Russell Taylor: A summer of sanctimony

When my young daughter comes to me to let me know that someone has done something bad, I invariably tell her the same thing: don’t tell tales. It’s not that I don’t care if she’s been wronged; it’s just that I have a dislike of people who try to get others in trouble. Judging by recent news stories, our media appears to be made up of these finger-pointing tattlers. “He just said something naughty!” they cry, as if they think we’ll applaud them for their rectitude and allow them to prescribe a fitting punishment for the offender.

Last week, UKIP’s Godfrey Bloom ended up in hot water for referring to ‘Bongo Bongo Land’ in a speech criticising the government’s overseas aid policy. The liberal media gasped in outrage and Bloom was wheeled before Radio 4’s moral inquisitors to explain his faux pas. Bloom was initially unrepentant, stating that, “If I’ve offended anybody in Bongo Bongo Land, I will write to their ambassador at the Court of St. James”. To their chagrin, UKIP’s top brass later asked Bloom to make no further reference to this fictional land (lest it cause offence to the Bongo people, presumably) and browbeat him into issuing an apology.

What was lost amid the criticism of Bloom’s choice of expression was the point he was trying to make. The question of why the government should give charity to other countries on our behalf is an important one that deserves a proper answer, especially since much of that money falls into the wrong hands. Suffice to say, the liberal media is very much in favour of well-meaning people in high places spending our money on ‘good’ causes, but rather than engage with Bloom’s argument, they implied that his motives were impure, as if that invalidated anything he had to say.

Bongo-gate is just the latest in a series of stories to set off the media’s moral klaxon in recent weeks. Last Tuesday, the BBC reported that the US distributor of Australian film The Sapphires had apologised for a DVD cover which focused on the actor Chris O’Dowd, rather than his Aboriginal co-stars. The apology was prompted by an online protest that described the cover as “sexist” and “racist”, and attracted more than 18,000 votes of support. A more cool-headed take on events would have been that Chris O’Dowd was put front and centre because he’s better-known in America than his co-stars. Simple as that. But to the perma-outraged, it was a deliberate act of bigotry, symptomatic of the discrimination that besets designated victims groups worldwide. Again, the rational explanation was sidelined in favour of a narrative that creates bad guys for the Left’s preening narcissists to define themselves against.

July was a bumper month for the professionally indignant. Self-righteous supermarket, the Co-op, told us that while it might be “good with food”, it’s definitely not “good with nude”, demanding that lads’ mag publishers put their smut in ‘modesty bags’. David Cameron declared war on masturbation by calling for internet porn filters, and then there was Caroline Criado-Perez’s campaign against that “bastion of white male power and privilege”, The Bank of England, which culminated in its governor agreeing to put Jane Austen on the new tenner – a victory that earned Criado-Perez a tirade of abuse on Twitter. In response came calls for the social media site to do more to deal with online nastiness. The Times’ Caitlin Moran suggested that “all self-proclaimed pleasant people leave Twitter to the trolls for 24 hours”, while some went further, demanding a mouse-click means of running to mummy. The message was clear: freedom be damned. Observe the values of us, the self-appointed moral authorities, or we’ll hound you into silence.

Real bullying is vile, but an equivalence shouldn’t be drawn between ugly tweets from complete strangers and the reign of terror picked-upon teenagers live under, or else it belittles the seriousness of the latter. Blaming the technology bullies use to communicate their spite is a cop-out, too. Giving Twitter, Facebook et al a hard time for permitting bullying on their networks is like criticising knife manufacturers for not doing more to prevent stabbings. This hasn’t stopped the chattering classes from doing precisely that, of course, because they like their problems to be the fault of some powerful, unfeeling entity they can target with technical fixes that show how clever and caring they are.

The summer of pseudo-scandals probably began with the shock-horror revelation that Muirfield Golf Club only permits men. The BBC, the Guardian and the Independent were predictably aghast. Nick ‘rent-a-cause’ Clegg expressed his dismay, Labour’s Harridan Harman called for a ban on male-only clubs, and that man Cameron offered his displeasure, presumably hoping to parlay his feminist credentials into extra votes. My take? It’s no one business other than Muirfield’s. It’s a private club, not the NHS, and it should be free to accept or exclude whoever it likes – although I dare say that most lefties would disagree. They despise exclusion because it represents a limit to the scope of their egos. At the first hint of it, they clench their fists and scream “injustice!” at the top of their whiny little voices. And when their like-minded chums chirp in agreement, they hold up this chorus of pomposity as an endorsement of their virtue, and think it legitimises them battering the rest of us into submission.

