Friday, February 17, 2006

2006.005 Polly Toynbee and PR 

On 20 January 2006 I emailed the following to Polly Toynbee about her Guardian column-
You say today that the Social Democratic Party (which I joined at the outset) ‘was crushed by the first-past-the post system, without a fair share of seats’. Please note that the italicised words are untrue, as I could show at length if you wish. Furthermore PR inevitably produces coalitions, where no elector gets the manifesto she or he voted for. Is that fair?
She replied saying we didn’t get 25% of the seats, but we got the votes, adding that as for ‘fair’ she thinks publicly-negotiated policies between parties are fairer than private fixes in back rooms between de facto coalitions Lab and Con, ‘with us left to hold our nose and vote for least worst’. She added: ‘At least if you vote for a small party you know your party has a chance of exerting that amount of influence.’ She said she knew there were problems ‘but this system is the worst’. I replied-
The Commons is a collection of people each representing one area of the country. Fairness does not require a losing vote in one area to have any worth in another area. That contradicts the nature of voting for a representative.
Her answer was that at least I should support the alternative vote, putting candidates in 1, 2, 3 order in each constituency.

I left it at that, though I could have returned my stock answer on the alternative vote. This is contained (among other arguments on PR) in an unpublished letter I sent to the Daily Express on 18 April 1998. I will end this by giving the full text of the letter.

Bob Coultas (Letters, 18 April 1998) is mistaken in praising proportional representation (PR), just as Paddy Ashdown is mistaken in saying it gives fair votes. First past the post (FPTP) is the fairest system because it awards the seat to the candidate who got more votes than anyone else.

Mr Coultas is quite wrong to say that FPTP ‘does not make for good or stable government’. History shows it makes for both. It is the patched-up coalitions inevitably produced by PR that lead to instability, shown by constant changes of government.

The greatest flaw of PR is that it never gives the voter for a particular party the policies the party advocated in the election. This is because the party never gets enough seats to form a government on its own. To achieve a majority of votes in parliament it must always join with one or more other parties with different policies. The result is a mishmash.

All the varieties of PR are open to grave objections. The alternative vote system gives as big a value to an elector’s second preference as it does to the first, which is contrary to the reality. The additional list system, adding non-constituency seats to create an aggregate number of members corresponding to votes cast, means that some members were not in fact elected and have no constituents. The multi-member constituency system, extending over a huge area, is unwieldy, giving an elector no MP to call his or her own.

PR means that you always get a coalition government. Deals are done to arrive at this. Principles are sacrificed. The voter never can be sure what he or she is really voting for. One-party government means clear, strong government (so far as that’s possible in a democracy). It means government precisely according to the election manifesto that was more popular than any other manifesto. That is much better than fudge government, under deals botched together after the election. So let’s keep the present system for Westminster.

FBBB125 Doc. No. 2006.005

Monday, January 23, 2006

2006.002 Children deprived of contact with adults 

In an article in the Guardian (26 November 2005) titled ‘We have a responsibility to look out for all children – not just our own’ Jenni Russell said man cannot now communicate in any way with a strange child, even if it is in distress, for fear of being mistaken for a paedophile. She adds: ‘This is a historically unprecedented way for children to be brought up – leaving the job exclusively to parents and paid professionals’.

I will not try to repeat any more of what the article says – I agree with every word of it. I will just add a little about my own current experiences as a man of 83. Broadly there are two aspects, befriending and scolding.

I find that nowadays English children are so schooled to fear strangers that they react badly to any friendly approach, however slight. A mere smile discomfits them (in the dictionary sense of ‘To throw into perplexity, confusion, or dejection, to disconcert’). Parents tend to react badly to the slightest approach to their child from a stranger. Regretfully I therefore refrain from making any such approaches. I agree with Jenni that the children lose by this new attitude of adults.

Contrary to what Jenni says, I have not yet got to the point of refraining from rebuking unruly children, though one has to beware of parental retaliation.
Finally, the question is what can be done to redress this? A change in public attitudes is needed. We all have a responsibility here.

