Sunday, April 18, 2010

Instant Judgements

Aaro casts his eye over the election debate. He's amusing, but not enough to convince me to pay for Times content. Indeed, the instant reaction to the debate itself isn't all that meaningful, as Ian Leslie says:

One more thing: ignore instant polls, and especially ignore the "worms" of Mori and so on. All this stuff is highly unreliable, fun maybe but irrelevant. If these debates have a real impact we won't be able to tell why or how for a few days. And judging by the American experience, the instant judgements - including this one - are often completely wrong.


Indeed. Aaro is quite percipient: he picked up Cameron's very odd line about the "40-year-old black man." But because he was talking to camera (I assume the recording was live, you wouldn't deceive us, Dave, would you?) he missed the even stranger bits: Cameron referred to the man as 'she' and claimed he'd served in the Navy 'for 30 years'. Eh? We don't do that any more. This is what journalism (that is research and contacting people) gets you Cameron 'got it wrong'. Man not 40, but 51. Not in Navy 30 years but only for six. True, he immigrated when he was six. Does that make him an immigrant? Perhaps literally, yes. Never mind the Lexus story.

Gordon Brown delivers jokes without an epidural, really, doesn't he? I mean they're terribly long drawn out labours of things and I think it would be better if he desisted.


Here, our Dave really was unbiased. After all, he doesn't like any of the candidates. And it shows. Liked the pun on 'labours' - and 'epidural' if it comes to that. I suspect that that line wasn't as off the cuff as it appeared.

And there was Clegg. I don't think Dave was among the converted.

If you watch the video first, and then read the article, you're guided by Dave's not unpleasant baritone (bass? I'm never sure) cadences, which lull almost like the opening theme for 'Desert Island Discs'. You can see why Dave is a highly paid Times columnist and I'm not. It is very pleasant, stress-free reading unless you notice that he falls asleep at the wheel, so to speak, and starts writing what I can only call utter bollocks.

The erosion of this unchallenged power of senior politicians is the great untold story of our times. Social change and the loss of automatic class-based voting loyalty has been one factor, the end of deference another, the spread of consumerist attitudes towards politics is a third. We stopped cutting our leaders and our institutions the slack we used to. Guided in this by mass media that sometimes blurred the divide between scepticism and cynicism, we have withdrawn any right, not just to trust, but even sometimes to the benefit of the doubt.


From this paragraph on, the sleeping monsters of unreason awake: it's the media, it's you, hypocrite people, you don't understand how hard it is to be a politician. You know something is wrong when someone ostensibly 'progressive' (DA may even use that word) blames the modern world.

The significance of the debates is that they invite you to meet your new boss. And it’s you.


The polls show the main parties roughly with a third of the vote each. That means that, come the result, two thirds will be ruled by a party they didn't vote for. The 'new boss' is going to be in the eternal tradition of all bosses: someone you don't like very much and are sure you can do a better job than.

15 Comments:

Anonymous Martin Wisse said...

"We stopped cutting our leaders and our institutions the slack we used to."

? When did "we" ever?

4/19/2010 10:10:00 AM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

# There's a man with a gun over there,
telling me to cut politicains more slack #

"that power has moved by one large new increment from the rulers to the ruled"
because there is even less to choose from between the main parties than there ever was?
"the leaders have engaged in a long-drawn-out process of power diffusion. Nationalised industries have disappeared"
replacing accountable bodies with unaccountable ones?
"Imagine how much easier it was for a health minister of the recent past who never needed to consult a drug advisory committee,"
and now they make all the difference?
"Think too about the unpleasant consequences for government prerogative of the Human Rights Act."
The use of the word "unpleasant" suggests bad, but he seems to want to hedge on this.
"Following these debates, it won’t be long before British party leaders are chosen by primary elections"
probably not, unless Britain adopts the Israeli system of a separate election for PM, and probably not even then.
In general he seems to ignore the centralisation of powers whereby the governments of the last thirty years have centralised powers, taking away much of the ability of councils to set their own tax rates and spending priorities, taking power from parliament and giving it to the cabinet or the PM.Or am I missing something?

4/19/2010 01:55:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Lightish baritone I'd say.

DA: It was, it was agreed in advance, historic. Though in the words of Buffalo Springfield: “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.” Why exactly was it historic? Simply because it was the first such debate in British TV-era political history?...

Yes. Which was, in every case I heard, made exactly clear.

CC: two thirds will be ruled by a party they didn't vote for
Isn't that the case already; in fact over three quarters? (I am including the whole electorate though, not just voters - so this may be tangerines and satsumas and your corresponding figure even lower)

Those well-selected quotes:

The significance of the debates is that they invite you to meet your new boss. And it’s you. is not only ridiculous but a touch Cameronian (or Cameron-last-weekian) isn't it? Perhaps another possibility for that caption: 'Will you be supporting the Conservative party, Mr A?' 'Let's wait for the election results, shall we?'

and Guided in this by mass media that sometimes blurred the divide between scepticism and cynicism, we have withdrawn any right, not just to trust, but even sometimes to the benefit of the doubt.

