There are many ways to fracture a people. But one of the best is to destroy all the remaining ties that bind them. To persuade them that to the extent they have anything of their own, it is not very special, and in the final analysis, hardly worth preserving. This is a process that has gone on across the western world for over a generation: a remorseless, daily assault on everything that most of us were brought up to believe was good about ourselves.
After three centuries of failing to assert power over the printed press, the House of Commons is finding the digital world easier to conquer. The Online Safety Bill now going through parliament will give ministers the power to decide what can and can’t be said online by banning what they regard as ‘harmful’. The word is not very well defined – which, of course, gives sweeping powers to the government regulators who will define it.
When Nadine Dorries was named Culture Secretary last year, it proved to be the most controversial appointment of Boris Johnson’s reshuffle. Her critics weren’t afraid to point to what they saw as her flaws. She was a Scouser and former nurse put in charge of the cultural crown jewels. The only explanation they could come up with: she was intended to embody a two-finger flick, on behalf of the PM, to the BBC, Channel 4 and the arts world in general.
Like many people, I enjoy watching people. There’s a great pleasure in sitting in a café or on a park bench on a sunny afternoon and just watching people pass by. But increasingly, people-watching is becoming suspect, and even criminalised.
The latest and most worrying example is Transport for London’s campaign against what it calls ‘intrusive staring’. Posters all over the Tube now warn us: ‘Intrusive staring is a form of sexual harassment and will not be tolerated.
Eric Gill was an incestuous paedophile and his own letters prove it, but the value of his work can run into millions of pounds. So it was a surprise to hear rumours that auction house Christie’s will no longer be accepting his art. Will they really be turning away all Gills, even the masterpieces? I asked one Christie’s employee for confirmation. ‘Yes,’ they said. ‘It would not be consistent to refuse to sell the Gill trifles but continue to sell his masterpieces.
Bob Chapek, Disney’s CEO, was paid $32.5 million last year. It’s hard to feel sorry for someone on that sort of money. Poor Bob, though. He’s caught in the middle of a vicious fight between Florida’s conservative governor Ron DeSantis and Disney’s LGBTQ+ activists and he’s being pummelled from both sides. It’s nasty. Children probably shouldn’t watch.
The story begins with DeSantis’s Florida Parental Rights in Education Act, which passed in March and banned Floridian schoolteachers from discussing sexuality and mutable gender-identities with very young children.
I have temporarily taken in two Ukrainian refugees and suddenly find that, for very little sacrifice, my stock has soared. People who have regarded me as a hard-nosed, right-wing bastard are suddenly confused and struggling to readjust. A woke young relative who has despaired of my ignorant, reactionary views on Black Lives Matter, climate change, gender and so on suddenly sees a halo above my head. My mother-in-law on the Costa Brava reports mentioning that her daughter and son-in-law have Ukrainian refugees is like being sprinkled with gold dust.
Shortly before the first round of the French presidential election I was handed a campaign flyer by one of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s activists. On one side was his photo and on the reverse the headline: ‘With Jean-Luc Mélenchon another world is possible.’ What sort of world? A leftist utopia in which the minimum wage would be raised from its current €1,302 to €1,400 net per month, new hospitals would be built, the retirement age would be lowered to 60, and there would be a fixed price for petrol, food and energy prices.
Fringes have in recent years been considered attractive – Bettie Page, Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Birkin, Kate Moss – so it is easy to forget the period we have been living through is something of an aberration. For most of history, cutting a fringe has tended to mark a woman out as odd, mad or suspicious. In the 1600s, conservative churches thought a fringe indicated you were on your way to committing a mortal sin. This was true even as late as the 1920s, which is why the fringe was key to the rebellious flapper bob.