Britain Has Feelings Too

We British are renowned for our politeness. We doff our caps to strangers, we wait for others to get on the tube before we get off and we drink endless cups of tea, sometimes with our little fingers raised. We may grumble through hard times but only very quietly. We complain but never loudly or crassly. We are a proud folk for in the face of a crisis we always keep calm and carry on. We have the stiffest of upper lips and save our tears for the Queen’s birthday. We don’t like public displays of emotion but we will smile at strangers, although we’ll never grin or laugh out loud in front of them. We are essentially a polite race. But something happened last Friday, Britain changed and that facade of politeness fell as our feelings were unleashed.

And it turns out that British people do have emotions after all. People have been in tears and in despair over the call for Brexit (still not a reality – it’s not legally binding and Parliament have made no decisions, time for Breentry): many are sad about the future they see being dismantled, many are sad about the past they see being ignored and many are sad about the volatile present that we’re living through. Others are in fear and pain as they experience the fists, insults and petrol bombs of racial abuse and violence. Many are angry for many different reasons: because they think the majority of people are idiots, because they think it’s time immigrants went home, because they think they’ve been lied to by the press and the establishment. Even the people of power are expressing emotions: David Cameron shed a tear which may even have been genuine (maybe he realised the enormity of the mistake he made) whilst Boris Johnson has gone quiet, which is most unlike him.

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So, yes, British people do have emotions after all – some inspiring and some scary – and over the past few days we’ve been expressing them over and over again. This has been a long time coming – keeping calm and carrying on, grumbling under our breath and being oh so polite are just ways of suppressing our feelings without ever having to address them. But you can’t hide emotions forever. Yet there are ways to vent anger and ways to direct frustration which don’t have to destroy and denigrate and there are ways to express sadness and grief that don’t have to lead to despair, yet we are a vastly emotionally unintelligent country because we’ve never been given the education for it. We have a lot to learn in a very short space of time but perhaps what is happening now is a sharp wake up call: our feelings are powerful, dangerous and transformative. We must acquaint ourselves with them and use them as a force for good.

Befriending Brexiters

I walked out of Dalston Kingsland overground station on Saturday into a brief spell of sun. Blinking back the glare the first thing I saw was a friendly looking young white man with floppy brown hair offering me a big smile and a red pamphlet reading LEAVE. Yup, a Brexiter, one of those terribly charming and polite people who wants Britain to leave the EU and ‘go it alone’. Here was my moment, I thought, my chance to engage with the ‘enemy’ and convert him to the Remain cause.

We offered one another friendly hellos and I asked him how he was doing. It transpired he was doing well. I thought I’d meet his friendliness with the like and I said that I’d love to hear more about his argument. He told me that his main reason for supporting Leave was financial, he believed we would have a stronger trading position if we left. I nodded and then mentioned Ngaire Woods, the Founding Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government and Professor of Global Economic Governance at the University of Oxford, and what she had said about Britain’s trading position being weaker outside of the EU (see video). He said he hadn’t heard of her.

We carried on in this amicable style for a while as he said one thing, I said something else, then he offered more, and so on and so on until I realised I didn’t stand much of a chance. Not only did I not have enough facts at hand it seemed that for every one I did he had a counter argument. I figured that the likelihood of me convincing him to change his view was low given my limited information and the fact that he was on the street on a Saturday afternoon handing out Leave leaflets – he must be quite committed to the cause.

Instead I told him that I feared leaving the EU would legitimise and worsen the rising levels of violence in the country, violence that stems from extreme, right-wing views about who does and does not deserve freedom from violence. I mentioned the tragic death of Jo Cox at the hands of a man who shouted ‘Britain First’ as he attacked her. I mentioned the rise of the neo-Nazis throughout Europe and how some pro-Brexit people I had spoken to expressed overtly racist views. He looked a little concerned and assured me he wasn’t racist. I believed him. Then his colleague came over carrying yet more LEAVE leaflets and he introduced me to her. We offered one another polite hellos. I told them I had to go, I had a conference to get to, but I said that whilst I would still vote to Remain, whatever the result, it was all of our responsibility to stand up to racism, discrimination and violence. We would have to put aside our political differences (he told me had previously voted for the Lib Dems and later the Tories) and work hard to ensure equality and peace were prioritisied in our country. They both nodded emphatically and as I walked away I heard him say to his colleague that I was “one of the better ones”.

