In Defence Of Andrew Neil’s Anti-ISIS Rant – Political Journalism At Its Best

No, Andrew Neil’s magnificent anti-Islamist rant was not a violation of the BBC’s commitment to impartiality

It’s a strange world where I find myself writing in support of Andrew Neil twice in the same week, but then these are very strange political times.

Nick Cohen sings Andrew Neil’s praises in The Spectator this week, before going on to condemn Neil’s rousing anti-ISIS monologue at the start of his This Week programme – a speech which this blog strongly supported – on the puzzling grounds that it broke the rules on journalistic impartiality.

Cohen writes well as always, but there are so many mistaken premises and inaccurate comparisons in this piece that a proper rebuttal is needed.

His criticism of Neil begins:

Everywhere you look you can see broadcasters following Neil and Snow and pushing against the fuddy-duddy rule that they must show ‘due impartiality’. The Church of England is joining in, and pushing against equally antiquated restrictions on political and religious advertising.

They must be stopped. However admirable Neil and Snow’s sentiments are, and however inoffensive the Anglican’s celebration of the Lord’s Prayer was, we have to shut them up. The BBC and Channel 4 should never have broadcast their interviewers’ opinion. The cinema chains were right to tell the Church of England it was not welcome on their screens.

Britain is a country with rules to prevent wealthy politicians buying votes and wealthy televangelists buying converts. We are also a country that has fought to maintain the principle that broadcasters must be politically neutral – not always successfully, I grant you.

Three points here. First, the requirement for broadcasters to show ‘due impartiality’ applies to news programmes, and not to commentary – least of all when we are nowhere near a general or local election, the time when the rules governing broadcaster impartiality are at their strictest. The BBC’s This Week is a political magazine show, not a straight-laced news bulletin. Of course one would not expect Evan Davis, Kirsty Wark or Huw Edwards to pepper their delivery of the news with caustic criticisms or sarcastic asides – that would be highly improper. But a political magazine show is by definition an opinion-based show, relying for its content on a parade of partisan guests from different political parties and the media.

Cohen attempts to lump Andrew Neil’s tirade against ISIS along with Jon Snow’s coverage of the Israeli siege of Gaza, but this is comparing apples and oranges – one is a daily news bulletin required to be impartial, and one is a weekly talk show where opinions and partisan debate are essential ingredients.

Second, this is Andrew Neil we are talking about – a seasoned veteran journalist and businessman with a vast political Rolodex and a personal “brand” all of his own. Neil was also editor of the right-leaning Sunday Times for over a decade, is chairman of the company which owns the reliably Tory-friendly Spectator, and in previous life was a researcher for the Conservative Party. Neil was never supposed to be an anonymous newsreader, nor is he marketed as one – people watch This Week because Andrew Neil presents the show, and they know exactly what they are getting when they do so. The BBC are fine with that, and there is nothing to suggest that either the letter or the spirit of the rules are not being followed.

And thirdly, while Cohen’s assertion that Britain is “a country with rules to prevent … wealthy televangelists buying converts” might plausibly be true, we are also a nation with an established state Church – one whose grasping tentacles reach into nearly aspect of our politics and our national life. The ongoing row about the Church of England’s cinema advert is a separate issue, but we should not pretend that our United Kingdom is a nation where we even pay proper lip service to the concept of separation of powers.

When meddlesome bishops speak out in parliamentary debates without a shred of a democratic mandate, and when there are still scenarios whereby the Queen might conceivably end up picking the next government, we should not act as though there is some ancient and grave constitutional requirement for television stations to broadcast opinionless, equivocating platitudes 24/7.

BBC Values - Impartiality

Cohen continues:

Broadcasters themselves know a dirty secret newspaper editors understand too well: extreme opinions sell. They confirm the partisan in their beliefs and draw in outraged opponents.

[..] Broadcasters want a piece of that action. Opinion is cheap. News is expensive. The public watched Andrew Neil and Jon Snow’s polemics in their millions. What possible justification is there for insisting on balance, accuracy and impartiality?

It may be the case that news is expensive while opinion is cheap, but without the forceful expression of political opinions there could be no This Week in the first place – indeed, there could be no Question Time or Newsnight interviews either, let alone the crucible that is Radio Four’s Today Programme. And if Cohen is saying that the host should always be impartial even on political magazine shows then he sets a standard which can simply never be met, since every raised eyebrow, incredulous glance, rude interruption or “gotcha moment” will be seized on as evidence of deepest bias. Far better that we have good presenters with transparent histories like Neil, and then allow the public to adjust their perceptions accordingly.

