Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Josie Cunningham and the challenge to prochoicers...

Here is a hypothetical for all prochoice people...

Miranda is a single mother of two kids. She worked hard at law school and she is a newly qualified solicitor with great prospects. It hasn't always been easy but now she is looking forward to earning enough money to support herself and her kids. But she has an unplanned third pregnancy and she is not sure who the father is. The father might be Mike, a man she has been casually dating but it's not particularly serious. Or it might be Colin, a client at the law firm where she is working as a junior. They had a one night stand. Whoever the father is, Miranda doesn't look at either man as a long-term prospect and her boss would not be delighted if he found out about Colin. On top of all this, her boss just offered her a promotion - it will involve more work but also more money. The timing of this third pregnancy is terrible. She will be heavily pregnant just as she will be making her debut in court with an important case and her childcare arrangements are already expensive and cumbersome with two children. She has an abortion.

Prochoicers, are you OK with Miranda's choice?

But are you also one of the many prochoicers who howled with derision at Josie Cunningham? Josie Cunningham, a mother of two works as a glamour model and an escort. She is currently 18 weeks pregnant - so within the legal limits for an elective abortion in England - and the father is either a Premier League footballer or an escort agency client. Over the weekend, she caused an outcry after telling the Sunday Mirror newspaper that she might have an abortion because being pregnant could interfere with an opportunity to earn wads of cash appearing on reality TV show Big Brother.

The latest media reports on this story suggest she won't be appearing on Big Brother because of the ethical minefield it has created for the producers (and nobody would be surprised if conservative advertisers got cold feet over the whole situation and threatened to take their money elsewhere). And, as far as we know, Josie is still pregnant.

But if she does have an abortion, that really is her choice. It's no different to the hypothetical Miranda's situation apart from the occupation of the pregnant woman. A swathe of women have exposed themselves as snobs - Josie is mostly famous for having a breast enlargement on the NHS - she was born without breast tissue -it was after this operation that she took up a career as a glamour model. This, along with being an escort, is how she earns her living. Just like being a junior at a law firm, it is still work.

Here's the thing about being prochoice - it means you support women's choices, even if they are not choices you'd make for yourself. It's a bit like supporting free speech - it means you support all speech, not just the bits you like.

Perhaps Channel 5 could have let Josie appear on Big Brother while pregnant. After all, there are probably more stressful environments for a pregnant woman than lolling about in a house on the telly. Channel 5 would have a duty of care to allow her access to a doctor. Just as the hypothetical Miranda panicked about juggling her career and a third pregnancy, the real Josie is also in a situation where she feels she has to choose between carrying to term and working. And it is the nature of her work that has caused people to get all outraged. It is not a common work-versus-motherhood situation but Josie has clearly played up to the controversy with talk of being able to afford a pink Range Rover if she puts her career first. She has trolled everyone brilliantly and the mass pearl-clutching has been hysterical to watch.

We are living in a world where "reality TV star" is seen as a valid career choice by many, a path to easy riches, so this situation was inevitable. Josie, I am quite sure, knew she'd create a fauxrage. She knew she'd get attention and, even if Channel 5 runs a mile at the prospect of her appearing in the Big Brother house, other media outlets will want a piece of her. Hell, Channel 5's owner Richard Desmond also owns OK! magazine - I wouldn't bat an eyelid if he did a deal with her if she has the baby. It could be easily packaged as a good news story, a prolife triumph to keep conservative advertisers happy.

By telling the Sunday Mirror her story, Josie has exposed a rich vein of class-based hypocrisy among British prochoicers. If she has an abortion, that's her choice. But this whole spectacle becomes ammunition for the likes of Nadine Dorries, Jeremy Hunt and Frank Field to limit access to abortion in the UK. Josie's story feeds into the myth that abortion clinics are full of women who are close to 24 weeks pregnant having abortions on a whim. And as soon as hitherto prochoice people jump on the bandwagon to call her a slut, it makes sweeping changes to abortion laws more acceptable. Think before you declare: "I am prochoice but...".

Picture courtesy of the National Science Foundation

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

It's open season on parents

Judging parents, in particular mothers, has become a global sport. And the way we pour scorn on celebrity mothers is merely a pitiful reflection of the way we judge mothers we come across in our own lives.*

Lily Allen caused significant horror when she admitted that she got bored with staying home with her children and that's why she made another album. She didn't say she hates her kids, as far as we know she doesn't starve or beat her kids, and they seem to be perfectly healthy. But she was honest enough to admit that being a mother wasn't 100% fulfilling and, as such, she wanted to do other things with her life.