FBBB124 Doc. No. 2006.002

Thursday, August 25, 2005

2005.052 Treachery of the Intelligentsia 

In previous blogs (see FBBB51 and FBBB077) I attacked the movement described in Julien Benda’s 1927 book La Trahison des Clercs (translated by Richard Aldington as The Betrayal of [it should be ‘by’] the Intellectuals), which attacked treachery by European intelligentsia towards the values in which they were reared. It is otherwise known as fouling one’s own nest. In particular the intellectual value betrayed is disinterested scholarship – nowadays shockingly undermined by the thought-police monstrosity known as political correctness.

One such treacherous intellectual was E M Forster, as shown in his 1920 book Notes on the English Character[1]. Forster’s charge against the English is that of hypocrisy. For me the most interesting part of Forster’s thesis comes at the end, when his impatience with English falsity breaks through.
‘I hope and believe myself that in the next twenty years we shall see a great change, and that the national character will alter into something that is less unique but more loveable. The supremacy of the middle classes is probably ending. What new element the working classes will introduce one cannot say, but at all events they will not have been educated at public school.’
Outrage! This is indeed the trahison des clercs. Because the highly educated Forster is frustrated over the rejection of his sexual inclinations he will disown his class, and his privileged education. He will select as a long-term lover a man from the working class. One sympathises, but wishes he had been wiser. Culturally, as everyone knows, the post-war rise of the working class in England has been an unmitigated disaster.

In her book A House Unlocked, about her family home Golsoncott, Penelope Lively confirmed what I have long thought to be the strange English paradox of modern times whereby the higher class rejects its patrimony. Why does it do this? Is it out of guilt, or obtuseness, or a failure to understand the truths of humanity - or what?

I myself spring from the lower class. That only made me resolve to climb higher, which to an extent I managed to do. But I was confounded to find that as, inch by inch, I contrived to rise, so the scenario gradually changed. It began to matter less and less whether one spoke with the right accent, proffered the correct courtesies, or convinced people that one deserved the rank of a gentleman. Indeed the very concept of being a gentleman began to disappear. The last remnant surfaced when I heard a policeman refer in court to a dirty ragged tramp as ‘this gentleman’. But perhaps he had in mind (though I doubt it) that old phrase a ‘gentleman of the road’.

In her book Lively regrets the class system. I, on the other hand, applaud it and regret its obsolescence. I do not think it suits human nature to pretend we are all equal, when manifestly we are not. In my view it is not seemly that a distinguished professor, say, should be deprived of his servant so that he is obliged to fend for himself in such matters as shopping and washing up. That is not one of our culture’s triumphs I fancy.

Lively tells us convincingly just how she differed from her Grandmother on questions of class. I myself would side with her Grandmother. I would like to have lived in the days when the gong in the hall summoned people for meals, and bells ringing below stairs hurried obedient domestics to serve their betters as they were expected and accustomed to do. The usual counter is that you wouldn’t think that if you yourself were the domestic. That is facile and, to me, unconvincing. If I were the domestic, I would have the equipment and outlook of a domestic. If it were really myself, with the qualities I have, there would be a chance of escape to higher things. That chance is what matters.

When Lively was a young woman at Golsoncott with the idealism of youth she wished to align herself with the poor. It bothered her that many English people were living below the poverty line while she and her upper middle class relatives were comfortably off. But the poor, said Christ, are always with us. There will always be people who lack the ability to cope with life. One should sympathize with them, and help them; but their plight ought not to dictate our social arrangements. If it does, we have got it wrong and much harm will result. As I believe it has.

Although George Orwell was himself an Etonian of the left he had a secure understanding of la trahison des clercs. This is shown in the following extended extract from his 1941 essay ‘England Your England’-

‘It should be noted that there is now no intelligentsia that is not in some sense ‘left’. Perhaps the last right-wing intellectual was T. E. Lawrence. Since about 1930 everyone describable as an ‘intellectual’ has lived in a state of chronic discontent with the existing order. Necessarily so, because society as it was constituted had no room for him. In an Empire that was simply stagnant, neither being developed nor falling to pieces, and in an England ruled by people whose chief asset was their stupidity, to be ‘clever’ was to be suspect. If you had the kind of brain that could understand the poems of T. S. Eliot or the theories of Karl Marx, the higher-ups would see to it that you were kept out of any important job. The intellectuals could find a function for themselves only in the literary reviews and the left-wing political parties.

