Over the past year or so, the BBC has been running a radio series called A History of the World in 100 Objects in conjunction with the British Museum. There were 100 15-minute programmes. They started out with sculptures and coins and all the stuff you'd expect. And they worked slowly up from 2000 BC to the present day.
One of the last ones was about a 1966 etching by David Hockney, called In The Dull Village. It shows a couple of young men in bed together.
And, of course, it's exactly the sort of picture you'd pick if you wanted to show how enlightened and tolerant we are these days. And Shami Chakrabarti (for it is she), head of Liberty, can be heard to declare:
"I think that this is a wonderful image to represent what human rights are all about."
She goes on:
"It's a picture of two gay men, but it's not - to my eyes anyway - desperately erotic or racy or controversial. It's two people, obviously in some kind of intimate relationship, lying next to each other in a relaxed way in bed. It reminds me of what Eleanor Roosevelt said about human rights - 'Human rights begin in small places close to home'. This is not big politics, this is not legal judgement and legislation, this is about understanding what it is to be a human being, and respecting it."
But she adds a cautionary note:
"...And lest we get too complacent in modern Britain, there are still people who fear deportation from Britain to countries where they might be persecuted, criminalised, imprisoned, or worse. The death penalty, in some cases, just for being themselves - just for perfectly consensual adult feelings and relationships, based on love."
And, of course, we're quite likely to get complacent, aren't we, in modern Britain where pretty much everybody's rights are protected.
Unless you're a smoker, that is. Back then, they were excluding and fining and imprisoning a gay population that made up maybe 1 in 20 of the population. They've now moved on to demonising and excluding and fining and imprisoning the smokers who make up 1 in 4 of the population. That's 5 times as many people being persecuted now than were being persecuted back then. And they don't have to be sent to some other country for this to be done: Britain is a world leader in persecuting smokers.
Yet David Hockney, apart from being gay, also happens to be a smoker. And before Shami Chakrabarti had opened her mouth, he can be heard to say:
"Then you couldn't be gay, but you could smoke everywhere. Now, it's the other way around. I mean . . . the story of my life, that!"
And in those few words, Hockney points to the stinking hypocrisy of this nauseatingly self-congratulatory programme, that it can hail the progress made in respect of homosexuality, but turn a blind eye to what is now being done to smokers, which is at least as vindictive as anything that was ever done to homosexuals.
But the self-righteous Chakrabartis of the world can't see it. Smokers aren't on her list of approved causes. According to a commenter on Bishop Hill,
She also remained silent on fox-hunting and the smoking ban. Letters written to Liberty about the smoking ban were simply ignored.
And this is why a programme like this is so achingly hollow and empty. Because it's all lies. There has been no progress at all. One bunch of people has stopped being persecuted, and another far larger bunch of people has started to be persecuted instead.
Nevertheless I liked that line from Eleanor Roosevelt about human rights starting in "small places close to home."
She was dead right.
They're called "pubs".