Goodbye Mel, we won’t miss you: A look back at Melanie Phillips’s greatest hits

James Bloodworth looks back at the five best/worst Melanie Phillips columns.

It would be untrue to say we shed a tear last week at the news that ex-communist turned right-wing crackpot Melanie Phillips will be leaving the Daily Mail for pastures new. It would, however, also be a lie to say we were jumping with joy.

As well as typifying the ultra-reactionary social agenda of the Daily Mail, Mel has given us a few laughs along the way. Especially in retrospect: some of her columns look so bonkers in hindsight they could easily be mistaken for parodies created by the Onion.

Anyway, here are five of the best/worst. Enjoy. Or weep. Or both.

1. The MMR vaccine

In a 2005 article, Phillips referred to claims by respectable medical professionals that the MMR vaccine was safe as ‘baloney’. She also vigorously defended Andrew Wakefield, the fraud and charlatan whose pseudo-scientific paper began the scare around the MMR vaccine, attacking his opponents for their “ripe denunciations of those like this newspaper (the Mail) who took his (Wakefield’s) concerns seriously”.

She also celebrated the Hannah Poling case as vindication for the crackpot anti-vaccine and anti-science movement which lionised Wakefield and various other fraudulent quacks.

The championing of causes like this earned Mel the ‘Mad’ moniker from some. Unfortunately, there was nothing funny about anti-vaccine scaremongering. The reemergence of measles in recent times is due in no small part to parents not getting their children vaccinated due to fears about the safety of the triple vaccine. As the Times recently reported: “one million children may not have received the full course of the MMR vaccine, in large part because of discredited fears it leads to autism”.

2. Gay rights activists – the ‘new McCarthyites’

In a 2011 piece, Mel referred to gay rights activists as “the new McCarthyites”. Britain was in the grip of a “government-backed drive to promote the gay agenda“, with homosexuality being forced upon schoolchildren, she opined.

“Alas, this gay curriculum is no laughing matter. Absurd as it sounds, this is but the latest attempt to brainwash children with propaganda under the ­camouflage of ­education. It is an abuse of childhood,” she added.

Bear in mind, if you will, that victims of McCarthyism suffered loss of employment and destruction of their careers; some were even imprisoned.

The “new McCarthyism” Mel refers to was in actual fact little more than the end of active discrimination based on who a person chooses to sleep with.

A strange comparison, too, given that Mel is partial to a bit of red baiting herself.

3. Intelligent design as science

American science blogger Mark Hoofnagle coined the term crank magnetism to describe those who are drawn, like moths to a flame, to conspiracy theories. In other words, a person’s tendency to accept one lot of conspiratorial nonsense makes it far more likely they will buy into the next lot of claptrap that comes along. And so it is with Mel. In a piece for the Spectator published in 2009, Phillips gave a ringing defence to the theory of so-called ‘intelligent’ design:

“Whatever the ramifications of the specific school textbooks under scrutiny in the Kitzmiller/Dover case, the fact is that Intelligent Design not only does not come out of Creationism but stands against it. This is because Creationism comes out of religion while Intelligent Design comes out of science.”

“Intelligent Design comes out of science”. Of course it doesn’t, and is anathema to the scientific method, for it rests upon the notion that some biological structures are so complex that a ‘designer’ must have played a role in ‘designing’ them. Predictably, in the eyes of its adherents, that designer also happens to be the specific God they have decided to follow.

As Michael Shermer puts it in Why Darwin Matter: The Case Against Intelligent Design:

“Finally, from what we now know about the cosmos, to think that all this was created for just one species among the tens of millions of species who live on one planet circling one of a couple of hundred billion stars that are located in one galaxy among hundreds of billions of galaxies, all of which are in one universe among perhaps an infinite number of universes all nestled within a grand cosmic multiverse, is provincially insular and anthropocentrically blinkered. Which is more likely? That the universe was designed just for us, or that we see the universe as having been designed just for us?”

4. Climate change denial

As George Monbiot phrased it in his list of the ‘top ten climate change deniers’:

“Mel P (Genuinely Scary Spice) appears to believe that half the scientists on earth are engaged in a series of giant conspiracies. Like Christopher Booker (below), she dismisses not only climate change but also the entire canon of evolutionary science. She also stoutly defends the thesis that MMR injections cause autism.

“She claims that ‘the theory that global warming is all the fault of mankind is a massive scam based on flawed computer modelling, bad science and an anti-western ideology … The majority of well-meaning opinion in the Western world believes a pack of lies and propaganda’. She has also maintained that ‘carbon dioxide forms a relatively small proportion of the atmosphere, most of which consists of water vapour’.

