We need your help for a briefing on Anthony Browne


8:18 pm - July 31st 2008

by Sunny Hundal    


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A week ago the director of the right-wing thinktank Policy Exchange, Anthony Browne, joined London Mayor Boris Johnson as his new policy director. He was replacing Nick Boles, also formerly of Policy Exchange, for screwing up over the Ray Lewis incident.

Put aside for a minute that the Charity Commission recently said (pdf) that: “there was no evidence of [Policy Exchanging displaying] party political bias towards the Conservative party or any other political party.”

After all, so what if James O’Shaughnessy, another former director of research at Policy Exchange, joined the Conservative Party as director of research. So what is one of Policy Exchange’s authors and fundraisers, Munira Mirza, is Boris Johnson’s director of arts? No connection, see?

Anyway, Browne is the newest recruit and there has been surprisingly no sense of outrage on the left. As the Evening Standard’s Pippa Crerar pointed out last week:

He first came to prominence at The Times when his series of articles on immigration led to him being denounced by then Home Secretary David Blunkett in the Commons for “bordering on fascism”.

Yes, you heard that right – David Blunkett was denouncing him! The poor man’s Melanie Phillips must have been ecstatic.


(Pictured, on the left, holding the brown envelope)

There is in fact a whole wealth of material out there about Anthony Browne and the idiotic things he has said in the past. So we’re preparing a briefing document on Johnson’s latest recruit.

Dave Hill has been doing a stellar job of unearthing stuff about Browne recently, including this recent review of Browne’s book:

Many of the ‘facts’ turn out, on examination, to be no such thing. All too often, no sources are given for stories of alleged PC outrages, or sources are tendentious and unreliable (as in the case of the Daily Express, for example). Where one knows something about the subject in question, elementary errors are obvious, making one instinctively distrust Browne’s accounts of subjects about which one knows less.

In similar vein, no council has ever banned black bin-bags as racist; this is another press-generated myth, as I demonstrate at some length in Culture Wars: the Media and the British Left (Edinburgh University Press 2005). When the Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh was killed, Index on Censorship did not ‘automatically side with the comparatively powerless Islamic Dutch-Moroccan killer’, nor is it ‘on the brink of turning from an organisation that campaigns for freedom of speech to one that campaigns against it’. This is simply pernicious nonsense. School curricula have not ‘re-written’ history to portray Shakespeare and Florence Nightingale as homosexual, whatever the occasional individual school text may (or may not) contain. Multiculturalism does not require people ‘to give up feelings of tribalism and belonging and … to prefer “the other” to the familiar’, nor does it believe that those coming to this country should isolate themselves in ‘parallel societies’. Quite apart from the fact that both these claims are false, they’re also mutually contradictory. Again, it’s demonstrably untrue that ‘there are virtually no pressure groups that promote politically incorrect views’, still less that the ubiquitous Migrationwatch UK is ‘a lone group campaigning for less immigration’ which is ‘almost totally blackballed by the BBC’.

Need I go on?

This deranged loon, this purveyor of tabloid rubbish, this Boy Melanie, is the new director of policy for the London Mayor.

So we need your help. If you know of any articles or websites about Anthony Browne, please contact me with the information or leave it below. Any information or tidbits you have, send it over: sunnyh *AT* liberalconspiracy *DOT* org

Update
Thanks for the emails already. If you could state whether you wouldn’t mind being credited in the briefing in your email, that would be great.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Well, I am not surprised. Peal off the happy, clappy skin of moderate Consevativism , and underneath is a very Right wing agenda.

3. douglas clark

Sunny,

The elephant in the room in Policy Exchange is surely , Dean Godson. Why don’t you investigate him? He is the pseudo smart little idiot that attempted to damn islam until he encountered this:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/2008/05/policy_exchange_dispute_update.html

It is up to you whether you think he is a twisted little warped maniac or not. Far be it for me to suggest it.

Really BenSix’s credit, but London’s pet brownshirt is a fan (if you read nothing else today, read this – it’s priceless):

http://my.telegraph.co.uk/cllr_richard_barnbrook/blog/2008/07/31/common_sense_starting_to_break_out_in_london

Joining Nick Cohen, there, who I could have sworn didn’t like fascists.

