Thursday, 20 May 2010

The Vile Bottom-Fondler (The Catalogue of Men, Part 1)

'Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men;
As hounds and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,
Shoughs, water-rugs and demi-wolves, are clept
All by the name of dogs'
Macbeth, Act 3, Scene 1

When the Intellectual Hooligan was a lad, he possessed a number of 'Spotters' Guide' books. The Spotters' Guide to Birds of Britain, for instance, or The Spotters' Guide to Continental Electricity Pylons.

The premise of these was that one received a number of points for spotting each of the specimens catalogued within the book. The rarer the specimen, the more points one received. The single-circuit 735 kV delta pylon illustrated below, for instance, might have netted a mighty 50 points, so seldom was it liable to be spotted.

Anyhow, I always rather liked these books. But one thing always rankled: why no Spotters' Guide to Humans?

Let's redress that wrong. Henceforward, the Intellectual Hooligan presents (via a series of intermittent installments) its own Spotters' Guide - entitled (after Shakespeare, and in avoidance of copyright infringement) The Catalogue Of Men. Without ado, then, let's have our first specimen:

The Catalogue of Men

1. The Vile Bottom-Fondler

10 points

(Vile Bottom-Fondler as consummately modeled by Nick Griffin. We should note, en passant, that we have no evidence that Mr Griffin is a public bottom-fondler. For him to be such, indeed, would require the abetment of someone prepared to allow his/her bottom to come within fondle-reach – a degree of abetment the Intellectual Hooligan doubts would be forthcoming. Unless any of those meaty bodyguard-type guys he hangs about with happened to be up for it?)


The Vile Bottom-Fondler is in his late 30s to 50s. He may well have a gleaming, fully shaven head (complete with a neck-fold or two). He is very likely to offset his nude pate with an ostentatious pair of designer glasses, and may be wearing a polo shirt (also designer) with neck fully unbuttoned.

Whatever the ambient temperature, he will be sweating slightly.

Despite nostril hairs and an expression tending toward the vacant, he is not wholly an unattractive breed in terms of features alone.


You will almost exclusively encounter the VBF in a queue. He will be directly in front of you in said queue, accompanied by his mate, and you will not miss him – hence the low points score. Unlike, say, the Lesser Spotted Surreptitious Fondler, the habits and demeanour of the VBF are nothing if not conspicuous (see 'mating habits', below).


The Vile Bottom-Fondler's mating criteria are mercantile as opposed to aesthetic. For here is a man that likes to receive his pound of flesh – in easily graspable proximity.

Paired with his mate, the VBF may invite comparison with the peacock and peahen – for his chosen partner is remarkable neither for the sheen of her plumage nor the sweetness of her song.

But the VBF is not attracted by feather or voice. He is attracted by rump.

Just as the peacock unfurls his majestic tailfan, so the Bottom-Fondler indulges in his own form of courtship ritual – as eloquently described by the species' name. For details, see Methods of Fondling, below.


Interestingly, the simple under-cheek-grope motion favoured by other scions of the fondler genus is infrequently employed by the VBF. Instead, he typically prefers an action characterised by a strong thumb bias (demonstrating, to the surprise of some observers, that he does indeed possess opposable thumbs). The hand motion retains the cupped posture of the under-cheek-grope, but supplements it with a powerful (almost aggressive) lateral movement of the thumb across the expanse of his mate's quivering flesh. The motion almost calls to mind the sidelong twanging of a gigantic string on some obscene musical instrument.


Spotters should be warned that the Vile Bottom-Fondler will exhibit a defiant territorial display towards those he might perceive as a threat. The perspicuity of his perception may reasonably be questioned, as the majority of observers will harbour little to no inclination to compete with him for his mate's attention. Nevertheless, do not expect the VBF to be rational in his displays.

From your queue-bound position directly behind VBF and mate, you may (indeed, you have little choice but to) observe his overt fondling behaviour. He will make no attempt to conceal or moderate his fondles and may, in situations in which he feels particularly threatened, indulge in repeated deliberate 'strums' (as these gestures are termed by fondlerologists) whilst exhibiting a characteristic over-shoulder sneer in your direction. You are warned studiously to avoid eye contact in such instances.


Limited. Especially if you are alone whilst witnessing the VBF in action, you will have virtually no alternative but to cede your position in the queue. Strategies such as mobile-phone-checking and exaggerated skyward whistling have been shown to achieve only moderate success.

As you abandon the queue, therefore, console yourself with the thought that any establishment frequented by the VBF is unlikely to be especially desirable in any case.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

A multitude of Milibands, sleekit and sneerin'

So: Labour leadership contest. I'm a sucker for competition in politics, so – gorged though I may be on election coverage – I remain hungry for more.

