THE CONCERN OF the enlightened for the great unwashed is always touching. Not long ago we had Jonathan Miller, author, actor, opera-director, famous socialist and all-round talented bloke, announcing his shame and pain at having to contribute to the private education of his grandchildren. It was not stumping up the cash that pained him but the fact that he was supporting a system of education he found “malignant” because it separated those who could afford it from those that couldn’t. Unfortunately his son was the one who had found out that the malignancy was as much present in the state school he was sent to as in the private one his father attended. He described his experiences as a “wholly avoidable disaster”.
Likewise two of the left’s young stars-on-the-make, Laurie Penny and Owen Jones, are constantly at the journalistic barricades, fighting the cause of our downtrodden proles. Jones is the self-appointed defender of chavs, the demonised working class (though I shouldn’t think he has much sympathy for the demonised working class when they’re white and worried about immigration). He’s also found time to take in the multitudinous victims of Britain’s imperial past, thereby ticking a number of progressively-correct boxes: colonialism in general; British colonialism specifically; class discrimination; capitalism; and racism (you could probably chuck in a bit of sexism as well).
Writing like a novelist manqué (surely it’s only time before her first politically-engaged oeuvre?) Laurie Penny portrays herself as the champion of the young and disadvantaged. She just loved hanging out with the Occupy brigade, who were going to change the world so much, and the students revolting against tuition fees. She was keen to strike a blow against the patriarchy in the sex grooming cases by laying the blame on male sexuality in general while dismissing culture and religion as relevant factors. Multicultural male chauvinism, as it were.
Miss Penny has a little girl voice which I find almost as irritating as her tediously orthodox views. It betokens a passive-aggressive stance: “I can call you every -ist under the sun because you’re a nasty person with the wrong views but if you shout at me I’ll cry and then everyone will see you’re a bully because I’m just a little girl.” She tried that on with David Starkey at a public meeting when she accused him of being a racist but got called out on it by a member of the audience – a woman.
As for another political voice – Obama’s when he’s doing his great orator performance – that provokes an increasingly physical reaction in me. What passes for content is vapid rhetoric straight off the teleprompter, of course, but the manner of delivery is a sublimely repugnant mix of arrogance, smugness and contempt I can’t believe any intelligent person is taken in by any more. One of the most embarrassing speeches of his that has come to light is one he made before his election to a meeting of black ministers. In it he puts on a patronisingly fake “black” accent, not overdone to the point of comedic pastiche but sufficient to be noticeably inauthentic. It’s on a par with David Cameron pretending he’d eaten a pasty at Leeds station.
While I’m on about the voices of political figures I ought to mention that of Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister of Australia. She delivered a coruscating put-down of the leader of the opposition, accusing him of sexism and misogyny. Generally I find Australian accents pleasant, but hers I find inexplicably rebarbative. Nevertheless I managed to listen to her evisceration of Mr Abbott all the way through. It’s fun, but it is, clearly, a performance of glittering hypocrisy. It has to be, it’s by a politician, and a Labour one at that. But it’s also an exercise in one of the most egregious of contemporary public vices: the righteous taking of offence. Gillard is offended. She says so repeatedly. She even goes so far as to be offended on behalf of all Australian women, which is some undertaking and a bit presumptuous.
That’s the way of things these days: I’m offended so you should shut up; I’m offended because you’ve offended someone else who belongs to one of my victim groups, therefore you should shut up, etc., etc. Well, now Australian women have their Christ in Julia and she can bear all the slings and arrows of outrageous sexism for them. And feel mightily righteous in the process.
We’re so lucky to have these all selfless souls willing to voice their moral enlightenment to lead us out of our darkness. Aren’t we?