Sunday, January 30, 2011


American readers should probably be reminded at this point that the Daily Mail isn't a mere supermarket tabloid. It's the second best selling newspaper in the UK. It has influence: even, astonishingly, on what used to be called the left-wing of British politics. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Jack Straw and David Blunkett read and cultivated the Daily Mail. They feared it. Melanie Phillips appears on the radio and the tellybox -- on respectable programme like Question Time and Any Questions and the Moral Maze: not, like Nicky Griffin, as part of a freak show, with demonstrators screaming outside and the chairman not allowing anyone to get a word in edgeways -- step right up folks, and see the amazing performing fascist -- but as a normal, non-controversial talk-show pundit. And every word she writes – and very nearly every word that appears in the Daily Mel – is dedicated to a proposition. That the white, male, Church of England, middle class heterosexual is an oppressed and endangered minority.

This is a nasty, nasty, nasty tendency in political discourse, and it needs to be knocked on the head before someone gets hurt. Everybody is at it. I don't know whether it's a post-Christian thing – the Archbishop of Canterbury has long since ceased to preach Christ Crucified, but something in the culture still tells us to fetishize victimhood. Or if its a hangover from the collective trauma of the holocaust. Or if it's just like one of those abusive relationships where you deliberately provoke your partner into hitting you because you enjoy the make-up sex. ("I wish someone would oppress me – then everyone would have to be nice to me, like the Jews.")

But if you want to get a political movement going, you have to start out by pretending that you are victims. That's why the Dawk makes the risible claim that Chaps Who Think Like Me are worse off than Homosexuals were in 1950s America. (Homosexuals: Beaten up; murdered; barred from adopting children; sent to jail; subjected to chemical castration; lynched. Atheists: Not allowed to appear on Thought For The Day.) That's why the appalling Sarah Palin quite deliberately and consciously applied the word "blood libel" to herself. We, white conservatives, are in a position directly analogous to the Jews of Medieval Europe. And while it's actually a very good and clever song, Yoko used the same dubious tactic many years ago when she made John say that  woman was the nigger of the world.

I am, as a matter of fact, still very angry that the BBC cancelled my favourite radio show. I do, as a matter of fact, think it absurd that at a time when Bellowhead and Show of Hands can sell out big venues overnight, the BBC can only muster one hour -- one hour -- of folk music per week. And won't play folk on mainstream shows. I can join in as loudly as anyone else when Steve Knightley protests about Kim Howells and the 2003 licensing act. But when people on the Facebook "Save Folkwaves" group start to use expressions like "cultural cleansing" and wondering if there is a systematic attack on the culture of us, the English, I politely take my finger out of my ear and leave.

Unlike certain Guardian columnists, I don't think that religion should be banished from public discourse. I don't think that members of the House of Commons should be forbidden from referring to their beliefs. I don't understand how you can talk about abortion or the death penalty or telling lies about weapons of mass destruction without appealing to your core, bottom level beliefs, and for many people, those core beliefs are religious. I don't even have too much of a problem with religious schools (including schools for religions I don't particularly like) although I'm prepared to debate that. But it is perfectly obvious that my own religion, protestant Christianity, has massively disproportionate influence in this country, compared to the number of actual churchgoers. And that it's likely to carry on having massively disproportionate influence even as the formal and legal advantages given to Christians are (inevitably and rightly) reduced. People are going to carry on paying attention to Bishops long after we kick them out of the House of Lords. Of course it annoys me when some half-wit unfunny comedian does a sneery look-how-clever-I-am sketch about Jesus. But "ooo poor ickle sunday school boy now I'm an oppressed minority. like the Jews"   Do me a favour, Carey. You should be ashamed of yourself. 

But that's what the Daily Mel implies every time it uses terms like McCarthyite . They, the boys who have boyfriends and the girls who have girlfriends, are or soon will be, in a position of power analogous to that of white, conservative, anti-communists in 1950s America. We, the boys who have girlfriends, and the girls who have boyfriends, are in the position of the minority of communists and communist sympathisers and alleged communist sympathisers in 1950s America.

And what do oppressed minorities always do? What is the only thing an oppressed minority can do in the face of Big Brother?

When anyone else tries to make a group of people feel like victims, and tries to stir them up and make them cross and provoke them into doing something they might regret in the morning, he Daily Mail has a word for it. They call it "radicalisation".

I call it, to use the Daily Mail's favourite word, evil.

Being seen in posession of a copy of the Daily Mail should  now be  unacceptable in decent society, in the same way that no-one civilized would admit to being a member of the National Front or the BNP.


AndrewSshi said...

And yet your country is further to the left of ours socially and economically, and I'm not sure if the percentage of Britons who go to church even reaches into the double digits.

So what gives?

John Peacock said...

Yesterday I had to go into a branch of Tesco to get my father's (or more likely his partner's*) Sunday Mail. As I handed over the token to pay for it I couldn't stop myself blurting out "It's not for me!" Of course the woman behind the counter was confused, which made it even worse, as I obviously now look like someone who might buy The Sunday Mail for myself.

*It contains a killer combination of reactionary froth and loathesomely prurient celebrity gossip.

Andrew Rilstone said...

In fairness -- I think that the Guardian columnists probably think that Christian MP's shouldn't refer to their religion: not that they shouldn't be allowed to.

Kevin Cowtan said...

I think Rene Girard had something to say about this.

Kevin Cowtan said...

Actually, I'll expand on that. The issue is scapegoating.

The challenge we face in maintaining some sort of mental hygeine is to not scapegoat Daily Mail readers in the way they are being persuaded to scapegoat Muslims and gays. Because that only perpetuates the cycle of retribution.

I suspect the 'political correctness gone mad' meme may well be as much our fault as theirs. PC started out well meaning, but I suspect that (we) liberals started using it as an indescriminate tool to bash conservatives, rather than as a fine scalple in the precision surgical excision of the perpetuation of oppression through language. Conservatives were pushed into answering it, and succeeded in bring ridicule on the enterprise, some of was probably warranted by the end.

The only way to win that game is not to play.

However, the instigators of this kind of us-and-them attitude, such as Mel herself, are certainly fair game. In dealing with a Mail reader you have an interesting communication challenge: How to challenge the paper without attacking them? Given that newspapers work by making their readers feel good about the views they already hold, that's challenging.

Sam Dodsworth said...

So what gives?

A flip answer might be that British conservatives vaguely approve of "Christian values" but don't feel the need to participate in actual Christianity - that's what Bishops are for, after all.

As a slightly longer answer... the Daily Mail appeals to a particular kind of lower-middle-class conservativism that's driven by class anxiety. Conservatives of this type demonise the working classes and want rigid social structures because they're afraid of downward mobility. They hold "traditional", "common sense" values that, as they see it, distinguish them from the lawless and undisciplined underclass. Social liberals want pluralism and class mobility so they're naturally seen as a threat.

So I don't think Daily Mail-style homophobia has much to do with morality or religion in a direct way. Gay rights means social change and change to our values, and their views incline them to see both kinds of change as a threat.