transfusions – would we harm a believer by forcing a blood transfusion on them, even if it saved their life? Melanie, on this basis, would be forced to say no – for the believer to die would be the harm. However, by ignoring the religious beliefs of the patient we ignore their autonomy and ability to live their lives as they see fit. We undermine their self-identity and force them to live a life that they do not approve of and be a person they do not want to be. If that is not a harm, I am not sure what is. And, if we take this line in the case of the individual who is still capable, we have to take it for those who lose that capability – the undermining of their self-identity by ignoring their wishes and imposing your own values on them is the same in both cases. This is the direct opposite of the accusation I quoted at the start of this piece that “Many of them [‘leading’ doctors] subscribe to the amoral doctrine now prevalent in our society, which dismisses the motivation behind people’s actions and focuses instead entirely upon the consequences.”

Implicit throughout this piece is the assumption that living is an end in itself which, while a perfectly valid opinion is not one shared by all. Indeed, I would say that it was a denigration of our humanity to reduce it in this way to mere biological life and the value of life is value we create through our committments and investments. While I can understand the fear which Melanie plays on,³ suffering is not limited to the physical. The Mental Capacity Act is a recognition of that fact and allows both Melanie and myself to construct our lives according to our own values to avoid what we class as harms and suffering. It is a beautiful, beautiful thing and it does doctors credit that they are upholding it.


¹ It is an inspiring, life affirming piece of legislation and I am proud to pay taxes to sustain the legislature that created it. I am unashamedly partisan about this – it easily and comprehensively replaces the Fraudulent Mediums Act (1951) as my favourite bit of legislation. If we want to thump tubs, as the Mail often does, it makes me proud to be British, underlining as it does key principles of respect for autonomy and compassion.

² Here I crib slightly from Dworkin’s Theory and Practice of Autonomy, Cambridge: CUP, 1988.

³ As, without irony, she goes from “Such doctors are … playing on people’s fear of dying in extreme pain or suffering” to “The terrible irony is that, out of the similar fear of hideous suffering which leads people to make ‘living wills’, they may be instructing doctors to cause them to suffer by starving and dehydrating them to death”, overlooking the ethical principles and conscience she sees as underlying the medical profession which would ameliorate this suffering.

This MP is a prime example of a minority: Village idiots

I’m not entirely sure what to make of today’s sketch by Quentin Letts, which is centers on the very Mail idea of ‘fairness’:

“The equality maniacs are rampant. If they have their way it will be quotas at every turn, all-ethnic shortlists, ‘equality audits’ in political parties and a limit of four parliamentary terms per MP before enforced retirement kicks in. All to speed up the process of ‘making Parliament more representative’.”

Now, on the one hand, I can totally agree with him that quotas and all-ethnic shortlists are bad things, not least because being discriminatory in the name of equal opportunities  seems perverse. But on the other, is there anyone who’s against Parliament being more representative? Here’s Richard Littlejohn on the subject a year ago:

“Straw’s government introduced one-sided devolution and uses Scottish MPs to force upon the English laws which do not apply to their own constituents. The English have no say in what happens on the Scottish side of the border, yet are expected to pick up the lion’s share of the bill.”

Indeed, don’t we want to make public bodies in general more representative of the people they serve? Here’s Stephen Glover, last month:

“Our publicly-funded broadcaster can’t succeed if it is run by a narrow sect unrelated to the values of the people it is supposed to serve and inspire.”

In Letts’ defence, I haven’t found him speaking out previously in favour of greater representativeness anywhere, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but his is certainly an interesting position to take in a newspaper otherwise so scrupulously defensive of rights of representation. Particularly when discussing a committee which has yet to decide anything yet – the sketch outlined a session of the Speaker’s Conference, not its report. None of the dim future he foresees has yet come to pass. Who knows, on the back of this article he may be invited to outline his objections and alternatives.

