Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Bear With A Headache

(And I don't mean Andrew Sullivan the morning after the Oscars.) Nick has a foul-tempered column this morning. Is there anyone he doesn't hate?

In 1997, Tony Blair's media minders would never have allowed him to ...

This, while true, places Blair as a pawn of his minders; Blair doesn't really do things, others move him around. I'm sure Nick is hunting for something nice to say about the PM, but he doesn't have anything.

It was a generous speech.

Not according to John Tusa in the same paper:

The almost negative response of all but the most ardent Blairites is, in fact, easily explained in the context of the Prime Minister's engagement with the arts more or less throughout his premiership. At his first 'Downing Street Summit' on the arts in 1998, he summed up by saying: 'We must write the arts in to New Labour's core script.' Some of the participants left virtually dancing a jig. The callow opening days of the Blairite premiership, with the opportunistic, fake populist themes of 'Cool Britannia' and showbiz guests at Number 10, were - surely - to be replaced by a serious concern for the arts at their best and most serious.
At his most recent 'Arts Summit' 10 days ago, Blair unwisely referred to his original 'core script' commitment, only to find that most of those attending reproached him for failing to do just that. Instead of 'delivering' (key New Labour-speak) a core commitment to the arts, there had been a curious neglect, a continuing suspicion, a studied wariness about the arts from the New Labour project. They didn't - to adapt an Alastair Campbell-ism - 'do arts'.

I've never understood New Labour's take on the arts. The last stage production Blair went to was 'The Sound of Music' (source: the BBC's Friday quiz); the height of the visual arts seems to be Kylie - The Exhibition.
I can't find the full text of the 'generous' speech, so the Guardian report will have to do. (Update 3pm Thanks to the Couscous Kid in the comments, the text is here.)

Funding to the arts had doubled since 1997, he said.
In a speech which quoted Matthew Arnold and Philip Larkin, Mr Blair pointed to the success of Alan Bennett's play, The History Boys, which had recouped £1m for the National Theatre through a successful box office run in the regions.
And he added: "The beauty of the last decade is that we have not put 'bums on seats' at the expense of quality."
The creative industries were now 7% of the British economy, he added, as well as pointing to a recent British Museum exhibition in the Iranian capital Tehran as an example of providing cultural links "at a sensitive time".

Nick Cohen:

If Blair were really the monster of so many theatre and television producers' imagination, he would have responded by slashing the arts budget.

Not if he believes the arts represent 7% of the economy, he won't. Did no one tell him that Arnold and Larkin were Tories? Both took state money: Larkin for librarianing in Hull, Arnold for school inspecting, and otherwise they went without government stipends (Arnold got a pension from Gladstone - after he had dried up as a poet).

Freedom of speech includes the freedom of artists and satirists to make fools of themselves as well as their targets, except when they run into religion - and then, more often than not, they turn round and run away.

And the evidence of artists turning and running?

Dr Patricia Fara, Clare [College]'s senior tutor, said that she and the college chaplain had apologised to 'leaders of the local Muslim community, and also other religious leaders'. They impounded as many copies of their student's satirical magazine as they could find; it has taken me weeks to get hold of a copy.

Surely Dr Fara and the chaplain are - in this context - bureaucrats rather than satirists.

In the end, a journalist on Index on Censorship passed one to me as if he were a Soviet dissident circulating a samizdat.

Even worthies from Index on Censorship skulk like schoolboys passing round 'Razzle.'

The first is a series of gags at the expense of the protesters who marched through London with placards declaring 'Behead those who insult Islam' and 'Freedom go to hell'. As the courts have imprisoned demonstrators for soliciting murder, it is outlandish that a Cambridge college should take exception to jokes at the expense of convicted criminals who are the sworn enemies of every liberal principle its academics profess to hold.

I don't know what this means. Whether you admire Muhammad or not, he was not as far as I can remember, a 'convicted criminal'. AFAIK the story, Dr Fara and others apologised for the reprinting of the Muhammad cartoon - which offended many less extreme Muslims - not for reporting, however mockingly, the antics of the wilder protestors.

Eventually, men and women in government, business and the church will ask what gives artists the right to mock them when cowardice stops them mocking others. The artists will have no principled reply.

Lest Captain Cabernet have another dig at me for straying into philosophy I don't understand, I'll keep my comment on this short. I don't think the 'right to mock' is something one earns or can lose. '[M]en and women in government, business and the church' are publicity seeking (OK, with the exception of Dick Cheney). They ask to be commented on; what do they expect?

Update: Sunday 1:30. The bits I forgot.

I also know that their offence has been whipped up by the Sunni and Shia theocratic far right that supports the rather more offensive slaughter of tens of thousands of Muslims by al-Qaedaists, Baathists and Shia militiamen in Iraq.

