Category Archives: Celebrity

The removal of ‘insulting’ from Public Order Act is a victory for free speech

This article was written for Left Foot Forward.


MPs have confirmed that the word ‘insulting’ will be removed from Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986.

This is a major victory for an unlikely alliance of free speech campaigners including The Christian InstituteThe National Secular Society and Rowan Atkinson.

Last month the home secretary Theresa May announced that the government was ‘not minded to challenge a House of Lords amendment removing the word ‘insulting’ from Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

In the past Section 5 had been used against street preachers ‘insulting’ homosexuals and LGBT activists ‘insulting’ religious groups.

As Rowan Atkinson commented, “The clear problem of the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy, can be interpreted as insult”

This change in law is a victory for freedom of speech in the UK.

There remains, however, an important limiting role for the law to play. That role is to provide protection to those who are victims of threatening or abusive behaviour.

In 2011 I blogged saying that, “We all hold the right to live without fear or intimidation. This has to be legally separated, however, from being ‘insulted”.

The distinction has finally been acknowledged by the government and the change in the law later in the year is now just a formality.

It is worth noting, though, that even with this change in law, the discussion about what constitutes threatening behaviour compared to ‘insulting’ behaviour will remain. There is a considerable grey area around what the law should interpret to be ‘threatening’ and what it should view as merely ‘insulting’.

For example, ‘My Tram Experience’ – a video showing a vile torrent of racist abuse on a south London tram – sparked two very different interpretations.

thought her behaviour was threatening and therefore called for her arrest, while bloggerSunny Hundal argued that she was simply being insulting.

With the change in law however, the police are some way towards having a clear distinction to follow. We are no longer asking them to be the judge of what behaviour is deemed ‘insulting’, at least.

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The girl effect and the silent struggle

This is a guest article by Angelique Mulholland. A friend, women’s rights activist and contributor to the pixel project.

What do Jimmy Savile’s victims, Female Genital Mutilation sufferers and Malala Yousasfazai all have in common?

All were forced into silence.

Told like a joke, but not very funny right? All week on the Twittersphere people have been posting jokes about Jimmy Savile being an alleged pedophile.

Black humour which pushes the boundaries can be intelligent and funny. But really, so many of these jokes lack any cleverness or ingenuity – they are often banal and push the boundaries of insensitivity  more than anything else.

But black humour is not what this blog post is about. This blog post is about a week which has shown girls in this country and around the world have a long way to go to get the basic human rights and protection they need and deserve.

Let’s start with Saville and his alleged career of rape and child abuse. Let’s start with the protection the young vulnerable victims deserved, but never received. The question on most people’s lips: How did the bastard get away with it? The Independent’s headline on Friday seemed to sum it up – “Why did nobody stop Jimmy Savile?” How did so many apparently “decent folk” turn a blind eye to four decades of child abuse? Why weren’t these young girls believed and protected?

One ex-patient of the psychiatric hospital at Broadmoor recounted her experience of Savile and the conspiracy to the Channel 4 news. “We were the perfect victims. Nobody would have believed us…. People knew what he was doing. He was enabled. 9 times out of 10- people know what is going on.” The alleged victims were enmeshed in a wall of silence forced upon them by adults who were supposed to protect them. We will never have this proven in a court of law of course, but it seems Jimmy Savile got away with a sustained campaign of rape and child abuse because he was protected by a society that looked the other way and was too afraid to speak out. The kind of silence that protected Jimmy Savile is heavy, thick and all consuming.  It is powerful. And it makes otherwise decent folk, cowardly.

FGM and the Silent Scream

Onto another form of abuse against girls where inaction and fear of speaking out contributes to creating countless victims.

On Tuesday 9th October, I met with a group of schoolgirls in Bristol who have been campaigning to put an end to Female Genital Mutilation. They are supported by a project called Integrate Bristol and have won an award for creating their own film about FGM, Silent Scream.

I was interviewing them on behalf of The Pixel Project – a women’s human rights charity that I write for.

The Home Office estimates 24,000 girls are at risk of FGM here in the UK.

FGM has been illegal in the UK for 30 years, yet there has never been a single prosecution and it is largely ignored by both schools and the medical profession. Girls who are subjected to FGM are usually between the ages of 3-14 years old. This harmful practice involves young girls having the partial or total removal of their clitoris and labia often without anesthetic. The physical and psychological effects are devastating.

