Sunday, December 19, 2010
‘Homosexuality is a sin’ street preacher wins £7k from British police
A street preacher wrongly arrested for saying homosexuality is a sin has won substantial damages as police chiefs issue new guidelines telling officers to be more thick-skinned.
Dale Mcalpine was held for seven hours and charged with a public-order offence in April after telling a gay police community support officer (PCSO) that he believed homosexuals were acting against the word of God.
He was accused of uttering ‘threatening, abusive or insulting’ words ‘to cause harassment, alarm or distress’ contrary to Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986.
But the charges were dropped after the case was highlighted by The Mail on Sunday and now police in Cumbria have agreed to pay him £7,000 in compensation as well as his legal costs, potentially an extra £10,000.
Cumbria’s Chief Constable Craig Mackey also said a senior officer will meet Mr Mcalpine in person and apologise to him to ‘seek to restore his trust and confidence in the Constabulary’.
The payout came as new national guidance was issued to police following growing criticism of their heavy-handed treatment of Christians expressing their religious views.
Keeping The Peace, published by the Association of Chief Police Officers, says officers must be aware that the right to free speech allows people to express unpopular views as long as ‘their conduct is reasonable or the actual or potential violence provoked in others is “wholly unreasonable” ’.
The guidance also makes clear that though officers themselves may be victims of ‘harassment, alarm or distress’, they are expected to have thicker skins than the public, and they have a responsibility to protect the rights of the speaker.
The document, which updates earlier guidance, says police are ‘expected to display a degree of fortitude’ and ‘the conduct complained of must go beyond that which he or she would regularly come across in the ordinary course of police duties’.
Pressure is mounting on the Government to reform the Public Order Act when it introduces its Freedom Bill in the New Year. Campaigners want the word ‘insulting’ removed from Section 5 of the Act because they believe it leaves street preachers and others vulnerable to arrest.
Mr Mcalpine, who works in the energy industry, had been handing out leaflets and talking to passers-by about his Christian beliefs in the centre of Workington, Cumbria. In conversation with one woman, he listed a number of sins cited by the Bible, including adultery, drunkenness and homosexuality.
He was then approached by PCSO Sam Adams, who said he was gay and a liaison officer with the local homosexual community – and who warned him he could be arrested for making homophobic remarks. Mr Mcalpine denied he was homophobic but said that as a Christian he did believe homosexuality was a sin. Three uniformed officers then arrested him.
After seven hours in a cell, which he spent reading the Bible and singing hymns, Mr Mcalpine was charged by a Senior Crown Prosecutor. At a magistrates’ court hearing his trial date was set for September, but coverage of his treatment provoked a public outcry.
Mr Mcalpine said last night: ‘I am delighted the police are going to apologise. It is not about the money but about freedom of speech. I hope the police will in future do their duty defending freedom of speech.’
The Christian Institute, which backed his case, said: ‘We’re obviously pleased that Cumbria Police has seen common sense. But Mr Mcalpine should not have been arrested in the first place. Sadly, it’s not an isolated case. The Government needs to amend the Public Order Act as a matter of urgency.’
Earlier this month, street preacher Anthony Rollins, who was handcuffed and arrested for condemning homosexuality, was awarded £4,250 in damages following a court case against West Midlands Police. Even homosexual rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has called for reform of the law.
Antisemitic British student leader
A radical student leader who dismissed the violent tuition fees protests as ‘a few smashed windows’ has been accused of making anti-Semitic comments on a social networking site.
Mature student Clare Solomon, 37, president of the University of London Union, helped co-ordinate the protests – during which a car carrying Prince Charles and Camilla was attacked – and declared herself proud of the students.
Now there are calls for Ms Solomon, the daughter of a Royal Military policeman, to resign after she wrote on Facebook: ‘The view that Jews have been persecuted all throughout history is one that has been fabricated in the last 100 or so years to justify the persecution of Palestinians. 'To paint the picture that all Jews have always had to flee persecution is just plainly inaccurate.’
