Tuesday 21 December 2010

Winterval: the photographic evidence

Despite talking at length about how important transparency is, Eric Pickles still hasn't replied to the letter I sent him back in November asking for evidence to support his claim that "politically correct grinches" were busy banning in Christmas in local authority areas up and down the country. They're supposed to reply within 15 working days - that little landmark came round yesterday.

However, they're not letting the lack of proof get in the way of repeating the myths in question - in a rather smug response to a written Parliamentary question that was laid yesterday, DCLG junior minister Robert Neill reiterates Pickles' sentiments, saying:

"We should not allow politically correct Grinches to marginalise Christmas and the importance of the birth of Christ"

That said, at least Neill didn't mention Winterval by name. Because I've now stumbled across photographic evidence to support Birmingham City Council's increasingly exasperated rebuttal of the "Council replaced Christmas with Winterval" stories.

Courtesy of the Birmingham Post, here's a snap of a Birmingham City Council promotional poster from December 1998:

The mention of Winterval is so small you can barely spot it - it's tucked away in the bottom right-hand corner. Compare this with the huge CHRISTMAS in the top left. Which is more prominent? Which is given more importance? Does this look much like Christmas is being marginalised?

Yet year after year after year tabloid columnists trot out the lie that Winterval was used to replace Christmas. Now Cabinet ministers are also at it, and are apparently unwilling to even respond to complaints from people who point out the failings in their arguments.


Anonymous said...

You may have seen my comments at Minority Thought on this issue. You too are completely missing the point, and that is relevant for other claims about the tabloids.

To start with there is a story here. It would seem from Eric Pickles comments, that he favours some form of legal prohibition on non-Christian festivals and celebrations at the end of the year. Similarly the Pope appeared to advocate a ban on any non-Christian elements in Christmas. That is worth at least clarification - i.e. journalists should ask their spokesmen if they really meant it that way. None did apparently, and you did not either.

Instead you have gone on a wild goose chase, trying to prove retro-actively the Birmingham Council is a a pro-Christian organisation. This would not be so important, if you did not use the same logic in relation to tabloid stories about Islam and immigration.

The underlying assumption that the tabloids are capable of hypnotising the population is false. In this case, you are claiming that they have hypnotised their readers into thinking that Christmas is being de-Christianised. So you go looking for evidence that Christmas is not being de-Christianised, and aha!, there you have a photo showing that Birmingham did not ban Christmas in the 1990's.

The fact is that Christmas in Britain is being de-Christianised, and that has been true since late Victorian times, when marketing took off. Non-Christian end-of-year festivals are part of that process. They are not a myth. Compare the German equivalent


which is the claim that East Germany renamed christmas tree angel figurines as "years end winged figures". There is no evidence in the form of packaging or advertisements, but the GDR was an atheist state and it did try to suppress public religious expression.

Winterval did exist and so did several other 'winter festivals' The political issue here is that Christians in Britain are apparently trying to ban them, and the present government appears willing to do so. However, instead of standing up to this campaign, you seem to think that non-Christians should apologise for thinking about them. Is that what you are trying to say?

Anonymous said...

um...yes. And your point would be just as strongly illustrated if you had shown us the original 1997 Winterval brochure wouldn't it?


P. Stable said...

"You have gone on a wild goose chase, trying to prove retro-actively the Birmingham Council is a a pro-Christian organisation ... You go looking for evidence that Christmas is not being de-Christianised, and aha!, there you have a photo showing that Birmingham did not ban Christmas in the 1990's."

Actually I think it's you who has missed the point - I've not been trying to "prove retro-actively the Birmingham Council is a a pro-Christian organisation ", I've been trying to show that tabloid and ministerial claims that Christmas is being "banned" are not based in reality.

I also don't agree with you that Eric Pickles is trying to create some kind of legal ban on non-Christian festivals. It looks to me like he is trying win some positive headlines by bashing "political correctness", but he's doing so by attacking something that doesn't exist.

Pickles can hold whatever views and opinions he wants to, but if he's going to make statements like this via the publicly funded Civil Service they should be based on facts, not tabloid myths.

Anonymous said...

Pickles is attacking something that does exist, namely the de-Christianisation of Christmas. That implies that he wants to use the state to maintain its Christian character. So why not ask him exactly what he wants, instead of inquiring into what happened in Birmingham in the late 1990's?

And note that Pickles did not say that Christmas was banned in Birmingham. Try to stick to the same standards you demand from journalists.

There is no myth here at all. Christians feel that Britain's Christian traditions are under threat, and they are perfectly right about that. Britain's Christian traditions are under threat, the issue is whether that is a bad thing.

Unknown said...

3 Anon comments, all missing the point.

You should all read the Winterval Myth.

Old Applejack said...

I've read and re-read Anonymous's first comment and I still don't understand it or how it relates to the original point.

Anonymous did say that Christmas was losing its traditions once marketing kicked in. And since Pickles stressed in his press release that councils that go to town over Christmas "are likely to get merrier profits come January", we can see he's all about the marketing.

In short, he's just another Tory after a cheap headline by pandering to those who believe anything the Mail/Express tells them.

Keep up the good work Primly.