Civil disobedience in middle England

When lap-dancing clubs or high-speed trains upset the natural order, residents take matters into their own hands

Share
Related Topics

One of the depressing things about the free society we supposedly inhabit is its tendency to allow coercion in by the back door – that fatal inability to forestall the moment when a community in pursuit of its democratic rights finds its way barred by a man with a big stick just itching to enforce lawfully constituted authority. To a certain extent this kind of situation is inevitable, given the number of checks and balances that free societies need to make them function – it was George Orwell who pointed out that civilisations which imagine they can get by without policemen are deluding themselves – but its consequences are always that much more injurious when some sort of genuinely popular opinion is being offended.

Take, for example, the Government's proposals for a high-speed rail-link between London and Birmingham (HS2), the latest legal challenge against which came to court last week. As far as one can make out, this much-touted infrastructure project is supported by the Treasury, the Transport Secretary, some Midlands businessmen and opposed by practically everyone else – the "Heathrow Hub", Aylesbury Golf Club, the councils whose territory lies in HS2's path and, one imagines, the 43,000 house-owners at risk from property blight. The latter figure may rise even further as the HS2 Action Alliance calculates there are 172,000 properties within a kilometre of the route.

Exactly the same sounds of righteous indignation have been coming from the concerned citizens of Ampthill, Bedfordshire, who, despite a long campaign of protest, involving a 2,000 signature petition and a 700-strong mass-picket of the offending premises, have still not persuaded Mid-Bedfordshire Council to refuse a licence for a lap-dancing club. A local councillor remarked that "our hands are tied by the licensing regulations".

What are the citizens of Ampthill, not to mention the 172,000 home-owners on the HS2 line, to do, given that the democratic process is so conspicuously failing them? What is needed, clearly, is some good old-fashioned civil disobedience. If 200 outraged residents lie down in front of a bulldozer, then eventually that bulldozer is going to have to stop. Similarly, if a dozen Ampthillites take it into their heads to stroll past the establishment in Church Street with a tin of paint every morning, who can blame them? Identifying the licensing committee members who did them wrong and voting them out can come later.

...

With the arrival of Zoe Heller's justly celebrated hatchet-job on Joseph Anton: A Memoir in the New York Review of Books it was suddenly open season on Salman Rushdie. A large amount of retrospective venom was cheerfully unleashed, and there was a general feeling that Mr Rushdie had got off pretty lightly at the hands of the critics these past few years. Ms Heller, in letting him have it with both barrels with some remarks about "shuddering hauteur" and the author's "egregious" lack of charity towards his ex-wives, had begun to redress a grievous imbalance.

I was particularly struck by a letter in this month's Literary Review, courtesy of a Trevor Freeman, which echoed the critic James Wood's complaint that Rushdie's prose was "without exception flat and unoriginal" and that his novels have a "showy liveliness that almost succeeds in hiding the fact that they are without life". How many readers, Mr Freeman wondered, "do not enjoy or admire Rushdie's novels anything like as much as they have been told to and are grateful to James Wood for telling them they may be right?"

The idea that literary culture is essentially a construct has been going the rounds for well over a century. As formulated by F R Leavis, it consists of an age-old middlebrow conspiracy designed to hoodwink the general reader into accepting second-rate work, while the great masterpieces of world literature lie neglected in the trough. To Mr Freeman the whole thing is a high-brow plot in which people in positions of cultural authority "tell" impressionable readers what to believe. At bottom, all this really means is that the literary world, by virtue of its tiny size, is unusually susceptible to influence. Judging by last week's spat, Mr Rushdie's is seriously on the wane.

...

No doubt the BBC's incoming director-general Tony Hall has enough on his plate, with the detonations made by the Jimmy Savile inquiry still resounding in his ears, but when he has had the time to look about a bit he might want to consider the extraordinarily unimaginative policies being pursued by the Corporation's Arts and Drama departments. Last week's Imagine, for example, featured Alan Yentob trawling the back streets of Accrington with Jeanette Winterson, a route that has been followed so many times that you wonder the local council doesn't set up a heritage trail.

Then came the news that BBC1 is to dramatise J K Rowling's The Casual Vacancy, published with such success earlier this autumn. No offence to Ms Rowling, but couldn't the commissioning editors have come up with something a little less predictable? Ms R, it is fair to say, has been chosen because of her name. If one wanted a novel about small-town society thrown into peril, then why not choose, say, Philip Hensher's King of the Badgers, which has the additional advantage of being twice as good? Potatoes can be very tasty, but sometimes one gets tired of good plain food.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£21804 - £31868 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a dynamic En...

SAP Data Migration Lead

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Experienced Lead SAP Data Manager Requir...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Graduate Recruitment Resourcers - Banking Technologies

£18000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Huxley Associates are looking...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise  

The UK economy may be back on track, but ordinary people are still being left behind

James Moore
The Independent journalist James Moore pictured outside Mile End underground station in east London  

The true cost of being disabled goes far beyond just the physical

James Moore
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform