Sunday, October 09, 2016
Is it wrong to be snobbish about snobs?
As a teenager growing up in the unfashionable North London suburb of Golders Green, the celebrated writer Evelyn Waugh refused ever to post letters from the NW11 postcode in which his family lived.
Instead he would walk a few hundred yards down the road to nearby Hampstead and put them in a postbox there. That way his friends might be deceived into thinking that he resided in the far more prestigious environs of London NW3.
As this suggests, the author of Brideshead Revisited, the much-loved novel in which social climber Charles Ryder finds himself beguiled by the aristocratic Flyte family, was himself a colossal snob. And in this he was far from alone.
We’ll consider more examples of outrageous snobbery shortly, but first let’s recall the cautionary tale of Andrew Mitchell, the Rugby-educated Tory MP who in 2012 was accused of shouting the word ‘plebs’ at the policemen guarding the gates at 10 Downing Street. The ensuing scandal forced his resignation as government chief whip.
As Mitchell discovered, one of the worst charges you can lay at anyone’s door in the early 21st century is to suggest that they are a snob. And yet, I would argue, snobbery is key to our national life, an essential part of who we are.
Without it, for example, the English novel would more or less cease to exist. Imagine Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations without the social pretensions of his hero Pip. Or George Eliot’s Middlemarch and William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair devoid of characters obsessed with putting on airs and graces.
Such affectation pervades all levels of British society. Take the Victorian sporting hero W. G. Grace, a butler’s grandson from rural Gloucestershire who delighted in the social caché of being an amateur ‘gentleman’ player when cricket was increasingly dominated by paid professionals.
Insisting that match programmes should refer to him as W. G. Grace Esquire, instead of plain W. G. Grace, he routinely claimed expenses far in excess of what the professionals earned but still saw himself as a cut above them.
On a tour of Australia in 1873 he declined to stay in the same hotels as them and, on the journey home, luxuriated in first class while they were forced to travel in steerage. When they dared to complain, he was loudly critical of what he called their ‘pretensions to equality’.
Then a century or so later, we have the damning description of Michael Heseltine by his Eighties Cabinet colleague Michael Jopling.
Dismissing him as ‘the kind of man who has to buy his own furniture’, Jopling implied that proper people come from families sufficiently well established for the younger generation to inherit the contents of their drawing rooms, thus forever branding Heseltine as an upstart.
During the same era, much of the disparagement of Mrs Thatcher had its roots in a prejudice that was as much social as political.
For example, the distinguished academic Baroness Mary Warnock took it upon herself to remark that, even if the Prime Minister’s political views changed, she would still find her unacceptable because she had once seen her on television buying outfits at Marks & Spencer and found something quite ‘obscene’ about it.
According to Baroness Mary, the clothes showed a woman ‘packaged together in a way that’s not exactly vulgar, just low’.
Before expressing too much outrage at this, let’s remind ourselves of the huge popularity of the BBC sitcom Keeping Up Appearances.
It appealed partly because there is in all of us something of the curtain-twitching Hyacinth Bucket (or ‘Bouquet’, as she insisted her surname should be pronounced).
Making assumptions about a householder’s worth based on the tidiness of his box hedges, casting a suspicious eye over your friend’s child’s university application and muttering ‘Isn’t that a former polytechnic?’ or tutting when you hear Channel Four youth presenters dropping their aitches — these are examples of judgements based on arbitrary criteria. In other words, snobbery.
I knew all about such petty social distinctions from an early age. My father was a terrific snob, despite growing up on a small council estate in Norwich.
According to his recollections, this was an absolute hotbed of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, each of the 16 families in his street gamely contriving to prove that they were superior to the people next door.
Any neighbours who deviated from the standards prevailing in his mother’s parlour were deemed no better than the inhabitants of Pockthorpe, a part of the city notorious for its slums.
A half-full bottle of milk left on the dining room table rather than decanted into a jug; appearance at a social function minus a collar and tie; front room curtains still gaping open at twilight: all this was denounced as ‘Pockthorpe manners’.
