Scurrilous right-winger James Delingpole had a go at farm shops in The Daily Mail this week, but rather than airing a perfectly valid point, he prefers instead to wallow in petulant snobbery.

James Delingpole branded farm shops as “pretentious”, “overpriced” and “full of townies”, saying that shoppers ought to go to Aldi or Lidl where they would be much better off. His main complaint seems to be price, commenting that the owners of the farm shop that he used to visit could afford to sell at low prices because they sold direct to the consumer, thus cutting out the middleman and avoiding the deals that supermarkets impose on farmers. So far, most people would be with him on this, given the common anger about the way farmers are treated by supermarket chains.

But then Delingpole starts to bang on about organics, and the weasel known and loathed from climate change denial discussions begins to return in force.

He accuses farm shops these days of becoming ‘poncified’ in order to meet consumer demand from the city, that is to say, “the organic-obsessed middle classes and the hipsters,” who he describes as folk who like to play at rustic living and who virtue signal by ‘shopping locally.’

It’s interesting that he notes the expansion of farm shops across the country, with just 1,200 in existence in 2004, rising to 3,500 now. He also claims they’ve given rise to the ever-popular farmers markets and states that, actually, they are no longer farm shops, but “delicatessens with a rustic bent.” The farm shop ‘movement’ apparently has become gripped by megalomania, transforming the entire planet into a giant trendy café.

There are loads of really good points about farm shops, exemplified by, according to food campaigner Caroline Cranbrook, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire opening the Chatsworth Farm Shop in 1977, since which the Chatsworth area has become a prosperous breeding ground for small, local, food businesses that would normally have been killed off by supermarket competition.

It’s probably the fact that Chatsworth, and other places like it, have also become a magnet for foodies that is irking James Delingpole, and also the fact perhaps, that the ‘farm shop movement’ has given birth to a new generation of farmers. Another issue that would definitely bug him is that more people have started to visit farm shops in the wake of food scandals, such as that involving horsemeat contamination in 2013. This would annoy him intensely, because of all people on the planet, the folk that Delingpole loves to loathe most are environmentalists. Never mind that we have very real food issues going on in our society, it’s probably worth it just to kill off a few peasants maybe.

And there you have it, actually. The real ‘beef’ here is that farm shops have become popular. They are no longer exclusive to the super-rich elite snobs that Delingpole views as innately superior to the rest of us and would like to keep segregated from the plebs.

Evidence of this jumped-up snobbery contaminating Delingpole’s mind became even clearer to see when, writing for The Spectator earlier this year, he had a go at state school students who have somehow managed to infiltrate Oxbridge to study the classics, when they should really have been kept well away.

The piece argued that Oxbridge is now “a sterile, conformist, pc monoculture of earnest state-indoctrinated Stakhanovistes from which the children of the sun have been all but expunged, exiled to more simpatico institutions, like Durham, Bristol and Edinburgh.”

It gets worse:

“Take, for example, the right-on enthusiasm for recruiting Greats (he means ‘Classics’ here) candidates that don’t do Latin or Greek. The theory goes that by the fourth year, these eager state-school kids will have attained the same proficiency as the private-school ones who have been hothoused on classics since they were eight or nine. But I gather that only the Oxbridge classics tutors who have drunk the social justice Kool-Aid actually believe that this has worked in practice. The rest are worried about declining long-term standards and are also a bit frustrated: if you’re an Oxbridge classics don, you want to teach Oxbridge-level classics — not catch-up for beginners.”

Click here!!

This quite rightly provoked a response from Mary Beard, published in The Times Literary Supplement (TLS). Beard is, herself, an Oxbridge don, so you might be tempted to think that she would agree with him. However, instead, she chose, brilliantly, to turn round and wipe the floor with him in a highly amusing piece that really went to town on his uppity attitude.

Beard states quite clearly that one of the joys of her profession is actually, increasingly, being able to teach those who “have not been to the right sort of school,” as Delingpole would probably put it, and that because of that, she is certainly not frustrated. More to the point, she actually admits being interested in social justice, which plays a part in her keenness “to have more students who have not been to private school.” Furthermore, she points out that “there is no university in the country that insists on students having Latin and/or Greek before they come up” and that her own university has been “welcoming students to read Classics and to learn Greek from scratch since 1972.”

But Beard isn’t the only one rushing to teach this impudent prat a thing or two about life. In a blog published online in March 2017, Kings College Professor of Classics and Hellenic Studies, and former Oxford Classics don (1995-2001) Edith Hall referred to him as one who “makes his living from peddling archly controversial far-right views on climate change and immigration” and who in a “splenetic piece of propaganda”, dilates “with mind-blowing ignorance, on the topic of classical education.”

Nicely done Edith. But it gets better when she further describes The Spectator as a publication that, for some reason, believes it is worth giving airspace to “someone of Delingpole’s lousy journalism skills”. She further complains that if state-educated people think that Classics is a snobbish subject, it is hardly surprising when “Oxford produces arrogant alumni with ropey cognitive skills like Delingpole.”

This bit about ropey cognition is worth exploring further, but Hall does so indirectly by explaining that, contrary to what Delingpole usually believes to be the desirable norm in the world, the Romans, despite having some bad ideas like slavery and the inferiority of women, also believed strongly in “democracy, freedom of speech, accountability of officials, the social contract, trial by jury, tolerance of a wide range of sexual relationships, rational science, philosophical logic, world-citizenship, cultural relativism, training in public speaking, and the profound responsibility of the makers of art and entertainment to society.”

In short, Delingpole needlessly insults “every individual who has ever studied the ancient Mediterranean world wholly or even partially in translation, the thousands who take CC/AH qualifications in state schools, the majority of classics undergraduates in other British universities, not to mention adult learners, autodidacts, and everyone who has ever read a Penguin Classic” and that he does so “with puerile, ill-informed, oligarchic hauteur.”

The lesson to be learned from this is that if you want to teach a pompous arse a few facts about the realities of life in the everyday world, there is no better person to do it than a member of the social class that Delingpole himself professes to elevate above all others. Indeed, you will often find that the true aristocrats and establishment figures in our society, who often strive to keep out of the limelight rather than egotistically seeking it, are actually as nice as pie, respectful and polite, rather than conforming to the grumpy, embittered, tantrum-throwing child that Delingpole clearly is.

But did Delingpole learn anything from Beard berating him in such a sound fashion? No, of course not. He will carry on being a vicious, snide pompous twot, but that means there’s plenty of entertainment for us plebs yet, as others decide they’ve had enough and read him the riot act in good order.

No wonder he skulks in the gutters of Breitbart and The Sun these days. It’s probably the best place for him.🔷

(Cover: Photograph by Flickr / Sweef - Sweef Posh.)