Who spiked rated and hated in 2008

From Delia Smith to the ‘Obamabots’, from polar bears to John Maynard Keynes, meet our heroes and villains of the year.

Tim Black

Tim Black
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Topics Politics

Over the past year, there has been much to draw spiked’s critical fire, from the reactionary China-bashing that serenaded the Olympic Games to the moralising response to the economic crisis. But there has also been much to feel inspired by, from groundbreaking organ transplants to people’s desire for ‘Change’ with a capital C. So, as the year draws to a close, the spiked team has compiled a list of some of the people, events and phenomena that we rated and hated in 2008.

RATED: Rotherham United football fans

When, as part of his TV show Jamie’s Ministry of Food, the multi-millionaire missionary and some-time chef Jamie Oliver decided to lecture several thousand Rotherham United football fans, he probably expected to find an under-informed, over-sized congregation desperately in need of his hell-in-a-kebab-shop sermonising. Thank the lord for Saint Jamie of Sainsbury’s, they’d say, for teaching us not only how to suck eggs, but how to boil them, too! After all, the footie fans were a) northern, b) working-class and, therefore, c) really in need of instruction.

But things didn’t go according to plan. Within minutes of opening his gob to spout pukka health advice, the sound of St Jamie’s preaching was drowned out by the chorused question: ‘Who ate all the pies? Who ate all the pies?’ The cockney culprit was clear for all to see. ‘You fat bastard, you fat bastard, you ate all the pies!’, chanted the Rotherham fans. For this glorious piece of two-fingered resistance, a spontaneous dig to the well-protected ribs of those who would pronounce on other people’s lifestyles, these men and women deserve our utmost respect. Oliver’s swollen-tongued condescension might be a hit with pleb-patronising cabinet ministers, but in front of real-people-who-actually-live-in-Rotherham, it proved about as welcome as… well, a healthy-eating lecture from a smug-faced fatso.

HATED: Anti-aviation protesters

From the working-class sublime to the posh stupid. Plane Stupid, in fact, an environmentally correct support group for public school leavers in search of the purpose that capitalism no longer provides. In December, a crack team of 60 young toffs, armed with little more than a trust fund and a dose of self-righteousness, descended on London Stansted airport to stage a protest on a runway. Dozens of flights were cancelled and thousands of people were stranded.

Numerous newspapers mocked the protesters on account of their silver-spooned upbringings. Yet as spiked pointed out, it isn’t the fact that they are posher than Lord Snooty of Snootingham that makes them snobs… it’s the fact that they’re poshos who use their political energy to target the poorer sections of society. Again and again. Thus, their biggest protest to date did not shut down Gatwick or Heathrow (airports responsible for far more CO2 emissions) but Stansted, home of Britain’s cheap flights industry. It’s not flying per se that they object to, but peoples’ reasons for flying. Whether it’s a group of lads going on a stag do to Prague or a couple off to Malaga, for Plane Stupid these people’s fun-and-games are literally poisonous. Beneath the twisted idealism of these privileged irritants there lurks that old-fashioned aristocratic vice: disgust for the lower orders.

RATED: The Irish people

In June, while most European rulers were surreptitiously ratifying the Lisbon Treaty on EU enlargement behind their electorates’ backs, the Irish held a referendum. The pro-EU lobby looked on, hoping against hope that the Irish people would ‘do the right thing’ and say yes to Lisbon. However, despite the combined pro-treaty efforts of Ireland’s three largest parties (Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour), plus most of the Irish media, the Irish people refused to vote as the establishment saw fit. In this stubborn, principled refusal to kowtow to the combined hectoring of politicians and pundits alike, the Irish people proved that democracy could not be bent to the wills of arrogant, self-serving elites.

Little wonder, then, that the response from the EU lobby was one of spiteful dismay. The ‘No’ vote was a ‘triumph of ignorance’ sneered one Eurocrat. ‘Ungrateful bastards… after all the money you got’, thundered another. The elite disdain for the Irish demos has been obscene: voters have been deemed thick, childish, and ‘wrong’. Both the Irish ‘No’ camp and Barack Obama received around 53 per cent of the popular vote in their respective elections this year, yet where Obama’s victory was hailed as decisive and inspiring, the Irish ‘No’ lobby’s victory was denounced as vulgar and xenophobic. Now, unlike the American people, the Irish people are being forced to vote again. It seems that, in the EU, democratic sovereignty will be respected just so long as people vote the ‘right way’.

