Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The firing of Carol Thatcher, and why liberals don't believe in tolerance

One of the dangers in studying history is that it can lead us to believe that the past is a foreign country. When we think of East Germany or the Soviet Union - totalitarian states famous for networks of informers whose tip-offs could ruin lives - we invariably assume they were so culturally different from us that their abuses seem incomprehensible. But one of the advantages in studying the present is precisely that it helps us understand how other countries made their mistakes.

Our country is a long way from being an informer state such as those that existed behind the Iron Curtain. But the fact that Carol Thatcher was sacked by the BBC for an offensive remark made in private sets a dangerous precedent that recalls the denunciation society of East Germany. Thatcher is not alone. Geert Wilders, a Dutch MP, was refused entry to Britain last Thursday on the grounds that his anti-Muslim opinions are too dangerous to be expressed here. Somerset nurse Caroline Petrie was temporarily suspended for offering to pray for a patient. Last year a couple were prevented from fostering children because as Christians they disapprove of homosexuality. Even Prince Harry has been ordered to attend a 'diversity awareness' course. The Equality And Diversity Code Of Practice has now penetrated into every sphere of public life.

All these cases have one key element in common - an element they share with totalitarianism: they have been supported by people who think of themselves as progressives. Ever since the French revolutionaries proclaimed 'no liberty for the enemies of liberty' - and used that slogan to justify genocide - it has been self-consciously progressive regimes, not conservative ones, that have evolved into totalitarianism.

We think of communism now as a gerontocracy - government by old people - which was as socially reactionary as it was economically backward. That is not how communists saw themselves. They believed they were progressive radicals. Like today's liberals, they loathed colonial oppression, imperialism and nationalism. The reason states such as East Germany were able to set up such terrifying informer networks was that the people running them believed their model of society was threatened if people did not positively affirm their belief in it. And it was in the name of policing speech that the Stasi tried to police thought itself.

Progressivism was even the ideology of the Nazis. They were moved to commit their worst atrocities by what Winston Churchill called 'the lights of perverted science'.

In Britain, multiculturalism has become an ideology similar to these other progressive ideologies that seek to change the way things and people are. Progressives think instinctive forms of behaviour are bad because they have not been designed by a process of rational thought or implemented by the self-appointed guardians of progress. Progressives think of politics as a constant struggle - usually against an unenlightened populace. They always have to be 'moving forward', pushing the people further to make them conform to their ideas.

This is why the totalitarianism in Eastern Europe was set up incrementally and over time - and why it is important to be aware the same thing could happen here. Starting with good ideas about ending oppression, communist regimes in Eastern Europe were not totalitarian at first. It took decades before the apparatus of state terror was set up. Although the German Democratic Republic was founded in 1949, the Berlin Wall was not built until 1962.

In Britain, a similar pattern is emerging. The 'diversity' project constantly demands new capitulations from the conservatively minded. The idea of tolerance has been abused and turned into the pretext for an intrusive threat to people's livelihoods and liberty. It has been transformed into the ideology of 'multiculturalism' that demands Britain renounce all traditions in favour of those of newcomers. You can now lose your job if you do not share this ideology - if you do not think in the right way.

Many in Britain have protested at these attempts to police private opinions and free speech. Our instincts are still sound - and progressives can't stand that. Public outrage has not changed the fact of Carol Thatcher's dismissal, so a dangerous precedent has been set. People are now afraid about what they say in the privacy of their own homes, in emails or on the phone.

Obviously, liberalism is preferable as an ideology to communism or fascism. But it has similar contradictions and totalitarian tendencies. Multiculturalists may say you cannot impose your views on others, but they are frighteningly good at imposing theirs on all of us. British liberals claim to hate prejudice: in fact they have nothing but snobbish contempt for large swathes of the population, particularly those who live outside big cities and are over the age of 30. Public moralising has become the hallmark of those who otherwise excoriate old-fashioned morals.

Although hypocritical themselves, liberals demand 'sincerity' from their enemies, for instance when someone is forced to make a public apology. Ultimately this is all gesture politics, but it is a sign of the decadence of a society if it is forced to become obsessed with signals that have little to do with reality.

In that respect, too, modern liberalism is distinctly Soviet, demanding as it does public assent to a series of propagandistic ideals, however absurd. The sooner we realise the greatest virtues in politics are prudence, realism and honesty, the better.