The Ba'ath Party is secular, and hated by the Sunni and Shia theocrats.

The centre pages [of Clareification] are filled with bitchy profiles of student politicians, which suggests that the writer has ambitions to become a parliamentary sketch writer if he doesn't grow up.

Ohh, meow. And from the author of 'Pretty Straight Guys' too!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

White feathers all round for the artistic community!

It's awful. Lazy research, lazy thinking, lazy writing. So I shall respond with a couple of lazy potshots of my own:

"BBC1 made [Blair] the Sheriff of Nottingham in its Robin Hood (a conceit which presumably made Robin and his Merry Men Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda)"

Depends on who's doing the presuming. There's no shortage of candidates for the role of non-state actors opposing Blair.

"slaughter of tens of thousands of Muslims by al-Qaedaists, Baathists and Shia militiamen"

Just those three categories? All the Sunni insurgents are al-Qaedaists or Baathists? I seem to recall yer man Cheney making that characterization to explain why the insurgency would fizzle out soon, three years ago. Journalists have to be allowed to use shorthand, but sometimes it's just too close to an obsolete, dishonest official narrative to be tolerated.

3/11/2007 02:09:00 PM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

Is this the full text of the speech you were looking for?

3/11/2007 02:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just to note that of course, this week's Nick is a dead straight lift from Harry's Place.

3/11/2007 06:14:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

It's notable how often the Decent/Cohen/HP take on people involves not what they have said, but what they haven't. Who have you failed to mention this week, proving thereby that you don't give a damn about them? The list is literally endless.

3/11/2007 08:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...,,2031770,00.html

3/12/2007 01:14:00 AM  
Blogger AndyB said...

Of course, guilt by ommission never works the other way round, does it?

Try asking why HP doesn't discuss, say, the Latin American death squad connections of members of Team Bush.

Or take the other peice of rank hypocrisy practised by the decentrists. When you ask the HP-lot why they spend so much time attacking 'the Left', they tell you that it is imperative that they sort out 'their own'.

Funny that doesn't run to being an adequate justification for why the rest of the Left - i.e. the Left - demonstrates not against the Sudanese government, but the British (or American) government. Nor does it run to a decentrist dissection of pro-war, pro-intervention politics, invested with the same venom as their attacks on 'the Left'.

3/12/2007 01:38:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...


3/12/2007 08:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re. ejh's link - for a long time I didn't want to play the 'Links' game between Aaro, Blair and the neocons, because it seemed a cheap shot, as well as stooping to the level of the dumber pro-war elements. But given the way Nick was heading, and the publication of his book, and the new friends he's picked up along the way, and the lifts fronm the Harryettes... well, draw your own conclusions.

(If you want to read a good play about all this kind of thing in the Cold War era, try 'Maydays' by David Edgar. It even has a character who makes the same kind of political journey as Old Nick)

3/12/2007 10:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Odd that he has such a go at Brian Haw for opposing sanctions pre -2003.

In the somewhat incoherent piece below , Nick tried to say that sanctions were terrible , and the deaths under sanctions justified the war (a war in which, according to Nick, just 2,500 people died),,997339,00.html

3/12/2007 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Robin said...

Something that both Nick, and this post, seem to have missed is a caption accompanying the cartoon that may have upset Muslims. If Nick had a copy of this paper, why didn't he mention it?

I quote from an article on the Index on Censorship's website: "The Mohammed cartoon appeared on the back page, juxtaposed with a picture of Clare’s student president with the caption ‘One is a prophet of God, a great leader and an example to us all. The other is a violent paedophile.’"

This is of course a reference to Muhammed's alleged consummation of his marriages to Aisha while she was allegedly still a young child (well underage). I quote from Wikipedia's article "Aisa's age at marriage":

"There are several hadiths (said to have been narrated by Aisha herself) which state she was six or seven years old when she was married and nine years old when the marriage was consummated, but according to some authors there exists evidence implying that Aisha may have been anywhere from twelve to twenty-three years old when she married."

Judge for yourself.

I should also note, as a matter of historical fact, that even in Shakespeare's time, *Christian* attitudes to sex with under-18 girls were, er, somewhat laxer than they are today (Juliet was supposed to be about 12, if I recall). And let's not forget that the Catholic hierarchy tolerated child molesters in their ranks until a few years ago (that's assuming they really have stopped the coverups).

(Now I'm wondering if I'm going to be - fatuously - accused of being either "Islamophobic" by one side, or "pro-pedophilia" by the other.)

3/12/2007 02:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The age of consent in Hawaii was 14 until 2001; in Christian countries like Chile and Mexico it remains 12, lower than that in Iran.

3/12/2007 09:00:00 PM  

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