“If this were the case, we would need gills.”

5. ‘Londonistan’

In October 2008, Melanie wrote in the Spectator (in an article which now seems to have disappeared) that presidential candidate Barack Obama was “firmly in the Islamists’ camp” and “adopts the agenda of the Islamists”.

Phillips also sided firmly with the disturbing ‘birther’ tendency in the United States, demanding to know when Obama “stopped being a Muslim”:

“We are entitled to ask precisely when he stopped being a Muslim, and why. Did Obama embrace Christianity as a tactical manoeuvre to get himself elected?”

In her book Londonistan, Phillips also wrote that piggy banks were banned from British banks in case Muslims were offended – something later denied by the banks. While right to emphasise the failure of certain sections of the British left to recognise Islamism for what it is (an ultra-reactionary movement of the far-right), Phillips went further, buying into the sinister idea that Islamism is the true representation of Islam – funnily enough, a view shared by the fanatics she professed to oppose.

As David Smith put it in the Observer, the piggy bank myth was a small point, but rather a telling one.

In 2011, Phillips was investigated by the PCC for an article in the Spectator in which she referred to the “moral depravity” of Arab “savages”.

17 Responses to “Goodbye Mel, we won’t miss you: A look back at Melanie Phillips’s greatest hits”

  1. Matthew Blott

    Good riddance. I used to think there was a whiff of sexism to the “Mad Mel” tag but she seems to have gotten so bad of late she is nothing more than an Alex Jones with pretensions. It really takes some doing to get booted off both the reliably right-wing Spectator and the Daily Mail.

  2. Bob

    I hope this means the BBC will not give her poisonous views airtime anymore?

  3. Geoff

    Well she was right about Obama, who appeases islamists and dictators worldwide.

  4. Alex

    Of course, James Bloodworth could not possibly resist conceding he holds pretty much the same views of the ‘Islamist-loving left’…

  5. David Lindsay

    I expect that this is as much about emBooks, several of which I have bought and read, as anything else. Even Melanie Phillips can only find so many hours in the day.

    Who is going to replace her? John Laughland? Geoffrey Wheatcroft? Mark Almond? Freddy Gray? Stuart Reid? Ed West? Peter Oborne? Tim Stanley? The Mail titles have been going paleocon for years, with Peter McKay, Andrew Alexander, Stephen Glover, Peter Hitchens, Alex Brummer and others, regular and occasional.

    RightMinds already features Thomas Fleming. Also from across the Atlantic might come those whom Freddy Gray used to edit on PostRight. With no intervention in Syria by anyone outside the region, neoconservatism is a busted flush.

    There seems to be something about Phillips’s downright bizarre appearance on Question Time in June. She complained, not without cause, that in 1982 a colleague on The Guardian had referred to the war between Israel and Lebanon as “your war”. Yet in 2013, she left us in no doubt what she meant by “Western interests”. She referred to Israel as “us”. Twice.

    It was very sad to watch. How long had she been doing this? Yet she insulted the audience. She was losing it. She might already have lost it. And I had defended her in the past. Not because I agreed with her, but because of the explicit misogyny and implicit anti-Semitism of some of her more abusive critics. I still think that on many domestic policies, hers is an important voice. As she demonstrated against Russell Brand when the topic for discussion was drugs.

    In relation to Syria, she also talked about a current actor called “the Soviet Union”. There could be no denying that there were those for whom this one had the lot: the chance to attack all five of Iran, the beating heart of pan-Arabism, the defenders of Lebanon’s southern frontier, the ancient indigenous Christians of the Levant (and of Iran), and the power against which they themselves harbour an ancestral bitterness which during the Cold War became bound up with Trotskyism and thus made a doubly important contribution to the emergence of neoconservatism.

    Thus did the Ramshackle Nasty Empire, which was always going to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions, and which was never a viable or even an aspirant military threat to the West, become the Evil Empire, like something out of Star Wars.

    Those overlapping hostilities towards Iran, pan-Arabism, the Great Lebanese Experiment, Christianity both in the region and in general, and Russia, are most emphatically not “Western interests”. Those who hold such attitudes are most emphatically not “us”.

    The Israeli Defence Force is now bombing Syria. In support, necessarily, of the Islamist insurrection in that country. An insurrection at once assisted and incited by the invading forces of Wahhabi Saudi Arabia and Wahhabi Qatar. And by the invading forces of Islamist, NATO, putatively EU Turkey.