‘The mentality of the English left-wing intelligentsia can be studied in half a dozen weekly and monthly papers. The immediately striking thing about all these papers is
their generally negative, querulous attitude, their complete lack at all times of any constructive suggestion. There is little in them except the irresponsible carping of people who have never been and never expect to be in a position of power. Another marked characteristic is the emotional shallowness of people who live in a world of ideas and have little contact with physical reality. Many intellectuals of the Left were flabbily pacifist up to 1935, shrieked for war against Germany in the years 1935-9, and then promptly cooled off when the war started. It is broadly though not precisely true that the people who were most ‘anti-Fascist’ during the Spanish Civil War are most defeatist now. And underlying this is the really important fact about so many of the English intelligentsia – their severance from the common culture of the country.

‘In intention, at any rate, the English intelligentsia are Europeanized. They take their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow. In the general patriotism of the country they form a sort of island of dissident thought. England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during ‘God save the King’ than of stealing from a poor box. All through the critical years many left-wingers were chipping away at English morale, trying to spread an outlook that was sometimes squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but
always anti-British. It is questionable how much effect this had, but it certainly had some. If the English people suffered for several years a real weakening of morale, so that the Fascist nations judged that they were ‘decadent’ and that it was safe to plunge into war, the intellectual sabotage from the Left was partly responsible. Both the New Statesman and the News Chronicle cried out against the Munich settlement, but even they had done something to make it possible. Ten years of systematic Blimp-baiting affected even the Blimps themselves and made it harder than it had been before to get intelligent young men to enter the armed forces. Given the stagnation of the Empire, the military middle class must have decayed in any case, but the spread of a shallow Leftism hastened the process.

‘It is clear that the special position of the English intellectuals during the past ten years, as purely negative creatures, mere anti-Blimps, was a by-product of ruling-class stupidity. Society could not use them, and they had not got it in them to see that devotion to one's country implies ‘for better, for worse’. Both Blimps and highbrows took for granted, as though it were a law of nature, the divorce between patriotism and intelligence. If you were a patriot you read Blackwood's Magazine and publicly thanked God that you were ‘not brainy’. If you were an intellectual you sniggered at the Union Jack and regarded physical courage as barbarous. It is obvious that this preposterous convention cannot continue. The Bloomsbury highbrow, with his mechanical snigger, is as out-of-date as the cavalry colonel. A modern nation cannot afford either of them. Patriotism and intelligence will have to come together again. It is the fact that we are fighting a war, and a very peculiar kind of war, that may make this possible.’

This is sound, though Orwell oversteps the mark in saying society could not use intellectuals. He also proved too optimistic in forecasting that patriotism and intelligence would have to come together. Today there are as many people as ever there were who are like those of whom W. S. Gilbert wrote in the Mikado, saying ‘they never would be missed’-

‘The idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,

All centuries but this, and every country but his own.’

1 Reprinted in Abinger Harvest (Edward Arnold, 1936).
FBBB123 Doc. No. 2005.052

Monday, July 11, 2005

2005.041 Brave Muslim voices 

According to the Sunday Telegraph (10 July 2005) Tariq Al-Humayd, editor of Al-Sharq Al Awsat, a leading Arab newspaper, has attacked ordinary Muslims in Britain for funding terrorists. He said that collections are frequently held in Arab areas of London for jihadi causes disguised as charities. He wrote-
‘In London we have seen, and are seeing, the money being collected in the streets, and the conventions under various titles, and everyone is inciting jihad in our Arab countries and cursing the land of unbelief in which they live. When you express amazement at this, they tell you that this is freedom. Has freedom no responsibility? No one answers. When you tell them, “Stop being so tolerant of the incitement that comes from your own country, from your skies and from your internet” they turn away. And what happened? The terror struck London, indiscriminately . . . For the sake of the freedom of all of us, stop the ones who are attacking our freedom.’
The report then mentions Amir Taheri (see Blog FBBB121). Apparently he is a columnist of Al-Sharq Al Awsat. The report quotes him as criticising Muslims who equivocate over terrorist attacks. Insinuations that they are provoked by Western actions such as the invasion of Iraq give terrorists the impression that they have tacit support in England. Amir Taheri adds-
‘Until we hear the voices of the Muslims condemning attacks of this kind with no words of qualification such as “but” and “if”, the suicide bombers and the murderers will have an excuse to think that they enjoy the support of all Muslims. The real battle against the enemy of mankind will begin when the “silent Majority” in the Islamic world makes its voice heard against the murderers, and against those who brainwash them, believe them and fund them.’
No praise is too high for these brave Muslim voices who speak out against their own wrongdoers. What a humiliating contrast to the treacherous voices of home-grown British defenders of the indefensible such as Tony Benn and George Galloway!
FBBB122 Doc. No. 2005.041

