We started from a ruling regarding a single defendant and whether she had to remove her face veil while giving evidence, behind a screen. What everyone seemed to ignore at the time was that the judge didn’t simply wake up one morning and decide to make a general pronouncement in a vacuum. Instead, he was asked to balance competing interests. This is critical. One side raised the point that allowing it would prejudice their case. The other side, that it was the defendant’s right. The judge heard argument from both, including relevant precedent, and came to a view.
Two days later everyone was arguing a mutated general point. Nothing to do with defendants. Every single news outlet was asking whether one would be happy to be treated by doctors wearing Niqabs. Nobody asked how many such doctors there are or, indeed, if there are any. An entire country embroiled in a potentially entirely theoretical debate.
A few weeks have passed and now the question is about the face veil worn in any institutional situations – from schools to banks. By divorcing debate from specificity, we have opened out the discussion to accommodate a portion of the population’s fixation and irrational fear of all things Islam. Theoretical solutions to perceived, but not necessarily existing, problems. Meanwhile, Royal Mail and Lloyds Bank are being sold, George Osborne is using state money to protect Bankers’ bonuses and the NHS is being increasingly picked on like a carcass.
I am most definitely not a child of Thatcher. Perhaps few people can claim that, but, through a strange combination of timing and circumstance, I can. When I first came to the UK in 1990, the bulk of the debate on her central policies of privatisation and deregulation, had already taken place here. It was very much in its infancy back home and didn’t really become the vogue on the rest of the continent until the following decade. Essentially, I took a strange leap in time – from the fierce battle between neoliberalism and socialism, almost straight to the Blair/Major accord which refused to engage in such ideological debate.
I missed the chit-chat. I just saw the effect. I remember the despair I felt when I first witnessed hundreds of people sleeping in Waterloo’s cardboard city – I had never before seen a homeless person. I remember wondering whether I had made a huge mistake in selecting this country as my home, as gay bars in Soho were raided and closed down. I remember laughing with incredulity at a friend telling me her parents were charging her rent for staying at home, before realising she was being serious. I remember the sickening confusion as I watched people beaten to a pulp during the poll tax riots. I remember crying as my father-in-law became bankrupt for the third time in ten years and had to ask us for a loan.
It is such a collection of unique stimuli which forms the basis for an individual’s reaction to the death of Margaret Thatcher. I am baffled by the refusal of some people to see that; as the experience is different for each of us, so must the reaction be. Your adulation of the woman is as valid or invalid as my deep dislike of her. “Disrespect” is not the expression of a sentiment with which you disagree. “Disrespect” is quite different from attempting to penetrate a bubble of idolatry with dissenting opinion, divergent life experience or inconvenient fact.
I might advance the view that disrespect is reducing a Prime Minister’s political legacy to having “beautiful hands and lovely ankles” rather than Glenda Jackson’s biting critique of her politics. I might advance the view that disrespect is using her death as an opportunity to promote your fashion blog; that disrespect is needlessly interrupting a vital trade mission and recalling Parliament at great expense, when Thatcher herself refused to interrupt such engagements and return, even when her political future hung in the balance.
Saying she was the greatest ever Prime Minister, is not a personal eulogy. It is a political comment on the course of action she pursued while in post. It is not disrespectful to point out that not everyone feels this way. That the parking of millions on sick benefit was a cruel act, the consequences of which reverberate in today’s welfare debate. That the decimation of entire mining communities is directly related to the current discussion of “problem families that have not worked for [insert dramatic number] generations”. That her claim of turning the City into “the financiers of the world” has a direct impact on the magnitude of the 2008 financial crisis with which we still struggle. That her selling off of utility companies gave birth to current discontent about energy companies profiteering and fuel poverty. That her imposition of the poll tax on Scotland a year earlier than the rest of the UK revitalised today’s appetite for an independence referendum. That her attitude to Europe set the deeply adversarial tone with which every subsequent administration has had to contend. That the sinking of the Belgrano was seen by much of the rest of the world as needless loss of life, rather than patriotic act of defiance, and the hostility it engendered is one of the obstacles to forming close trade relations with the developing economies of Latin America.
To respond to these concerns with hysterical pieces claiming “the trendy, left-wing gadflies celebrating Margaret Thatcher’s death would probably be rotting in the Gulag if it wasn’t for the Iron Lady” does not detract from the legitimacy of the view that what is taking place is an evangelically fervent process of beatification and the rewriting of history. It adds to it. Especially coming from the mouths of the same people who, with equal fervour, advocated the benefits of a “raucous, irreverent press” mere days ago.
I had some sympathy for the argument that it is insensitive to speak up on such matters in the immediate aftermath of someone’s death, while those to whom she meant a lot grieve and offer their tributes. But that is not what has largely occurred. What has occurred is a circle-jerk of personal anecdote, engaged in with lachrymose alacrity and for political gain. The text has been in the broad style of “I once saw Dear Margaret in a corridor when I was working as a researcher at the age of 16, I collected the marigold which dropped from her lapel, I have pressed it between the pages of my teenage diary, here it is”. The palpable subtext, meanwhile, has been “we must be brave again, sell anything that is not nailed down, punish the undeserving poor, because it is what She would have wanted”.
Heterodoxy is not heresy. Abstention is not snub. Disagreement is not disrespect. Formulating a strategy for turning someone’s death into a “polls bounce” is. A party cannot claim that she was the last Prime Minister to radically change the direction of travel of this country and simultaneously suggest that where that journey has led is nothing to do with her. A party cannot claim that everything she did was simply perfect and simultaneously deny its own 1990 consensus that she had gone off the rails and the act of political matricide that followed. Your deep guilt and shame over deposing her is not reason enough for all others unquestioningly to allow her posthumous canonisation.