If a mother goes back to work after having a baby and she is looking forward to it, good for her. While economic necessity is a big reason for many women to return to work after having a baby, for many others, the reasons include spending time with grown-ups, taking on challenges that are not related to being a mother, relieving the cabin fever of staying at home with the kid, and simply reminding herself that she is not solely defined by her offspring. How any of this is anyone else's damn business is a mystery to me.

Meanwhile, the Duchess of Cambridge was criticised for the way she carried her baby off a plane and for taking a kid-free holiday with her husband when the baby was seven months old. It's not as if Prince George would have been left chained to a radiator for a week. Good Lord! Personally, I am no fan of any monarchy but equally I don't think the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are terrible parents either.

Among the parents I know, there are massive variations in the age of their kids when they decided to take a holiday without them - or even leave them overnight with a babysitter. What works for one family might not work for another. Again, how any of this is anyone else's damn business is a mystery to me.

Then ex-Neighbours star Jane Hall felt the need to tell her listeners on Sydney radio that model Miranda Kerr "repulsed" her for having the temerity to talk about sex in an interview with GQ magazine. According to Hall, Kerr talking about sex was repulsive because she is "a young girl" (er, she's 30...) and "someone's mother" (which one can only assume happened because of sex). Clearly, Kerr never got the memo about how women must shut off their sexuality like a light switch the instant they give birth.

Given that I have friends with more than one child, I am pretty sure that despite the inevitable tiredness and time pressures of parenthood, it is not the death knell for sex either. And while I don't monitor my friends' bedroom activities, I can confirm that parents do still talk about sex, often in explicit detail.

Neither Allen, the Duchess or Kerr are bad parents. Obviously, having wealth and privilege helps make their lives easier, despite Gwyneth Paltrow's moronic comments about how simple life is for mothers who work in offices rather than on film sets. But I wouldn't even describe her as a bad mother, just a daft one with no idea what it's like outside her organic lentil bubble. And there is no law against daftness.

But the culture of judging parents has created a maelstrom of loud voices calling for such things as making drinking alcohol in pregnancy a criminal offence (absurd when there is no medical consensus on alcohol consumption in pregnancy), banning smoking in cars with children (which is surely commonsense - not even the most committed smoker I know would smoke in a car with kids and, as a bonus, it's hard to police) and now the Cinderella Law that will be mentioned in the Queen's speech at the next opening of Parliament.This would make emotional cruelty towards children a criminal offence.

We really need a lot more detail on definitions for the Cinderella Law before we can form a clear view. While there are certainly horrific cases of children being damaged by neglectful parents, the law's main cheerleader, Robert Buckland, a Conservative MP, made this sweeping statement about it on BBC Radio 5 Live: "You can look at a range of behaviours from ignoring a child's presence, failing to stimulate a child, right through to acts of in fact terrorising a child where the child is frightened to disclose what is happening to them."

It's not hard to see how such a law could be open to abuse and time-wasting false reports. Is the mother who needs to take a moment in the garden to compose herself because her kids are behaving horribly an emotional abuser? What about when a parent is tired and plonks a child in front of the TV for a couple of hours just to get some peace and quiet or the washing done? How about when a child is older and savvier - but still legally a child - and tries to criminalise his or her own parents in a fit of teenage vengeance? If you think an adolescent would never do that to a parent, you haven't met many adolescents. After all, we are living in an era where childhood is longer than ever.

Will there be some sort of state-sanctioned quota on hugs and kisses that will mean a child is being loved enough? What if there are too many hugs and kisses and the pendulum swings from neglect to sexual abuse?

As things currently stand, too many kids do slip through the net and end up abused and, equally, there are ridiculous cases of false accusations given a life of their own by over-zealous social workers. A commonsense-driven balance between parental responsibility and state intervention when required needs to be struck.

Whether more laws are required or just better application of existing laws, I am not sure. But I am sure we are living in an era of extreme judgement of parents. Eleanor Roosevelt nailed it when she said: "Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people." Perhaps we could all benefit from less talk about the scandalous mother who got bored by her kids/took a holiday/talked about sex. We could do with more talk about how we can create a society where we deal effectively with genuine abusers while accepting that parenting is not a one-size-fits-all occupation where there is only one way to do it right.

