An Unpopular Article 904


This article is probably unpopular. The point of this blog is not to make you agree, but to make you think; if I did not express views which are not the view of the majority, there would be no point in writing at all. This is not an applause seeking echo chamber of popular sentiment.

Boris Johnson has no more ardent political opponent than I. But some of the hysteria about him is overblown.

As a teenage delegate to a Liberal Party conference in 1976 (I think in Llandudno), I had to fend off the amorous advances of a politician who persisted even after I plainly told him I was not gay, and I ended up stabbing his wandering hand with the pin of my delegate’s badge, after which he went away. I regarded his behaviour as over drunken and over randy, but took the attitude then and now that humans are not perfect and inclined occasionally to fall prey to their basic instincts, especially when drinking. If we expected everyone to be perfect, we would live our entire lives in a state of disappointment. I expect a majority of sexually active adults have similar experiences at some time. I do not believe it healthy or sensible to elevate them to serious crimes.

(For the sake of clarity, I should add that I have never personally been accused of an unwanted physical advance).

I really do not care whether Boris Johnson squeezed Charlotte Edwards’ leg 20 years ago. I firmly believe women are every bit the equal of men, and I do not understand why it is somehow reckoned that Ms Edwards, and others in the same position, were unable to stab his hand with a fork, throw a drink in his face, or embarrass him by telling him clearly to stop. I do not accept the notion that difference of age and status between full adults makes firm rejection impossible – that thought did not cross my mind with the politician in Llandudno, who was a good deal older, more famous and wealthy than I, and in a position to further my political ambitions. Ms Edwards saying nothing at the time, saving it up for twenty years and then attempting to use the claim to cause major damage, appears to me behaviour as bad as the original.

I do realise that in this I have outlived the mores of the times. But no matter how fiercely I oppose a no deal Brexit – and I think it would be disastrous for every one but a few nasty financial speculators – I do not think the approach of throwing the kitchen sink of accusations against Boris Johnson is good for the long term health of politics. It also obscures with chaff the allegations of real wrongdoing, like directing public funds and assistance to the company of a woman with whom he was in a sexual relationship. That should be investigated. That is real wrongdoing.

Johnson’s arrogance before the Commons in refusing to apologise for the prorogation of parliament was deeply unpleasant, but I do not approve of the effort to delegitimise his use of language. Words like “surrender”, “betrayal” and “traitor” have centuries of political use behind them. Boris Johnson is as entitled to free speech as anyone else. It is perfectly legitimate for opponents to argue that his language is deliberately divisive and thus people ought to vote against him in the interests of harmony. The electorate can pay heed or not to such argument, as they see fit. But it is quite another thing to argue that such language should be excised from public life. Robust debate is an important aspect of free speech. Controlling the language of your opponents is the antithesis of democracy. I am firmly with John Stuart Mill on this one.

People were offended by Galileo and Darwin, by Gandhi, by Jesus and Mohammed. Causing offence is important to human development. Everyone is entitled to do it, even Boris Johnson.

Finally I had the misfortune to see Jess Phillips on BBC Breakfast TV yesterday morning and she gave, as an example of abuse of MPs the fact that every time she speaks about anti-semitism in the Labour Party she receives emails stating that she is exaggerating, or is a puppet of Israel. A great deal of what MPs plainly see as abusive online activity looks to me simply like people expressing their disagreement. People can be entirely right or entirely wrong in their views, but they still have a right to express them to Members of Parliament. I found Ms Phillips objection to people expressing disagreement deeply worrying.

I have no doubt MPs do receive death threats – I do myself sometimes, generally originating in Florida for some strange reason. But I do wonder how much exaggeration there is of this.

The Laura Kuenssberg case is seminal here. You may recall that 35,000 people signed a 38 Degrees petition calling for her removal for pro-Tory bias and after a major headline news campaign headed by the Guardian and BBC, claiming that the petition was full of abusive and misogynistic comments, 38 Degrees deleted the petition. However I went through all the comments personally and could only find one comment and a single related tweet which was in any way abusive or misogynistic. When I challenge 38 Degrees to produce the evidence of abuse, there was none. That was a very worrying example of the limiting of perfectly legitimate protest against Kuenssberg, on an excuse of “abusive social media” which was a lie.

There is insufficient plain speaking already in politics and the attempt to further contain and constrain, and limit political thought to acceptable channels and vocabulary, is worrying. Let Johnson say what he wills, and let the electorate judge that.

