Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Adults?

David Cameron's attempt to introduce a porn filter mark the day the Conservative party embraced the nanny state.

If I had to pick one thing that I actually ever liked about the Tory party, the choice would be simple, it would be their libertine streak. You can say what you like about how they seem to like to plunder the country to line their own pockets, how they have gleefully fostered and exploited social divisions and how they tend to treat anybody without at least a knighthood as a parasite fit only for the Workfare gulag, but on issues of personal freedom they were the go-to guys during the Labour years.

The Labour Party, with the best will in the world, has never really been about fun. That Tony Blair actually volunteered to be a Catholic says all you need to know about his proclivities towards enjoying life and Gordon Brown just looked like a man who lived every day of his life with pockets full of piss. The internet knew how to have fun, it still does, and so the Labour Party going after the internet was inevitable. You could sense they were just waiting for a photogenic murder victim to validate their policies, probably with a team of bright eyed interns scouring the papers daily and a focus group on standby the vet the candidates.

Censor the porn, Labour said, because then horrible murders will stop, because apparently there was no murder before the internet. Nobody really believed that of course, but porn is not the easiest cause to fight for.

So to see that the Tories have now embraced the nanny state wholeheartedly is not just shocking, it is deeply worrying. That David Cameron would publicly declare that the internet, the single most significant British contribution to the modern world, needs to be censored should be of great concern. He leads the party that is supposed to let us be grown-ups, the party that lets us smoke, drink and gamble, while taking out ridiculously expensive loans to cover it. Even these guys now subscribe to the idea that we might see too many boobs online and be ruined for life.

We expect Labour to try to police what we see; to tell us what we like is wrong, politically incorrect, and likely to turn us all into murderers, terrorists and rapists. That’s what Labour does, because they know better than everybody else.

We don’t expect this from the Tories, not since the days of Mary Whitehouse anyway. Back when the Tories were old fashioned, blue-rinsed and God-fearing you could imagine them having plenty to say about all these horrible freedoms people are enjoying. But today’s Tories? It seems unthinkable that a bunch of Bullingdon Boys would even attempt to be seen as a credible moral authority, especially as they just burned their bridge to the Christian right and held a gay wedding in the ashes. When I saw David Cameron and his mob take over I thought at least one part of life would not be attacked for the next five years. This is a man, I thought, who might just not be a total killjoy. Or who at least might be too busy privatising all the things to find time to find the time to ruin anything else.

That the Tories would attack freedom of communication in this way under the ridiculous pretext that it is protecting children would be funny if it wasn’t a real thing that is actually happening. It is a foolish, reactionary, impractical move, and one that totally obliterates any Tory claim to being a party of individual freedom.

And so here we are, stuck in the middle. On the political right we have the born again moral guardians of the Conservative party, here to protect all of the children by flinging half-baked and technologically unsound ideas at a problem nobody seems to be able to prove exists. On the political left, of the Conservatives at least, we have Labour. The joyless overseers, making sure that wrongthink and dirtyfapping are expunged from our great nation so that we can live full and exciting lives of optimal make benefit for make great and wonderful United Kingdom.

There is no longer a political party in the UK for people who want the government to leave them alone. There is no longer a party that thinks what goes on in the bedroom or the internet browser is the business of the individual. All we will get at the next election is a choice of who gets to censor us and for what reason and this is an abysmal state of affairs.

At least when David Cameron was elected, you thought he might be too busy privatising things to ruin the internet as well. Photograph: Getty Images

Phil Hartup is a freelance journalist with an interest in video gaming and culture

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Where Labour has no chance, hold your nose and vote Lib Dem

May's gamble, MacKenzie's obsession and Wisden obituaries - Peter Wilby's First Thoughts.

In 2007 Gordon Brown allowed rumours to circulate that he would call an early general election for the spring of 2008. When he failed to do so, he was considered a coward and a ditherer and never recovered. Theresa May has tried a different strategy. After firmly denying that she would call an early election and killing off speculation about one, she suddenly announced an election after all. Will this work better for her than the opposite worked for Brown?

The Prime Minister risks being seen as a liar and an opportunist. Her demand for “unity” at Westminster is alarming, because it suggests that there is no role for opposition parties on the most important issue of the day. If Labour and the Lib Dems are smart enough to co-operate sufficiently to rally the country against what looks like an attempt to instal an authoritarian, right-wing Tory regime, May, even if she wins the election, could find herself weakened, not strengthened. I never thought I would write this but, in constituencies where Labour has no chance, its supporters should hold their noses and vote Lib Dem.

