Charming and disarming, a not too critical critic of Heretic TOC wrote on another blog recently that “There comes a point when even the best argument becomes too well written, too well researched and too learned. An Idiot’s Guide to both Stephen Hawking’s and TOC’s theories would be appreciated….” It must be admitted that the “punitive state” piece last time was a bit relentlessly heavy on the theory, although the number and quality of the comments, plus over 300 hits per day, suggests there is interest.
This time, then, for a little light relief (relatively speaking!), TOC brings you a taste of his adventures last week inside the Westminster Bubble, an experience more akin to Alice in Wonderland than to other phenomena with which it might be confused, such as the South Sea Bubble.
American readers will be familiar with the bubble concept from their own expression Inside the Beltway, or the Washington Bubble, denoting an intensely political world, peopled almost entirely by politicians, government officials and media folk who spend so much time incestuously preoccupied with each other that they lose touch with the realities of life outside their privileged zone.
Or so it is claimed. The real truth, though, is that these clever people have sharp political antennae, which is how they keep their power and influence: they need to stay alert in all sorts of ways, paying attention not just to opinion polls and focus group research but also to those who turn up in person to lobby them, from corporate interests (especially!) to activist groups of every hue.
Which is where my London trip comes in. I was there for a whole bunch of personal lobbying, networking and media reasons, and also to participate in various rallies, protests and debates.
Two of these events were in the Palace of Westminster itself, aka the Houses of Parliament, starting with Challenging the Campus Censors. Held in the Grand Committee Room with a panel of speakers, this saw the launch of the Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR) by the journal Spiked. What FSUR devastatingly demonstrates, sadly is the extent to which freedom of expression is being eroded in the very institutions where it is most vitally needed if any sort of heresy – including but not limited to the Heretic TOC variety – is to survive the onslaught of hegemonic political correctness.
Back in the 1970s I appeared by invitation at a number of universities, mainly to address student gay societies on paedophilia and children’s sexual freedom. There were neither objections by the university authorities nor any attempt by students to No Platform me*. After speaking at Cambridge University, I was treated very hospitably by the organisers: they took me to hear (and of course see!) the choirboys perform evensong at King’s College. Those were the days!
In my case, the high watermark of this openness to heresy was a prestigious invitation from the president of the Oxford Union to address that august debating society, possibly the world’s most famous; its speakers have included three US presidents, top scientists from Einstein to Hawking, and celebrities of all kinds from Michael Jackson to Kermit the Frog. Ahead of the event, though, the university was subjected to heavy media pressure against my appearance, and the invitation was withdrawn.
We all know how the sorry saga has played out since then in terms of paedophilia as a There Is No Debate (TIND) issue. What I discovered to my horror, though, from FSUR and related revelations last week, is the extent to which free speech is now being denied on campus across a whole range of issues. As Ian Dunt told us in the Guardian:
“In recent months, Oxford University cancelled a debate on abortion because protesters objected to the fact it was being held between two men; the Cambridge Union was asked (but refused) to withdraw its speaking invitation to Germaine Greer because of her views on transgender issues; officials at London Southbank took down a “flying spaghetti monster” poster because it might cause religious offence; UCL banned the Nietzsche Club after it put up posters saying “equality is a false God”, and Dundee banned the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children from their freshers’ fair. The Sun is banned on dozens of campuses because of Page 3. Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines song has also been banned by many student unions.”
Note, especially, the relevance here of this last one: the lyrics are about sexual consent.
The curious thing, to someone of my generation at least, is that the censorious spirit is not coming from above, from heavy-handed political or administrative quarters. It is not state censorship. Rather, TIND reflects what seems to be a new fragility among the students themselves, who are arriving at university from a school culture in which they have grown used to seeing themselves as in need of protection, reflecting a wider cultural background in which child protection is seen as a priority. It reflects specifics of their cultural environment, such as school anti-bullying policies, and also their exposure to what is admittedly sometimes a brutally obnoxious scene of social media trolling. Feeling (with every justification) that being subjected to violent threats and venomous defamation online is just plain wrong and unacceptable, these youngsters are turning up at university believing they are entitled to remain shielded from “offensive” views of all kinds. They do not seem to realise that new but potentially important ideas are often shocking, and that a university is a grownup place whether intellectual debate needs to be unfettered.
