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Christmas trees under threat

16 September 2016

Phoney war: the front page of The Sunday Telegraph

Phoney war: the front page of The Sunday Telegraph

THE war on Christmas starts earlier every year. Still, I don’t think that any paper has ever gone so far, so early, as The Sunday Telegraph did this year with the front-page splash “‘Political correctness a threat to Christmas’”.

The speech marks conform to the well established British newspaper convention that means to put something in quotes in a headline means that no one has actually said it. And, sure enough, in the report of a speech by Dame Louise Casey, she warned that political correctness, or an unwillingness to impose British laws and mores on immigrant communities, actually threatened social cohesion rather than Christmas.

The example given was of a community centre where a “festive tree” was put up because “the incredibly well-meaning white manager” did not want to offend his Asian and Muslim staff by using the word “Christmas”.

“‘What offence did he think he was causing? What did we ever think would be offensive about celebrating Christmas with a tree?’ Dame Louise said.”

From here, apparently, it was a short slide to the horrors of the Rotherham child-abuse scandal — also caused, the article suggested, by misplaced cultural sensitivity. I wish I could believe this. If the problems in Rotherham, or Oxford, or any number of similar places, were caused only by wimpish white liberals, they would have been so much easier to solve. All the indications are that they had much deeper and more sinister roots.

In Rotherham, at least, it appears that bad elements had infiltrated the local power structure: the police, as well as the Labour Party. It is also clear that the care-home system has broken down in many parts of England, something that probably has more to do with a lack of funding than the rise of Islam.

Presumably, the paper had some rather better story prepared, which fell through at the last minute, and left this on the front page.


SOMETIMES, there are stories that just don’t make it through the papers’ filters, and the outrage expressed by the Accord coalition and the British Humanist Association at the expansion of “faith schools” announced by the Prime Minister is one such. It was not mentioned even in The Guardian, except in passing in Polly Toynbee’s column.

The trouble for that campaign is that it is the intersection of two causes that really do not sit well together: the fear of increasing inequality, and the fear of Islam and possibly other non-Christian religions. The people who are worried about one tend not to belong to the same tribes as those who worry about the other: if you think there is too much Muslim influence in this country, you won’t think that the answer is to make Muslims more equal.

Against this, the campaigners like to put up the example of Northern Ireland; but the English regard Northern Ireland as an entirely foreign country that has no lessons of any interest for us.

Meanwhile, Janan Ganesh, in the Financial Times, had one of the most merciless flayings you will ever read of the rhetoric of “meritocracy” as it applies to schools. “Almost everybody talks a good game about social mobility and almost nobody means it. They want a world in which their kin cannot move down, or even feel the shiver of insecurity at the prospect. This impulse is entirely natural but it should not be cloaked in a pretence of concern for fairness and merit.

“Mrs May wants a society where individual potential, performance and reward are aligned. Barring a sudden and historic proliferation of attractive jobs such as nobody sees coming, she must therefore want more people of her class to take a tumble in life, and to will the means via government policy. She does not, and neither do many people. Maybe we go to war over marginal differences in school structure because other kinds of advantage are too awkward to confront.”


MEANWHILE, in the New Statesman, this season’s fashionable intellectual, Yuval Harari, had an essay on religion in which passages of stony clarity were linked by great fogs of swirling rhetoric. My favourite among the many unblushing contradictions in the piece was this: “Godless religions are nothing new. Thousands of years ago Buddhism put its trust in the natural laws of karma . . . rather than dependent deities.”

This was followed shortly by: “Religion gives a complete description of the world and offers us a well-defined contract with predetermined goals: ‘God exists. He told us to behave in certain ways. If you obey God, you’ll be admitted to heaven. If you disobey Him, you will burn in hell.’”

Apparently, we are going to spend the next century believing in “salvation through algorithms and genes” — a statement that would be a lot more believable were it not apparent that the author takes it entirely seriously, and supposes that this kind of manipulation will, in fact, save the elect.

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