The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

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Category: current affairs

Anders Breivik: Metro-Psycho

When I first saw the images of Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik, the ones he had so helpfully included in his press pack that accompanied his ‘manifesto’, two thoughts immediately popped into my net-addled head:

a) They look photoshopped. Especially the soft-focus glamour one in the Lacoste jumper with the collar turned up

b) The ‘action man’ dressy-uppy photos look like they’ve been pulled from a gay fetish dating website. Look at all my sexy accessories!

When I compared them with the pictures of the inanely grinning, boringly bovine balding 31-year-old male being driven away in handcuffs in the back of a police car I congratulated myself that I hadn’t arranged to meet him.

Deluded as he is, Breivik seems very aware of the disconnect between the ‘Justiciar Knight’ image he wants to present to the world – which may appear laughable to others, but clearly turns him on like the Blackpool Illuminations – and the more hum-drum reality. According to The Daily Telegraph:

A narcissist and a fantasist, Breivik, 32, refuses to have his prison ‘mugshot’ taken to ensure that the carefully stage-managed photographs he took of himself – in full Masonic regalia or clutching his rifle – are not replaced by more humbling images.

Given his yen to stage-manage everything, even from behind bars, it’s perhaps not so surprising that costuming seems to be a continuing preoccupation of his:

Having been refused permission to wear a combat uniform, he has demanded to wear a red Lacoste sweater for his public outings to court or to the police station. He will not wear anything else.

Well, if you know your signature colour and you have a brand that you feel at home in, why change?

I have no desire to read Breivik’s manifesto. It’s over 1,500 pages long. It’s demented. Worse, it’s badly spelled. Plus there’s the small matter of his murdering scores of people, most of them children, to make me and you do just that. To make us take his delusions of grandeur and purpose seriously. So forgive me if I don’t feel like curling up with him.

There isn’t a ‘mystery’ to Breivik that needs to be unlocked, except perhaps by mental health professionals. And even then, it certainly wouldn’t be in his rambling, ranting cut-and-pasted scrapbook of (mostly American) right-wing nut-jobbery.

But plenty of people seem to take a different view. Legions of journalists and commentators and sociologists are reading the manifesto avidly, searching for clues. Explanations. Keys to unlock the ‘enigma’ that is Breivik and make sense of his senseless slaughter. Perhaps it’s the media’s job to try and find meaning where there isn’t any, but even in seeking to refute or ridicule his arguments – or hold him up as an example of what happens when right wing extremism or misogyny is allowed to flourish as many liberal papers have done – I think they are in danger of flattering him.

There are no ‘lessons’ to be learned from the pathetic creature that is Breivik, no matter how much he might want us to think so and no matter how tempting it is to pander to that. He’s criminally insane. End of.

And yet. Maybe I’m in danger of being a big fat hypocrite here, but it’s increasingly difficult for me to ignore some of the stuff in his manifesto that keeps being discussed. From a nice middle-class Norwegian background, the perpetually single (and “100% hetero”) chap laments that modern men spend so much time worrying about their clothes and their colognes.

He also bemoaned metrosexuals, seeing them as part of the ‘feminisation’ of the culture in general and men in particular which was leaving Europe (wide) open to Islamification:

…men are not men anymore, but metro sexual [sic] and emotional beings that are there to serve the purpose as a never-criticising soul mate to the new age feminist woman goddess.

Other reports tell us that he was an avid gym-goer, took steroids and visited tanning salons. There are also claims that he had plastic surgery in his early twenties on his nose and chin. And then we have those carefully staged, possibly photoshopped images and his refusal now to have his mugshot taken or wear anything in public he considers unflattering.

Breivik was clearly in pathological denial about all sorts of things – his own metrosexuality was perhaps the least of them. But he went to and continues to go to a great deal of trouble to present himself to the world, however camply, however grotesquely, as a ‘real man’, a Christian warrior, while using and displaying many of the characteristics of his hated ‘passive’, ‘weak’, ‘feminine’ metrosexuality to do that.

And in this, alas, he isn’t so unusual – just rather more extreme. There are a lot of metros in denial. Not all of them are out and proud. Quite a few are self-loathing as well as self-loving and diss ‘girlie-men’ metros in the hope that this will prove they’re not ‘that way’ themselves. A bit like how it works, in other words, with your actual homosexuality.

Much of Breivik’s politics was gleaned from right wing US websites, where chaps are always whining about not being able to find a ‘real man’ these days (in much the same way gay bears do), and where ‘metrosexual’ is used as the worst kind of insult. A fag who isn’t actually a fag. Worse than a fag, in fact. A heterosexual who allows himself to be penetrated by the weakness and effeminacy of gay men – spreading the disgusting disease of unmanliness.

So, in a sense Breivik’s anti-metro tirades are just copying and pasting again. Likewise his camply conflicted personal presentation seems to European eyes very American.

You don’t need to read A European Declaration of Independence to know that this ‘Christian warrior’ mass-murderer clearly desires to be desired. The manifesto, those glamour shots and probably even the awful crimes are one enormous, mega-creepy personal ad. Not so much metrosexual as metro-psycho.

The worst of it is that to some extent Anders Breivik has achieved what appears to be his main goal. Not starting a war against the Islamic invasion of Europe and ‘cultural Marxism’. Nor getting people to read his bloody manifesto.

He’s become a celebrity.

Tip – Bat020

 UPDATE 17/04/12

It seems Breivik tired of the red Lacoste jumper and decided to go for something more formal, but still designer (with very padded shoulders) for his court appearance this week. And a fashion beard that accentuates his ‘heroic’ jaw-line. Quite the dashing ‘Christian warrior’.

From his meticulously crafted appearance, his rehearsed clenched fist salute, to the tears on viewing his own propaganda film, to to his lack of response to the tapes of the final moments of the people he slaughtered to get this gig in front of the word’s media, it’s obvious that Breivik is thoroughly enjoying the attention and won’t let the small matter of all those dead bodies spoil his week.

UPDATE 24/08/12

Breivik was originally diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and thus not responsible for his actions – i.e. criminally insane. This caused an outcry in Norway and, highly unusually, two more forensic psychologists were called in. This time a much more popular diagnosis was delivered: they declared that because of the way he meticulously planned his attacks he couldn’t be crazy.

Today the Oslo district court where he has been on trial for mass murder went with the second diagnosis, declared him legally ‘sane’ and sentenced him to 21 years in prison – though he is unlikely to ever be released.

Everyone seems happy with this verdict. The survivors. The families. Norway. The media. Breivik is perhaps the happiest. Unless he was playing an Oscar winning Br’er Rabbit, the thing he appeared to fear most was being ruled insane and thrown in a specially built psychiatric unit indefinitely. In his mind he is now a ‘political prisoner’ not a highly dangerous mentalist.

I can’t say I blame Norway for perhaps moving the goalposts to make sure he was found criminally responsible. But in a sense, his ‘Christian warrior’ delusions have been endorsed. 

Army Dreamers: A Backwards Salute to Recruitment Films

by Mark Simpson, The Guardian

As a boy growing up in the 1960s and 70s I was raised to fight The Second World War all over again. Airfix models. Commando comics. Air tattoos in June. Watching The Battle of Britain and The Longest Day on telly with my dad, just so I’d know what to do if I ever found myself pinned down on a Normandy beach or with an Me 109E on my tail.

