Wednesday, June 29, 2005

It's all about the grouplets

I dunno. I find the back-from-hols col a bit more objectionable than my oppo RK, on both journalistic and political grounds.

In the first place, it apparently took all of three columns before the No Longer Bearded Wonder got back on the subject of the Socialist Worker’s Party. I think Kipling said it best:

[...]There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return.

If Kipling were alive today, he would no doubt add a fifth certainty to the list; as the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire, David Aaronovitch’s column will return to the subject of obscure far-left grouplets of the 1970s.

It’s all about the bloody grouplets with Decent Dave. I don’t know why – presumably it has something to do with a) his CP past and b) the fact that he reads a lot of blogs – and presumably the second of these is more important this week, as having just returned from holiday, the temptation to take it easy and let someone else come up with a theme must have been overwhelming. But does it really make sense in the new environment? There is perhaps some point in sounding off about grouplets to the readers of the Guardian, some of whom might possibly know somebody who’s in one. But to the people who take the Times, the Socialist Worker’s Party exists only as somewhere between a phantasm and a punchline; it’s a bloke in faded denim flogging newspapers outside a pub in a Not The Nine O’Clock News sketch from 1984. A single item about grouplets might be interesting to the Times readers as a “dog drinks beer” item, but they ought to be aware that if Aaro’s previous form is anything to go by, this week’s one is the front end of a long and not very interesting train.

The other reason I don’t like this col is that, like Israel itself, the Socialist Worker’s Party is an intrinsically rather unlikeable regime that becomes worthy of solidarity because of the calibre of creep that always singles it out above all other candidates for loud and public denunciation.

It is, of course, All About That Bloody War; if Gilad Atzmon were here, we could get him to play the official theme-toon of Aaronovitch Watch, “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon. The reason why Aaro has such a scunner against the SWP (apart from the fact that they presumably spilt his pint in the 1980s, of course) is that they were the organising force behind the Stop The War Coalition and the Hyde Park March. Ever since that march, Aaro has been absolutely disgusted, no really, very disappointed indeed in us, the bien-pensant centre-left British public. YOU MARCHED SIDE BY SIDE WITH TROTS YOU WANKERS! DAMN IT DON’T YOU REALISE WHAT THESE PEOPLE REALLY WANT?! THERE’LL BE NO BLOODY BRUSCHETTA FOR YOU LOT WHEN THE SWP ARE RUNNING THE COUNTRY YOU KNOW!

The fact has been, rather transparently, that to within a rounding error, nobody either knew or cared that the Hyde Park march was organised by the STWC or that the STWC was a front for the SWP. And this despite Dave telling us, week after week; have we no gratitude? Are we paying attention? Nope.

But Decent Dave still thinks that there’s some mileage in this advertising campaign, not least because a similar one waged against ANSWER in the USA had decent success in scaring mainstream Democrats out of organised opposition to the War. The idea is simple; if you’re against Tony then you’re against his pet war. If you’re against the war, then you’re side by side with the SWP. And if you’re in bed with the SWP then you’re an anti-Semite. You horrible person! Racist! Why don’t you be nicer, join the decent left and help us demonstrate solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the world by killing them? George Galloway has a suntan!

So in other words, context matters in this one. If it were just some random Charlie having a go at the SWP for inviting the thinking anti-imperialist’s David Icke to have them sweating to the oldies at the annual hop, then so much good knockabout fun. But the fact that it’s Aaro on the case means that we should be very suspicious. When he’s throwing mud at the SWP, he’s doing so in the hope that it will stick to the entire anti-war movement. The Gods of the Copybook Headings say:

“Keep A Close Eye On That One”

Update Justin Raimondo is not best pleased. I would not be true to myself if I said that I didn't from time to time find a little bit on the loony side for my taste, but I think that this rather underlines my point; Aaronovitch's purpose in having a go at the SWP is to smear a whole swathe of antiwar opinion by association.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Dave shoots rabbit

Dunno about my esteemed colleagues, but there’s not a hell of a lot to say about the latest effusion. Dave sees rabbit in rabbit hole. Dave grabs rabbit and brandishes it at astonished audience. Look, a rabbit!

The rabbit in question is one Gilad Atzmon, full time jazz musician and all year round dingbat, reporting to the department of semitic plotting. I don’t know why the SWP invited him along to their Marxfest, but if they insist on putting nutters on stage and having them caper and whoop, then Dave has the right and duty to take a crack at them, and through them to the SWP and the Vast Left Wing Indecency.

Lame start though, to wit:

WHEN I WAS YOUNG, smug centrists used to tell me that the extremes of Right and Left would, extended far enough, meet somewhere round the back. And I never quite believed it. But here’s a story that seems to suggest that it really can happen.

