Daily Archives: September 27, 2011

Melanie Phillips on Winterval

About half an hour ago I sent Melanie Phillips an email regarding her repetition of the famous ‘Winterval’ myth on which I happen to think myself quite the expert – having traced the myth back to its origins in 1997 and written extensively on its development over the years since. Amusingly Melanie Phillips has been kind enough to get back to me already, and here is what she wrote:

Interesting that you think all those people, including Bishops of the Church of England who were so upset by Winterval, failed to understand what you alone apparently understood. In fact, it is plain that you have zero understanding of why this term caused such offence to so many people. Birmingham council’s protestations that Christmas remained at the heart of the Winterval celebrations were disingenuous and missed the point. ‘Christmas’ is a term that does not merely refer to Christmas Day but to the period around it. There was no need for the term Winterval at all — except as a way of not referring to the Christmas season, but instead to provide a neutral term which would enable other faith celebrations around that time to assume equal prominence. That was the objection which was clearly stated at the time by the Bishops and others: Winterval buried ‘Christmas’ and replaced it in the public mind. Your message is therefore as arrogant and ignorant as it is offensive.

Melanie

It’s a great answer, essentially stating that I am wrong because I couldn’t possibly have a better understanding than people such as ‘bishops’ and presumably all of the journalists happy to repeat the myth over the years. It’s a wonderful defence: the majority must be right. Although it must be said that such a defence hasn’t proved terribly reliable down the years given that at some point majority correctness (the Mail can feel free to use this) dictated that the earth was flat and the sun revolved around it until a few individuals pointed out that this wasn’t true. Truth is dictated by fact, Melanie, not sheer weight of believers.

No, I just miss the point and Birmingham council’s explanations were ‘disingenuous and [also] missed the point’ – even though such explanations were actually completely transparent (indeed they were baffled, a year after the first successful Winterval period, that anybody could possibly believe that they had done away with Christmas, given that they so clearly and unequivocally hadn’t). The council merely explained (repeatedly) that Winterval was a cynical marketing ploy to extend Christmas beyond the traditional Christmas season. Christmas, in all of its glory, was celebrated in Birmingham as normal which is why in 1997 and beyond not one person complained about it being ‘banned’ or marginalised in any way – as Melanie would know were she humble enough to read my essay which clearly explains this point.

Such a response would be amusing, were it not written by a supposedly ‘professional’ journalist.


In the interests of full disclosure, here is what I originally sent to her website:

Melanie, I noticed in your recent Daily Mail article that you again repeated the ‘Winterval’ myth – that councils have attempted to replace Christmas with ‘Winterval’. This myth has been debunked many times, indeed I have written an extensive essay on the subject which was covered by BBC Radio 4. As it appears you have somehow missed this can I point you in the direction of this essay so you can apologise to your readers for misleading them: http://www.thedisinformed.co.uk/2010/12/12/the-winterval-myth/

And I have now replied to her reply:

If you read the essay I think you’d realise that you are quite mistaken. Again, you really need to start engaging with facts, rather than just reverberating around your own blinkered mind.

Your dishonest attack on Rory Weal was a staggeringly embarrassing exercise in how underhand you have to become to even engage in an argument with a 16-year-old.

I’ve responded to you via my blog [ http://www.butireaditinthepaper.co.uk ], I prefer to keep such conversations public – as any writer should (although I notice you don’t believe that journalism or blogging is a two-way process, probably because it is easier to write your nonsense trapped in your own blissful bubble of ignorance).

I really think you should take a second look at some of the accusations you made about Rory Weal, because, thanks to your laziness (i.e. not bothering to look into his life situation before starting your rant), you got his situation horribly wrong and you look even more foolish than normal.

UPDATE:

Melanie Phillips has responded to me this morning:

Your blog post about me is highly defamatory and contains false allegations for which you would stand to pay me significant damages in a libel action. There are many things I could say to point out the gross misrepresentations, selective reporting and twisted distortions in what you have written. I will not do so, however, because you have shown gross abuse of trust in publishing on your blog private correspondence from me without my permission. Consequently I will have no more to do with you and any further messages from you will be electronically binned unread along with other nuisance mail.