All of which made me easy prey to an RAF recruiting film about a buccaneer squadron training sortie from Gibraltar, set to a Vangelis soundtrack. I promptly signed up to the air cadets and spent Tuesday afternoons and a week or two in the summer hols wearing itchy shirts and a Frank Spencer-style beret, learning how to march without falling over. I loved it, and would probably have signed up for the real thing if it hadn’t been for a sixth-form flirtation with Quakerism.

Alas, that old recruiting film isn’t included in They Stand Ready, a new collection of Central Office of Information (COI) armed forces recruitment and propaganda shorts made between 1946 and 1985, released by the BFI. But several similar ones are, including Tornado (1985), about a simulated attack on a Warsaw Pact surface-to-air missile site, and HMS Sheffield (1975), about life onboard a Royal Navy frigate (that was later hit by an Exocet during the Falklands war with the loss of 30 lives).

With their promise of escape from humdrum life, opportunities for new mates, good times, foreign travel and playing with really expensive toys – though strangely silent on the possible physical cost – these films offer a glimpse into the listless, regimented world that was mid-to-late 20th-century civilian Britain, waiting impatiently for Xboxes, EasyJet, the internet and proper drugs to turn up.

Perhaps it’s because prime minister David Cameron is around the same age as me – or possibly because the armed forces, or at least the army, are still largely run by lah-de-dah Ruperts like him – that he seems so nostalgic for this vanished old world. Cameron recently vowed to make the forces “front and centre of national life” and “revered” again, in a speech to UK personnel in Afghanistan.

Not that increased prominence is a guarantee of increased reverence, however. A short celebrating national service, They Stand Ready (1955), which dates from a year before the Suez debacle punctured the UK’s global pretensions, recalls the last time that the armed forces really were front and centre of national life. Yet conscription proved to be highly unpopular – both with most of those who had to do it and those who had to find something to do with them.

Once the last national servicemen left the ranks in 1963, army life could then be sold as something glamorous and exciting instead of an onerous black-and-white duty. This is exactly what Ten Feet Tall (1963), a rock’n’roll-soundtracked recruiting film does in glorious Technicolor. It showcases a matinee-idol young Scottish squaddie’s ruddy complexion, perfect white teeth, and the (now ominously) nicotine-stained fingers of the army careers officer.

• The COI Collection Volume Three: They Stand Ready, a BFI DVD release, available from July 2010


I Agree With Alex

By Mark Simpson

So the Scots Nationalist Party has failed in its court action to force the BBC to include their leader Alex Salmond in the final TV leaders’ debate. Everyone south of the border working in politics and the media seems to be very much agreed that this was the ‘right’ outcome. Except for this Englishman. Not least because of the breathtaking, downright imperious hypocrisy of the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.

Clegg couldn’t wait for the court decision. He claimed a few days ago that Salmond was “stamping his foot on the sidelines in fury that he’s not on this debate programme. The broadcasters have arrived at the particularly reasonable position that the debates should be held by the three people fighting this campaign up and down the UK.”’

A ‘particularly reasonable decision’ because the chief beneficiary was Nick Clegg – someone who, if you remember, was mostly stamping his foot on the sidelines until he appeared on the TV debate himself a few weeks ago, upstaging the other two party leaders (‘Who is that new guy with the nice hair?’) and provoking a wave of Cleggmania by calling for an end to the ‘old politics’. Perhaps he’s worried that if Salmond is permitted to appear beside him he might be upstaged by the new boy the way he did Brown and Cameron.

Especially since Salmond has a cheeky, Shrek-like, twinkly-eyed man-of-the-people quality that would probably play very well next to Cameron and Clegg’s silver spooning and Brown’s apparatchik chic. The last thing that Clegg wants is to be out-Clegged.

Of course, none of the three main Westminster parties – or the BBC – want to share the limelight with Salmond on their political X Factor show. David McLetchie, head of the Scottish Tories’ election campaign was equally dismissive of Salmond’s bid, invoking the ‘British’ thing: “It’s British general election. Alex Salmond isn’t a candidate in this British election and he doesn’t want to be prime minister. In fact, he wants to destroy the UK.’

In other words: we don’t want him on the show because he won’t play by our rules. But contrary to how it has been portrayed in the media, this isn’t an American Presidential Candidate debate – this is a party leader’s debate. And Salmond is the leader of a party that has several MPs in Westminster – and is running Scotland.

What these arguments overlook – deliberately – is that post-devolution, and with a party devoted to total independence for Scotland in power at Holyrood, ‘Britain’ as a political project has largely already ceased to exist. This is the really ‘old politics’ that the Palace of Westminster doesn’t want to give up. The Union and the imperial identity it engendered is pretty much a dead letter. We’re just waiting for the decree nisi.  Which admittedly has probably been delayed in the post by the recession – but rest assured a Tory Government in Westminster would certainly help focus Scottish minds on their future again.

North of the border almost no one with a Scottish accent is ‘British’, while south of the border it’s usually a way of not talking about the English – or letting them have their own Parliament, or National holiday. Or in the case of the TV election debates, ‘British’ means two slick, super-posh Englishmen in nice suits laying into the plain Scots guy in a bad one. Which is no doubt part of the reason why Salmond wants to muscle in.

Allowing Salmond on the show would be an acknowledgement of how out of touch the ‘old politics’ really is. It would break the spell of ‘let’s pretend she’s just having a kip’ that surrounds the demise of Britannia. Neither Clegg, nor Cameron nor Brown, nor the British Broadcasting Corporation, want to do that because it would severely puncture their own imperial and imperious self-importance.

Now that it’s clear that the TV election debates effectively are the election campaign, let’s have the SNP in one of them next time – and why not Plaid Cymru, UKIP and, if they win any seats, the English Democrats?  Let’s take an honest look at the crazy-paved, devolved nature of post-imperial 21st Century UK politics. After all, 90 minutes is a very long time to spend watching two Blair impersonators and an automaton audition for the part of Emperor With No Clothes.  Especially without a camp Irish compère to lighten the mood.  Bring on, I say, the political version of Britain’s Got Talent.

Clegg talks a lot about an end to the old politics, the urgency of the need for Proportional Representation and how coalitions are not something to be afraid of, but instead welcomed: politics as complicated, grown-up stuff.   But of course coalition government and PR mean taking ‘fringe’ parties that don’t happen to be the Lib Dems a little more seriously.  It means an end not just to two party politics but also and end to three party politics.  And the fond notion that Westminster is still the centre of the world.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2010

Crims Ain’t Wot They Used To Be

Mark Simpson on the way public information films about policing and justice throw an arresting light on our recent past

The London Times

Some trace the demise of the British way of life to the day when RAC patrolmen stopped saluting. In fact, as Police and Thieves, a marvellous two-DVD collection of historical documentaries on policing and the justice system from the vaults of the Central Office of Information, shows, the rot set in when bobbies stopped wearing skin-tight white gloves.

The reassuring paraphernalia of policing that I remember dressing up in as a kid to play cops and robbers has pretty much disappeared from our streets today, along with kids playing cops and robbers (everyone wants to be a robber). But in The British Policeman, in 1959 to teach the Commonwealth about the Mother Country, is nothing less than porn for hardcore nostagalics. Pointy helmets and chunky handcuffs, shiny whistles, wooden truncheons, police boxes and those white gloves — perhaps intended as a reminder that, as the very received-pronunciation voiceover intones, “The British policeman is a friend to all except the criminal … he is taught that he is the servant not the master of the public.”

