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Snowflakes and all that

A small plug for the really useful online OED:


I am thinking about the derogatory meaning. I first noticed it in connection with “safe spaces”:


I have written several times before about the ludicrous expansion of university education in the UK (here, here, here, and here). The inevitable result has been the creation of a large number of almost entirely useless universities which do almost no worthwhile research and which provide undergraduates with little useful education or training.

The cost is substantial, but hard to estimate at all accurately. Partly the statistics are confusing, partly there is a difficult judgment issue over how much of the student loans will eventually be repaid. If we look back before tuition fees became significant the cost of tertiary education seems to have been about £10 billion a year, of which at least half must have been for useless universities.

However, the snowflake issue is about how it is actually worse than that because many universities are rapidly becoming positively harmful rather than merely useless. For years much university teaching in the humanities has been degenerating into the absurd with modernist theories which preach a bizarre “post-truth” message, but this is now starting to move towards its logical conclusion with efforts to ban speakers whose views might upset students whose views are different – “no-platforming” and “safe spaces” (where students can be sure their prejudices will not be challenged). In other words, universities are becoming complicit in encouraging students to give up altogether on the painful business of thinking and analysing.

Of course, the “post-truth ”


tsunami is not confined to universities. The news that prompted this post was the latest development in Ken Livingstone saga. Naz Shah (43) is the Labour MP for Bradford West.


She was born in Bradford, although her parents came from Pakistan. She was elected as an MP for the first time in the last general election in May 2015. In 2014 she posted this on Facebook at a time when Israeli atrocities in Gaza were in the news:


and added a couple of comments shortly afterwards


In 2016 a blogger discovered the post (or maybe a reposting, I have not checked FB because Shah’s account has a vast number of posts) and publicised it. There was a row. On 26 April 2016 she stepped down as PPS to John McDonnell (shadow Chancellor), but retained her seat on the Home Affairs Select Committee. The following day she was suspended by the Labour Party, then re-instated on 5 July 2016. She made all kinds of fulsome apologies and the Left forgave her.

On 28 April 2016 Livinsgstone was interviewed by Vanessa Feltz (55). The Independent later published a transcript:

KL: She’s a deep critic of Israel and its policies. Her remarks were over-the-top but she’s not antisemitic. I’ve been in the Labour party for 47 years; I’ve never heard anyone say anything antisemitic. I’ve heard a lot of criticism of the state of Israel and its abuse of Palestinians but I’ve never heard anyone say anything antisemitic.

It’s completely over the top but it’s not antisemitism. Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.

The simple fact in all of this is that Naz made these comments at a time when there was another brutal Israeli attack on the Palestinians; and there’s one stark fact that virtually no one in the British media ever reports, in almost all these conflicts the death toll is usually between 60 and 100 Palestinians killed for every Israeli. Now, any other country doing that would be accused of war crimes but it’s like we have a double standard about the policies of the Israeli government …

I’m not an apologist for anyone who makes antisemitic statements. What I’m saying is don’t confuse antisemitism with criticism of the Israeli government policy.

I have not even begun to look into the history of exactly what Hitler did before WW2, but my general experience of Livingstone is that he does his homework. But even if his opinions could be criticised as historically dodgy, they are certainly not anti-semitic. Of course, large numbers of Jews (and others) have taken offence, but that is entirely another matter.

The whole point about free speech is that one must be free to offend and upset. A freedom restricted to a freedom to flatter is hardly of much value.

Needless to say, however, his remarks did not go down well with some sections of the Labour Party. John Mann in particular – a politician who has said some sensible things on other issues, such as the banking crisis – was filmed wagging his finger and accusing Livingstone of being a Nazi apologist. Later in the day Jeremy Corbyn suspended Livingstone from the Labour Party for bringing the Party into disrepute, pending an investigation.

The investigation eventually concluded earlier this week that Livingstone should be suspended from the Party for two years (one of which has already passed). His critics were outraged that he had not been expelled.

