Tuesday, September 04, 2007

British class hate underlies many "environmental" causes

I wonder would British snobs be able to relate to the triumphant working-class culture here. They would be pathetic human beings to sneer at it but I suspect that they would sneer. Just the compere's hat would be deeply offensive to them. I suspect that a lot of American environmentalism is snobbish too. The Hollywood version does come to mind

This column is ... about the hate that dare not speak its name: class hatred. It is about hate-by-proxy: the distaste (I share it) for Dianamania, the dislike of supermarkets, the hatred (I'm not immune to it) of redtops [popular newspapers], the shudder (mine, sometimes) at low-cost airlines . . . all these allergens in the very air the top half of society must breathe have something in common. They remind us of the mob. I submit that, however weak or strong the justifications we may offer for our disapproval of a variety of features of what might be called mass culture, these various antipathies are inflamed by a single, secret anxiety, as old as the French Revolution, which in modern democracy we find it hard to acknowledge: fear of the common people.

Let's start with supermarkets: a touchy subject in modern Britain. Or so the conventional wisdom goes. "Supermarkets -- love 'em or loathe 'em" ran the intro to Jon Manel's series of discussions on the BBC Today programme, running all week. You'd have thought we were encountering one of the great questions of our time, the kind of debate that pits village against village and tears families apart: slavery, the Irish Question, Suez, Iraq, and Tesco.

Which is odd, because the series featured a specially commissioned poll whose most notable finding was that 79 per cent of respondents liked supermarkets. Among a curmudgeonly public it doesn't get much better than this: chocolate-covered cream puffs, Mother Teresa or a beach holiday in the Caribbean would be unlikely to outperform the British supermarket industry's 79 per cent approval-rating. So why, like a recurring theme through public debate in recent decades, does "down with supermarkets" keep elbowing its way into commentary and news? If I hadn't guessed already, a packed public meeting in Andover (where the radio programme took us) protesting against a proposed Tesco warehouse development, gave the game away to any listener with an ear for English accents.

People at the Andover meeting sounded posh. We heard none speaking with anything other than Received Pronunciation. Odd, for I know Andover; my nana lived there, and she had nothing against Tesco. But she was called Nana, not Gran, and that should alert you to something about the majority not present. Nana wasn't, and they aren't, posh. I have checked my hunch with locals and it was right: the driving force behind opposition to this development comes from the better-off: from the villages around the town; not from the estates and housing developments in the town itself.

Dislike of supermarkets is an overwhelmingly middle-to-upper-middle-class phenomenon. All classes use supermarkets, but it is the top half of society that voices (and genuinely feels) a distaste for them. Why? The same question may be asked about the wave of revulsion (I share it) that swept the middle-to-upper echelons of society after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, when images of public grief and crowd sentimentality dominated the news. Little had changed yesterday, ten years on. The accents among the crowds were rough. Those voicing distaste for Dianamania were well spoken. This was a well-born woman but the common people loved her and mourned her loss, and the Establishment dislikes both their love and their grief. Why?

And do you remember the arrival in Britain of satellite television? At first its big selling point was sport - football and boxing - plus American cartoons like The Simpsons; and its initial market penetration was stronger on council estates than country estates. With it came satellite dishes: inoffensive objects, a good deal more tasteful and less prominent than the ugly metal TV aerials already on almost every roof. Yet there were endless complaints and letters to broadsheet newspapers, and in some places the dishes were for a while banned as aesthetically unacceptable. Why?

Today we have low-cost airlines like Ryanair and easyJet. With them has come cheap-flight-phobia. My observation as a frequent Ryanair flier is that the better-off use these flights more or less in proportion to our comparative numbers, and a flight to Perpignan or Girona is typically a fair cross-section of British society. It is also, typically, full, with minimum leg-room and restricted luggage, and therefore (in pints of fuel per pound of flesh) the second-most-environmentally friendly form of flight (after hang-gliding) known to man. This has not prevented an often scathing campaign against the whole idea of cheap flights. Among voices raised in this cause I have yet to hear a working-class accent.

Luton is a more efficient and less bothersome airport than Heathrow, yet people I know affect disdain at the idea of flying from there. Why? You have only to remind yourself of the horror expressed by the educated in the 19th century at the advent of railways (Wordsworth shudders at the idea that any fool in Bakewell could be in Buxton in half an hour, and vice versa) to understand their modern counterparts' excess of eco-sensitivity in the face of cheap flying.

