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Wednesday, January 05, 2005


"A stupendous bucketful of brown shite"

Lucy Mangan's column in today's Guardian is a witty diatribe against astrology and assorted other superstitious fads, such as essential oils and magnet therapy.

Many readers, especially if they are inclined to a sceptical and rationalist view, would have been punching the air and cheering. But others would have taken deep offence.

Their cherished beliefs were described in no uncertain terms as

"... a stupendous bucketful of brown shite, infused with extracts of mendacity and exploitation and waved over a shadowy pool of gullibility left over from ye olden times."

Not only that, but the writer did something no male Guardian columnist would have dared, by claiming that it is invariably women who are suckers for horoscopes and the like.

I draw attention to this column because it is a rare and striking exception to a new rule. A significant cultural shift has taken place over the past twenty-odd years. It has become widely accepted that we have an overriding duty to avoid giving offence (as the recent Sikh theatre protest showed - see my postings on 19 December and 22 December).

And New Labour is reinforcing this morality through legislation, not only its ill-advised Bill on religious hatred, but also the creation of the
Standards Board for England, which is penalising councillors for making remarks that, until recently, would have been regarded as nothing more than the normal rough and tumble of politics.

Jonathan Calder made the point well in his Liberal England blog (
4 October 2004), where he criticised

"... exaggerated concerns for others' feelings. Politics, local politics included, thrive on conflict and strong argument, but both are thoroughly out of fashion at the moment."

We have somehow created a squeamish political and intellectual climate, in which forthright expressions of opinion are stigmatised as 'judgemental' and punches must forever be pulled. No wonder our politics is so grey and that so many voters complain that "they all sound the same".

As regular readers of this blog and my Liberator articles will have gathered, my main criticism of the Liberal Democrats is their lack of confidence in their own Liberal values. Afraid of scaring the horses, they end up making flaccid and mealy-mouthed statements or, worse, retreating into warmed-over Thatcherism or social democracy.

The only way to attract and galvanise your natural supporters is to say things sufficiently bold that will also offend and repel your natural enemies. I pray for the day when Charles Kennedy has the courage to describe New Labour or the Tories as "a stupendous bucketful of brown shite" - which they obviously are.

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