And not a high-visibility jacket or stab-vest to be seen. Back then bobbies were a comforting symbol of the order of British society and the invincibility of its class system. This is underlined by the way that no one shown in the film actually speaks: the clipped voiceover speaks serenely for everyone. Today, of course, police are seen only when there’s trouble — if you’re lucky.

Filmed in crisp black and white on a warm sunny day in a Leicester that looks more like Trumpton than a major Midlands industrial town, this was the high summer of Ealing Englishness, before the 1960s ruined everything. The clumsy propaganda of The British Policeman, like many COI films collected here, is easy to ridicule now — and probably was then too — but it also provides a priceless glimpse of a world that now seems at least as quaint and foreign to us as it did to its intended audience.

No one, except the avuncular bobby protagonist of the film, is overweight. Almost everyone in what may soon be Britain’s first majority non-white city is Caucasian, save for a Commonwealth gentleman at the beginning of the film who asks our helpful bobby for directions. Middle-aged women wear scarves like hijabs. Sullen bequiffed Teds hang around all-night coffee stands. Our bobby helps old ladies to cross the road, untangles schoolboys’ fishing lines caught in trees and attends to a pig-tailed girl’s grazed knee. Proving he’s no pushover, he also apprehends a burglar in a donkey jacket, his pocket full of chisels, who practically shrugs and says, “Fair cop, guv”. Only one female PC makes an appearance, turning up to babysit a runaway girl who has been hanging around with the Teds.

This world thought it was going to last for ever, but the end was waiting just around the corner, cosh in hand. In Unit Beat Policing, a 1968 recruiting film, the white heat of technology has replaced white gloves — and bobbies. Filmed in Chester, it’s a celebration of hardware: panda cars, walkie-talkies, central radio control, electric typewriters and “collecting information”, complete with a Z-Cars-style theme tune. A technocratic chief constable enthuses: “A squad car can do the job of five men on the beat. Which in turn allows us to spend more money on technology that saves manpower . . .”

No female PCs are to be seen in 1968 either, but we do see some women pushing prams and a gossipy lady reports a neighbour for being unmarried, living with a girl, not having a job and generally being shifty. By 1973 in another recruitment film, Anything Can Happen, excitement is now the selling point: big sideburns, action, mateyness, sexism: Life on Mars without the irony. While the young male bobby protagonist is now allowed a voice (albeit a slumming RADA one), female PCs are just dumb bait for recruiting male PCs — two years before the Sex Discrimination Act.

In the 1970s the COI started to move away from documentaries and towards the TV shorts that it is most famous for. Bicycle Thefts (1974) stars a suspiciously pretty, fey young man in a fedora and cravat who seems to have inspired much of David Walliams’s oeuvre: “I’d rather not say what was in my saddlebag. It’s personal.”

Police and Thieves also includes some COI documentaries showing the workings of the post-war justice system: Four Men in Prison (1950), Probation Officer (1950), and the remarkable Children on Trial (1946) (pictured). The public-school paternalism of the age is evident in all these films: “At work and at play we expect you to act like men — we run a civilised, high-class community,” says one governor in his welcoming speech to the new intake. But it is a surprisingly enlightened paternalism that has rather more faith in human nature and rehabilitation than we do today. The future turned out to be much more democratic, but also much less forgiving than class-bound Britain, white gloves and all.

Police and Thieves, the COI collection, Vol 1 is released by bfi

Trysexuality – It’s Just For Girls

Last Sunday’s News of The World carried a ‘JORDAN’S LOVER BOMBSHELL’ expose on Jordan’s ‘hunky cage fighter boyfriend’ Alex Reid.  What was the bombshell?  He’s sexually open-minded.

‘”I’M TRY-SEXUAL: JORDAN’S MAN SAYS “I’LL TRY ANYTHING ONCE!'”’ was the shocking headline for the two page spread. The piece, cobbled together from interviews with ex-friends, and some snaps of him in drag with his mates – obviously for a lad’s night out – did its best to keep the (now old) tranny story going, further undermine his masculinity and suggest that he’s even worse than a tranny – he’s probably a poof! After all, any bloke who says he’s a ‘try-sexual’, even one who doesn’t wear women’s clothes, is obviously a bender….

So far, so NOTW. It is, after all, a famously narrow-minded newspaper catering to people who don’t get much.

But rather confusingly, the front of the NOTW glossy magazine inside the very same edition that mocked and ridiculed Reid for his cross-dressing and daring to step outside prescribed gender roles featured TV celeb Myleene Klaas shaving her face on the front page, the with the come-on coverline: ‘MYLEENE MANS UP! – Tough talking and too feisty even for Cowell. Yes, this girls got balls.’ Inside she poses for a glamorous photo shoot in a suit and a side-parting.

Klaas doesn’t describe herself as ‘try-sexual’ in the interview (though she does talk about comparing ‘boob sizes’ with female friends in toilet cubicles), but if she did it would probably have been presented in the same yay! good on ya! girl power!! fashion as her ballsiness. ‘Try-sexuality’ when undertaken by women now seems, even in the NOTW, to be both a measure of both female empowerment and also their new assertive sexuality.  It tends to enhance their femininity rather than bringing it into (fatal) question.

But when men try to join in the experimentation and step outside gendered sex roles themselves, by for instance cross-dressing or expressing an interest in same-sex fantasy, the opposite appears to be true, at least in the public sphere.  They are merely deviant, ‘gay’ or ‘sad’ – and instantly shorn of their masculinity. A joke.  Even cage fighters. Attitudes towards male bi-curiousness show that for men being ‘half gay’ is tantamount to being ‘half-pregnant’.

This new double standard for male and female sexual behaviour which in contrast to the old ‘stud/slut’ one, penalises men rather than women was documented earlier this year by Canadian sociologists, who found that men were expected to be up for sex all the time – but only very straight sex. Women were allowed much more latitude in both whether they actually wanted to have sex – and what kind of sex they wanted to have.

This double standard is endemic in the UK, as is painfully evident in the recent case of the barmy woman boxer (also Canadian) found guilty of a violent and unprovoked attack on a couple of drunken squaddies at a disco for kissing and dancing with one another and ‘pretending to be gay’ screaming ‘THIS SHOULDN’T BE ALLOWED IN THE BRITISH ARMY!’.

Despite being a violent foreign criminal on the run from the law for assaulting British soldiers (from behind) – and moreover a woman who stepped outside of gender stereotypes herself – she was feted by the British popular press as some kind of have-a-go a heroine.

Why? Well, partly because she was quite ‘tasty’ (in the sense of ‘not looking like a dyke’), but mostly because she was punishing men for daring to break the gender rules themselves.

Twenty-First Century trysexuality is, you see, just for girls.

Let’s Be Civil: Gay Marriage Isn’t The End of the Rainbow

by Mark Simpson (A shorter version originally appeared on Guardian CIF November 2, 2008)

“It’s better to marry than burn with passion,” declared St Paul. But now marriage itself seems to have become a burning issue – or at least, gay marriage.