Despite the taboo, the girls have broken the silence and spoken out. Their message? They want people to break the silence, they want girls to have rights over their own bodies and they want the British government to act. The UK is far behind the rest of Europe in tackling FGM. In France – girls are protected. In Sweden- girls are protected. The FGM issue is mainstream. People talk about it. Perpetrators are held to account. All young children are examined by trusted healthcare professionals to make sure they are safe. Alternative rite ceremonies into womanhood are encouraged and supported. Kids learn about FGM in schools. In the UK? Inaction. The frustrating term “cultural sensitivities” is thrown around again and again and again – and hidden behind.

A comment by one of the girls, “David Cameron- grow a pair and do something.”

Malala Yousafi

On the day I met with the girls in Bristol, 4,000 miles away in Pakistan, a young girl named Malaya Yousafzai was shot in the head at point blank range, on a bus, on her way home from school.

Her killers have said that if she recovers – they will hunt her down and attempt to kill her again. What crime has this 14 year old girl committed? It appears she had the audacity to demand another basic human right – the right to an education.

Her killers, the Pakistani Taliban, branded “pathological haters of women”  are renowned for their violence against women. Yet it seems the attempted murder has had the opposite effect to what they were anticipating. They wanted to silence Malala; but the outrage against the Taliban is palpable and the speaking out is loud and clear.

Galvanize: ‘The Girl Effect’

Girls in every country suffer from abuse and discrimination. And time and time again – their abusers are protected. Protected by taboo, silence and the fear of speaking out.

The first official “International Day of the Girl”  was held this Thursday 11th October. It is time we speak out for the girls who are subjected to FGM; we must speak out for the victims of Jimmy Saville and all victims of abuse. We need to speak out for Malala and girls around the world who are denied education and basic human rights – simply because they are girls. It’s time to galvanise and stand up for the rights of girls everywhere.

If each and every girl had control over her own body and access to education – her potential would be limitless.  I will leave you with this powerful video created by “The Girl Effect” which beautifully portrays just that – a world where every girl is protected and can therefore, thrive.

Any comments? Tweet me @leakym

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Mark Thomas ‘Bravo Figaro!’ – Review

Verdict: 4/5 “I left the theatre feeling privileged to have witnessed a small snapshot of Mark’s relationship with his father”.

As if too tired to stand, Mark Thomas walks to the edge of the stage and sits. He is side on to the audience and a spot light casts a shadow down towards the edge of the stage. With a clarity that allows for no confusion he forces the words out…“My Dad was a cunt”.

There was no comic twist to these words, there was no smirk or smile. Just the word ‘cunt‘ to describe his own father.

I was sat at the Tricycle theatre watching Mark Thomas’ show ‘Bravo Figaro‘. The show is centred around Colin Alec Todd Thomas (Mark’s Dad), a working-class Tory and self-employed builder with an unexpected passion for Opera.

Throughout the show, Mark offers a potted history of his relationship with his father. To begin, he focuses on heart warming moments such as how his Dad would watch TV with his work trousers round his ankles to not get the sofa dirty.

Mark goes onto to describe the embarrassment of being a fifteen year old punk rocker and having his builder father blast opera out over the roof tops whilst attempting to sing along. The audience is taken along and titters their way through the show’s opening.

After a few seconds silence though, Mark makes his way to the edge of the stage and carefully lets the word cunt reverberate around the small theatre. He repeats it twice more to ensure no one can dismiss it is as a throw away comment.

He goes on to tell us that Colin was a man that was quick to resort to violence. He talks in detail about pub brawls. This leads him to talk, in much less detail, about domestic violence. With a couple of poignant, carefully chosen sentences, he leaves little doubt in the audiences mind. “We would have an annual family reunion at the A and E”. A half smile appears on Mark’s face before his eyes drop to the floor.

Bravo Figaro‘ offers an insight into the muddled life of a south London family. It illustrates how it is possible to unconditionally love a Dad who is bigoted, violent and in the words of Mark, ‘a cunt’. It shows the devastating effect that the cocktail of dementia and progressive supranuclear palsy (a degenerative and incurable condition) can have on a man and his family.

Mostly however, ‘Bravo Figaro‘ is the story of how Mark Thomas used opera to reach out to his father before he vanished permanently. One final gift.

I feel privileged to have witnessed a small snapshot of Mark’s relationship with his father. I left the theatre feeling moved by the show, but also unsure how comfortable Mark felt telling the story.

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Harry’s Winky and Wanted War Criminals – Welcome to The House of Windsor

It looks like Prince Harry took the advice to leave the Nazi outfit at home a little too literally.

Not to worry, The House of Windsor is no stranger to controversy and has become pretty used fire fighting royal fuck ups. Harry is not the first royal to hit the front pages for the wrong reasons and nor will he be the last.