Besides, this is not a question of political neutrality, at least as we traditionally understand the matter. Britain is not at war with a sovereign nation, however much ISIS may try to strut and pose as such. We are in conflict with a nihilistic, totalitarian death cult which seeks to spill the blood of everyone who does not adhere to their harsh, warped interpretation of Islam. They stand for nothing save creating hell on Earth to please their petty, jealous and vindictive god. Why shouldn’t the presenter of a serious political talk show be able to say that which we all know to be true?

And since when did expressing an opinion prevent something from being “real journalism”? Is Cohen himself not a journalist because his Spectator piece failed to strike an impartial position between Andrew Neil and himself? Whenever a broadcast news presenter reports on a “horrifying murder” or a “tragic death” they are making a value judgement and presuming to speak on behalf of the 99.5 percent of people who will agree with them. There is no moral or statutory requirement for the newsreader to treat criminal and victim alike in their tone and description, nor should there be. Similarly, ISIS are torturers, rapists and murderers. They break the law every moment of every day in their campaign to spread hatred and ignorance around the world. What’s wrong with saying so?

If ISIS were a legitimate, functioning state or political party and Andrew Neil went on a two minute tirade about their fiscal policy or industrial strategy then there might be grounds to accuse him of political bias. But that is absolutely not the case. Andrew Neil saw ISIS (or Islamist Scum, as he now calls them) take their patented formula of death and suffering, and smear it across the bright lights of Paris one unsuspecting Friday night, and he called it what it was – an act of savage murder that history suggests is doomed to fail in its stated goals.

If ISIS supporters were greatly offended by Neil’s words and lack of objectivity then by all means they can submit a complaint via OFCOM or the BBC Trust. I rather hope that they try.

But they do not need Nick Cohen – or anyone else – to help them out.

BBC - British Broadcasting Corporation

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Paris Terror Attacks: More Government Surveillance Is Not The Answer

The surveillance state did not prevent Madrid, the 7/7 London bombings, Ottawa, Charlie Hebdo or the 13 November Paris attacks. Ramping it up yet further will not guarantee our safety either – but giving the intelligence services and their media apologists everything that they want will undoubtedly erode our freedom and change our way of life for the worse

In the early hours of 14 November, in the immediate aftermath of the appalling  and barbaric terrorist attacks in Paris, this blog wearily pointed out the well-worn sequence of events which would inevitably follow:

Day 0: Expressions of shock, sorrow, anger and solidarity

Day +1: Insistence that now is a time for mourning, not asking difficult questions about how or why the atrocities were committed

Day +1, later: The first difficult questions are asked, particularly of the government and security services

Day +2: The intelligence services dust off their wishlist of draconian new powers, and strongly hint that if only they already had these powers, the attack could have been avoided

Day +3: The official narrative is established – “we will defeat this terror by giving our intelligence services the tools they need, and making radical or hateful speech illegal”

So far, things are running like clockwork. We are certainly very good at the sorrow and solidarity phase of our response. Facebook timelines have been a sea of people updating their profile pictures to display the French tricolour (and, to a lesser extent, the inevitable virtue-signalling pedants inexplicably criticising them for doing so). Day +1 followed the normal pattern.

Day +2 is when we usually hear the first whispers of criticism about the intelligence services, when the identities of some of the attackers are revealed and it turns out that in many cases, they were operating under our noses undetected for some time. This is just starting to happen now – though it is being drowned out somewhat by criticism of Europe’s muddled borders and asylum policy, as it was reported that one of the attackers had a Syrian passport and entered Europe in Greece as a refugee.

And while it is slightly too early for the intelligence services themselves to come out and start agitating for new powers, this has not stopped some of their media cheerleaders from getting the ball rolling. We are officially still in that interregnum period after an attack when it is considered unseemly or inappropriate to have a real discussion about why the attacks happened, but there is an exception to this rule when it comes to demanding more surveillance powers for the state.

And climbing through this loophole today is Dan Hodges, writing before he thinks and letting his fear cloud any judgement or sense of proportion:

If we are serious in our expression of sympathy and solidarity, if we are serious about confronting those men who lined up the disabled patrons of the Bataclan and then gunned them down, then we must act. We must expand the same collective energy we utilise proclaiming “Je suis Paris” demanding concrete action. Or at least, not demanding inaction.

