Brave columnist or ignorant bigot? Controversial writer Melanie Phillips launches a new platform to reach middle England and spread her truth
By MIRIAM SHAVIV, TOI June 26, 2013,
Walking around the offices of The Guardian newspaper, journalist Melanie Phillips bumped into the lead editorial writer, Geoffrey Taylor. It was June 1982, and while Britain was preoccupied with its war in the Falkland Islands, Israel had invaded Lebanon.
“Well, now, Melanie,” said Taylor, an old-fashioned English gentleman and an Arabist. “What on earth are we going to say about your war?”
Phillips, a British Jew who had never written about Israel, was shocked to realize that by “her” war, he was referring to the Israeli one, turning her into an outsider.
“At that moment, the iron entered my soul,” she writes in “Guardian Angel,” her new memoir.
The book chronicles her evolution from the one-time darling of the British left to one of its most hated figures – “she-devil of the Western world,” as Phillips puts it.
From her platform in Britain’s second-largest newspaper, The Daily Mail, she has become famous for stinging attacks on the establishment, accusing it of deliberately destroying the fabric of British life by promoting multiculturalism and denying the religious nature of Muslim terrorism. She is Israel’s staunchest defender in the British press, a global warming “denier” and an opponent of gay marriage.
Her admirers consider her one of Britain’s bravest columnists, a reputation on which she is capitalizing by launching Melanie Phillips Electric Media, a digital publishing company (which also has its own merchandising line flogging mugs and tote bags).
She hopes this platform will allow her to expand the public conversation on the subjects she cares about, and reach further into the English-speaking world, particularly America. “Guardian Angel” is one of the first offerings of its eBook division, emBooks; there are also titles on subjects as diverse as Islamism, Prince William and bringing up teenage girls, by other writers.
Melanie Phillips’s new book, ‘Guardian Angel’ (photo credit: courtesy)
But more than any other commentator on Britain’s right (a designation she does not actually accept), Phillips also seems to attract venom and contempt.
In columns in the Guardian and the Times, she has been called “routinely insane,” a “spoof columnist,” “one of the Daily Mail’s routine monsters,” an “authoritarian writer,” and accused of displaying “depths of ignorance and bigotry that can scarcely have been matched.” According to Nicholas Lezard in the Independent, she “eats broken bottles and kills rats with her teeth.”
On one occasion, she overheard a left-wing acquaintance saying that the thing that most frightens him is “turning into Melanie”
Phillips says that such remarks hurt: “I’m a human being.”
What is it exactly that drives her opponents so crazy? Many of her views are politically incorrect, but she is not the only one to hold them. Perhaps it is her blunt style; she is routinely accused of hyperbole, hysteria and anger.
Phillips thinks she is hated because she is an “apostate.”