Forever pining to move up the council estate ladder and live in a house with a ‘double bay front’, my grandmother urged my grandfather to quit his work as an electrician for the more ‘respectable’ job of meter reading (which, as it turned out, paid less money).
And she was, of course, delighted when my father secured a white-collar job, by way of a grammar school scholarship. After my grandfather died, she and my father, then in his early 30s, bought the type of private house she had longed for and she thoroughly commended the lease on the grounds that it forbade the airing of washing on a Sunday.
Despite, or perhaps because of, his relatively humble origins, my father was a stickler for social protocol. ‘Bikes in the living room,’ he would sometimes say when the name of a family friend he had known for 40 years strayed into the conversation, just in case anyone had forgotten that the parents of Miss Maureen Artiss, as she then was, had not enjoyed the luxury of a garden shed.
In the late Sixties, he was working for the Norwich Union Insurance Group — the company from which my maternal grandfather had recently retired — when the two of them were travelling home to Norfolk from the FA Cup in London.
En route, they stopped for fish and chips in the town of Thetford and my grandfather insisted they eat in the car rather than on a bench outside the shop, on the basis that Mr Basil Robarts, Norwich Union’s chief general manager, known to have been at the match, might be passing in his own vehicle.
My grandfather would have thought this a sensible precaution. Like many working-class men of his generation, sprung from one milieu into another where he sometimes felt slightly less at home, he became, as he grew older, increasingly conscious of the distance he had travelled.
He was, for example, furious when in the Eighties a plumber moved into the house next door and made a habit of parking his van in his drive. ‘The man is an artisan,’ my father fumed. ‘I didn’t move here for people like that to come and live next door.’
For him, buying a house in a respectable neighbourhood was a measure of how far he had come in life, not least by dint of academic achievement.
Seeing that plumber’s van, however neatly parked, was the equivalent of climbing the upper slopes of Mount Everest only to find a burger bar newly opened on the summit.
You can see his point. What, after all, is the worth of a pay rise, or an A* at GCSE, or a first class degree if everyone gets them? To want to succeed, and to delight in your success, is not necessarily a moral failing and given that so many people consciously or unconsciously practise it, snobbery is a unifying as much as a divisive force.
Indeed, to look at nearly all forms of snobbish behaviour is, however obscurely, to see yourself reflected in them.
I, for example, become a snob whenever I hear Adele interviewed on the radio, dropping her aitches, saying ‘fank you’ instead of thank you and casting glottal stops around like confetti, or walk on to the top deck of a bus to find a teenager with a can of lager.
Rather than feel ashamed on such occasions, I remind myself that we have much to thank snobbery for.
For example, the fact that we still have a monarchy, and there has never really been such a thing as working class solidarity, is because so many ordinary people are, at heart, snobs who prefer day dreaming about their individual superiority to any kind of communal action.
From the outside, my grandfather might seem to be exactly the kind of voter to whom the Labour Party of the inter-war era should have appealed: a veteran of two conflicts (Boer War and Great War) who lived in a council house, earned a pittance and disparaged the Conservatives with the question: ‘What have they ever done for the working man?’
In fact, he regarded the Labour government led by Ramsay MacDonald as ‘a lot of riff raff’.
There we have the true snob attitude, bred on a Norwich council estate — and, 80 years later, it’s something I rather admire.
For however much we may deplore them, however great the nuisance they may make of themselves, one thing is for sure. There will always be snobs and, who knows . . . the following guide to modern-day one-upmanship might even help you realise that you are one of them.
More multicultural values in Britain
A lodger stabbed a mother-of-three and her partner to death when a row broke out about the temperature of the shower, a court has heard.
Mechanic Foster Christian, 54, allegedly launched a frenzied attack on Natasha Sadler-Ellis and Simon Gorecki at the home they shared in Canterbury, Kent.
The row is said to have broken out when Christian turned on a kitchen tap while Mr Gorecki was showering, triggering a sharp change in temperature. When Mr Gorecki told him to turn it off, Christian allegedly told him: 'F*** off you mug'.
