Mad Mel in the Guardian

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Jackie Ashley meets Melanie Phillips

I’m sure some of you are getting sick to death with this and wondering if I have an infatuation with Melanie Phillips, but there’s a reason for it … she has a new book out in which the ravings one will have found in her blog over the past few years have been distilled into a couple of hundred pages of hard copy. In today’s Guardian, Jackie Ashley writes an account of a meeting she had with Phillips in a French café in west London. The impression I’ve got from hearing Phillips on The Moral Maze - that she is not someone who brooks discussion on things on which she’s made up her mind - is backed up by this article:

Again, when I say that talking about Weimar and feral children is ruining her own case and that I really don’t think things are that bad, she snaps: “No, I’m sure you don’t. That was said to people like me in the 30s, exactly the same kind of argument from the same kind of people … it is very resonant of Weimar and the prejudice against the Jews is very resonant of Weimar.”

Phillips is quick to take offence. That she has just compared a gentle, quizzical interviewer to a complacent pre-Nazi-era German and to Stalin might - just might - have struck others as potentially offensive. That she finds a continuum between law-abiding, peaceful Muslim fellow citizens and terrorists might - just might - strike others as potentially “inflammatory”. That her newspaper, the Daily Mail, pursues anyone who dares criticise it by vilifying them for years afterwards might - just might - strike her as an example of the intellectual bullying she attacks. And perhaps her emailing my editor before I have even sat down at the keyboard to write this article is, at the very least, unusually defensive behaviour.

Perhaps she simply has not the time to notice. Every question I ask she challenges, everything is a misrepresentation, everything a trap. On a personal level, I’m disposed to like her - she somehow seems vulnerable, tortured. I am genuinely interested, genuinely confused about the source of so much anger. But it’s like interviewing a human cactus. Melanie, if everything is so utterly dreadful, in every way, how do you get up in the morning?

There’s the usual bunk on rising antisemitism, that neocon is used as a synonym for Jew, that some liberal she does not name once said “oh, I hate the Jews” in the middle of a pleasant discussion, and that “it’s now an accepted view that there is an international Jewish conspiracy stretching from Jerusalem to Washington, that has subverted the foreign policy of America in the interests of Israel to put the world at risk”. She also regards the division “between those who actively espouse violence and those who do not” as an artificial one.

One thing Ashley doesn’t bring up is the other side of the story of the left’s reaction to Phillips’ articles in the late 1980s on education and the family. The articles no doubt expressed views which weren’t popular on the left, which a number of people seemed to take personally and vented their anger at her, “attacking [her] at parties, purple in the face, waving their Guardians”. It would have been useful to hear another side to the story of Phillips’ break with the Guardian: there is no quote from the offending articles, and no recollections or opinions are sought from other Guardian staffers from the time. And who exactly was attacking her at parties, anyway?

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