Every dog must have his day

This observation by Swift’s model, namesake, wit and exemplar - the Dean himself - might have been coined for the twenty-first century as much as the seventeenth or eighteenth. In fact, all the more appropriate. Perhaps we might instead say in the age of social media that a day is far too long. Every dog will have his hour, or his/her/them, etc., minute on TikTok.

Swift was reminded of this observation when reading a piece of ragamuffin reportage by The Guardian regarding the recent controversy about the Jewish man challenged by a Metropolitan policeman while wearing a kippah within reach of a pro-Palestinian demonstration.

Now of course let us make allowances. This is the Guardian, after all. As former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan once accurately said of the newspaper (in those days the Manchester Guardian, which gave it some hold on reality, rather than today’s paper which should be renamed the Islington Opinion Gazette), it is “always essentially priggish and slightly dishonest”. Amen to that.

The dog on this day is described by the Guardian as the UEA (University of East Anglia) professor of political theory and – wait for it – expert in protest and political digital culture. He is called Alan Finlayson.

Finlayson is not – at least as reported – a master of brevity. Instead, he devotes a considerable amount of words to stating that (Swift paraphrases);

This confrontation between the Jewish man and the policeman was in all probability all a set up for social media which is – even if remotely true – still not an offence. The offence was in the manner in which the Jewish Briton – Swift’s fellow-citizen – was addressed by the representative of the body that should guard us all, sans peur ou faveur.

What the Professor calls ‘the right is better at this (Finlayson gives a quick name-check to hate figures like Tommy Robinson, Katie Hopkins, and Laurence Fox) and is dominant on the use of social media to make a point. Swift believes this to be untrue.

It is a failure of perception.

These people loom as giants in the world inhabited by Finlayson and his type of academic because of political animus, not because they are of especial importance in the chitter-chatter of contemporary politics or indeed the deeper current of ideas. Obviously, the good professor will never know, because he will neither meet them nor entertain them on the sacred campus of UEA. Thus, for him, they are as Gulliver's in Lilliput, when in truth, they are pygmies among the giants of Brobdingnag.

To be fair to Finlayson, at points in the article he begins to make some kind of sense. Then he stops and we end up with the following:

“A demonstration can be an embodiment of your argument – if a climate protest stops traffic, that isn’t going to end the use of cars, but it dramatises the problem. That’s a bit different from throwing soup at a painting, which just seems like a way to get publicity. And then there’s engendering a situation which you can say is evidence for your argument, and that’s different again. Equally, you might say that if you can get a racist person to say something racist, you’ve genuinely proven a point. The line won’t always be clear.”

No Sir, it will not. Nor will it be helped by that remark on inciting racist comments to ‘prove a point’. What world is this? A world of agents provocateurs trapping people into unwise, angry or inflamed remarks? What delights await us.

Swift must, indeed is compelled to, and absolutely without question cannot avoid; end on a lighter note. The unlearned professor was apparently the supervisor of some sort of (non) research project called ‘Our subversive voice? The history and politics of English protest music’. Now closed. Cost approx £300,000.

O tempora! O mores!