    One of the most pernicious lies in all of geopolitics is that Israel is any sort of bulwark against Islamism. In point of fact, be born into certain ethnic minorities within Israel’s 1948 borders, and you are automatically subject to Sharia law. Far more people ought to know that than do. Waving his Menorah passport and with the name of that State in the name of his organisation, Raed Salah obviously knows it very well indeed.

    Israel’s Sharia courts are those of the State of Israel. Their rulings in relation to those born under their jurisdiction are the law of the land, and their judges are appointed and paid by that State. By contrast, although Israel treats family law rulings by entirely private Christian religious courts as a fait accompli, that is as far as any relationship goes. No wonder that Salah is such a proud and happy Israeli.

    He is not the only one. He was previously the Mayor of Umm al-Fahm, a 100 per cent Arab and 99.7 per cent Muslim city which has been run by his Islamic Movement for many years and where 83 per cent of the population recently voted against transfer to Palestinian jurisdiction. If you want to be the Islamic Movement’s fiefdom, then Israel will let you be it, and will even pay your bills.

    The Knesset includes Ibrahim Sarsur, who campaigns for Jerusalem to be made the capital of the Caliphate. His oath of office, an explicit pledge of allegiance to the State of Israel, clearly does not preclude the furtherance of that objective, which is inconceivable on the part of any member of a British, French, Dutch or other Parliament in Europe even now where either Jerusalem, or his or her own capital, was concerned.

    But then, look at the governing coalition in Israel. If any other country had a government members of which wished to denaturalise both the ancient indigenous Christians and the ultra-Orthodox Jews, while others around the Cabinet table held that every ethnic group apart from their own had been created as beasts of burden, then that country would rightly be treated as a pariah.

    The insurrectionists within, and the invaders from without, Syria at present merely aspire to purge the place of, among but first among other people, the ancient indigenous Christians, the founders and stalwarts of Arabism.

    Whereas the State of Israel was founded on the bloody mass expulsion of the ancient indigenous Christians, the founders and stalwarts of Arabism in general and of the modern concept of Filastin in particular, as long ago as 1948, after the British had been bombed out by the inventors of modern terrorism, to whose victims no memorial is suffered to exist anywhere on earth.

    And the NATO, putatively EU Republic of Turkey was founded as long ago as 1923 on the bloody mass expulsion of not one but two ancient indigenous Christian peoples, one a section of the people that founded Western civilisation and the other a section of the first entire people ever to embrace the Gospel. The only two political forces of any importance there are that historically dominant secular ultranationalism, and the presently dominant Islamism.

    Very much like the two forces represented in the Government of Israel. Like anyone else, they know their own.

  6. subtleknife666

    BEAR in mind, for f**ksake. Buy a dictionary.

  7. Evan Smith

    People might interested in Melanie Phillips’ journalism before she was ‘Mad Mel’. I have written about it briefly here:
    http://hatfulofhistory.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/before-melanie-phillips-was-mad-her-role-in-uncovering-the-virginity-testing-controversy/

  8. ade

    It might be a relief to see her go but they will replace her with some other wacky right wing nutter, who writes like they had one too many at lunch time.

  9. Paul James

    I’d like to have sex with her.

  10. Lorensacho

    I guess when you can’t counter her arguments rationally you attack Phillips personally

  11. Lord Lupin

    Judging by the comments here ad above, she’s been absolutely spot on. If this is the best the Left can do then we need not worry about the future.

  12. Lord Lupine

    Meaningless.

  13. hutchy01

    It’s impossible to counter illogical insane conspiracies with a rational argument

  14. Andy whittaker

    …it seems to me, if you were to get off your self righteous left wing high horses for two seconds, you would see that she was actually pretty accurate in most of the cases sited above!

  15. Barry Walsh

    that presidential candidate Barack Obama was “firmly in the Islamists’ camp” and “adopts the agenda of the Islamists”.

    http://hillbuzz.org/read-every-last-word-of-this-and-send-it-to-all-your-friends-especially-the-part-about-the-vile-samantha-power-aka-the-most-dangerous-woman-in-the-world

  16. Steve Chapman

    Because She told you she was… that’s the point. ‘Journalists’ such as her are taken as gospel to the Daily Mail readership. They gently stroke and effectively justify your prejudicial viewpoint.

  17. GE

    Brilliant piece. The best arguments against the sorts of ridiculous conspiracy theories spouted by Phillips are her own. Good riddance.

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