As for behaviour, I do not wish to see any further correspondence of the Overton window with sex negative feminism. I can personally think of one mutually fulfilling physical relationship in my own history, where the crossing of that difficult line from friendship to physical intimacy did indeed start with the squeeze of a leg under the table. The initiation of more intimate physical contact is the most critical point in the complex courtship rituals of developed human societies. To insist that verbal agreement must always be sought before a move to kiss or an exploratory caress of a leg or a shoulder, is a fundamental change in culture which I am not at all sure is desirable. The essential qualifier is of course that, if the other person either verbally or by action does not welcome the tentative first move, then the initiator must desist immediately. It is my own belief that sex-negative feminism seeks quite deliberately to invalidate perfectly normal heterosexual courtship and that the chattering classes have far too readily adopted this, in the interests of identity politics.

I am perfectly aware that what I have written will offend some pleasant people and is against current fashionable thinking. I am also well aware that less pleasant people will utterly misrepresent what I have written as a justification of sexual assault. I deplore entirely any non-consensual sexual activity forced on anyone, and I believe that the slightest indication of disapproval should lead to an instant stop. But to deny the existence of non-verbal communication, and make an issue of non-violent initiation of contact outside an erogenous zone, is to me not legitimate. I would also refer you to my last post, and the extraordinary difference in the treatment in these matters by the media and political classes purveying identity politics of those within the neo-liberal “centrist” consensus, like Bill Clinton and Brendan Cox, and those outside it, like Boris Johnson, Alex Salmond or Julian Assange. This is a misguided and an extraordinarily selective outrage.

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904 thoughts on “An Unpopular Article

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  • Colin mccartney

    As always, a well written and thoughtfully prepared article. There is always a fine line that is sometimes just crossed and sometimes completely breached, and we all need to be able to know and understand the difference.

  • michael norton

    On Radio Four just now they had the ex-tory Amber Rudd, who seemed distressed, she refused to answer the question would she rather have a government of national unity or no deal.
    She was very clear, that she would not tollerate Jeremy Corbyn as Prime minister under any circumstances.
    She thinks yet another referendum could be arranged before Halloween.
    She exhibits delusion.

    • giyane

      michael norton

      No. As a Tory she was deluded. Now that she has staggered out into the light of reason you should give her a break.

    • Hatuey

      Interesting that Corbyn is so despised by people who claim to love the NHS and the British welfare state. Don’t they realise that those who built the NHS and welfare state were to the left of Corbyn and singing very much from the same socialist hymn sheet as him?

    • Laguerre

      Rudd sounded to me in favour of a government of national unity, but I don’t think any one of the Tory rebels, not only her, would vote for Corbyn as head. Such a GNU is a matter of negotiation. If Corbyn insists it can only be him, then he’s playing the Tory game of No-Deal Brexit. A figure neutral between the different factions is evidently what’s necessary.

      • SA

        I see Laguerre that you support the motley crew of Lib Dems, turncoat red tories and renegade Tories in blaming Corbyn for being the head of HM official opposition.

  • Republicofscotland

    The Great Satan’s hypocrisy knowns no end, as the US blaclists 28 Chinese tech firms for China suppressing Muslims.

    Trump has attempted to keep Muslims out of America, he has also in the past put embargos on people entering the US from mainly Muslim countries.

    • michael norton

      The Americans have no bases on the shoreline of Syria.
      Perhaps the Americans will be withdrawing to one of their other bases, perhaps al-Tanf, which is in Syria but has the trick of being a three-way intro-exit base, Iraq/Jordan/Syria.
      Al-Tanf
      On 7 September 2018, United States Central Command announced an Operation Inherent Resolve live fire exercise around the al-Tanf garrison. The announcement described it as a “defeat-ISIS exercise”.
      The Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria commented that “during the existence of the base, we don’t know of a single US operation against IS in the area.”

      Some have suggested it is a haven for “Moderates”

      • michael norton

        It now transpires that as the E.U. have become uncomfortable about the Turkish Regime bombing North East Syria, Erdogan claims if they don’t accept it, he will unleash four and a half extra million Syrian people into Europe.
        He is a real nasty piece of work.

  • Sharp Ears

    With 23 days to go until we leave Europe and over three years after the Referendum, Poison Gove is on his feet defending his ridiculous statement on Brexit preparations. In spite of the fact that this is one of the most serious events for the country to be taking place, there are about three dozen troughers present in the HoC.

    In so doing he paid ‘enormous’ tribute to Failing Grayling for all the ‘tremendous’ work he had done in the past. LOL That would be the Seaborne Ferries/Ramsgate Harbour fiasco.

    • Sharp Ears

      Behind the Times paywall –

      Angela Merkel and Boris Johnson held talks at the Federal Chancellory in August -photo

      Boris Johnson is poised to abandon Brexit talks with the European Union after Downing Street claimed that Angela Merkel said that the chances of a deal were now “overwhelmingly unlikely”.
      A No 10 source claimed that during a call with Mr Johnson this morning the German chancellor said that Northern Ireland must stay in a customs union with the EU and “in full alignment for ever”.

