Why feminists don’t want you ’beach body ready‘

Beach Body Protest, May 2nd 2015, The Right Dishonourable

If there is one thing likely to rouse the Fleet Street paps to an event (besides, obviously, the promise of booze) it is a guarantee of what the pressman’s lexicon has as “totty”.

One therefore has to admire the cunning of those who decided to gather London’s feminists near Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park in nothing but their bikinis. That the assembled were there to protest the recent “Are you beach body ready?” advert, which they say places unfair expectations on women, was a neat irony, but feminism has rarely been shy about recruiting flesh to its cause in the past.

Though some 70,000 people signed a Change.org petition and several hundred complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – which has duly prohibited it with questions over health claims, offensiveness and social irresponsibility – almost all of the thousand who said they would attend the Hyde Park protest bottled it at the last minute, as the rain clouds hung over London’s sky.

Such was the mismatch between journalists and protestors that it was hard at times to tell who outnumbered whom, a fact that may not be reflected in the impending reports which will doubtless feature images of the shivering would-be swimmers, many of whom had scribbled across themselves in felt-tip pen.

Though many were offended by the adverts, the main complaint was that such imagery was hurting people. Karl, one of a dozen or so men who had turned out to protest, said that he had known someone who had suffered anorexia as a result of pressure to be slim, a problem that has been widely reported in secondary schools around the country.

His friend Agnieszka said that while she believed people should watch their weight and exercise, she herself did not find the image of the advert’s bikini-clad model Renee Somerfield attractive. “To be honest I don’t want to look like that. I want to be thin, I want to be healthy: but it’s too thin.”

Despite this there was a reluctance to ban the pictures outright. Carolina, a mother who had attended with her two adult daughters, said: “I think there’s always people who will side-step government regulations.” What she called for was a “community-driven” approach, the kind of campaigning that is much in vogue among feminists as they seek to deter what they see as bad behaviour without government involvement.

Beach Body Protest at Hyde Park, May 2nd 2015, The Right Dishonourable

Worthy censorship?

Few would dispute that one of the hazards of modern life is a troubled relationship with food. Data from the UK’s National Obesity Observatory showed that 62 percent of adults aged at least 16 were obese or overweight in 2013, with men 10 percent more likely to be so than women. In the year to October 2013 some 2,560 people were admitted to hospital with eating disorders, an 8 percent increase on the year prior, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre, a public stats body.

But some question whether it is wise to combat this problem with increased censorship of the media. Bernie Whelan, an occasional writer on the radical website Spiked, was one of the few who looked on the event with dismay. “It’s so insulting to women to say you can’t stand an advert,” she said.

Like many critics of modern feminism, she cites a growing “victim mentality” among the current crop of women’s rights activists, which has led many to support censorship as a means of improving society. “I suppose even in the 80s many feminists were censorious, but at least there were some feminists for free expression,” Whelan added with not a little regret.

Whether it is for good or ill, the influence of feminists in deciding what can or cannot be published is growing. Discussions over demographic representations in art, gendered toys for children and the alleged dangers of pornography are now the stuff of mainstream journalism, with even the folks at The Sun abandoning the decades old Page 3 feature. Perhaps the Mad Men will yet be tamed.

The great assessment of Christopher Hitchens’ life still has yet to be written

Christopher Hitchens, ATF Party 2005, Ari Armstrong

“Don’t be a fan. Never be a fan.”

For a man who loved to talk, Christopher Hitchens was often at his best when he had the least to say. Indeed, such is the pith of the journalist known as “The Hitch” that his best quotes were even sold as a standalone book – some boast in the age of Wikiquote.

He was also noted, in a time where the adjective “judgemental” is always pejorative, for his voracious capacity for hatred. Indeed his objections to fandom encompassed some of his greatest dislikes – vicarious living, a lack of critical judgement towards celebrity, and the creation of a flawless icon that could never be realistically emulated.