I politely tried to engage with Melanie Phillips over a factual matter and she responded with arrogant abuse. I published her response to me because I thought it was important to demonstrate how Melanie deals with any polite, factual criticism of her writing. If she writes in public, she should stand by it in public, if she emails a reader prepared to engage with her she should not say anything she wouldn’t be happy for others to read. It is that simple as far as I am concerned.

As for her claims that I would have to pay her ‘significant damages in a libel action’ should she wish to pursue it, I invite any lawyers who read this blog to post an honest appraisal of my article on Rory Weal and Melanie Phillips to see if I am indeed guilty of libel or defamation – or indeed ‘false allegations’ or ‘twisted distortions’. Her article is free for anyone to read, as is mine so people can make their own minds up.

Just remember this little email exchange the next time Melanie Phillips complains that the ‘liberal elite’ are guilty of shutting down debate or existing in their own little bubble.

EU does not plan to enforce 20mph speed limit

The Mail wesbite today printed the following headline: ‘EU plans to enforce 20mph speed limits in residential zones and replace Highway Code with European laws sparks outrage’. Then, in their article – which is full of the normal enraged quotes from the standard frothing Tory rent-a-gobs – they clearly state that:

today’s proposal is only an ‘own initiative’ report and unlikely to see the light of legislative day

There are only two comments so far, but both are very interesting:

There are no “plans to enforce a mandatory 20mph speed limit”. What this non-legislative resolution said was that “Parliament strongly recommends a 30 km/h (19 mph) speed limit in residential areas and on all single-lane roads without cycle tracks.” And clearly this would be set at 20mph and not 18.64mph. Since when has a strong recomendation constituted “dictatorship”? This recomendation copies what the DfT recommended in December 2009, so is hardly revolutionary stuff. Already local authorities in the UK with a combined population of 6.8m have adopted a policy of a 20mph limit for all residential streets with appropriate exceptions. A sensible rcommendation for a sensible way to share the public space between our houses that we call “streets”. Rod King – Campaign Director 20s’s Plenty for Us

And:

I wonder, if a single MP (as opposed to MEP) would suggest a silly law to limit speed to 20 mph, would your article’s title be “Britain plans to enforce 20 mph”? Silly laws get tabled in every parliament (including our own). Your anti-EU bias is making you do things which are beyond the realm of fair reporting.

This isn’t, I imagine, the response the Mail Online editor was hoping for.

Melanie Phillips’ dishonest attack on Rory Weal

One of the main criticisms of the welfare state I seem to hear about is that it rewards the idle, whilst punishing the hard-working who ultimately have to fund the system through direct and indeed indirect taxation. It is a point made by Ed Miliband in his speech today, in which he wants his new society in general to reward hard work and social responsibility whilst punishing the workshy and feckless. What most people do agree on is that the welfare state is a vital safety net for those that fall on hard times, in particular those that have contributed for years into that system.

Step forward the 16-year-old Rory Weal who gave a speech at the Labour Conference today. The Telegraph reports that:

the son of a company director, [Rory] had enjoyed a privileged upbringing before his parents split up following financial trouble in 2008.

He was a pupil at the independent Colfe’s School in Lee, south east London, but had to leave after his father’s City-based employment agency, Jonathan Weal Associates, went bust…

His family lived in a £500,000 home in Chislehurst, Kent, until it was repossessed and his mother Elaine, 43, an administrator at a cleaning company, separated from 53-year-old Mr Weal.

Rory Weal spoke of this experience today in his speech:

two and a half years ago the home I had lived in since birth was repossessed. We had nothing, no money, no savings. I owe my entire well-being and that of my family’s to the welfare state, that is why I joined the Labour party but that very same welfare state is being ruthlessly ripped apart by a vicious and right-wing Tory-led government.

I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that system, that safety net.

