Monthly Archives: April 2009

One pig flu over the cuckoo’s nest

We are officially now in the grip of a new panic. Quite how justified all this screaming and shouting about swine influenza is remains to be seen, but there is certainly a lot of secondary nonsense starting to form.

My favourite thus far is the Israel government’s insistence that it should be renamed “Mexican flu” on the basis that pigs are not kosher. Are we to infer from that that eating Mexicans is Okay?

I’ve written about this strange mutation of Jewish (and Islamic) dietary law into a perverted list of “animals which must not be mentioned” before. A couple of years ago there was the bizarre attempt to replace the Three Little Pigs with dogs in a school play (the council apparently “stepped in” and insisted the heroes were porcine). My favourite remains the finger wagging Labour got in 2005 for portraying Michael Howard and Oliver Letwin as “flying pigs” by, erm, the Ham and High (the local paper for a sizeable proportion of North London jews). None of this seems to have anything to do with religion and everything to do with people (either religious people themselves or silly people claiming to speak on their behalf) going out of their way to find offence in nothing. And it seems to be getting worse. I am quite certain that if Leon the Pig Farmer were made today, a combination of the media and a small bunch of hopping idiots would have lead to it being branded as anti-semitic. The idea that religious people have an inalienable right to not be offended is still only believed by a minority of people, but that minority seems to be growing, getting louder and become increasingly irrational.

There is absolutely no connection between pigs and Judaism (they aren’t actually mentioned in the Torah) except in the mind of someone who can’t get over the fact that the latter don’t eat the former despite the deliciousness that is bacon. It is no more offensive to Jews to talk about pigs as it would be to talk about rabbits or elephants (or indeed pretty much any animal which Jews can’t eat – i.e. most of them). Yet strangely, people like Yakov Litzman seem to now be making the connection themselves. Ultimately, the only thing that all this hypersensitivity seems to achieve is to give true anti-semites another stick to beat Jews with.

Go back a hundred years ago, and the images of choice for anti-semites were spiders and octopi. We were meant to associate Jews with alien, many tentacled creatures spinning webs of deceit. Portraying them as cute, wuddly piggy-wiggies – at least as far as I am aware – simply didn’t come into it. Yet start shouting foul every time a pig appears in popular culture, and you can bet the BNP et al will leap at every opportunity to goad.

Why on Earth would you want to arm your true enemies like that? And why on Earth would you want to muddy the water between your true enemies and your friends in this way? It is a perverse form of madness.

Addendum: I have to admit to being entertained by this related web page which I came across (I was going to make a gag about man flu, but the Mexican joke was better), for two reasons. Firstly, it seems unaware of the commandment against murder, which one would have thought prohibits most opportunities for cannibalism straight away. Secondly, Leviticus does in fact prohibit man from eating any animal from eating any animal which doesn’t have cloven hooves or chew cud but pointing that out would mean admitting that humans are animals and that most Christians ignore the Bible when it comes to dietary laws in the first place. And I love the conclusion that cannibalism is okay so long as there’s nothing else on the menu. Who writes these things?

Addendum 2: I’m a little uncomfortable, by the way, at this talk of equating references to usury with disguised anti-semitism. Usury has a lot to answer for – and is explicitly prohibited by the Torah. The only reason we historically find jews specialising in banking is that is one of the few professions Europeans allowed them to perform back in the day when the church actually enforced those particular laws. I don’t doubt that the BNP do use it in a coded way, but I hope that won’t be used as an excuse to stifle debate about economic reform.

Balls, dirty tricks and candidate selection

The revelations in the Sunday Times this weekend about Ed Balls being the secret puppetmaster behind “smeargate” seem a little thin to me, but they do remind me of an incident a few years ago.

Long time readers may recall my ill-fated campaign to get Ed Balls a sex change operation so that he could stand in an all-women-shortlist having had his seat abolished by the Boundary Commission. In the event, he didn’t need one after Colin Challen decided to stand down and leave the newly created constituency of Morley and Outwood open for Balls to take (conveniently enough, no all woman shortlist was imposed of course).