Scepticism good, cynicism bad (the latter more or less by definition unjustified, a bit like - here it comes! - 'conspiracy theory').

Fair enough to use 'scepticism' - relative to particular subject matter - to mean 'having the correct doubts' or even just 'some doubts', but Aaro doesn't even manage that. Apparently the public should give politicians the 'benefit of the doubt', as though they were criminal suspects defending their liberty against the full might of the investigatory and prosecutorial authorities. If there is doubt, conclude that the politicians involved are blameless. Which means 'dispel those doubts', doesn't it?

Trouble with that - beyond just being obviously bloody stupid on its face - is that politicians, esp en masse, are in an excellent position to sow doubt and confusion, and to avoid serious consequences even if they should be rumbled beyond reasonable doubt in some tractable and clearly wrongful conduct (let alone tediously complicated systemic or implicit kinds of corruption).

If reasonable doubt gets too scarce, there's generally enough of the unreasonable kind around, thanks in part to the likes of Aaro. In fact Aaro seems to think politicians should never have been denied the 'right to trust' (unquestioning trust?).

There is a tiny bit of truth here though obviously, e.g. Labour's tardily repented FOI legislation, Yates of the Yard who is now back in his box, and possibly less deference (not convinced it's that much more than British moaning and ineffectual posturing migrating from the pub to the blog comments though).

But to see clearly the trends Aaro presents as precipitous, you are really looking at a 50-year-ish timescale. And there are other countervailing trends such as sofa government, massively more sophisticated spin, the hibernation of the Left (Schrodinger's hedgehog?) + what skidmark said.

4/19/2010 03:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The staging of the debates tells us something that runs completely contrary to conventional wisdom. It tells us that power has moved by one large new increment from the rulers to the ruled, a process that has been going on this country — and other democracies — for decades. The debates are a further triumph of the people over the politicians; something that the politicians sort of know but that the people refuse to see."

Yes, I refuse to see it, because it is unclear how a TV debate gives the people more power. As my 15-year old son said "It was sort of interesting watching the way politicians dodge the questions".

Did any of you feel empowered by the TV debate?

Guano

4/19/2010 03:24:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Following these debates, it won’t be long before British party leaders are chosen by primary elections, not just party members (no more unopposed non-elections like the one that brought Gordon to the top job in the first place)

Not if he was still unopposed, though, surely?

One voter expressed it to me as allowing them a few minutes to give their all, and then pressing a buzzer and consigning them to their fate — all from our armchairs.

There are 3 debates so this point is totally wrongheaded but Aaro seems to agree. Is this voter one of Aaro's kids, again, by any chance? And I thought Aaro was meant to be ignoring the X Favtor etc on principle? In any case, how is this different from listening ot leaders making speeches on the radio and voting the next day?

we often know whom they sleep with (and often feel we are entitled to that information)

Haven't the days of that kind of thing been and gone?

Social change and the loss of automatic class-based voting loyalty has been one factor, the end of deference another, the spread of consumerist attitudes towards politics is a third. We stopped cutting our leaders and our institutions the slack we used to.

For a self-appointed historian this is really, really weak. 'The end of deference'? eh?

The staging of the debates tells us something that runs completely contrary to conventional wisdom. It tells us that power has moved by one large new increment from the rulers to the ruled

Does he ever make clear how exactly this works? The debates were insisted on by the Tories, not the general public.

Overall the piece is just confused - Aaro appears to both really like this development and also really dislike it. The reasons behind it are handled so badly it's hard to work out what his overall point is. If the end of mass membership of political parties coincides with the end of voting according to class, surely that deserves a lot more rigorous thought than Aaro allows it.

4/19/2010 04:06:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Headline of the day: Boris calls for the voters to be dissolved. That's the London Mayor in the Torygraph. But when people understand that a vote for Clegg is a vote for Brown, they will stay their hands, and they will see that it is only by voting Tory that they can give this country the change it needs.

As I believe the football song has it, "they're not singing any more."

4/19/2010 04:07:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

There's just as much deference as there ever was, it's just that it's now paid to "business leaders" and the successful.

4/19/2010 04:16:00 PM  
Blogger Vinny said...

There s deference to slebs, but apart from in the higher levels of the Tory Party and New Labour I don't think there's much deference to 'businees leaders' any more. It's a side-effect of the credit crunch and "too big to fail" banks being bailed out.

The free-market fundamentalism the 'business leaders' have spouted for 25 years has been revealed to be based on feet of clay and people haven't forgotten. Plus so many people have been buggered about by management so much, they no longer accept the recieved wisdom of employers and 'business leaders'.

Having said that, I've never known an election with such a dissonance over what the electorate want and what the three main parties are offering. It's like living in la-la land.

Good to see two of the 'business leader' who came out in support of Cameron over national insurance have been rewarded with peerages. Is this the 'Vote For Change' 'Call Me Dave' & the Tories are going on about I wonder?

