Sunday 6 December 2009

The Swiftian genius of Mr Rod Liddle

How much nonsense could one man talk in just 91 words?

Rod Liddle would seem to have produced a new world best in his post on the benefits of a multicultural Britain, in which a horrific crime is attributed not to its perpetrators but seen as the characteristic behaviour of an ethnic group (which would imply that "human filth" would become a collective description too), resulting from the lamentable failure to keep Britain white.

Charlotte Gore points out that it is simply wrong on the facts.

Alex Massie, a consistent voice of liberal reason on The Spectator, has a good prima facie argument that Liddle appears to be voicing "the kind of tired, stale prejudice" you might find "at any BNP meeting".

Fair comment, you might well think.

But maybe not. Let us at least consider a case for the defence.

Does Rod Liddle go too far?, asked Spectator editor Fraser Nelson in October, after Liddle acknowledged that opening an article with the words "Harriet Harman? Would you? I mean after a few beers obviously, not while you were sober" may not have been his finest hour.

Liddle (just about) apologised and tried to limit the damage in his Standard interview with Viv Groskop. But it was more complicated than that, because he also wanted us to know that he had been tragically misunderstood.

"I found the reaction shocking. And then I suppose I came to the conclusion - gradually - that I must have got it wrong."

This is extraordinary. He is apologising. Sort of. "I thought for a long time that in the context of The Spectator it was fine and that people who read The Spectator would know it was a joke and that there was a point behind the joke as well."

His female editor - Spectator assistant editor Mary Wakefield - had read the piece and found it very funny. "It was supposed to be a parody of guttural, base sexism," Liddle says earnestly, stubbing out a Superking. "I got it wrong on a number of counts. Clearly it gave offence to too many women and clearly it was ill-judged."

What Liddle's critics appeared to miss was the parodic intent.

This mistake on the part of so many readers may, in large part, have been because that piece appeared to combine Liddle's deep-rooted loathing of Harriet Harman, feminism and, it sometimes seemed, perhaps women in general too with this brilliant yet almost imperceptibly subtle sending-up of those who might share these views, but take them too far.

That might be too subtle a combination for a writer who did not have a Swiftian talent of satire. Yet it can hardly be Liddle's fault if standards of public discourse and literary criticism have dropped off so much that contemporary talents of that nature are so easily misunderstood.

Still, I am sorry to see the unfortunate mistake may be being repeated so soon.

The posting may appear to be a disgrace.

But what if Liddle's post is, in fact, intended as another brilliant satiric exposure of just how unthinkingly stupid casual racism can be? Might those engaging in a blog and twitterstorm about it not then then owe one of our greatest satirical minds an apology ourselves?


OK. If the "satire" defence does not seem to apply, then perhaps there is a problem. (But why the hell not? I don't see it was any more plausible last time).

But please let's not offer Liddle heroic martyrdom for the crime of being an idiot, as Though Cowards Flinch would risk doing with its speculation as to whether the article is prosecutable for inciting hated.

As with Jan Moir's ludicrous homophobia in the Daily Mail, the better answer is public argument, mockery and loss of reputation. The best response to stupid speech of this kind is intelligent speech.

The Spectator, I would hope, might acknowledge the misjudgement once there is an opportunity to reflect on what the post appears to argue and imply.

Will Rod Liddle too?

One fear is that he seems to enjoy the attention too much.

And another small problem with this approach is that it is not clear how much reputation Liddle may have left to lose. As Tanya Gold wrote in the Guardian about the Liddle satire on misogyny

We're back in the school yard. Or is it the brothel? [..] I stopped taking Liddle seriously when he was cautioned for assaulting his then pregnant girlfriend in 2005

So let's hear what Liddle has to say for himself. But I fear that those of you still taking Rod Liddle seriously may need to consider how much longer to continue doing so.


PS: Some support for Liddle on the Spectator blog comments. But I was amused to see that the first comment is from a commenter who is wondering why Rod Liddle can get away, above the line, with comments that would be pulled below it.

