February 15, 2014

Twenty five years on from Rushdie we are too frightened to say we are scared

British publishing is now such a neurotic and hypocritical business there are stories it cannot cover. Nor should it try. When journalists, writers and artists can’t be honest with their audience, when they can’t even be honest with themselves, silence is preferable to the damage their double-standards bring.

Last month our media commemorated the imminent anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie by trying and failing to report the threats to the life of Maajid Nawaz, the chief executive of Quilliam Foundation. In a vindication of Kipling’s “once you have paid him the Dane-geld/you never get rid of the Dane” fanatics are after Nawaz not because he satirised the founding myths of Islam, as Rushdie did, or projected sexist verses from the Koran on to a naked woman’s body, as Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali did, but because – brace yourselves – he tweeted a picture of Jesus saying “Hey” and Muhammad saying “How ya doin’?”

jesus_mo_masthead2

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February 14, 2014

Why are Rupert Murdoch’s men damning Andrew Mitchell?

If you want to picture Rupert Murdoch imagine an old man on a tight rope. On the one hand, his newspapers must pursue his interests – say that everyone but the rich must pay the price of austerity, for instance. But as he wobbles over the void, Murdoch must also balance his rather brutal class interest with populist attacks on ‘the elite’ to assure readers of modest means that he is, despite everything, ‘on their side’.

Normally the Murdoch press can stay upright by confining itself to savaging the liberal elite, which to be fair, never fails to provide him with a rich choice of targets. But every now again it feasts on blue blood.

The Times – which is becoming a tabloid in content as well as form these days – has been saying in essence that Andrew Mitchell was guilty of calling a Downing Street police officer a ‘fucking pleb’.

Carry on reading

February 14, 2014

A political conspiracy by the coercive arm of the state

MP Andrew Mitchell speaks to the media outside the Town Hall in Sutton Coldfield

The best way to imagine the British establishment is to picture a committee that never meets. There is no chain of command, which might leave incriminating paper trails; no controlling intelligence. Its members do not need to wait for instructions from on high. They know what to do without needing to be told.

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February 4, 2014

How to murder a writer

murder scene

Far fewer writers than you would imagine worry about online hate campaigns, let alone think that they could one day end up in danger like Hannah’s luckless victim. When newspapers first began publishing anonymous abuse under articles seven years or eight ago, I thought journalists would see it as an attempt by managers to undermine their increasingly casualised work forces, and fight back. At the very least, I assumed that women journalists would resign and sue employers who had published sexist insults under their copy for constructive dismissal; or that the National Union of Journalists would demand that publishers remove the coward’s cloak of anonymity, and say that commentators must find the courage to write under their own names.

Nothing of the sort has happened: and not only because at national level the NUJ is one of the worst led unions in Britain. Most journalists are like Hannah’s, Damon Blundy. They don’t care what people say about them online, for reasons which are largely good, and worth following yourself.

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February 3, 2014

Ukip exploits every prejudice known to man – and invents a few new ones besides

Ukip leader Nigel Farage with Eastleigh Ukip candidate Diane JamesThe British centre-left has been tempted to ignore Ukip – the most powerful movement of organised stupidity in recent British history – even to welcome it in a quiet way. Conventional wisdom holds that Labour’s hopes of winning the next election depend on the rightwing vote splitting. Ukip are the splitters, who will let the left come through the middle in marginal seats.

Beyond electoral tactics lies a regard for populists who are anti-establishment. George Galloway may have crawled up the posteriors of half the dictators on the planet, while Alex Salmond may want to place barriers between the English and the Scots where none has existed for 300 years, but at least they are sticking it to the “system”. Likewise, Farage is a card, who hounds the professional politicians – and all those other pampered elitists who rip us off and ruin our lives.

A look at January 2014 shows that you have to forgive and forget a great deal before you can treat Ukip with anything other than hostility.