You have only to read the 18th-century coffee shop derision at the mass hysteria of the grieving London mob at the hanging of the Rev Dr Dodd to understand modern Highgate's horror of Dianamania. To understand today's snootiness about Tesco, recall the early 20th century's snootiness about the very idea of cooperative stores. Popular newssheets have appalled the well-bred since popular newssheets began. The Hillsborough tragedy brought mountains of wreaths nearly a decade before Diana.

Diana's death did not change Britain. It reminded the modern Establishment of its deep insecurity in the face of the English mob: an object of fear, wonder and distaste since long before Spanish travellers returned to the imperial court in Madrid with horror stories of rough and volatile crowds who shouted in public and kissed and embraced each other in front of strangers. Ever since the French Revolution the top half of English society has glanced nervously at the crowd outside the window and muttered "could it happen here?".

We don't really trust democracy. We don't really like our countrymen. We no longer dare say so, not directly. So we sneer at their shops, shudder at their newspapers, disapprove of their means of mobility, find their joys tasteless and recoil even from their grief.

Mock tacky TV soap-opera all you like - and then tune in to The Archers; joke about shell suits [jogging gear] then fork out for silk; bemoan the greenhouse gas emissions of a cheap flight then emit four times as much flying business class. But don't pretend this is about quality or worth, the environment, taste or even beauty. It's partly about class. It always has been. It still is.


NHS too busy treating foreigners to treat Brits promptly

British maternity services are notoriously deficient -- with far too few staff for the demand. Is it any wonder when so many foreigners come to Britain to give birth at no charge?

A confidential internal report on health tourism estimates that the bill for treating foreign patients amounts to at least 62 million pounds a year, The Times has learnt. The figure is “bound to be an underestimate” since new rules intended to prevent the abuse of the NHS by foreign patients are being ignored, according to the report. A survey has found that NHS managers are failing to ensure patients are asked to prove their eligibility and are chasing only around half of the debts owed. The findings suggest that taxpayers are picking up hospital bills for foreign patients that come to more than 30 million a year. Some of the 62 million is paid back by the patients.

The Government promised a crack-down three years ago. Hospitals were told to charge patients who were found not to be resident in Britain or from countries with reciprocal arrangements. John Hutton, when he was a health minister, said in April 2004: “I expect trusts to make enforcement of the regulations part of their core business.” Ministers have repeatedly refused to answer questions on how much health tourism costs the NHS, claiming that statistics are not collected on the number of patients treated who are not entitled to free care.

The scale of abuse was estimated internally following the introduction of the new regulations. The Department of Health last week lost an 18-month battle to suppress findings of an internal report when they were released to the Conservative MP Ben Wallace under the Freedom of Information Act. In addition to the first official estimates the documentbears out previously anecdotal suggestions that maternity and HIV services are being targeted. “Maternity . . . was frequently mentioned as an issue,” the report states. The problem uncovered by the survey, carried out in late 2004 to early 2005, was so acute that officials suggested that the Government contacted air-lines to ask them to prevent heavily pregnant women from flying to the UK from Nigeria, India or Pakistan.

Treatment for HIV was “widely recognised to be a problem area” with clinicians “hostile” to the idea of charging foreign patients. Department of Health officials found that the manager responsible for checking eligibility “was not welcome” in one hospital’s HIV ward. “We are currently being criticised by the the Terrence Higgins Trust without actually charging many people or collecting the money,” the official notes.

Last night a spokeswoman for the Department of Health said that it refused to accept the findings of its own report, insisting that it was based on a sample of only 12 trusts. She claimed that the “situation is much better than it was three years ago” but conceded that the department could not produce figures to prove it. She added: “We are in the middle of a review with the Home Office, which is looking at tightening up enforcement of the regulations.”

Mr Wallace, who uncovered the report, said: “This Government is conniving at a ‘Don’t ask, don’t charge and don’t chase’ policy that is leaving the NHS wide open to abuse.”