Yesterday Michael Levy (72) a long-standing friend of Tony Blair and his chief fundraiser for the Labour Party was interviewed on the Today programme (R4):

ML: … I do not believe that the punishment [of Livingstone] was correct … many of the comments … particularly from our Chief Rabbi have endorsed that opinion.

He agonised for a while about whether he should leave the Labour Party, and then came out with this bizarre snowflakery, muddled up with nostalgia for the days when he had the ear of the prime minister:

ML: … I am very upset … I do not believe there has been a zero tolerance policy towards anti-Semitism … The lack of sensitivity [shown by Ken Livingstone] towards the Jewish community has been outrageous …

John Humphrys: You will be aware that some Jewish members of the Labour Party do not believe Mr Livingstone was guilty of anti-Semitism …

ML: Well those members are I would guess such a distinct minority, there can be very very few of them and they, to me, are not what I call serious members of the Labour Party, and they are not the future of the Labour Party. Nearly 10M people, John, voted for this Party in the last election. A handful of members, if they are of the Jewish faith, so be it, their problem. That does not mean that we cannot make this Party into a serious party for the future … Let us not forget how Tony Blair behaved towards the Jewish community, how Gordon Brown behaved towards the Jewish community. Let us not forget that the current Mayor of London instead of celebrating with his family literally two days after his election victory, he was at the Holocaust Memorial Day showing solidarity. There is still much good in the party …

JH: What they [the Labour dissenters] say is that for a political party to adopt the principle that causing offence to some part of the population is a reason for expulsion, that would be to deny freedom of expression for what are legitimate political opinions …

ML: who signed off on that?

JH: a group of people, 30 of them … they say that they represent Jewish Labour Party members, many of them anyway.

ML: Well, I don’t think so at all. As far as I am concerned my Jewish colleagues within the Labour Party and my non-Jewish colleagues in the Labour Party, many many hundreds, thousands of them, would be absolutely in total disagreement with that statement … quite frankly to me our leader is our Chief Rabbi and not this group of 30 people, and I think that they need to refer to what he has said, which is unequivocal in terms of his criticism both of Livingstone and of the Labour Party on how it has behaved on this issue.

Evidently Michael Levy considers that the Jews are a special case. No one should say anything that might offend them.

Added 11 Apr 17

Presumably Levy’s reference to the Chief Rabbi condemning Livingstone refer to remarks by Ephraim Mirvis reported in the Jewish News on 7 Apr:

This was a chance for the Labour Party to show that it would not tolerate wilful and unapologetic baiting of the Jewish community, by shamefully using the Holocaust as a tool with which to inflict the maximum amount of offence. Worryingly, the party has yet again failed to show that it is sufficiently serious about tackling the scourge of anti-Semitism. The Labour Party has failed the Jewish community, it has failed its members and it has failed all those who believe in zero tolerance of anti-Semitism.

I guess Mirvis chose his words carefully. He does not actually say that Livingstone was being anti-semitic. He just says that he offended those who believe in zero tolerance of anti-Semitism.

Going back to Livingstone’s remarks, the Jewish Virtual Library has:


So it is clear that, however insensitive his remarks, Livingstone was speaking the truth. We have to get better at listening to unwelcome truths and at standing up to minorities who are unwilling to do that. Or put more broadly, the UK must wake up and defend its core values, which took us centuries to implement.

{ 3 } Comments

  1. Tom Welsh | 6 April 2017 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    “Evidently Michael Levy considers that the Jews are a special case. No one should say anything that might offend them”.

    Of course, from a political or even a business point of view that would be an enviable privilege.

    I sometimes wonder what kind of world it would be if no one were allowed to say anything that might offend me. (Disclosure: I am not Jewish).

    I think I can safely say that it would be a very different kind of world indeed.

  2. John Scholes | 9 April 2017 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Bother, still cannot find the statement by the 30.

  3. Tom Welsh | 19 April 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    “It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them”.

    – Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. XX

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