Carly McKenzie, a campaigns officer for the Union of Jewish Students, said: ‘We have lost confidence in her ability to represent Jewish students. ‘To claim that Jewish suffering is a deliberate fabrication goes beyond ignorance into real malice.
‘Her remarks had nothing to do with principled opposition to Israel and everything to do with her disdain towards the Jewish people.’
Adam Levine, President of Queen Mary Jewish Society, added: ‘She should find out before she makes such strong comments about what it means to be Jewish.’
Ms Solomon, who was raised as a Mormon, declined to comment when contacted by The Mail on Sunday but told the Jewish Chronicle newspaper: ‘This badly worded comment was something that I wrote in haste on Facebook. I’m sorry for any misunderstandings.’
Liberal elitists in Britain
Comments by an unusually self-aware one of them
Are you furious with Clegg? In sympathy with the rampaging student hordes? Do you believe that tuition fees, housing benefit changes and other ConDem cuts will act as social barbed wire, annexing the poor in a life of inescapable disadvantage?
You may well be one of the many well-meaning, left-leaning citizens out there who believe that this Government is taking a silver-topped cane to smash cherished values of inclusivity and equality. And if so, you are doubtless as mad as hell about it.
But hold on, dear middle-class reader. Forget about all the protest and insurrection for a moment, and let's look closer to home. Here's another question that you might find a little more uncomfortable. Is it possible that, in your own more subtle and perhaps unwitting way, you are collaborating in exactly the kind of social splintering that you find so politically distasteful?
Certainly, that's what I see going on among the liberal-left in the north London village where I live, an area where artists, media types and public sector workers nest alongside some of the most deprived communities in Britain.
Here in Stoke Newington, the poor may always be among us, but you could move for a long time in the best progressive circles, and barely be aware of that fact.
Before I go any further, I should say that this is not some kind of neo-con knee to the groin of "liberal hypocrites", but more a quest for understanding of how and why we all come to fall short of our inclusive ideals – as seen, stones in hand, from the inside of the glass house.
And with that rider in place, follow me, if you will, on a journey through the streets of my neighbourhood. We'll start at the local school. Most of us send our children to state schools round here. But from reception class on, Archie, Alfie and Freya don't play with Jayden, Megan and Mohammed much. Their parents don't talk to each other much, either – although when the PTA meets in the French pâtisserie down the road, its middle-class stalwarts express puzzlement that parents from different cultural backgrounds have been so reluctant to join them for an almond croissant, a £2 caffè grande crema and a discussion about furthering the inclusion agenda.
By the time the children get to secondary, the class gap has become so wide that open hostility sometimes breaks out between the middle-class children, aka the "skaters", and the "just do it crew" – as their less privileged, Nike-loving peers are nicknamed. It's been going on this way for years.
And it's not peculiar to my area. In a 2008 nationwide study by the British Journal of Sociology of Education, researchers looked at 125 white middle-class households who chose inner-city comprehensive schooling. They found a similar split, with "swotties" and "charvers" sticking to their own social groups. They also found middle-class parents "beset with moral ambiguity" about their choice of schooling, agonising over how to square "wanting to do the egalitarian right thing" with their desire to "maintain and enhance their social position" and avoid their children mixing with the undesirable other.
As it turned out, their children mostly achieved A-stars for social position: "They find they are in the top sets," researchers found. "They dominate the Gifted and Talented scheme and they are treated as somewhat 'special'. Both the children and the parents are highly valued by the schools, which in turn strengthens their privileged positions and agency."
An issue of prime importance for these parents in choosing their child's school was "the need for assurance that there are other children at this school 'like us'". And this brings us on to the subject of housing, an area which provides an equally bright window (sash or uPVC?) on the liberal middle classes' ambiguous embrace of inclusion.
Where you live affects your school choice and so much more. One Stoke Newington mother admitted to me that she doesn't invite her son's friends round for tea because if people knew she lived in a council flat, she feared that would be the end of his play-date circuit.
