What to make of Melanie Phillips? It’s sad to see an intellect struggling to assert its strength against the ingrained hatred and wilfulness that spews out of every dubiously argued column she scrawls out, whether for the Spectator, or – as in today’s effort – for the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre at the Daily Mail.
The piece, which supposedly discusses the sensitive topic of assisted suicide, but is in reality another excuse for Mel to kick the BBC and assign everything about the subject that she dislikes to something she calls “The Left”, takes a small number of unrelated incidents, lumps them together as if to suggest a conspiracy, and concludes that a propaganda assault is underway.
That assault, Mel asserts, is yet another “slippery slope” (she does a lot of these), and is clearly meant to debase the value of human life. But much of the argument depends on the reader buying into the idea that “in the past few weeks, we have been assailed by a relentless stream of stories about people wanting to be helped to die”.
And this stream consists of what, exactly? A documentary featuring Terry Pratchett in which someone travels to Switzerland, having chosen to end his life there. A visit to the UK by Philip Nitschke (aka “Dr Death”). A statement by actor Patrick Stewart. Mel is in no doubt: “This would all seem to add up to an intensification of the campaign to make it legal for people to be helped to kill themselves”.
So why would there be such an “intensification”? Ah well. It “seems to be part of a drive to soften up public opinion”. Strangely, I saw it as a film, a visit and a statement, but Mel is off and running. All this can only mean that “assisted dying is seen as an extreme version of freedom of choice”. And now comes the point where Mel’s intellect is buried under the advancing avalanche of prejudice.
Because “freedom of choice”, she declares, “is the territory of the Left”. Except that “freedom of choice” is a keystone of the right: maybe Mel forgot “Free To Choose”, an unintentionally hilarious volume of economic quack doctory by Milton Friedman, favourite economist of such rotten lefties as, er, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
It is those on the right of the political spectrum who most readily justify their actions by telling that they are bringing choice. The argument against the centre left is invariably that its principles deny choice (witness Friedman on J K Galbraith).So not only does Melanie Phillips imagine her own conspiracy, she reinvents economics to suit her argument. The result, as so often, is not credible except as an irrational spitting of bile. And she gets paid for this?