Carry on reading

January 28, 2014

Tweet a cartoon of Muhammad asking ‘How ya doin’? – And death threats follow.

The real scandal in the Liberal Democrats is not leading the news. Extremists are menacing the career and life of a Liberal Democrat politician and respectable society hardly considers these authentically scandalous threats to be a scandal at all. The scandal, in short, is that there is no scandal.

The reasons for the attacks on Maajid Nawaz are so bland, it makes me yearn to live in a grown-up country where I could shrug them off. But we don’t live in a grown-up country and I had better explain. The BBC asked the executive director of the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremist thinktank, on to a discussion show. Two atheist members of the audience wore T-shirts showing Jesus saying: “Hey” and Muhammad saying: “How ya doing?” I beg you to keep the innocuous nature of the cartoon at the front of your mind as we descend into a modern Bedlam.

Carry on reading

January 20, 2014

Of all the institutions Savile corrupted, the BBC had the least right to be surprised by his crimes

Sir Jimmy Savile OBE KCSG

I’m sure that the BBC’s managers will be appalled by the Observer’s revelation that Jimmy Savile molested or raped hundreds – maybe a thousand – girls and boys. I have enough faith in their humanity to believe that the hairs on the back of their necks will stand on end when they read one of the victims’ lawyers telling us: “Savile never had a quiet day.”

Whether he was in the Top of the Pops studio or touring in a BBC camper van with a dirty mattress in the back, his dead eyes were always looking out for young, disadvantaged fans, so intimidated by his fame he could do anything to them.

Carry on reading

January 17, 2014

In Iain Duncan Smith’s world no good deed can go unpunished

Last night I went to hear Chris Mould of the Trussell Trust speak at my local church. The scene appeared to confirm every myth Tories tell about themselves.

Though it does not make a great noise about it, the Trust represents the Anglican conscience at its active best. On their own, without state support or any of those nanny bureaucracies the right so deplores, the churches have organised more than 400 distribution centres to provide emergency food aid to desperate people. The men and women, who check that clients are truly in need, and hand out food, nappies and sanitary towels, are volunteers, motivated by a concern for others rather than money or recognition. They are a social service as well as the last line of defence against hunger. They try to sort out their clients’ problems with landlords or the Department of Work and Pensions, whose minions appear to view the arbitrary treatment of the needy as a useful way of keeping down costs. The public donates virtually all the emergency supplies- an act of spontaneous generosity that deserves more recognition. Think about it. Hundreds of thousands of people have responded to the social crisis Channel 4 will not report by freely giving at collection points at schools and supermarkets. On two days in July, shoppers were inspired by an appeal by Tesco – which is not the monster of anti-corporate fantasy – to donate 3.5 million meals.

Carry on reading

January 13, 2014

When Tories say “we are all in this together,” their ‘we’ does not include them.

images

As we are living in a time of sacrifice, Osborne might make amends for his stupidity and reverse his policy. He might say, as the Americans do, that wealthy foreigners living in Britain must pay taxes on their foreign earnings, like the rest of us. He might even end the obscene situation in which wealthy Britons can escape taxes by pretending to be foreigners, most notably, the noble Lord Rothermere, proprietor of the patriotic Daily Mail.

More hard choices for Osborne? More sacrifices he will not shrink from demanding? Don’t be a fool. With the exception of a tiny proposal to make foreigners pay capital gains tax on their British homes, he won’t consider passing the burden to those best able to carry it.

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January 9, 2014

Reform the first casualty of Britain’s gormless culture wars

The unions that held these islands together and regulated their dealings with the outside world are straining, maybe to the point of collapse. Crises always provoke good writing and the uncertainty about England’s relationship with Scotland and Britain’s relationship with the European Union has produced two books that are well written, well researched and well worth reading. Unfortunately, both end with calls for action that will appeal only to the converted. Without meaning to, their authors reveal the impossibility of producing a coherent reform programme in a country caught up in the double standards of its gormless culture wars.

Carry on reading

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