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

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

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - SQL Server, T-SQL

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Data Analyst (SQL Server, T-SQL, data)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road