Friday, July 08, 2005

2005.039 London bombed - And this is why they did it 

While a vestige of freedom of speech remains in Britain before the Government forces through its religious hatred Bill, I want to speak out about the Islamic origins of the bomb attack on London which occurred on 7 July 2005, coinciding with the opening of the G8 Summit. As I write on the day following that event it is reported that 52 people were killed and 700 injured in the attack. No doubt these figures will rise.

After the attack the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of ‘the faith communities hanging together’. This is strange coming from the head of the Christian Church of England. If faith means anything, what should concern him is surely that the Christian communities hang together. Prime Minister Blair said: ‘The vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims here and abroad are decent and law-abiding people who abhor these acts of terrorism every bit as much as we do”. This may be true, but we should recognise that it is not the whole story. The whole story lies in the nature of the Islamic faith.

I opened my Times this morning to find that what I was about to write had been said for me in an authoritative way by Amir Taheri, an Iranian commentator on the so-called Middle East (what happened to the Near East, familiar when I was young?). Under the same heading I have given this piece, he puts concisely what I have been arguing in books, speeches and articles over many years.

Taheri begins with a reminder of Theo van Gogh, the Dutch film-maker who was shot by an Islamist assassin on his way to work in Amsterdam last November. Van Gogh begged for mercy and tried to reason with his assailant. ‘Surely we can discuss this,’ he kept saying as the shots kept coming. ‘Let’s talk it over.’ Van Gogh, who had angered Islamists with his documentary about the mistreatment of women in Islam, was reacting like BBC reporters did yesterday, assuming that the man who was killing him may have some reasonable demands which could be discussed in a calm, democratic atmosphere. Or like the foolish Tony Benn who argued on Newsnight last night that the matter could be resolved by holding a Middle East peace conference. It is not a case for talking, says Taheri. What the enemy wants is ‘to take full control of your lives, dictate every single move you make round the clock and, if you dare resist, he will feel it his divine duty to kill you’.

Taheri says the ideological soil in which al Qaeda, and the many groups using its brand name, grow was described by one of its original masterminds, the Pakistani Abul-Ala al-Maudoodi more than 40 years ago-
‘When God created mankind He made all their bodily needs and movements subject to inescapable biological rules but decided to leave their spiritual, social and political needs and movements largely subject to their will. Soon, however, it became clear that Man cannot run his affairs the way God wants. So God started sending prophets to warn man and try to goad him on to the right path. A total of 128,000 prophets were sent, including Moses and Jesus. They all failed. Finally, God sent Muhammad as the last of His prophets and the bearer of His ultimate message, Islam. With the advent of Islam all previous religions were ‘abrogated’ (mansukh), and their followers regarded as ‘infidel’ (kuffar). The aim of all good Muslims, therefore, is to convert humanity to Islam, which regulates Man’s spiritual, economic, political and social moves to the last detail.’
But, says Taheri, what if non-Muslims refuse to take the right path? Here answers diverge. Some believe that the answer is dialogue and argument until followers of the ‘abrogated faiths’ recognise their error and agree to be saved by converting to Islam. This is the view of most of the imams preaching in the mosques in the West. But others, including Osama bin Laden, a disciple of al-Maudoodi, believe that the Western-dominated world is too mired in corruption to hear any argument, and must be shocked into conversion through spectacular ghazavat (raids) of the kind we saw in New York and Washington in 2001, in Madrid last year, and now in London.

That yesterday’s attack was intended as a ghazava was confirmed, says Taheri, in a statement by the Secret Organisation Group of al-Qaeda of Jihad Organisation in Europe, an Islamist group that claimed responsibility for yesterday’s atrocity. It said ‘We have fulfilled our promise and carried out our blessed military raid (ghazava) in Britain after our mujahideen exerted strenuous efforts over a long period of time to ensure the success of the raid.’ Those who carry out these missions are the ghazis, the highest of all Islamic distinctions just below that of the shahid or martyr. A ghazi who also becomes a shahid will be doubly meritorious.