In a descriptivist turn of mind he also pointed out that “fan” was a shortening of “fanatic” – a frivolous point given the cheapening of the word over time. (Consider the difference between “fan” and “fanboy”.) But these twin criticisms, one a radical dissent from the consensus and the other a conservative affirmation of tradition, are emblematic of a man who foxed so many that tried to place him into a convenient box.

That in mind, there is something disappointing about the work of one , a politics student from the University of Texas who attempts to relay the story of The Hitch in an 80-minute documentary. Leaning heavily on Hitch 22, Hitchens’ own memoir, it whisks the viewer through the early and latter years of the man’s life via audio excerpts from the book and clips from his latter career as a TV pundit.

There are drawbacks to this reliance on Hitchens’ own construction of his life, which scrutinises his time in the British education system (ending at Balliol College in Oxford), his mother’s suicide during his 20s and the major arguments of his last decade over Iraq, religion, and his own demise: much of the formative middle years are missed.

Perhaps least accounted for is the move to the United States, which would lead to Hitchens dying as an Englishman in America, or perhaps as an American from England. One can find in old footage from the US broadcaster C-Span and the collections of journalism from the 80s and 90s an inchoate Hitchens that is key to understanding his move from soixante-huitard (one who took part in or in his case sympathised with French unrest of 1968) to a defender of liberal interventionism and Anglo-American capitalism more generally.

The documentary also fails to scrutinise Hitchens’ refutation of his conservative leanings. For a socialist he was certainly no man of the people, and celebrated his mother’s ambition for him to ascend to the upper classes with a glee that did not repudiate the idea. In latter years he often castigated the flimsiness of the Left (with justification), and his positions on abortion, gun control and an image-driven media had a whiff of pragmatism that is more natural territory of the Right.

The above is even more interesting given the contrast with the views of his brother Peter, whose absence from Hellesmark’s documentary and Hitchens’ own memoir leaves another area of the man’s life unjustly unexamined. Though the two are famous for differing on many counts (Peter left university an atheist socialist and is now a columnist for the reactionary Mail on Sunday), there is intriguing overlap in their thinking. Both, for instance, agreed the Iraq War was radical and opposition to it conservative.

The Hitch, though slickly edited, takes its subject’s word too much at face value. A journalist who would be the first to complain at a supine press would hardly want his own reputation unchallenged in death. The great assessment of his life has still to be written.

Image – Christopher Hitchens, ATF Party 2005, by Ari Armstrong

Tories claim to be ‘party of working people’ – no, really

Whilst prime minister David Cameron once described himself as the “heir to Blair” he is currently working harder at emulating another ex-PM rather closer to the hearts of the Tory faithful, according to folks at the Torygraph.

In Wiltshire tomorrow “DVD” Dave will unveil the Tory manifesto with the intent of emulating Margaret “Milk Snatcher” Thatcher’s infamous “right to buy” scheme, which many still link to the current housing crisis in London and other areas of the country.

The move, which will cover housing associations, will affect around 800,000 tenants living in such homes, with discounts of more than £100,000 in the capital.

Ushering in the policy, DVD Dave will say: “Conservatives have dreamed of building a property-owning democracy for generations, and today I can tell you what this generation of Conservatives is going to do.”

Alongside this wheeze the Tories will also promise to find £1bn down the back of the sofa to fund a 400,000-strong house building scheme on brownfield sites, a scheme almost certain to work given the stellar record of the coalition.

All this, and a pledge to exempt minimum wage workers from income tax, will be funded by ordering councils to sell off some more assets when they become empty, which the Tories claim will raise £4.5bn.

No doubt all that recouped tax will allow those on £6.50 an hour ample opportunity to take out a mortgage on a nice recycling bin in Mayfair…

Greens whack top earners with 60% tax

The Greens have announced plans to hit the highest earners with a 60 percent rate of tax, following a slew of tax reform proposals by the Tories and Labour.

Under the scheme those earning more than £150,000 a year would have to cough up 60p on every £1 over that sum, 15p more than the current top tax rate, which stands at 45 percent.

