by Martin Odoni
FOREWORD: I did state a few months ago that this blog would maintain a strict silence on all matters Hillsborough-related until the current rebooted Inquests are completed. However, I have decided it is okay to proceed with this blogpost, as it is not about the Disaster directly, and I doubt it can have any bearing whatever on the proceedings at Birchwood Park. Should anybody involved in the legal proceedings feel otherwise, please leave a comment below explaining why, and I will consider un-publishing it until after the end of the Inquests.
The name ‘Christopher Whittle’ keeps popping up on this blog, to such an extent that a reader might feel that I have a morbid obsession with him. This is not the case, just for the record; in reality, the man is such an obviously irrational rage-merchant – albeit for understandable reasons – that I scarcely take him seriously at all, and the growing impression I get from outside discussions is that very few other Hillsborough campaigners do either. However, as past exchanges with Whittle have shown, he seems awfully keen to discredit me any time he sees or hears my name, and there is a mild danger that some people he bad-mouths me in front of will just swallow everything he says.
My reason for mentioning him this time refers to an essay I wrote back in November 2013 about the crush barrier that collapsed in the central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace during the Hillsborough Disaster. The good ladies and gents at the Hillsborough Justice Campaign seem to have rather liked the essay and put a link to it up on their Facebook page, to encourage other supporters to read it. It would seem one of the supporters on that page is Whittle himself, and among a number of comments the essay received, he ventured the following, somewhat off-colour opinion; –
“Well Mr. Odoni has certainly changed his tune.”
I wasn’t aware of Whittle posting this comment for some time, as he long ago blocked me over Facebook to prevent me from arguing with him. (I can assure you that there are other Hillsborough campaigners out there who have received similar treatment from him, as they have shared anecdotes with me that sound depressingly similar to ones I have lived out when getting into quarrels with him.) So for a long time I was effectively blinded to the remark he had posted.
I only became aware of Whittle’s comment earlier today when I happened to be browsing the HJC Facebook page on a computer that I was not logged in on; the block he placed on me does not apply when I am operating as an anonymous user. (Incidentally, if he feels he has the right to comment on my work after he has chosen to block me, Whittle could at least have the courage and courtesy to let me know what he says, allowing me some kind of right-of-reply. As things stand, he seems to be trying to give himself a ‘built-in’ final word on any subject.)
The reason I have decided to write this response is that Whittle seems, not for the first time, to be publicly insinuating that I have a history of South Yorkshire Police apologia i.e. that I have a supposed track record of blaming Liverpool supporters for causing the Hillsborough Disaster, and that I must only have very recently changed my mind.
I want to make it categorically clear right now that this is absolutely not the case at all; –
I have never in my entire life suggested that Liverpool supporters were responsible for the Disaster, and the position I took when writing the essay he was responding to was completely consistent with my position on the Disaster and its causes over the last quarter-of-a-century i.e. that the South Yorkshire Police mishandled the crowd on the day, and that this had lethal effects due to Sheffield Wednesday Football Club allowing their stadium to become unsafe over previous years.
If anyone wishes to test me on this, I refer them to the Hillsborough Disaster Index at the top of this very page. You are entirely free to select and read any and all essays I have written on the subject over the last three or four years. Take any random sampling of them that you wish, then check the dates on all of them, and see what I had to say then. See if you can find any difference in my leanings between what I was writing, say, in 2011 and what I write now.
As my previous accounts of arguments with him have demonstrated, Whittle has a damning history of being an unreliable witness. For instance, when he took such bitter offence last year at my review of his unimpressive and un-sourced book, With Hope In Your Heart, he tried to portray the review as the act of a man with a grudge. He made out that a previous argument between us, in which he banned me from using another Facebook page as the penalty for disagreeing with him, had been my motive to criticise his work. But he never put forward any detail explaining what it was I had done wrong during that first argument, limiting his accusations to an extremely vague assertion that I had displayed a “disgusting attitude”. No description of what that “disgusting attitude” might embody, and no examples of “disgusting” behaviour on my part were ever offered.
Similar here with his response to my essay about the crush barrier. Whittle has asserted that I have changed my position on Hillsborough at some point in the months since the argument over the book review, but that is all he says. He offers no examples or citations of evidence to demonstrate that I ever used to take a different position from the one I take at present. In other words, he is trying to use weasel-words to discredit me by niggling implication, and he clearly feels no shame about using fabrications in order to do it. That is certainly not the first time I have highlighted him doing that, and it is something that should be anathema to him: As a self-proclaimed committed Christian, you would think The Ten Commandments should play some kind of positive role in his behaviour. The Ninth such Commandment forbids the bearing of false witness i.e. it forbids the telling of lies. (Although I am ethnically Jewish, I am not religious myself, but I would say that telling lies of the defamatory type that Whittle frequently resorts to is obviously immoral, no matter which code of ethics you might adhere to.) Surely every time he tells a lie, he expects to take a step closer to everlasting damnation?
