Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Lacunae

Aaro writes on Byers. But ... not a word on Hewitt or Hoon, despite the fact that a glance back at the last three months of his col reveals them to be much more relevant figures in today's Labour Party. This is presumably because Patricia Hewitt is a mate (long time Watchers will recall the favourable profile he wrote of her a few years ago), but even so, the absence is palpable and probably more informative than what's actually present.

Of course the thing is that to include H&H would be tantamount to admitting that what Aaro writes in respect of Byers is more or less totally destructive of Aaro's politics. As we've discussed ad nauseam, the particular Aaronovitchite strand of Birtism is completely dependent on the extension of more or less unlimited trust of authority figures. As this week's column recognises, this doesn't work; the degree of integrity required can't survive in the face of simple greed, let alone the more complicated motivations of those who seek political power.

In many ways this was a huge relief. Many on the Left, me included, had been brought up reacting to wealth with a puritanical pout. We were, in some ways, opposed to enjoyment itself — unless it was of a very particular worthy kind

As the obituaries confirmed, this wasn't true of Michael Foot. It isn't true of Tony Benn. Lord knows, it isn't true of George Galloway. The instinct to shoot someone because of their pyjamas really doesn't have much to do with left wing politics, and someone who dislikes Silvio Berlusconi because he's vulgar and has a silly suntan has missed the point in a pretty important way.

Maybe this is a transitional column for Aaro - there is an interesting question of how he will write about a new political environment. But really man. Don't pretend that you've just noticed that Blair and Berlusconi were mates. Or that this was just some personal foible of Mr Tony's (possibly to be blamed on Cherie). This was always the game you were playing.

(PS, not really Aaro-related - does anyone else find it slightly strange and not entirely unpukemaking to see Lord Mandelson doing the pursed lips and sorrowful anger routine all over the late news last night, given that he himself has not only been sacked from two ministerial jobs in murky circumstances, but that the Hinduja affair which prompted his second resignation was specifically to do with the advocacy rules that Byers is accused of breaking?)

19 Comments:

Anonymous Phil said...

I confess, I'm quite fond of Mandelson these days. Obviously his influence on the decay of the Labour Party has been huge and vile, but there still is a Labour Party (just about), and it's still preferable to the Tories (just about). I'll hate him again when the election's out of the way. I feel quite similarly about Brown & suspect many people do - I think the reason nothing seems to stick to him is that, outside the Westminster coterie, people don't want it to. This really isn't 1997 in reverse: John Major could have announced successful cold fusion and he would still have been mocked for the way he did it.

3/23/2010 08:12:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Another fact worth noting - the anti-Brown coup so beloved of Nick, Martin Bright et al was organised by.... Hoon and Hewitt.

3/23/2010 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew Bartlett said...

The allegations against Adonis are a nice picture of the decay of the *Labour* Party. One week, he's condemning workers striking to defend, or even just manage the decline in (but not improve!), their pay and conditions. We might write this off as the ordinary compromises that any party in power must make with capital. Any Labour Party government *might* have to take such a stance - though we'd hope for a tone more supportive of the rights of organised labour. But then, the following week, it appears that he's thoroughly entangled in the interests of capital.

3/23/2010 10:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aaro's entry into the world of New Labour was through Peter Mandelson and Charles Clarke. Mandelson seems to have reversed his original decision that Blair was better box office, and so now is part of a fairly solid team with Brown. Brown and Mandelson appear to have hung the Blairites out to dry.

Fungus, on the other hand, appears to have maintained an obsessive dislike of Brown. It will be interesting to see how Aaro negotiates all this. The party line will have to change and it will be interesting to see how he does it. (Martin Kettle avoids politics today and writes about Wagner, which is usually a sign that he's been caught on the hop.)

BTW, I more or less agree with Anthony Barnett in the New Statesman. "To summarise what happened between July 2007 and June 2009: he (Brown) could have chosen democracy; instead he chose Mandelson." ....

"The government is firmly in the hands of Brown and Mandelson, who have an unquenched will to power. ...... We can judge them by their settled support for global capitalism, inequality, authoritarianism and deception."

I also agree with part of Barnett's conclusion. "As there isn't an opposition, we should start to invent one by opening up the political space from which it can emerge." Let's celebrate the downfall of the Blairites, but let's remember that Mandy is no longer a Blairite. So how will Aaro jump?