In the coming weeks the government’s surveillance bill will be passing through the Commons. If we truly believe in standing in solidarity with Paris, we must let it pass. We must demand it passes.

I’m surprised – I didn’t think we would see these calls for more unchecked government surveillance until the start of the new week. But hats off to Dan Hodges – by publicly freaking out in his newspaper column and calling for the Investigatory Powers Bill to be passed, he has opened the door for Theresa May, David Cameron and a parade of GCHQ ex-chiefs to hit the TV studios and make the same demands.

Of course, what Dan fails to do is explain how new government surveillance powers a) would have prevented the Paris attacks of 13 November, or b) might realistically prevent any such attack in future. And if you pushed him, I doubt that he could explain the scope of current surveillance laws in any detail, or describe the ways that the British security services currently do or do not make use of those powers.

Dan is (understandably) frightened following the Paris attacks. And when people are scared it is natural to demand more security, to insist that the authorities wrap us all in cotton wool, kill the Bad People, do anything to alleviate the gut-wrenching fear that next time it might be the concert hall that we attend, or our local neighbourhood restaurant in the line of fire. And that’s quite understandable from the perspective of a private individual, only concerned for their own immediate safety.

But coming from one of the most prominent, respected political commentators in the country, it is downright irresponsible. Everyone is entitled to have their own private freakout behind closed doors when civilisation is shaken – as Paris was – by Islamist barbarism. But what is unacceptable is taking to your keyboard whilst you are in that fearful state, and using your national profile to give the government carte blanche to do whatever it likes in the name of national security.

Paris Attacks - Military

Clamouring for the government to pass the snooper’s charter (the Investigatory Powers Bill) is not a wise and considered response to the Paris attacks, and neither is it a moral one – particularly when you cannot point to a single measure in the bill which would have prevented the horrific carnage we witnessed on Friday.

Spiked magazine sums up the illiberal measures contained in the bill:

The draft of the bill, published last Wednesday, sets out new and draconian powers allowing the security services to monitor, access and store our online communications data: IT and comms companies would be required to store information on the websites we visit for up to 12 months, and release them to the state when required; intelligence agencies would be given legal authority to hack into communications and bulk-harvest metadata; and the ability of companies like Apple and Google to encrypt individuals’ messages – putting their content beyond the reach of themselves and the spooks – will be severely curtailed.

Home secretary Theresa May has been quick to talk down the measures. She insists that the data retrieved from your web history is no more than a ‘shopping list’ of the sites you visit, rather than individual pages – a fine and utterly meaningless distinction. And while there has been much talk of the ‘safeguards’ guaranteed by the IPB, with judicial commissioners required to approve requests for interception warrants and wire taps, these are little more than formalities. Judges will only be able to reject Home Office requests on the principles of judicial review; as backbench Tory MP David Davis pointed out, ‘This is not the judge checking the evidence, it is the judge checking that the correct procedure has been followed’.

If Dan Hodges had ‘smoking gun’ evidence that the eight Paris attackers and their network of accomplices made extensive use of unbreakable encryption to plan their crime, or that the intelligence services always suspected the attackers but were constrained by law from keeping them under closer surveillance, then he would have the beginnings of an argument.

But Hodges has no such evidence. Instead, he wants to use the deaths of scores of innocent people to empower the government to keep us all under surveillance, all the time. He makes no proposal as to how the security services might pick out the terrorist needles in this new haystack of intelligence were they to gain access to it, and no idea of the trade-offs between combing through the communications of the entire citizenry rather than focusing on known threats.

Worse still, he is so unconcerned with the potential consequences for privacy and freedom that he doesn’t even bother to address them in his article. And still Dan Hodges feels qualified to tell civil liberties defenders that they are wrong, and to clamour for more government intrusion in our lives.

Clamouring for Parliament to pass the snooper’s charter two days after a horrific terrorist attack in Paris isn’t brave or level-headed – it is a response borne of fear. When we are afraid, our time horizon shrinks to zero and we are concerned only with avoiding immediate danger. If we believe we are in imminent danger of being shot or blown up, we would likely hand over a great deal of our future freedom to avoid that fate. But this instinct – which may be essential for an animal in the wild – is entirely inappropriate for citizens living in a modern democracy.