The following day I was back in the palace, this time supporting Hacked Off, which Spiked muddle-headedly presents as a group lobbying against free speech. Hacked Off, as British heretics will know, was set up in the wake of revelations that newspapers including the now defunct News of the World, and the Sun, both owned by global media baron Rupert Murdoch (whose other crimes against humanity include Fox News), were engaged in illegal phone hacking and libellous smear tactics – including the infamous Fake Sheikh’s sting operations which have resulted in innocent people being jailed and many other lives shattered. As heretics here may remember, I was among those on the receiving end.
Where Spiked gets it wrong is in confusing the “right” of a handful of mega-rich media moguls to trash people as viciously, mendaciously and unaccountably as a Twitter troll, with the right of all of us to legitimate (non-libellous, not inciting violence) freedom of expression. The latter right, in Hacked Off’s view and mine, will be advanced, not retarded, by such means as giving a strengthened right of reply to those who are traduced in the press, and encouraging wider media ownership. Hacked off also supports the recent Leveson Inquiry report, which recommended measures aimed at securing a more independent press complaints body than the toothless Press Complaints Commission.
Hacked Off’s rally was in Committee Room 14, which turned out to be an even grander venue than the Grand Committee Room. When I think of a committee I have in mind no more than about 25 people, but about ten times that number were present for Hacked Off’s big day, packed along two sets of opposing benches like a miniature version of parliament itself. When I arrived, slightly late after an appointment with my MP, I was lucky to get the last seat before my attention turned to a distinguished-looking, silver-haired old gentleman who was holding forth as one of the panel speakers.
The voice seemed familiar. Then it struck me: John Cleese! Goodness, it was a face I probably hadn’t seen since The Life of Brian over thirty years ago. Anyway, he was on good form, blasting the new Independent Press Standards Body (IPSO) as anything but independent, saying it was designed to be a puppet of the big corporations, with editors given a key role, like setting foxes in charge of the henhouse. Actually, he had his own comparison, a rather good one:
“Of course they want to regulate themselves, we’d all like to regulate ourselves wouldn’t we?” he said. “Builders, accountants, murderers, they’d all like to regulate themselves.” He added: “The murderers would make a very good case – they’d say we murdered a lot of people, we know people who have murdered people. We really are best qualified to regulate.”
Dramatically, these remarks led within just a few minutes to the verbal murder of a particular journalist present in the room, one Mr Alex Wickham. Allow me to announce it Cluedo style: he was attacked by the chairman, in the committee room, with some very blunt accusations!
Wickham, as the chairman revealed, is a sleazeball sting artist working with political blog Guido Fawkes. The scurrilous scribe had immediately tweeted what Cleese said, in a message falsely implying the comedy actor had seriously compared the newspaper bosses to murderers. In a trice, news of this tweet got back to the committee room, where the chairman outed and admonished Wickham, saying he didn’t know how he could sleep at night, doing what he did. There were calls around the room for the malefactor to stand up and be seen.
The pressure must have got to the hounded hack, because he meekly stood up, as he had been ordered, and tried to explain himself. He didn’t get far before he was slapped down by the chair, who said, “Sit down, I don’t want to give you a platform as you have a megaphone”.
I didn’t feel sorry for Wickham, who is a double-dyed shit. I did, however, find myself a bit uneasy over the kangaroo court I had witnessed. And I noted, also, that one of the later speakers was a dreary feminist of the most humourless kind, who spent her allotted time at the mic grinding out a litany of demands for new press standards including a requirement that the term “under-age sex” should be replaced with “child rape”. Alarmingly, she was given a substantial round of applause.