At election time, you could walk for miles along the rows of Victorian terraces that make up my neighbourhood without seeing a window poster of any shade other than red, green or orange. And yet all those expensively retiled front paths, wooden shutters and tasteful loft extensions speak of a true blue competitiveness, a hunger to display status and difference that dominoes down roads near the park and the best schools, but comes to a halt in the surrounds of the larger housing estates.
Tim Butler, professor of geography at King's College London and co-author of London Calling: The Middle Classes and the Re-making of Inner London, has studied such matters closely. "People like the idea and frisson of living in a socially mixed area," he says, "but actually, these groups move past each other in separate worlds which rarely impinge on each other. I refer to this as 'social tectonics'.
"Gentrification," he adds, "is on the one hand about managing social diversity, but on the other hand flocking together – people like us. These are very strong instincts and I guess the question you have to ask is to what extent that diversity becomes more of a social wallpaper."
Butler has a rather sad explanation for why this flocking happens: "Many middle-class people living in the city now were brought up in monocultural suburbs and they would tell you that it was boring, it was death out there: and they don't want it. But because of their own upbringing, they lack skills in dealing with people different from themselves."
The social bonds formed punting on the Cam or drunk-dancing at the Magdalene Ball give rise to the same kind of leftie un-inclusiveness in the political world, where roughly half the Shadow Cabinet and every single Lib-Dem cabinet member are Oxbridge graduates too.
It's not as if anybody sets out deliberately to shut out the less privileged, but, as a report by the Social Market Foundation last week highlighted, to get a foot in the door of many plum middle-class professions – especially in the creative industries – connections are everything.
In August, the think tank Demos published a report, Access All Areas, which urged "action to be taken to get disadvantaged young people into internships normally dominated by the middle classes", citing evidence that "work placements can compound the class divide".
Elitism breeds more elitism, then. I meet up with an award-winning television producer friend, who explains what this means in his particular world: "TV executives are obsessed by representing everyone," he says. "All the channels do a lot of tub-thumping about it, but it's pretty meaningless. My family and friends are from a fairly mixed bag class-wise and race-wise, and so I hear lots of interesting stories and have lots of references that most of the people who control the TV agenda don't have. But when I pitch programmes that could appeal to viewers who they are not already appealing to, they won't commission them, because they don't understand them: the terms of reference simply aren't there. They want people to pitch to them things that they're going to get, so it's a vicious circle."
Later, the author and journalist Richard Benson tells me a similar tale of unintended marginalisation far from the iPhone-waving media world. For his forthcoming book, he has been interviewing former miners in Yorkshire, some of whom have gone into social work. "I hear a lot from them about a very subtle imposition of middle-class values," Benson says. "There was one who'd been studying why young men didn't use Sure Start centres. One of the reasons that he found was that the interiors were too posh: 'Going in there makes me feel like a rubbing rag,' was one quote. They'd spent a lot of money making these centres all wood, glass and leather sofas – a socially specific idea of what something nice was – and it intimidated people. It's only a small thing, but that's life – the big things play out in these small points..."
Benson recently edited The Middle Class Handbook, a study of "the behaviour and tastes of Britain's new middle-class tribes". During his research, he found: "If you do anything about politics, no one is interested; if you do anything about food or language, people really like to talk about that. The conceit of the book, in fact, was that in classifying the middle classes, the cultural differences now are more relevant than the financial ones."
It's all in the details, to which our antennae are so finely tuned. On the pavements, it might be a pair of Carhartt jeans, or an Orla Kiely handbag, that sets us apart. Or just an attitude. You could shop at Aldi because it's cheap, or because you've discovered they sell marinated wild mushrooms. You could watch The X Factor because you like a good tune, or because it's a fascinating exercise in audience manipulation.
"Class differences in everyday tastes – in things ranging from the types of food and clothing we like, to our preferences in music, art, gardening, or sports – serve as resources in the competition between classes," according to the sociologist Wendy Bottero. "High social position still helps to 'insure' against weaker educational performance, and numerous studies show that if we compare lower-achievers, those from more privileged backgrounds have much better careers than their less advantaged peers."