There are, adds Taheri, many Muslims who believe that the idea that all other faiths have been ‘abrogated’ and that the whole of mankind should be united under the banner of Islam must be dropped as a dangerous anachronism. ‘But to the Islamist those Muslims who think like that are themselves regarded as lapsed, and deserving of death’.

Taheri says that it is, of course, possible, as many in the West love to do, to ignore the strategic goal of the Islamists altogether and focus only on their tactical goals. These include driving the ‘Cross-worshippers’ (Christian powers) out of the Muslim world, wiping Israel off the map of the Middle East, and replacing the governments of all Muslim countries with truly Islamic regimes like the one created by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and by the Taleban in Afghanistan.

How to achieve those objectives has, Taheri adds, been the subject of much debate in Islamist circles throughout the world since 9/11. Bin Laden has consistently argued in favour of further ghazavat inside the West. He firmly believes that the West is too cowardly to fight back and, if terrorised in a big way, will do ‘what it must do’. That view was strengthened last year when al-Qaeda changed the Spanish Government with its deadly attack in Madrid. At the time bin Laden used his ‘Madrid victory’ to call on other European countries to distance themselves from the United States or face similar ‘punishment’.

Taheri ends by saying that Bin Laden’s view has been challenged by his supposed No 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who insists that the Islamists should first win the war inside several vulnerable Muslim countries, notably Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Until yesterday it seemed that al-Zawahiri was winning the argument, especially by heating things up in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yesterday, the bin Laden doctrine struck back in London.
FBBB121 Doc. No. 2005.039

Thursday, June 09, 2005

2005.035 An alternative European Treaty? 

On 6 June 2005 the BBC Radio Four Today programme came up with another of its rather absurd stunts. It published the following-

We’ve asked Conservative MP David Heathcoat Amory to come up with an alternative text. Mr Heathcoat Amory was a British representative on the convention on the future of Europe, which drew up the constitution.

He opposed the final version and helped produce a minority report outlining a different vision of Europe. His proposed treaty - a term he prefers to constitution - is based on that report and is set out below.

In the run-up to the summit on 16 June, we’re seeking suggestions for amendments to his treaty.

A Europe of Democracies

Aware of the need to strengthen democracy and respect for the rule of law in Europe,
Observing the growing gulf between the EU institutions and the people of Europe and the loss of popular support for the EU as proved by successive referendums:
We propose transforming the EU into a Europe of Democracies (ED) which should be a treaty association of free and self-governing European states and an open economic area.
1) Europe of Democracies . Europe shall not be governed by constitution. Instead, it shall be organised on an inter-parliamentary basis by means of a Treaty on European Cooperation. This will create a Europe of Democracies (ED) in place of the European Union.
2) Open to all democracies. Membership of the ED shall be open to any democratic European state which is a signatory of and respects fully the European Convention on Human Rights.
3) Simplified decision-making. ED laws shall be passed by unanimous vote by the ED council in which each member state government is represented on the basis of equality. ED laws may allow for implementing measures to be passed by majority voting by 75 per cent of council members representing at least half the ED total population.
4) National parliaments elect the Commission. An ED Commission based in Helsinki shall sit as a secretariat for the council and the national parliaments. Every nation parliament shall elect its own member of the commission. National parliaments shall decide on the annual legislative programme.
5) Powers and Competencies. ED legislation shall be confined to cross-border policies areas such as mutual trade and environmental issues. External representation of the ED shall be undertaken by the president of the ED, elected annually by the council by unanimity. The ED shall not have legal personality and will not itself be a party to international agreements.
6) Openness and Transparency. The decision-making process and all relevant documents shall be open and accessible and available on demand.
7) A European Assembly. There shall be an assembly composed of seconded national parliamentarians which shall meet six times a year to discuss proposed ED laws and advise the council but it shall not itself legislate
8) No legal activism. The European Court shall be composed of one judge from each member state, elected by national parliaments for a single four-year term. The court shall resolve disputes between member states and interpret ED laws. Treaty interpretations shall be referred to the council.
9) No militarisation. The ED shall not have its own armed forces, armaments agency or defence pact.

Francis Bennion’s comments

As a constitutional lawyer and parliamentary draftsman I would respond to the above as follows.

I approve of the basic idea, but this document is not a treaty at all, much less a constitution. It has hardly any content. To start with it lacks objects.