So what had I achieved? Not a lot as I’m sure most of you would observe and you’re right, I hadn’t made them change their minds but maybe I had made them think twice. The task ahead for all of us – peace in our time and peace on earth – is something that transcends political persuasion and that we can all be a part of. And maybe in that brief conversation whilst I hadn’t got them to about turn I might have surprised them, if I was one of the ‘better ones’ I wonder what some of the other Remainers were life. The Referendum, like so much of party politics, is designed to fracture and split but we have to challenge this, we’re humans before we’re Tory, Green or Labour. And if dark times are ahead, which they certainly are, then we’re going to need to make a lot of new friends.

Why Are The Nazis Still Here?

On 1st May in Borlänge, central Sweden, Tess Asplund walked out into the middle of the road with her fist raised. There were 300 men walking towards her. They were the Nordic Resistance Movement – a group of racist, anti-semitic neo-nazis. “It was an impulse,” Asplund said, “I was so angry, I just went out into the street. I was thinking: hell no, they can’t march here! I had this adrenaline. No Nazi is going to march here, it’s not okay.” The photograph of Asplund has gone viral and she has received a lot of praise for it as well as a lot of hate (full Guardian article here). I find what Asplund did hugely inspirational but it saddens me that she needed to. I just can’t understand why, in the year 2016, the Nazis still exist.

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The last time we saw the Nazis rise to power was in 1930s Germany. The Wall Street Crash happened in 1929 and the Great Depression ensued. The Weimar Republic (in Germany) slipped from prosperity into poverty as inflation rose drastically and living conditions plummeted. So fertile ground was created for hostility, anger and rage. Hitler and his party used the worsening economic climate to fuel hatred. They scapegoated Jews and other groups, and blamed them for Germany’s woes. We know the rest of the story. It is violent and tragic. And the legacy lives on. There are still far too many Nazis (and other far-right groups) who feel they can gain identity and meaning through hatred and violence. Following the financial crash of 2008, the ensuing recession, imposed austerity, we see living conditions worsen and the social fabric start to fray. Again, the Nazis are using this as an excuse to scapegoat others whilst purposefully ignoring the wider economic problem.

Capitalism is predicated on growth and speculation. As a market grows (say the housing market) so it gets speculated upon and a bubble grows. During this ‘boom’ time governments can spend more on public services and people have more cash in their pockets. However, markets can’t grow forever and eventually bubbles burst. During the ensuing ‘bust’ period cuts are made, austerity imposed and people’s ready cash starts to vanish. The system is unsustainable and no resilient society can be expected to thrive in the long-term on such shakey foundations. However, politicians and various political groups cynically use these worsening conditions not to critique the larger economic system but to garner more political power. They play on people’s prejudices and pretend that a certain group is the problem. This group, they argue, needs to face hostility and violence and then our problems will go away.

But it’s not true and we all know it, even the neo-nazis. We all crave meaning and purpose and it’s a very mad world in which people find that meaning and purpose in violence. Yet these narratives of hate can be challenged. Not only do these narratives lack economic and political validity they also, clearly, lack compassion. Yet the action of Tess Asplund, whilst full of anger as she says, was also full of compassion and hope – hope for a better world that does not tolerate violence. Hope for a world where democracy does not mean pandering to groups who wish for murder and genocide but empowering groups who call for justice and love. Asplund had no idea the video of her protest would go viral. She acted purely in the spur of the moment and has been hugely surprised at what has happened since. She doesn’t claim to be a hero and wasn’t trying to be, she was just standing up for what she thinks is right. We can all do this. However big or small our actions count. Resisting hate is totally worth it.

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“The lady with the bag” taken by the photographer Hans Runesson in Sweden in 1985. She’s hitting a member of the neo-nazi Nordic Reich party.