      Policy editor Oliver Wright and politics reporter Henry Zeffman help you understand the effects of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union
      “Merkel said . . . the UK cannot leave without leaving Northern Ireland behind in a customs union and in full alignment for ever,” the source said.
      “She said Ireland is the government’s special problem and Ireland must at least have a veto on Northern Ireland leaving. Merkel said the prime minister should tell Northern Ireland it must stay in full alignment for ever but that even this would not eliminate customs issues.”
      The source added: “It was a very useful clarifying moment in all sorts of ways. If this represents a new established position then it means a deal is essentially impossible, not just now but ever. It also made clear that they are willing to torpedo the Good Friday agreement.”Merkel thinks deal is overwhelmingly unlikely, says No 10

      Tusk accuses PM of playing ‘stupid blame game’
      Boris Johnson is poised to abandon Brexit talks with the European Union after Downing Street claimed that Angela Merkel said that the chances of a deal were now “overwhelmingly unlikely”. A No 10 source claimed that during a call with Mr Johnson this morning the German chancellor said that…
      /..
      https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/brexit-deal-overwhelmingly-unlikely-says-angela-merkel-6m5btjwpr

      • Laguerre

        You shouldn’t believe the no 10 readout, it’s overblown with respect to what Merkel is likely to have said, and nearly all German sources say the same.

  • Roberto

    In my younger years I consistently found that the best approach to seduction was never to approach or suggest, but simply to wait, express no interest in a candidate, and let [her] do all the work. “They” seemed to be especially attracted to disinterest.
    Unfortunately that is not even a defense these days.

  • Dungroanin

    Loved it when Mutti slapped down the bad boys by PHONE. They may have been expecting it but oh what a beautiful slap down and sending off to bed early or as Steve Nbell toons it
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/picture/2019/oct/08/steve-bell-on-the-merkel-johnson-phone-call-over-brexit-talks-cartoon

    And btw I was researching a bit of Eric Blair and came across this lovely piece
    http://www.openculture.com/2014/11/george-orwells-final-warning.html

    Which quotes ‘publisher Fredric Warburg toward readers who “had misinterpreted [Orwell’s] aim, taking the novel [1984] as a criticism of the current British Labour Party, or of contemporary socialism in general.”

    It certainly predicted the other Blair and NuLabInc!

    Enjoy.

  • aspnaz

    Excellent. Courtship is a wonderful thing and is part of the journey of getting to know the other person one step at a time. It is one of the pleasures that nature gives us and never needs descend into discomfort: for example, a man placing his hand on the ladies back to guide her through a doorway. These tentative moments are a fantastic part of life and should not be discouraged. So much of courtship is gut feeling that turning it all into conscious decisions destroys the whole purpose and prevents the real you from having a say.

  • Kim Sanders-Fisher

    In my youth I worked on private yachts and rampant sexism was endemic. I was once offered a  job that included “servicing” the Captain once a week. What a pathetic wimp; after I told him to shove it, I rocked with laughter all the way down the gang plank.  I am certainly no fan of Hartley Brewer, but she spoke about a sexist mauling in her past which she shrugged off with casual disdain – vent outrage at the time and move on, men behaving badly, drunken amorous advances, what else is new? 

                 While I reluctantly must agree on the right to obsessive use of the word “surrender,” the opposition lost the battle as a far more effective retaliation would have been to taunt the Tories over their childish repetition that sounded desperate.  However, I was very seriously alarmed by the callous ridicule of female MPs concerned over death threats in the light of the fatal attack on Joe Cox.  This was beyond tasteless to the extreme of being deeply offensive and potentially inciting further violence.  This had every right to be called out by MPs on all sides of the house. 

                  I fail to understand how it is inappropriate to accuse a PM of lying when they habitually and continuously spew multiple lies in the House of Commons.  At the same time it is totally acceptable to call Jeremy Corbyn an Anti-Semite in the chamber without a single solitary shred of supporting evidence: this is never even called into question by the speaker.   I am not a Labour voter; I support the Green Party, but I detest lies and I find the current unsubstantiated vilification of Jeremy Corbyn dishonest, disgraceful. disgusting and totally abhorrent.  If accusing a serial liar of lying is prohibited, this hearsay defamation of an MP within the House of Commons should also not be allowed.   Time to clean the house!

                Brendan Cox would seem to be an absolute sleazy dog, but given the circumstances I would be prepared to let this sleeping dog lie.  He has two very vulnerable young children who experienced the traumatic death of their mother in a violent racist attack in which she lost her life.  At this time, the ongoing vilification of their only surviving parent, no mater how well justified, is bound to further traumatize the children of Jo Cox.  Out of respect for Jo Cox and prioritizing the protection of her children; for that reason, and that reason alone, I am prepared to give Brendan a temporary free pass.  Brendan should take this time to seriously clean up his act and focus on the needs of his children.  

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