Think about that next time you settle down on your Habitat sofa with a glass of Malbec to watch The Culture Show. You really should: because while there are a thousand and one ways in which we use these social markers – both overtly and unconsciously – to stake out our position in the world, there's been very little academic study of the subject.
"I think everybody's uncomfortable looking at the subject, to be honest," says Diane Reay, professor of education at Cambridge University, and a pioneer in such "psychosocial" research. "There's been much more academic work done on race and gender than the painful differences around social class. Society's saturated by it, and so is our media, so it's an amazing contradiction. Once it's about ourselves, then all these difficult emotions come up and people dis-identify – nobody wants to own up to the class they belong to."
Professor Reay also thinks that for well-meaning liberals, it's harder than ever not to fall prey to "sublimated elitism" because "we're living in a world where there's less and less certainty, and that causes a whole lot of anxieties which make you less receptive to difference and otherness".
This is echoed by the handful of other academics who are dipping their toes into the murky psychological depths where liberal values and baser instincts collide. The economist Professor Guy Standing, for example, who has charted the slide away from altruism and tolerance among that large group of stressed, job-insecure Britons he dubs the "precariat". And the social epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, whose 2009 surprise best-seller The Spirit Level examined how status anxiety in unequal countries such as Britain and the US adversely affects our health, as well as our ability to trust others and engage in community life.
The subject is obviously a huge one and this essay barely lifts a semi-submerged corner for inspection, let alone offer solutions. Set against the crunching shake-ups now taking place at government level, it could, in any case, seem irrelevant – or even wrong – to worry about the minor lapses of the residents of Stoke Newington and other liberal enclaves.
After all, you can't have good intentions without a little hypocrisy – we strive, we fall short, everyone knows that, so why sweat it? What's the alternative? It was the collapse of a bewhiskered and slightly patronising liberal self-confidence at the end of the Victorian age that paved the way for a lethal right-wing ascendancy.
But while we progressives mustn't throw the baby out with the bath water, that doesn't mean we should ignore those murky areas of our psyche where the urges to belong, to display status – and, yes, exclude too – rattle about. The more we understand them, the more secure our true values become. Besides, new research suggests self-doubt is in liberals' genes. You can't be a good one without beating yourself up every now and again.
Hating Wills’n’Kate: the new conformism in Britain
The smart set’s disdain for the royal engagement is driven less by republicanism than by a desire to prove their superiority to the masses
The release this week of the official photographs for Prince William and Kate Middleton’s engagement has unleashed yet more snidey commentary about the royal couple and their allegedly slavish followers amongst the British public. Ever since the royal engagement was announced on 16 November, members of Britain’s cultural elites, including significant sections of the media, have devoted more energy to congratulating themselves than congratulating William and Kate.
Britain’s nouveaux smart set has adopted the social protocol of affecting a studied indifference to anything to do with the impending royal wedding. From its perspective, even a hint of interest in the proceedings is a symptom of the vulgar tastes and conformism that afflict the little people of Middle England. This smart set takes delight in portraying itself as a beleaguered minority defending enlightened values against an army of daytime TV addicts.
‘I’m afraid I just can’t get excited about the royal wedding but, unfortunately, if [the] media frenzy is anything to go by, it seems I am in the minority’, wrote one journalist. Flaunting the self-selected minority badge is mandatory for an entrée into the smart set. Tanya Gold of the Guardian declared: ‘I am going to be tried for saying this, but a royal wedding will make idiots of us Brits.’ As the 999th journalist to declare a fierce sense of independence from a fictitious royalist consensus, Gold only betrays the conformist take on the wedding that is now rife amongst the commentariat.