Guano

3/23/2010 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Aaro also claims that unlike the killjoys on the left, The Right has never had such a problem. Classic 'politics of envy' bullshit. He entirely ignores the Mail/Telegraph/etc brand of resentful censoriousness, which really is spiteful.

Or at least its consumers are often motivated by resentment. The producers I suppose can be more plausibly seen as promoting conformity, family/mortgage-bound wage-dependency, abstinence from non-profit-bearing (free sex) or work-ethic reducing (ganja) activities, etc.

Leftist objections to extreme luxury of course tend to be based on resource allocation. There are also good functionally 'envy-like' arguments though, which object to the externality imposed by conspicuous consumption's effect on people's own satisfaction with their lot: which is not the same as envy-as-spite but rather an objective, take-a-step-back, acknowledgement of the human psychology of 'adaptation-levels'. All fairly tricky stuff though.

(Another way to see it if you like is as a slightly Buddhist-y approach to utility-maximisation: emphasis on minimising unsatisfied desire rather than maximising satisfied desire. Which brings in 'advertising' etc...)

Dispatches was hilarious though. Except the issue isn't really the character of the politicians but the corrupt system, which wasn't really examined in much detail.

Aaro's comments are similarly agency-based/conspiracist (as he might call them if he wanted to defend Byers rather than scapegoat him).

He points out Byers's dilemma: roughly, 'I am corrupt' v. 'I am a liar'. Trouble is that this is not a dilemma from the POV of anyone defending the system, for whom the 'Byers was lying' route is perfectly satisfactory (and indeed they would have a good case since this kind of bragging is not good evidence that the thing bragged of happened.)

Also quite irritating that this is just the stuff Cameron was posturing about recently.

3/23/2010 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

For my part, I couldn't care less how much money anybody else has got, as long as they don't start banging on about the politics of envy....

3/23/2010 04:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guano:

(Martin Kettle avoids politics today and writes about Wagner, which is usually a sign that he's been caught on the hop.)

Well, one reason for that is that Wolfgang Wagner has died - but the real sign with Kettle is when he tries to be Hugo Young and affect a lofty patrician disdain for all those who don't get it like he does.

As for Mandelson: it's about staying in power - if the Blairites had successfully defenestrated Brown, he'd be hanging out with them.

[redpesto]

3/23/2010 04:49:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Phil - agree with the 'just abouts' - but that's a good reason to hate Mandelson. It's almost an abusive relationship: he's destroyed most of the Labour Party, and if you don't like and praise him, he'll destroy some more. Anyway, I still think he's a Tory mole.

OC - I sort of watched this story happening on Twitter, but I didn't realise what was going on. So I also missed:

The Cash-Gordon.com site requires users to read various political tracts such as "Who is Charlie Whelan" (answer: political director of Unite)...

I know that Nick and Martin Bright believe (?) that they are doing the honest thing in writing the truth about Whelan, but if they do support Labour and want the Party to win the GE, they might want to look for positive things to write about. (Accepting that negative stories like Byers can't be ignored; but there's no need to use a GE for such flagrant infighting. And is there anything they could say about Whelan that hasn't been said by 'The Thick of It'? Is 'spin doctor is bastard' news in any way?)

I was going to predict that Aaro would write about this *next* week. Surprised he reacted so quickly.

3/23/2010 06:55:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

...puritanical pout...

Roy Jenkins, John Mortimer, Pablo Picasso, Oscar Wilde, Berholdt Brecht, .... for that matter, Engels. I hear that Sir Alex Ferguson has yet to give away his worldly all to the huddled masses of the international proletariat too. He's rather fond of racehorses, isn't he? I'm sure Aaro's sort of right about some people. Is John Lennon still a working-class hero? And so on and so forth.

3/23/2010 07:15:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

For my part, I couldn't care less how much money anybody else has got, as long as they don't start banging on about the politics of envy....

It depends upon how they spend it. Having grown up in a town filled with spectacularly vulgar wealth (Bournemouth), I feel quite strongly on this point. I mean could anyone really argue that the world would be a worse place if a giant sink hole opened up under Monte Carlo?