Now if I was running a business dedicated to the lubrication and general servicing of smug centrism – which is what I believe this particular contribution to the columnar art and mystery amounts to – I wouldn’t give the game away in my first sentence. I also wouldn’t hitch it to a thought which was passé when Saint George of Orwell was coughing his noble last. The sense of discovery irks too. D’you think the fact that Dave was a member of the old Communist Party of Great Britain had anything to do with his youthful incredulity about extremes meeting in the middle?

- The Rioja Kid

Monday, June 27, 2005


Hullo BBC website readers. Sorry Len, I think this probably pushes you into second place among our referrers.

Sorry also to new readers for the lack of updated content. This isn't really our fault; as noted below "Aaronovitch Watch" is in the market for a powerful telescope, second hand. Meantime, here's a nugget from Matthew Norman's Media Diary

A PERSONAL GROOMING development at The Times. New signing David Aaronovitch, makeweight in the transfer deal that took Simon Jenkins to The Guardian, has ditched the wispy strip of hair running from below the centre of his bottom lip to his chin - a look favoured by various members of So Solid Crew. The resulting boost in gravitas is estimated by leading academics such as Professors Peter Cole and Donald Trelford at anything between 25-45 per cent. It is thought likely that, in a tough no-nonsense counterstrike, Sir Simon will be fitting a tongue stud, but this has yet to be confirmed.

I wonder if this brand new "Blogger pictures" thing works.

Oh that's pretty cool.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Work ethic

Where is it then? I didn't see any notice in the paper Times on Tuesday either. If Aaronovitch is offline because of health or family issues then of course he has my deepest sympathy but if he's just on holiday then this is taking the piss.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Why Orwell Doesn't Matter

What does Aaro do on weekends, by the way? I was down for Sunday duty but he wasn’t there in the Observer and he wasn’t there in the Sunday Times. I didn’t look in the Torygraph or the Independent but I doubt he was there either. Is England’s Third Best Orwell Impersonator taking a reduced workload?

Anyway, my colleague has amply documented the most recent col, in which Decent Dave gets in bed with ID cards and surveillance. As far as I can see the new Murdoch-era gameplan is to nudge a little bit to the right every week, rather like the Eastern Edge of the San Andreas Fault and probably leading to the same inevitable eventual collapse. Which leaves me with nothing to do except bash out a bit of colour commentary on what the hell argument Aaronovitch thinks he’s making.

I blame Orwell myself. It was his 1984 which established the central metaphors by which we think about ubiquitous surveillance. The televisor in every house, the scrutiny of individuals, the barking voice issuing commands to Winston Smith to wake up and begin the day’s callisthenics. Trouble is, this central organising metaphor is actually very misleading as a way of looking at the way in which actual totalitarian states work.

Aaronovitch is clearly in the grip of this central organising metaphor; his vision is clearly of a Blofeld-figure in Tesco central headquarters or in Alastair Darling’s orbital command-pod, surveying a bank of screens, constantly scrutinising the proles for evidence of deviant activity. And he concludes that it’s ridiculous to think this way. And of course he’s right that it’s ridiculous, because it would be logistically impossible to run a panopticon of this size.

But of course, that’s not how governments work when they want to use surveillance in order to restrict the liberty of their citizens. They don’t just hang around watching people more or less at random on the off-chance of catching someone being subversive. They pick a small number of people that they don’t like and watch them very intently; the installation of a universal network of surveillance makes this task immeasurably easier, but it doesn’t change the essential nature.

And this is why organisations like “Liberty” are worried. Because governments in the UK do not have a very good record about choosing to snoop on and harass people only on the basis of their potential to create a public nuisance. They in fact have a very bad record of snooping and harassing people purely on the basis that the establishment of the day doesn’t like their politics. Asbos and CCTV are potentially a powerful weapon for good, but you can’t be a weapon for good without being a weapon. And our current government has, to say the least, an uneasy psychological relationship with weapons of all kinds, and a record of remarkably poor self-control when facing people who annoy it.

Aaronovitch must know this, for God’s sake. As a former CPer, there must be a file on him up at MI5. He knows about the Miners’ Strike. So what the hell is this rubbish about “the majoritarian view of human rights”? And why on earth is he complaining about the kind of people who talk about “planning-violating Gypsies” in paragraph 6 and then affecting not to have any concept of a “marginalised community” in the last but one? As far as I can see, the central theme of this column is almost that of a Morecambe & Wise sketch in which Decent Dave has been cast in the role of Pastor Martin Niemoller’s straight-man (“well, they’ve come for the Communists, Jews and Trade Unionists, but I’m not one”).

