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Saturday, January 26, 2008 

Scum-watch: Living in a parallel universe.

I sometimes wonder if I've gone to sleep at night and woken up the following morning in a parallel universe. Everything seems the same, just backwards. You can't help but get that feeling reading the latest Sun article on their campaign to GET TOUGH NOW. At the beginning of the week, there being little news over the weekend apart from Jacqui Smith's honest but naive comments about feeling unsafe walking the streets at night, the Scum splashed on its front page a letter from a teacher, one Dr Stuart Newton. It was a typical why oh why moan while offering no real solutions, but because the Sun doesn't very often get letters from teachers, or indeed doctors, it no doubt thought it a wonderful way to start their latest doomed and flawed attack.

Six days later, and Gordon Brown has already invited Newton into Downing Street to discuss his hopes and fears. This, it seems, is the way Britain works now. You don't need to be specially qualified to get a job: as long as you're on television, or featured in a newspaper just once, it seems that the government will bend over backwards to listen to you, as long as you're suitably on message and not likely to be overly critical. That would never do. Hence we have a psychologist who worked on a BBC3 programme on unruly children doing a review on the effects of television and the internet on those same said kiddie-winks; a job apparently offered to Fiona Phillips of GMTV fame because she was gushing of the easily charmed Gordo; and now anyone who writes to the Sun can be called up for a special chat with the supreme leader. Perhaps next we could have Rebekah Wade herself lead a review on domestic violence, or maybe Richard Littlejohn advising the prime minister on social cohesion.

Personally, the last lot of teachers I had used to mock those who read tabloids, or "comics", as they were habitually referred to, and this was at a bog-standard comprehensive. It gets even weirder when Newton pinpoints what he thinks is partly responsible for the rise in yobbery:

He claimed TV images of baying MPs in the House of Commons had helped foster a climate of yobbish behaviour.

Well, quite. When the average family from hell sits down in front of their television set, the first thing they switch to is prime minister's questions, or the news covering them.

“It’s the way we seem to run our country that worries me. We tend to think of bullying as something children do at school. But I see quite a lot of bullying in the House of Commons with the way MPs hector each other.

Newton maybe ought to take his concerns up with David Cameron instead - he was the one this week referring to Brown as "that strange man in Downing Street", while all week Tory MPs have been trying their best to promote the idea that he's a ditherer. Untrue as it, I recall the last prime minister wasn't a ditherer - and look where that got us.

He pointed the finger of blame at highly-paid FOOTBALLERS whose menacing behaviour towards referees has encouraged a culture of bullying.

Careful Dr Newton; those footballers became so highly-paid mainly down to Mr Murdoch and his stranglehold over the television rights. You don't want to upset Mr Murdoch, believe me.

To be fair to Newton, he's not a walking, talking Sun editorial in any sense. He hits the nail firmly on the head by saying that Brown only listed punitive measures, coincidentally exactly the same things the Sun always demands, while he thinks "we need a great deal more than punishments". He does also say though:

"I’m so pleased The Sun started a campaign. When The Sun sneezes, the politicians catch a cold.”

Yes. Except rather than a cold, it's the disease knee-jerkitis.

The hypocrisy of the Sun's praising of Newton's arguments is aptly illustrated by one of its most contrary leader columns of recent times:

So many Premiership footballers believe, like Ashley Cole, that they have a divine right to eye-popping wages and to behave just as they like.

Children watch as they scream abuse at referees on TV and get away with it.

Quite so. Strange then that one of those often at the forefront of screaming abuse at referees, Wayne Rooney, had his book serialised in the Sun and sold the paper his story after he signed with Manchester United, causing uproar in his home city of Liverpool, still stung by the paper's coverage of the Hillsborough disaster.

Even more hilariously, these are the first few lines of the first leader:

SUN reader Dr Stuart Newton tells the PM that Britain’s yob culture is little surprise when our own MPs behave like thugs.

Once again he speaks for us all.

Far too often Commons debates degenerate into childish bellowing and taunts.

These are our lawmakers, meant to set the country’s moral tone, braying like donkeys.

While these are choice extracts from the second:

WE’RE not sure which planet Hamid Karzai’s living on. Certainly not Earth.

The Afghan President’s claim that Helmand went downhill after Our Boys arrived is plain wrong.

As well as being offensive and ungrateful.

Karzai’s claims are a gross insult to the 87 British soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2001, and the hundreds more wounded.

They have given their lives to drag his country out of the Dark Ages.

He should never forget it.

It seems it's not just MPs who indulge in childish bellowing, taunts and braying like donkeys.

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