* Disclaimer: It is perfectly acceptable to judge parents who don't vaccinate their kids. They do not understand science or herd immunity and their actions harm others.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

L'Wren Scott and the inevitable grim spectacle

L'Wren Scott was a fashion designer who died a tragic death in New York City, aged just 49. That's no age, as they say. But in today's papers, she was, above all else, the girlfriend of Mick Jagger who committed suicide yesterday, who happened to be a fashion designer and, hey, what better way to sell a few more copies than to run a poster cover purporting to show a gigantic photo of the moment the ageing rocker heard the awful news.

I get it. As a believer in the free press and a free market economy for the media with minimal government interference, I support the right of any newspaper to report on this story however they damn well please. And the Mick Jagger angle is going to attract clicks galore. Obviously. It's Mick freakin' Jagger. Don't like the coverage? Don't buy it or click on the website.

But a free press must be open to criticism. I find it sad that a 49-year-old woman with accomplishments of her own is reduced in death to a "girlfriend". Even the way the relationship is described is reductive and juvenile. L'Wren and Mick were together for 13 years. At their age and after a relationship that lasted longer than a lot of marriages, "girlfriend" can be upgraded to "partner". Yes, I know plenty of people find the word "partner" to be utterly naff but at least it is grown up. With the exception of Dennis Thatcher, dead men are seldom identified first and foremost by their relationship, but for dead women, it is often the preface to her other achievements.

From a cold and cynical free marketeer point of view, the three words that are "suicide" and "fashion designer" will attract interest and will drive traffic to websites and subsequently lead to newspapers being sold too. People are complete and utter ghouls. Those three words will lead people to ask themselves who committed suicide and click on the link and, hey presto, the media outlets get what they want.  We have the additional story of Mick Jagger understandably putting his Australian tour on hold. There's plenty of mileage in this beast yet.

Armchair psychologists will also have their own grim field day with this story. The earliest news on the inevitable question of "Why?" points to financial problems. Cue people asking why she simply didn't ask Mick for some cash, or claiming that financial problems are a lame reason to commit suicide despite not knowing L'Wren Scott personally, or trotting out the trite "but she had so much going for her" line.

But just as Fred Nile reduced Charlotte Dawson's suicide to an abortion she had 15 years ago, nobody will ever truly know what the final moments were like for L'Wren Scott. Instead, there is a morbid rabble out there tweeting nonsense and none of this will advance our understanding of suicide or depression.

And none of this noise, none of this crude speculation over an unspeakably sad situation, none of the awful pictures of Mick Jagger in a state of utter shock and heartbreak, none of this predictable ghoulishness will bring a talented, interesting woman back.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Mind The Gap. Part Two: Still lame

Old Street, where agglomeration happens...

After last week's disappointingly thin first episode of Mind The Gap: London vs The Rest, I naively had high hopes for the second episode. Maybe there'd be more analysis, less kissing of Boris Johnson's arse and perhaps some interesting ideas about how the British economy does not need to rely quite so heavily on the capital. Hell, was I wrong!

Instead, we got to see Evan Davis (and more of Evan Davis than I really needed to see in tight lycra shorts) as he messed about on a bike at a velodrome in Manchester, we had the word "agglomeration" beaten into our heads until we lapsed into a collective coma, there were a couple of women whining in the street where Ringo Starr used to live, and we had the example of one cute village as a model for anywhere north of Watford.

Certainly, it is good that Manchester is managing to thrive with a vibrant cultural scene, drawcard facilities such as the training centre for cyclists and a hub for media businesses (that'd be the agglomeration Davis is unquestioningly evangelical about). But Davis seemed to then reduce the rest of "the north" into a homogenous blur that was never going to compete with the might of London.

Bizarrely, Davis mourned the demise of ports in the north of England, blaming the rise and rise of air travel. It is indeed true that most of us jump on a plane rather than sail for months when we take a holiday or travel for work. But in the previous episode, he gleefully skipped around the enormous new DP World port in London without challenging anything in relation to its Dubai Government ownership and generally proclaimed it as a good thing. So there is still a need for ports. There are still plenty of things that need to be transported to and from Britain by ship. And many cities of the north used to have busy ports and the related infrastructure so why was that not continuously developed and updated? Britain is not a big place - it is not an impossible transport challenge to get goods from, say, Liverpool to London any more than it is to get goods from London to Liverpool.