It is very clear, Rory Weal was living the life of a privileged young man, but he then experienced – along with the rest of his family – what it was like to lose everything, but to be saved by the safety net offered by the welfare state – a system his parents had obviously paid much into over the years. He has now realised the importance of such a system because he realises that any family, no matter how successful one minute, can find themselves at the mercy of what the government has (or indeed hasn’t)  in place for them in tough times. All very reasonable, irrespective of what your personal political view may be.

You might think.

Then in steps Melanie Phillips to tackle the temerity of this 16-year-old boy for daring to voice his opinion: ‘The Labour mantra of hate finds a new star in 16-year-old Weal’. Leaving aside Melanie’s need to tar anyone with an opposing view as a ‘zealot’ or full of ‘hate’, she goes on to take wildly out of context his words in order to make her case against him.

Let’s just repeat that, a seasoned journalist writing for the Daily Mail (which does have a genuine ‘mantra of hate’) not only feels the need to aggressively shout down a 16-year-old boy, but also has to use completely dishonest tactics to do so. Yet according to Phillips he is the posterboy of the ‘Labour mantra of hate’! Phillips’ writes:

Rory Weal was hailed as a hero for saying something that should have chilled the marrow. For he said:

‘I owe my entire well-being and that of my family to the welfare state.’

In the real world, what that means (if true) is that his entire life has been spent as a kind of state serf, that he and his family are wholly lacking in independence, that their entire subsistence has been funded by the state.

Worse still, it would appear that in the mind of 16 year-old Rory Weal he has never gained any benefit to himself from anything other than the state. [Emphasis is mine]

How can a highly-paid journalist dare to write in brackets ‘if true’ when a quick Google search would show her that it wasn’t true in the slightest and that before needing to turn to the salvation of the state his parents were independent, wealthy and paid an awful lot of money into the system which would eventually save them.

It’s just unbelievable that Melanie Phillips is paid to be so lazy, so underhanded, so utterly wrong on every count. She is one of the elite few national journalists still happy to repeat the ‘Winterval’ myth even though it was debunked years ago and today she demonstrates that even when arguing with kids she’s happy to lie to defend her own warped worldview.

Melanie Phillips continues to remove any shred of context regarding what Rory Weal actually said:

No mention, note, of what he owes to his parents’ own efforts for his well-being.

Indeed, to him they appear to have made no such contribution since he told us that he owes his ‘entire well-being’ to the welfare state.

To Rory Weal, all good things appear to come from the state – and so anyone who dares suggest otherwise is vicious and right-wing. Is that not terrifying?

Words fail me. He owes his ‘entire well-being’ right now because the safety net saved him from destitution when his family lost everything – not because he and his family have spent their entire life suckling from the teet of welfare dependency you insane woman. Rory Weal did not imply that ‘all good things appear to come from the state’, what he implies in his speech is that if it should all go wrong and you find your life suddenly reduced to nothing, who else can possibly help you – and who will help people in future if the welfare state is destroyed?

What is terrifying is that Melanie Phillips isn’t some kind of Brass Eye parody, but an actual human being that genuinely believes these things.

And still she continues:

He also complained that, after his parents divorced,‘ two and-a-half years ago, the home I had lived in since birth was repossessed’.

But two and a half years ago it was of course Labour that was in power.

So Rory Weal was blaming the Tories for a series of actions which were in fact taken by Labour governments! This boy will indeed go far.

MELANIE! For the love of truth! He wasn’t blaming the Tories for repossessing his house, he wasn’t blaming anyone for repossessing his house. Rory simply pointed out that after it was repossessed he and his family were saved by the welfare state and it is this that he is now worried the Tories will destroy.

Someone needs to have a word with Mad Mel. She is supposedly a seasoned professional and here she is smugly and triumphantly finishing an article attacking a 16-year-old boy with a put down that is complete fiction and only serves to highlight how incredibly blinkered and stupid she is. The Daily Mail seems to be abandoning any semblance of editorial standards with this attack. It’s just a pathetic, dishonest, embarrassing mess from start to finish.