Maybe Spiked has got it at least half-right after all.
Looking beyond Westminster, it has been another extraordinary week in Britain’s disastrous post-Savile Cultural Revolution, worth half a dozen separate blogs at least. Sadly, I’ll have to settle for a few brief news items with links.
* I tell a lie. The relaxed atmosphere changed once PIE hit the headlines in a big way. After that, in 1977, PIE speakers, including me, were No Platformed a lot. In Liverpool, for instance, I was not only prevented from speaking at the university, I was also banned by the Liverpool Hoteliers Association from staying in any of their hotels!
JAIL EVERYONE IN THE LAND, DEMANDS PM
Well, not quite everyone, but British prime minister David Cameron made a giant leap towards outright insanity by insisting it’s not good enough just to jail “abusers”; now he wants to put teachers, social workers and local councillors behind bars if they fail to meet his stringent witch-hunting targets. Coming in the wake of a report on the “grooming” of teenage girls Oxfordshire by ethnic minority males , the move is a blatantly populist piece of pre-election gesture politics. As letter-writers to the Guardian and others have pointed out, the main result will be to further discourage anyone from working with children in professions already suffering from low pay and low prestige. On the Oxfordshire situation, these reports are very revealing, although not necessarily in the way their writers intended: see professionals and kingfisher.
TOUCHING IS WORSE THAN TORTURING
Glam rock star Gary Glitter was jailed for 16 years for under-age sex with three girls. His offences, though serious, appear to have been essentially of a “statutory rape” kind plus lesser intimacies rather than truly violent: the three girls in question were his fans. The youngest was eight. A mother who tortured her eight-year-old daughter to death received a lesser sentence, of 13 years. The court heard that her lesbian lover convinced her that the child was possessed by demons and had to be “destroyed”. The women would give the little girl cold baths, force feed her until she was sick and make her scrub the bathroom floor to rid her of “evil spirits”. She died from a blow to the head at her home. What does this contrast say about our society’s values?
RACCOON WRESTLES WITH ‘ALLEGATORS’
The indefatigable Anna Raccoon has again been wrestling the ‘allegators’ in the Savile case on her wonderful blog, exposing the paucity of allegation after allegation. See her Home Page and scroll down for five recent blogs with Savile in the title. To my mind, though Anna’s most devastating recent piece was Alphabet Soup and Paedo Hysteria. which looks at the work of Kevin Harrington, the author of Serious Case Reviews on real child abuse, ranging from Child ‘A’ in London, through Child ‘C’ in Portsmouth, onwards to Child ‘K’ in Southampton and beyond. These are ghastly cases like the torture/death one above, most of which never even make the national headlines. As Anna points out, instead of pouring in resources to prevent these cases, money, effort and attention is wasted on paedo hysteria instead.
ONE THAT FLEW UNDER THE GAYDAR
To finish on a pleasanter note, Wendy Fenwick in the March/April edition of Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, reviews Craig Johnson’s recent film The Skeleton Twins, which sounds good, although way too gay for my taste. Anyone seen it? She writes:
[Milo’s] first sexual experience was with a high school teacher when the lad was only fifteen. It was a huge deal when it happened – things were settled quietly, we learn – but Milo isn’t completely over the relationship and in fact seeks out the teacher, named Rich, with thoughts of reviving the affair. Thus has the movie entered that radioactive territory of “intergenerational sex,” otherwise known as pederasty. What’s surprising is that the film doesn’t indulge in the usual hand-wringing over Rich’s turpitude or dwell on how Milo was traumatized for life by the affair. In fact, Milo wasn’t traumatized at all and insists that it was not only consensual but a positive experience in his early gay life. …I’m surprised it didn’t trigger more controversy than it did, including threats of a boycott.
Even Daily Mail critic Brian Viner allowed himself to like it, perhaps because the overall context is a gentle romcom not a fiercely challenging drama.