So, Christopher Whittle, I am now formally and publicly challenging you.
If you truly have any integrity, you will come forward and offer up some firm evidence to support your accusation against me. You clearly want people to believe that I used to be an apologist for the South Yorkshire Police. I challenge you to prove that I ever was. I challenge you to find any written work, or even passing comment, by myself that shows me speaking up for the conduct of the police during, and holding the Liverpool supporters to blame for, the Hillsborough Disaster. Furthermore, I challenge you to demonstrate exactly why my behaviour was “disgusting” enough for you to ban me from that Facebook page a couple of years back*, and I challenge you to show that any such behaviour on my part was unwarranted, and in no way provoked by your own conduct.
If you cannot do so, I challenge you to withdraw the implication publicly.
Come on, Whittle, for once in your life, show some honesty, one way or the other. If you will not, it can only mean that you are not the devoted man of faith that you claim to be.
*And no, Whittle, me comparing your administration of that Facebook page to the conduct of the South Yorkshire Police does not count. I have freely admitted, and publicly apologised, elsewhere on this blog that I made the remark, and I accept it was too close-to-the-bone. But either way, I made the remark after you had already banned me, so there is no way you can make out that it was the reason you made that decision. Nor can you pretend that I had made the remark in the face of anything other than considerable provocation – not only had you banned me for no good reason, you had also been profoundly patronising and outright abusive towards me at various times before that. I still maintain with great confidence that the only reason you banned me was because I disagreed with you, and still do, on the matter of whether Margaret Thatcher was involved in the Hillsborough cover-up. You insist she was, but can never offer any verifiable evidence to this effect. I have concluded that she wasn’t, precisely because no one has ever been able to offer any such evidence. If you had any honesty or maturity, you would simply have accepted that my position is a perfectly reasonable one as things stand, and moved on, but instead you felt a desperation to silence me and to reinforce your own prejudices. The reason you banned me, in short, was just arrogant, high-handed censorship, which is, let’s be honest, entirely in keeping with how the South Yorkshire Police behaved after the Disaster.
You have become what you hate the most, Christopher Whittle.
The claim isn’t true of course, but the speech wasn’t just typically dishonest, it was also typically stupid – a massive own goal. It was an inadvertent admission that disproved at a stroke Inept Drunken-Shit’s claims over the last few years that his benefits reforms are getting people off the dole and into work. Because for this claim of his to make any sense, he has to accept that people on benefits *aren’t* moving into work.
The Independent reports that Iain Duncan Smith is due to make a speech today in which he will claim that immigration to the UK is high because social security claimants are refusing to take jobs in order to remain on benefits. It quotes from his speech:
“Businesses needed the labour and because of the way our benefit system was constructed, too few of the economically inactive took the jobs on offer.”
So as well as being responsible for the deficit and the national debt, out of work claimants are now to blame for immigration as well!
August 10, 2014
“I have thoroughly investigated the evidence regarding welfare benefits and unemployment and found no connection, yet many economists still claim increasing welfare will increase unemployment. The economic crisis should have lead to a serious rethinking of economics, yet it is depressing to think of how little has changed. A subject which still teaches that markets are efficient even after they spectacular implode cannot call itself a science or claim to be evidence driven.”
Economists like to pride themselves on their job and how scientific it is. Politics might be full of emotional rhetoric and unthought out ideas, but economists rely solely on cold hard facts. Flicking through my old textbooks, I see many references to “thinking like an economist” where we were supposed to cast aside fallacies and view the world with a rational and scientific eye. If only it were so. In reality, economics lacks the basis in real world evidence, the scientific method, and predictive power to be considered a science and is instead a highly politicised topic.
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People have to stop thinking of Government debt as being like a household debt. It works very differently from a private debt, indeed many aspects of it are the complete reverse. A low public sector debt is not necessarily healthier than a higher one, and in practise, economies with a higher debt tend to be in a healthier shape than those with a lower one.
Furthermore, an economy that is in surplus and not in deficit will usually hit a slump within a couple of years. This is because a surplus is usually a sign that markets are not selling goods to the fullest capacity, which leads to profit losses and potentially the laying-off of staff in growing numbers.
Labour’s “basic instinct” is to spend money and their economic policies will leave Britain £500 billion worse off, a Cabinet minister will say today.
