Kicking against the new conformist pricks

spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London), on why Gary Lineker out-rebels Big Brother's Kitten.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume

Topics Politics

Who is the bigger rebel for our times? Is it Kitten Pinder, the lesbian ‘human and animal rights activist’ who was kicked out of the Big Brother house after her anarcho-antics (rooftop protests, scribbling obscenities and slogans etc) proved too much even for Channel 4’s anything-goes show? Or is it Gary Lineker, football hero and family man, the nation’s favourite Mr Straight and Sensible who will anchor the BBC’s coverage of Euro 2004?

No contest. When it comes to kicking against the pricks, our Gary boots Kitten off the pitch. Her supposedly radical views on sexual equality or the war in Iraq are entirely mainstream today. By contrast, Lineker has taken a truly radical stand by insisting, amid the overcooked furore about children eating junk food, on his freedom to advertise potato crisps.

That makes him a dangerous subversive in the age of the new conformism. When the House of Commons Select Committee on Health called on the Culture Secretary to act against sports stars and celebrities promoting ‘less healthy food’ to children, Lineker quickly made clear that he would not be giving up his lucrative contract as the public face of Walkers crisps. His spokesman announced that, ‘Gary and his family are regular crisp eaters as part of a healthy balanced diet ‘. To many of us, that might sound as uncontroversial as Lineker’s choice of ties. But to some crusaders for the new conformism, it is almost enough to put his family on an at-risk register.

People such as Kitten Pinder, on the other hand, are rebels without claws, deluding themselves that their half-baked opinions are ‘outrageous’ when many are almost establishment orthodoxy. Sticking two fingers up to ‘the Queen and all the aristocrats’ on television might still be considered dangerous in Saudi Arabia, but hardly outside the Big Brother house in Borehamwood. What is so out-there about bashing George W. Bush on Channel 4, when Michael Moore’s Bush-bashing film has just won the Palme d’Or at Cannes?

What could be outrageous about parading your political lesbianism, when the Labour and Tory candidates for London mayor have backed a publicly-funded museum to ‘celebrate queer history and culture’? As for Ms Pinder’s public proposal of marriage to her girlfriend – that just signs her up to the twenty-first-century version of family values.

What makes these attitudes dangerous is not the revolutionary openness that they claim to espouse, but their narrow-minded intolerance of anything that falls outside the strict bounds of the new conformism. Thus it is ‘exercising free speech’ to daub swear words and semiliterate slogans on a wall, but anybody who disagrees with what is daubed must be shouted down as a sexist, a racist, a homophobe – or worse, a ‘Sun reader’.

The new conformism has spread from Whitehall down. Government agencies that have given up on trying to change society for the better now dedicate themselves, in the faintly chilling title of a key Downing Street document, to the business of Personal Responsibility and Changing Behaviour. Many high-profile public health campaigns seem to be less about making us better than about making us good. Why, for example, do health officials and experts hate the low-carb Atkins diet? The answer appears to be: because it works, and so allows us middle-aged men to lose weight while ignoring their stuffy guidelines for healthy living.

The campaign to ban smoking in public is another exercise in petty moralising disguised as a health measure. It is less about ending passive smoking than about encouraging passive living and deference to a code of behaviour. David Hockney caused a stink last week when he denounced ‘the dreary’ who would deny his right to choose: ‘If smoking knocks some time off life, it’s only at the end of it. So what?’ Hockney’s commonsense assertion that ‘I’m the expert on my life’ seems bolder and more subversive than the posturing of many a radical young British artist.

The new conformism speaks the language of equality, lifestyle choices and human rights. But that makes its encroachments on real choice only more insidious. Ours is an age of illiberal liberalism and intolerant tolerance, where we are apparently free to live as we choose – so long as we don’t want the right to make ‘wrong’ choices. It is a strange time when somebody as middle-of-the-park as Gary Lineker can appear more leftfield than many self-styled radicals, and when a ‘human and animal rights activist’ sounds like a tame little watchdog in a Kitten’s clothing.

This article is republished from The Times (London)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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