Cheap drug could save diabetics' lives

The effect sounds very weak. May not be real at all

Thousands of lives could be saved in Britain if a blood pressure treatment that costs 50p a day was used to treat obese patients with type 2 diabetes, an international research team said yesterday.The drug also has virtually no unwanted side-effects. [Unlikely to have any main effects, then]

A study of more than 11,000 patients with type 2 diabetes found that patients who were put on Coversyl Plus were 18 per cent less likely to die from heart-related illnesses than if they were not taking the drug.

There are two million people with type 2 diabetes in Britain. The condition is caused mainly by obesity [What crap. It's mostly genetic] and the number of sufferers is expected to increase. The study, presented at the annual conference of the European Society of Cardiology in Vienna, suggested that if all British patients with type 2 diabetes were placed on the drug, 22,500 deaths could be prevented within the next five years.

Researchers said that if the drug were given to half of the sufferers of type 2 diabetes worldwide, more than a million deaths could be avoided in the same period.


Oppressive Leftist contempt for the morality of mainstream people

Post below lifted from David Thompson. See the original for links

Further to this and the comments following this post, I mentioned the mismatch of certain leftist moral markers with aspects of traditional working class / bourgeois morality:
"When seen in context, Thatcher's `society' quote actually chimes quite strongly with traditional working class / bourgeois morality regarding personal and familial responsibility. A similar moral aspect becomes apparent in discussions of immigration, where many working class people take the view that a person should generally pay into a benefit system before taking from it. This tends to conflict with the view, most common among middle-class leftists, that a newcomer from country X can arrive and immediately make several claims without having contributed via taxation, etc. I've read more than one Guardian commentator dismiss the former view as `typical of racist little Englanders', which rather misses the point of contention. Wherever you stand on the issue, and whatever exceptions one might imagine, my point is that quite a few middle-class leftwing commentators have casually dismissed as `racist' a moral argument based on reciprocity and a sense of community."

There's another illustration in today's Observer, in John Lloyd's review of Andrew Anthony's book, "The Fall-Out: How a Guilty Liberal Lost His Innocence":
"Anthony uses an account of his early years as a vivid, emotively charged account of a working class-born, council house-raised and comprehensive school-educated boy who came to question his parents' outlook. In one instance cited, his mother asked her local councillor why it was that she, a model tenant for many years, had become a much lower priority for rehousing than a newly arrived immigrant family. The councillor to whom Mrs Anthony complained was Tessa Jowell, until recently Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport; she gave her complaining constituent `a brusque lecture on racism'.

This vignette recalls progressive, especially London, politics of the Seventies and Eighties. with an overlay of moralising political correctness which assumed prejudice on the part of a white working class and innocence on the part of those with darker skins. In a comment which must be a painful memory, Anthony observes that at university, his `enlightened concern was that [his mother] didn't do or say anything that could be construed as racist ... I was now outside, like an anthropologist, looking in'."

What's interesting here, and illustrative of a much wider phenomenon, is Jowell's apparent readiness to frame the issue in terms of racism, and Anthony's own apprehension regarding how a person might seem in certain kinds of company. And, again, there's something grimly amusing about those who most loudly profess to care for "the proletariat" showing sneery disregard for the views and moral values of that same group of people.

BOOK REVIEW of "The Fall-Out: How a Guilty Liberal Lost His Innocence" by Andrew Anthony

This is the book of an angry man who, in early middle age, has discovered that much of what he wrote, spoke about and believed that he believed has become hollow. Andrew Anthony's belief was in that set of instincts, reactions and responses that is usually described as left-liberalism, held, with varying degrees of tenacity, by a very large proportion of the British population, especially the educated middle class.

This belief is amorphous: it does not have the relatively sharp lineaments of a definite ideology, such as the various forms of revolutionary socialism. Marxism, and the regimes that ruled in its name, were by the Eighties clearly failing and often horrific, at least in their unacknowledged pasts. They were also easy to define, with fairly precise contours.

Liberal leftism, by contrast, is a state of mind, a social marker, a moral attitude. It is thus more difficult to hold up to the light, to examine what should be retained, what jettisoned. Former communists could and often did embrace a robust form of liberalism as a relief from excusing actual dictatorships or endorsing future ones. Because they had been communists, they had been constrained to accept at least a proxy responsibility for the actions of tyrannies and most of them, at least by the Eighties, when even general secretaries of the Communist party of the Soviet Union were pointing out past atrocities, wanted out.