What I reported at the time, from a good source close to Challen, was that he had jumped after a dirty tricks campaign had been launched to discredit him. The most high profile example of that campaign was the secret briefing that had gone on to make a bicycle accident he had been involved in look like an attention-seeking exercise.

I found the failure of the mainstream media (and, it has to be said, Guido), to join the dots and ask pretty basic questions about all this remarkable at the time. If it had been challenged, Balls could have had to struggle to find another safe seat (especially one so close to his wife’s). With Damian McBride now exposed, this is a possible avenue that journalists might want to explore further.

Candidate selection seems to be a particularly murky business in the Labour Party. The Guardian carried a very anti-Georgina Gould story yesterday, alleging that Margaret McDonough’s PR agency bbm communications helped run her selection campaign and co-ordinated a dodgy postal vote strategy. But the other side of the story – specifically that Charlie Whelan was running Rachael Maskell’s campaign in a similar manner – seems equally unsavoury. And as Alice Mahon has been keen to emphasise, this is not an isolated incident.

The overall picture is of a party utterly dominated by a self-serving elite (or, more precisely, a number of interconnected self-serving elites and dynastic families). I suspect it will require at least a couple of Parliaments in opposition for them to start to sort themselves out and become something resembling a proper party again.

Why Clegg needs to kick the donor habit

Despite the Observer’s best efforts, it is hard to see what the Lib Dems have actually done wrong here. Indeed, given how high minded the “serious” press are being about smears at the moment, it is surprising to see an article so riddled with innuendo. So let’s clear a few points up.

Firstly, there is no issue here of a donor buying policy; quite the opposite. There is an argument that the party should not accept further donations from Sudhir Choudhrie unless he is cleared of any wrong doing, but that is another matter.

Secondly £95,000 is not, in party funding terms, that much money. Rajeev Syal and Oliver Laughland implicitly acknowledge this by trying to attract your attention with the much bigger £475,000 figure donated by “relatives’ companies” but we aren’t talking about his wife here but companies his son and nephew run. The former, Alpha Healthcare, has been donating to the party far longer (and is the subject of some other news reports). There is no suggestion that this money has in any way come from Sudhir Choudhrie himself. And if you’re going to bring nephews into it, where do you stop? Third cousins?

But there is a lesson here for Clegg that he would do well to heed. Politics and money are a toxic mix. Even when nobody can be said to have done anything wrong, too often it leads to the wrong sort of headlines. And one thing the Lib Dems can’t afford to be seen as, as they creep up the polls (and I have to admit I’m relatively optimistic about how we might do in the next general election), is just another part of the shameless political class.

Clegg has done himself a lot of good in coming out for stringent reform of MPs’ expenses (it happens that I disgree with him on some of the detail, but it is far reaching nonetheless). He has also made great play out of demanding a cap on donations of £25,000 (half the Tories half-hearted call for £50,000 which they failed to follow up with actual votes when the Political Parties and Elections Bill went through the Commons earlier this year). With the economic climate and public mood such as it is, I think now is the perfect time for him to go one step further. He should impose a cap on the party, regardless of what the law says, and call on the other parties to do the same.

At what point that cap should be should be considered. In an ideal world, he might consider self-imposing his own £25,000-per-year cap, but given the other parties are unlikely to play ball, at least in the short term, that might be going a little too far. But what about £25,000-per-quarter? It would be simpler to administer than an annual cap and would go some way to matching the rhetoric with action while not leaving the party at a massive competitive disadvantage.

And how would it affect the party in real terms? Well, for the most part, even our large donations are in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands (and even millions). In 2008, only two companies donated more than £100,000 – the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd. and Marcus Evans Ltd. (a non-cash donation). So in reality we would lose very little.

What we would gain is some degree of immunisation from this sort of story – and complete immunisation from things like the Michael Brown scandal. We would also be seen to be practicing what we preach – something we aren’t seen to be doing nearly often enough. In the longer term, I suspect that will be worth far more than a couple of hundred thousand pounds.