Wednesday, October 16, 2013
It's a vigorous, voracious press that keeps our country honest
Regulating the media would undermine its ferocious ability to highlight wrongdoing, writes Boris Johnson
Good for Fraser Nelson. It strikes me that he is 100 per cent right. The editor of The Spectator has announced that his ancient and illustrious publication will have nothing whatever to do with any new system of press regulation. He will neither bow nor truckle to any kind of control. He will not “sign up”. He will politely tell the new bossyboots institution to mind its own beeswax, and he will continue to publish without fear or favour.
I think the whole of the media should do the same. Stuff all this malarkey about the Privy Council and a Royal Charter. Who are the Privy Council, for goodness’ sake? They are just a bunch of politicians, a glorified version of the government of the day. We are on the verge of eroding the freedom of the press. We are undermining the work of everyone from John Milton to John Wilkes – men who fought for the right to say and publish things of which politicians disapproved.
Why are we embarking on this monstrous folly? Because of a string of essentially political embarrassments that led to the Leveson Inquiry – and at the beginning of it all was the expenses scandal, and the sense among MPs that they had been brutally treated by the press.
It is true: they were mercilessly kicked for what they thought was a venial sin – padding out their pay with expenses claims that did not stand up well to scrutiny. But then it should have occurred to Parliament – collectively – that they were not being entirely frank with the public about the way the system worked. They were allowing the world to think their salaries were relatively modest, when in fact they had found ways of inflating them – and some of those ways were innocent, some were baroque, and some were criminal.
Yes, it is true that many good and honourable people (and their spouses) were made to feel like lepers. But you could not seriously argue that the story should have been suppressed, or that the actions of the media were in any way improper, or invited some new legislative curb. That was the political context in which Leveson was called into being, with MPs seething for revenge. It was the hacking cases that gave them their pretext, the deep public revulsion against what appeared to have been done in the case of Milly Dowler by the News of the World – and the sensational potential implications for the No 10 spokesman, Andy Coulson, a former editor of that paper.
A public inquiry became inevitable, and before that inquiry there trooped a succession of famous people who felt that the media had been not so much wrong as plain beastly; just horrid in the way they behaved, the kinds of questions they asked, the appalling things they wrote. By the end of the whole fandango – and it was a long time coming – it was obvious that we would have some kind of attempt at regulation; and it was also obvious that any such regulation was a nonsense.
We already have abundant law against obscenity, or breach of official secrets. We have laws against libel and defamation, against bugging, hacking, theft, bribery of public officials. We have a growing tort of breach of privacy. We have no need of some new body backed by statute, or the Privy Council, and it is wrong in principle. You either have a free press or you don’t. You can’t sell the pass, and admit the principle of regulation – because it is in the nature of regulation that it swells and grows. You can’t be a little bit pregnant.
Every day I see signs of investor confidence in London – and why do international companies and individuals want to put their money in the British capital? It is not just because of our bikes and our beautiful new buses. It is because of the rule of law, the absolute certainty over title, the virtual absence of corruption. They know that the British system is as transparent and honest as any on earth, and I am afraid that is not just because of the natural purity of the British soul: it is because we have a vigorous, voracious and sometimes venomous media. And that is why the ruling classes don’t dare bend the rules, in the way they do in other countries; because no one wants to be dangled before that great media beast and look into its bloodshot yellow eyes and feel the hot carnivorous breath of its displeasure.
I am afraid it is inevitable that a vigorous media will cause occasional heartache, and dish out the odd uncalled-for insult. It strikes me that Ed Miliband was well within his rights to stick up for his father, for instance. But you can’t regulate the press just because they are insulting, or subversive, or find stories in tainted sources. We need someone to tell us that we are all being spied on by the American security services – that strikes me as being an invaluable bit of news, if hardly surprising. And if papers are genuinely at risk of compromising our national security by their revelations, then we have the D-notice system – to which all editors subscribe – to keep them in order.
The last and most powerful point against any new regulation of papers is that it is so completely pointless. We live in a world in which vast quantities of news can be instantly disseminated across the internet, and by companies way beyond any conceivable reach of parliament or government.
So I hope the press will tell the Privy Council to stick it in the privy; and if you are bothered by those nasty people from the media, and they won’t go away, and they continue to sit outside your house asking questions to which you have already told them the answer, may I recommend that you do as my children and I once did years ago. We imitated Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop, and we stuffed bananas secretly up the reporter’s tailpipe, and I remember us laughing helplessly at her air of puzzlement as she kaboing-ed up the road. Far better than regulation.
It's the 40th anniversary of Erica Jong's "Fear of Flying," which some have described as a breakthrough book for women and for modern feminism.
Reduced to its common (and I do mean common) denominator, the book, which was written in the appropriately named "Me" Decade of the '70s, encourages women to behave like promiscuous men, having meaningless sex without fear of consequences. "Fear of Flying" gleefully encourages women to engage in the so-called "ZF." Don't know what that means? Look it up.