About 40 minutes later, Christian is alleged to have launched his stabbing spree, knifing Mr Gorecki five times - including four times in the back - as well as 40-year-old Ms Sadler-Ellis.
Christian is also accused of stabbing Ms Sadler-Ellis's 20-year-old son Connaugh Harris, who later tried to save his mother as she lay dying on the floor.
The defendant is also accused of seriously injuring a 16-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons. He denies two counts of murder and two charges of wounding with intent.
Today, during the opening of the trial at Maidstone Crown Court, the court was told how the trio were at the property at around 7pm in March this year.
Prosecutor Philip Bennetts QC said that, when Mr Gorecki - a former fishmonger- complained about the tap being turned on, Christian retaliated angrily.
He said: 'He used a tap which caused the temperature of the water in the shower to change. Simon shouted at Mr Christian who told him to "F*** off you mug".'
The pair then began arguing with one another. The court was told how Mr Harris was on the phone to his mother at the time and rushed to the address, along with the teenage boy, to 'diffuse the situation'.
When he arrived, Mr Harris found Christian, Mr Gorecki and Ms Sadler-Ellis having a row upstairs.
The jury heard how Mr Harris tried to calm the situation but that Christian and Ms Sadler-Ellis soon began shoving one another.
When Mr Harris tried to intervene, Christian struck him, the court was told.
The teenage boy then retaliated by punching Christian, but the alleged killer brought out a knife wrapped in a plastic bag, the court heard. Christian then allegedly began his attack, stabbing his two alleged victims to death.
Mr Bennetts said: 'They didn't know that Foster Christian was in fact using a knife at that stage.
'The knife was held in a bag and you may at some stage when you consider the evidence wonder about that and why there was a bag about the knife.'
As well as the fatal wound to her heart, she was stabbed just above her left eyebrow, with the knife plunging down internally to her lower jaw, the court was told.
Mr Gorecki, 48, died as a result of one of his stab wounds penetrating his right lung, the court was told.
The jury heard how, after the alleged attacks, Christian called police and said the knife was his.
But he then changed his account to 'their knife', claiming he had grabbed it from them and they had taken it back.
Asked by the operator if he was okay, Christian calmly replied: 'No, I'm not, thanks. 'They hit me with a beer can. I don't know what else with. They were hitting me with beer cans and bottles so I just grabbed a knife from my rack. 'They were still doing it, just beating me and beating me and beating me. And they are still here.'
The court heard how police arrived at the house at around 7.40pm to find the teenager lying at the top of the driveway, Ms Sadler-Ellis on the kitchen threshold and Mr Gorecki on the kitchen floor.
Mr Harris had been giving the teenager first aid on the driveway after trying to help his mother and carrying out CPR on Mr Gorecki.
The court heard how the teenager asked Mr Harris if he would die as he put him in the recovery position.
He said he initially thought he had been punched in the stomach during the violence but then saw his 'guts were hanging out'.
In an interview played to the court, the youngster told police: 'I looked at Connaugh and said "I have been stabbed".
'He said "It's alright mate". I was like "oh God" and I just remember this huge pain and I was like "Am I going to die?" and he said "No mate, no" and he lay me down on the wall just outside the house.'
The teenager also told the court that during the heated row Ms Sadler-Ellis accused Christian of 'creeping' on her at her home.
The boy said she told Christian she was 'sick of him coming past her house staring through her window'.
He also said Mr Gorecki told Christian: 'I'm going to run through you' but that it was not a threat to stab him.
As the 16-year-old boy was cross-examined over a TV link, he broke down in tears as he told the court: 'Unless you have been in that situation... I was doing what I thought was right.'
He said the whole incident happened in about 10 seconds and although he never saw a knife, Christian made 'stabbing motions'.
In an exchange with Christian's defence counsel, Rajiv Menon QC, the teenager strongly denied the barrister's suggestion that 'all hell broke loose' and they attacked Christian, with Mr Gorecki 'rushing forward' armed with a knife and shouting 'You black b*****d'.
Having laughed in apparent disbelief at the defence suggestions that the group were armed and had attacked Christian 'four against one', Mr Menon asked if the boy thought it was funny.
