Tuesday, June 27, 2006

I value your input, really I do

It is not a bad column this week; it is well written (in particular, the phrase "harnessing a genuine tragedy to the writer's own rather pathetic set of grievances" is one I shall surely plagiarise somewhere down the line). And there is an element of validity to the concept of having a go at the Top Gear crowd. But the trouble is that, as is the norm for Aaro columns, the specific sensible point is expanded into a slightly sinister general point about politics. Comments follow.

Here's a funny thing; when Dave is writing about something in the Guardian, he refers to it by name. The "Local Paper" he is talking about this time round is, I think, the Ham & High, so why not say so? Is this a stylebook issue to avoid annoying the non-London readers of the Times (I thought it was only Guardian readers who get all gassy when journalists mention that they live in the city where the newspaper is published). Or what?

The Ham & High has been running a jihad on parking of late, however; the Camden New Journal hasn't though and unless I am mistaken there aren't any other papers local to Dave except maybe the Camden Gazette, but that is just an advertising freesheet these days[2] But anyway, the real issue here is not so much the fact that boy racer estate agents are full of it, but more that Dave has used this as an excuse to return to a central theme (also beloved of John Lloyd); what unrelenting bastards we, the people are, and how we really don't deserve those paragons who selflessly deign to rule us.

A bit more background first; the prominence of parking in the Ham & High of late is not really just a strange fixation of the editors. Camden Council was actually lost by Labour in the last local elections, you'll recall, and parking enforcement was probably not a trivial local issue. Tom Conti actually took out an advert in the Ham & High about it, and I was certainly leafleted by a non-partisan "Parkers' Rights" group urging me to vote anyone-but-Labour on parking issues. Practically the first action of the Lib Dem/Tory coalition that is now in charge in Judd Street was to abolish wheelclamping from the borough. I just mention these things so that we are all on the same page; I think Dave's piece loses a bit from this lack of Camden-specific context; in particular, there was quite strong local feeling that the enforcement of residents' parking regimes was very draconian and that wheelclamps were overused (in particular, the wheelclamping product is higher-margin for the clampers than the simple ticket).

So anyway, onward. The political sting in this col is in the last five paragraphs and I don't agree with them. Dave is dead wrong in his claim that people don't want to be involved in local issues except for selfish reasons. I have never experienced the problem he describes of "nobody but the same half dozen parents responding" and I am not far from him either geographically or sociodemographically. Also, he is ignoring the fact that Camden Council under New Labour developed a very nasty habit indeed of running wholly bogus consultation exercises. Most famously (and this probably contributed more to Labour's loss than parking, losing it the entire Gospel Oak ward which was Aaro's old manor) there was the issue of the Arms' Length Management Organisation for the council housing stock. It was a microcosm of the EU constitution referendum, and the various other issues on which we the people have been promised a say, provided that we don't abuse this privilege by saying the wrong thing. Locally, we have also been treated to a fantastically poor-faith exercise in consultation over a couple of swimming pools, the redevelopment of Camden Market, and a bunch of other issues. Including, of course, more or less every parking and traffic calming scheme in the borough over the last few years (I'd note that the demographics of Camden have shifted along with the rest of inner London over time, so it is hardly surprising that the street furniture demanded by the residents of 20 years ago may not be considered optimal by the residents of now).

Aaro is dead wrong about the roots of our cynicism about our rulers. The media's portrayal of them as venial is an effect, not a cause. Nor do we make particularly "hypocritical" demands of them. What the problem is, is that we have spent the last ten years facing a government which made a huge deal of wanting to "listen", and then not listening. Do I have to bring up the subject of those two million people in Hyde Park? No, but I think I will anyway. This is the point that Rory Bremner et al keep making and the only reason it isn't as funny as it used to be is that it's been going on for so long.

There are two problems facing Aaro's political views here. First, for a man saying "perhaps we should be forced to live more directly with the consequences of our decision-making", he is notably not keen on having politicians forced to face the consequences of their decision making. And second, nobody is ever going to trust " citizens’ juries, who can hear all the facts and then decide on the complicated question of, say, whether the discomfort of motorists is more important than the lives of children" so long as they are being proposed by the Aaronovist tendency in modern "progressive" politics, because everyone correctly suspects that "citizens' juries" of this sort will have about as much ability to get anything done as the average Sixth-Form Council.

[1] I voted in their online poll about "What is the most important issue for the new Camden Council to reform or review?" Parking was a narrow fourth out of six with 12.8% of the vote; the options were "Crime" (38%) "Council Tax" (29%), "Planning Matters" (13%), "Council Housing" (4%) and "ASBOs" (3%).
[2] Before its sad decline, the CG had a wonderful parking-related headline though; when two residents' bays were removed outside the Jewish Museum on the (perhaps somewhat excitable) advice of the Met last year after the 7/7 bombings, they flashed "TERRORISTS DEFEATED … BY DOUBLE YELLOW LINES".


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has anyone read Lloyds book?

I found it strange because you can't be unaware that the selection of material is so tendentious. Certain people are slated others ignored. He also lets politicians off the hook by failing to discuss the fact that many voters are incredibly turned off by spin and PR manipulation.

I did some research on public attitudes in the aftermath of the 2005 election. Trust in politicians was low as Lloyd had noted, though most people trusted some individual politicians. Many people hated spin and felt they were being manipulated. They were also all incredibly turned off by negative campaigning in the election, a finding which chimes with previous research. I'll never forget sitting with a focus group of Glasgow pensioners, who told me how appalled they had been by a Dispatches documentary on "Labour Dirty Tricks".

6/27/2006 11:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this subject is where Aaro's really at home. He seems a bit out of his eebt doing jetsetting neoliberalism. But downhome statism - popular confusion and hypocrisy confounding the wisdom of government - that's the thing.

Wrong, of course; but it's his metier.

6/28/2006 04:01:00 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

A test for the Decents has just presented itself:

Israel has just bombed the only power station in Gaza. Surely a line has been crossed? Surely some sort of evem mild criticism of Israeli actions will be forthcoming, even if its cloaked in various caveats?


Don't bet on it.

7/03/2006 03:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's been ten days. Surely our Nick and our Aaro have written something since then?

7/06/2006 10:20:00 PM  

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