3/24/2010 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Incidentally, if this scandal had happened in the US it would probably not be a story. Britain's still a fairly uncorrupt place, for all that the politicians have tried to reverse that over the past 30 years.

Phil, one other difference between now and the fag end of the Tories is Osbourne. We have a chancellor who seems to be grudgingly accepted as fairly competent, vs a shadow chancellor who's clearly a moron.

And while the Labour party in its present incarnation is fairly vile, the Tories aren't even in power yet and already we have sleaze, corruption and massive bullying of the BBC on behalf of Murdoch. I dread to think what they'll be like with the hands on the levers of power.

3/24/2010 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

In re: Monte Carlo, didn't Clerks cover this with reference to the Death Star?

3/24/2010 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

@Justin: Well, I'm a contractor myself. I'm a roofer... And speaking as a roofer, I can say that a roofer's personal politics come heavily into play when choosing jobs.

You know, any contractor willing to work in Monte Carlo knows the risks. If they're killed, it's their own fault. A roofer listens to this... (taps heart) not his wallet.

3/24/2010 11:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recommend this...

http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2010/03/heres-a-horrible-example-of-the-middle-england-error-from-david-aaronovitchfor-eight-years-stephen-byers-remained-on-th.html

3/24/2010 02:21:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

"Because he's worth it".

It's one of the main conceits of New Labour - they mix with the fantastically rich and believe in that peculiar Blairite re-hashing of the concept of meritocracy - that the rich were rich because they were special.

3/24/2010 05:03:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Can anybosdy remember who it was who described Mandelson as a starfucker?

3/24/2010 05:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Solomon Hughes said...

Murdoch, allegedly (or apocraphally ?) speaking to the editor of a national newspaper. Carla Powell called him a "Groupie for greatness" , which sounds even worse.

3/24/2010 05:48:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

We have a chancellor who seems to be grudgingly accepted as fairly competent...

True, but bizarrely the 'grudgingly' refers to his boss as much as anyone. Ref: Evening Standard. Have to agree about Osbourne.

Mandelson ... starfucker? Aaro: The loathers of new Labour pass beyond parody sometimes, as with the publicity for Roman Polanski’s new film The Ghost Writer, in which its author, Robert Harris, and actors have spoken of their distaste for the real Mr Blair and his imagined criminality, while expressing a slithering ecstasy about working with a far-from-imagined criminal director.

Isn't it ironic here that millionaire bestselling novelist (and 'star') Robert Harris's dislike of Blair dates back to what he sees as Blair's unfair treatment of his friend Peter Mandelson. Guardian interview. Things soured quite fast. In 1998 Mandelson was fired for the first time over a £373,000 home loan from the paymaster general, Geoffrey Robinson, and Harris came out swinging in his defence; the decisive break came in January 2001, when Mandelson was made to resign a second time over the Hinduja passport affair. "That was a real revelation to me; I probably learned more about politics in the 48 hours surrounding that event than at any other time." He believed that Mandelson had done nothing wrong (an independent inquiry later backed this up), but "he was thrown out because of a panic about the media, and because of a chilly, total lack of feeling from the prime minister. Prime ministers have to be ruthless, but I was stunned by what seemed to me to be dishonourable behaviour." Harris was present when Mandelson called Derry Irvine, Alastair Campbell and Blair to inform them that the proof that cleared him had been found, but they were unmoved. "That was the moment at which I and New Labour parted company." The last time he saw Blair was at a dinner a year after the war started - a war that simply confirmed Harris in his opposition.

Harris's naivete, if it was naivete, is also surprising given that he's worked on Panorama and Newsnight and been the Observer's political editor. But while I think Roman Polanski is a criminal (that is he committed a legally and morally wrong act), since he isn't in prison now (rightly or wrongly) and he is a very good director (MRQE reviews for the Ghost Writer), I can't blame Harris for working with him before the recent hoo-ha. Speaking of criminals, can anyone recall our Dave's views on Ahmed Chalabi?

3/24/2010 07:21:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Well Darling stood up to Brown. He didn't like that. Probably doesn't help that Darling got most of the credit for handling the financial crisis. The "Greatest Chancellor in the History of the United Kingdom" can't have liked that.

3/24/2010 08:55:00 PM  

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