Monday, October 08, 2007

Profiles in Decency: John Rentoul

John Rentoul is the ultimate courtier.

... and in many ways, what else is there to say? This "Profile in Decency" has been on the books for about six months, and I have been completely blocked, because once you've written that, what else is there to say about the man? His name sounds a bit like "Rent-A-Tool", which I footnoted as a joke to use, but I've actually made negative progress recently, because I deleted the word "Blairite" when his outpourings on Brown, Cameron etc, made it clear that the man was no one-note sycophant. Rentoul swims around, looking for an arse to suck on, like a peculiar species of remora, and it seems that more or less any old arse will do.

I have a slight suspicion that the real threat to political pundits from the Web comes not from the claque of wankers like me on blogs, constantly nitpicking and comparing them to arse-sucking parasitical fish, but from the simple convention of the chronological list. This compendium of weekly summaries of Rentoul's column is a far more savage indictment of his twist-in-the-wind, kiss-up-kick-down journalism than any anal limpet simile I could come up with. I suspect that he might get away with it in print, as the weekly Rentoul will just wash over the readership in a fug of Westminster nudges and winks, another voice in the jabber of columnism. But when you are brought face to face with a great big vertical slice of them, it becomes absolutely plain - this man has no consistency whatsoever from week to week. If Labour are on 43% and the Tories on 34, he will praise Brown to the skies and mock the weakling Cameron. If the Tories are neck and neck, he will laud Cameron and excoriate Brown. It's not obvious what Rentoul gets out of this - more or less nothing in terms of access as far as I can see, and it's visible that he actually hates both of them for not being Blair - except the sheer joy of grovelling itself, the same thrill that must have once upon a time caused Danes to tell Canute he could turn back the tide.

So it's hard to analyse Rentoul, because it's hard to tell what is his genuine view, and what is just the journalistic equivalent of a big sloppy kiss on the seat of power. His most recent piece on the subject is pretty boilerplate Decent deadendery, using the figleaf of (never-specified) Iraqis who "want us to stay". But all the piss and vinegar has gone out of him (well, all the vinegar anyway); compare it to this piece of chutzpah from spring, where he declared that the real tragedy of Iraq was the damage it had done to Decentist politics. In all honesty, Rentoul appears to be to be a Decentist by default.

He doesn't really have any interest in foreign policy, other than in as much as it reflects on Westminster power struggles, any more than he has any real interest in economic news except in as much as it has a bearing on the same. He's a teenage scribbler at heart, with a vision that stretches out to the next set of opinion poll numbers. Happy to be a useful idiot of whatever revolution is going on, and with quite a line in viciousness to any person or thing that deviates from the ideological line. It's obvious what function the Rentouls of this world perform under Communism or feudalism, but his continuing relevance in a parliamentary democracy certainly makes me think that we haven't yet achieved the perfect system of government.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Off topic bit of interest - how does decency really link up with Labour ? Nick Cohen moaned a bit back that a Fabian confence wasn't decent enough for him, poisoned with relativism etc. However, he has now found a happier home with Progress, the ultra-blairite right wing careerists sycophants group. They are too thick to think for themselves, and so rely on Nick, the dismal Brian Brivati (who is kind of Oliver Kamm without balls), and Aaro himself - alongside to do the thinking at their upcoming conference

http://www.progressonline.org.uk/Events/event.asp?e=869

others with hints of decency (Martin Bright, who was v.much anti Iraq war, but has a bit of the fear of islamism, saint Oona King, the martyr to the battle with the great satan, Lorna Fitzsimmons) will also be attendance alongside ministers a -plenty

Ann Om

10/08/2007 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I think that's a slightly uncharitable assessment of Brivati. His heart's in the right place, although his head is often in some very odd places indeed. I do agree that that conference program looks like a real wrist-slitter though - it's practically a who's who of British rentagobs.

10/08/2007 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Pollard is another who changes his view almost daily with the tide. In 2005 Gordon had to take over now as Blair was finished. In 2006 Blair had to carry on forever, as Gordon was unelectable. In early October 2007 Cameron was unelectable and Gordon would be stupid not to call an election. A week, or a day, later, he had changed his mind.

Things are changeable, but the mix of certainty and inconsistency really grates.

10/08/2007 10:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Simon said...

I think that Brivati is actually a pretty good historian of the Labour party and I can imagine him being a fairly good lecturer on British politics in general. It is when he attempts foreign affairs that he becomes embarrassing, much like Rentoul.

10/08/2007 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Lorna Fitzsimmons. Every time I come across that name it's like when the animals start hissing and barking at Damien.

10/08/2007 01:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if Brivati's latest book will be a "pretty good history of the Labour Party"

http://www.amazon.co.uk/End-Decline-Blair-Brown-Power/dp/1842751719/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/026-6538100-3263623?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1191850876&sr=8-1

note the "startlingly original" quote on the cover from Frances Wheen. If Wheen thinks this dreary report from Arslikhan is an "original" take on Brown and Blair , no wonder Private Eye is losing its teeth.

If you want a flavour of Brivati's drivel ,he gave a short notice of the book in the Grauniad

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2171639,00.html

- who else noticed that

"It is Blair and Brown who made Britain the most important power in Europe, and they aided the digital renaissance in art, culture and design. It has been in the post-1997 period that most people have come to feel better about life in Britain"

Ann Om ( a buddhist Ann On)

10/08/2007 01:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Fallhammer said...

Blimey, Fitzsimons is popular. I thought she might disappear for ever when she went to work for that Israel lobby group.

I haven't followed her career closely but I did have dealings with her (from a comfortable distance) when she was at Loughborough Art College in the 80s, (and it's been entertaining to hear the changes in her accent over the years).

Her heart seemed to be in some sort of right place then, but she was still quite, quite awful.

10/08/2007 03:08:00 PM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

A friend of mine has fond memories of Lorna F from her time as President of the NUS at a party strenuously denying to a Ukrainian that there was such a language as Ukrainian.

10/08/2007 03:29:00 PM  
Anonymous redpesto said...

"It is Blair and Brown who made Britain the most important power in Europe, and they aided the digital renaissance in art, culture and design. It has been in the post-1997 period that most people have come to feel better about life in Britain"

Ann Om, I'm still wondering what that passgae actually means -especially the 'digital reneassance' part - beyond 'Isn't Mr Tony wonderful?' How exactly did they aid such a renaissance?

10/08/2007 03:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So no-one has anything to say about Rentoul. No surprise there, really.

10/09/2007 07:47:00 AM  
Anonymous rioja kid said...

Well I've tried to think about it, but like BB I don't get any farther than the first sentence. Rentoul's sort of a natural phenomena like marsh gas or anal warts, whose essential nature tends to deter investigation by non-professionals.

10/09/2007 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger wufnik said...

Rentoul's problem is that he believes he's paid by the word. Actualy, maybe he is.

10/09/2007 04:41:00 PM  

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