France - Mass Surveillance - Protest

When making laws and empowering the machinery of state, we need to consider not just the threats of today and the people who will wield those powers today, but also what threats may exist tomorrow and who will wield those powers when David Cameron, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are no more than names in a history book. We have a duty to our children and descendants to think about the type of country and world we want them to inhabit when we shape the laws of today.

Unfortunately, ramping up the surveillance state at the expense of the right to privacy and civil liberties fails both tests – it does not provide a convincing response to the threats of tomorrow, and it takes no account of who might try to wield those powers for their own ends in the future.

Terrorists are smart – when attacking the secure West, rarely do they try the same strategy twice. Thus, since 11 September 2001 we have gone from airplane hijackers armed with not much more than boxcutters to shoe bombs, liquid bombs and surface-to-air missiles. Our own intelligence services, to whom Dan Hodges wants to grant sweeping new powers, are usually one step behind. Thus, although the guardians of our safety were never smart enough to think of these risks before they were tried by terrorists, we are still constrained in the liquids we can take on airplanes, and have our shoes checked for explosives before we fly. In fact, modern airport security theatre as a whole reads like a “lessons learned” list of all the cock-ups and clangers of forty years of intelligence failures, with almost no discernible foresight or forward thinking.

So it will be with any new surveillance measures. Technology changes so rapidly that any law passed today will almost certainly be obsolete in a decade, while terrorists will immediately adapt and stop using monitored channels. Human ingenuity will always defeat the clunking fist of government, because it always does. So granting the government the power to monitor who we talk to, go through our emails and hack our smartphones will only infringe on the freedoms of the law-abiding; the terrorists will simply find new technologies or revert to tried-and-tested analogue techniques.

As for the leaders of tomorrow, the thought of a future Prime Minister Theresa May is frightening enough. But what is to say that in a couple of decades, if we do not properly grapple with the scourge of terrorism or in the wake of a future economic crisis, a far more extreme politician may come to power? And if they do, how glad they will be that our present government – cheered on by people like Dan Hodges – passed laws like the Investigatory Powers Bill, granting the state the tools and the legal cover to do as they please.

Again: having these fears and wanting government to provide safety is a perfectly understandable instinctive reaction to terrorist horror, coming from a private citizen. But government will happily assume new powers forever if they are freely offered up by the people, and so newspaper columnists should know better than to provide intellectual and emotional cover in the wake of an atrocity.

I admire Dan Hodges enormously as a writer and commentator on left-wing politics, but these latest irresponsible comments – invoking the image of massacred disabled concertgoers at a Paris theatre to cheerlead for the expansion of the surveillance state – cannot go unchallenged.

Jean Jullien - Peace for Paris - Paris Attacks

Bottom Image: Peace for Paris, by Jean Jullien

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The Daily Toast: To Win, Eurosceptics Must Show That The EU Is Outdated

Old Europe Map

Another new initiative for Semi-Partisan Politics – counterpart to The Daily Smackdown (same basic idea, but reversed). Will focus on a different praiseworthy or perspective-changing article, argument or action each day

Allister Heath has a good piece in the Telegraph, where he observes that the europhiles may end up wrong-footing themselves in the coming referendum by buying into the lazy, two-dimensional caricature of eurosceptics as ornery traditionalists who are stuck in the past and afraid of the future.

Heath rightly points out that the europhiles dismiss or underestimate we Brexiteers at their peril, writing “it is always a fatal error to assume that your political opponents are evil or stupid”. I certainly hope that this rule holds true just as it did for Ed Miliband’s vacuous, virtue-signalling Labour Party at the general election.

The hopes of many a lefty were extinguished on May 7  when it emerged that the left-wing echo chamber on Twitter was in fact not representative of the country, and that people other than psychopaths and billionaires actually voted Tory in good conscience. So by all means, let them assume once again that anyone who doubts the inherent virtue of the European Union must be a grumpy retired colonel, a Mafeking stereotype from a run-down coastal town.

Heath writes, in praise of campaign group Vote Leave:

Vote Leave’s core argument is that the EU’s institutions remain stuck in the post-1945 era: an industrial and agricultural world dominated by a few rich nations and overshadowed by the Cold War. In those days, bureaucratic centralism was the fashionable answer; 60 years on, the EU’s creaking, lumbering structures cannot cope with change involving genetic engineering, cybercrime, driverless cars and digital manufacturing.