4/19/2010 10:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Cut the politicians more slack" would seem to be Aaro's core belief and this is where I disagree with him fundamentally. Politicians like to believe that it was "just one of those things" that there were no WMD in Iraq, the invasion wasn't a cake-walk and that there was a credit crunch. In reality these and other disasters were due to a lack of critical thinking and a lack of real political debate that would have challenged some lazy assumptions.

Guano

4/20/2010 08:28:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

apart from in the higher levels of the Tory Party and New Labour I don't think there's much deference to 'businees leaders' any more.

I think there's some truth in this, but I don't know how much. I think in the public mind there is (and perhaps has always been) a big distinction drawn between finance people and business people, in favour of the latter. People like Michael O'Leary can throw their weight about in the most objectionable way without people saying either

(a) don't be such a bully ; or

(b) all right then Mr O'Leary, if you know so much when did you speak out about the bank bonuses or the coming crash?

4/20/2010 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew Bartlett said...

"apart from in the higher levels of the Tory Party and New Labour I don't think there's much deference to 'businees leaders' any more."

Well, there was once a time when 'the right of management to control' was at least a question to which a wide range of people gave some thought. Now, a challenge to the right of management to control is answered almost across the board by 'if you don't want to work here get another job'.

So, perhaps there is little deference to business leaders when they throw themselves into public life, but it doesn't matter; they control, unchallenged, the conditions of a large number of our waking hours, and when they want to exercise broader control they need not enter a public debate, they just bend the ear of those at the higher levels of the Labour and Tory parties. So deference or not, there is no redistribution of power to the people.

4/20/2010 08:03:00 PM  
Anonymous bensix said...

O/t - Oliver Kamm v. Honderich, anyone?

http://www.howthelightgetsin.org/philosophy-sessions-6/

4/21/2010 01:00:00 AM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

Deference to those with money goes back a long way:
By a “good” man, the one who bestows his trust understands, like Shylock, a man who is “able to pay.”
One ought to consider how vile it is to estimate the value of a man in money

That Cameron could think that lining up businessmen opposed to the NI rise would not be counter-productive suggests that such deference is still there (though it might be argued that it made it easier for Clegg to snaffle the change agenda).If there was a generalised rejection of capital, or even just finance capital, I would have thought it would necessarily have been accompanied by a widespread increase in support for the far left, as that does not appear to have happened to date, it would seem more plausible that most hatred of bankers is still confined to a "few bad apples" mode.

4/21/2010 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

There's a lot that occurred to me after 'publishing' that post. I wish I'd called the second half of DA's column "his own version of the Hellfire Speech from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" [may need work] rather than just 'bollocks'. It does seem to return to one of his themes, which as others have pointed out, is somehow confused yet dogmatic at the same time, though he is certain that we, the readers, the electorate, the great unwashed, have strayed from the true path somewhere. As with all of this stuff - Francis Wheen's "How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World" for example - the argument that recent decades somehow represent a reverse in the ascent of man always stalls when the question of dates arises. I mean, when were politicians respected? Respect isn't in Machiavelli. According to Gore Vidal, George Washington grew sick of personal attacks in the press when he was President. I hope the reader doesn't think that I distort the truth if I say that Washington achieved rather more than Brown has -- or Cameron or Clegg can aspire to. (Vidal clearly considered him a hopeless general, who only got the post because he was always the tallest man in the room. But in the end, still a great one.)

There was a time when the media in this country was deferential to government, but that was because government held rather more power than its modern equivalent does. (I assume this came about through the two world wars, but I'm not a historian, so can't be certain.) Of course television which was regulated and dependent on the government setting its budget (in the case of the BBC, and ITV wasn't much freer originally) was uncritical: who'd want to be the guy who had the whole Corporation brought to heel?

What does Dave think of the HRA? I'd have thought he'd be uncomplicatedly pro: aren't human rights the very thing he backed the Iraq War over? So why talk of 'unpleasant consequences'? I think he means that the HRA was good, and that 'unpleasant' is either ironic or intended to signal the generosity of politicians for handing over (or diffusing) their power without the need for armed intervention. But this won't do in a democracy of elected 'representatives'.

Anyway, I'm pissed off because I started to write a post on Aaro's appearance on the Review Show or whatever it's called now, but I forgot to save it, put my Mac to sleep, and it didn't wake up (which it does sometimes; I blame the wireless keyboard/mouse), so I lost the whole thing.

Also should have worked in line about Times writers thinking 'vox populi' was a small dog-like mammal persecuted by countryside Tories. And nearly wrote a post about where I agree with David Aaronovitch, particularly regarding Richard Littlejohn. Was reminded of that because someone on Twitter (I open lots of tabs at once and forget where they came from) linked to Johann Hari v Richard Littlejohn. Good for them.

4/21/2010 09:48:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

That was long, so I thought I better end it there. I nearly slandered Littlejohn: I was going to say that he thought erudite was a glue. But a moment's thought made me realise my mistake. He's not common. He's always called it 'adhesive'. And with that, goodnight.

4/21/2010 09:51:00 PM  

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