But liberal leftism has no gulags, corrective psychiatric wards or re-education centres on its conscience: indeed, it recoils from such things. It has no party, no country, nothing that can tie it down and nothing for which it can be blamed. Until the last few years, it was not challenged from within. Now, with such recent works as Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism, Nick Cohen's What's Left? and Christopher Hitchens passim, it has some accounting to make of itself. Andrew Anthony's book takes its place with these, on their level for intelligence and intensity.

Left liberals are not now, for the most part, socialists in any organisational sense, but they at least admire those who still call themselves so, and are prepared to extend understanding to the former Soviet Union as to the present regimes in China, Cuba and Venezuela (North Korea is going a bit far). In one of the many vivid passages in this coruscating book, Anthony describes an idealistic working holiday in Nicaragua in 1988, some years after the Marxist-led Sandinistas took power. By now a fully fledged left liberal, he was nevertheless uneasily aware of problems which were not merely ascribable to poverty and the brutality of the former Somoza dictatorship, but were those of a new government which had made the peasants' economic lot in some ways worse through collectivisation, which encouraged mob justice and which committed and denied many atrocities.

At the same time, the Sandinistas had defeated a foul dictatorship, given ordinary people dignity and purpose and defied an America supporting its local bastard in the shape of Somoza. What Anthony dimly recognised, and what was to finally be driven home to him by 9/11 and its aftermath, was that here was a contradictory experience: the Sandinistas were in some ways better, in some ways worse, in some ways the same as the old regime. But that observable common sense was and is, for his former brand of politics, a forbidden conclusion. 'To question your friends was by definition to aid the enemy,' he writes.

Anthony uses an account of his early years as a vivid, emotively charged account of a working class-born, council house-raised and comprehensive school-educated boy who came to question his parents' outlook. In one instance cited, his mother asked her local councillor why it was that she, a model tenant for many years, had become a much lower priority for rehousing than a newly arrived immigrant family. The councillor to whom Mrs Anthony complained was Tessa Jowell, until recently Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport; she gave her complaining constituent 'a brusque lecture on racism'.

This vignette recalls progressive, especially London, politics of the Seventies and Eighties, where largely middle-class politicians of the left did do good, did keep the local machines going, but with an overlay of moralising political correctness which assumed prejudice on the part of a white working class and innocence on the part of those with darker skins. In a comment which must be a painful memory, Anthony observes that at university, his 'enlightened concern was that she [his mother] didn't do or say anything that could be construed as racist ... I was now outside, like an anthropologist, looking in'.

With a similar, if rural, experience of growing up, getting out and looking back with contempt, I was hugely impressed and moved by the sad delicacy of his recreation of his mother, the regret that she should have been a victim of his newly adopted radical disapproval.

Two issues loom large. One is the Evil Empire. For the liberal left, America has become the 'prejudice of choice for those who pride themselves on their lack of prejudice'. He gets at Americanophobia through an Americanophobic who is American: film-maker and writer Michael Moore, whose depressingly manipulative Fahrenheit 9/11 was lauded all over Europe. Moore, whom he has interviewed, emerges as a boastful, bloated and hypocritical figure, who excuses every contradiction by the formula: 'I'm from the working class.'

Like Chomsky, Moore plays to and helps to organise world opinion against his country, on the basis of cartoon-like pastiches of its nature and actions. Anthony asks liberals to pose themselves this (the correct) question: 'What would the world look like with a different superpower?' And gives his answer: 'If we look at the real world alternatives the 20th century threw up - the British and French empires, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union [and now, he might have added, the growing power of China] - then the US begins to look quite benign'.

The second large issue is Islam. Anthony has interviewed a range of Islamic figures, including Yusuf Islam, the former pop singer Cat Stevens, who has poured some of his wealth into a Muslim school whose stated aim is to give its pupils an all-enveloping Islamic education, so that its pupils will be Muslim first and last.

For Anthony, this sealing off of the Muslim experience, the at best ambiguous, sometimes joyous, reactions to 9/11 and 7/7, the insistence of many Muslims of seeing themselves as victims - all point to a leadership of European Islam which is not, or too little, concerned with integration, understanding and the genuine multiculturalism which includes frank examination and discussion of differing cultures.