I dunno Sunny. Here with political correctness it is rather like Ground Hog day. We have argued and picked over several individual cases to demonstrate that, yes, political correctness does exist and it has threatened people’s liberties:

http://www.liberalconspiracy.org/2008/06/18/a-bad-hair-day/
http://www.liberalconspiracy.org/2008/05/06/richard-barnbrook-the-great-white-dope/

At the end of one fairly lengthy debate (where you quit the field after the examples I cited turned out to be, for the most part though not wholly, substantiated), I even offered a useful link to a short pamphet which lists cases of political correctness in a bit more detail: http://www.candidlist.demon.co.uk/hampden/culturewar2.pdf

Yet when the topic comes up again, it is like the debate has never happened! Anyone who talks about political correctness becomes automatically a “prat” once again. And I think this reflects more on the left than the right, that it is so intolerant of debate that it has to call people racist rather than engage with the ideas that have come up, even when some of the evidence used is demonstrably true. Political correctness is a problem for political discourse if you believe in free speech: deal with it!

I must say Julian Petley’s review is very enjoyable but I think he misattributes Anthony Browne’s target. Index on Censorship, which he gives as an example against Browne’s thesis, is not exactly your typical publication (and not exactly mainstream either) and definitely has a more authentically liberal, as opposed to socialist or leftist stance, on social issues. One wouldn’t expect it to be tracking the politically correct line.

But Petley, ironically, has been battling the forces of political correctness himself, apparently without being aware of it! He spoke out repeatedly in favour of the Backlash campaign (see my link), which opposed the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill that introduced a crime for the possession of some pornography, essentially creating a thought-crime for those that enjoy certain sexual fantasies. It was pushed through with an alliance of reactionary Christians and authoritarian feminists who, though they had no evidence that porn causes any real world sexual violence, decided that society and culture itself needs reforming in order to make society safer for women (as if introducing Saudi Arabian style laws is going to create a society that is somehow better for women to live in!). Hence, locking people up for possessing mere images (coming into law January 2009). A quite typical politically correct strategy and one that extends the police’s role from merely judging your words spoken on the street to the things you are looking at on the internet.

Petley, as a civil libertarian has been opposed to this. Perhaps he hasn’t seen the link yet, that the same people (usually but by no means exclusively on the left) who are trying to ban porn or control the internet, are also the ones introducing religious hate laws and other types of curbs on free speech that Anthony Browne happens to engaging with.

Tom Griffin’s the man you want for the skinny on Godson…

http://tomgriffin.typepad.com/the_green_ribbon/2006/08/should_cold_war.html

Nick, that’s a funny way of looking at previous discussions. In one, you failed to answer questions posed at the end… in the other you admitted that, “I admit my other example looks dodgy and might be more to do with police overreach generally than political correctness specifically.”

Yes, political correctness does come up here quite frequently, mostly because right-wing commentators have little else to say when they want to complain about something.

Anthony Browne’s assault on “reason” goes a bit further than that, if you read the reviews, and the several responses that were spread across blogs as a result. For one example, see:

http://virtualstoa.net/2006/01/04/113637671869954995/
http://virtualstoa.net/2006/01/04/113637751844267295/
http://virtualstoa.net/2006/01/04/113637767079173108/
http://virtualstoa.net/2006/01/04/113637839379230549/
http://virtualstoa.net/2006/01/04/113637842946362833/
http://virtualstoa.net/2006/01/04/113637903053342860/
http://virtualstoa.net/2006/01/04/113637922689285513/
http://virtualstoa.net/2006/01/04/113638013186042305/
http://virtualstoa.net/2006/01/04/113637934867512031/
http://virtualstoa.net/2006/01/04/113637947809697861/
http://virtualstoa.net/2006/01/04/113637963610984812/

Anyone who talks about political correctness becomes automatically a “prat” once again. And I think this reflects more on the left than the right, that it is so intolerant of debate that it has to call people racist rather than engage with the ideas that have come up

There’s rather more to Browne here, than simply some complaints about political correctness. However, if you view unsubstantiated and in some cases bizarre claims of political correctness as some sort of a debate, then I’m afraid that says more about you than this website.

douglas – we’ve covered Godson here already I think. The main issue is though that he’s not a public official.

in the other you admitted that, “I admit my other example looks dodgy and might be more to do with police overreach generally than political correctness specifically.”

– Sunny, scroll a little bit above and you will see that after I posted that comment, QuestionThat’s post (which was presumably held for spam checking) appeared which substantiated both stories quite adequately. He had invited you to respond and you did not.

On the other topic, I must admit, I didn’t actually see your response the first time (it come some way done from my response). However, since then, we have had another discussion on employment practices at some length where I have acknowledged my views, that I am against any employment discriminations laws. That is not because I approve of discrimination but because I disapprove of coercive means of forcing anti-discrimination. I would rather use the free market and free expression to challenge prejudiced views (as has been demonstrably successful in the past in a way that introducing employment laws and speech codes is not). So I am not denouncing political correctness in a vacuum, I have my own views on how the problems that political correctness purports to solve should in fact be solved.

BTW, I must say, some of those blog posts you have linked to are very intelligent refutations of Anthony Browne’s thesis using his own logic, enough to throw Browne’s thesis into far greater doubt for me. They seem to be running out of steam a bit towards the end though. Dare I say that the truth lies somewhere in the middle ground here?

Since when is ‘prat’ equivalent to ‘racist’, though?

“I admit my other example looks dodgy and might be more to do with police overreach generally than political correctness specifically.”

It’s possibly the oddest aspect of the whole ‘PC’ non-debate that police exploitation of over-tough laws and inadequate oversight is now apparently a symptom of a problem with the left rather than the right. That it also goes hand in hand with claims that the police are being shackled by, er, do-gooding PC legislation (‘too much paperwork!’, ‘can’t racially profile!’, ‘PACE led to people getting away with crime!’) does tend to suggest that supporters of the ‘PC’ myth can turn any argument into one supporting them. Given that, you can’t actually argue coherently against itt any more than you can use science to argue with a Creationist – they’re living in an unfalsifiable fantasy world where reason doesn’t work.

Tom – I acknowledge that the authoritarian right has been instrumental in introducing “tough” new laws and regulations that have then gone on to be exploited by causes on the left. That is why I am not of the left or right (that simply offer two flavours of state control) but a libertarian. I don’t want either side gaining control of public discourse through the law.

Unfortunately I’ve never met a libertarian I’ve never, eventually, wanted to punch. Probably a personality flaw on my part*, but thanks for the acknowledgment.

However, you miss something here, which is that if you’re going to actually get rid of some of this pointless authoritarianism, you have to come up with a workable plan of how to persuade the British public to support you. The only party I can see even going anywhere near that is the Lib Dems, but they aren’t going to be in a position to get much done without help. The main stumbling block is that a lot of the population will have entrenched opinions from the very tabloids Anthony Browne praises so highly, and which therefore need principled, high-profile opposition. In other words, if you want to oppose authoritarianism, join us in opposing Browne. Otherwise it’s just words.

* probably because I get extremely uncomfortable around humourless ideologues, if truth be told. History is not kind to me and libertarianism.

I dunno, the great thing about liberty is that it works in spite of all the politics, not because of it. That is how I can keep a relatively cheerful disposition (honestly, I do!). You are right, however, that it is a bad idea to support another authoritarian political establishment just in order to spite the one that is currently in power. Just as libertarians who were moderately hopeful about Boris as mayor have been rather rudely jolted back into reality now he is actually in power.

I acknowledge that the authoritarian right has been instrumental in introducing “tough” new laws and regulations that have then gone on to be exploited by causes on the left

But the laws *haven’t* haven’t been exploited by causes on the left – that’s the whole sodding point. The only example you can cite that isn’t total bullshit is the case of the ‘Christian’ bigots who had to spend an hour explaining their beliefs on why queers will go to hell to Her Majesty’s Constabulary – and they were (rightly) awarded ten grand for the wrongful-detention experience.

(if a black chap had been quizzed by the cops for an hour for suggesting that white people were devils and should go to hell, and then released with £10k compo, I’m entirely certain that you’d be spinning that as an example of Political Correctness Gone Mad too…)

“(if a black chap had been quizzed by the cops for an hour for suggesting that white people were devils and should go to hell, and then released with £10k compo, I’m entirely certain that you’d be spinning that as an example of Political Correctness Gone Mad too…)”

Yes and why not? In both cases it is extending the police’s realm into the sphere of belief and speech, then having to waste public money on compensation! Just because Daily Mail readers wouldn’t as readily see the link between the two cases doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be examples of the same problem.

Anyone read about Richard Littlejohn complaining about how you couldn’t wave flags at Proms in Manchester? Funny that, because other pictures showed everyone waving little flags.
http://5cc.blogspot.com/2008/07/more-littlejohn-because-im-lazy-and-its.html

This “truth is somewhere in the middle” point isn’t good enough. MOST of these stories are made up or regurgitated endlessly without source. Its become like a game of chinese whispers by a bunch of kids in an industry that prides itself as the best in the world. And Anthony Browne is not only a cheerleader for this rubbish, but now an advisor to a serious political office. It beggars belief.

I am a little confused.

This guy has written a book hasn’t he which outlines his views.

What exactly do you expect your briefing to contain?

@Sunny: The two stories Nick referred to that you rubbished here and which I then provided links to (BBC) news articles on…

Do you still consider these to be “made up or regurgitated endlessly without source”? If so, how can you justify this?

