Virtue Signalling Celebrities – Silly. Virtue Signalling Government – Dangerous

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When celebrities indulge in open virtue-signalling and Something Must Be Done-ery, it is irritating but ultimately harmless. But now political leaders and governments are doing the same thing, and it is deadly serious

Tony Parsons – who only last year bravely admitted to being “Tory Scum” – has a great new piece in GQ magazine, blasting the prevalence of virtue-signalling behaviour among the celebrity and political class.

After ridiculing certain actors and celebrities, whose Something Must Be Done-ery and hand-wringing at the existence of the Evil Tories is misguided but ultimately harmless, Parsons goes on to warn that it is much less funny when political leaders and entire governments are engaging in the same virtue signalling exercise.

His conclusion is worth quoting at length:

All this smug, self-satisfied, shockingly empty posturing would be merely laughable if it was confined to a few pompous luvvies who make clods of themselves every time they say a line that isn’t written by someone far smarter than them. But the desire to demonstrate moral purity now extends its cloying reach all the way to Downing Street, where even pink-faced Tory boys strain to prove their liberal credentials.

Many civilised nations such as Australia, Canada, France, Japan and Ireland have vastly reduced their foreign aid budgets after reaching the conclusion that shovelling billions to the developing world does nothing but encourage corruption, erode democracy and throw away taxpayers’ hard-earned money like a sailor on shore leave.

But in our own country the commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on foreign aid has been enshrined in law. The UK spent more than £12 billion on foreign aid last year, at a time when almost every other area of public spending was being slashed. Only the NHS and foreign aid were spared George Osborne’s cuts.

How can this be? How can a new private plane for a developing world despot be more important than the police, or the armed forces, or benefits for the disabled? How can it be rational, or even sane, for a country to care more about flood defences in Congo than it does about flood defences in Carlisle?

Because it doesn’t really matter if that £12bn a year in foreign aid itself is effective. It is not about feeding hungry mouths. Foreign aid is purely about demonstrating impeccable liberal goodness. Cameron’s Conservatives need to demonstrate that they are kind, decent and virtuous, need to show that they bought “Do They Know It’s Christmas” when they were at Eton and Westminster. Our foreign aid budget – millions of it shipped to nations where the British are despised – is meant to be conclusive evidence that the Tories care.

Virtue signalling begins and ends in the developing world. So Benedict Cumberbatch can’t give a thought to a small German town like Sumte (population 102) that finds its infrastructure collapsing under the burden of giving a home to 750 migrants. Sherlock can only prove his liberal goodness by fretting about Syrian refugees.

There is a debate to be had – and it is the debate of our age – about how we manage our moral obligation to our own people with our humanitarian impulse to help the world. But you will never hear that difficult subject broached among the virtue signallers who scream their pious certainties and wag their censorious fingers at the wicked Tories – which is bitterly ironic as David Cameron is the biggest virtue signaller of them all.

This blog dissents from the suggestion that the bulk of the foreign aid budget should not have been returned to taxpayers but merely reallocated to an unreformed NHS and welfare state, but the main thrust of Parsons’ argument – that we are essentially spending nearly one percent of our GDP not to do good but rather to look good – is devastatingly accurate.

And since those who disagree with the Conservative government are already determined not to see it as merely politically misguided but as a sociopathic millionaire’s club actively seeking to hurt the poor, there is little point in continuing to ringfence international aid spending as part of a PR exercise which has already failed.

Virtue signalling when practised by lame comedians and other assorted commentators angling for a cheap laugh is tiresome but essentially harmless. But when our elected government signals its virtue with taxpayer money and national policy, it can be the difference between life and death.

Which is why David Cameron and George Osborne should focus on sound policymaking and (just for a change) conservative principle, leaving the compassionate handwringing to the more-than-capable Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.



Postscript: None of this is to say that this blog does not sometimes agree with the causes fleetingly taken up by celebrities, even Benedict Cumberbatch.


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Bilbo Baggins Dials Back The Anti-Conservative ‘Tory Scum’ Rhetoric

Martin Freeman – the artist best known as Bilbo Baggins / Dr. Watson – now says that it is wrong to call conservatives ‘evil’. But that’s not what he was hinting before the general election…

Now that he is no longer shilling for Ed Miliband and the Labour Party, actor Martin Freeman has come over all thoughtful and introspective.