The re-banning of gay marriage in California earlier this month with the passage of Proposition 8 has been presented by gay marriage advocates as a vicious body-blow for gay rights. Angry gay people and their allies have protested across the US, some reportedly even rioting. The timely release of the Gus Van Sant movie Milk, about the murder in 1977 of Harvey Milk, the US’s first out elected official, has fuelled the sense of gay outrage and defiance. Surely only a hateful bigot like the one that gunned down Harvey would be opposed to gay marriage?

Gay marriage is the touchstone of gay equality, apparently. Settling for anything less is a form of Jim Crow style gay segregation and second-class citizenship.

But not all gays agree. This one for instance sees gay marriage not so much as a touchstone as a fetish. A largely symbolic and emotional issue that in the US threatens to undermine real, non-symbolic same-sex couple protection: civil unions bestow in effect the same legal status as marriage in several US states – including California. As a result of the religious right’s mobilisation against gay marriage, civil unions have been rolled back in several US states.

Perhaps the lesson of Proposition 8 is not that most straight people think gay people should sit at the back of the bus, but that if you take on religion and tradition on its hallowed turf – and that is what marriage effectively is – you’re highly likely to lose.  Even in liberal California.

Maybe I shouldn’t carp, living as I do in the UK, where civil partnerships with equal legal status to marriage have been nationally recognised since 2004. But part of the reason that civil partnerships were successfully introduced here was because they are civil partnerships not “marriages” (the UK is a much more secular country than the US, and somewhat more gay-friendly too – but even here gay marriage would almost certainly not have passed).

At this point I’d like to hide behind the, erm, formidable figure of Sir Elton John, who also expressed doubts recently about the fixation of US gay campaigners on the word ‘marriage’, and declared he was happy to be in a civil partnership with the Canadian David Furnish and did not want to get married. Needless to say, Mr John wasn’t exactly thanked for speaking his mind by gay marriage advocates.

But amidst all the gay gnashing of teeth about the inequality of Proposition 8 it’s worth asking: when did marriage have anything to do with equality? Respectability, certainly. Normality, possibly. Stability, hopefully. Very hopefully. But equality?

First of all, there’s something gay people and their friends need to admit to the world: gay and straight long-term relationships are generally not the same. How many heterosexual marriages are open, for example? In my experience, many if not most long term male-male relationships are very open indeed. Similarly, sex is not quite so likely to be turned into reproduction when your genitals are the same shape. Yes, some gay couples may want to have children, by adoption or other means, and that’s fine and dandy of course, but children are not a consequence of gay conjugation. Which has always been part of the appeal for some.

More fundamentally who is the “man” and who is the “wife” in a gay marriage? Unlike cross-sex couples, same-sex partnerships are partnerships between nominal equals without any biologically, divinely or even culturally determined reproductive/domestic roles. Who is to be “given away”? Or as Elton John, put it: “I don’t wanna be anyone’s wife”.

It’s increasingly unclear even to heterosexuals who is the “man” and who is the “wife”, who should cleave to the other’s will and who should bring home the bacon. That’s why so many today introduce their husband or wife as “my partner”. The famous exception to this of course was Guy Ritchie and his missus, Madonna – and look what happened to them. Pre-nuptial agreements, very popular with celebs (though not, apparently, with Guy and Madonna), represent the very realistic step of divorcing before you get married – like plastic surgery, this is a hard-faced celeb habit that’s going mainstream.

If Christians and traditionalists want to preserve the “sanctity” of marriage as something between a man and a woman, with all the mumbo jumbo that entails, let them. They only hasten the collapse of marriage. Instead of demanding gay marriage, in effect trying to modernise an increasingly moribund institution, maybe lesbian and gay people should push for civil partnerships to be opened to everyone, as they are in France – where they have proved very popular.

I suspect civil partnerships, new, secular, literally down-to-earth contracts between two equals, relatively free of the baggage of tradition, ritual and unrealistic expectations, would also prove very popular with cross-sex couples in the Anglo world at a time when the institution of marriage is the most unpopular it’s ever been among people who aren’t actually gay. Yes, cross-sex couples can have civil marriage ceremonies, but they’re still marriages, not partnerships. If made open to everyone, civil partnerships might eventually not just be an alternative to marriage. Marriage might end up being something left to Mormons.

Perhaps my scepticism about gay marriage and marriage in general is down to the fact that I’m terminally single. Perhaps it’s all just sour grapes. Or maybe I prefer to burn with passion than marry. After all, St Paul’s violently ascetic world-view which regarded marriage as a poor runner-up to chastity, also ensured that the Christian Church would burn sodomites like kindling for centuries.

Either way, I think it needs to be mentioned amidst all this shouting about gay domesticity that, important as it is to see lesbian and gay couples recognised and given legal protection, probably most gay men (though probably not most lesbians) are single and probably will be single for most of their lives. With or without civil partnerships/unions.

Or even the magical, symbolic power of gay marriage.

Postscript: The Voice of Gay America responds – loudly.

Beijing Beckham

I’m still in shock after watching the handover to the London Olympics in Beijing. Please tell me it was a bad dream and that on your goggle-box you saw something much less horrifying.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson looked like he’d put on his worst suit – sorry, someone else’s worst suit – and slept in it all the way to China.  Adding to his impact, he generally behaved like someone from a Home for the Terminally Bewildered on a rare day out.

As for the show the Brits put on, featuring a morphing red London bus, hordes of annoying dancers – it looked like a Cliff Richard film directed by Brent Council, but less fun.

And then the climax: David Beckham popping out of the top of the bus like Samantha Fox out of a birthday cake, to the tunes of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ warbled by crummy TV talent show winner Leona Lewis in crinolene, stuck on the end of a pole like a dodgy Christmas decoration.

How the world went wild as he showed us his latest cosmetic surgery! (My tranny friend Michelle tells me he’s had his eyes done, the upper bags – and I never doubt her judgement about these things).  Before expertly kicking a ball into the wrong part of the stadium.

It was a complete and utter disaster and embarrassment.  A comedy of errors with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Welcome to London.

No, really, you’re welcome to it.

Larry Craig Found Not Guilty!

Well, not quite.

But almost. Someone arrested in the same sting, using the same entrapment who decided to fight the charge – as Craig now wishes he had done – has been acquitted. Somehow I doubt this news story will get much coverage, because as everyone knows that Craig is GUILTY! and GAY! and a HYPOCRITE!, right?

A jury Friday acquitted a Minneapolis man arrested in the same airport bathroom sex-sting operation that snared U.S. Sen. Larry Craig.

Vince Tuzon, 39, of Minneapolis, claimed he couldn’t be guilty of interfering with the undercover officer’s privacy because the officer is the one who invited the invasion with foot-tapping. That is an argument Craig has raised in trying to withdraw his guilty plea.

In Tuzon’s case, a Hennepin County jury agreed.

“My client really feels that he was set up,” defense lawyer Jeffrey Dean said after the verdict. “He stopped in to use the restroom. He was using the toilet when he was essentially bombarded with overtures.”

Dean said his client would not comment, but he said he hoped the verdict would deter similar sting operations.

“The police created a situation where there was none,” he said.

These kind of entrapments of mostly married men like Craig rely on them not daring to contest and go to trial – and who can blame them, given the treatment that has been meted out to Craig by the public and his colleagues once his misdemeanour was made public? Out of 41 men arrested during this sting operation at Minneapolis airport, only two fought the charge. One was convicted, one acquitted.