Commenting on the change Natalie Bennett, leader of the Greens, said: “For too long now the economy in this country has worked for those at the top, while failing everyone else.

“The 60p tax will raise money to fund crucial public services, contributing towards the reversal of the failed policy of austerity that is making the poor, the disadvantaged and the young pay for the greed and fraud of the bankers.”

The Greens claim this change will bring in some £2bn, and also “act as a disincentive to companies paying excessively high salaries”.

According to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), about one percent of income taxpayers currently pay the top rate of tax, accounting for almost 30 percent of the country’s income tax as of January 2014.

Since last year Labour has mooted plans to bring back the 50 percent rate of tax, originally introduced by Labour prime minister Gordon Brown in April 2010, just before the last general election.

Fiscal liberals have argued such a move would discourage high-earning individuals from moving to Britain, whilst their progressive opponents believe further taxes on high-earnings would more fairly share the burden of running public services.

Bennett said: “Only the Green Party are proposing radical changes which will redistribute wealth within our economy and encourage companies to reduce the gap between their highest- and lowest-earners.”

The Greens’ move follows Labour’s plan to revoke the non-domicile or non-dom tax status, which allows those living in Britain to avoid paying tax on foreign earnings, as well as the Tories’ plan to raise the threshold at which inheritance tax is paid on homes to £1m.

Stalemate endures as election enters final month

Westminster Palaces 101 - The Right Dishonourable

The last few months of electioneering have been disappointing for political hacks. Ahead of the national poll on May 7th the parties endured a steady stalemate. Labour and the Tories tussle over a third of the popular vote apiece, whilst the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Ukip fight over the remnants, their shares fairly constant.

YouGov April 11 General Election poll

As Private Eye has pointed out, this has led to any number of headlines from Fleet Street proclaiming how unpredictable this election is. When translated into seats Labour and the Tories have been on target to collect 280 each, whilst the Lib Dems are reduced to around 25 and the Greens and Ukip pick up a handful between them.

Far north of Westminster the Scottish National Party (SNP) has flourished since it failed to secure the country’s independence in the referendum last September. It is now on course to trounce Labour and the Lib Dems in May throughout Scotland, increasing its MPs from six in 2010 to between 40 and more than 50, depending on who you ask.

Political polls always contain a margin of error that tends not to make it in the papers’ reports (three to four percent per party, according to YouGov’s Peter Kellner), but this time round the uncertainty has dominated coverage. The key question is whether Tories or Labour will have the 326 seats necessary to secure a majority (or 323 in practice, given Sinn Fein’s five MPs refuse to sit in the Commons).

But even if the swing towards the fringes has made this general election more interesting, it has not made it quite as unpredictable as advertised. Most papers have been predicting a hung parliament for some time, and that is almost certainly what we will get. What is harder to charter is how negotiations will pan out between the contenders, but there are some things we can safely say.

First, the SNP will not work with the Tories. As early as August its leader Nicola Sturgeon told a party’s annual conference that: “The SNP will never put the Tories into government.” She has also said she would consider working with Labour, whose leader Ed Miliband has ruled out a coalition but not a looser deal.

Combined with Lib Dem support this gives Miliband a better hand than his Tory counterpart. Whilst incumbent prime minister David Cameron could potentially reform the Condem coalition he might have to rope in support from Northern Ireland to inch a majority, which in turn would be highly unstable.

Because of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act even if no party can govern effectively the parliament will stagger on unless two-thirds of the house vote to dissolve it. Though this is a more democratic method of scheduling elections (previously the prerogative of the prime minister), if more than a third of MPs stand risk losing their seat they are unlikely to vote for early dissolution, even in a zombie parliament.

Just such a parliament is a likely outcome after May. Though the Right Dishonourable predicted this could lead to a constitutional crisis, it is in the British character not to make a fuss. Without the fixed-terms a minority or weak coalition might have governed for a short time before returning to the polls, but with it Westminster could stand impotent for years.

Hey, if it’s good enough for US Congress…