By Ben Pensant
There’s little good news in this apocalyptic Britain we have the nerve to call ‘Great’. Hate-crimes that aren’t hate-crimes are through the roof. Gangs of Muslim rapists are smeared as ‘Muslim Rape Gangs’. And three months since winning the election Jeremy Corbyn still hasn’t evicted a certain kitten-heeled squatter from Number Ten. He should just send some Absolute Boys round to requisition the bastard if you ask me.
But despite the ghastliness, every now and then a heart-warming example of human endeavour allows you to fleetingly forget the horror. And my day was brightened by one such example last week when I read about the brave Dutchman who took on a supermarket chain over their micro-aggressive positioning of hate-filled newspapers where customers can see them.
‘Dear @waitrose, could you put the hate on less prominent display? It is making me feel most unwelcome in your shop. Please #StopFundingHate’. With one Tweet concerned citizen Sjoerd Levelt delighted everyone fed up with seeing points of view we disagree with every time we pop into Waitrose for an ethically correct snack that tastes like a pigeon loft. Because we’re not just talking about words here: we’re talking about dangerous weapons that assault, mutilate and kill.
‘I felt too intimidated by the display to say anything in store’ Sjoerd continued, echoing the familiar horror of trying to find out how many food miles were used to fly our lychees to Jesmond while being menaced by a knife-wielding pile of pulp-wood. But in a disgraceful act of cowardice Sjoerd was blocked by Waitrose. Our hero wasn’t giving up that easily though and swiftly sent an email to the managing director. When that failed our hero played the valued customer card, informing the manager it was his responsibility to deal with Sjeord’s comically low tolerance for offence:
‘I ask if you will do something about it’ he pleaded. Because when someone is offended it’s everyone else’s duty to rectify it and make them feel better. See, feelings are the modern left’s sourdough bread and organic butter. And if protecting those feelings means massaging our egos by demanding other people deal with our offence then even better.
Sure, there are things Sjeord could have done to alleviate the problem, such as buying a different paper, shopping somewhere else or growing the fuck up. But who would that help? The hate-sheets would still be there for gullible fools to absorb and catch racism from, itching to draw blood like razor-toothed paper tigers. Because simply not reading publications we don’t like is no longer enough: we have to stop everyone else reading them too.
Predictably, Sjeord was abused online, with brainless insults such as ‘fascist!’, ‘spoilt child’ and ‘I hope they send you back a drawing of a penis’. Someone even suggested he should stick to shopping in Toys R Us, though I dread to think how threatened he would feel surrounded by far-right terrorists like Megatron.
But Sjeord had the last laugh when the Waitrose in question suddenly started folding Mails in half to obscure the bloodlust of the headlines, shutting up the trolls who had inundated him with hate for three days. As an ally pointed out: ‘It’s easy to mock when you’re not the one being targeted’. Indeed – when you’re the feeble pathetic victim it’s no laughing matter, and you don’t get much more feeble and pathetic than the immigrants of Britain. If the violence of the Mail terrifies me I dread to think what effect it has on people who can’t even wipe their arses without the help of a social worker.
Not that I’ve ever asked any of them. You go around finding out what immigrants actually think and you run the risk of learning that most of them don’t feel threatened by right-wing newspapers and one or two even – shock, horror – read them. Because the last thing we need is immigrants, Muslims or anyone else we’ve bestowed victimhood upon derailing the narrative by having their own minds. It’s no use to us if minorities start acting like adults who are capable of being in the same room as a copy of The Mail without suffering blunt wound trauma and have far more pressing concerns than an Express headline about child refugees with beards.
Because diversity of skin-colour, nationality and religion is to be encouraged; diversity of opinion is categorically not. And it’s not even the papers that worry us: it’s the baying mobs who read them, whipped into a fury by lies and puns, attacking minorities on buses because Kelvin Mackenzie told them to.
Thankfully, decency prevailed and Sjeord became the newest member of a growing movement who’ve had their ruddy fill of free speech. And in an equally joyous story last month, brave Labour councillors Bernie Attridge and Kevin Hughes were inducted too after forwarding a motion to ban anyone from bringing The Sun onto Flintshire council premises.
The move was a show of support for the ‘Total Eclipse Of The Sun’ campaign, which sets out to avenge the victims of the Hillsborough disaster and The Sun’s lies by politely pressuring newsagents into not selling it. Because nothing signifies solidarity with the working-class more than taking away their right to sell or read whatever they want. How forbidding adults from bringing a newspaper into a building will achieve justice for 96 football fans blamed for causing their own deaths isn’t clear, but the joy of modern-day progressive activism is that it doesn’t have to achieve anything.
To be seen to stand against the hate-sheets is all that matters to rack up the virtue credits, even if the only targets hit are autonomous grown-ups and their right to take whatever newspaper they like to work. That the subjects of their wrath – Sun staffers from 28 years ago, virtually all of whom have now left, retired, or gone to hell – will escape entirely unscathed is irrelevant. Stories like this give us hope. Who cares if all they achieve is making quasi-Stalinist Welshmen feel good about themselves?