Harry though has a bit of a reputation. In 2002 Harry was found to have smoked cannabis. In 2004 Harry had a fist fight (well got hit) by some paparazzi outside a London nightclub. In 2005 there was Harry’s now notorious Nazi fancy dress. In 2007 Harry fell into a gutter after telling reporters to “fuck off”. In 2009 Harry was caught on camera calling a fellow soldier his “little Paki friend”. As I say, a bit of reputation.

And then there was Harry being photographed naked in a hotel room in Las Vegas – want to see it again? Click here.

Should we be worried though about Harry’s ‘antics’? No, of course we should not be worried.

He has been caught smoking cannabis, drinking too much and using sloppy and offensive language. If we used these criteria to condemn people then there wouldn’t be many of us walking free. I for one would fall down on at least two of these charges.

Is his behavior acceptable? No. But it is no worse than what occurs in bedrooms up and down the country.

Whatever you do though, please don’t mistake this post as evidence that I am a royal apologist. I am far from it.

Indeed, when we look at Harry’s list of controversies, we can see they pale into insignificance compared to some of his extended family.

Remember the Duchess of York offering to sell access to Prince Andrew who was the UK’s special representative for international trade and investment for £500,000? Not exactly the behavior one would expect from one’s royalty.

Then of course Prince Andrew himself was never far from controversy. His list of friends leaves some room for questioning his royal judgement. Prince Andrew has met with alleged war criminal Saif Gaddafi, the son of the disposed Tunisian dictator Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, Sakher el-Materi and last but not least, the son-in-law of Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev, Timur Kulibayev.

Not people on my Christmas card list.

This is without mentioning his “billionaire pedophile” mate Jeffrey Epstein.

Then of course we have the Duke of Edinburgh himself. Until recently, it was rarely mentioned that all of his brother in-laws were Nazi officials and three of his sisters Sophie, Cecile and Margarita were members of the party. The Duke of Edinburgh was quoted describing his family relations to the Nazi as saying “[there was] a lot of enthusiasm for the Nazis at the time, the economy was good, we were anti-Communist and who knew what was going to happen to the regime?”

Yes, who knew…I mean the setting up of concentration camps in 1933 couldn’t possibly have offered a hint to the type of regime the Nazis were running.

In the grand scheme of things, I feel inclined to forgive and forget Harry’s relatively minor mistakes.

He might dress like a Nazi, but at least (as far as I know) he’s not actually a Nazi. He might splash away £5,000 a night on a Las Vegas hotel but at least he’s not making money by selling access to his family. He might like to hang with the rich and famous but at least they’re not wanted war criminals.

Am I worried about Harry getting his winky out? No. Am I worried though about the Royal family as our supposed representatives (I never voted for them) relaxing with some of the most deplorable elites in the world? Yes.

Let’s try and keep things in perspective…


Filed under Celebrity, Far-right politics, History, Human rights, Politics

Murdoch knew nothing about anything

In a three-hour Culture Media and Sport select committee hearing that was reminiscent of a particularly farcical episode of Yes Minister, the Murdoch tag-team acknowledged that they knew nothing about anything.

At one point, Murdoch stated, “I would like to answer that question, it’s a good question” and then proceeded to not answer the question. Significantly, Murdoch Senior seemed blissfully unaware of any issue that affected his UK business. Murdoch junior said he was “as surprised as you are” that News Corporation paid the legal fees of convicted criminal Glenn Mulcaire.

Most amazingly, considering the recent resignation of Rebecca Brooks. Murdoch senior stated that he was unaware that she had admitted in 2003 that journalists had paid police for information. Whoever briefed these guys (I suspect the guy in the green tie behind them who kept wincing whenever Rupert opened his mouth) had done a terrible job (or brilliant depending how you see it).

On top of all of this, Murdoch senior claimed he had “never heard of” Neville Thurlbeck, the News of the World’s former chief reporter. So, in light of all of this, I have to conclude Murdoch senior is either woefully ignorant or woefully malicious and has just massively mislead the Culture Media and Sport Select committee. I will leave it to you to guess which.

Rebecca Brookes has just come on – gotta dash, you never know what she doesn’t know!

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Tackling the “sexualisation of children” has to be balanced with not crushing natural sexual curiosity

Found on coffee tables up and down the country

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has published guidelines for tackling the “sexualisation of children” as the Government releases a review into the commercialisation and sexualisation of children. David Cameron ordered a review by Reg Bailey, the chief executive of the Mothers’ Union, following a series of examples of leading retailers using “sexual or inappropriate” branding on children’s products. The report was entitled “Let children be Children” and can be found here.

