To those following the government debates on access to internet pornography, the announcement of an opt-in porn filter will not surprise, but may disappoint. David Cameron has been hinting that he’d throw this red meat to a social conservative base greatly disappointed in their Conservative Prime Minister legalising same-sex marriage. Yet this illiberal move should be at odds with the principles of a liberal conservative.
We have the spectacle of BBC newsreaders curling their lips whenever they have to say that most undignified word, “porn”. To see the absurd overreactions to the government’s plans, one might think porn to be a satanic ritual, not fit to be discussed in civilised society. I’ve never been one for the pearl-clutching moralising of conservatives on the “evils” of pornography. I don’t see how watching two (or more) people doing the most natural act in the world in front of a camera would “scar” you. Most teenage boys have watched internet porn before they’ve turned 18. The vast majority are not porn addicts or violent rapists. There has been no marked increase in sexual violence since the 1990s, when internet porn became prevalent. A 2010 Swedish study published in the Journal of Sex Research found that teens who viewed porn were able to distinguish between it and sex in the real world.
Regardless of inconclusive evidence, porn viewers are to be castigated and chastised. That is what this is all about. If Cameron was concerned about children accessing internet pornography, he would have pressed ahead with the “Active Choice” plan promoted voluntarily by ISP’s, under which all internet users who wished to block porn could do so. By making porn-free the default choice, porn users are forced to out themselves and admit their “perversion” to their ISP’s. This is little more than a witch hunt. Watching porn goes from being a natural act indulged in by many normal adults, to a suspect activity that one has to affirmatively opt-in to. This demonisation was achieved brilliantly by Mr Cameron. The filter was announced on the same day as new measures against child porn. Cameron, while stressing their differences, mixed them in his speech to the NSPCC.
Furthermore, porn is generalised by Cameron as violent and abusive and extreme, corroding children’s views on what makes relationships healthy. This tactic is surely learned from the Christian Right in America, where the simple viewing of porn is conflated with chronic porn addiction. Even this supposed epidemic of young children finding hardcore pornography on the internet has been greatly exaggerated and whipped up by certain quarters of the more hysteria-prone organs of the press like the Daily Mail. Incidentally, the Daily Mail’s headline celebrating the porn filter featured right next to the infamous Mail sidebar of shame, filled with half-naked, dare one say pornographic, photos captured of unsuspecting celebrities. At least porn actors consent to be objectified and, unlike many of the Mail’s subjects, are over the age of 18.
Yet, what is most surprising about this move is its direct contradiction of so basic a conservative value as the primacy of the family, not the state, in regulating children’s conduct. This has been central to the opposition by conservatives to any legislative attempts to ban child smacking. Whenever proposals have come up in the UK, parental autonomy has been the weapon brandished by conservatives against them. A 2004 attempt to ban smacking was almost gleefully welcomed by Michael Howard and condemned as unwarranted “nanny state” interference in the home. Yet this familial sovereignty and the unique place of parents, so inviolable in the case of smacking, is cast away completely by the porn filter. The filter is a usurpation of the proper role of parents in determining what material and information their children have access to. It should be parents, not the state, who monitor and restrict children’s internet use.
Unfortunately this abdication of authority has been voluntary on the behalf of many parents too confused or too lazy to properly regulate their children online. But this can be no excuse. If a parent doesn’t understand how to block inappropriate content online, then why are their children accessing the internet without adult supervision? Ignorance and/or lack of time is no excuse. It is fundamentally a parent’s responsibility to regulate their children’s internet use, either through voluntarily downloading child-protection software or by monitoring what their children are looking at. To lazily delegate this responsibility to the state is not only unfair on all adult internet users, who are also infantilised when their internet is filtered, but it further allows the state to usurp powers that parents should be exercising. Such interference should be feared not only by liberals, but conservatives also.