The haste and undisguised glee that liberals – and gays – displayed in rushing to condemn Craig and their willingness to believe everything the entrapping, toe-tapping pretty policemen had to say – compared to, say, a jury – was much more indecent than anything he was accused of.

But of course, Craig can’t be allowed the benefit of the doubt by liberals because he’s a Republican.

Nor by his own party because they don’t want to seem… liberal.

Larry Craig fights on – and best of British to him

Larry Craig has decided not to resign from the Senate after all and vowed to fight on, despite a judge’s rejection of his attempt to withdraw his guilty plea to the ‘disorderly conduct’ charge levelled at him after his arrest in that airport men’s room.

‘[the judge] rejected that as a good reason to withdraw the plea. Any pressure Craig was under “was entirely perceived by the defendant and was not a result of any action by the police, the prosecutor or the court,” he wrote.’

The police tape flatly contradicts this. The first question Craig asks is ‘Will I have to fight you in court?’ It’s clear his main concern, like most of the married men arrested in these situations, let alone conservative politicians, is avoiding publicity – at whatever cost. The entrapping/arresting officer repeatedly mentions the ‘jail time’ and courts that loom if Craig doesn’t ‘cooperate’ – and plead guilty. In which case: ‘There’ll be a fine. You won’t have to explain anything.’

In fact, the whole of America has demanded – and keeps demanding – Craig explain himself.  To come out – with his hands up.

In the tape, Craig never accepts that he was looking for sex.  The arresting officer becomes hotly indignant when Craig contradicts his version/interpretation of events in the men’s room (interpretation is what it comes down to since this is, in effect, a ‘crime’ of intentionality – or foot-tapping). In fact, he seems outraged that someone could dare to do this. No doubt most of the cop’s victims, horrified at the thought of ‘jail time’, or simply drawing attention to the case by fighting it, comply meekly.

And it was certainly true that Craig was under unusual pressure as his local newspaper was on an (anti) gay witchhunt against Craig.

Even if you consider entrapped, pressured Craig, now denied his day in court, guilty as sin, because you always believe policemen – he’s only guilty of a demeanour.  Something which should not end his career.  Unless of course you think that tapping your feet in a men’s rom is much worse than, say, using female prostitutes (after admitting he used female prostitutes, Senator David Vitter was greeted with a standing ovation in the Senate from his Republican peers).

I say: best of British to Craig in his fight to stay on. Unlike most of liberal America, which jeers at every attempt he makes to fight for his career and name, I don’t suddenly think that sex police are a great thing if they entrap a conservative and then pressure them into an ill-advised confession. Nor should the GOP be allowed to hurriedly flush him like a dirty tissue as they have repeatedly tried to do.

Everyone’s had their fun now and made all their sophomoric Larry Craig jokes – so perhaps American liberals can now wake up to the real issue here and stop scoring cheap shots and show some non-partisan principles.

What’s the real issue? Well, it’s a bigger issue than Craig, bigger than accusations of ‘hypocrisy’ (which often turn out to be. er, hypocritical), bigger than ‘coming out’, and bigger than Republicans v Democrats.

It’s about justice.

Bin Laden’s Metro Makeover Betrays His Whereabouts

hair.jpgRetrosexuality Islamic stylee – which until recently was possibly the only un-ironic or non-fashion-accessorised kind of retrosexuality left – seems to be in a bad way in the Islamic heartland. Medievalism just isn’t what it used to be.

Yesterday’s London Times carries a news feature on what’s termed “Pakistan’s metrosexual revolution”. The local Mullahs’ fatwahs on beauty salons for women as ‘un-Islamic’ appear to have provoked Pakistani men into an inspiring act of solidarity with their countrywomen: they’ve been selflessly queuing up for waxings and facials themselves and splashing out on Western vanity products for their own bathroom cabinets. Male cosmetic surgery and hair transplants are sprouting up everywhere – including on the previously shiny bonces of former Prime Ministers such as Nawaz Sharif who recently tried to return to Pakistan (the bad quality of his implants and dye job led to his immediate deportation back to Saudi Arabia).

Most Pakistani women are not complaining about the locked bathroom door. A survey of 25,000 women found that over half preferred men with “a metrosexual appearance similar to David Beckham” to those with “a rugged appearance”. Though perhaps they just preferred a man who looked like they had David Beckham’s money.

binladen.jpgBut the most important angle to this news about Pakistan’s ‘metrosexual revolution’ has been missed: it confirms that the most wanted man on the planet after David Beckham – Osama Bin Laden – has indeed been taking refuge in the country as many suspected. In his recent cheery ‘anniversary’ video address, the one exhorting Americans to ’embrace Islam’, Bin Laden appears to have ordered a 9-11 on that tired-looking grey beard of his seen in previous videos and given some major uplift to his Prophet of Doom look with a trim and a dye that has really helped massacre the years. Who wouldn’t embrace him now? Patently, Pakistan’s metrosexual makeover fever has reached Osama, even in his inaccessible mountain redoubt.

Now all the the CIA has to do is find a cave in on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border within easy donkey-ride of a drug store stocking bottles of Arabian 2000 hair restorer.

Larry Craig: the Deep Fried Famous Potato






by Mark Simpson

Whether or not Idaho’s Senator Larry Craig likes cock or not, following his arrest for ‘lewd conduct’ in a men’s room at Minneapolis airport this week one thing is for sure: a lot of cock has been written about him. Here’s Melissa McEwan offering a typical – if relatively kind – commentary in the Guardian:

‘Voting against the interests of the LGBT community displays either a callous lack of feeling towards people with whom he shares a vested interest, or it’s a hypocritical attempt to ensure his longevity as a politician.’

Call me pedantic, but tapping your foot or putting your hand under a toilet stall partition doesn’t make you particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. Or part of any community with whom you share ‘vested interests’.

Judging by the rush to ‘out’ Craig as a ‘hypocritical closeted gay’ by hordes of callous bloggers and columnists, and the scorn poured on his claims that he’s not gay, it seems that liberals are equipped with even better and stricter sexpolicing instincts than Minnesota’s Finest. Liberals don’t just finger your collar, they finger your soul – divining your innermost desires, making identifications on your behalf and working out what your own vested interests are for you. Even though they’ve never met you or shared a bathroom with you.

After all, Minnesota’s sexpolice, as the (cute, young) arresting officer (pictured above) makes clear in the taped interview with Craig, are not concerned whether someone is gay or not – merely whether they might be soliciting sex in a bathroom. Or whether they respond to their own flirtatious footsie. And by the way, I know I’m being pedantic again, but we don’t even know that Craig was looking for sex in that bathroom. Yes, of course, it seems quite possible, very likely even, but we only have a policeman’s word for it. And liberals don’t usually fall over themselves to believe a policeman, especially when he’s paid to hang around toilets all day like ripe cottage cheese in a mousetrap. Let alone one that seems to have, on the tape, possibly a self-righteous political axe to grind (‘no wonder this country is going down the tubes’).

Unless of course they’re entrapping a conservative politician.