Ok, so now it is MOST rather than ALL. We are getting somewhere. I guess the only way to solve this will be to engage in a more systematic empirical study of these stories (and policies) as they come up. A full time project but could make an interesting thesis.

There’s rather more to Browne here, than simply some complaints about political correctness.

It depends whether you think that never-ending, monomaniacal raving adds up to more than “some complaints”.

QT: those are precisely the stories to which I’m referring. The gay horse is a “rozzer vs cheeky student” case with no PC dimension at all; the hairdresser was basically not hired for being a Muslim, which is rubbish; and the elderly bigots were given enormous compo, reflecting the fact that this sort of thing barely ever happens and is not condoned or encouraged by the authorities. Meanwhile, ‘baa baa blue sheep’ and ‘black bags banned’ nonsense continues to circulate non-stop despite having no provenance in fact at all.

Nick: you should read Five Chinese Crackers, who has an excellent archive of tabloid urban mythology.

“which is rubbish” = “which is a very bad thing and it was right that the salon had to pay compo”, for the avoidance of doubt

These days, you can’t even burn down a mosque without someone saying you’re racist. You can’t put on a pointy white hood, set fire to a cross and hold a rally for the Aryan master race without the liberal elite suddenly deciding that this would somehow be “politically incorrect”. Try and kidnap young black people from West Africa and sell them as slaves to plantation owners in the deep South, and suddenly you’ll find yourself being accused of “racial discrimination” by the PC police of Tony Blair’s nanny state.

John O’Farrell

John – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/oxfordshire/4606022.stm

So he was prosecuted for making homophobic comments in front of a police officer. Sounds like a PC story to me!

@Larry: More like ‘you can’t even say its right to put British people’s interests first, in Britain, without being called racist‘.

@john b: At least you accept that the incidents under discussion in the Richard Barnbrook thread really happened. In the police horse case, the student was taken to court for making “homophobic comments”, not for wasting police time or something like that, so there was a dimension of political correctness.

WRT the hairdresser, there’s 2 sides to the discrimination argument. Not everyone agrees that the state should interfere in the decision to employ or not to employ of a private business (see post #8).

“John – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/oxfordshire/4606022.stm

So he was prosecuted for making homophobic comments in front of a police officer. Sounds like a PC story to me!”

And Walter Wolfgang was detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The coppers must really have thought he was a terrorist. Sounds like a terrorism story to me.

The student was arrested for the only thing the copper could think of. I doubt this is a genuine PC Gone Mad story.

But even if it is, it’s one over-zealous fool. That’s what the very few genuine PC Gone Mad stories all boil down to. One idiot somewhere getting above themselves and normally being very swiftly overruled. Political Correctness doesn’t have this stranglehold on the country like everyone thinks it does. The highest paid newspaper commentator is Richard bloody Littlejohn, the Sun is the best selling daily newspaper in the country (and possibly the English speaking world) and to call someone PC is usually considered an insult.

Always hilarious when the right wing start parroting “political correctness.” Because there is no group more politically correct than the Right. Of course ,they don’t ever call themselves politically correct. Instead, they hide behind terms like ‘decency’ ‘standards’ and other such bull. And the rights two favourite groups, business and the military are chocked fill of political correct language. Downsizing is right wing for throwing people on the dole. Collateral damage means “we failed to hit the target, and blew up lots of innocent civilians.”

What the Right see as political correctness, is things that stop them from being boorish assholes. And the Right love being assholes.

“Most of the stories about councils banning black dustbin bags and making children sing “Baa Baa Green Sheep” were actually made up by the tabloids, but I witnessed people taking their cue from these fictitious examples and starting to condemn people for asking for black or white coffee.

A friend of mine was writing an article for the Greater London Arts magazine and suggested that perhaps the inclusion of a cartoon strip would lighten it up a bit. They said they couldn’t possibly have a cartoon without black people in it. OK, he said, have a cartoon with black people in it. They were horrified. Print caricature drawings of black people? That would be racist! You could almost hear the Daily Mail journalist sharpening her pencil.”

John O’Farrell (‘Things Can Only Get Better’, pg106)

29. Charlie Baywater

Douglas Clark – well remembered. This excellent piece by newsnight showed the rabid nature of the policy exchange’s dark agenda. Facts are irrelevant to them – only objectives are important. They smell like proto fascists to me.

I missed comment 8 first time round. “I would rather use the free market and free expression to challenge prejudiced views (as has been demonstrably successful in the past” – what the flying fuck? All signficant advances in race relations have been due to political and legal action; none have bee due to “the free market”.

@john b:
“All signficant advances in race relations have been due to political and legal action; none have bee due to “the free market””

I agree. Why do you think that is?