[caption id="attachment_37913" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The Prime Minister giving his immigration speech last week.[/caption]
On Saturday, László Andor of the European Commission spoke to The Guardian about David Cameron’s speech on immigration, given on the 25th March, warning the PM that his language might provoke “knee-jerk xenophobia” from the electorate. Andor’s words were an understatement: Britain has been swimming in knee-jerk xenophobia since time immemorial, and certain media services will always step up to respond predictably. (Right on cue, on March 26th, The Daily Mail published an article titled, “Keep ’em out, Dave? They’re already here!”)
In his “attack” on the Prime Minister’s speech, Andor focused mainly on debunking the myths, tactfully avoiding a robust deconstruction of the speech itself. If he had chosen a more strident response, he could have picked on two things: the obvious evasiveness of the PM’s phrasing and rhetoric, and importantly, the racist-baiting language – which sometimes drifted from provoking xenophobia into supporting it.
I wouldn’t have expected the speech to be anything but vacuous – immigration is one of those issues that often prompts verbal pussy-footing, because it’s so easy to come across as racist or ineffectual. As usual, Cameron’s way of avoiding any repercussions was to say nothing in a lot of words. The former Brasenose student created a great deal of confusion as to the precise meaning of many of his assertions by refusing to define his terms or lay down the parameters for his suggested changes. At his most decisive and confident, Cameron threatened to “give migrants from the European Economic Area a very clear message”, and said that the authorities are going to “get much better” at chasing up foreigners’ NHS fees. Really cracking down, then.
If you stopped listening and let the speech wash over you, Cameron sounded a lot more aggressive and nationalistic than his proposals actually are. This is what was cunning about his speech. The Conservative leader couldn’t propose real change along the lines he suggested, because it would definitely be classed as discriminatory; however, he could pretend to take the hard line, impressing those Tory voters who are edging towards UKIP. According to Cameron, “British taxpayers should support British families and those who contribute to our economy”; it’s a statement which suggests no action, but preaches an ideology that privileges Brits over immigrants unconditionally. Note the separation of ‘British families’ and ‘those who contribute to our economy’. Presumably, his first category includes ‘British families’ who do not contribute to our economy? If you’re measuring a person by economic input, as the rest of the speech suggests, why privilege ‘British families’ over other families? What is a ‘British family’ in this case? It seems that he thinks migrants are not ‘British’, and perhaps never will be (he included “Polish war heroes” in the group earlier), yet he never clarifies where he draws the line.
Cameron’s speech also had vague but important implications for welfare provisions such as social housing. He said that only migrants who have “contributed to this country for at least two years” will be able to qualify for housing, and that “what this should mean is that local people rightly get priority in the social housing system”. Again, ‘local people’ are set against ‘migrants’ – yet an immigrant living close to a council house is a ‘local person’ too. Perhaps he means people who were born in a particular area, but then, what about second generation immigrants – have they entered the sacred conclave of the ‘British’ yet? Cameron’s suggestion is far too imprecise to be implemented, but if laws were introduced in the same spirit as his statement, then the system would favour ‘locals’ over migrants, endangering the fairness of allocation; what’s more, for the first two years, local people would always get precedence over migrants. How could this ever be deemed right in a selection process in a supposed liberal democracy? Equal treatment may be an illusion, but it’s still an ideal, surely?
The key to this xenophobia is that it is designed to deter new EU migrants from Bulgaria and Romania, whose countries will be admitted into the EU later this year. EU migrants have the right to enter, stay and remain in any other EU country, so simply imposing stricter immigration controls is not possible in this case. As an alternative, Cameron is brandishing these internal welfare changes to put potential migrants off. It may well put some people off, but only because it seems like a promise of discrimination against them. This is not Cameron announcing, “We will not give you something for nothing”. It’s Cameron saying, “We will not give you anything at all if we can help it”.
