Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bullying, Babies, Browns, and Blair

Being the earnest political wonk that you have every right to expect on a blog like this, I was listening to radio 4 earlier. It was one of their round-the-table discussions, and I agree with Martin Wisse in the comments to an earlier post that "Any Answers" that left-wing voices are sometimes left out. This was nice:

Yes I think the satirist and people in the media are on the, naturally on the, opposite side of the fence to the establishment, when you go into government, whether its the Labour Party or the Conservative Party you become the establishment ... you are then naturally target, and frankly you have to be, perhaps even more these days because I don't think the House of Commons is doing a very good job in controlling the executive, that's been happening more and more, it's not just a feature of the last nine years. ... Lord knows how long it would have taken us to find out what was going on inside the Home Office without the media.

That's a pretty good articulation of the position exactly opposite to DA's. (I don't remember his being quite so keen on our friends in the press when he was in office, but we'll come to that.) And a former satirist:

Always the people in power, when you win an election, you have a honeymoon, because the people even if they've elected you narrowly, feel that you deserve a chance. But once that's over, you're fair game.
And that's very good, because if you have to choose between a government which gets away with things, and an unfair media, I'd always choose the unfair media (though I wish they were fair).

As would I. Both quotes are from The Frost Years, the first was Norman Tebbit and second was Gerald Kaufman.
DA doesn't share this view of the press.

The grey methane fog of political journalism in this country, with its lifeless storms and sterile uniformity, works hard to make us all think the same way, or to make us think that everyone else thinks the same way.

Here come my old complaints, so let's get them over. I don't believe a collective noun (or, arguably, an abstract noun) like 'political journalism' can be said to do something. Of course, according to Dave, political journalism does this, so presumably all political journalists do. Dave is a political journalist. Needless to say, even if he phrased his case rather more clearly, it is demonstrably not true that the Independent, the Daily Mail, and the Times have a) homogenous political commentary or b) work hard (work hard? drink hard maybe) to push goodthink. I agree with Chris Dillow that the mass of political journalists are desperately ignorant of economics, and, indeed, of the material processes which support our political system, but I don't agree about uniformity.
Do I have to point out that "Boy not shot on way to school" is not a story, nor is "Driver had good eyesight and was driving responsibly"? I can't see why "government department runs smoothly, meets targets" is supposed to interest anyone. A story like Home Office used wrong figures to predict 'trickle' is not symptomatic of group think among the press, it's a perfectly legitimate story. All the good stories involve someone behaving foolishly or badly. All the rest that make the papers usually feature attractive young women (as Matt Turner will no doubt point out, a disproportionate number of these will be blonde).
Some of DA's commentary is so astonishing it in faux-naivete, that it's not worth comment. He affects not to understand that the "unsagacious 17" are careerists, so who they impress (or suck up to) is enormously important to them. If you can't be the boss man yourself, the next best thing is choosing who is, and I don't blame them for their interest in this. For some reason, DA has also forgotten that politics at the sharp end is about winning the very few susceptible floating voters; it's not about "win[ning] round a sceptical public".
One sentence is staggering:

My instinct is that Labour MPs are panicking because they don’t any know more what they’re for and they’re desperate to be told.

And the best way for them to "be told" is to write to Blair and suggest he quit? That was a subtext I missed. Does DA really mean that MPs no longer have a purpose and we have burst into a new post-democratic era?
He commits a couple of unforgivable distortions.

So universally expressed is the trendy Blair-hating that you could easily think that he’s the man who persuaded Hezbollah to abduct Israeli soldiers just for jollies.

I actually can't work this out. Is he suggesting that Hezbollah's motives were not the return of 300-odd prisoners, but "jollies"? or is he suggesting that the average Times reader is confused as to which side Blair supported during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon?

All the same, the suddenly fashionable view of the Chancellor as an idiot savant - brilliant with figures but unable to eat soup in company - is not my experience.

But this isn't anyone's view of Gordon Brown. What his critics do suggest is that he lacks the suite of talents to be a popular and effective Prime Minister. All sides agree that Brown has sniped at his boss for years. If, as DA suggests, this has been mostly his acolytes, he has been less effective in controlling them than the Lebanese government was with Hezbollah. As most of the people concerned are answerable to him, and he's ultimately the paymaster of all of them, he has no excuse.
I think DA's had a pretty bad attack of conscience when writing this. Apparently, Andrew Marr (whom he praised last week) and his collegue Daniel Finkelstein are part of this "grey methane". I don't believe he believes that. I've quoted his use of "instict" (journalese for "I have no facts to support me here") and he later uses "sense" as a verb, which is no better.

And in even wondering ["Why didn't Brown condemn the Watson letter"], I sense the answer. I sense it in the knowledge that this article will be labelled as part of a Blairite attack on the Chancellor by his acolytes (many of whose devotions have been, to be fair, unsought) in the press and the Labour Party. They are, whether they know it or not, a terrible bunch of unimaginative bullies.

I like "I sense it in the knowledge that ..." Aarowatch goes to CafePress. Get your mugs, t-shirts with the quotable Aaro here. I think you'll know what he means. I'm not going to draw diagrams. I don't know why the Chancellor's acolytes are "unimaginative" or "bullies". (A "terrible bunch" seems fair enough.) I think this lot includes all the women likely to progress. (Though this may be less a sign of being sensible than the fear that the anti-Brown may be Alan Milburn.)

In any case I am, I think, a Milibandite - partly because it sounds like something from the Cretaceous period, and partly because there are two Milibands, and that gives me wriggle room.

It's a little early to confess to being a political dinosaur, Dave. And most of the fauna from the period are either -saurus or -or. He may have been thinking of trilobites, which were Cambrian. (That's a lot earlier.) The American Heritage Dictionarysuggests "Adherent or follower of: Luddite".
In a way, I agree with Dave about the methane mists: one thing all political journalists now do is ... well, I'll let Dave demonstrate.

Mr Brown ... feels that he has a grievance that he is somehow entitled to have sorted out.

I've followed the slow meltdown of the Labour Party over the last nine years, and one constant has been the tight lips of Gordon Brown. His real thoughts, always assuming that he has any, have been relayed second hand, mostly by these acolytes - the very people we're told not to trust. Gordon Brown may well feel this, but I suspect he does because I have read that he does so often, not because there is any confirmatory evidence.
Same old, same old. Less debased political journalism would use fewer instincts and senses, and more direct quotation. Not a word about policy, you note, if you don't count "though smothered by the methane, the Government launched its new policies on social exclusion" which I don't because the government is always launching things.


Blogger Marc Mulholland said...

Did Aaro inherit any economic nous from his dad, who presumably knew his way about the subject?

9/13/2006 11:19:00 AM  

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