Monday's Newsnight sated some of that hunger with a feature on the contest so far. A high point was the coverage of a focus group being asked to consider each of the putative leadership candidates. Shown video footage of each, the group shared their observations (most memorable of which were the girl whose 'friend' fancies Ed Miliband, and the man who likened Ed Balls to a vendor of kebabs).

We were then treated (if 'treated' be quite the verb) to the spectacle of every single member of the panel holding a photo of their favoured candidate in front of their own face. And suddenly we were surrounded by David Milibands, all sporting an identical smile that increasingly resembled a sneer the more it was replicated. More horrific than anything Hollywood has managed for decades.

Focus groups and politico-geeks aside, though, most people don't know much about any of these Labour candidates. "I don't really know who David Miliband is," said (for instance) an info bird with whom I discussed the matter. "Is he the one who looks a bit sleekit?"

Now, the Intellectual Hooligan prides itself on acquainting you with exotic expressions (for this is the blog, lest we forget, that popularised gankin'), so when aforesaid info bird used the word sleekit, the Hooligan's ears pricked up. Sleekit (in case, like me, you were unfamiliar with the term) originated in the 14th century as a description of one who – though charming – is sly, ingratiating and two-faced.

Ouch. But what a great word, eh?

Still, I rather like Miliband. I like him for the fact that he channels Tony Blair like a fucking pro: interviewed by Jeremy Paxman, the first policy areas he mentioned were education and antisocial behaviour. The boy learnt his triangulation on Uncle Tony's knee.

A Miliband Labour would very clearly be centrist. Which means it would be electable. There's a danger that people equate centrist electability (Blair) with 'adventurous' foreign policy and erosion of civil liberties (also Blair) – which is a shame, because the two needn't come as a package. A Miliband Labour also seems as if it might be a little more strategic than Brown's overly tactical administration.

And I like the idea of a centrist Labour. Most of all, I like the idea of all three parties scrapping for the centre-ground like maladroit sixthformers at an all boys school jostling for the common room chair next to matron's daughter.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition - the best outcome for left wingers everywhere

Well played Cameron; well played Clegg. The new UK government looks very much like a resounding triumph of pragmatism over idealism, sure. But any realistic 'progressive' should also accept: this is the best possible outcome for the UK left.

– Eh?

– Bear with me.

I realise, there are many people (most of them to the left of the political spectrum) who are disgusted at the outcome of the past few days' wrangling: a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition.

But I must say, I can live very well indeed with a government in which the ludicrous Europhobia and regressive family-favouring of the Tories and the gawp-inducing international-market-blindness of the Lib Dems' stance on university tuition fees cancel one another out.

And I'm pretty sure that Cameron and Clegg can live very well indeed with this, too. So I say again: well played, both.

Apparently there has been surprise at the degree to which Clegg has not pursued major concessions on immigration … but perhaps there's no need to do so when Cameron's notion of a cap is so much hokum in any case.

I suspect, in fact, that we've ended up with an alliance (in Cameron and Clegg) of two very pragmatic men – both of whom may secretly be relieved at the opportunity afforded by a coalition government to trim the excesses of their respective parties' more extreme (and foolish) wings.

The real losers of today, it seems to me, are the Tory right wing – who suddenly find the power they'd have wielded in any other plausible electoral outcome massively diluted.

Think about it: once it became clear that the Tories weren't in for a thumping majority, all other options looked more right-wing friendly in the medium- to long-term than the one we've ended up with. A narrow Tory victory would have pandered to the extremes of the party, to whom Cameron would have been forced to make numerous concessions. A Lib-Lab coalition, had one managed to totter out of the stable, would have sent both Tory party and Tory press lurching to the right, empowered by Cameron's failure to secure Number 10 – just in time for a crushing Conservative victory in the inevitable election that would've followed a few months down the line.

So whilst this coalition may, on the face of it, seem a grim thing for left wingers everywhere, I'd argue that it is, in fact, the best neutering of the radical right wing that any progressive might have hoped to achieve, given the circumstances.

Anyone else drinking to that, or is it just me?

Sunday, 9 May 2010

UK election coverage: too much extrapolation

Is anyone else sick of being told 'what they voted for' by politicians, journalists and pundits?

Today, for instance, we have Deborah Orr in the Guardian writing:

'Wake up, "progressives" … Sixty-one per cent didn't vote Labour. Sixty-seven per cent didn't vote Lib Dem.'

Before going on to argue that

'Only 23% of "progressives" voted for the party that is committed to genuine proportional representation (rather than the sudden fudge of AV or AV plus). The rest – that's 29% – voted for the party that had 13 years to roll out this grand project, and lost interest very early on.'

Sorry, Debs old girl, but that's a load of arse. People's votes are about as clear an indication of their opinion on electoral reform as their choice of supermarket is an indication of their attitude to battery farming.