Liverpool was reduced by Davis to the street where Ringo Starr lived until the age of four. The street is a depressing row of terraced houses, mostly abandoned, save for Ringo's old house where Beatles fans inexplicably go to write on the boarded-up window and a few residents who'd like the street demolished to make way for new houses. It was unclear from (yet another) lame interview whether the pro-demolition women owned the houses or not or who was meant to pay for the demolition and rebuilding.

Ironically, disused places such as this row of terraces could be used for agglomeration, which seems to be Davis's favourite thing. He waxed lyrical about London's Old Street, where IT/wannabe Silicone Valley types are prone to hanging out together, setting up IT start-ups and the like. Why not encourage businesses to get the hell out of London and set up shop elsewhere if there is no real need for them to operate specifically from the capital? Tax breaks for businesses that decentralise, perhaps? Hell, it is the very technology the agglomerating Old Streeters are so fond of that makes it easy for businesses to get out of Dodge City and still communicate with the rest of the world.

Then there was a pointless segue to a funky but failed arts centre in Bromwich. All that did was disprove the adage "If you build it, they will come." Sometimes you've got to build something people actually want to use. Crazy, I know...

And then Hebden Bridge, the charming little town favoured by well-heeled professionals who work in cities like Leeds and Manchester but would rather live elsewhere, was put forward as an example of how it could be. Davis said that while places like Leeds and Manchester are hubs, somewhere like Hebden Bridge is a spoke, a desirable place to live with a buzzing economy of quaint small businesses all of its own. Which is fine if you can afford the property as well as the season ticket for the train, but it's not the panacea for the north.

Davis completely ignored the north-east and the potential of places such as Newcastle and Durham, and Scotland didn't really rate a mention. Examination of what an independent Scotland would mean for the rest of the British economy was clearly not in the remit for this one, which is a shame because that would have been a chance for some interesting analysis. Equally, there was no discussion of how to revive manufacturing, how to finally reverse the damage done by inevitable but poorly managed coal mine closures, and no mention of the importance of high education standards in creating strong economies.

But none of that would be as fun as pissing about in a velodrome or having a chuckle with Boris Johnson. In short, Mind The Gap was a massive let-down.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Is Mind The Gap: London vs The Rest the lamest thing on TV this week?

Look at me, there I am, loving London...

First, a disclaimer: I bloody love London. I have loved London since I first lived in the UK as a three-year-old, I loved it when I made return visits and I love living here now. I love the noise, the chaos, the people-watching, the museums and galleries, and I even love the weather. But Britain does not and should not begin and end with one city. I, for one, would happily work in another part of the country. Indeed, I almost ended up as a lecturer at Sunderland University.

While London's economy goes from strength to strength, the rest of the country is lagging behind, aside from a few notable pockets of affluence outside the capital. The effects of the decline of manufacturing and industry in the north continue to be felt until this day and politicians with clear, meaningful policies and ideas on how to develop the regions are sadly lacking. In Germany, for example, the economy is not just Berlin - places such as Munich, Stuttgart, Bonn, Hamburg, Hanover, Leipzig, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Dortmund and Bremen are all doing well in a way that many cities outside of London are not.

So with that in mind, Mind The Gap: London vs The Rest should have been a powerful two-part TV series, a challenge to government, to businesses and indeed to the millions of us who cling stubbornly to London to think about the rest of the country, to be aware that Britain does not end with the M25.

The first episode was completely lame. A fawning blow job to the capital. Evan Davis, an economist, proved to be an interviewer who was about as hard-hitting as a knitted hammer. Even when he did express concerns about the implications of London getting too big and succeeding at the expense of the rest of the country, his attitude seemed to be one of "Oh well, it might be a bit crap elsewhere but it'll be fine because London just can't fail!". Up to a point, Davis is right. London probably is too big to fail. But that should not have stopped him from challenging the status quo. He had ample opportunity to do so in a series of interviews but he just didn't manage this.