HATED: Boris Johnson

Could there be a London mayor more dismal, more dreary than ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone, a politician so committed to a vision of the shitty life that he once urged Londoners to stop flushing the toilet? Enter Boris Johnson, one-time bon vivant and randy maverick and now the smirking face of modern politics. While BoJo’s past criticisms of everything from food fascism to language-policing may have convinced some of the more quixotic members of the commentariat that here, at last, was a libertarian for London, at spiked we have long noted his tendency to recant on the controversial for fear of upsetting the consensus or damaging his political ambitions.

So unsurprisingly, his seven-month reign has proved every bit as mainstreamly miserabilist as Dead Ken. First there was the alcohol ban on public transport, a measure as utterly pointless as it was authoritarian. Then came plans for ‘knife arches’ on the streets of London. And if that wasn’t scaremongering enough, there was his Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, which, with its warnings of ‘heatwaves, windstorms and tidal surges’, provided a vision of London straight out of the Old Testament. With his newfound eco-piety and his obsession with crime, Johnson seems determined to turn a wondrous city – noisy, populous and vital – into an agglomerate of problems to be managed.

RATED: The Republic of Nepal

Back in 2006, the Nepalese people rose up against their autocratic monarch King Gyanendra, won the reinstatement of parliament, and gained a promise of free and fair elections. In May this year, the elected assembly’s first act was to rid themselves, finally, of the last vestige of hereditary privilege: Gyanandra was given 15 days to vacate the palace before it was turned into a museum. In the words of the new republican declaration: ‘All the privileges enjoyed by the king and Royal Family will automatically come to an end.’

Nepal is now ‘an independent, indivisible, sovereign, secular and inclusive democratic republic’. spiked is no fan of Maoism (and a majority of the new elected representatives in Nepal are of the Maoist variety), yet these are inspiring words for one of the most inspiring events of the year: a blow struck by the Nepalese people for self-determination and liberty everywhere. Meanwhile in Britain… Prince Charles still bores us rigid with scare stories about GM food while Boris Johnson (see above) reportedly wants a statue of the Queen in Trafalgar Square. spiked votes for learning from the people of Nepal and giving the Windsors two weeks to sling their hooks.

HATED: The police

Collapsing from within and behaving arbitrarily without, it’s been quite a year for Britain’s boys in blue. First we saw senior officers squabble over claims of racial and religious discrimination. Worse was to come: Autumn’s inquest into the shooting of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes, in the aftermath of the 7 July London bombs in 2005, exposed the lethal consequences of panic-stricken incompetence. And to top it off, Sir Iain Blair resigned from his post as head of the Met police in London mainly because some in the authorities felt he was a starstruck liability.

The internal, institutional chaos of the police has left them desperately scrabbling about for some semblance of purpose. Unfortunately for us, they’ve decided the best way to rediscover some mission is via The PR Arrest. In November, suddenly believing that the centuries-old use of leaked documents by an opposition MP to hold the government to account was now akin to plotting to blow people up, they sent counter-terrorism cops to arrest shadow immigration minster Damian Green and raid his home and parliamentary office. Shaken by fear and controversy, and transformed into purpose-seeking missiles, the police have become a law unto themselves.

RATED: The Large Hadron Collider

Costing £5billion, the Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile tunnel under the Swiss-French border, was built to smash protons together at velocities just below the speed of light. In doing so, scientists hoped to find out what happened when the universe was one trillionth of a second old. At the time of its launch in September, some feverishly speculated that recreating the Big Bang might finally be a step too far for humanity. The end was not only nigh, but based in Switzerland. Then, less than two weeks later, the collider broke – a helium leak, apparently. ‘Phew!’, the grumpy fearmongers thought. Not only did it serve the scientists right for their incredible hubris, it also showed the folly of ‘daring to know’ when the money could have been better spent, as Sir David King put it, on the bigger challenges facing civilisation.