He replied: 'I find it funny how you can defend this. But I told you I punched him once, a 16-year-old, punching him because I was defending Natasha.'
Told by Mr Menon that the violence resulted from them not leaving the house and going back upstairs, the teenage boy said: 'It happened because he was shouting abuse and bullying everyone. Of course we could have not gone upstairs and not confronted him but that's happened.'
The teenager was left with a wound to his right forearm, a superficial injury to his right thigh, a cut to his abdomen, a 3cm whole in his large bowel and a large bleed to the iliac vein, which returns blood from the leg to the heart.
After surgery at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, he was transferred to intensive care.
The court was told how a police officer saw Christian, who was bleeding from a cut above his right eye and speaking on his phone and she shouted at him to go back upstairs.
The alleged murderer sat on the stairs and said he did not have a knife when asked by another officer.
He said: 'They attacked me with a knife. I got it off them and fought back. They were hitting me and attacking me. They took the knife back.'
The court was told how Ms Sadler-Ellis's blood had stained the upstairs floor around the threshold of Christian's bedroom, believed to be from the wound on her left eyebrow which poured out as she stood at the top of the stairs.
Mr Bennetts said: 'One explanation for the blood distribution around the top of the stairs is that she stood or knelt on one of the upper steps facing up the stairs while blood pumped from the wound on her left eyebrow.'
The jury was told that no alcohol had been found in Christian's blood but both the alleged victims had been drinking.
Naomi Toro, 36, had arrived at the house and was seen by a police officer leaving with the knife used to inflict the injuries.
When arrested on March 30 she took officers to where she had thrown the weapon into the River Stour from a bridge.
Mr Bennetts added: 'There is no dispute that Foster Christian killed Simon Gorecki and Natasha Sadler-Ellis.
'The defence served on the prosecution and the court a defence statement. 'In short it is asserted that Foster Christian was acting in reasonable lawful self-defence. The prosecution case is what he did was not reasonable. 'At the very least stabbing with a knife demonstrates as intention to cause really serious bodily harm.'
Gross-out feminism is just plain gross
The new feminism's focus on the body is a step backwards
What does it mean to be a feminist today? Women’s liberation used to mean believing that men and women were equal, that women were more than a bag of hormones, and that we could think and act as rationally as men. Women’s liberation movements of the past argued against the biologisation of women, laughing at the idea that periods change women’s behaviour or that appearance defines a woman’s worth. Not anymore.
Behold the latest degradation of women’s liberation: gross-out feminism. This newly coined term seeks to define a new movement focused on women’s bodies rather than their minds. ‘This new movement normalises women by focusing on their bodies, warts and all’, says one supporter. ‘Its goal is to provide a kind of shock therapy to those still harbouring the notion that women don’t have bodily functions, trapped gas, or insubordinate periods.’ Lofty ambitions indeed.
‘Vaginas are so hot right now. If that sentence shocks you, then you’ve been out of the cultural loop’, one commentator writes. And she’s right. Modern feminism is obsessed with vaginas. Take the Guardian’s new ‘Vagina Dispatches’, which claims that ‘there is something particularly damaging about vagina ignorance’. The leaders of the project, two attractive young women, have started up an online hub where readers are invited to draw vulvas and discuss their genitals. They even went out on the streets of New York, one dressed as a vagina, asking people to name the bits.
If you thought that was weird, I wouldn’t recommend watching the fashion brand Monki’s latest series of vlogs. In a video titled ‘Periods are cool. Period’, another attractive woman, standing barefoot in a pool of fake blood, tells the camera ‘anyone around the world who has [a period] can relate. It’s something that crosses race boundaries, cultural boundaries, age boundaries, norm boundaries.’ Forget political solidarity, period solidarity is the new in-thing for young feminists. Other videos include an attractive young woman boasting about the length of her armpit hair; an attractive young woman talking about big girls looking good in clothes; and an attractive young woman, in knickers, talking to women about the importance of masturbation.