They are just as debilitated when it comes to addressing contemporary geopolitical risks, including the crisis in the Middle East, the rise of terrorist organisations such as Isil, or even negotiating bilateral trade deals with emerging economies. It is Europe that now has a protectionist mindset, pretending that its borders stop at the Mediterranean while looking on uselessly as Syria is engulfed in a humanitarian catastrophe.

Rather than advocating a retreat into splendid isolation – which is what pro-EU activists wrongly assume Eurosceptics believe – Vote Leave will be calling for increased and improved international cooperation to deal properly with the forces that are changing the world. This, it will argue persuasively, requires different institutions to those that exist today: structures that can tackle problems quickly and that allow decentralised cooperation between nations.

I have my grave doubts about Vote Leave, for reasons well summarised over at the blog Vote to Leave the EU. There are serious doubts as to whether Brexit is the true goal of that group’s leadership, or if they are simply agitating for an initial “no” vote to then strengthen Britain’s hand for a future, “serious” renegotiation with the aim of securing a slightly sweeter deal. But Heath’s broader point is a very good one.

What threadbare arguments could have been made for the European Union back in the 1950s when the world was indeed divided into distinct and competing supranational blocs have lost all of their potency in the twenty-first century multi-polar word. For too long, europhiles have been allowed to portray themselves as forward-looking and progressive. And some really do believe it to be true. But it is increasingly hard to believe that Britain’s national interest is best served when represented through the collective voice of twenty-seven other distinct countries, each with their own unique circumstances and agendas.

Heath continues:

The future will belong to shifting networks of nations, not to monolithic empires. Voters will have to be empowered and kept involved, rather than bypassed through undemocratic transnational democracies. The Inners, who for decades have claimed to represent modernity, are about to be wrong-footed by a campaign and arguments that they will find very difficult to respond to.

It is absolutely essential that this is the case, if we are to achieve the goal of Brexit. This cannot be a campaign focused on some chimerical, glorious past, and if it becomes such a campaign we will be ripped to shreds and lose our last, best hope of regaining national sovereignty.

That means we must focus on all of the things that Allister Heath talks about in his article – how an independent Britain will be free to pursue advantageous commercial and diplomatic deals in our own interest rather than holding one 28th of a say over the common European position, how Britain’s membership fee can be repurposed and reallocated to focus on our own priorities and incentives, and more. But that’s all long term.

We also need an immediate plan mapping out what British secession from the European Union actually looks like. It is imperative that the “Leave” campaign pushes such a plan, otherwise voters will (rightly) conclude that a vote to leave the EU is a leap into the unknown, and choose the stultifying status quo as the safer option.

At present, you would be forgiven for thinking that there is no such plan. Neither of the two main campaign groups spend any time talking about what Brexit might actually look like. Vote Leave certainly don’t mention one (quite probably because Brexit is not their end goal), while Leave.EU are more focussed on attacking the EU than promoting a positive vision of post-EU Britain.

But such a plan does exist. It’s called Flexcit, and if I keep banging on about it on this blog in the coming weeks and months it is only because I have come to realise that the referendum cannot be won without a clear and unambiguous plan for Brexit, and it is high time some of the “heavyweight” eurosceptics publicly adopted this plan or ventured one of their own.

Flexcit is a serious, pragmatic plan which outlines a step-by-step process for leaving the EU and rejoining the world. It doesn’t make undeliverable promises of free chocolate and rainbows for everyone, but it is comprehensive and rigorous, and does what it says on the tin. As I have already said, every serious eurosceptic and Brexit campaigner should read it and give it fair consideration.

Only then, with the referendum won and Britain taking her first steps in the world as a truly independent and sovereign nation once again, can we do as Allister Heath says and show the vanquished europhiles just how forward-looking and ambitious we Brexiteers are for our country.

David Cameron - EU Referendum - Brexit - Human Rights Act

Further reading:

The British Model

Is the penny dropping about Vote Leave’s true intentions?

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The Daily Smackdown: David Cameron’s Begging Letter To The EU

David Cameron - Donald Tusk - EU Renegotiation - Brexit - Referendum

The problem with the European Union cannot be solved through a renegotiation, because the renegotiation is just another symptom of the problem

If you hadn’t already worked out that David Cameron’s EU renegotiation is a sham, a PR exercise from a PR prime minister designed to make it look as though Britain is leading real change in Europe when in fact we are merely haggling over a few cosmetic and inconsequential concessions, then your remaining doubts should now be answered.