In other words, it's a bit more complicated than that.

As you may recall, I voted for Lib Dem Dr Evan Harris (sadly in vain). To some degree I suppose I also voted against Nicola Blackwood, the Conservative candidate. Other parties had (in my constituency, Oxford West & Abingdon) no chance of winning the seat, so I don't think I can be said to have been voting against Labour or any of the other smaller parties (much though I might have liked to vote against some of 'em).

I voted for Dr Evan Harris. I didn't, in fact, feel I'd necessarily have voted for the Liberal Democrats had it not been for Evan Harris (as I outlined in my aforelinked post). As it happens (and as, perhaps, this post will make clear) I also think that electoral reform would be a good thing.

But, see, 'electoral reform' wasn't on my ballot paper.

In the UK, we vote, directly, for our constituency MP; indirectly for the party represented by that MP; and double-indirectly for the policies of that party.

Let's illustrate this, shall we?, by means of a rather ludicrous hypothetical.

I – let us say – am a rabidly pro-Trident Tory. I'm a right-wing leaner by nature, but I am especially passionate about national defence, and my top concern is that the UK retain its nuclear deterrent.

Though it troubles me to request it, I ask you to picture me thus. (How do I look?)

So … In my Oxford West & Abingdon constituency, I have just voted for Nicola Blackwood, the successful Tory candidate. So I'm happy that she's got in, and that her party is pro-Trident.

In a month's time, though, plucky young Nicola decides to defect to Labour.

Because it is Nicola for whom I voted (not the Conservative party), I have no say in this. Technically, she is free to defect as she likes without triggering a by-election.

So now it appears that I (blue-blooded Tory) have indirectly voted for Labour. Alack!

As if things weren't bad enough, Labour then, as a result of political wrangling within its body of MPs and deals drawn up with other parties, reverses its current pro-Trident stance.

Now I'm not saying that this is likely. But my intention is to illustrate the fact that, technically, none of this has in any way gone against my vote. Because my vote was simply a vote of trust in Nicola Blackwood, the person. Likewise, Nicola's membership of a political party is her own 'vote of trust' in that party and its policies.

(Okay. I think I probably made my point. Can I stop pretending to be a hawkish Tory now, please?)

And to go back to my supermarket analogy: I may buy most of my groceries at Tesco because it's 50m walk from my house, it's fairly cheap and the queue's generally short. But I happen to believe that Tesco's meat (yeah, even the organic stuff) is reared less humanely than I would like. But I still keep shopping there because other factors are in its favour. And I don't buy any of the gankin' meat, anyway. So woe betide the person who tells me that my grocery-buying from Tesco means that I am endorsing lower standards of animal welfare.

(Incidentally and for the record, that was another of my illustrative examples. I'm not suggesting that Tesco has low animal welfare standards: I don't know enough about it to opine. More importantly, nor am I suggesting that I buy most of my groceries at Tesco. No indeed.)

Anyhow, yeah, so, to get back to the point – when people like Deborah Orr extrapolate from our votes, they are grossly manipulating the facts. Not a single person in the UK had the opportunity to vote for or against electoral reform. Strictly speaking, not a single person in the UK even had the opportunity to vote for or against a political party – though plenty of people thought they were doing just that, and admittedly the effect may appear very, very similar.

Now I'm not actually saying that this indirect democracy is necessarily a bad thing (though, as I'll outline – contain yourselves! – in a future post, I prefer the version of indirect democracy offered by proportional representation). What I'm saying is this: let's not keep talking as if 'the UK voters' have voted for or against particular policies. Because that is pretending that we have a direct democracy, a system that allows us to endorse policies.

We don't. We have a system that, at its root, simply allows us to trust one single human being to do the right thing.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Election choice: Hobson had it easy.

So. The day is upon us. Soon we must decide.

And our options? They seem to boil down to a charred, acrid paste consisting of three more-or-less unpalatable elements:

1. Gordon Brown / Flailing Indecision. The clunking fist that's more like a boxing-glove on a spring attached to a beat-up old scarecrow on an unpredictably gusty day.

2. David Cameron / Small-minded Decisiveness. The man who does actually seem as if he'd get things done – just probably not the things I want done. The Man With The All-Powerful Cheeks.

3. Nick Clegg / Attractive Eccentricity. The man who has a modicum of actual charisma, but whose party is married to a couple of policies that are crazily unrealistic enough to give MC Escher a migraine.


Thank god, then, that I live in the Oxford West & Abingdon constituency – and am blest with a candidate whose calibre marks him as clearly deserving of my vote on his own merits: Dr Evan Harris. Stephen Fry has already explained why, so I shan't bother.

But I'm left with the faint sense that I'm somehow playing this game on easy mode. What the hell would I do if it weren't for my E-V-A-N-H-A-R-R-I-S cheat code?

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