I say, Rod. You are putting your head above the parapet. I admire your courage, you lovely right-wing racist bastard you. I can't understand how some of my mild-as-milk remarks about the muslim community seem to fall by the wayside. Are the different people looking at the different posts? In other words can I get things onto your blogs I can't get onto other people's? For instance, can I say how unhappy I would be if either of my daughters took up with a man of colour?

(Now, that rather sounds like it could well be satire. In fact, not: this was somebody who posted a comment along the lines that they would much rather trust "people called Hazel than Mohammed - or Sunder for that matter" in one of the many Martin Bright threads around the time of my exchange of views with Mr Nick Cohen; a comment which both Bright and The Spectator editors were quick to challenge and remove at the time).


Sunder Katwala said...

Comment from Paul Cotterill of Though Cowards Flinch.


A fine piece, and of course he may be a Swift for our times.

But you appear, if you don't mind me saying to have forced yourself to that conclusion on the basis that you need to stand out from the crowd's interpretation.

In any event, you appear to have taken my own piece (at Though Cowards Flinch) as much at face value as you accuse others of taking Liddle's too much at face value. Look again at mine if you can be arsed and you'll see a Swiftian element (overdoing the formality of the outraged and pompous leftie), and look at the rest of the blog and you'll see that kind of thing quite often happens.

You can't see it? No, because it's hard to spot and you have to rely on my version of my intention.

The same needs to apply to Liddle's piece. If people other than those convinced Liddle is a satirist can't see it's satire, it's not really satire.

Note: this is not written satirically.

Joe Muggs said...

And sure enough, if you look on the follow-up Spectator thread, where Rod attempts to deflect attention from his own heinous offensiveness by laying into Diane Abbot, he says the "goat curry and rap music" comment "was meant to be sardonic". No mention of whether the suggestion that murdering pregnant women is normal for black men is "sardonic", mind.

He can't be that simple, can he? CAN he?

Anonymous said...


Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse.


The overwhelming majority of street crime, knife crime, gun crime, robbery and crimes of sexual violence in London is carried out by young men from the African-Caribbean community. Of course, in return, we have rap music, goat curry and a far more vibrant and diverse understanding of cultures which were once alien to us. For which, many thanks.

No, not Swiftian. You can call it “subtle” if you like – so subtle it’s invisible. If it was meant to be satire it is crappy to use the recent murder of a girl as a stick to beat – well, what exactly? Black immigration seems to be the target. If he’s parodying bigot speak it’s like a sheep imitating a sheep.

Sunder Katwala said...

I see Paul's point that the Though Cowards Flinch post said there were various approaches. (I wrote 'speculation about whether it was prosecutable' rather than 'calls for an arrest' partly for that reason).

Joe Muggs is closer to my view and intention than KB Player. ('almost impercetibly subtle' was to make a similar point to yours). I didn't think the sexist column could plausibly be defended as a satire on sexism either. Perhaps such things only work if they don't need explaining, but note I didn't have the bottle to post an ironic 'in defence of rod liddle' making the Swiftian claim without book-ending it at the top and bottom, partly to avoid being misunderstood, at the risk of throwing away the device.

Observer said...


There is no reason to expect groups to have equal propensities to criminality though. Testosterone, often linked with violent crime, differs between racial groups.

"Mean testosterone levels in blacks were 19% higher than in whites, and free testosterone levels were 21% higher. Both these differences were statistically significant."

Also, are readily identifiable clusters of genes corresponding to traditional continental ethnic groups. Two groups that form distinct clusters are likely to exhibit different frequency distributions over various genes, leading to group differences.

MAO-A variants which place people at greater risk of aggressive behaviour (in combination with childhood maltreatment) also show different frequency distributions across groups.

Also, note global crime rates are consistent with the rates observed by Liddle.

Rushton, J.P., & Whitney, G. (2002). Cross-national variation in violent crime rates: Race, r-K theory, and income. Population and Environment, 23, 501-511