Sajid Javid, the Culture Secretary, will say that labour MPs believe that spending money is a “mark of success” and they are “simply not comfortable” with austerity measures.
He said that according to a Treasury analysis, under Labour the Britain’s debt will be the equivalent of two thirds of national income in 2035. Under the Conservative approach, it will be a third of GDP.
There’s a lot wrong with this idea. Apart the fact that Labour haven’t produced any spending plans yet, and when they do they’re unlikely to be much different from the Tories, where does he get £500m from? And what does ‘worse off’ mean in this context.
His time scale is over the next 20 years. ‘Worse off’…
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August 5, 2014
I’d take the argument against the old “we-need-cuts-in-one-area-to-make-money-available-in-another” fallacy a stage further than this. I would go so far as to suggest that if social security spending were truly bad for an economy, and a serious drain on “resources” (why do so many people think that *money* is a resource, by the way? It’s not, it’s a token), no Government would ever have let the Welfare State be introduced in the first place. And the country would have collapsed into permanent economic ruin before about 1965. Instead, the British economy flourished with almost unprecedented consistency from the earliest days of the Welfare State right through to the mid-1970’s, in spite of having to relinquish a resource-rich Empire during the same period. The economy has only reverted to its wild old “boom-‘n’-bust” instability since Margaret Thatcher started dismantling the Welfare State.
“Britain’s welfare budget should be used to fund new transport links in the north which will bring a “real economic return” rather than “trapping people in poverty”, the Chancellor has said.”
The article goes on to quote Osborne as saying:
“I think the real choice in our country is actually spending money on this big economic infrastructure, trans-pennine rail links, Crossrail 2 in London and the like, and spending money on, for example, welfare payments which are not generating a real economic return and at the same time are trapping people in poverty.”
This creates the very strong impression that Osborne really wants to ramp up infrastructure spending, but is being prevented from doing so by people “trapped in poverty”. I’m not entirely sure what the ‘real choice’ means in policy terms, but it’s a completely false choice.
The social security bill is not preventing the…
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August 3, 2014
by Martin Odoni
Something happened while I was travelling through Manchester on a tram a couple of months ago. At the time, it annoyed me a little but didn’t anger me as such, but subsequently it really started to unsettle me.
It was early June, and the Parklife concert was being held at Heaton Park that weekend. I wasn’t attending it myself, but the tram I boarded was absolutely crammed with concert-goers, especially teenagers. Now I suffer from terrible claustrophobia, so I was always going to be uncomfortable. But there wasn’t a seat available, so I was sort of jammed in place with my side against a handle rail next to the doors, meaning I was leaning in an awkward position in the press of people all around me.
There were a few girls stood right in front of me in, shall we say, ‘brief’ outfits, which was slightly embarrassing, but I was able to ignore them and avoid bothering them. But on the other side of the rail I was propped up against, two more girls were in the nearest seats to me. They couldn’t have been more than 15, probably younger.
While I was struggling to stay upright and avoid a full-blown claustrophobic attack, one of the seated girls reached out and pinched me on the backside. I tried not to react, indeed pretended not to notice, and I gave her the benefit of the doubt. It was very crowded after all, and with the tram shaking around so much as it was moving, it was possible she did it by accident. Right?
Yeah, right. I could be a speech writer for Benjamin Netanyahu, couldn’t I?
A moment later she did it again. I turned and looked at her directly, and she beamed up at me, fluttering her eyelids at me in a flirtatious way. I raised an eyebrow at her and gently said, “Behave.” She responded by blowing a kiss at me, and then pretended to turn her attention to her iPhone.
I turned my own attention to the ceiling, as looking away from what is crowding you is sometimes the only way to stave off claustrophobia. But a few minutes later, the girl pinched me again. Fortunately, this happened just before the tram reached my stop, so I was able to alight and get away from the packed crowd before I had to make a scene.
I was a bit puzzled and uneasy at what had happened, but I was so relieved to get out of the crowd that I put it out of my mind for a bit. But later that day, the incident came back into my thoughts, and I began to feel quite angry and upset, in a way that rather took me by surprise.
What got to me wasn’t just the old, “Can-you-imagine-what-people-would-think-if-the-roles-were-reversed?” complaint – it’s a legitimate point, but also a very obvious and well-worn one. No, part of the problem was the fact that I really didn’t know, and indeed still don’t know, what would have been the best way to handle what the girl was doing to me.
After the third time she pinched me, thankfully, I was able to get off the tram, but that was just luck. What if my stop had been another five miles away instead? What should I have done then? It wasn’t like I could go and stand somewhere else – the tram was so crowded that there was scarcely room to shuffle my feet. I couldn’t report her to the driver as I couldn’t get near to the intercom or the ‘cockpit’.