Laws like the ASBO can certainly be used to good effect against old-lady-taunters and drug-dealers (though one might note that taunting is not currently a criminal offence and if it is to become one, primary legislation might be in order). However, given that they carry a presumption of action, are not subject to rules of evidence and can make people subject to criminal law without having committed a crime, they are also perfectly adapted to the task of harassing the politically inconvenient, and the beginnings of their use as a tool against Gypsies is not exactly encouraging. The police don’t give you the benefit of the doubt if you’re walking down the street at night carrying locksmith’s tools and it is not unreasonable of Liberty to take the same attitude to the government.

So the solution to it all? Well, neither the fascism of the strawman “majoritarians” not the libertinism of the strawman “minoritarians” but rather a “Third Way” in which we all ignore the shoe factory stitching a rush order of jackboots because we can’t see anyone goosestepping yet. Well fair enough, Decent Dave. But you, Aaro, personally, are not quite as scot free as you appear to believe. Tescos might not care about your big tubs o’Vaseline. Alastair Darling might not care where you’re driving to. Charles Clarke might not consider you quite worth the trouble of an ASBO just right now. But we’re watching you

(Readers, of whom we have none and no realistic prospect of any until we start publicising this blog, will notice that there are two regular contributors, both using the screen name “Bruschetta Boy”. We might sort this out or we might not).

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Dave dares

Aaro’s been to Tesco. Not Waitrose. Not Asda. It’s the wisdom of crowds for our Dave, the vast herds of middle England. He’s here to tell us that he’s being surveilled, right there at the checkout, and that he doesn’t mind in the least:

And did it bother me that my look of impatient boredom, my shuffling of the basket from hand to hand, even the odd adjustment of my person, might be the subject of scrutiny and remark by some anonymous Corporate Secretary in far-off Hertfordshire? Not half as much as it seems to worry a large section of bourgeois Britain, judging by what’s said and what’s written.

Ah, bourgeois Britain. Of course, Dave’s got no more idea than you or I who actually objects to being spied on while carrying out their lawful business. He also has no idea at all of why people carrying out their lawful business would object to being spied on. Something to hide, obviously.

Later, we see a theme developing. Opponents of surveillance are either rampant motorists wishing to disguise their squalid middle management adulteries (road pricing) or feeble-minded aiders and abetters of crime (ASBOS). Dave’s the man in the sensible middle, the man in the checkout at Tesco, channeling the silent majority in their desire to be watched at any time that the government or private sector may find it convenient. A proud member of the surveilled classes and avatar, inventor, and currently sole proprietor of the Blairite consensus. Yes, Dave’s hitting his stride. If no-one else will speak up for what everybody sensible knows and thinks, Dave dares.

It’s highly unlikely that the tape of Dave’s checkout adventures will get anywhere near Tesco’s HQ. It probably won’t get past a couple of fat blokes in polyester uniforms relieving the boredom of minimum wage security jobs by saying things like: “look at that fat bloke scratching his bollocks and staring into space. D’you reckon he’s casting around for material for his new, incisive, consensus building column?”

“Don’t care. Look at the tits on that!”

Get it Dave? No, probably not.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

give the dog a bone

Some columnists bring their own goods to market. Melanie Phillips may howl at the moon, but the notes are all her own and she can convince others to howl along with her. Other columnists are traded like teenage boys in maximum security prisons as part of the general truck and barter between gangs, in this case gangs of politicians and media executives.

Aaro’s in the second camp. New Labour have put a good many scoops the way of the Times, and the appointment of a columnist generally consulted for an insight on how the government want us to think on any given issue seems like a suitable reward.

However, a loyalist needs a line, and as Aaro rightly says, he’s not getting one to follow. Instead, he’s got to entertain the punters off his own bat. They’re strangers, too. He knew where he stood with Guardian readers. He didn’t like them. But how’s he supposed entertain this bunch of strangers gawping at his byline now? What do Times readers look like? Which way do their knees jerk? What kind of snack opinions do they like to consume?

And so Aaro proceeds around the arena trying to interest the generality by fiddling about with various rhetorical mud pies. Economic growth is good. Europe ain’t all that. How amusing it would be to ban aromatherapy. You’ll never guess what Harold Wilson’s doctor said once. Modernised social democracy is good. It involves sending people to school for a very long time. Will this do?

The thing about Aaro is that malice sharpens his prose, and he’s not been given much opportunity for spite so far. One exception:

the ID card, beloved of the electorate but hated by the professional and criminal classes.

