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

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, 5 July 2015  

George Osborne says benefits should be capped at £20,000 to meet average earnings – but working families take home £31,500

Ellie Mae O'Hagan
The BBC has agreed to fund the £650m annual cost of providing free television licences for the over-75s  

Osborne’s assault on the BBC is doing Murdoch’s dirty work

James Cusick James Cusick
Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high