At which point he would be stuck. I think the last time I looked at the sketch, I was mildly depressed by its negativity, and it’s got no better:

“When Mr Bercow was discussing bigots he put on an Alf Garnett-style accent. Of course, Mr Bercow himself is a prime example of a minority: Village idiots.”

Which dismisses Bercow’s point (about bigots in the media), but doesn’t engage with it. In a similar fashion, Letts takes snide pot shots at the idea of speeding along representative equity without ever saying why it’s a bad thing or what his alternative is. The people on the Conference are lampooned, but to what effect? If the ideas are so obviously wrong, it should be an easy task for him to knock them down, but instead he targets the village idiot, the “purple-nosed Solomon, that leathery fool Speaker Martin”, the “TUC sister”, the “suave charmer” who runs the organisation that “costs £70million of our money a year”. The only times he put forward an argument is when dealing with side issues like the suggestion that there should be limits on service in Parliament or whether or not Parliament contains gay role models.

Now, there’s a debate to be had in this area, and it’s quite an interesting one: for instance, does a political system based on constituencies need to pay heed to matters of diversity, or do we feel that our unity of locality neutralises our other differences? If we do feel we need a more representative parliament, can we achieve this in a first-past-the-post system where regional minorities are always at an electoral disadvantage? Can we legitimately restrict the franchise in the name of encouraging diversity, be it through quotas or any other method? Is the most we can do mere encouragement to stand for Parliament, or is even this affirmative action demeaning and discriminatory? It’s clear from the quotes he selects and the tone of his piece that Quentin has questions like this to ask, but we don’t get them, only the bashing of people who should be considering such questions. It’s probably more a failing of the sketch as a genre than of this one in particularly, but it feels like aa cop out.

Finally, Jade’s sad life has a purpose

It takes a while to work out exactly why this column from Alison doesn’t sit right, and it’s almost entirely the fault of whoever wrote the headline.

“Finally, Jade’s sad life has a purpose”

suggests one of two things. Either it claims an insight into Jade’s internal world that it couldn’t possibly have by asserting that, for example, the raising of her children or the connecting with her public was not considered a purpose for her; or it claims that Jade, and by extension all public figures and possibly every individual, only has value for others (Jade’s being as some sort of memento mori or cautionary tale). The first is a slur, the second a denigration of humanity. Given the implausibility of the first, we seem to be driven to the second and we could, being charitable, see it as an easy trap to fall into – Jade has lived her life since appearing before the public eye essentially as a fictional character, a communal writing project which started with the producers of Big Brother and continues down to Alison’s column. Fictional characters serve some sort of narrative purpose – count the number of times Jade’s life is compared in the next few days to a soap opera, pantomime, tragedy or morality tale – and so it is easy for the headline writer to slip into to the narrow grooves her story has been run along to date and rejoice, as they seem to be, in the fact the story finally has a conclusion and a moral. The reason it sits so badly is that Jade is not fully fictional, which is one of the things that has made her story so compelling for those writing and reading it. Jade is a human being. Human beings determine their own values and the values of their own lives. Which is what makes the headline so horrible.

By and large, Alison admirably fails to live up to the headline, favouring instead the narrative approach that casts her as an observer rather than an author. As an approach, it’s innocuous enough, until we get to:

“We may all have thought we were nothing like Jade Goody. Now we know what we have in common. She cares about her kids more than anything in the world.”

Now, although this is getting at what the readers should have realised all along, the way this truth is presented is “You know what – she was human all along”. It’s the reveal in the novel when you realise that the supposed villain was actually the person funding the orphanage – and it’s too late to feel guilty for your persecution of them. Instead we’re meant to feel touched that we finally realised the error of our ways.  Notice the emphasis: “WE may have thought that WE” – Alison is thinking in the same terms as the headline writer, of what Jade does for us. The divide between the reality of Jade as human and Jade as character carried through from the headline is painful. The very fact that she is and always has been a human being exactly as we are demands empathy, all we are given is a too-easy, saccharine moral that reinforces the sense of superiority that we had all along.