Because we must embrace good news where we can, especially if it hurts the right-wing press. And as the freedom to read whatever we like slowly ends, the unwashed are gradually accepting it isn’t merely the content of The Sun that is offensive but its very existence; merely knowing someone, somewhere is reading it is practically an act of head-splitting violence.
Luckily, recent history is awash with modern liberals throwing their values under the bus to silence ideas they don’t like. The Stop Funding Hate campaign has grown in stature, its modus operandi – political censorship via corporate blackmail – delighting the same progressives who condemn Donald Trump for attacking press freedom. The difference being that President Pussy-Grab goes after the good left-wing media, while SFH focus exclusively on the bad right-wing variety.
A simple truth lost on alt-right trolls judging by the insidious smear that SFH are censorious children terrified at the thought of people reading newspapers they don’t like. And not normal people but Tory and working-class people, the two groups in society most likely be inspired by a Richard Littlejohn column to petrol bomb a mosque or write some nasty words on the internet.
Of course, SFH have pointed out repeatedly that their aim is NOT to censor newspapers. They just want them to ‘do better’. And if the only way to make them ‘do better’ is by restricting what they can say then so be it. Hey, we’ve been excusing terrorism and murder for decades, you think we’re gonna lose any sleep over a bit of censorship? As the SFH slogan says ‘Don’t hate the media: change the media’. That their method of bringing about change – cutting off advertising revenue so newspapers are forced to stop speaking freely – is practically the dictionary definition of back-door censorship is irrelevant. It’s the destination that matters, not the liberal values that must be jettisoned to get there.
As SFH head honcho Richard Wilson put it: ‘It’s going to keep happening until the financial balance changes and we get to the point where they don’t make money by publishing these headlines, they lose money because advertisers walk away.’ That he plans to achieve this by blackmailing them to purse their lips is straight out of the Trump playbook. Indeed, it’s unfortunate The Donald opted to destroy the Republicans rather than the Democrats; he could have been a great asset for the left if only he’d hated Jews instead of Muslims.
Which brings us to Owen Jones, who knows all about Jew-hate having spent the last two years fighting anti-Semitism by pretending it doesn’t exist. He’s been on sparkling form recently, demanding one person a week be sacked and formulating increasingly hysterical plans to stop the Tory press saying stuff he doesn’t like. While the obvious tactic for a national newspaper columnist would be to use his free speech to counter theirs, Owen prefers to get his point across via people power.
As he put it last month when publicising the umpteenth petition to get something done about the frightful language used by the gutter press: ‘The Sun is not going to get away with using Nazi-like language about Muslims!’. No doubt when word of an angry letter plus a petition containing less than 200 signatures reached Murdoch Towers they were shitting bricks.
According to the Independent ‘more than 100 MPs’ demanded action over Trevor Kavanagh’s column and its use of ‘Nazi-like language’ about British Muslims. Luckily neither Owen nor the Indy seemed to have read the piece otherwise they’d have known it wasn’t actually about all British Muslims – just the ones who rape children. Their issue was with Kavanagh’s use of the phrase ‘the Muslim problem’ when discussing the problem of Muslim rapists. Because god forbid anyone points out that myriad identical cases up and down the country involving Muslim men raping children could ever be considered problematic.
But this is just one of many recent examples where moral judgements were passed down on wicked right-wing newspapers by people who don’t read them. Who could forget author and former A&R ponce John Niven buying up a newsagent’s entire stocks of The Sun and The Mail on election day and setting fire to them? Great stuff. Because nothing sticks it to Murdoch and Dacre more than handing over money for a huge pile of their products. And John went on to demonstrate his affinity for the working man by spending the rest of the day playing golf. Go, comrade!
He was roundly applauded and even inspired a mini trend, with plucky citizens from Islington to Camden taking Niven’s cue by buying up right-wing rags and throwing them in the Thames. Needless to say these armchair anarchists maintained that actively stopping people from accessing points of view by destroying them was NOT censorship. Despite the fact that the most notorious censors in history have all actively stopped people accessing points of view by destroying them.
Luckily for Niven, there’s little chance of anyone adopting similar methods to erase his novels. This is partly due to the fact that as a proud champagne Corbynite he’s resolutely on the same side as people who enjoy critiquing literature by setting fire to it. But mainly because you’d struggle to find enough copies of his work in print to keep a family of starving mice warm. Still, it was a joy to see John join the likes of Owen, Graham Linehan, Jack Monroe and Lena Dunham in that illustrious group of principled progressives who are happy to combine writing for a living with supporting censorship.
And we can now add Flintshire council and The Waitrose Warrior to that star-studded list of brave liberals battling bigotry with a smile, a wave and a spot of light-hearted book-burning. Of course, SFH et al utterly fail to apply the same standards to the likes of The Guardian – which has printed numerous columns supporting Islamism – and The New European – whose very first front cover featured a cartoon dog calling 17 million people ‘idiots’. Because any fool knows there is good and bad hate. And the hate practiced by extremist Muslims or middle-class Remainers is resolutely ‘good’. Luckily, despite the horror of modern Britain, one thing we can be proud of is that you’ve got more chance of finding an honest Tory than coming across a funeral pyre made out of books by Tariq Ramadan or Ian Dunt.
Needless to say, Waitrose don’t stock either. I wonder why?
(Photo: Jack Lindsay)