Remember Charlotte Roche’s novel Wetlands? The 2008 book which sought to be as disgusting as possible in an attempt to ‘normalise’ women’s bodies? The book about haemorrhoids, anal sex and farting that was hailed as an empowering breakthrough for women’s liberation? That piece of fiction has become real. From free-bleeding campaigns to the new fascination with body hair, feminism is now, often literally, staring up its own backside.
What’s wrong with all this? If it means that women feel more free with their bodies, what’s the problem? But this isn’t what gross-out feminism is really about. If it were just a superficial interest in leg hair and menstrual cups, most of us would roll our eyes and look the other way. But what this new movement is claiming is that women’s bodies should be the focus of feminist politics. Anti-body-shaming campaigns claim that society expects women to be thin, and so we must showcase bigger models to make sure all women feel beautiful. But we don’t live in the 1950s. There is no horde of sexists obsessing over women’s appearance. Today, it’s in fact feminists who are obsessed with women’s bodies.
Gross-out feminism drags women back to the state of visceral, biological creatures. This outlook defines women by their bodies, and by nature, not by their ideas or achievements. Feminists are inviting women to retreat from the outside world to their own inner world – politicising what’s going on in their knickers rather than engaging with wider society. If we argue that women are defined by their hornomal changes, their body shape and their self-esteem, we are fundamentally saying women are unable to overcome their biological differences in order to be as strong and as capable as men.
Gross-out feminism is for girls. It springs from the sort of fascination with your body that is acceptable when you’re a teenager – whinging about period pains, moaning about how your friends are skinnier than you, and agonising about shaving your legs. But women – adults – have bigger fish to fry. If we want to talk about women’s bodies, how about discussing the fact that abortion is still technically illegal in the UK? Or that women still don’t have full and easy access to contraception? Feminism should be about what women want from society, not how women feel about their bodies. This gross-out feminism – obsessed with weight, genitals and bodily functions – is a throwback to a time when women were defined by their bodies. All free-thinking (and self-respecting) women should reject this juvenile, quasi-political movement. Girls, it’s time to grow up.
Corbyn’s critics are trivialising anti-Semitism
Both of Labour's warring sides are using Jews as weapons
Nazi lady, Jackie Walker, originally from Jamaica
‘Does Labour have an anti-Semitism problem?’ This was the question posed at a fringe event, organised by the Corbyn fan club Momentum, at the Labour Party conference last week. If the event was meant to rebut the widespread accusation that Labour does have an anti-Semitism problem, no one told either those Momentum supporters distributing leaflets accusing the Jewish Labour Movement of representing a shady foreign power or Momentum’s now-sacked vice chair, Jackie Walker, who, to loud cheers, told the room that anti-Semitism was ‘no more special than any other kind of racism’, and that if there is anti-Jewish feeling among Labourites, so what? ‘The Labour Party, after all, is simply a reflection of society.’
Not that Walker’s less than wholehearted opposition to anti-Semitism was a surprise. After all, this was the woman who, earlier this year, took time out from proclaiming her Jewish and African ancestry to call Jews ‘the financiers of the sugar and slave trade’ and the creators of ‘the African holocaust’. And now, thanks to persons unknown, a video has been leaked of Walker’s behaviour at a Labour anti-Semitism training event, in which she tells the course leader: ‘I haven’t heard a definition of anti-Semitism that I can work with.’
If certain Labour members’ continued waltz with anti-Semitism is hardly a shock, even more predictable was the gleeful response of Labour’s parliament-based sect, the Anti-Corbynistas. Principal member and Labour MP Wes Streeting condemned Momentum and Walker, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘This isn’t ambiguous. This is a classic anti-Semitic trope, at our conference.’ Fellow anti-Corbynista Luciana Berger, who proudly resigned from the shadow cabinet in July in protest at the Labour leader, joined in the condemnation: ‘There are too many examples of where my Jewish parliamentary colleagues, where my Jewish council colleagues, where Jewish members have been attacked because they are Jewish. We need to stamp it out.’