I will leave you with an extended quote from the German economist Silvio Gessell. He wrote the below in 1918 after WW1 yet its relevance still applies. “In spite of the holy promise of people to banish war once and for all, in spite of the cry of millions “never again war” in spite of all the hopes for a better future I have this to say: If the present monetary system based on interest and compound interest remains in operation, I dare to predict today that it will take less than twenty-five years until we have a new and even worse war. I can foresee the coming development clearly. The present degree of technological advancement will quickly result in a record performance of industry. The build up of capital will be fast in spite of the enormous losses during the war, and through the oversupply [of money] the interest rate will be lowered [until the money speculators refuse to lower their rates any further]. Money will then be hoarded [causing predictable deflation], economic activities will diminish, and increasing numbers of unemployed persons will roam the streets…within these discontented masses, wild, revolutionary ideas will arise and with it also the poisonous plant called “Super Nationalism” will proliferate. No country will understand the other, and the end can only be war again.”

Miss Peregine’s Home For Peculiarly White Children

Lots of exciting new films on the way – the new X-Men, which will no doubt be a re-hash of the old ones but with better graphics, the Harry Potter cash cow is being milked again, and soon(ish) Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The trailer really is quite magical:

What’s not to love? Adorable children with exciting powers – invisibility, mouth-in-back-of-head, being twins. Two young leads who look vaguely like they can act. And, the redeeming feature of Casino Royale (until they killed her), Eva Green. But then I noticed something peculiar about Miss Peregine’s home for peculiar children, they’re all white. Now, unless the trailer is holding back a whole group of diversely coloured peculiar children who will get substantial roles in which they talk to each other, actually do things and have rounded characters, then I’m pretty sure this is going to be another all-white magic film for kids.

“But you can’t cast people of colour in this film,” cry the critics, “It would be historically inaccurate, political correctness gone mad and, worse still, actually rewriting history.” After all Miss P’s home seems to inhabit some odd, vaguely Victorian era, and we all know that only white people existed until some time around the 1940s. It seems that in Miss P’s world children can float, project films from their eyes and breathe underwater, that’s fine, but they can’t actually have a skin colour that isn’t white. Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson is in the film as, what looks like, the chief villain. So, hurrah, a person of colour. But, boo, they’re the villain.

Wait a sec, what’s wrong with a character of colour being the main baddy? Nothing. Of course characters of colour can have any role in a story – hero, villain, lover, victim, sidekick, mentor. But there are so many characters in Miss P, meaning there have been an equal number of missed opportunities to cast diverse actors. Embed this in the larger context of ongoing racism within Hollywood and the film industry in general, and it really is high time that mainstream cinema normalised diversity. Ah well, at least we’ve got Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them to look forward to – that’s got a really diverse cast…doesn’t it? Or maybe X-Men will…maybe?

“People Did Things Differently Then…”

The journalist Catherine Shoard recently wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian in which she bemoans two things: 1) that our addiction to the digital world (social media, constant news, google etc) undermines our creativity, 2) that because we have become less creative we expect films to be more like our own lives and the contexts within which we live. Two interesting views worth exploring, unfortunately though, Shoard uses points 1) and 2) to back up a completely different and unrelated opinion: that it’s ok if women and people of colour are under-represented in films. What!?

The Bechdel Test and the Latif Test are two means of testing whether a film pays even a token nod towards inclusivity and diversity. The former concerns the representation of women on-screen and the latter people of colour. As Shoard points out five of the eight best-picture Oscar nominees for 2016 fail the Latif test. This isn’t good. Yet, Shoard argues, “sometimes to fail is more dignified than to triumph.” Following this useless aphorism she points out that three of the films are period pieces and the main action concerned did not really involve anyone but white men, so people should quit their whining. However, having just complained about modern audiences expecting films to be closer to real life because we all, apparently, lack imagination, she’s now defending movies that stick closer to the facts. This is what is known as a contradiction.

