Yobs bite the hand that whacks them

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The Independent Online
THE Prime Minister has called on us all to develop an anti-yob culture. I agree. But what is a yob? And what is this yob culture against which we must unite? It will take a little lexical agility to sort the matter out.

For a yob, in its vulgar sense, is a member of the lower classes. And this cannot be what Mr Major meant. He did not intend to declare war on the lower classes as such. That would be psephological suicide.

Instead, it would appear that Mr Major had in mind such a definition as a cultureless bloke on the warpath. Yob culture is the term used to describe what yobs do when they get together. That's what makes 'the culture of the cultureless' - threatening, obnoxious or distasteful. It's what they do in a group. You might not even suspect a certain individual of being a yob until you see what he does when egged on by other yobs. A perfect example of yob culture is the Last Night of the Proms. Mr Major should stamp it out.

'The Tenors', when they get together, particularly it seems under the direction of Zubin Mehta, are yobs. Individually, no doubt, they are the finest tenor voices of their generation. But put Carreras, Pavarotti and Domingo together on a platform in front of a crowd, and something develops which is like a nasty practical joke at the expense of music.

So yobbism is to be found in high as well as popular culture. Indeed, there is a famous institution to which yobs go to have their yobbism 'laundered', so that they are converted into crypto-yobs. It's called Glyndebourne. Not by accident did it become Baroness Thatcher's favoured cultural experience.

Thatcher a yob? The Baroness a 'cultureless bloke on the warpath'? It's true that for the most part the word yob attaches itself to men rather than women (although one does, from time to time, see women behaving in ways that, if men behaved like that, you'd call yobbish). But it wasn't what Thatcher did with other women that made her a yob. It was what she did with her predominantly male government. In that context, Thatcher was an honorary bloke, a she- bloke, a White Yobbess.

Yobs are threatening, bullying and destructive. Tories are threatening, bullying and destructive. It's remarkable, when you come to think of it, the resemblance between yobs and Tories. Doesn't the very word Tory mean some kind of 18th century yob?

Tories are like yobs in the sense that they do not act singly or in circumstances where they are likely to be outnumbered. For instance, that egregious Yahoo Virginia Bottomley would not dare to touch a single teaching hospital unless she was in the protection of a large group all dedicated to some kind of destruction.

Mr Major in his anti-yob speech talked about spraying graffiti in public places. But this is exactly what Tories do to public institutions. They spray graffiti all over them, stigmatising them, defacing them, denigrating them. Then they pull them down, chop them up, hive them off.

Mr Major objected to young offenders being taken to safari parks for the holiday of a lifetime. But who sets the tone in this matter of rewarding ill deeds with free excursions? Who is offering free holidays to people who will steal the striking signalmen's jobs? And who is egging them on?

People look back with some respect at the way certain union malpractices were broken during the Thatcher years, and indeed it is hard not to. This paper, for instance, could never have been founded before the power of the Fleet Street unions had been broken.

But alongside the crushing of malpractices came the delight, the glee, at crushing for the sake of crushing, leaving working people with the unmistakable impression that their contribution, which they had thought valuable, was really quite beside the point. Kenneth Clarke, another yob, was a tone-setter in this respect, when dealing with the ambulancemen. John Patten did not just despise the teachers - he made a point of letting it be known that he despised the teachers. This was the yobbism of the tag-along yob who smashes the train window then turns around to see whether he has earned the approval of his peers.

So when the signalmen find themselves treated with contempt, they are just the latest in a long line. Do you think you have a skill? A fig for your skill] Do you think your contribution is vital? Nuts to your contribution] Somewhere between the fig and the nuts, the message gets through to sector after sector of society that its work, its traditions and its self-respect are superfluous.

Yobbism from above, the essentially nihilist legacy of Thatcherism, will be liable to set the tone for yobbism from below. People who were deliberately hurt by the doctrine that if it doesn't hurt it isn't working - these people will want to hurt back.

Friday was Day One of Mr Major's anti-yob culture crusade. On Day Two, the Conservative Party Chairman, Jeremy Hanley, was shown the footage of the brawl at the boxing match in Birmingham, and the poor man thought it a bit of 'exuberance'. A wobbly start, then, to the crusade, especially when he retracted that view a few hours later.

Still, Mr Hanley has made his modest contribution to another more interesting campaign, the campaign to get Lord Archer to make a somewhat cleaner breast of the Anglia share deal: he thought the controversy was unlikely to go away until more was said. I was nave about this. I thought Lord Archer was so busy on his promotional tour that he had no time for other things.

But a report in yesterday's Observer tells us otherwise. Lord Archer has had enough time to engage a firm of private detectives to find out who was behind the revelation of his dealings - dealings which he has since admitted were a grave mistake.

The position now appears to be that the money made by Lord Archer on behalf of Broosk Saib was indeed paid into Mr Saib's account, and from that place some of it went to another account in Mr Saib's name, while according to the Sunday Times at least pounds 10,000 was withdrawn in cash over the next few weeks from the first of Mr Saib's accounts. Clearly Mr Archer and Mr Saib could help clear this matter up by making a couple of statements. One imagines that Mr Hanley would like the clearing up to be done before the Tory party conference. And Lord Archer is back this week] He couldn't have timed it better.

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