This is now the pattern of Labour-on-Labour conflict. A Labour member, perhaps an MP, or even an ex-mayor of London, says something like ‘Hitler was the Zionist God’, workers are being exploited by ‘the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie’, or Israeli Jews should all be ‘transported’ to America en masse, and not only are the individuals involved condemned, suspended and sometimes expelled – they’re also taken as manifestations of Labour under Corbyn, signs of the stinking party-political fish now rotting from its head down.
Charges of anti-Semitism really do appear to be what Corbyn’s supporters say they are: part of the anti-Corbyn campaign, cheap shots taken by Labour MPs desperate to take Jezza down. So every time one of Labour’s resident ignoramuses runs off his or her mouth about the ‘Zionists’, or suggests a shady conspiracy, the anti-Corbyn brigade quickly blame it on the reign of their nemesis. ‘Thanks to Corbyn’, writes one Guardian journalist, ‘the Labour Party is expanding, attracting many leftists who would previously have rejected it or been rejected by it. Among those are people with hostile views of Jews.’ An Observer columnist went further: ‘[Corbyn is] continuing a tradition of Communist accommodation with anti-Semitism that goes back to Stalin’s purges of Soviet Jews in the late 1940s.’ And with every missed opportunity to right its course, concluded the New Statesman, ‘the more anti-Semitic Corbyn’s Labour is revealed to be’.
Listening to those exploiting every whiff of anti-Semitism to try to undermine the Labour leader, anyone would think that Labour’s anti-Semitism problem is really a Jeremy Corbyn problem. He’s seemingly the source of party members’ tin ears, the man who made it okay to talk about ‘Zios’, issue half-baked theories of Israeli imperialism, and play down the unique moral horror of the Holocaust. Get rid of him, and all will be right (or at least centre-right) with Labour again. Such is the simplistic logic of the anti-Corbyn faction.
There’s a real danger in using anti-Semitism to undermine and score cheap points against Corbyn: it diminishes and trivialises the problem of anti-Semitism. It reduces it to Corbyn and Momentum, the bad apples in Labour’s barrel, easily sorted, and easily solved. And, in doing so, it ignores the extent to which anti-Semitism, especially its cultural variant, has sunk its roots in the left, and is now flourishing, an anti-Zionist bloom on the anti-capitalist branch.
This is not to say the Labour left or the left more broadly openly advocates anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism has historically been the preserve of the political right. It was there that the conspiratorial tropes of anti-Semitism developed, its scapegoating zeal fuelled by a ruthlessly biologising nationalism, before, following a postwar hiatus, it was to find its most articulate home, complete with talk of Zionist conspiracies and blithe blood libelling, among Islamists, with the conflicts in the Middle East providing the apparent just cause. So the contemporary left has not led anti-Semitism, but, having long since sacrificed its Enlightenment commitment to universalism at the altar of identity politics, it has increasingly found itself unable to resist the political siren’s call of anti-Semitism. It has too often acquiesced to anti-Semitism.
Of course, those left-wingers, Labourite or otherwise, fingered as anti-Semitic never think of themselves as such. They’re anti-Zionist, they say. It’s the Israeli state they’re opposed to, not Jews as a whole. Yet the distinction rarely holds up, not least because their opposition to Israel, indeed the obsession with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is so overdetermined. It’s not born of some actual, let alone vested, interest in this one particular conflict out of all the other conflicts in the world. No, it’s fuelled by their opposition to what Israel represents – its nation-building futurity, its embrace of liberal capitalism, its sheer modern-ness. And ultimately, that image of Israel, as the exemplar of capitalist modernity, both feeds into and draws on what anti-Semitism has always held Jewry to represent: the moneyed power behind the throne, and the source of the world’s problems.
Corbyn may have semi-consciously likened the Israeli state to the Islamic State, and some of his party supporters may parrot guff about Hitler being a Zionist. But the problem of anti-Semitism runs far deeper than Corbyn and Co. It touches on the political and moral disorientation of the left itself. Unwittingly, the anti-Corbyn set, by narrowly using the anti-Semitism charge to dislodge a leader they don’t like, are obscuring the breadth of the left’s flirtation with anti-Semitism today.
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.