Taken for granted

I wonder if May, before she took her decision, looked at the precedents of prime ministers who called unnecessary elections when they already had comfortable parliamentary majorities. In 1974, after three and a half years in office, Edward Heath, with a Tory majority of 30, called a “Who runs Britain?” election during a prolonged dispute with the miners. He lost. In 1923, Stanley Baldwin, a new Tory leader sitting on a majority of 75 obtained by his predecessor just a year earlier, called an election because he wished to introduce tariffs, an issue strikingly similar to the one raised by Brexit. He also lost. The lesson, I think (and hope), is that prime ministers take the electorate for granted at their peril.

China’s long game

Commentators compare the crisis ­involving North Korea and the US with the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. It doesn’t feel that way to me. For several days that year, nuclear war seemed, to my 17-year-old mind, all but inevitable. I went to the cinema one afternoon and felt surprise when I emerged three hours later to find the world – or, at least, the city of Leicester – going about its business as normal. Two nuclear powers were in direct confrontation. The US threatened to invade communist Cuba to remove Soviet missiles and blockaded the island to prevent deliveries of more weapons. Soviet ships sailed towards the US navy. It wasn’t easy to imagine a compromise, or who would broker one. Nobody doubted that the two sides’ weapons would work. The Soviet Union had carried out nearly 200 nuclear tests. North Korea has claimed just five.

For all the talk of intercontinental missiles, North Korea at present isn’t a credible threat to anybody except possibly its neighbours, and certainly not to the US or Britain. It is in no sense a geopolitical or economic rival to the US. Donald Trump, who, like everybody else, finds the Middle East infernally complicated, is looking for an easy, short-term victory. The Chinese will probably arrange one for him. With 3,500 years of civilisation behind them, they are accustomed to playing the long game.

Mussel pains

Whenever I read Kelvin MacKenzie’s columns in the Sun, I find him complaining about the size of mussels served by the Loch Fyne chain, a subject on which he happens to be right, though one wonders why he doesn’t just order something else. Otherwise, he writes badly and unfunnily, often aiming abuse at vulnerable people such as benefit claimants. It’s a new departure, however, to insult someone because they were on the receiving end of what MacKenzie calls “a nasty right-hander”, apparently unprovoked, in a Liverpool nightclub. He called the victim, the Everton and England footballer Ross Barkley, who has a Nigerian grandfather, “one of our dimmest footballers” and likened him to “a gorilla at the zoo”.
The paper has suspended MacKenzie, a former Sun editor, and Merseyside Police is investigating him for racism, though he claims he didn’t know of Barkley’s ancestry.

Several commentators express amazement that Sun editors allowed such tripe to be published. It was not, I think, a mistake. Britain has no equivalent of America’s successful alt-right Breitbart website, disruptively flinging insults at all and sundry and testing the boundaries of what it calls “political correctness”, because our alt right is already established in the Sun, Express and Mail. To defend their position, those papers will continue to be as nasty as it takes.

Over and out

Easter is the time to read the cricket annual Wisden and, as usual, I turn first to the obituaries. Unlike newspaper obituaries, they record failures as well as successes – those who managed just a few undistinguished performances in first-class cricket and, most poignantly, some who promised much but died early. We learn of a 22-year-old Indian who, during demonstrations against the alleged molestation of a schoolgirl, was shot dead by police and whose grieving mother (invoking the name of one of India’s greatest batsmen) cried, “Bring my Gavaskar back!” In England, two young men drowned, having played one first-class match each, and a 22-year-old Sussex fast bowler, described as “roguish” and “enormously popular”, fell off a roof while celebrating New Year with friends in Scotland. In South Africa, a young batsman was among five municipal employees killed when their truck crashed; the local mayor fled the funeral as his workmates “chanted menacingly” about unpaid wages.

Among the better-known deaths is that of Martin Crowe, probably New Zealand’s best batsman. In a Test match, he once got out on 299 and reckoned the near-miss contributed to the cancer that killed him at 53. “It tore at me like a vulture pecking dead flesh,” he said. Cricket can do that kind of thing to you. 

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

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