I don’t know exactly what you mean by “race relations”, John, but I suspect that the roots of racism itself lie in the desire, for whatever reason, to treat people as a set of collectives rather than as individuals. I reject the notion of race as anything more than a handful of cultural constructs with some dubious science occasionally pulled in. So it is more helpful to speak of “human relations” than relations between nominal groups. For which the free-market has a good record. This is a good paper on that: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1031651

In addition, scholarship that demonstrates how the free market punishes irrational discriminatory behaviour has been around for quite a while: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/presssite/metadata.epl?mode=synopsis&bookkey=94436

Where libertarians can certainly agree with the liberal left, is that we should attempt to prevent the law and the state from discriminating between individuals on grounds of identity. When it comes to the realm of individual judgements and decisions, however, we believe that humans, when given the freedom, will eventually choose to do the right thing and are more likely to reach that point if they don’t have an annoying political class telling them what to do all the time and deliberately curtaining their autonomy.

NB it should be none has not none have

If true – though I’m not sure it is – that reflects a very pessimistic view of human nature.

John didn’t come back, so I’ll elaborate on the previous comment.

The very observation you’ve made is surely an admission that political correctness is real and pervasive, otherwise the “advances” you talk about wouldn’t have happened?

@QT:

“The very observation you’ve made is surely an admission that political correctness is real and pervasive, otherwise the “advances” you talk about wouldn’t have happened?”

Erm, no-o-o(!)

John is saying that it takes an elected parliament, discussion, debate, scrutiny and parliamentary vote to help eradicate the kind of discrimination which *some* blinkered people too often slip into if left to their own devices.

Which is why John is right to loathe Libertarianism. It is a self indulgent stain in the crucible of debate. Libertarianism is the most feeble tool in effecting much needed change in society.

I wonder anyone with an ouce of intelligence gives it any thought whatsoever.

I can’t understand how people manage to talk past each other so on this issue.

What you call “eradication of discrimination” is what people on the Right call “political correctness”. It’s the same damn thing.

What after all, can “eradicating discrimination” mean, but replacing the judgements (falliable as they are) of individuals with those of a committee, and intimidating people who hold the “wrong” views.

Not sure how this continuing debate is relevant to the subject at hand but….

What you call “eradication of discrimination” is what people on the Right call “political correctness”. It’s the same damn thing.

I’m not sure what your point is. Is the eradication of discrimination a bad thing? As for the free market resolving it.. that’s pretty funny given the American free market was doing fine during slavery and has done fantastically over the last 300 years, during most of which slavery was legal. Markets are never free anyway, so I’m not sure if this theory stands up.

that political correctness is real and pervasive

This assumes “political correctness” in itself is bad. It isn’t. Words like “nigger” and “paki” are no longer forms of polite conversation thanks to PC, and society is better for it.

Lastly:
I would rather use the free market and free expression to challenge prejudiced views

How would this work? Even in a free market people don’t necessarily make logical decisions (or those in their best interests) free from emotions and other considerations. In almost every major drive to end discrimination, its the law that has changed social ideas rather than the other way round. The Democrats even lost the South thanks to passing civil rights legislation and still haven’t fully recovered. How would your precious free market have resolved that dilemma?

We have discussed this before, Sunny, and I acknowledged that an awful lot of civil rights legislation in the US was necessary because people’s natural rights were threatened (they couldn’t get a fair trial, the police wouldn’t protect them and they were prevented from voting). That isn’t political correctness – just equality before the law for which aggressive intervention is called for in order to enforce. Slavery is the opposite of the free market and natural rights so don’t try to conflate the two and abolishing slavery justifies a very heavy level of violence, since slavery is itself is a grotesque form of aggression.

Do you know which US political party actually abolished slavery through incredibly violent intervention? Do you know which one opposed abolition and even afterwards, tried to pass laws to prevent ex-slaves from owning their own weapons? Do you know which party still has an ex-KKK member in the senate? The history isn’t quite as clear cut as you think.

As I linked above, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1031651 explains how the free market works to improve cohesion. But of course, it is also a moral duty on each of us as individuals, and something that I take as a personal responsibility. You can’t palm off an issue as nuanced as prejudice to a state entity and expect it to change people’s minds for you. It takes individual social responsibility to defeat prejudice.

Can you decide whether political correctness is:

a) real and pervasive (like I said, and as Anthony Browne and Sean Gabb would I expect agree), but something that is good and that you support.

or

b) Something that is an invention of the tabloid press making up stories about Baa Baa Green Sheep and therefore something that, when people bring it up as an issue, they should be dismissed rather than engaged with.

please?

You can’t have it both ways!


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