A degree of cynicism

New Labour's lessons, and the Church's Liz Hurley.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics
  • Lessons of New Labour

Tony Blair and the New Labourites maintain that university students should pay their own way. This, they say, is to ensure that we can keep all our higher education establishments open, so that all young people can go to university. Blair champions himself to be an anti-elitist meritocrat, a man who believes that everyone should be able to afford a decent, tertiary education.

Some say too many young people are as a consequence taking up worthless, ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees. Others point out that we have a massive manual labour shortage, and our teenagers could earn a far better living becoming a plumber or a mechanic. Both are right. But the government does not care about this, as I suspect its ‘anti-elitist’ cry is a smokescreen. It simply wants to have lots of people going to university because this decreases unemployment levels – carrying on a policy that was first introduced by the previous Tory government.

In a way you’ve got to admire New Labour’s cynical ingenuity. Instead of giving people dole money because they were unemployed – see the 1980s – it now gets them to pay for the privilege of not having a job. The third benefit is that this allows the prime minister to stand up in front of a conference and bellow that ‘under a Labour government, yes A LABOUR GOVERNMENT, Great Britain now has the lowest unemployment levels FOR 40 YEARS’.

  • Sex and religion

Only one or two commentators – such as Jasper Gerrard in The Sunday Times and Mick Hume in The Times – have hinted at one reason for the sudden ascendancy of the anti-abortion Anglican, Joanna Jepson: the fact that she is very attractive. You can tell this is what everyone is thinking, by the fact that photographs of her on national papers tend to be very large, and often on the front page. Is she the Church’s answer to Liz Hurley?

I have not heard anyone make this point explicitly, however. Perhaps the failure to admit this has something to do with her former disability: she was born with a cleft palate and underwent substantial surgery to correct it. I asked a close relation what he thought. He works in the ‘lads’ mag’ industry, and is therefore something of an authority on the matter, and he says the facial surgery thing makes people feel ‘weird’: a cruel conclusion, but perhaps indicative of a wider sentiment.

More influential, in my opinion, is the fact that she is vicar. Perhaps there is a taboo about confessing that you fancy a priest. You can grasp our culture’s difficulty in associating sex and clerics. During the First World War, British propaganda said that Germans soldiers were raping nuns. It was as if to say that there’s only one worse thing than violating women, and that is raping (pure) women of the cloth. We hear it today in that phrase ‘more tea vicar?’, or ‘as the actress said to the bishop’, phrases that are both employed in the context of sexual innuendo – and both suggestive of impropriety.

If, like me, you had a Catholic education, the notion seems decidedly weird. And it’s not as if many of us have been presented with this problem before. Most people who opt for the cloth are not normally renowned for their looks – think Dawn French from the roaringly unfunny BBC comedy, The Vicar of Dibley.

In the public mind, sex and religion just don’t go together. But I suspect we’ll be seeing more of Jepson in the future anyway. And if the Church of England is as egalitarian as it professes to be, it should champion some beefcake of a bishop in response.

  • Beware the entryists

Last week I alluded to the chronic bad behaviour of Cardiff and Stoke City supporters. I should have known this was asking for trouble. Visiting non-league Telford for an FA Cup game on Saturday, I saw my hitherto angelic fellow Brentford fans indulge in a bit of argy-bargy themselves.

The portents had not been good. There were plenty of Burberry-clad characters in the pub before the game – none of whom I recognised and too many for a small club such as this. During the encounter, there was a great deal of mutual taunting and gesticulating between our end and nearby Telford supporters. When the home team went 2-0 up a few of them jumped over segregating tape to taunt the seated Brentford fans (mostly women and old men). This prompted one among our number to dash from our terraced area and lay into them – followed by about 15 more. Mass fighting erupted on the pitch and at one point it looked as if a full riot was about to happen, what with only two policemen in attendance, more Brentford fans rushing towards the front barriers and Telford doing likewise.

It calmed down after about five minutes. After the third goal went in, a few of us attempted to leave, only to have bricks thrown at us from outside. Supporters came rushing back into the ground, the hapless stewards shut all the gates and children started crying.

The weird thing is that I saw coverage of this in not a single newspaper on Sunday or Monday. Perhaps events like this are so commonplace that the media can’t be bothered to report them anymore. I’ve always heard that hooliganism was not dead, but never witnessed it at first hand.

The consensus on internet chat rooms is that it was Wolves fans – supporting Telford on their day off – who were responsible for starting the trouble. Similarly, there were definitely some Shrewsbury fans in our end. Typical. Bloody entryists with their own agenda. Beware infiltrators!

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Politics


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