No paws for thought for Richard Littlejohn: The Independent on Sunday, 3 Nov 2013.

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By ARCHIE BLAND

Richard Littlejohn is a journalist and occasional writer of fiction, apparently spends quite a lot of his time in Florida, gets paid in the region of £800,000 a year and, to judge by the byline picture I’m squinting at, is a bit fat. There are some descriptive conclusions that we could draw from these points; I’m not going to say they’re “facts” because I haven’t bothered to check them, but they’ll do for the sake of this column that I’m trotting out without thinking about it too hard.

A hack, for example! A morally dishonest member of a discredited profession who produces his predictable think pieces between restaurant courses. A novelist, too, sort of, by which I mean a scruffy scribbler, hidden away in his garret, chewing on his pencils and simpering to himself every time he comes up with another overworked metaphor. A millionaire who spends a lot of time in the United States, which means he’s out of touch with the man on the fabled Clapham omnibus, perhaps because he hates Britain. And a porker, of course: standard for Yanks like him, who are also lazy, most of the time, too busy stuffing their faces with cheeseburgers to get some exercise. So: a corpulent milksop traitor with no purchase on reality and no qualms about distorting the issues for his loyal readers. What a specimen this version of Richard Littlejohn seems to be. Does it bear any relationship to reality? To borrow one of his favourite, libel-dodging get-outs: we aren’t told.

And who cares, anyway? We are, after all, operating by Littlejohn rules, whereby the accuracy of your observations is subordinate to the rhetorical force of your argument. He applied them again on Friday, to the food blogger Jack Monroe, and this was one of those occasions when you could see why he’s paid so much. Because to dislike Jack Monroe, you have to work really, really hard.

Jack reluctantly left her job in the Essex fire service in 2011 because she couldn’t negotiate the flexible hours she needed to care for her son. Over the next two years, with a great deal of hard work, she carved out a happy ending (or happy beginning) for herself by becoming the creator of imaginative recipes for people on the tightest of budgets. By being a very likeable person, and a very good writer, and a very good cook, she got herself a newspaper column and a book deal. It’s a story, really, that ought to inspire the most staunch critics of the welfare system: Jack isn’t someone who stagnated on handouts. She’s someone who found an escape route.

The brilliance of Littlejohn lies in his ability to find helpful hooks for his rage in even this story. A plucky young mum, down on her luck, who finds a way out of poverty through her own hard work: “move along”, your average scavenger of outrage might regretfully conclude, “nothing to shout at here”.

But not Littlejohn. Littlejohn goes deeper. He saw the gift of a welfare story about Cait Reilly – a benefits claimant forced to work for free at Poundland, who successfully took Iain Duncan Smith to court over the policy – and immediately put the two together. Monroe a plucky young mum, he scoffs? Not a bit of it. This woman is a blogger! She has tattoos! She likes kale!
Littlejohn’s tone is so overwhelming that it doesn’t really matter what he’s saying: every word takes on the patina of that brute irony. Monroe’s recipe for kale pesto pasta, he says acerbically, is “a snip at 42p a portion”. He seems to be taking the piss here, implying that her tastes are comically luxurious for an austerity chef. But 42p a portion genuinely is an absolute bargain. And it works out, I warrant, a damn sight cheaper than one of the slap-up steak suppers that an overpaid gout-ridden bloater like him is almost certain to love.

Monroe wrote a widely read riposte to all this, comprehensively debunking the litany of factual errors in Littlejohn’s piece: in sharp contrast, hers was a masterclass in controlled fury. For the rest of us, fury is probably a futile response. What is the point in being angry with an institution like Littlejohn? Might as well rail at the weather for all the good it will do. This is a man, after all, who once wrote an indignant tailpiece about Kate Pong, a mother of quintuplets who had been christened Beyonce, Tyra, Bobbi, Barack and Earl. “There’s no mention of a Mr Pong, or any father’s name for that matter,” Richard tutted, and you could understand his outrage – except that the Newport family in question turned out to be a set of Labradors. To borrow the columnist’s inevitable conclusion: “You couldn’t make it up.” If that cock-up wasn’t enough to cow him, nothing else will.