Shoard argues we shouldn’t try to rewrite history (another aphorism I’m getting very bored of) by adding women and people of colour into films about historical events that didn’t involve women and people of colour. If a bunch of white men did something amazing fifty or a hundred years ago then only a bunch of white, male actors should play those roles. She says we’re being overly sensitive if we expect the past not to insult the present yet she also acknowledges that this very same past has been invariably “cruel, unfair and imperialist.” It seems almost as if Shoard is trying to justify cinema’s reflection and repetition of this cruelty, unfairness and imperialism given that “people did things differently then” (trite aphorism number 3). Unfortunately, Shoard seems to be forgetting that ‘then’ – aka the past – wasn’t just populated by white men. In fact, I think there’s much evidence to suggest that women and people of colour existed in the past. And I imagine if they existed then they did things as well and I’m sure many of those things were great. Do you see where I’m going here?

We need more films like 12 Years A Slave, Suffragette, Pride, Made In Dagenham and The Danish Girl. Sure, all these films have their problems (e.g. apparently Emmeline Pankhurst was a notorious racist yet Suffragette glossed over all of this, including the contributions of women of colour to the suffrage movement) which is why we need more like them but better. We need more films that shine spotlights on new bits of history that haven’t been turned into films yet. This doesn’t mean rewriting history so as not to offend people it means highlighting the history that was never written about because history was so often documented by a bunch of supremacist bigots.

Shoard throws some more musings into the mix: that people like bungee jumping; that we’re addicted to social media;  that we like reading the news; that despite reading the news which is often about other people we struggle to relate to issues that aren’t about ourselves; that for some reason the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite signals the end of history (that’s at least the third time history has ended if we include the warnings of Fukuyama and the Mayans); we’re not very good at processing fiction – even though the majority of her article is about historical dramas (which are meant to be factual). In essence, this is a confused and quite boring article that poorly hides a justification of the white, male status quo. We’ve already got enough justifications of this we don’t need anymore.

Shoard’s final complaint is that modern audiences “just have to keep it real” but having read the article it’s hard to know what her definition of real is – is it the supposed ‘realness’ of a history written by the victors and conquistadors, is it the reality of sexism and racism still present in Hollywood, or is it the sort of real that demands we explore history’s little-written of stories helping to redress today’s maintained prejudices? I’m not sure Shoard would know the answer nor would it appear does Hollywood (see video below) but we’ll get there one Bechdel and Latif test-passing film at a time.

You Can’t Stop The Beat Of Equality

Fascists painting swastikas in blood on the sides of buses during an anti-refugee march in Dover. Rich Oxford University alumni threatening to write Oriel College out of their wills if the college removes a statue of the racist Cecil Rhodes. Mega-corporations getting away with avoiding paying billions of pounds worth of tax during a time of austerity and increasing inequality. Sometimes, maybe always, it seems like the world is going to pot and that the bad guys really will win. And whilst I don’t think equality and justice are guarantors but are contracts in need of endless renewal, in the same way the social fabric is a patchwork in need of constant darning, I do know that despite all the hatred out there it is so much easier being nice. Plus, nice people get a better soundtrack.

Bigotry is hard work. As the Red Queen boasts to Alice that she can believe six impossible things before breakfast so too must bigots juggle all sorts of contradictions and paradoxes in order to justify their narrow-mindedness. For example, one of the fascists who marched in Dover yesterday has to believe that certain groups of people are inferior whilst demanding that they themselves, and the people they care about, are superior. It tends to be one rule for them and one rule for me (and my family). A fascist also has to believe that our economic problems can be blamed on migrants and refugees, meaning they get to scapegoat the vulnerable whilst not bothering to question the economic and political realities that keeps a constant stream of wealth and power flowing to the elite minority at the expense of the majority (a majority that they are part of!). On the other hand, it’s much easier for a nice person who realises that nothing makes anyone inherently better or worse than anyone else and so doesn’t need to expend lots of energy discriminating against certain groups. They can also google around the issues of inequality rather than just accept what the newspapers tell them. At the end of the day (and at the start of it) love is a much more sustainable energy source than hate.