We at spiked couldn’t disagree more. Not only does the opportunist rhetoric of financial accountancy provide no justification for deciding upon humanity’s aspirations, but the Hadron Collider’s failure is simply part of the spirit of exploration. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. What the collider symbolised was the sheer audacity of humanity, a desire to quest beyond the existing limits of knowledge and to put nature firmly on the rack. At a time when both ‘daring’ and ‘knowing’ are inhibited by a fear of the unknown, the ambition of the Hadron Collider should be celebrated – and its failure learned from for next time.

HATED: Polar bears

Okay, spiked doesn’t really hate polar bears (so please desist from bombarding us with letters, green-leaning readers). But we do feel uncomfortable with the creeping idolisation of the polar bear as an innocent, blameless creature being done in by man’s wickedness and wanton greed. Over the past year, the polar bear – in Hollywood propaganda, adverts for eco-friendly lightbulbs, and the literature of various green lobby groups – has been transformed into a kind of barometer of human evil, where everything we do is judged by how much it shrinks the North Pole and heaps hardship on the bears.

In essence, the polar bear has become a post-religion God. The similarities are striking: both the old God and the new God are white, hairy, live ‘above us’, and are said to be displeased, angered or saddened by our foul behaviour and refusal to repent. While the furore surrounding the Hadron Collider betrayed a barely concealed fear amongst mankind of playing God, the sanctification of the polar bear exposes our contemporary search for a new secular, external, god-like figure that can be used to chastise humanity. Well, spiked is opposed to all gods – and that goes for the fluffy, supposedly cute variety, too.

RATED: Delia Smith

‘They reduce man to want, then give with pomp and ceremony’, wrote William Blake, poet, visionary and radical. This February, Delia Smith, Christian, conservative and cook, launched a similarly seering attack on the organic-food, keep-it-local greenies, who would prefer it if African farmers remained grateful for the fruits of subsistence rather than enjoying the benefits of selling mass-produced food on the international market. In response to groups like the Soil Association that want to block imports from Africa if they aren’t organic enough, Smith wisely said: ‘If the whole world goes organic, the state of the Third World will be twice as bad as it is at the moment, and I’m much more interested in people getting enough to eat.’ For making tinned mincemeat of the Western food snobs who are intent on condemning the rest of the world to lives of impoverished subsistence, Smith is a plain-speaking heroine of 2008.

HATED: Mumbai bombers

On 26 November, 10 armed men, having anchored a stolen trawler three miles off the coast, rowed dinghies into Mumbai. Four days later, following bombs and sieges, they had killed over 170 people. It was a horrific, barbarous act carried out by a group of anti-Semitic nihilists who clearly have so little faith in the world that they are prepared to reduce it to nothing. And what better to hate for a bunch of quasi-jihadists than Mumbai, a thriving, striving, once-Third World city desperate to exchange poverty for the gains of modernity, no matter how painful the transition?

Yet no sooner had the last grenade been thrown than Western observers were doing what they so often do after terrorist attacks: taking part in a game of misanthropic ventriloquism, and ascribing to the terrorists various supposedly radical or ‘understandable’ political ideas. From Western self-loathing (where the terrorists were seen as legitimately disgruntled by inequality or poverty in the new Mumbai) to post-Iraq handwringing (where the terrorists were looked upon as anti-imperialist warriors), this curious atrocity was ‘understood’ a little too much.

RATED: Usain Bolt

On 20 August, the Bird’s Nest athletics stadium in Beijing witnessed one of the greatest sporting performances of all time. Having smashed the 100m world record four days earlier to win the first of his Olympic golds, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt then shattered the 200m record to add his second gold of the Games. Swifter, higher, stronger; if anyone embodied these Olympic values, it was Bolt.

What is most surprising is that he achieved all of this despite the much-hyped pea-souper that holds Beijing in its toxic clasp. Such was the hysteria about Beijing’s poisonous and polluted environment, this ‘dystopia where the rivers run black’ as commentators described it, that many feared there would be something akin to athleticide at the Games. As Peter Tachell wrote: ‘Pollution in the host city is now at such alarming levels that the International Olympic Committee should do the right thing and cancel the 2008 Olympic Games. The city is dangerous for athletes and everyone else.’ In fact, not only did no athlete asphyxiate during the decathlon, or choke to death during the steeple chase, but some, like Bolt, went on to provide some of the most awe-inspiring sporting moments ever seen.