I get it. I just don’t agree.
One year ago today, a seventy-seven year old pharmacist called Dimitris Christoulas took his own life. He shot himself in the head in Syntagma Square in front of the Greek Parliament. He left this note (translation follows):
“This Government of occupation and collaboration* has quite literally eliminated my ability to survive, based on a dignified pension into which, for 35 years, I alone paid (with no help from the state.
Since my age precludes me from personal, dynamic reaction (this is not to say that had a first Greek picked up a Kalashnikov, I wouldn’t have been the second one) I can find no solution other than a dignified ending, before I am reduced to looking through rubbish bins for food.
I believe that our youth with no future will take up arms one day and in this very Constitution Square will hang the nation’s traitors upside-down, like the Italians did to Mussolini in 1945 (in Milan’s Piazza Loreto).”
Commenting on behalf of the Government, Panos Mpeglitis MP said: “In such cases one must be cautious with one’s comments. I can say that this man was obviously brave and sensitive. However, we cannot connect irrationally this suicide with the country’s economic circumstances.”
* The original note refers to the “Tsolakoglou Government”, which was the Greek government during the WWII years of German occupation. It was appointed by and collaborated with Hitler. Recently, this has become a nickname for Greek coalition governments which have supported Troika imposed economic sanctions.
I have not yet read a single one that is not based on a fundamental misconception; that the freedom to publish what one chooses is tantamount to being free from responsibility for what one publishes. This isn’t true. I defend the Daily Mail’s right to splash whatever they want. This doesn’t mean it should be free from consequence.
“Publish and be damned” is still the principle, isn’t it? It certainly would be the case if similarly inflamatory statements were made about an individual. The Mail would probably expect a writ to land on their desk within hours. As a result, they think more carefully about what they say when it comes to people with the resources to sue them. They try to ensure that what they say is verifiably accurate. Why should it not be the same standard when talking about entire religious faiths, ethnic groups or classes of people?
Even if I accept that misrepresentation would be difficult to prove in this case, at least it would give the Mail pause for thought. The same pause for thought that they would afford a front page that concerned Peter Andre. Is it too much to ask that dead children and people who depend on benefits are afforded the same level of courtesy, rather than the “lob it in” approach?
The Standards Code has not, as few appear to understand, been drafted yet. The Leveson Report makes only three broad recommendations as to its content. One of them is that the Code must cover standards of “accuracy, and the need to avoid misrepresentation”.
It is vital to note that the principles proposed by the Leveson report have already been agreed – at least by the National press. The major point of contention was enforcement and whether it will be underpinned by statute or not.
So, to all those journalists saying “you couldn’t possibly make provisions for this sort of behaviour”, your editors have already agreed such provisions. The only question is whether we are serious as a industry about principles of “accuracy, and the need to avoid misrepresentation”. It seems such principles are too lofty and nebulous for some, especially if properly enforced. I find that very sad.
I went to my very first Burns’ Night Supper this weekend. I was asked to do the “Toast to the Laddies”. This is what I wrote. (P.S. Haggis rocks.)
Some myths on men, I’ll take apart.
The first, in really quite a simple mode
If I refrain from burp and fart
And don’t adjust my plums, during this ode.
Keep drinking lads and listen well.
From you that’s all I’m asking.
The second myth we thus dispel
With proof we’re multi-tasking.
The third one, put about by them
I can rebut expediently,
If I take off and drop my sock
And pick it up immediately.
The fourth is that we’re not complex;
We do what “William” beckons.
They even claim we think of sex
Roughly, every seven blowjob.
We are the stronger of the two;
We’re born to give the orders.
And yet we’re nothing without you
Our mothers, sisters, lovers, daughters.
You are the word that soothes our fears,
The one that asks directions,
The silent witness to our tears.
The hand on our erections.
So, since we’re doomed to hear all day
we missed on evolution,
Let’s give the toilet seat a spray
and call it REVOLUTION.
To The Laddies!
I have crunched the economic growth figures and have found the following.
The UK came out of the deep recession related to the start of the financial crisis here in the third quarter of 2009.
Since then the economy grew by an estimated 1.715% in total under the previous administration in under a year.
After the Coalition took over, the economy has grown by an estimated 1.385% in over two and a half years.
This means an average monthly GDP growth rate for the relevant period of 0.156% under Alistair Darling’s Chancellorship, compared to an average monthly rate of 0.046% under George Osborne. And the latter includes the Summer Olympics.
The disappointing figures are accompanied by a gigantic expected increase of National Debt during the Coalition’s term from under £800 billion to £1.4 trillion. Also, our deficit is tracking higher than expected and the IFS expects that based on the figures April-December, it will actually increase this financial year.
Even including the sale of 4G rights, which hasn’t actually been sold yet, but which the Chancellor has included in his figures, this is a desperately inept performance. Meanwhile the Government is continuing and expanding its brutal programme of cuts and privatisation. The only excuse offered for Osborne’s performance is that our trading relationship with the Eurozone had a more severe than expected effect on the overall economy, while at the same time promising people a Yes/No vote to dissolve that relationship altogether.
I cannot think of anybody other than George Osborne, in any context, who would not have already been sacked for such abject failure – except a hereditary Royal one. And even the there would be pressure to abdicate.
*I have apportioned the 2010 Q2 figures pro rata to the two administrations, even though that is extremely generous to the Coalition since the implementation of their economic policies can only be said to have started to take effect after the Chancellor’s emergency statement on the 22 of June 2010.