That’s the old Aaro, the man who can smell a stab in the back at a thousand yards. Come on Tony, give your dog a bone.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Sign o' The Times

And now the first Aaro column for which Murdoch is paying; I hope he’s happy with it. Aaro struggles to find his theme somewhat; my advice to him would have been to use the month off to come up with a couple of humdingers to make sure the new column went off with a bang, but apparently not. All we’re getting is a few paras. about how politics is a bit dull in the summer and nobody really cares about Europe. A shame, really, when important issues aren’t being addressed at all, like Darfur, global warming, and those funny little pots of jam you get at boarding houses.

The middle section, around paragraph six, warms up a bit now. Aaronovitch waxes lyrical on the general subject of Blair, Harold Wilson and other left wing celebrities who started off as popular and intelligent figures, but who gradually lost the sympathy and interest of their audience and ending up resigning from the Guardian to write their midweek column in the Times … oh no, sorry, slight mistake, but the strains of Carly Simon are unmistakeable mood music as Aaro thinks about resignations.

Is “the Anglo-Saxon model, or (as those of us who broadly support it prefer) modernised social democracy” the new Big Idea of the Decent Left’s domestic agenda, to go along with democratic imperialism overseas? Only time will tell, I suppose, though Decent Dave’s stance on tuition fees is indicative. Working for Murdoch, however, I suspect that we will hear a lot more about having to curtail “social responsibility” than anything which might “let economic dynamism rip”. By the way, the fact that the preceding sentence is horrible is not my fault; it’s an accurate précis of a sentence which was itself atrocious. But it seems clear from the last three paragraphs between “Because higher taxes might act to depress economic activity [oh god he thinks he can do the business pages too – BB]” and “even as I wince at having to pay for it [subtle boast about the Murdoch pay rise presumably – BB]”, Decent Dave is setting his sail firmly at a low-tax, centrist_Republican view of the world – it is utterly hypocritical of him to portray his support for “expansion of higher and further education” as a social policy since we know from all the guff he wrote for the Guardian about tuition fees that he expects the beneficiaries of this expansion to pay for it themselves.

And finally, two paras. from the end, Aaronovitch’s rambling journey toward the point of the column comes to an end. The Big Idea of the third Labour term ought to be something like the New Egalitarianism manifesto, though hopefully with lower taxes. Well fair enough I suppose. But the concluding sentence is just bizarre. To vote for a party on the basis that a month after they were elected you might suddenly discover a policy program that you support and then you could hope that they carry it out despite the fact that they haven’t said they were going to isn’t what I would call “a rare act of optimism”. Unless the Times subbie removed the word “mindless” from that sentence, I suppose.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Secrets and Bollocks

He's back, he's back, oh joy! Apparently Decent Dave is working two jobs these days; during the week, he toils in the mines of Murdoch, but at weekends, he is still writing for the increasingly unbearable Observer. I certainly hope that someone at the Scott Trust (motto: "What on earth were we thinking of when we took on this money-losing piece of crap of a Sunday?") will before long remind him of the old Irish proverb about the difficulty of riding two horses while only possessing one arse. I presume that he's saving the best bits for midweek, because Sunday's col was a stinker. Not evil or anything, just horribly aimless and wittering. Whoever subbed it also presumably fell asleep at the wheel, given the misleading and/or meaningless hed.

The Islington Sparrow is medibating (a cross between meditating and masturbating, a neologism coined to describe Aaro columns) on the Watergate revelations. He's against them, I think, not in themselves, but because they set a dangerous precedent which led to the leaking of the Attorney General's advice on Iraq. Yup, it's the Munchausen-by-proxy version of Carly Simon Disease; Dave's so vain, he thinks that everything is about him and That Bloody War.

It's rather sweet really; he tries to write about something else, but it all comes back to Iraq in the end. The interesting thing is that Dave reproves other journalists for relying on unnamed sources, and claims that it erodes public trust in the media. But he doesn't actually name any instances in which newspapers have done this. And the big unmentioned elephant here, of course, is that of all the British publishing organisations which have embarrassed themselves by relying on anonymous single sources in the last couple of years, the most prominent is Her Majesty's Stationery Office who, poor buggers, don't have the luxury of demanding that their authors check their facts. Which is presumably what this column is all about; Decent Dave is still chewed up by That Bloody Prediction and is projecting like hell onto the rest of the media and the rest of us.

The interesting thing about the col. is that it never appears to cross the Aaro-mind that the truth of leaks and Deep Throats might be a criterion against which they be judged; he regards them as all basically entertainment like the Archers. What matters is the motivation of the person behind them. We the newspaper reading public have got it all wrong when we fork over our Sunday quid hoping to find something out about the world, or about the way we're being governed. The correct purpose of a newspaper is to help the reader establish the correct line to take on the issues that the people writing it deem important. I'm hardly the first person to say this about Aaro, but that doesn't make it less true; you can take the hack out of the Communist Party but you can't take the Communist Party out of the hack.