UK: Teachers "need lessons in breaking up fights"

Staff are too scared to intervene in violent incidents, survey shows

Teachers are demanding lessons in restraint techniques to help them stop fights between pupils. Many staff are worried they will face assault charges if they intervene physically to break them up, says a report to be published next week. As a result, children are being excluded from school as fights escalate and the incident becomes more serious. Two-thirds of teachers say they feel strongly that they should have lessons in restraint techniques to help cope with the problem. They would also like to be taught how they should physically escort excluded pupils from the school premises.

The findings follow the first detailed age breakdown of pupils suspended or excluded from school, which showed that although overall exclusion numbers have fallen, more than 4,000 children under the age of five were excluded from school in the past year, mostly for assault. Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the huge number of exclusions in the early years reflected teachers' fears that they could lose their jobs if they intervened to stop violent pupils. As a result, they were using suspension powers instead.

Select Education, the largest provider of supply teachers in the country, conducted the survey of more than 100 teachers. Its managing director, Peter Flannery, said: "The growing culture of litigation means that today's teachers are fearful of restraining pupils who are at risk of hurting themselves in case it results in them losing their jobs."

He added: "Physical contact should very much be the last resort. Instead, teachers need to be undertaking training to equip themselves with positive handling strategies that look at de-escalating techniques, such as positive techniques for challenging behaviour with the aim of avoiding physical intervention." All 10,000 teachers and support staff on Select Education's books can receive training in how to defuse challenging situations. However, Scott Kelly, who trains teachers in these techniques, acknowledged that supply staff can often miss out on training - if, indeed, schools organised it - simply because they are not there.

He added that even in cases where an allegation of assault was "unwarranted" against a teacher, a pupil may believe "what is happening is inappropriate contact whereas what the teacher was trying was to make the situation safe".

The aim of the training was to try to avoid physical contact wherever possible. However, new guidance from the Government says teachers can use reasonable restraint to avoid violence.

The survey also shows that nearly three out of four teachers believe many exclusions are caused by a lack of parental discipline at home.

Patrick Mahoney, a teacher with Select Education, said: "While I certainly agree that discipline in the home is a problem, it's important to note the root causes - for example, the growing number of single-parent families who are overwhelmed with responsibilities and unable, on their own, to instil the level of discipline needed." Three out of four teachers also believe parents could reduce the chances of their children being excluded by taking more interest in their education.


Hotshot British Greens caught wasting home heat

A survey of the homes of top environmentalists has found they leak energy. "Do as I say, not as I do"

THEY may shout their green credentials from the rooftops, but some of Britain's most prominent environmental champions are living in homes that produce up to half a ton of excess carbon dioxide a year.

An audit of properties, measuring heat loss, has revealed that Chris Martin, the pop star, Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, and Sir David Attenborough, the broadcaster, are among those who reside in homes that are "leaking" energy. Some lack even the most basic energy saving measures such as cavity wall insulation and double glazing.

Thermal images of the residences of 10 high-profile green campaigners found that their heat loss was either worse or no better than that found in the average family home.

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat energy and climate change spokesman, owned the least energy-efficient property. He bought his œ150,000 flat in Southwark, south London, 25 years ago but has failed to fit it with any significant insulation. Only last week Hughes unveiled plans to make every home in Britain energy efficient within the next decade. He could start with his own flat.

According to IRT Surveys, which analysed the thermal images for The Sunday Times, an estimated 1,812 kilowatt hours of heat a year seeps out through the walls and windows. The extra heating needed to make up for this loss produces 471kg of CO2 This weekend Hughes said he was planning to move. "I'm conscious that the house does need some more work to be as well insulated as possible," he said. "If I stay, it will have a full survey and anything that's necessary. In theory it doesn't waste much energy because for large parts of the day there's nobody there."

The IRT analysis assumes the property is in use the whole year round. However, Steve Howard of the Climate Group, which advises businesses and governments about reducing emissions, said: "Even a poorly paid MP can afford cavity wall insulation - it will pay for itself in three years. It's a no-brainer."

More here

The most politically incorrect man in the world?

The Top Gear live stage show in Sydney last week caused waves in Britain that we barely noticed. Iconic British host Jeremy Clarkson had barely alighted from his plane when he called his prime minister, Gordon Brown, a "one-eyed Scottish idiot". Since Brown does have only one eye, disabled groups in Britain were outraged, as were Scots, Labour supporters and idiots. Clarkson, 48, was lambasted in front-page stories in his homeland until he apologised - which he did, to all but the idiots.

For Australian audiences who packed the Acer Arena from last Thursday for 10 live performances of the top-rating SBS show, such Clarkson irreverence rated a chuckle rather than a scolding. Such is the relaxed Australian attitude to politician abuse, he could have said whatever he liked about Kevin Rudd and no one would have minded.