Yesterday, the government released the wheedling, subservient letter that David Cameron has written to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, begging his permission to reclaim a few minor and superficial aspects of British sovereignty. The fact that half of the prime minister’s demands – such as the call for the European Union to respect the principle of subsidiarity – are things which the EU has long been committed to doing on paper, but shown zero interest in following in practice – gives zero hope that whatever Cameron takes home from Brussels will be honoured.

But Britain’s fundamental problem with the European Union cannot be solved through a renegotiation, because the renegotiation itself is just another symptom of the problem. For as long as any British prime minister must flatter and beg countries like Portugal or Malta and seek their permission before acting in our own national interest, we have no true sovereignty and the European Union will remain an unwanted, antidemocratic millstone around our necks.

No possible outcome of David Cameron’s EU renegotiation will come close to touching this fundamental issue, because the EU is determined to remain a supranational political union, sitting above national governments and gradually acquiring more and more of their power. That’s just a fact, and those europhiles still in denial need to stop deluding themselves that an organisation with its own parliament, executive and judiciary is somehow just there to promote love and understanding between the peoples of Europe, with no designs on our democracy. Such a view is childishly naive.

Even if Cameron’s plea for Britain to be somehow exempted from the Treaty of Rome commitment to ever-closer union is heard, this will simply relegate us to a form of “associate membership” which would leave us – as Leave HQ put it so succinctly – “out on the edges and still on the leash”.

And so we are left with a cosmetic list of demands based not on any attempt to reflect the concerns of the British people, but based instead on what limited concessions David Cameron thinks he might be able to cajole from his European friends. He is essentially starting at his desired outcome (Britain voting to “remain” in the EU) and then working backward, rather than starting with Britain’s national interest at the forefront of his mind, and then letting the chips fall where they may when it comes to the renegotiation.

The whole exercise is a sham, and I refuse to be a part of it. I will not report the ups and downs of the coming “renegotiation” effort, with the inevitable carefully choreographed table-banging rows between Britain and France or the back-and-forth with Poland on migrant benefits access, because the whole thing is a PR exercise designed to make it look like our Conservative In Name Only government are looking out for our national interest when in reality they are only looking for a way out of an unwanted political problem.

Or as my Conservatives for Liberty colleague Ben Kelly puts it in his must-read piece:

There are no negotiations because the outcome of this act of political theatre has been decided for some time, the great deception is already in play. Osborne and Cameron will go through the ridiculous charade of demanding “associate membership” and their EU colleagues will play along and agree to their “demands”.

They will then return declaring a great victory for Britain and ask the public to endorse it in the referendum and give them a mandate to create our “new deal” in a “reformed EU”, which may very well include promises of minor concessions of reduced contributions and some leeway on the “four demands”.

On the surface, this two tier structure will seem enticing, in reality not only will we retain all the major disadvantages we currently suffer – from our trade policy being an ‘exclusive policy of the EU’, to the union’s redundancy in a globalised world, to its essentially anti-democratic nature – but once the eurozone integrates further we will be truly isolated within the union as a second class member.

What matters most now is not whatever choreographed stunt George Osborne or David Cameron cook up every day to make it look like they are going to battle for Britain. What matters most is honing our arguments in favour of Brexit to reach out to the undecided middle. And this means coalescing around a viable plan for a phased British exit from the EU, one which reassures wavering voters that stepping away from the EU is a prudent move, and not a leap into the unknown.

That plan is called Flexcit – I have seen no others that come close to Flexcit’s level of detail and rigour. All eurosceptics, Brexiteers and “Leave” campaigners now have a duty to read it, improve it where possible and then either champion it or propose a better plan of their own.

EU Renegotiation - Brexit - European Union

Further Reading:

The biggest gamble of all is to stay in the EU

The Cameron Deception: “associate membership” of the EU

Mr. Cameron still can’t beat the Flexcit offer

The EU makes us self-absorbed and insular

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Are People Waking Up To Left Wing Virtue-Signalling?