That, of course, is the awful coda to Jack Monroe’s response: lacerating and irrefutable though it was, it will land on deaf ears. The chances of her target reading it and changing his ways are about the same as one of his beloved ‘elf ‘n’ safety nuts letting a kindergarten go piranha hunting with sticks of dynamite, or whatever other character-building activity he wants them doing. His world is too tidy to be messed up by anything so prosaic as the facts.
This suggests that, for the rest of us, the best response should be to take broader aim. For Littlejohn’s piece does not exist in a vacuum. The benefits claimant who he was writing about, Cait Reilly, had been lambasted by IDS as part of a demographic of “job snobs” who think themselves too good for hard work; in the past year, the welfare state has been tied to the arson that killed Mick Philpott’s children and blamed by the Government itself for the fecklessness of the “scroungers” in need of its help. This is the ecosystem that makes it possible to suggest that kale is too good for poor people, even if you can buy it on the cheap. And this is where the greatest problem lies. Not in the argumentative force of a single columnist, but in the culture that has talked millions of us into taking his word for it; people who still think, despite all the evidence, that somewhere in Newport, Shropshire, five whey-faced siblings are suckling on the teat of the state.

The original article is here: No paws for thought for Richard Littlejohn: Archie Bland, The Independent on Sunday.

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36 Comments »

  1. Sadly, the last paragraph is probably true. I’ve been pointing out what a monumental arse Littlejohn is on my blog for ages. I’m not convinced most people really understand how poisonous his worldview really is, or how little he cares about it.

    Great post though!

  2. Superb. You not only won this one, Jack, you have dealt LJ a painful blow and raised your own profile substantially. Go girl.

  3. Hey Jack it’s amazing how many champions you have ready to come to your aid. Glad to see one Tory press loves you…today’s Stella article in the Sunday Telegraph…great stuff. The only trouble is it took me back to the 50’s with my old East End mum’s words ringing in my ears, ‘Get your bum off my worktop!’ Keep smiling 🙂

  4. Brilliant article by Archie Bland and great riposte to Littlejohn by Jack.

    I laughed like a drain about the fatherless, elaborately named Labrador ‘spongers’. ‘But it isn’t news that Littlejohn is a t%£t’, said my partner. Well, no indeed, but he’s grown very rich indeed by writing this ordure and, as Bland points out, if the canine benefit scroungers weren’t enough to finish his career, nothing will.

  5. Well done, Archie Bland. Littlejohn is a strange phenomenon whose success is in direct proportion to the degree he serves the ruling class’s objective of dividing the population against each other rather than confirming how much we have in common, despite our differences. Why stand against the wealthy few, many of whom caused our current problems and/or profited from them when it is far easier to bash the poor for trying to survive and improve their lot from an extremely low base. (For instance, let’s make it even lower! Great idea!)
    Once again, well done Archie and good luck Jack. Love the sound of your curry recipe, by the way.

  6. read this article –
    http://www.viewpointonline.net/why-i-hate-malala.html

    partly because there are some interesting parallels but more because it is an article every idealist should read..

    OK it is a brilliant piece of controlled-rage satirical writing in a Pakistani online journal explaining why a Littlejohnesque response to Malala is so much easier for many Pakistani’s than confronting the issues she raised.

  7. Great to see that there are still many level headed journalists whose ambition to write truthful articles is still foremost in their minds. I liken Littlejohn to a bitter lawyer turned bad, it just saddens me that there is a certain sector of our society who are taken in by articles like this and more specifically by hacks of Littlejohn’s nature. If there was true justice in this sometimes skewed world we live in the rag that is the Daily Mail should go the same way as TNOTW did. I as many others I’m sure, live in hope!

  8. Great to see that there are still many level headed journalists whose ambition to write truthful articles is still foremost in their minds. I liken Littlejohn to a bitter lawyer turned bad, it just saddens me that there is a certain sector of our society who are taken in by articles like this and more specifically by hacks of Littlejohn’s nature. If there was true justice in this sometimes skewed world we live in the rag that is the Daily Mail should go the same way as TNOTW did. I as many others I’m sure, live in hope!

    • There is little real justice anywhere, getting serious for a moment. That’s why the Littlejohns of this world thrive. The rich and powerful often make the problems, and then need to shift that blame on someone else. Along comes Littlejohn, and for a glittering career built on nothing but trying to destroy people’s lives or being incredibly nasty, he makes his fortune because he dances to his master’s tune and is the mouthpiece for the Right wing. Notice how when decent people start asking for fair wages or for rich people to pay their taxes or for privatised utilities like the gas and electricity to be nationalised, and the furore against it and the accusations of socialism and all the scaremongering, and yet when Right wing bullshit is peddled about poor people, it is taken as Gospel and very few in the media take it task, accept in rare moments like this.

  9. well I didn’t even know who he is until I read about jack Monroe and I guess it will stay that way .For me he is totally insignificant.