Even if Craig was definitely, unquestionably a dick-craving, tap-dancing cottager, it wouldn’t mean that he was gay, or that he should feel any affinity to the gay community. As safer-sex educators can tell you, rather a lot of men have casual anonymous sex with other men without seeing themselves as gay, or even bisexual. Or Democrat.

Now, you may think them wrongheaded. You may think them closeted and self-loathing and in denial. You may consider them creepy. But that’s just what you think – it’s not necessarily who they are. You may wish the world was a tidier place, where any departure from official heterosexuality was ‘Gay’ or ‘Lesbian’ or ‘Bisexual’ – and proudly identified itself as such – but sexual behaviour isn’t like that. Sexual behaviour into identity doesn’t go. Cripes, desire into identity doesn’t even fit very well. As police officials admit, most of the men they arrest in bathrooms are married (and probably the main reason, along with the repeated threats of jail-time from the arresting officer if they don’t ‘co-operate’ and ‘make it easy on yourself’, why most, like Craig, don’t fight the charge in court).

If sexuality is a murky business, even what we mean by ‘sex’ is not always as clear as we like to pretend. In the teeth of the state -sponsored witch-hunt by sexpoliceman (and judge and jury) Ken Starr, Bill Clinton’s denial that he had sex with Monica Lewinsky was not simply the lawyerly sophistry or bald-faced ‘lie’ that almost everyone, however they estimated the importance of it, denounced it as being at the time. A good Southern Baptist, Clinton wouldn’t have considered that oral sex constituted ‘sex’ – and in fact he was careful never to have intercourse with Lewinsky. Nor is this simply Baptist, or fuddy-duddy thinking. In the same decade, the American Medical Association found that 60% of American college students didn’t consider oral sex ‘sex’. In other words, probably most of the Americans condemning Clinton for his ‘lies’ were being… hypocritical.

Then again, America is a country that likes to call a toilet a ‘bathroom’ – when there is no bath in it. Or a ‘restroom’ – when there is precious little resting going on. Especially in Minneapolis International Airport.

Now that the shoe is on the other foot (straying under the stall partition) the same kind of sanctimonious solidarity appears to have been ranged against Craig – but with interest. His own party, appalled at the merest whiff of the men’s room, have glanced at the toilet paper stuck to his shoe and run off screaming. Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, just a few days ago, a friend and close political ally, wrinkled his Mormon nose, described the affair in his best Lady Bracknell as ‘disgusting’ and disowned Craig; faced with zero support from his GOP comrades Craig now seems likely to resign. Politically, he’s toast.

Yes, Craig is a Senator for a Party I have no love for, a party which panders to the gay-bashing of the religious right and which launched a criminal war. Craig has supported policies like ‘Don’t ask, don’t’ tell’ which drum out men and women from the Armed Forces for less than he was accused of. And yes, he may well be – like much of the Republican Party – pretending to virtues he doesn’t possess. He is, after all, a politician. He may also have lied through his teeth. (Again, he’s a politician.) But I can’t help but have some sympathy for a hunted, rural thing (Idaho is the home of ‘famous potatoes’) and everyone of whatever political stripe in the US appears to want to throw Craig into the nearest deep-fat fryer.

When talking about people’s sex lives, liberals should probably think twice about hurling the world ‘hypocrite’ around with as much relish as conservatives like to use the word ‘immoral’ or ‘pervert’. It’s much the same kind of public shaming. It used to be called stoning. Let him who is without sin cast the first blog.

Moreover, I’d like to venture, somewhat controversially, that ‘hypocrisy’ is a word that has had a bit of a bad press, especially in the confessional culture of the US. What is a ‘hypocrite’ anyway? Someone whose private life fails to match up to his public image? That’s not even the definition of a politician – that’s the definition of a human being. Besides, sometimes hypocrisy might simply be the voice of experience.

Craig may cut a preposterous figure, but what’s even more preposterous is the sight of a long line of liberals forming to hammer on the stall door of this married-with-grandkids Republican’s been locked in by the media – and his own ‘moment of madness’ – yelling, ‘COME OUT!! YOU’RE GAY, YOU GODDAM HYPOCRITE!! YOU’RE SHOWING A CALLOUS LACK OF VESTED SELF-INTEREST TO YOUR LGBT COMMUNITY!!’.

Wanking On: How Masturbation Became Aspiration

Mark Simpson gets to grips with a man’s favourite bad habit


A bastard blue van has just cut me up, pulling out suddenly from a side-street right in front of me, forcing me to brake. Hard. So I respond in the customary English way: winding down the window, leaning out and calling him, at the top of my voice, an Onanist.

Tasting his oil-seasoned exhaust while rolling the window back up I feel a warm sense of satisfaction.

After all, calling someone a wanker is a great pleasure. A full-bodied Anglo Saxon word, ‘wanker’ can be relished in its pronunciation. Especially if you deliver it – as most people south of Watford seem do nowadays – with an Estuarian twang: as in, ‘WAN-KAH!’.

Even better, it’s possible to drive this insult home visually, by making that cute jacking gesture with your half-closed fist. Though admittedly, when I do this to other men I sometimes get a bit confused whether I’m offering an insult or an invitation.

The best thing about calling someone a player of pocket pool though is that it’s a crime you’re just as guilty of. As the jigging fist does rather hint, the man accusing another man of being a hand galloper is no stranger to Mrs Palm and her five daughters himself.

Unlike, say, ‘motherfucker’ (unless you happen to actually live in Thebes), using ‘wanker’ as a term of abuse is a tad self-incriminating. It’s a bit like calling someone a ‘nose-picker’. Everyone does it. You might as well be calling someone ‘HUMAN!’.

For males ‘wanking’ is the normal form of sexual behaviour and intercourse is the deviation. Most men, even those in long-term relationships, have orgasmed alone rather more times than they have with others – after all we peak sexually long before anyone will go out with us.

And if God hadn’t wanted us to wank, would He have put our hands at crotch level? Unless he just wanted to make things really difficult for us?  As any anthropologist will tell you, when Homo erectus stood up, the first thing he reached for was his tool. (The original Obelisk scene in Kubrick’s 2001, in which an apelike man grabs his ‘bone’ for the first time was cut by the 1970s censors and had to be re-shot in its current, symbolic form).

Once upon a time having a Jodrell Bank was somewhat shameful. Not any more. Nowadays, there’s a whole TV channel devoted to it: it’s called Channel Five.

Wanking has finally come out of the cubicle – with some tissue stuck to its shoe. George Michael might have been arrested for it, but then he did turn it into a hit pop single celebrating it.

In the good old days, masturbation was regarded as a sin and a sickness, an enervation of the nation’s manhood, and a waste of its precious jism.  Boys were solemnly told that it would make them go blind/deaf/grow hair on their palms – which of course was all true, they just forgot to mention that it would take about fifty years.

All these warnings and threats may have made lads a bit anxious, but you can bet it made the slightly sad business of auto-eroticism – or ‘self-abuse’ – much more fun because it made it naughty and dangerous.

These days however, masturbation is as rebellious as a side parting. On their eleventh birthday boys are given videos by their mothers called ‘How To Pull Your Pud Properly’ featuring Toyah Wilcox in surgical gloves. Not masturbating is now considered pathological. (The NHS now recommends that men masturbate at least twice a week to avoid prostate cancer.)