I suggest the objects should be as follows-
The purpose of the ED shall be to facilitate co-operation between the member states on matters concerning trade, finance, communications, the environment, climate change, immigration and asylum, policing, extradition, and such other matters as may be agreed by unanimous vote of the member states.
I do not propose to suggest further additions because this is impracticable in view of the following basic defects.

The institutions
The document provides for the following institutions: a Council, a Commission, an Assembly, a President and a Court.

All it says about the Council is that each member state government shall be represented on it on the basis of equality. It says nothing about the Council’s functions.

It says the Commission shall be based in Helsinki (why remote Helsinki?) and shall sit as a secretariat for the Council and the national parliaments. The latter have their own secretariats, so what’s the point of that? Again, nothing is said about the Commission’s functions.

All it says about the Assembly is that it shall be composed of seconded national parliamentarians (how many?), and shall meet six times a year to discuss proposed ED laws and advise the Council. Nothing else nothing is said about the Assembly’s functions.

It says the President shall be elected annually by the Council by unanimity (suppose unanimity is lacking?).

It says the Court shall be composed of one judge from each member state, elected by national parliaments. It is unusual for parliaments to elect judges: they know nothing about the candidates.

It says the Court shall resolve disputes between member states. What happens to existing international courts, such as the International Court of Justice?

The laws
The document says ED laws shall be passed by unanimous vote by the Council. All it says about the extent of the Council’s legislative powers is that they shall be confined to cross-border policies areas such as mutual trade and environmental issues. This is so vague as to be meaningless.

What about the existing set-up?
The existing EU set-up is huge and complex. Many thousands of people have legal rights under it, which cannot just be swept away without compensation. Nor can we ignore (as the document does) the vast structure of existing EU laws, whose validity in Britain depends on the European Communities Act 1972. It is not an answer simply to repeal these; there must be complex transitional provisions. Again these would involve huge sums in compensation.

My conclusion is that this is no way to draft a treaty or a constitution.

FBBB120 Doc No. 2005.035

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

2005.033 Hard News and Soft News on Today 

I used to think of the BBC as Auntie, and treat her with affectionate respect. Then Mr James Naughtie said on the Today programme just before the 2005 general election the he hoped ‘we’ would win (meaning the Blairites). This confirmed me in the view that BBC now stands for Blairite Broadcasting Corporation. Hence the rather abrupt terms in which I sent a message to the Today programme on 26 May 2005.
The Today programme, at around 7.45 after discussing the newspapers, always has some silly item that makes me switch off. Today it was the voices of South American tribes speaking their barbarous tongue. It’s not what we want to hear as we struggle to start the day. Please give us sensible news items about things that actually matter to us (not OUGHT to matter).
I was rather surprised to get a civilised reply from a named individual.
Thank you for your e-mail regarding our recent item on a fast-disappearing Native American language. I’m sorry you didn’t like the report. But with the greatest respect, such is the lot of a three-hour programme. Some listeners will love an item, others will loathe it. We try and balance news reports across the programme to ensure a breadth of coverage and a variety of hard and soft news.

I do not accept that this particular report was not “sensible” (what exactly does that mean?). The extinction of a language is of huge interest to anthropologists and sociologists alike, and is as worthy of coverage and as relevant to many listeners as a sports result, a political intrigue or a bomb attack overseas.

I accept it wasn’t to your liking, which is a shame. But stick with us: invariably there’ll be another report along in a minute which could find greater favour.
I sent an answer in the same vein.
Thank you for your reply. I found it instructive, with its contrast between hard news and soft news. I infer that this translates as follows-
Hard news = genuine news

Soft news = current affairs items that are not real news.
What I was trying to say in my previous email was that most listeners to the Today programme (at least those who are going out to work or travelling to work) want nothing else but hard news. There’s plenty of it, and we want to be fully updated at the start of the day.

What we don’t want from Today is soft news, which we prefer to keep for times when we relax after work.
This was sloppy, and I got what I asked for.
I’d be interested in seeing the research which supports your confident claim that ‘most listeners . . . want nothing else but hard news’. It contrasts sharply with the analysis our own research department has carried out, and with the feedback we receive each day via e-mails, letters and the website.