HATED: Kevin Rudd

Voted in on a groundswell of post-Iraq War disgust towards former Australian PM John Howard, Kevin Rudd has proven even worse than his despised predecessor. In February he did what Howard had infamously failed to do; he apologised to the Aborigines for the ‘stolen children’ policy. Well, who needs employment and healthcare when you can get an apology from the prime minister? In that shift from the BC to the AD eras (that’s Before Clinton and After Diana), Rudd personifies the replacement of proper socially concerned politics with apologetic performances of emotional correctness.

If reducing the Aborigines to objects of special pleading wasn’t degrading enough, he also set out to implement the Great Australian Firewall, an attempt to block unsuitable online content from the presumably all too easily influenced, monkey-see-monkey-do Australians. Both more patronising and more censorious, Rudd outstrips Howard at every step – and is a lesson in not allowing our understandable fury with the Iraq War to blunt our critical political faculties.

RATED: The Obamabots

If Rudd represents the post-Iraq politician at his uninspiring worst, voted in on a wave of despair, then Barack Obama, voted in on a surge of optimism, potentially captures the post-Iraq politician at his inspiring best. It is not Obama’s promises or slowly emerging political programme that makes Obamamania look exciting, but rather the nature of the support that he won: youthful, outspoken, tired of cynicism and fearmongering, Obama’s supporters let the whole world know what they wanted: ‘Change’.

Yet how were these voters discussed by the media and political observers? As ‘Obamabots’. This vast array of people, previously left unmoved by politics, were deemed ‘crazy’, ‘insane’, and ‘cultish’ by some of the more wizened US commentators on account of their ‘happy clappy’ support for Obama. This caustic judgement against the Obamabots betrayed a deep elite distrust of the political passions and excitations of the American people. To paraphrase the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, the worst reaction to Obama’s victory, and the support it engendered, is cynicism. This isn’t to suggest that Obama is above criticism (nothing and no one is above that, as far as spiked is concerned) but merely to challenge the idea that politics is not a place for everyday people and their passions, and the idea that anyone who gets excited about politics is a brainwashed dupe who should step aside for cool, calm and collected ‘experts’. If the ‘Obamabots’ can stay interested, stay engaged, then the public sphere, long reduced to a technocratic talking shop for the political class, might be invigorated once more by the presence and passions, values and interests of real people.

HATED: John Maynard Keynes

Who would have thought that an old Edwardian snob like Keynes would have become the putative answer to a twenty-first-century economic crisis? This is a thinker who was most concerned with warding off economic alternatives to capitalism, a precious Bloomsbury Setter who once complained that socialism ‘exalts the boorish proletariat above the bourgeois and the intelligentsia’, an economist whose principal fear was that the ‘labouring classes may no longer be willing to forego so largely’. So haunted was Keynes by the prospect of social revolution that he set out to reform laissez-faire capitalism by ensuring that the labouring classes had just enough not to rebel while the capitalist class had just enough incentive to invest. All with a bit of welfare thrown in. And yet today, he’s named ‘Man of the Year’ by the New Statesman.

Keynes’ current popularity is even more depressing than anything he actually wrote, mainly because it has little to do with anything he actually wrote. Rather his name, invoked from Westminster to the Financial Times, gives a little theoretical legitimacy to those desperately hoping that the state will step in and save the world economy from its finance-sector gravediggers. This overlooks the responsibility of the state itself for the current economic mess. And given that the state, bereft of the pressure once exerted upon it by a powerful labour movement, is now as ideologically clueless as it is bureaucratically inclined, investing such blind hope in it while invoking the name of Keynes promises something worse than Keynesiansim: Keynesianism-lite. That is, state-massaged capitalism with little or none of the New Deal-style vision. It is worrying that a dead man so opposed to radical change is hailed as the intellectual hero of 2008. We should demand more than this – much more – in 2009.

Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.

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

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Topics Politics

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