But the furore illustrates what is the key to Top Gear's success: Clarkson's brazen political incorrectness. He will bag Audis with one breath and greenies with the next. He has no sacred cows. The British version of Top Gear, which attracts as many as 1million Australian viewers each week, is an exuberant thumbing of noses at climate alarmists and safety Nazis. It is a relief valve from a politically correct world full of admonitions and tongue-biting. Just when cars were being targeted as dangerous, polluting anachronisms, Top Gear became one of the world's most popular television shows. Women make up more than 40 per cent of its audience.

Paradoxically, as environmental alarmism grows, so too does our attachment to cars, with Top Gear's popularity one indication. We've just had Clint Eastwood's movie Gran Torino, about a retired auto-worker and his most precious possession - his red 1972 muscle car, the Ford Gran Torino. Next month we will have the ultimate car lovers' movie, Eric Bana's Love The Beast, starring his red Ford GT Falcon Coupe. A documentary charting Bana's 25-year love affair with his car, it also features his three best friends, Jay Leno, Dr Phil and, of course, Jeremy Clarkson.

Apart from great cars, Top Gear's appeal is about three middle-aged men having unrestrained blokey fun, and insulting each other and everyone else, in classic pommy style. Clarkson once had a custard pie thrown in his face by green protesters; his advice to cyclists was: "Do not cruise through red lights. Because if I'm coming the other way, I will run you down, for fun."

At his Sydney press conference last week he slammed environmentalist critics of the show. "We don't have a carbon footprint. That's because we drive everywhere." And he claimed Britain's current cold snap was caused by "too many green people in the world . not buying enough Range Rovers to warm it up."

Then he insulted his British studio audiences of his Top Gear live show: "You should see some of the apes that turn up." He obviously hasn't been to a WWF wrestling match. It was quite a different crowd last Friday at the ACER Arena from the one I got to know a little too well when my sons were wrestling fanatics. Fewer tattoos, shorter hair, no John Cena T-shirts. Top Gear drew families from middle Australia, in Holdens and Fords, Audis and Subarus. The most flamboyant young men wore Holden jackets or T-shirts with such slogans as "Own the road" and "I am the Stig" - in reference to Top Gear's test driver.

The live show came to Sydney on the last part of its tour to South Africa, Hong Kong and New Zealand, "a tour of countries we used to own," said Clarkson, before joking about his first sightseeing adventure in Sydney last week. "Coogee Bay Hotel - chocolate chip heaven", referring to last year's faeces in the ice-cream scandal. "I'm sure there was sweet corn in there," quipped his sidekick Richard Hammond.

There were brunettes in tight red jumpsuits, and French stunt motorcyclists performing death-defying feats inside a giant mesh sphere which Clarkson called "the colander of death". "They're only French," said Clarkson. "If something goes wrong it will just be corned beef," said Hammond.

There was also ritual audience humiliation. Clarkson singled out one hapless man and called him a "cock" for owning an Audi and a "poor cock" because it was an A6. "You can tell he's an Audi driver because he's wearing a branded shirt." The audience squirmed as the man, sitting with his young son, turned beetroot red with embarrassment. We mightn't care about politicians but perhaps British schoolyard bullying of the type Clarkson practises isn't enjoyed in Australia. And it's just as well the audience didn't know some of the cars were fakes. Car soccer went down rather better, with six little cars pushing a giant inflatable soccer ball around the stadium, with only one fender bender and many close misses in a display of superb stunt driving.

There is something about Top Gear's unabashed celebration of human ingenuity, technological precision, speed, snazzy styling, comfort and independence that ignites the passions of car fans and car agnostics alike. Killjoy car-haters: eat your hearts out.


NHS criticised in half of complaints reviewed

One in five NHS complaints sent for independent review relates to poor treatment or a wrong diagnosis.

The Healthcare Commission said that trusts were at fault or could have done more in almost half of the 8,939 complaints it investigated last year. Eleven per cent concerned treatment, 9 per cent delayed or wrong diagnosis and 8 per cent waiting or problems having treatment. Nearly half of complaints were upheld or referred back to trusts. The NHS receives about 135,000 complaints annually. It provides about 380 million treatments. In April unresolved complaints will be passed to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, as the Healthcare Commission is replaced by the Care Quality Commission, covering health and social care.

The new system relies on more complaints being resolved locally but the Healthcare Commission said some trusts were still not responding to complaints effectively enough for the new arrangement to work.


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