Unsurprisingly, his interview in the Shard with Boris Johnson was especially embarrassing. BoJo's dubious charms worked their floppy haired magic on Davis. Only a starstruck interviewer would let the Mayor of London get away with explaining why everything will be all right with a nonsensical jam-on-Ryvita analogy. Boris bumbled his way through an explanation that was along the lines of "London isn't sucking the jam (as a metaphor for money) out of the rest of Britain, London is helping the jam spread across the entire Ryvita (as a metaphor for the rest of Britain) because the jam will spread more evenly the more you pile on." It seems to be a food-based corruption of the theory of trickle-down economics and it went unchallenged by Davis.

Davis also had golden opportunities to ask serious questions about foreign investment and how much it actually benefits London and, in turn, the rest of the country, how much it benefits foreign investors (who, let's be honest, don't invest here for the good of their health...) and why we're not getting the same investment within Britain by British companies. At London Gateway port, you could not miss the DP World signs. There was even one on Davis' high-vis vest. There was talk about how this project creates jobs and maintains London's status as a port city, but no questions about the ethics of a partnership with a Dubai Government-owned company, what Dubai gets out of this, and whether taxes are being paid to HMRC. But Davis got to load a container with a big Chinese crane so that's OK then.

Similarly, when Davis interviewed Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin, CEO of SP Setia Berhard, the Malaysian consortium that is developing the prime Battersea Power Station site, they had a giggle when he was asked if he was interested in building housing in other parts of Britain. He wasn't asked why he didn't want to invest in, say, Manchester, a place with a growing media industry and education sector, an international airport, good transport to other parts of Britain and a thriving cultural scene. Surely that would be an opportunity to not only create jobs outside of London but be ahead of other foreign property investors in spotting a new up-and-comer?

But given SP Setia Berhard paid £400 million for the Battersea site, more than 800 flats have already been sold for £675 million, prices start at £388,000 for a studio, and details are sketchy on how many flats have been bought by foreign owners, it's pretty clear places outside of London are not going to attract this large-scale level of investment, foreign or otherwise, any time soon. It was just a chance to marvel at overpriced studios, along with the tour through an enormous £40 million Mayfair apartment that came with its own hideous, gold bespoke crockery. It was property porn with no analysis.

And then there was his depressing schlep through Elephant and Castle's currently deserted Heygate Estate, where people who owned ex-council properties were forced out with not enough money to buy somewhere comparable, and where a redevelopment probably won't do a damn thing to solve London's housing crisis. His interview with a woman from the local authority was, again, weak and came across like an advertisement for the development. There'll be places for kids to play and cafes and stuff. No talk of how many more people this will bring into an already crammed part of London, no talk of things like the schools and hospitals that will be required, and no talk of why London's property market is so completely obsessed by the crowded and expensive inner city areas Zones One and Two. Three-bed flats at the Heygate redevelopment are now being advertised to overseas buyers before the demolition of the old estate is finished. The price? £700,000. It's another Battersea Power Station. There had to be a better way to improve this part of London but we'll never know.

I can relate to the "If you're tired of London, you're tired of life" adage. But even if you are not a homelessness or unemployment statistic, if you are on an endless waiting list for a council flat, if you cannot see yourself ever owning your own place, if you fear you will be an eternal renter in the land where mortgages are a badge of honour and people treat home ownership as a get-rich-quick-scheme rather than somewhere to live, it can be a tiresome city indeed. The first episode of Mind The Gap briefly visited Yorkshire for some fresh air and talked a bit about the Tour de France. It would appear that the second episode will focus on areas outside of London. But the first episode was a massive disappointment. There were so many missed opportunities to ask hard questions and do a bit of analysis beyond the whizzy map graphics.

 Episode One was a largely uncritical advert for London. Here's hoping for something meatier in the second episode. Christ knows, someone needs to make the issue of regional development sexy and interesting to the wider population because right now, our political leaders sure as hell can't manage it.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

An open letter to Fred Nile

Dear Fred,

Congratulations on your marriage last December. I'm sure you had a lovely wedding day and, as someone who is also happily married, we can both agree that finding someone you love to share your life is a wonderful thing. It's just a shame that in your perfect world, you would not extend the right to such joy to same-sex couples.

Whoops! Sorry! That was a bit crass of me, wasn't it? Did see what I so thoughtlessly did there? I used the example of your personal life to make a political point. I've never actually met you, save for the time I was on Sydney's Oxford Street with my family watching the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras back in 1992 and across the road, I spotted you and a few supporters trying to pray the gay away, but I figured I'd still use your personal situation to share my views on marriage equality.