Today is a news and current affairs programme. I’m sorry if you’d prefer to save 50% of that for after-work hours, but there are currently no plans to alter our format or balance. However, we will of course continue to monitor the specific views of listeners and, where possible, to target our coverage accordingly.
I confessed my fault.
Well, blow me down!
I never knew that Today was a news and current affairs programme.
I deserved your sarcasm. I’ll know better in future.

The old Auntie here reasserted herself. It wouldn’t do for her to be seen to be sarcastic to listeners.
Mmm - wouldn’t want to put you off altogether. Really didn’t intend to be brutally sarcastic: genuinely do feel free to feed in thoughts anytime.
I might just do that.
FBBB119 Doc. No. 2005.033

Monday, March 07, 2005

2005.011Paul Foot goes down for the third time 

That right-wing softy Douglas Hurd (who scarcely deserves the honourable epithet right-wing) made the mistake of reviewing a book by the late Paul Foot in the Sunday Telegraph on 20 February 2005. This is the third time I’ve had a go at Foot since his welcome decease (the others were 2004.013 and 2004.015) . I’d better stop or it will begin to look like necrophilia (necrophobia more like).

Hurd absurdly says Paul Foot’s voice is missed. It is missed by me about as much as Princess Diana’s wisdom is missed. I rejoiced when I heard of the death of each of them, that they could do no more mischief in our world. I revelled at that news nearly as much as I did when, as an RAF pilot in World War II, I heard that the invention of the atom bomb had saved me from service against the amiable Japanese.

Foot’s book is about votes for women. Hurd spots a silly error where Foot said that Cromwell shot rebel leaders in Burton churchyard when it was really Burford. Then he spots a ‘howler’ where Foot thinks the 1828 Catholic Emancipation crisis was about whether Irish Catholics should be given the vote when in fact they already had the vote as much as anyone had it in England. Then Hurd says Foot’s allegation that the Chartists were ruthlessly crushed by the English forces of law and order ‘doesn’t fit the evidence’.

So it goes on. The wretched Foot calls the summer of 1972 ‘glorious’ because it was when trade union militants began to get the better of Ted Heath. Hurd retorts that he remembers the year 1972 as ‘the most politically miserable of my working life’. So why does he bother to review this book? He can’t need the fee surely.

Enraged, I raise my eyes from Hurd’s review and find in the one above it on the page (by Graham Robb) the extraordinary statement that most of the book he is reviewing ‘has the pointless obscurity of academic prose’. Having written acres of academic prose in my time I am speechless with further anger at this impudence.

Returning to Hurd. He is typical of so many upper class English people. Instead of stamping on the vipers in our midst (such as the wicked Paul Foot) he pats them indulgently on the head. Hasn’t he the brains to see how dangerous and destructive these class traitors are? It’s a dreadful kind of rot, a dry rot or wet rot, that has warped and finally almost destroyed our fine English traditions. That’s why I get so angry about it.
FBBB118 Doc No. 2005.011

Friday, February 11, 2005

2005.006 Brilliant Brat Camp 

Channel Four’s Brat Camp is the best thing currently on British television – for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. It tells us a great deal about what, before we went non-judgmental, used to be called delinquent children. It links to that unfashionable and difficult concept known to the Christian church as original sin. It also links to a news item in The Times for 9 February 2005-

A father of two has been jailed for 42 days for smacking his six-year old son when the boy failed to wipe his bottom properly.

As the instalments of Brat Camp unfold we see eight young English people aged sixteen or seventeen struggling to cope with the regime at a Utah boot camp designed to reclaim children whose misbehaviour exceeds all bounds. Their parents, middle class or what used to be called working class, are also shown in their earlier struggles with the children. Unlike so many, they are not bad parents. They love their children, and have done their very best to bring them up properly.

The Brat Camp children have not responded well to this kind treatment. On the contrary, they swear at, and even physically assault, their loving parents. They are hooked on alcohol and/or drugs. They get excluded from school for intolerable misbehaviour. They demand (and usually get) expensive designer clothes. And, with the willing consent of their suffering parents, they are now in the Utah boot camp - and do not like it one little bit.

It is sheer fascination to watch these naughty children meet their Nemesis in the depths of the arid, rocky Utah desert. There is no escape for them, because there is nowhere habitable to escape to. The pitiless sun glares down. The pitiless camp staff glare at the smallest misdemeanour, and will not put up with it. The children start at the harshest level, sitting before a little tent in a little stone circle. There is no talking, and no companionship. The food is of the plainest. The bunk bed has no mattress and no pillow. The only release, to the next highest level, is through good behaviour. Once they get there, conditions are a little bit better – but they are sent back down if they offend in the smallest way.