Well, everything’s relative. But in a new interview given to the pretentious Rake magazine, Freeman pontificates that it is wrong and unfair to call Tories and those with conservative political opinions “evil”.

The Spectator notes:

In an interview with The Rake, Martin Freeman — who starred in Labour’s election broadcast when Ed Miliband was leader — says it’s unfair to call all Tories ‘evil’, as the left has been responsible for more deaths in recent years.

While Rake quotes Freeman as saying:

My team — the left, generally — has been responsible for more deaths in the last century than the other team if you count Stalin, Mao, the Khmer Rouge, the Shining Path… that’s not a good team.

The left is quite at home with evil bastards, actually. Religion doesn’t have a downpayment on genocide: there are atheists, materialists and socialists who have gone on quite happily with rape and murder.

How magnanimous of Martin Freeman, placing us all (conservatives, left-wingers and genocidal maniacs alike) on the same end of the sliding scale of evil – as though there were no difference between government making an honest and sometimes flawed effort to help and work for citizens on the one hand, and deliberately terrorising and oppressing them on the other.

But Bilbo Baggins was not always so well disposed to people on the political Right. Only a few short months ago, Martin Freeman’s face was barking at us from our television screens with his Labour-supporting party political broadcast, part hagiography of Milibandism and part bully pulpit from which to bash the Evil Tories.

Just for fun, let’s remind ourselves of what Martin Freeman was saying about anybody who failed to appreciate the wonders of Ed Miliband before the general election. I’ll interject with some observations of my own every now and then.

It’s a choice between two completely different sets of values. A choice about what kind of country we want to live in.

Well, if by “completely different” you mean New Labour with a red rosette and New Labour with a blue rosette, then yes. The colours under which the two main parties are fighting the campaign, blue and red, are indeed very different.

Now I don’t know about you, but my values are about community, compassion, decency, that’s how I was brought up.

Won’t somebody give that saint a halo already? The man cares about decency and compassion, didn’t you hear him? And as we all know, the basic human tenets of compassion and decency can now only be found in those who espouse left-wing politics.

So yeah, I could tell you the Tories would take us on a rollercoaster of cuts while Labour will make sure the economy works for all of us, not just the privileged few – like me. But it’s not just about that.

He could tell you that the Evil Tories are the barbarians at the gate, chomping at the bit to sink their fangs into our Precious Public Services and rip them to shreds. Martin Freeman could tell you that. He could wax eloquent on the subject for days. But he’s just a humble guy like you and me; he isn’t the kind of person to sully himself with party politics. So he’ll just let you know what he would say, were he inclined to mention the Tories.

I could tell you it seems like the Tories don’t believe in the NHS, while Labour is passionate about protecting it.

Martin Freeman could tell us that the Tories hate Our Blessed NHS, but since it would be based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever – neither the declared intentions of the Conservative Party or a reasonable inference from observing their behaviour in government over the past five years – instead he will just leave the vague accusation hanging ominously in the air. Because that’s what humble, regular guys like Martin Freeman do all the time. It certainly isn’t a long-practised political smear.

I could tell you that the Tories have got sod all to offer the young, whereas Labour will invest in the next generation’s education and guarantee – that word again – apprenticeships for them.

If Martin Freeman were so uncouth as to talk politics with us, he could mention how the Evil Tories absolutely loathe the young, and yearn for a future where a failed generation of ill educated and uninspired young people sit around getting pregnant, committing crimes and claiming endless benefits. As we all know, the Tories simply love it when people fail to reach their potential as human beings and live stunted lives of despair, deprivation and grinding poverty. What can I say – it gives us a warm glow inside. And Martin Freeman could tell us all about that, if only his speech were some kind of political message.

I could tell you that Labour will put the minimum wage up to £8, and ban those ‘orrible zero hours contracts, while the Tories would presumably do more of their tax cutting for millionaires.

Bilbo could tell us this, but he doesn’t know for sure. As the inclusion of the word “presumably” indicates, Martin Freeman didn’t actually bother to do any research before standing in front of the camera to pitch for Ed Miliband. Maybe the Tories would undo some more of Gordon Brown’s spiteful and counterproductive tax hikes on the rich (tax cuts for millionaires!), or maybe they might – oh, I don’t know – introduce a national living wage of £9 per hour, even higher than Labour propose. But since he couldn’t say for certain before the election, it was probably right to assume that those Nasty Tories will keep turning the screws on the poor.