Public schools in the Nineteenth Century were as obsessed with preventing their boys from jerking their gherkin as we are today with encouraging them. They developed a whole way of life which we called ‘Britishness’, designed to stamp out ‘self-abuse’. Cold showers, thin blankets, bad food, soccer and rugby football were all deployed to ward it off. This approach may not have been terribly successful, but we did at least get an Empire out of it.

Crackdowns on monkey spankings were not however exclusive to Britain. One reason why American men are circumcised is because it was thought that circumcision would discourage masturbation by removing that naughty, oh-so-slidey bit of skin. A notion that was for some inexplicable reason promoted most enthusiastically by the Crisco vegetable oil company.

But neither cold showers nor genital mutilation can stop boys playing with themselves. Male adolescence is just too irresistible a force. When you’re fourteen, everything gives you a hard on: sitting on a bus, fizzy drinks, strong breezes, the smell of pencil shavings (oh, was that just me?). And almost anything can bring you off.

I shagged pillows, mounted my mattress, and even managed to turn the cold showers so beloved of my boarding school into a masturbatory device by allowing water from the shower head to drip onto the end of my dick, in a pervy variation on Chinese Water Torture. Each large drop of water brought me tantalisingly closer to the edge. The only problem was that by the time I came, I’d usually caught a cold.

It goes without saying that this method of self abuse wouldn’t work for me today. Now I’m in my thirties and the hormonal frenzy has long-since receded, it would take a water cannon to bring me off. If boyhood was a time when you masturbated four times a day, despite your best efforts to curb your habit, adulthood is when you masturbate only once a fortnight, despite your best efforts to do it more often.

Understandably, one of the reasons why masturbation used to be so heavily discouraged was because it was rather too close for comfort to homosexuality. After all, at its minimum, ‘homosexuality’ is no more than a wank shared with a friend. All men, however straight they might consider themselves know what it is to feel a hard cock in their hands and how to please it.

Come to think of it, at its maximum, homosexuality is no more than a shared wank….

Not so long ago, adult men with girlfriends or wives would rarely admit to having a Barclays, unless they were separated from their missus by war or the Law. The whole point of being an adult – being a man – was that you didn’t have to play with your pee-pee any more: you now had a woman to do that for you.

Or else you were too busy and too grown up for such things. Hence the insult ‘wanker’. It means: ‘useless’, ‘worthless’, ‘contemptible’. But these days hen-pecked, feminist-badgered men want to advertise, or at least pretend to, their independence from women, and also their immaturity. Wanking is now aspirational.

So all those seedy top-shelf wank-mags I remember from my youth which were full of fantasies about women giving them hand shandies on buses, have been replaced by big-circulation middle-shelf men’s glossies like FHM and Maxim full of pieces by men bragging about giving themselves hand-shandies. It’s not just cheating on the girlfriend, you see – it’s cheating on the whole female sex.

The much-touted next evolutionary leap for humanity, the Interweb, is of course all about wanking too. Though it has been described as a fulfillment of the Protestant vision of each man at home alone with his God, I think the Net is more a case of each man at home alone with his cock. Which of course amounts to much the same thing.

And yes, people in sex chat-rooms do actually use the word ‘wanker’ as an insult – even when they have to type it with one hand.

a nd i sho uld knw .

(This essay is collected in Sex Terror: Erotic Misadventures in Pop Culture)

Queer Eye For the Tory Guy

adamrickittWhen, I wonder, am I going to receive my fee for my makeover of the Tory Party?  Metrodaddy, alias yours truly, appears to have been cast as the (reluctant) queer eye of the British Tory guy. 

As yet another sign of the total mainstreaming of male aesthetics, that once reliably retrosexual party that seems to have gone raving metrosexual – or, rather, ‘mincing metrosexual’ in the inadvertently revealing words of its chairman this week

First they elect a new, young, (relatively) stylish, rather moisturised, leader in the form of David Cameron.  Practically the first thing he does, before his trip to Norway to watch glaciers melt, before holding a shadow cabinet meeting/photo opp. in his lovely designer kitchen, is to announce that the The Queen is Dead by The Smiths is his favourite album of all time.  (I can’t help wondering if I’d chosen, for some inexplicable reason, to write a biography of Holly Johnson rather than that alternative 80s ‘Iron Lady’ Morrissey, whether Cameron would have named Welcome to the Pleasuredome as his favourite album instead.)

Then an ‘A list’ of parliamentary candidates is announced – featuring women, gays, non-whites, and celebs – as a kind of new, designer political wardrobe for Cameron, fast-tracking the Conservatives’ change of image from something retro into something more modern, more fashionable, more desirable, more… metro.

Pre-eminent among these ‘A-listers’ is metrotory poster boy Adam Rickitt, who despite his name, is an anything but mal-nourished chap whose major claim to fame until now is that he used to take his shirt off a lot on the soap Coronation Street to show us his boyish six-pack and pecs.  Kind of a Woolworths pick ‘n’ mix Marky Mark, or, perhaps more to the point, a BHS soft-furnishings department Joe Dallesandro (Warhol hustler and hunky, hairless shirtless cover star for The Smiths’ debut, eponymous album).  Not surprisingly, a gay character in that soap fell for him and tried to kiss him  – a pass which was, after a bit of hesitation, rejected by Adam’s hetro metro character.

Given the awful looks, shape, clothes and halitosis of most British politicians I reckon Rickitt’s guaranteed a buff majority at the next election as thousands of young women and gays hitherto unfamiliar with the arcane and occult practise of voting rush to the polls to put a big kiss next to his name – and a prominent front bench position.  After all, you wouldn’t be able to appreciate his pretty blond features properly in the backbenches, would you? 

What on earth would this lad with no previous political experience be minister for, I hear you demand?  Well, there’s a host of possibilities that his talents bring to mind.  Such as… Minister for Looking At.  Or Minister for Working Out.  Or Minister for Men’s Underwear.  Or Minister for Decorating the House.  Failing that, he can just bring along his own portfolio – of photographs. 

Politics has already been successfully aestheticized by New Labour – once the proletarian party of production and supply-side, now the party of consumption and seduction – and rendered skin deep.  Why not politicians?  At least then we’d have something nice to look at while we’re being lied to.

Little wonder though that die-hard, unmoisturised retrosexuals within the Tory Party are rather unhappy with what’s happening to the party that used to bathe once a week and used a whiffy flannel the rest of the time; the party that used to regard that gay-baiting crank with the pudding-bowl haircut Normo Tebbit as the summit of everything desirable in a man; the party that introduced legislation in the form of Section 28 to ban schools from promoting the use of male hair care products and gymnasiums.  Little wonder they have been making loud noises – mostly of buttock clenching.

Old-timer Tory chairman Francis Maude has tried to reassure them, to soothe their fevered brows and cramping sphincters, and counteract some unfortunate ‘misapprehensions’.  Alas, his Freudian unconscious sabotaged him and revealed his own anxieties about the policy he himself is having to implement in an hilarious slip of the tongue, or some such fleshly organ.  Appearing on Toryradio this week, railing against the wilder rumours, he found himself saying:

“The idea that what we’re actually trying to do is insert mincing metrosexuals into gritty northern marginal seats is complete rubbish.”’

Err, thanks for that, Frankie.  A choice of words and images that will definitely put all unsavoury and uncomfortable thoughts of bumming out of the minds of Tory stick-in-the-(non-beautyfying)-muds who can’t stop worrying about it – at the same time as reassure the public that the Tory Party has really changed (its underwear).

