It’s not Miller time, not yet anyway

It’s a truth acknowledged widely, if not exactly universally, that any country whose government includes posts like Culture Secretary is on its way to perdition.

Culture isn’t a legitimate concern of the state. Before any country even thought of putting cultural pursuits within the domain of government, such pursuits had yielded rather spectacular fruit.

Since that time the same orchard has been lying fallow. Methinks there’s a causal relationship there somewhere.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller tends to go out of her way to prove the validity of this point. Thus she attacked the BBC for the ‘sexist’ bias in its sports coverage.

It has to be said that, what with the BBC being a state broadcasting service, Mrs (Ms?) Miller is within her remit to pass judgment on its various prejudices.

Prime among those is its distinct leftwing bias, leading to the BBC’s laudable consistency in supporting every harebrained cause known to man: climate change, wind farms, homomarriage, Islamism, Muslim immigration, Labour and LibDem parties in every election – before long I’ll run out of fingers on both hands and then of toes on both feet.

Yet Mrs/Ms Miller has remained stoically silent on all of those. What caused her wrath was a few unchivalrous remarks sports presenter John Inverdale saw fit to make about Wimbledon singles champion Marion Bartoli.

Specifically, Mr Inverdale said, “I just wonder if her Dad did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe: ‘Listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker. You are never going to be somebody like a Sharapova, you’re never going to be 5 feet 11, you’re never going to be somebody with long legs…’”

These remarks weren’t so much ‘sexist’ (whatever it means) as stupid and ignorant. Maria Sharapova, for example, isn’t 5’11’’ but 6’2”, though her legs are undeniably long. This is something a tennis commentator should know, and if he doesn’t he should refrain from comment.

Neither is it his business to pontificate at such length on the aesthetic aspect of Miss Bartoli’s appearance. This isn’t to say that no comment on her looks would be appropriate.

Compare, for example, Mr Inverdale’s remarks with what I wrote on the same subject at the same time: “…Marion Bartoli of France reproduces in her body the map shape of her native land. There’s something wrong when a professional athlete paid millions for her trade has a waist broader than her shoulders.”

My problem wasn’t with Miss Bartoli’s chances of winning a beauty contest but with women’s tennis in general. There’s indeed something wrong with a sport where many star performers clearly don’t have to train all that hard to win major competitions. And it’s scandalous that such people get the same prize money as their male counterparts, who not only spend twice as long on the court but also manifestly thrice as long working on their fitness.

The reason Miss Bartoli got paid £1.6 million for her victory is modern egalitarianism that demands equal pay even for unequal work. It would behove a Conservative minister to comment on this gross iniquity. Instead Mrs/Ms Miller chose to reinforce the same feminism that’s responsible for it.

Deputy PM Nick agreed, even though he magnanimously accepted that, “Of course it’s not the role of politicians to start second-guessing what every single journalist and every single reporter says, but of course we’ve got to be clear that what we don’t want is sexism in sport and we don’t want that reflected in the way it’s supported.”

God spare a country whose second-in-command so sorely lacks in rhetorical skill, knowledge of basic grammar and sense of style. The underlying philosophy, however, is even more problematic.

Both Nick and Mrs/Ms Miller are planning to boycott this year’s British Open which is to golf what Wimbledon is to tennis. Why? Because it’s going to be held at Scotland’s Muirfield club that doesn’t admit women.

Nick is aghast: “I was just dismayed and incredibly surprised to hear this still goes on in this day and age. I find it so out of step with everything else that’s happening in the rest of society.”

It is indeed. Everything else that’s happening in the rest of society includes things like homomarriage, which Nick finds admirable.

Yet he and his friend Dave Cameron, who’s equally angry, ought to remember that Murfield is a private club, which means it’s home to its members and their committee. Just as Nick or Dave would be within their right to deny admission into their homes to anyone they find unacceptable (say, a real conservative), so should Murfield be free to determine its own membership criteria.

Nick, incidentally, finds it hard to get his head around the concept of membership policy. For example he was incensed a couple of years ago when turned down for membership at my own Putney Lawn Tennis Club.

Nick, who lives a hundred yards from the club, wanted to circumvent our policy of play-ins designed to make sure that new members would be able to hold their own against established players. He obviously felt that he merited admission just because he was, well, Nick.

Our committee disabused him of this notion – and I do hope Muirfield defends its membership policy with the same steadfast vigour. Someone ought to tell this utterly objectionable lot where to get off.

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