Henry Higgins' question, "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" has been asked and answered. She can. She is. And it's not a good thing. Some ask, "If the Playboy philosophy was good enough for some men, freeing them from a marital commitment in order to have sex, why not the same for some women?" No reason, says "Fear of Flying." What's good for the goose, right? Everybody into the pool!
Except that it wasn't "good" for men or for women. The fallout from the culture bombs dropped on America, beginning in the freewheeling '60s, continues to infect the younger generation today. Their role models are not parents, or even sports figures, but rather young twits like Miley Cyrus. Even she is nothing new. Cyrus is just the latest desperate exhibitionist in a long list of desperate exhibitionists who'll do anything and everything, usually while nearly naked, to get noticed and talked about.
What was once considered deviant behavior is now accepted and appears to go unchallenged for fear of a lawsuit or public condemnation. Out-of-wedlock births, the glorification of thug life, the cloying, sycophantic fascination with pseudo celebrity, the tacit acceptance of recreational drug use, it's all there on the downward slope to depravity. Cole Porter wrote, "In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking. Now, heaven knows, anything goes!" He was ahead of his time.
The main character in "Fear of Flying" is 29-year-old Isadora Wing, who says, "The (ZF) is absolutely pure. It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game. The man is not 'taking' and the woman is not 'giving.' ... The (ZF) is the purest thing there is."
She's talking about "quickies," a fast sexual encounter for pleasure with no expectation of a call in the morning. No commitment. No conversation. The ZF.
In a worshipful Washington Post article on Jong's book, writer Neely Tucker quotes Shelley Fisher Fishkin, professor of English and director of the American studies program at Stanford University: "It wasn't unusual to have sex talk in a book. It was unusual to have it in a woman's head, in a woman's point of view." Is this the equality women fought so hard for, for the right to degrade oneself on an equal level with unrestrained cads?
Such celebrations of promiscuity rarely examine the consequences of the behavior they promote. One can view the repercussions of doing what pleases nearly every day on "Dr. Phil" where women, especially, are seen suffering from abandonment, abuse and the drugs and alcohol they often turn to, in the false hope it will ease their pain. Many of their children are also addicted to one substance or another and hate one or both of their parents for damaging their lives. Is this who we want to be as a society?
While Washington is consumed about the debt ceiling, America should be concerned about its smelly "sewer ceiling," which is constantly raised with very little resistance.
TV writers put words in the mouths of female characters that would have shocked my grandmother. Modesty is a museum piece. There seem to be fewer men of honor everywhere. When we promote sleaze, we get more sleaze. When we talk ourselves into believing that impropriety is respectable, we corrupt ourselves.
Ancient wisdom from the Prophet Isaiah serves as a warning about the consequences of ignoring what once was called objective truth: "What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter." (Isaiah 5:20 New Living Translation)
When capitalism’s done properly it’s wildly popular in Britain
The Royal Mail sell-off, welfare reform, even spending cuts have all met with voters’ approval
It will now be clear to David Cameron that he lacks a convincing answer to Labour’s new energy policy. Ed Miliband is promising something solid: to freeze the energy bills for 27 million households. In response, the Prime Minister offers something woolly: he’d make the energy market work properly, even though he has failed to do that in the past three years. In Parliament this week, he was making weak jokes about Marx, but he had no better offer than the Labour leader’s. The socialist devil, in this case, seems to have the best tunes.
But yesterday, a different kind of tune was being whistled around Britain: an ode to privatisation. The sell-off of the Royal Mail has been an extraordinary success, with some 700,000 of us applying for shares. The Royal Mail’s staff do not seem to share the revulsion expressed by trade unions: just 0.24 per cent of them opted out of the share deal. State control is being replaced by mass ownership, and a company that has been in and out of losses for years will now become a new FTSE100 giant. It is a remarkable achievement.
It’s not the only thing that is going badly right for the Government. A poll this week shows that Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms are backed even by Labour voters by a margin of two-to-one. His opposite number, Liam Byrne, was sacked by Miliband on Monday after having failed to persuade anyone that a welfare cap is a bad idea. When Tony Blair tried some tentative welfare reforms he gave up after protesters chained themselves to the gates of Parliament. This was with a landslide majority. A Tory Welfare Secretary has gone far further, constrained by coalition. And he has been cheered to the rafters.
But perhaps most striking of all is an opinion poll commissioned by the BBC asking people how they’ve found public services since the crash. A list was provided: schools, GP clinics, bus services, street lighting, rubbish collection, parks, libraries. And in each of these categories more people thought things had got better than grown worse. I’m told this rather wrong-footed the BBC, which had originally planned to give far more coverage to the poll. As things turn out, there is no Armageddon induced by cruel cuts. The story is one of quiet progress on public services, with radicalism on schools and welfare. All of it is popular.
If this surprised Labour, it seems to have flabbergasted David Cameron. He said he thought he had “died and gone to heaven” upon reading the result of the BBC poll – but he ought not to be surprised. Given that Labour’s cash splurge did not wildly improve public services, modest Tory cuts were never going to cause much damage. Over 13 years, Labour tested to destruction the idea that state spending helps. Now Cameron is proving that cuts can coincide with improvement. As he told MPs on Wednesday, the idea that cuts would bring calamity is “one of the many pillars of Labour’s policy that has collapsed today”.