I suspect however that most self-respecting metrosexuals would probably rather not insert themselves into ‘gritty seats’ anyway.  Certainly not without a shower and a sack and crack wax first. 

More to the point, that colourful outburst would seem to confirm that Cameron is inserting ‘mincing metrosexuals’ into safe seats instead.  I told you we’d be seeing Adam on the front benches soon, sunbathing in a thong.  [Update: In fact, Rickitt has applied to replace former Tory Leader Michael Howard as MP for Folkestone and Hythe at the next election.  On one Tory web forum he’s described by an apopleptic Tory activist as a ‘ghastly hermaphrodite’.]

Actually, despite the depressing, patronising view of the North held by Southerners such as Maude and the BBC (e.g. ‘The Street’) as some kind of Gulag for people who use short vowel sounds, I can assure you, as someone who has recently moved back to the North from the South, that working class northern men in this largely – thanks to Mrs T – post-industrial region are even more keen than Southerners on fake tan, hair gel, designer clothes and gym-bodies and least likely to apologize for it.  The centre of the nearest big city to me, ‘gritty northern’ Newcastle, is full of them milling if not mincing around wearing expensively little on a Friday night – Newcastle even officially calls its giant shopping mall the ‘Metro Centre’, in case local lads didn’t know where to go when they get their pay-packets. 

If the Tories want to insert themselves into more seats in the North, and God knows they can hardly occupy fewer than they do at the moment, they could do worse than recruit a few more Adam Rickitts.  If they want to seduce younger voters, the Tories need to convince them that they’ve abandoned the ‘Victorian Values’ – and aesthetics – of the Iron Lady and embraced the ‘softer’, ‘selfish’, ‘superficial’  and ‘vain’ aspect of the consumer revolution she ushered in but tried, like most Tories, to disavow. 

That, in other words, the Tories are something that young people might actually want to wear.  Or even look at.

Damn – I’ve done it again.  I’ve given the Tories more consultancy advice.  For nothing.

How about a signed poster of Adam Rickitt canvassing himself in the altogether and we’ll call it quits?


© Mark Simpson 2006


Careerists, capitalists and creeps

Review of ‘Britain’s New Power Elites’, Hywel Williams (Constable, £12.99)

by Mark Simpson

Appeared in Independent on Sunday, 14 May 2006

‘Among the most significant achievements of the modern British elite,” argues Hywel Williams, limbering up in the early pages of his polemic against Britain’s rulers in the form of an incompetent executive class, a meaningless political class and a degraded professional class, “is the promulgation of the essentially ideological idea that Britain is an anti-ideological place. Criticism of its fundamental features can therefore be dismissed as the ravings of the marginalised – those whose temperaments fail to show the kind of finesse required in order to understand Britain and the British – and who need not therefore be admitted into the contest and the debate.”

Mr Williams, I hope, will take it as a compliment that I found his temperament singularly failing in finesse. I don’t know whether the author of the classic text of the 1990s implosion of Toryism, Guilty Men: Conservative Decline and Fall, 1992-1997, world historian, and contributor to the Guardian’s Op-Ed pages is a marginal figure or not, but I certainly enjoyed his ravings.

Less of a book than a steel-toe-capped kicking of the great and the good, Britain’s Power Elites is an invigorating volume of spleen and informed invective of the kind that is in short supply in this enervated, “ironic” age. A donnish punk, Williams argues that the problem with our contemporary political culture, the biggest symptom of its deathly monopolisation by careerists, capitalists and creeps, is precisely its deadening politeness. The fact that Williams is so learned only makes his aphoristic assault all the more enjoyable.

On politics: “… a good profession for people who are mentally agile, intellectually incurious and physically robust. The political elites’ conformist agreement that it is the drama of personal jealousy which explains the very foundation of politics is a conventional judgment which suits all those personal traits.”

On lobby correspondents: “Worker bees, if fed on royal jelly, may become queen bees, and so the point of this journalistic class is not so much to expose as to honour the greater power it observes and tries to decipher.”

On bankers: “The perverse, but almost universally accepted, practice within elite banking circles sanctifies the position of those who are in power while also protecting them from those market shocks that they are otherwise so eager to elevate as the justification for capitalism.”

Even when his malicious metaphors over-reach themselves it’s still enjoyable, in a scatological fashion: “If Churchill finally made it to No 10 at 65, then there’s always hope for the rest who, all greased-up, can slide their way up and down the back-passages of elite ambition while waiting for recognition to wind its way towards them.”

Maybe it’s his refusal to hide his braininess and reading, maybe it’s his chippiness, but I suspect that Williams is one of that dying breed, a grammar-school boy: “The dominant tone of the new legal elite is that of a clever philistinism,” he complains, “which is not that different from the dominant tone of British broadcasting.”
He contrasts previous generations of grammar-school elites such as Roy Jenkins, Harold Wilson, Denis Healey, and Edward Heath who openly displayed their intellectual prowess, their meritocratic certainty, with modern power elites “who have to play the game of ostentatious anti-elitism in order to maintain, covertly, their elite power”. Discretion, like talking about democracy all the time (“press your red buttons now!”) but making sure that it never happens, is a very British way of doing business.

Williams is particularly scathing about the egghead collaborators: “What typifies the British intellectual class… is its successful absorption within the power elites to a point at which its thoughts and stances are reified and appear to be simply the neutral observation of questions of fact.”

Conservative intellectuals come in for a special drubbing: “All have failed to observe, or chosen not to see, how powerful is the thrust of monopoly in capital’s command of the world, and how the urge to create larger and larger units is the true lifeblood of its existence and its motive for being.” Well, of course. That would be the ultimately ideological and therefore ultimately un-British impoliteness. Dear boy, it would be practically Marxist!

Although he hardly mentions the German curmudgeon, Williams’ central thesis is rather Marxoid. He identifies the problem with our eviscerated political and professional culture as being caused by the total dominance of international finance capital in the form of The City. Capital has swallowed everything, but, he argues, this is hardly acknowledged. In the 1980s, the money men conducted a quiet and stunningly successful coup d’etat, moving smartly into the power vacuum created by the collapse of ideological politics and faith in the State. This revolution was so successful that most aren’t aware of it; those that are, the political, professional and legal elites, are largely at their beck and call – and in their pay. The financial elites are out of control and in control. There are no other elites to stand in their way because all other institutions are now effectively their servants. The old political elites are “front of house” flunkeys, while the money men themselves, with their “offshore” interests and allegiances, get on with the global business of making billions.

It’s why an actor and failed rock star is our Prime Minister. It’s why the first thing the first Labour Chancellor in 18 years did was abandon his main economic lever, the setting of interest rates, to the Bank of England, when he started work in 1997. It’s also why Labour ministers marry dodgy international financiers; after all, this is no more nor less than what New Labour has done.

This, above all, is the reason for the stultification of British politics which so enrages Williams. It is polite, mediocre and tedious because it doesn’t matter. “Britain has allowed its power elites to effect a transformation which amounts to the degradation of an entire country,” he explains; a statement that should shock people into recognition, but which will probably be interpreted merely as proof of his shocking faux pas.
Copyright Mark Simpson 2006

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