And nice people get a much better soundtrack. Take You Can’t Stop The Beat that ends the ace musical Hairspray (big spoilers by the way, equality wins). All the characters, even the baddies, shake their booty to a song that relishes the striving for so many forms of equality – between people of different races, skin colours and body shapes. “You can try to stop the paradise we’re dreaming of,” they sing, and of course (as Taylor Swift also told us) haterz gonna hate, because that’s what haters do. But “you can’t stop today as it comes speeding down the track,” sings Queen Latifah, “Child, yesterday is history and it’s never coming back.” And she’s right, today is zooming straight at us like a highspeed train and we get to choose whether it’s a train that runs people over or if it’s some awesome party train to which all are invited (rehabilitated fascists included). Because when it comes down to it hate and love are choices, and as difficult as we might find it to choose the latter, there’s still time to learn (trust me, it’ll be fun). And so concludes my blog about being nice – perhaps just an excuse to post this awesome song which does what this blog does anyway but too a far catchier tune (Spanish subtitles included).

The Museum Of Statues

You might have heard that Oriel College, Oxford, has come under a lot of scrutiny recently with regards whether or not its statue of Cecil Rhodes should be removed. Rhodes was a Victorian mining magnate who made lots of money from diamonds and the exploitation of labour, however, he did give some of his cash to Oxford University to set up a scholarship for international students. On one side are the students leading the Rhodes Must Fall campaign demanding that the statue be removed because Rhodes was a notorious racist and it’s pretty offensive having to walk past his effigy on a daily basis. Then there are the conservatives (for want of a better word) demanding that the statue stay because students these days are too easily offended and removing a statue is tantamount to erasing history. And there’s Oriel College staff – caught in the middle of it until a recent article revealed that a bunch of wealthy college alumni threatened to withdraw hundreds of thousands of pounds if the statue was removed. So, because money speaks louder than students (unless they’re very rich students) the statue will stay. I agree – I think the statue should stay – just not in Oriel College.

Different sides of the debate keep asking us to focus on the ‘bigger picture’ – be it the reputation of Oxford University, the literal whitewashing of history, historical legacies of racism and not forgetting the contemporary incidences of racism in a notoriously white university, brilliantly explained in this article. However, there’s another bit of the ‘bigger picture’ that I would humbly suggest we are missing – our obsession with statues. I mean seriously, they’re everywhere, whole buildings festooned in big blocks of stone carved into the likenesses of…well…mainly white men. White men who led us into war (Winston Churchill, Nelson), white men who got rich (Cecil Rhodes, George Peabody) and white men who fought dragons (St George). Sure, women get statues too – Queen Victoria and Elizabeth, two women who by the sheer accident of birth ended up ruling our country. There’s Justice and Britannia, not real women who existed and actually did things but personifications of moral sensibilities and countries. And Jane Austen gets some odd statue-plaster-thing outside her museum in Bath but then it’s not as if her novels were known for their diversity.

Nowadays we tend not to erect statues to random rich and belligerent men – it’s not as if Cameron and Blair are getting plinths any time soon (at least I hope not). But back in the day people loved it or at least the people who actually had the money and power to demand a statue be built in the middle of London or on an Oxford University college. And that’s because back in the day rich, white men were writing history – a history far too many of us take at face value when we decry that removing Cecil Rhodes’ statue is akin to rewriting history. No, it’s recognising that history tends to be some terrible, bigoted agenda written by the victors (aka supremacists) with whom we no longer want to associate ourselves.

So where should the statues go? Into the fifth or sixth empty home of some random rich person who would rather their house lie empty than house people in need of accommodation. So it can accommodate statues instead. They could all be lined up for people (well, overly sensitive people who get easily offended when people ask for old statues to be taken down) to look at and underneath each statue there would be a plaque that contexualises it according to the latest, historical findings. Thus, underneath Cecil Rhodes would appear, amongst other things, the word RACIST. And we don’t approve of racism anymore which is why we don’t need statues of racists lining our streets and educational institutions. And rather than faff about spending lots of money on new statues we can build affordable housing instead.

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The Museum of Statues (aka The Ashmolean)

Love (Is) Actually (For Rich White Men)

I sat down to watch Love Actually last night, one of my favourite Christmas movies – y’know, the one where Hugh Grant plays the bumbly prime minister, Colin Firth plays some bumbly writer, Keira Knightley smiles a lot and a whole host of other famous British actors don’t deviate from their usual type-castings. All wholesome, British fun. At least that’s what I used to think but since then I’ve read Judith Butler and generally become more aware of the gross inequality in this country and the many problems of patriarchy. So, this year, I saw Love Actually a little differently and came to realise that it’s basically about rich, white men getting what they want. Spoilers ensue.