It had actually collapsed several years ago; the difference is that the Tory leadership is only noticing now. In the middle of the last decade, a political car crash left all three parties mangled together, with policies strewn everywhere. Tories were relaxed about the state spending that was to go on to bankrupt the country, and applauded the green taxes that have made energy so painfully expensive. Now, things are far clearer. Ed Miliband is midway through an ideological purge and anyone suspected of Blairite sympathies has been cleared out or demoted. His Leftwards lurch gives the Tories an opportunity to spring-clean their own intellectual inventory. The compromises with a failed Labour agenda can be identified and discarded. Lessons can be drawn from three years in power. In almost every Government department, radicalism has paid off and hesitancy has not.
This has several implications, especially for George Osborne as he prepares for a mini-budget. For the first time, the Chancellor will have good news to impart: tax receipts are coming in twice as fast as expected, factory orders are at their highest for 20 years and more people are working than ever before. So why not use the extra money to cut taxes – and, in so doing, spur the recovery and help the cost of living? In the past, Osborne has felt himself hostage to the Labour thinking: that tax cuts would somehow promote instability rather than recovery. But that was the old theory. The actual trajectory of the recovery, in Britain and abroad, suggests differently.
Ironically, it is Barack Obama who is proving that cuts need not harm the economy. US government spending has been falling at a rate not seen since the end of the Korean war. Rather than crash, the American economy is recovering fast and its deficit is – remarkably – under control. In Sweden, the conservative-led coalition has just issued a fifth round of tax cuts. Its response to the crash was a permanent tax cut for the low-paid, which boosted employment so much that the policy paid for itself. Hard economic experience suggests that Osborne need not be so wary of greater savings, or tax cuts. They may not work in Keynesian theory, but they do seem to work in practice.
In theory, people should be outraged at cutting benefits for some of the poorest people in the country. In practice, it’s the most popular reform the Government has carried out because even Labour voters know it’s the only way to end the poverty trap. In theory, selling the Royal Mail would be hugely controversial, a privatisation which even the Thatcher government did not attempt. In practice, Britain is a country that prefers shopping to politics and regards the post as a service, like any other. If the parcels arrive on time, we’re happy.
Last night, it was decided that those who applied for more than £10,000 of Royal Mail shares will get nothing, and all those who applied for £750 will be fully satisfied. A brilliant idea, which embodies popular capitalism – an offer aimed for the many, not just a handful of merchant banks. Protests about Royal Mail’s sell-off are now almost inaudible – a reminder that the British public is moving to the Right, just at the time when Miliband is moving Labour to the Left.
Cameron’s next step should be to look at the green taxes which are so unfairly woven into our bills, which cost the average household £112 a year. Energy companies with fewer than 250,000 customers are already exempted from such taxes, and I gather ministers are considering doubling this to 500,000 to encourage greater competition. “The remedy to the big six is making them a small six,” says one minister. Or Cameron could scrap the taxes entirely. Miliband may freeze your bills, he could say, but they’ll rise later. Tories will cut them, by cutting green taxes, and keep them down.
One Marx quotation does spring to mind when considering Miliband’s energy policy. In the 1933 political satire Duck Soup, Groucho’s character is made president and promises to address the cost of living. “If you think you’re paying too much now,” he says, “just wait till I get through.” This line comes to mind when considering Ed Miliband’s energy proposals.
In the same film, Chico Marx has a line that Mr Cameron ought to consider: “Who are you going to believe – me, or your own eyes?” The Prime Minister’s eyes should tell him that cuts have none of the consequences Labour predicted, that capitalism, done properly, is wildly popular – and that radical conservatism, where applied, works best of all.
Supreme Court: Affirmative Action on Trial
The United States Supreme Court will consider next Tuesday whether or not Michigan violated the Equal Protection Clause by banning affirmative action in public university admissions.
Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action dates back to November 2006 when:
“fifty-eight percent of Michigan’s voters adopted a proposal that amended Michigan’s constitution to prohibit discrimination, or the granting of preferential treatment, in public education, government contracting, and public employment based on race, sex, ethnicity, or national origin.”
In 2011, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative claiming it restructured the political process along racial lines and classified individuals on the basis of race.
The proposal to ban race consideration would hinder minorities, an affirmative action coalition wrote, because these groups would no longer be permitted to:
“ask the universities to consider the cultural biases in the standardized tests that allow the poorest white students to score higher on those tests than the most privileged minority students….minorities may not fight for their children’s future, and the universities must pretend that race and racism do not exist.”
Despite claims that the law discriminates against minorities, University of San Diego law professor Gail Heriot said Thursday the initiative requires equality:
“It’s discriminatory in the sense that a racial group can’t petition for preferential treatment”
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said Wednesday he believes the Justices will respect the the decision of Michigan voters and uphold the state amendment:
“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
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, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.