He keeps his anger level high by reminding himself and us of the attitudes of the clan from which he has defected: the guilty liberals. His constant argument, running through the book, is with other liberal-leftist journalists, especially on the Guardian, such as Madeleine Bunting, Seumas Milne and Gary Younge, writers who still believe what he once did. Guilt, he says, has eviscerated their liberalism - and turned it into a permanent form of appeasement of ideologies, personalities and actions which are, by true liberals' own lights, insupportable.

'European liberalism,' he concludes, 'is again confronted with the threat of religious censorship and, moreover, violence. Sometimes, it seems as if the struggle for the Enlightenment will have to be fought all over again, but that's only because too many liberals appear too cowed or constrained by the diktats of post-colonial discourse [translation: guilt] to assert the importance of reason and robust intellectual debate.'

Anthony came to feel, quite properly, a different kind of guilt: the guilt of one who, in turning his back on his upbringing, had closed off what was of value in it for himself or, at least, what should have excited sympathetic understanding, if not always agreement. The guilty liberalism he excoriates, in a book that retains a force and a passion and an insistence that you examine the thoughts you think that you think through some 300 finely written pages, is not a definition of the contemporary left, but a barrier to its development.


David Cameron wobbled, but didn't fall

By Iain Dale

During the last general election campaign, the Conservatives deployed a series of billboard posters with the slogan: "It's not racist to talk about immigration".

Never a truer word spoken, but all the same I thought it was reprehensible that a Tory poster should have the word "racist" on it, as it appeared to give some credence to Labour's accusation that they were somehow extreme, or closet racists. I made myself very unpopular with Conservative Central Office when I told them that, if they put it up in the constituency I was standing in, I would personally rip it down.

So to wake up yesterday to headlines of "Cameron gets tough on immigration" was a slight shock. I have no problem with being tough on immigration and taking measures to secure our borders, and I have no problem with David Cameron saying so either. But the way it was being reported you'd have thought Michael Howard was back in charge. "Return to the core vote" and "lurch to the Right" were just two of the more colourful phrases being used. And all because Cameron had the temerity to answer a reasonable question on Newsnight in a reasonable way. He made the rational point that our borders need to be secure and that insecure borders led to mass immigration, which our public services infrastructure has found difficult to cope with. He also said that new transitional measures may be needed to cope with further influxes from new EU members.

He was asked about Margaret Thatcher's use of the phrase "swamped" to describe immigration in the 1970s and said he would not have used that phrase. He was calm, collected and rational in all his answers. A lurch to the Right? I don't think so.

The Dizzy Thinks blog reckons that framing new immigration within the prism of public services is a masterstroke of "Clintonian" triangulation. It makes it very difficult for the Left to criticise what Cameron is saying, as it would appear that it doesn't care about the quality of public services. No dog whistles there, because the tactic enables Cameron to sound eminently reasonable to centre-ground voters and refute the persistent Labour accusation that any Tory who dares to talk about immigration must by definition be a racist. So, in a week when Cameron has announced tough proposals on law and order, reiterated his support for a European referendum and talked about immigration, it might be easy to see all this as falling into the trap of talking to an audience of Tory supporters. This is to misread what he is doing.

Crime will be one of the top three issues at the election. Talking tough on crime, but at the same time looking at social policies that can help the most deprived areas in our country, is what Mark Oaten used to call "tough liberalism", but David Davis prefers to call "tough love". It's also another classic piece of political triangulation, in that it appeals to people whose instincts might be to support another political party, but makes them sit up and think. This strategy is already working with GPs and hospital doctors, 48 per cent of whom now intend to vote Conservative. When Stephen Dorrell's public services commission report is published on Tuesday, expect to see a similar strategy relating to teachers and other public servants. The public sector has grown to such an extent over the past decade that any politician who wants to win an election needs the public sector vote, too.

The main lesson to draw from recent events is that David Cameron is a politician of remarkable tenacity. There used to be an advert for a children's toy called a Weeble. It was impossible to knock over and the slogan its owners used was: "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down". No one would deny that there has been a wobble over the summer, but if the past 10 days are anything to go by, David Cameron has grabbed back the initiative from a remarkably silent Gordon Brown. He has also displayed great resilience, and that should be of great comfort to Conservatives who were beginning to lose heart.


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