It's as rude as, oh, I dunno, using the suicide of Charlotte Dawson to hammer out an anti-abortion message, as you did, Fred. Perhaps obituary writers did not feel the need to mention the abortion she had in 1999 because she had already shared this story in her autobiography, or because her privacy had already been stripped away, partly by herself and partly by the media, or because of editorial word limits, or because, maybe, just maybe, the writers figured that an obituary might be a distasteful place to mention pregnancy termination.

Oh dear, sorry, I got distracted again. I was writing to congratulate you on your marriage. Er, where was I? Oh yes, that's right, it is indeed marvellous to fall in love and share your life with someone. It is such a shame that you didn't have the full support of your family on your wedding day. From what I've read in assorted newspapers and gossip columns, I understand that your daughter and one of your three sons didn't attend your wedding. Something to do with them not being comfortable with you remarrying so soon after Elaine, your first wife, passed away? Is that correct? How awful for you. I can't imagine my own wedding day without my family being there.

Whoops! There I go again! I don't know what has come over me today. What was I thinking in bringing up details of your family dramas when I've never met you or your family, I wasn't invited to your wedding, I am not privy to what goes on behind closed doors in your family, and I do not have access to all the facts.

That's bit like pulling out a quote about an abortion from a recently dead woman's autobiography and posting it on your Facebook page with a comment about the lack of abortion mentions in her obituaries the day after she was found dead in her apartment. The quote from her autobiography - "I felt a shift, I felt the early tinges of what I can now identify as my first experience with depression" - do indeed refer to the "total turmoil" she felt on the day she had an abortion after falling pregnant to her ex-husband, Scott Miller.

From her account, it would appear that she felt pressured into terminating the pregnancy at the behest of her ex-husband. But you didn't feel the need to think about this side of the story before posting on Facebook, did you, Fred?

The circumstances surrounding her abortion include a failing and troubled relationship that was being played out in the public eye. Charlotte's writings on the subject do not paint Scott in a flattering light. And nobody who is truly prochoice is OK about any abortion that happens in an environment of coercion. Prochoice is about supporting all choices women make, giving them the information to make educated choices, and the resources to ensure that all choices are available to them, including carrying unplanned pregnancies to term.

Here's the thing, Fred: Just as I have no real clue about the details of your family life, your wedding day, or your relationship with your sons and daughter, you have no real idea about what Charlotte was going through 15 years ago - or last week. Equally, neither you or I have a time machine that we could set to 1999 and change the course of Charlotte's life so that she chose to carry the pregnancy to term. We will never know what sort of a mother she might have been, whether having a baby would have saved her, how she might have coped with pregnancy and childbirth, whether she would have been felled by the horrors of post-natal depression, whether her marriage would have survived, or whether she would have gone on to be a successful and happy single mother. These scenarios are all in the realm of the ghoulishly hypothetical.

Given that nothing anyone can say or do can bring Charlotte back, given that her friends and family are going through the terrible process of grieving for a woman who felt so desperate that, despite her many advantages, she took her own life at the age of 47, and given that depression is a complex condition that cannot be summarised in a Facebook post, it is appalling that you'd give a troubled woman one last agenda-loaded kick when she was as low as any person can possibly be.

Like I said, Fred, congratulations on your marriage. May you and your new wife have many happy years together. May you recognise that such joy isn't as forthcoming to everyone. And next time you feel the need to make a point about abortion, consider whether using the early death of a woman who was in enormous pain really is the best way to push that particular barrow.

Kind regards,


Monday, 24 February 2014

Censorship, censorship everywhere and not a chance to think...

You think you can say what you like? Think again. This blog has been routinely blocked by O2 and EE using stupid internet filters that treat adult consumers like children. O2 regularly makes Barry Butler, a freelance ESOL teacher from the Midlands, jump through absurd hoops every time he tries to read this blog and finds it has been blocked. 

EE has also been guilty of preventing adult customers from accessing this blog - this is especially ridiculous given that EE sponsored the BAFTA awards the other week. Let me see if I understand. We have a phone company that has prevented adults from accessing the internet in its entirety putting its name to a celebration of the British film industry. That would be an industry which over the years has given the world some of the most brilliant, subversive and controversial contributions to the cultural landscape. 