Within a few hours of the announcement of the engagement, the refrain ‘who cares?’ became the slogan of choice for an elite keen to exhibit its allegedly non-conformist identity. The performance of feigned indifference played a central role in the cultivation of the idea that ‘we’re not like them’. The sensibility that we – the cultivated, enlightened, non-conventional and special people – are not like those dim-witted tabloid readers was summed up by one broadsheet writer, who said: ‘It’s easy to mock the hysteria of a royal wedding, but state occasions help reveal what kind of country we are.’ In casually introducing the word ‘hysteria’ into the mix, the commentator made an implicit moral contrast between his posture of objective detachment and the madness of the mob.
When journalists say it is ‘easy to mock’ the royal wedding, what they really mean is that reverse snobbery comes naturally to them and their media mates. Of course, the affectation of ‘who cares’ was just that: a studied display of contempt for the apparently deferential public. The cultural elite was desperate to make sure that its censorious disapproval of the wedding plans was widely known.
Typically, the statement ‘who cares’ served as a prelude to the question: ‘Who will foot the bill?’ Take columnist Molly Lynch, writing in the North West Evening Mail. After noting that ‘I had to wonder, who cares?’, Lynch pauses before arguing that ‘there is one thing about the royal wedding which does concern me, though, and that’s who will foot the bill’.
Questions about who is going to foot the bill were followed by statements questioning the appropriateness of holding a lavish royal wedding. Expressions of concern about the cost of the wedding are designed to deprive the event of any moral legitimacy. The moral devaluation of the wedding was constantly communicated through the presentation of William and Kate as a couple of social parasites living it up at taxpayers’ expense. Not surprisingly, this provided a warrant for competitive insult-hurling. One Labour councillor described the royal family as ‘inbred aristocrats who’ve never done a day’s work in their life’.
Even members of the progressive section of the Anglican Church took it upon themselves to devalue the moral status of the forthcoming wedding. The Reverend Peter Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, predicted that the marriage of William and Kate would only last seven years. He also used the occasion to make fun of the appearance of William’s father, Charles, and to liken William and Kate to tawdry celebrities.
If you were to listen in on all the public and private exchanges among Britain’s cultural elites in recent weeks, it would be hard to avoid the conclusion that a complacent form of faux-republicanism has become the new big thing. This mean-spirited lashing out at royalty has nothing to do with traditional forms of republicanism.
Historically, republicanism justified itself through its belief that sovereignty should lie with the people. However, this confidence in the democratic potential of the people is conspicuous by its absence in the worldview of Britain’s modern-day smart set. On the contrary, their studied hostility to the royal wedding can be interpreted as disdain for the behaviour and beliefs of ordinary people.
Many commentators argue that actually the royal wedding is a carefully constructed diversion designed to distract the gullible masses from opposing the government’s austerity measures. One academic told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that with ‘a downturn coming, the British establishment [is] toying with the idea, at least, of trying to distract everyone with these circuses’.
Brian Reade of the Daily Mirror claimed: ‘The biggest beneficiary of Prince William’s forthcoming nuptials is the Cabinet.’ Jonathan Freedland at the Guardian suggested that the wedding was a ‘handy distraction from the economic gloom and spending cuts that are due to bite in the early months of 2011’. Obviously, unlike the plebs who can be distracted at will, Reade and Freedland and the rest are clever chaps who will not be deceived.
Of course, any state occasion can and should be held to account if it manipulates national symbols and tries to achieve some political ends. However, the real objection of the faux republicans is not to the idea that the wedding will be an extravagant distraction from recession, but the very values that seem to underpin the royal engagement and wedding.
A wedding that threatens to celebrate the values of Middle England is bad enough. But what’s even worse is that this event seems to be having some resonance with the public mood. Contrary to the myth of a public hysteria, the public’s reaction is actually characterised by a restrained sense of delight in a young couple’s good fortunes. Yes, the supermarket giant Tesco’s replica of Kate’s engagement dress sold out in an hour. And yes, the mags are full of pictures of the beaming couple. But the idea of public hysteria exists only in the heads of those who are so self-obsessed and detached from reality that they wouldn’t even know what it means to take pleasure in a couple’s devotion to one another.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.