Should I have slapped her hand? With all those people around, it would probably have triggered a fight, and I would have certainly been charged with assault.
Should I have grabbed her arms? Same problem surely, in fact I might even have been charged with sexual assault.
Should I have just stood there and put up with it? The problem with that is that it is humiliating, but also it can give a very unfair, very wrong idea. The girl might have thought I was enjoying it and decided to do it even more, and she might even have started thinking I was perverted and liked getting felt up by minors – and if anyone else saw it they might assume the same thing too – when all I had been doing was standing there minding my own business. (I don’t doubt some people reading this are rolling their eyes and thinking I really was enjoying it, but that says more about them than it does about me – sort of one of the points I’m trying to make.) It’s a kind of victim-blaming in fact. It was a very uncomfortable, powerless position to be in, in which I’m a wimp or a bully if I object to it, or a pervert if I don’t. No, a woman shouldn’t have to put up with that sort of degrading treatment, so why should I?
(I should just make clear, this is certainly not the first time something like this has happened to me – in particular I remember one girl when I was at school in Scotland who would routinely fondle me in front of her friends just to make a big show of “teasing the class-geek”, and even after all this time I still somewhat resent her for doing it. Also, one Christmas she kept trying to kiss me under the mistletoe, and wouldn’t respect my objections when I refused; it seems only women have the right to say ‘no’. But this recent case is the first time an underage minor has tried it on. That’s what really bothers me, as I can’t think of a ‘right’ way to put a stop to it when it’s someone that young, and when you’re jammed in a noisy crowd of people.)
But these thoughts only apply to me in that situation, but you can carry thoughts even further and it leads to even more disturbing questions. I most certainly didn’t like the girl feeling me up like that, but consider this; –
What if I had?
No, it’s a serious question and it has really started troubling me in the weeks since the incident happened. What if I’d instead found I was enjoying what she was doing? The girl, undeniably, was very pretty, and I have no doubt at all that some men would have rather liked having her hands on them. But this is the unsettling point; if I had enjoyed it, would that have made it all right? Would that have meant it was okay for the girl to keep touching me? Would that have meant it would have been fine for me to stand there tolerating it, even getting off on it?
No, surely not, surely that would make it even worse, because it would mean I would be approving sexualised contact with someone who was probably underage – we would have both been behaving badly then, surely?
Except… it’s our bodies, therefore it’s up to us what contact we want? Well okay, but isn’t that an argument to legalise the reverse behaviour too? Do we really want to head down that path?
I have no doubt the girl had been drinking, and I do doubt that she really fancied me. Most likely she was just testing her social boundaries with someone a good deal older than her.
Some people – especially older generation men I tend to find – might argue that I should just stand there and enjoy it, and stop complaining, but that does rather raise familiar questions about how seriously males take sexual abuse at all in a society that retains so many paternalistic hang-ups. There is rightly a measure of outrage that breaks out in public when a woman is raped, for instance, but until fairly recent years, that outrage was predominantly expressed by women. Men are far likelier to raise their voices against it these days, but the impression I get a lot of the time is that many men do so only because of growing social pressures to make a big show of being ‘anti-sexual abuse’. How seriously would most men take what happened to me? In all honesty, I suspect most, on hearing me tell them about it, would either call me a pussy for getting upset about it, or nudge me and wink at me and say, “You lucky dog!”
I don’t feel lucky that it happened, and I don’t like the follow-up implication of the nudges-and-winks that I am therefore being in some way ‘ungrateful’. It’s one of the reasons why I haven’t discussed what happened face-to-face with any of my male friends, precisely because I know that they will sneer at me that I’m being a wimp over what happened. It may not have been nearly as dreadful as a rape, it may only have been mild, testing-the-water touching by the girl who pinched me, but it was still abuse, it was still someone taking unfair advantage of me being in a vulnerable position, it still made me feel embarrassed and uncomfortable in a public place. And as I say, I don’t think it would have made matters any better had I enjoyed it anyway.
For the most part, I can’t picture women nudging and winking at one of their friends when she tells them that a man groped her while she was stood in the aisles of a crowded bus, but I can picture men making a joke out of it when it happens to one of the lads. I can also picture, I have to say, many women sneering contemptuously that the man probably enjoyed it, which again conforms to a familiar pattern of victim-blaming.
For that reason, while we must acknowledge that society has made a lot of progress with its attitudes to sexual abuse, we also have to acknowledge that we have a very long way still to go.