But real though all that stuff is, and important though it is if you’re young in this country or broke in this country or if you’re unwell in this country – and let’s face it, we all need the NHS at some point – or if you are just plain working hard and finding life tough, there is a choice of two paths. The bottom line is what values are we choosing. Because in the end this choice we make really does matter.

Labour: they start from the right place. Community, compassion, fairness – I think all the best things about this country. I love this country so much and I love the people in it, and I think you do too. But really, for me, there’s only one choice. And I choose Labour.

Martin Freeman loves this country and everyone in it. Everyone, that is, apart from those people who disagree with him and think that a Labour government and a prime minister Ed Miliband would have been an unmitigated disaster and an utter failure of national aspiration. Those people, Bilbo Baggins somehow isn’t quite so keen on.

So to paraphrase Martin Freeman’s sanctimonious, moralising, self-aggrandising attitude toward the nearly 50% of his fellow British citizens who voted for a more right-leaning party in 2015: “I’m not saying that all Tories are Evil Nazi Scum. They may hate the sick and yearn to destroy Our NHS. They may have no compassion, unlike we Virtuous People of the Left. They may not care about the future of our children. But they’re not evil. Heavens, no. I certainly never intended to give that impression. The Tories aren’t scum, they’re just ethically challenged.”

Conservatives should rejoice, to thus receive the benediction of Martin Freeman. They aren’t evil after all. They just hold evil values. Not proper, wholesome Labour values.

What pious, self-regarding, moralising nonsense Bilbo Baggins talks. In fact, Martin Freeman represents everything that is wrong with left-wing politics today – captivated by its own supposed virtue, yet utterly bereft of ideas for improving or transforming the country besides the same old, tired schemes to bash the rich, punish success and reward mediocrity.

And now here comes Martin Freeman once again – a diminished and discredited figure after his beloved Ed Miliband barely persuaded his own friends and family to vote Labour at the general election – attempting to worm his way back into the good graces of the public by smugly pontificating against those who took him at his word back in May, and who now hysterically accuse conservatives of being “evil”. Suddenly, calling conservatives “evil” is a terribly gauche and inappropriate thing to do.

But that’s not what you were saying back in April and May 2015, is it, Mr. Freeman? When the general election campaign was raging, you lent your voice, image and public profile to a party political broadcast designed to benefit the Labour Party and in which you made highly speculative and slanderous statements about the priorities and the very character of conservative-minded voters.

Well, Martin Freeman can keep his values, and he can stick them. The hobbit’s newfound realisation that it is wrong to demonise half the population as being greedy, avaricious and soulless monsters is tired, belated and hypocritical in the extreme – especially considering the fact that Bilbo Baggins was leading the charge against the Evil Tory Scum on national television only a few months ago.

Martin Freeman: your half-hearted, obscure non-apology is most sincerely not accepted.


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Labour’s Arrogance Could Cost Ed Miliband The Election

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With less than a month to go until the 2015 general election, the London Evening Standard (print edition) is currently running a Constituency Focus series, exploring the different dynamics and personalities at play in London’s diverse boroughs and constituencies.

Yesterday saw the focus on the constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn, this blogger’s home turf, with Labour candidate Tulip Siddiq featuring prominently. My own interview with Tulip Siddiq is here, and this blog’s overview of the electoral battle for Hampstead and Kilburn can be found here.

Today the focus moved to the west London constituency of Brentford and Isleworth, an area covering Chiswick, Isleworth, Brentford, Osterley and Hounslow, close to Heathrow Airport. Unsurprisingly, all of the main local candidates are proudly displaying their NIMBY credentials by opposing a third runway at Heathrow.

From the Standard:

In the Tory stronghold of Chiswick, the issue of school places dominates; while in the traditionally Labour-supporting parts to the west, NHS waiting times are the hot topic.

But the one issue that is a major talking point across the whole of the Brentford and Isleworth constituency is the proposed Heathrow expansion, which both the main candidates oppose.

Conservative candidate Mary Macleod won by just 1,958 votes in 2010, making this the 65th most marginal seat in the country. The constituency … is also one of the Tories’ 40/40 seats – 40 to win, 40 to keep.

But it is on the subject of austerity that a real difference is revealed between Labour and Conservative philosophies.

Ruth Cadbury, a long-serving Labour councillor and part of the Cadbury chocolate dynasty, is standing as the Labour Party candidate in the general election. And when she spoke about the level of Conservative support in the wealthier parts of her constituency, she had this to say:

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