When it comes to the British political debate, what you say now matters more than what you do. The BBC has apparently just noticed this trend

The standard Daily Politics slapstick comedy treatment makes it almost unwatchably patronising, but this segment of the BBC’s dumbed-down flagship political programme is actually on to something.

Last week, the Daily Politics invited journalist James Bartholomew – coiner of the phrase “virtue signalling” – on the show to talk about why more and more of us stop after stating our good intentions rather than following through by acting on them.

First, we get this candid and refreshingly frank take on the virtue-signallers:

“Virtue signalling without actually doing anything is not true virtue. It is self-righteous, vain and silly. It’s not what you say or think that matters, it’s what you do.”

Bartholomew then offers this interesting angle:

“I think the welfare state is a lot to do with it. People feel that they have outsourced their decency. I’ve paid my taxes, therefore I don’t have to do anything. I think that’s part of the cause, why virtue signalling without actually doing anything has increased.

[..] But what really irritates me is those people who I’ve met, in contrast to people who do real good, the people who think ‘oh, I can say I hate the Daily Mail and I hate UKIP, and I vote Labour once every five years. I’m a morally superior person.’ And that really irritates me because there are people who go out and make sacrifices and effort.”

I think there’s a lot of truth in this idea that the welfare state leads us to outsource our decency. Obviously there are many people who both contribute to the welfare state through their taxes and also find the time and resources to do additional good in their communities. But there are also many of us who do not.

There are too many of us who think that an angry Facebook meme or a lazy re-tweet counts as doing something meaningful and helpful. You could argue that we see the same phenomena every time something like the Ice Bucket Challenge sweeps the internet – a well intentioned fundraising initiative that soon led to large numbers of (particularly young) people uploading their own videos out of a desire to participate and show off, without then going on to make the all-important cash donation to MND charities.

This phenomena is an annoyance when it is confined to the social or charitable arena, but it becomes most problematic – and distorting – when it starts taking over the field of politics. Bartholomew himself has written about how the virtue signalling Left make any serious discussion about the future of British healthcare almost impossible:

It’s noticeable how often virtue signalling consists of saying you hate things. It is camouflage. The emphasis on hate distracts from the fact you are really saying how good you are. If you were frank and said, ‘I care about the environment more than most people do’ or ‘I care about the poor more than others’, your vanity and self-aggrandisement would be obvious, as it is with Whole Foods. Anger and outrage disguise your boastfulness.

One of the occasions when expressions of hate are not used is when people say they are passionate believers in the NHS. Note the use of the word ‘belief’. This is to shift the issue away from evidence about which healthcare system results in the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people. The speaker does not want to get into facts or evidence. He or she wishes to demonstrate kindness — the desire that all people, notably the poor, should have access to ‘the best’ healthcare. The virtue lies in the wish. But hatred waits in reserve even with the NHS. ‘The Tories want to privatise the NHS!’ you assert angrily. Gosh, you must be virtuous to be so cross!

This blog made the same point on the NHS only yesterday.

But whether it’s worshipping the NHS, opposing the bedroom tax or hating George Osborne’s plans for tax credits, it is clear that millions of people are willing to share a supportive tweet or Facebook post, but less willing to do anything else – even so much as vote in accordance with their own social media timelines, as Ed Miliband discovered to his cost on May 7.

Why is this? Are people that self-centred that they’ll give the poor a swipe of their thumb if they come across a lefty meme on their phones while commuting to work, but won’t march down to their local polling booth? Or are these lefty memes being shared not because people have given serious thought to the issues at stake, but rather because Politics via Social Media encourages everyone to treat their political opinions like this season’s fashion, casually adopting or discarding opinions in order to fit in with the group and gain acceptance by one’s peers?

Both factors are probably at play. But one thing is clear: when we are all so busy “raising awareness” of our pet causes on social media, we neglect the people actually making real-world policy at our own peril.

NOTE: It should be pointed out that virtue-signalling exists on the political Right, too, though not to the same extent. In the United States, some of the more craven military-fetishising and quasi-religious #humblebrags (“Feeling so blessed that the Lord has graced me with this promotion / pay rise / new washing machine”) would certainly count as virtue-signalling. And elements of the online meme-sharing Tea Party clearly got caught up in a bubble of their own and deluded themselves into expecting a Mitt Romney victory in the 2012 presidential election. So the phenomenon does cut both ways.

Sexual Consent Class - Consent Educator

Social Justice Warrior

h/t Guido Fawkes

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