Corporations are already doing the work of the government whose plans for internet filtering are anti-free speech in the extreme. There is an alarming dearth of opposition to these plans in the House of Commons or the House of Lords. If that doesn't strike you as the start of an ominous future of restricted speech and expression, we need to sit down and have a little chat.

And then we have the mob mentality which seeks to silence anything offensive. Personally, I think Katie Hopkins is an attention-seeking professional troll. I don't tune in when she is on TV, I don't follow her on Twitter, I simply cannot be bothered with her nonsense. But she has every right to spout whatever it is that she says. The same goes for lads' mags, Frankie Boyle, Seth McFarlane, Sarah Silverman and anyone or anything else that people have sought to ban.

Campaigning website change.org wasted bandwidth with an e-petition to remove Katie Hopkins from ITV and Channel 5 after she she tweeted something tasteless after the helicopter crash in Scotland late last year. And, by jingo, it worked! Hopkins was indeed dropped from ITV's This Morning programme. Seriously, it is far saner to just not watch her if you don't like her. Frankly, I'd be happy if Keith Lemon, Citizen Khan, Mrs Brown's Boys or Chris Lilley never appeared on TV again because they're all about as funny as burning orphans but starting up an e-petition is childish and misses the point. 

Once you seek to ban something just because you don't like it, there is no reason why something you do like cannot be banned too.

We also have problematic discussions when it comes to banning hate speech. The thing is we don't actually need any more laws on hate speech. The UK already has laws against verbal abuse as well as physical abuse. If you yell something awful at someone and it causes distress or upset, you have broken the law and the judge will have to consider the hate speech aspect of it when sentencing. Similarly, if someone is beaten up for whatever reason, this is against the law and the judge again has to take into account whether there is any hateful motivation, such as racism or homophobia, when passing sentence. The impact of such abuse should be pretty obvious - I don't want to live in a society where it is acceptable to beat someone up for any reason - and in the case of assaults, either verbal or physical, that are motivated by hate, education is just as important as harsh sentences.

But this does not mean someone should not be allowed to speak out against issues such as same sex marriage or further immigration. I may find the views of someone opposed to marriage equality or immigration from certain nations absurd, illogical, unconstructive, unpleasant or just plain moronic - but if their views are silenced as "hate speech" there is nothing to stop other opinions also being shut down. If you start cutting down the right to express opinions, even ones with which you violently disagree, you automatically restrict your right to refute it.

And then there are more insidious ways that we are censored. 

The "gagging law" passed through Parliament, albeit with a few minor amendments and there was no mass outrage because, basically, people didn't take the time to understand it or think about how it might affect them. It imposes ridiculous requirements on lobbying groups (but not corporations...) in the run-up to elections and is essentially aimed at silencing groups such as trade unions and the implications go beyond silencing some rowdy unionists. Hint: If a law is opposed by various groups across the political spectrum, groups who typically disagree with each other, it's probably a bad law. The bureaucracy that will be involved in monitoring the membership lists and campaign spending of lobby groups flies in the face of government claims that they are all about spending less public money and being a libertarian party of small government. 

And just today I was tweeting in my other guise at the @Save_St_Helier account, whereby I am part of a campaign to try and retain vital services at my local hospital, such as A&E, maternity, renal and kids' intensive care. A few of us asked faceless bureaucrats in the Twitterverse for some transparency in relation to a process which has so far cost taxpayers £8.2 million. How the hell was a review of local healthcare services costing us so much money? 

We finally found out that £1.874 million of our money was paid to 2020 Delivery, one of those vague consultancies whereby a peruse of their website leaves you none the wiser about what they actually do. All we were told by the bureaucrats was that the £1.874 million was spent on "finance and activity monitoring and travel and transport analysis". But we can't really find out a whole lot more because Freedom of Information legislation does not apply to private companies, only public bodies. It's just another way to stop the free flow of information, to drive people who are using their freedom to publicly ask questions into a brick wall and to keep us passive and quiet.

I'm exhausted. I apologise for this blog post rambling all over the place but once you start looking at the ways in which we are censored, the ways in which the flow of information is restricted, the ways in which we seek to ban that which we dislike without thinking through the consequences, you soon discover a multi-headed hydra of anti-freedom bullshit has grown before your very eyes. Now, who wants to help me slay the hydra? It's a big job but it's one of the most important jobs we will ever do.   

Image: "Resurrection de la Censure", JJ Grandville