  10. For journo’s not to come out in support of you would put them in the same bracket as LittleJohn ah sod it he can’t be polite or nice so why should I! Littledick much better who in the journalistic profession would really want to be like him, a man completely without morals, It would be even more uplifting to see more come out publicly on the side of the truth

  11. The amount of mean spirited people has grown in recent years. The gentle voice of opposition was raised by one. I find in Jack a a safe harbor. A place where like minded folk gather in community. Some of us have been lost for a time. I know I have. She showed us by example how to gain back our dignity, our hopes for the future again.

    Be careful those who belittle her. She might just be the future PM.

  12. This is an excellent article written by an excellent well informed journalist. The whole society we live in today is sick, anyone who puts any effort in is seen as wrong while the ones who everyone is aware of who put no effort at all get away with it. The clichéd idea that anyone on benefits is a scrounger is well out of date, the Littlejohn’s of this world only go to show how out of touch a lot of people are. The Government so far have targeted sick & disabled people, the very people they should be helping not making it harder for really ill people to appeal benefit cuts. They have by their own admission saved nothing just distressed many people for who life is tough enough. Examples like Mick Philpott are shown as examples of scroungers he was a benefit scrounger who should have been stopped years ago but knew how to play the system, he is also a murderer who slaughtered his children just to get a bigger council house hardly your average benefit claimant. The most worrying thing is that people actually believe this propaganda & people like Littlejohn get away with their stupid stories are still earning a good living from being very bad at their job. Even the Daily Mail must be questioning how much effort he actually puts into these articles & what they are actually paying him for, I know I would if I was paying his salary. I doubt any of this will dent his thick skin but it’s about time it did. If it was a fair world idiots like Littlejohn would be claiming job seekers & far more worthy people would be employed.

  13. Jack is someone who cares enough to not only share her enormous wealth of budget recipes with those of us (many through no fault of their own!!!) who are struggling, but also someone who speaks out for those who are unable to get their voice heard. She is a beacon of warmth in the current “age of austerity” and should be praised, not pilloried! Long may the Jack Monroes of this world flourish. The Littlejohns we can all do without, thank you!!

  14. I don’t agree, even after all Littlejohn and his Right wing chums and their ilk poisonously spout about poor people and benefit scroungers and etc, that the press should be gagged. Let citizen Littlejohn dribble on insanely (what a handsome man he is, by the way) so that we can see his views in plain sight and can know the enemy and what they think. At least he isn’t hamstrung by political correctness even if his articles are badly written, completely offensive, character assassinations of the worst kind, are without merit or fact or grounded in any kind of objective reality, are tedious, unpleasant and at the end of the day are written to reflect the most odious views possible I suspect from Littlejohn’s paymasters. Does Littlejohn even believe what he writes? I suspect he does but I think he actually gets paid more the more offensive the article he writes. And more seriously, if they gag the Right wing press they gag the Left wing press too; they will gag anyone at all especially those who actually are protesting about injustice or fighting back against government cuts and the like. And remember this; if they gag the press effectively, sooner or later they’ll be going after people online and even blogs like this. Censorship is a dangerous road because in the end it will be abused, as it already is in some countries, by corrupt governments and very powerful and very wealthy corporations and individuals.

    Littlejohn has offended Jack, but she has to put it politely chopped his balls off and served them on a platter and it has backfired on him and that odious rag the Daily Mail. And whichever way you look at it, lets face it we’ve all had a bloody good laugh at all the comments about Littlejohn and made him look the small, rather sad and inconsequential man he is, who loves Britain so much that he lives in Florida. So he’s right amongst the story there isn’t he? You couldn’t make it up.

  15. “to dislike Jack Monroe, you have to work really, really hard.” So That’s why we (the unemployed) are lazy – we’re not willing to dislike you! In that case I’m proud to be lazy (Disclaimer:I am being sarcastic) Great article!

  16. Littlejohn doesn’t seem to be the world’s greatest character, I will agree. At the same time this article did contain a few too many ad hominems for me to feel comfortable with it. Whilst it might help to make an assessment of where a person is coming from, better to attack the argument not the man, and also (saying this as a Christian) to love one’s enemies in spite of what they are like. (It’s hard.)

    The bit that does get me is how they do criticise people even if they do seem to work to better themselves or put something back into society- the woman who took the government to court over the whole work-for-your-benefits scheme was already volunteering and gaining plenty of work experience that way. (This is one thing I don’t like about the benefits system too- it imposes too many limits upon people doing voluntary work and doesn’t quite seem to trust you) and also still seems to take a swipe against Jack. Most people are not a Mick Philpot- they do not put their kids’ lives at risk to get their own way, and what has the benefits system got to do with this? Simply because the man also happens to refuse to work?

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