For starters, three of the central relationships are about middle-aged men with power (i.e. with important jobs – Alan Rickman (aka Snape) plays the CEO of a charity, Hugh Grant the PM and Colin Firth a wealthy writer) who attract much younger, women of ‘lower status’ – Snape’s secretary, the PM’s Cockney, ‘salt-of-the-earth’ type maid (played by Martine McCutcheon) and Firth’s Portuguese cleaner. The women go out of their way to attract the men whilst the guys just bumble around getting what they want without even trying. As for woman of power in the film…well, there aren’t m/any. Sure, there are plenty of female secretaries, there’s a put-upon wife (played magnificently by Emma Thompson), there’s a dead wife, there’s a nasty, younger wife who cheats on her husband (boo, we’re not supposed to like her), and a blushing bride (Knightley) but there aren’t many inspiring roles for women in this film. Add to that the often abysmal script that many brilliant female actors are forced to speak – Snape’s secretary tempts him to cheat on his wife with her saying cringe-worthy things about “dark corners” as she spreads her legs. She’s also forced to wear devil horns to the office party as women are literally demonised in this film. At least Emma Thompson gets to speak up for herself at the end after a bit of Oscar-worthy acting to the tunes of Joni Mitchell (see below) but I still feel Snape’s apology isn’t sincere enough.

Then there are the people of colour in the film, or lack of them. We’ve got a black DJ (who’s a joke), a not particularly nice black secretary (who is also forced to serve Grant’s PM), a black best friend (who gets the odd token line and manages to defy the laws of physics by being in two places at once) and a black husband (who plays second fiddle to Keira Knightley and that random, white guy from Teachers who is secretly in love with her, cue that awful scene in which it takes Knightley’s character far too long to figure out the Teachers guy is some weirdo who fantasises about her a little too much). But is any substantial role given to a person of colour…no. As for trans and queer characters – well, Emma Thompson makes a joke about a Barbie doll that looks like a transvestite and a few people are asked if they’re gay but then quickly and vehemently deny it. So zero points on the queer front.

And then there’s Colin Frissell – a young, bumbly white guy who never has much luck with the ladies. Perhaps because he calls women he doesn’t know beautiful and is generally inappropriate in the way he talks with women. We’re supposed to like him and his goofy antics but really his attitudes and behaviour are dire. But then he flies off to America and ends up with not one but three (maybe even four) busty American women who, thanks to the stellar script, are complete idiots. So, if at first you don’t succeed lads, just keep going until women relent. Oh, and there’s that plot line about Bilbo Baggins doing nude scenes with Tracey of Gavin & Tracey fame and naturally we get to see her breasts a lot but do we get to see his penis as a bit of nudity parity…nope. I’ve always wondered what a hobbit penis would look like.

As for the other plot lines, there’s one about a father (Liam Neeson) and son which would have been better if Neeson got to shoot some people; a nice enough bromance between an aging, male rock star and his male manager; and quite a sad office romance between an American woman and some French male model. And after all that what’s the moral of this heartwarming Yuletide story – if you want to live in London and fall in love you basically have to be rich, white and male. Happy Christmas.

My favourite scene…Emma Thompson capturing the MAMMOTH emotional repression and inability to communicate of the upper middle classes perfectly. She thought he was going to get her a necklace but he gave that to the nasty, devil secretary instead. Just watch as she tries to hold back those tears and maintain a stiff upper lip in front of the kids!

Quentin Letts And The Right To Bigotry

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” said Evelyn Beatrice Hall, an English writer of the 19th and 20th centuries. It’s a nice summary of the principle of freedom of speech – i.e. we’re all free to say what we like and anything that curbs that freedom is a form of censorship and an abuse of our rights.

Well, I disapprove of what Quentin Letts had to say about the latest series of The Great British Bake Off, and whilst I’m probably not going to risk my life so he can repeat it I do wish to explain exactly why I disapprove in the hope that he’ll be less likely to say it again. To clarify, I am most certainly not advocating censorship, far from it, I think it better that the views of Letts are aired precisely so we can challenge them and in doing so maybe even inspire him to be a little less of a bigot.

