Almost eight million people have now watched Cathy Newman’s Channel 4 News interview with Jordan Peterson. This figure must be unique in the history of Channel 4 News online. Only a few minutes were broadcast on the original news programme, but Channel 4 then put out the full half-hour on YouTube, perhaps miscalculating the effects of watching the allegedly ‘transphobic’ Canadian clinical psychologist whose book 12 Rules for Life is selling out. I think what the majority of the eight million appreciate is that Peterson’s performance is noble. He attempts a clear exposition of his views about the differences between women and men. Despite every effort by Cathy Newman, he succeeds. Her method is to try to reduce his nuanced remarks to a hostile caricature, so she begins sentence after sentence with ‘What you’re saying is…’. He is never saying what she says he is saying, and he patiently explains why. It is riveting. I don’t agree with those who say that Cathy Newman is being nasty. There is a moment when Peterson catches her out about what it is to be ‘offensive’ and cries ‘Gotcha!’: she charmingly admits she is flummoxed. Her problem is rather that she is in thrall to certain received ideas and therefore literally cannot understand Peterson. Auden ends his great poem on the death of W.B. Yeats with the lines ‘In the prison of his days/ Teach the free man how to praise.’ Jordan Peterson is that free man. Poor Cathy Newman is the prisoner of the age.
Paolo Gentiloni, who may now have to step down since his Democratic party got only 18.7 per cent of the vote in the Italian elections, is the fourth Italian prime minister in a row not to have been chosen by the electorate. Voters have shown a repeated disinclination to support the candidate of Brussels, so Brussels has found ways of imposing one. Italy has not had the prime minister of its choice since Silvio Berlusconi was brought down, with the support of EU leaders, in 2011. After the latest result, when that 18.7 per cent represents the only uncritically pro-EU section of voter opinion, Brussels is in a quandary. Try to sustain Mr Gentiloni in some awkward coalition, or suborn one of the other party leaders? I strongly suspect Gigi di Maio, the dapper young leader of the Five Star Movement, of being the EU’s best target. Like Alexis Tsipras in Greece, he could be the anti-Brussels man who then collaborates. He has the air of wanting to be Italy’s Emmanuel Macron. He must have much less chance than Macron, however. Italy has had too many years of hurt.
When you are an adult, you are rightly responsible in law and in fact for your own decisions. But what happens to those adults who, through no fault of their own, cannot take on such responsibility? I recently heard of a diabetic, extremely fat, mentally handicapped adult in a group home who is eating herself to death because she has a legal right to her money and insists on spending it on vast quantities of doughnuts. No one is allowed to stop her, though she cannot look after herself. Problems often arise about accommodation. If you have learning disabilities, and are over 18, you can be placed under a care regime in ‘supported living’ (or in a home) which is quite unsuitable. Your parents might have no say at all. This happens more often now than in the past because cash-strapped councils want to slough off the cost by sending adults with learning disabilities into supported living, since central government pays for that. The Code of Practice of the Mental Capacity Act permits parents to become their children’s ‘welfare deputies’ only ‘in the most difficult cases’. Yet a vulnerable adult who is not a ‘most difficult’ case could nevertheless be devastated by being wrongly housed. Our friend Rosa Monckton and two other mothers are bringing a test case to the Court of Protection. They want the rules changed so that parents can be made welfare deputies solely on a calculation of the best interests of the child. They deserve to win. There is a peculiar, though unintended cruelty in the law insisting on your adult autonomy when you cannot attain it — depriving you, as it does so, of the help of those who love you the best.
In the row about Max Mosley and the racist leaflet from the 1961 by-election in Manchester Moss Side, the unnoticed significant fact is that Mr Mosley was the election agent. Under electoral law, being the agent is not a nominal task. The agent is responsible for observing the rules, keeping within the spending limits and for everything published under the candidate’s name in the constituency during the campaign. It is perfectly permissible that the agent might not write the election literature, but impermissible that he not see and approve it, since he is its sole legal publisher. Agent Mosley would have approved the leaflet. All politicians know that these rules are real, so Tom Watson — and the Labour party — will know exactly what Mr Mosley must have done.
Another election rule which matters is that the voter is who he (or she) says he is. In the coming local elections, photo ID will be required in some pilot areas. This has provoked protests from an alliance of several charities and the sinister Electoral Reform Society. They fear that identity checks will put off some poorer voters. They point out that there were only 28 accusations of impersonation in 2017 and only one conviction. This proves little, however, since it is hard to detect electoral fraud if there are almost no checks. In the EU referendum in 2016, I illustrated this problem by ‘voting’ in two places, once casting a real vote and in the other spoiling my ballot to expose how easy fraud was. Rather than acting on the problem, the Electoral Commission condemned me. I can find nothing on their website in which they alert voters for the need for ID. If they were doing their job properly, they would want to get this right.
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