While Alison talks about legacies, she misses what should have been the most obvious and is the most pressing – to reconnect us with the reality of our own shared humanity. She misses it because she can’t let go of the fiction, or worse, see that it is one. Jade’s story will end, and we will have Lindsay Lohan’s, and Madonna’s, and celebrities’ as yet unknown to take her place. We will vilify or adore them in exactly the same way. We will learn nothing, because the story-tellers have learnt nothing.

The Mumbai atrocity is a wake-up call for a frighteningly unprepared Britain

I was having a bit of trouble with this column by Melanie Philips; after all, I have no way of disproving a negative like

“But because we don’t understand what we are actually up against, we are not doing nearly enough to prevent this  –  or something even worse  –  occurring on British soil; and if it were to happen here, we would be unable to cope.””

So, I did exactly what Melanie predicted I would do, and tried to explain the problem away – India has a long-standing dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir, so is the sort of place likely to have militants hanging around ready to attack, Western tourists are an obvious target, and a way of ticking boxes and attacks on Jewish centres show just how wide the net was being thrown. Britain is not like India, in as far as we don’t have a border dispute with a nation founded on religion, have smaller and so less-porous borders and don’t have a political party system founded on religion. That’s not, to any extent, a claim that obscenities like the attacks on Mumbai can’t happen, but that they are less likely.

This didn’t seem to engage with her central point though, even if she were to allow the fact that attacks such as these are more likely in countries like India than they are in the UK, they still could happen in the UK and we would be horribly unprepared.

“This country is simply not trained, equipped or prepared in any way to deal with something on this scale.”

Now, the reason I’m in no position to gainsay this assertion is that I am lacking two key pieces of information: 1) realistically what the scale of the threat to this country is, and 2) what preparations are being made against it. That’s the sort of information I would expect the government and security services to have. It’s not the sort of thing that someone outside those circles, such as myself, would have access to. The best I could do is speculate based on my perceptions of what the Government and security services were doing. As is Melanie.

“The Government and security establishment refuse to acknowledge that what we are facing is a religious war.”

On what could she possibly be basing this? How could she know what the Government and security establishment are thinking? The best she has to go on is public pronouncements, assuming them to be an accurate and complete reflection of Government thinking. Which is a brave assumption.

“Even more chilling was the warning by a former head of the SAS that Britain has made no adequate preparations to deal with such an onslaught upon a British city  –  even though that is precisely the ‘ Doomsday scenario’ that the security world fears.”

OK, here we’re on slightly less shakey ground – we have a public pronouncement from a former security establishment figure. However, the key bit of this sentence though is the last bit ‘this is precisely [what] the security world fears‘ – we can fear the worst, without really expecting it. Take the monster that lived under my bed when I was a child – it is still, to some extent, my ‘Doomsday scenario’, but although it occasionally disturbs my sleep, it’s not a realistic enough fear for me to go to bed armed. We can fear events similar to the attacks on Mumbai without thinking they are likely enough to occur to invest in military task-forces who’ll stand alert on the off-chance that they do. Again, I’m not in a position to make that judgement – the people who are are, oddly enough, the people who have to. If we trust our security forces, the fact that we don’t have task-forces is a sign that we don’t need them, and crying out for them won’t make us any safer.

And that brings me to nub of the problem – if we trust our security forces, we can rest comfortably knowing that we’re being protected. And what reason do we have not to trust our security forces? Or, to put it another way, what grounds do we have for believing that a newspaper columnist understands the complexities of the current world situation better than a highly funded and well staffed organisation dedicated to doing just that? Melanie tells us we should be afraid, but offers us no compelling reason to trust her judgement. Up to a point, attacks are inevitable, and when one occurs Melanie will no doubt feel vindicated. But until the inquiry into that attack reveals that “Britain … is still in a trance of denial”, the smart money is on us not being.

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’.