Perhaps the most petty piece of moral posturing to emerge of late was from the Independent’s Stephen Brenkley, who cast his disapproving eye over England’s cricketers and didn’t like what he saw. The nadir of their dishonour apparently came when three players were photographed smoking cigarettes outside a Manchester restaurant. Oh the shame! Whatever next? Arse-scratching? Nose-picking? I shudder to think. Presumably, Brenkley’s objection stems from the belief that public figures have a duty to be personifications of purity, lest impressionable children follow their debauched lead – an opinion I consider as wrongheaded as the people who hold it. Who the hell are they to declare the rich and famous public property? And who are they to volunteer themselves as moral guardians to other people’s children? If you start making the business of nurturing a child the duty of every adult it lays eyes on, you diminish its parents’ authority and relieve them of responsibility. And besides, if sniffy hacks don’t like what they see when they pry into the private lives of celebrities, perhaps they should stop prying.

Stories such as these are standard fare in the ‘silly season’, when Parliament is in recess and half the world is on holiday. Bored journos looking for easy copy saddle up their hobby horses and ride into town. A theme is established, stories feed off each other and the demands that Something Must Be Done soon follow. All harmless enough, you might think, but not when censorship and bad laws are the result. Illiberalism feeds on such hysteria, and there’s no one more illiberal than the prissy schoolmarms of the political and cultural elite.

Whether the policies and ideas that result from these stories do any good is by the by to the people who recommend them, because in the nuanced world of media and politics ideas are a subjective affair. There is not much that can be empirically measured in this non-judgmental nirvana, and little in the way of corrective feedback, so everything is a matter of opinion. The difference between good and bad is a question of motives; and when motives are uncoupled from their practical effects, the measure of a man becomes his devotion to fine-sounding intentions.

No wonder politicians, pundits and media luvvies of a certain persuasion are so quick to showcase their depth of feeling; it’s their principal way of showing their worth. In liberal circles, opinions are worn like campaign medals for their peers to admire. Oh look, he saw action in the Great Anti-Porn Push of 2013. Gosh, is that a Drop The Debt Star next to his Carbon-Neutral Cross? The one thing the members of this crowd will never be judged on is the harm their stupid ideas do, because they’re rarely in a position to register their effects. They’re like old generals sending young men to fight their war. It’s easy for them to champion the cause when they’re miles from the mud and bullets.

To take the example of overseas aid, it doesn’t especially matter if money goes to terrorists and Mercedes-collecting despots, because that reality doesn’t detract from the purity of the underlying motives. Godfrey Bloom wasn’t deemed wrong on this issue because his arguments were baseless; he was wrong because his sentiments were not sufficiently pro-underdog. This is stupidity squared, yet it forms the basis of fashionable opinion, not to mention government policies that affect the lives of millions. In such a febrile environment, is there any place left for sense and perspective, or have the morally indignant squealers taken over completely? Only time will tell. For now, let’s just hope we get out of this summer with our sanity and our freedoms intact.

9 comments on “Russell Taylor: A summer of sanctimony

  1. dr
    August 14, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    Russell Taylor wrote:
    “When my young daughter comes to me to let me know that someone has done something bad, I invariably tell her the same thing: don’t tell tales.”
    This sentence disturbs me. One day Mr Taylor’s daughter will want to tell him something genuinely important, and he will have taught her that if she communicates that information to him, then he will be displeased. So she won’t communicate it.
    For example, if I had a daughter and she told me that someone at her school gate, who she didn’t know had offered her some sweets and a lift home a couple of times, and she had declined it on both occasions, I wouldn’t tell her not to tell tales. I just wouldn’t.

    • Russell Taylor
      August 14, 2013 at 11:49 am #

      I was of course referring to the likes of “Emily just said a rude word”, rather than “a man offered me sweets at the school gate” or “there’s been a murder”. But thank you for your concern.

      • Jack the Badger
        August 15, 2013 at 8:08 am #

        Actually I fear the author’s 1950’s attitude to child protection invalidates the entire logical basis of his article. Furthermore, if Emily said a rude word, we need a full judge-led inquiry to ensure nothing like that happens again.

  2. Rocco
    August 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    Mr Taylor, this is a fine article. I especially like the bit about Muirfield.
    Regarding the Jane Austin thing, Brendan O’Neill (spiked) has some very interesting points on contemporary feminisms’ hollowing out, and it’s focus on the surface of things, that you may enjoy.
    Have a pleasant day, my friend.

  3. andrewporter
    August 14, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    Reblogged this on Concrete Bunker and commented:
    Do we want the right to offend people? Or subsumed into the crass Political correctness of the B.B.C. et al?

  4. Colin Miles
    August 14, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    Bongo Bongo = racist
    Bunga Bunga = sexist
    Bingo Bingo = Southend-on-sea

    • Rocco
      August 14, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

      Bunga Bongo Bingo = sexy racist bingo !
      I wonder if there might be a gap in the market for such a thing?

      • Colin Miles
        August 15, 2013 at 11:43 am #

        Loadsa Bunga Bongo Bingo Wonga

  5. Anthem
    August 14, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    Excellent article but I’m afraid this is nothing new and is unlikely to go away after the summer.

    Ad hominem attacks were probably invented in Bongo Bongo Land long before it was known as such.

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