The media column - Peter Wilby counts pervs

The press can just about tolerate successful and clever women, and quite likes earth mothers, but it

The red tops do love a pervert. This is because pervs, to use the red-top headline contraction, can be clearly distinguished from the respectable folk who read newspapers and produce them. They are what sociologists call "the other". I take a healthy interest in bare-breasted 16-year-olds. You ogle schoolgirls. He is a perv. Add allegations that an unglamorous female Education Secretary with a large family and a funny accent has allowed pervs to overrun schools, and you have a toxic mix. The press can just about tolerate successful and clever women, and it quite likes earth mothers, but it feels that trying to be both is against nature.

Alastair Campbell's rule, as reported in Piers Morgan's diaries, was that "you had to survive 11 days on a scandal, then it would always move on". Since the Observer broke the "sex offenders in schools" story on 8 January, and since the papers were still discovering more perv scandals nine days later, you should know Ruth Kelly's fate by the time you read this. As I write, she waits on death row, sentence having been pronounced by the Sun's hanging judge, Trevor Kavanagh. Formerly the political editor, now a columnist, Kavanagh still has impeccable contacts at No 10. "It is clear that Ruth Kelly cannot survive," he wrote on Monday. As usual, she would get the PM's full support - "right up to the moment the trap door opens".

Kelly's supporters were mainly in the posher papers. The Guardian's Polly Toynbee and several others argued it was absurd for decisions about which individuals can work in schools to be in ministers' hands at all. But Kelly may not have welcomed all her friends. In the Daily Telegraph, Tom Utley took the same attitude to child abuse as pundits of another era took to corporal punishment: it never did me any harm.

He recalled a master from his own schooldays who "used to invite favoured boys up to his flat . . . for extra tuition". Without such men, "the teaching profession would have been very much poorer". In a similar spirit, the Independent's Howard Jacobson suggested that you need to be "sexually peculiar" about children to tolerate the awfulness of teaching them. In the Mail on Sunday, Peter Hitchens couldn't see what the fuss was about "when sex education takes place daily in all our schools, with teachers preaching gross immorality". That was child abuse on a much bigger scale, he argued.

A N Wilson in the London Evening Standard detected a plot by "the bad old Labour Left" to set the red tops on Kelly and thus undermine Labour's proposals for more city academies. However, Richard Littlejohn, transferred from the Sun to the Daily Mail, takes the prize for the most ingenious conspiracy theory. Kelly is a devout Catholic and her attitude to sex offenders might have "something to do" with her Church's embarrassments over paedophile priests. Given that the Mail is always publishing Da Vinci Code-style pieces about Church cover-ups going back at least to the Middle Ages, Littlejohn is indeed, as the paper puts it, "back where he belongs".

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a woman, a lefty, a member of an ethnic minority and a perfectly nice person. On all counts, therefore, she is someone of whom I and NS readers should approve. So why does she irritate so much? I offer, without further comment, the first sentence of her Monday column for the Independent: "Taking a moment out from cooking a feast for friends last Saturday night, I rushed over to speak at the Fabian conference on Britishness."

All newspapers would like to splash: "End of the world nigh - official." The Independent had the story on Monday. It is already too late to stop global warming, it reported, and by the end of the century only a few "breeding pairs of people" will survive, having retreated to the Arctic. This verdict came from as near an official source as you can get: the green guru James Lovelock, inventor of the Gaia concept which, I must confess, I have never quite understood. No other paper followed this news and even the Independent, normally so confident in its front pages, reduced the impact with a slightly ham-fisted presentation.

Still, Lovelock got the first three pages, plus a comment-page slot, to give as coherent an account of what he has discovered as I suppose you can expect from an 86-year-old. But he rather undermined his own position by telling Michael McCarthy, the Independent's environment editor, that "it's a wake-up call".

Leaving aside my suspicion of a man who resorts to cliche on such an occasion as the end of the world (or, more precisely, the end of human civilisation), I don't see much point waking up if we're as doomed as Lovelock says we are. Rather, we should all lie back and think of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown who, between cooking feasts and addressing conferences, may just find time to save the planet.

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