Cameron’s speech was fluffy and uninformative, but very clear on one thing: young migrants are economic tools, and as soon as they are not economically useful, xenophobia is justified. If a Romanian’s business fails, he is no longer the “hard-working entrepreneur” for whom Cameron is “rolling out the red carpet” – he becomes an immigrant first and foremost, and a less valuable human being than a Brit in the same economic circumstances. Cameron knows that Conservative bread is buttered on the ‘British’ side, so his safest bet is to toy with existing conflicts, blaming the economic downturn on immigrant ‘benefit tourism’ – and currying favour with John Bull in the process.
Tory members of a select committee of MPs have vetoed Vince Cable’s favoured candidate for the new head of the university admissions watchdog, the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).
Professor Les Ebdon, speaking before the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee on Friday, had said that he was willing to “press the nuclear button” if universities fail to broaden access.
He went on to confirm that he would consider refusing to sign a university’s access agreement if they did not succeed in attracting disadvantaged students.
“There are some colleagues in the Russell Group universities who are just as passionate about widening participation as I am,” he said. “I would be aiming to strengthen that opposition so that is the case throughout the whole university system.”
However, the Business, Innovation and Skills committee yesterday published a report that stated: “We are unable to endorse the appointment of Professor Ebdon as the director of OFFA and we recommend that the department conduct a new recruitment exercise.”
The move is likely to create a political row, as Labour committee member Paul Blomfield, who was unable to vote on the decision, described the vote as a “political ambush” which “had more to do with coalition politics than concern with access to our universities”.
Ebdon, currently vice-Chancellor of Bedfordshire University and chief of Million+, a university think-tank, had been an outspoken critic of government policy on universities.
Regarding the options for punishing universities, he said: “At present there are £500,000 fines – which are hardly sanctions at all but the other option is to refuse to sign an access agreement.”
“That’s a significant sanction – the nuclear sanction – and one has to use the nuclear sanction with subtlety.”
Three terms of debauchery, anti-Semitism and nepotism at Oxford University’s Conservative club have been revealed after disillusioned officers leaked more than 25 documents to The Oxford Student.
Most embarrassing for OUCA is video evidence of one member beginning an anti-Semitic chant, which has featured before in the society’s controversial recent history.
The video, filmed towards the end of Michaelmas 2010 in Corpus Christi’s JCR, shows a member drunkenly singing: “Dashing through the Reich”, at the camera, before being silenced by another member. The song’s full version includes he words: “Dashing through the Reich / in a black Mercedes Benz / killing lots of kike / ra ta ta ta ta ”.
“This is a widespread issue at the moment,” said a former OUCA President, “Lots of people were singing it that night, and indeed on many other nights, and the general attitude is that that was OK. The thing is, lots of members do find that song (and songs like that one) absolutely despicable, though little is done to stop it. I am very worried with the direction the society is going in at present.”
Leaked photographs depict numerous high-ranking officers of the society rolling around drunk on the floor and falling off sofas. The members were also photographed late that evening posing in British Empire uniforms. In one particularly bizarre scene, a member pours port into another’s mouth through an Imperialist helmet.
Another photo shows two members dressed as Margaret Thatcher and a miner respectively, the latter bearing a placard across his chest, which reads “I LOVE SHAFTING.”
“The pun was very funny indeed,” one 2nd year observed, “the flippant attitude to the way in which Thatcher subjugated the working class was not.”
At another Port and Policy meeting, in spite of the association’s reputation for extreme views, one member was overheard complaining that OUCA “was not right wing enough”, while another proudly claimed the society was “a better dressed version of the BNP.”
Cooke, who was present at the meeting, said: “I find it offensive against the Conservative party and efforts to broaden the appeal of OUCA. It betrays the reformist mantra of earlier terms.”
In yet another blow to the eighty seven year old political society’s reputation, one former officer condemned OUCA as it exists today as “corrupt from top to bottom.” A series of private emails between senior OUCA officers also condemned members’ conduct at several society meetings as “an utter disgrace.”