He begins by describing the different contestants that have been chosen for the sixth series of Bake Off. He notes that one of them is Muslim and wears a headscarf, one is a house husband, another is a female vegan bodybuilder from Lithuania, one of the men has tattoos and wears a hat, one of them is Afro-Caribbean, there’s one on a gap year, at least one of the contestants lives in the north of England, there’s a British-Asian male and another man originally from the Philippines.

This might sound like an exciting and interesting group of people who we can look forward to getting to know as the series progresses but not for Letts. What he takes umbrage with is the very diversity that the contestants represent. He considers this part of a grand political conspiracy as perpetrated by the BBC, in his own (far too easily parodied) words: “a leaning to modernity, to fashion, to ‘the alternative’, the ‘different’, sometimes for reasons of group-think, sometimes out of a desire to jack up the ratings in the manner of a commercial TV station. It is in keeping with the creed of egalitarianism. It is deeply unconservative.” No doubt it’s political correctness gone mad, something he writes about in his book Bog Standard Britain as crushing “the individualism from our nation of once indignant eccentrics.”

Of course, Letts’ version of individualism (and conservatism) is of a particular hue: namely white. He makes it pretty clear that in his world it’s not Muslims or Lithuanians that bake but homosexual men or older, white, middle-aged women (“mum-next-doorish” types as he describes). As a white, middle class male Letts has the privilege of being one of the most represented groups in mainstream culture (and history in general), so it’s no surprise that he gets a bit uppity when suddenly there are fewer people like him appearing on his favourite television shows. He wants to see more “humdrum, plain-as-white-flour, Middle-English bumblers” (nice to see him appealing to the casual bigotry of equally insecure Middle-Englanders, that infamous squeezed middle beset upon by socialist loons, crafty immigrants and vicious feminists). His privilege is being undermined and whilst this is a good thing because it represents power being more equally distributed and an increase in equality all Letts wants to do is get angry. He expresses his anger (and deep set insecurity) by cracking racist, sexist, homophobic and Islamophobic jokes in his article, no doubt scoffing into his favourite suitably middle class and white supremacist breakfast cereal as he does so. For all his life Letts will have found positive discrimination working in his favour but because it’s so ingrained and commonplace he never will have questioned it, let alone give it a second thought. But now’s it not working in his favour he’s going to kick up a fuss.

“I just wish I didn’t feel, as I looked at the contestants yesterday, that I was being preached at – that the BBC’s social engineers were up to their transparently political tricks again.” Some unintentional comedy gold from Letts here who has just spent a whole article preaching bigotry and narrow-mindedness at us. He accuses the Beeb of having a political agenda whilst clearly forgetting that white, heteronormative, androcentric patriarchy fired at us on a daily basis is itself just drenched in politics. But it doesn’t suit Letts to acknowledge this so instead he’ll deride the “sinister” politics of the BBC, one that favours equality, diversity and representation – you know, those really sinister values. He’s scared these values depart so far from the mainstream “that they often fail to represent adequately that very mainstream” – but Letts doesn’t really care about these people, his article has shown such a lack of compassion that it’s hard to think he cares about anyone, no, he cares about himself and wants more men just like him on TV (he wont’ be happy until Mary Berry’s been replaced by Jeremy Clarkson and Sue Perkins has been ousted for someone overtly heterosexual, such as Katie Hopkins).

So no I don’t approve of what Letts has to say and whilst I won’t risk my life in defence of him saying it I still won’t call for its censorship. His argument is as floppy as a failed souffle and has the soggiest of soggy bottoms. Whilst the BBC’s sinister world of equality and diversity is just brimming with creamy Victoria sponges and rolling Swiss Rolls. He’ll figure it out one day – that a more equal and fair society works out better for everyone, even people like him, but in the meantime we’ll just have to tolerate the bitter aftertaste of his bigotry.

Quentin Letts with spaghetti (interestingly not a baked good)
Quentin Letts with spaghetti (interestingly not a baked good)