The fascination comes from watching the clash of wills. With these hard-faced youngsters, their self-will has triumphed on every occasion in the past. Now they are up against experienced, wily operators who have all the cards stacked on their side. Only one outcome is possible, provided the parents do not relent. So far, they have shown no sign of doing that.

Of course there are sneers from the bien-pensants. Predictably The Times (T2, 8 February 2005) writes-

The recalcitrant teenagers continue to be subjected to a relentless diet of homespun platitudes in the Utah desert. ‘What I think right now’, says one of the folksy good ol’ boys in charge of the boot camp ‘is that they need some more shaking up. They need to understand, by golly, that this is what it is and this is what it’s going to be’. Nobody is suggesting that the teenagers’ past behaviour was pleasant, but it is unlikely to have emerged out of nowhere for no reason. Simplistic solutions to complex problems are attractive, but they can also be destructive, abusive and just plain wrong.

Typical weasel words from the lefty brigade. An honest commentator would say (if he meant it) that this particular treatment is ‘destructive, abusive and just plain wrong’. The slimy weasel dislikes committing himself, so shuffles out of it with ‘can be . . .’ Well, is it or isn’t it? This is the smear in its classic form.

And what of the father who has been jailed for smacking his six-year old son when the boy failed to wipe his bottom properly? What has he got to do with it, you may be asking.

Well if you are asking that, I’m sorry for you. Pay attention. So far you’ve missed the point and lost the plot.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

2004.128 Sent to Coventry for saying 'nigger' 

Football commentator Ron Atkinson, universally known as ‘Big Ron’, was manager of Coventry City football club in 1995-96, a period when they won only 14 matches out of 64. I remembered this when on 13 December 2004 I watched a fascinating programme on BBC One television about how Big Ron has been sent to Coventry for uttering the forbidden word ‘nigger’ when he thought the microphone was switched off. I present the following nuanced account (lovely word that).

When this happened last April I had a letter published in The Times.
Language indeed is powerful,
that there’s no denying:
if we doubted, the proof is in the wicked new word racist.
O what a wicked word that is
to be thrust by impudent persons
into our proud and decorous English language!

[For the whole poem see POEMOTIONS.]

The rest of this Blog derives from the entry ‘Nigger’ in the text of my unpublished DICTIONARY OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS.
The word is derived from the Latin ‘niger’, black. It is a long time since Stephen Foster could cheerfully write‑
‘Dere’s no more hard work for poor old Ned,
He’s gone whar de good niggers go.’

It is however within living memory that children were taught to sing to a very catchy tune‑
‘Ten little nigger boys sat down to dine
A crocodile ate one, and then there were nine.’

[And so on, until there were none.]

Nowadays the word is perceived to typify all the wrongs done to Africans (often by their own people) in the days of slavery and, later, of segregation, as expressed in the old saying ‘the only good nigger is a dead nigger’. So, as Ron Atkinson so painfully found, it is necessary to avoid using it, and any compound expression such as the following (all formerly in common use): ‘nigger in the woodpile’, ‘nigger brown’, ‘nigger minstrel’. Even terms reminiscent of those must be eschewed. For example BBC television for years ran a highly popular production called ‘The Black and White Minstrel Show’. Recently that title too has been perceived as tainted by racism, and is no longer used. The popular Agatha Christie novel Ten Little Niggers had to be retitled Ten Little Indians until that too became incorrect. To be safe from reproach it would now have to be called Ten Little Native Americans, though even that would risk being challenged by the politically correct as sizeist.

In his published Journal 1928-1937, edited by David Pryce-Jones, Cyril Connolly has this entry for 1928: ‘The English girls of the lower classes like Indians, Italians, or niggers; those of the lower middle seem to despise them, but obviously like them in practice. Good manners and passion of the foreigner are everywhere well spoken of - on the other hand nobody likes the Jews’. A poster was once put up at the University of Michigan reading ‘A mind is a terrible thing to waste ‑ especially on a nigger’. What sort of mind produced that?

It is perfectly all right for blacks to use the forbidden word among themselves. Many rap artists do this. NWA stands for Niggers With Attitude, a group which sings about the desirability of violence against white people.

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