Whilst I am sympathetic to the report’s findings, and join the flock of moralists who squawk at the idea of Tesco’s selling padded bras and thongs to under 12’s, I also find the underlying moralistic nature of the argument worrying.

It strikes me that we have a responsibility to protect not just children, but also adults from a soft sexualisation and the objectifying of individuals. As such, I strongly welcome some of the recommendations such as:

  • Make public space more family-friendly by “reducing the amount of on-street advertising containing sexualised imagery in locations where children are likely to see it.”
  • Stop the process where companies pay children to publicise and promote products in schools or on social networking sites by banning “the employment of children as brand ambassadors and in peer-to-peer marketing.”

Yet, I do not feel that simply trying to hide away the sexual nature of adult life until a child turns of age (12,14,16,18?) is an effective strategy.  For example, one of the recommendations was, “Ensure children are protected when they watch television, are on the internet or use their mobile phones by “making it easier for parents to block adult and age-restricted material” across all media”. The problem in my mind is not children seeking out sexual (and/or political) material. This is a natural process of growing up. The problem rests in the soft, day in day out, objectifying of bodies and relationships.

As cultural dictator of the UK government I would slap restrictions on crass soap opera story lines, ban Rihanna and have a ceremonial burning of all our tabloids. These do great damage to our children’s understanding of identity and relationships.

There is a serious point here, and I do not think the recommendations pick up on it. There is a difference between the slow soft sexualisation of children that leave them with bizarre, unattainable understandings of sex, relationships and (as the review blurred sex and politics so can I) politics and the naturally inquisitive nature of children who are on a path towards adulthood. However you define adulthood, I hope you would agree that it is a process, one that children will start on at a variety of stages.

As such, I am would welcome more liberal access to pornography, but would condemn the “soft core” magazines such as FHM. I know parents who wouldn’t even hesitate at leaving a FHM magazine lying around, but would be horrified at the idea of their child watching porn. As perverse as it seems, I honestly believe the everyday battering of images, sounds and experiences children receive is far more damaging than the over 18 only stuff children purposely seek out.

This report is a big step forward for protecting childhood from the fierce marketing world but it borders dangerously close to ineffective moralistic impositions.


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Sport Relief – Ignore the celebrities, it is the cause that counts.

Brad Pitt in the "One" Campaign. Just one example of celebrity charity culture gone crazy.

On Sunday 21st March I am going to do the 6-mile run in support of Sport Relief.  This is nothing compared to Eddie Izzards marathon-a-day feat or David Walliams swim across the channel but it all helps.  These two celebrities are rare examples of people in the publics eye that honestly believe in what they are doing.  I have heard both on numerous occasions give time, money and status to different events.  Sadly, I think they represent the minority of celebrities.

In the past I have been put off these mass fundraising events, the whole celebrity culture of gesture charity I find to be a bit nauseating.  Indeed, at first glance this is one of the same.  Celebrities boost their profile by raising the sort of sums of money they earn in a week and then pat each other on the back while the press slobber over juicy photo opportunities.  Who benefits here in the long-term, other than the celebrity?

What you cannot disagree with where the money goes however.  It goes to help disadvantaged, often marginalised people, both home and abroad.  It makes a real difference to real people’s lives.  OK, its not going to change the system; after sports relief (and comic relief) thousands more are going to go homeless, millions more die of starvation and billions face shortages of food.  It will though make a difference to some people’s lives, and this should not be sneered at. Sometimes its enough, and sometimes its all we can do is to help individuals.

What should be sneered at though are the self-promoting celebrities who are forced to smile in front of the cameras by their PR managers. Not all celebrities are like this, but sadly, the sceptic in me suggests that many are.  If celebrities want to help, do it behind cameras.  I was inspired to hear Sam Roddick talk about using celebrities cleverly behind the scenes to “seduce” politicians (If Angelina Jolie asks Gordon Brown for a lunch meeting he is not going to say no!).

Millions of ordinary people however, are giving up their time and money to support a really good cause.  It is amazing in an era which the press keeps telling us is marked by selfishness that people are happy to do these sorts of events.  I find it quite up-lifting.  I ask all of you to give generously to those friends and family who are taking part in this mass nation wide fundraising. Do not though fool yourself into believing (or even worse giving money to) those celebrities who like to promote nothing but their moral credentials. 

Did you know that Brad Pitt is worried about child poverty? Come on….

If you want to support me, log onto my secure just giving web-site. Thanks.

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