As drunken debauchery at Port and Policy becomes increasingly prevalent, volunteering schemes and the creation of a woman’s officer role and a charity partnership have both been scrapped in a move described by one member as “absolutely disgraceful.”
Anonymous sources in the organization, several of them former officers, claimed its bigoted days are far from over with numerous members engaging in the same behavior which drove them to be disaffiliated from the University in 2009.
The society’s penchant for patriotic songs even drove former Treasurer Chris Adams to distraction:
“Gentleman,” the ex-treasurer wrote in a message to senior officers, “I write to you not for my own sake but on behalf of my friends who live in the Frewin annexe next to the Union. I am informed that, in recent weeks, it has become customary to sing not just the thoroughly apt national anthem, but to embark upon a meandering destruction of yet more of our fine country’s greatest songs… However, singing a string of roaringly patriotic songs *every week* seems a little excessive, and not a little crass…the dissonance is enough to inflict pain as short, spotty, still-pubescent boys struggle to fix their unsteady voices on *any* pitch at all.”
The ex-Treasurer added: “This unbridled clamor is disturbing finalists who live near the Union, many of whom are sounder Conservatives than most, but who don’t feel the need to dress up in ridiculous clothes or pretend that we still have an empire.”
“One friend told me this morning at breakfast that, somewhat stressed with revision, the impending cacophony which she sensed as the words “The Queen” rang out [that night] was actually enough to reduce her to floods of tears. While the happy medley deluged all those surrounding, she lay on her bed, crying, with her phone in her hand, waiting to call 999.”
“Nor is the suffering unique to her; every single Sunday night I reliably see my Facebook feed fill up with comments such as “FUCKING OUCA” and “CUNTS”. Indeed, I know when to leave the KA on a Sunday, as I usually receive a text from one or more friends saying “OUCA are twats,” which acts as a useful warning that the dirge has begun.”
One invoice, dated 16th October 2011, revealed the society incurred £75 for “special cleaning” of Union premises after a particularly raucous evening of port quaffing and revelry.
“It was highly embarrassing and very inappropriate,” said one anonymous former officer, “basically one member had had a bit too much to drink that night and vomited on the Union premises, which is yet another example of drunkenness and foolishness happening at what is supposed to be a political society.”
Nepotism is still prevalent in the society with current President James Lawson appointing fellow old-Hamptonians to committee positions in the society. The President came under fire from members after he appointed ten new members to the position of Non Executive Officers.
“Dear All,” Lawson wrote, “I am writing to inform you of some non-executive officers I would like to appoint as “general assistants”… and to “further the objectiveness of the Association [quoting from OUCA rulebook].”
“The following people…have already provided significant assistance to the Association, from receiving deliveries to helping transport items to other events, helping book speakers etc.”
But the society’s bands of mutineers deny these reasons, as stated in the President’s Email.
One “concerned” OUCA member recounted how Lawson, attempting to pass through ten new non-executive officers, “couldn’t keep a straight face when some of the names came up…the same went for a lot of his friends in the room.”
Amongst the newly appointed members were three former pupils at Hampton School, a prestigious independent school in London that the President attended.
“Clearly Lawson is playing homage to the school tie,” said “A Concerned OUCA Member,” “one new officer is a fresher – therefore it is beyond belief that he could have done enough to warrant a position as officer.”
When challenged about his choice of new officers, Lawson “suddenly started getting very uncomfortable,” according to the member.
“This is just one example of the cronyism at the top of OUCA. Out of 6 committee members, 4 junior officers and 5 senior officers, I can only think of two who weren’t privately educated. The problem is, if you don’t have the old boys’ network and you can’t afford to buy the white tie, it is easy to be alienated from the society’s activities, let alone win elections.”
President James Lawson denied that members were unhappy with the appointment of new members: “”Council overwhelmingly supported and encouraged each of these appointments, and they have already added lots of value to a resurgent OUCA with over 500 new members.”