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Wednesday, April 10, 2013 

Anthems for a 17-year-old girl.

One thing almost completely buried (ho ho) by the passing of Margaret Hilda Thatcher (and credit where credit's due to both David Winnick and Glenda Jackson for refusing to go along with the consensus in today's tribute debate) has been the remarkable treatment meted out to Paris Brown, the unfortunately named 17-year-old appointed to be yoof crime tsar by Kent's police and crime commissioner.  Try to put aside the fact that Brown's mission was supposedly meant to be to bring the police and young people closer together, as "they used to be", or that almost no one wanted the PCCs in the first place, and instead marvel at the sheer laziness, cynicism and callousness involved in the Mail on Sunday's attack on someone still not old enough to cast a ballot herself.

You might recall that back in 2009 the Scottish Sunday Express ran what was quite possibly the most ill-judged and despicable newspaper piece in many years.  Written by Paula Murray, the article "exposed" what it described as the "shame" of the survivors of the Dunblane massacre, who now having reached 18 were daring to live their lives the way almost every other 18-year-old would. Murray had scoured their social networking profiles for the slightest evidence of "bad" behaviour, whether it be drinking, swearing, sex, getting tattoos or even into the odd fight, and instead of being told by her colleagues or indeed even her editor that this was just about the most appalling breach of privacy imaginable, Derek Lambie went ahead and splashed it on the front page.  Deserved opprobrium duly landed on the heads of all involved.

Four years later, and we have the first major evidence that the politicians and public figures of the future are likely to be damned for what they put on their Twitter or Facebook pages potentially decades previous.  The hatchet job performed on Brown is still astonishing though, both for the vehemence of the attack and the sheer breadth of what the MoS decided to focus on.  Understandably, most attention was focused on Brown's comments on "pikeys" and her description of everyone on Made in Chelsea as "fucking fags", but the paper also saw fit to draw attention to the fact that Brown talked of how the "worst thing about being single" was "coming home ... horny and having to sleep alone".  A young woman daring to express sexual desire in a public forum? How dare she!

Regardless of when she made some of the tweets, and as Brown swiftly deleted the account we can't check whether she did make some when she was 14 or 15 and not recently, there really isn't much here to get even slightly outraged about.  No, it isn't clever to say you're glad your little brother hit someone who gave his friend a black eye, nor should it be acceptable to call people fags or faggots regardless of the changing meaning of the word, although it should be remembered programmes like Made in Chelsea are produced with the intention of winding people up.  As for her attack on "pikeys", it's fairly apparent she was using the word not as an attack on gypsies directly, but in the sense it's came to be used in as shorthand for thieves in general.  Still not anywhere approaching OK, but are there many who can say that at Brown's age they didn't also make such sweeping condemnations of people, or even use racist language?  I know I can't.

Quite apart from the hysterical hypocrisy of the Mail stable of newspapers condemning someone's non-PC comments on race relations and gay rights, what really rankles is that they chose to draw attention to some of her more introspective, vulnerable tweets, including one where she's obviously criticising herself for how she has sometimes behaved when drunk.  17-year-old has on occasion had a drink! Hold the front page!

It was hardly surprising then when, presumably pressurised into doing so, Brown sat across from the PCC Anne Barnes apologising for the messages while crying her eyes out, all in front of the TV cameras.  I don't think I've seen a more pitiful sight in quite some time; a young person thought she was doing something to help those her own age, and was duly rewarded for it with the kind of attack usually reserved for those who have in some way or another attracted the Mail's ire.

Brown shouldn't have had to resign, but almost certainly had no option. Joe Jones says she have been fully vetted, with her social networking profiles looked at, yet is this really the kind of territory we're now getting into?  When teenagers can't even be allowed to make mistakes or say stupid things for fear they might later have them picked up on, we're in clear danger of creating a generation of politicians who are so desperately dull and have such indistinct opinions that the public becomes even less enthused with the system than they currently are.  Whatever you thought about Thatcher, she believed in what she was doing.  Plenty of those now growing up have the potential to be outstanding future leaders with similar qualities, and are presumably exactly the sort the Mail on Sunday would approve of.  If we're going to attempt to kill them off before they even get started because of daft things they've done on the internet, our democracy is going to be a very dry place indeed.

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