Monday, November 05, 2007

Profiles in Decency: Martin Kettle

This post at the Yorkshire Ranter (SPOILER WARNING: if you hover over the link you can see what his conclusion is), in the process of having a go at Kettle's ludicrous apologia for Sir Ian "Don't call me Tony ... oh go on then" Blair, brings up a theme that we haven't done nearly enough Watching of in recent months - the Aaronovitchite tendency to indulge in the soft bigotry of low expectations with respect to people in positions of power.

Kettle is obviously the past master of this Decent rhetorical technique (the Martin Kettle drinking game has a heavy tariff on the phrase "there are no easy answers"), but Aaro does it too, and it's not pure courtierdom. As I intimate (not very clearly) in Alex's comments, there's a sort of psychological desire to see horrible things happen in a way that isn't our fault. A lot of it must come from the oppositional nature of Decency (I seem to remember Dan Hind making this point to me once). These people's whole careers have been shaped by being in opposition. That must certainly account for a lot of their frivolousness with respect to the consequences of their utopian projects, but there's also a darker side to it - I actually detect in Kettle's post a sort of nostalgia for the days of the Birmingham Six and the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad, when all the "bad lads" would be dealt with in dark corners, and the bien-pensant left could be comfortably outraged by it all. It's the appeal of being mates with the Kray twins, or watching "Life on Mars" on the telly.

So far Aaro has managed to avoid this particular slip - his authoritarianism comes from the paternalist tick in his intellectual politics, not from the id, and he is quite well-armoured against it because of his dislike of populism[1]. I do hope the line will hold.

[1]Although, of course, this is more apparent than real; Aaro is always prepared to stand up against the populist current in order to promote unpopular policies which are actually the official line of the government of the day and most often actually invented in focus groups.


Blogger ejh said...

One of the typical Decent claims, not always an untruthful one, is that often they're ex-Leftists who one day decided that they (and the rest of the Left) had insufficient interest in Democracy And The Rule Of Law.

Fair enough, except that holding polce forces to account, in courts of law, for the shooting of innocent people, is precisely what The Rule Of Law is all about, is it not? If it is to mean anything at all?

I suggested on another site (Chicken Yoghurt) that if this is not to happen, what you need is to declare martial law, and I hope that the comment bears repetition. You need to, and if you do not then the police must be held responsible for what they do. What you can't do is say (and this I think is Alex's point) that the police are accountable like everybody else but then write long agonised comment pieces demanding that in practice they be let off the hook.

11/05/2007 01:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would go further and say that "our values" is a meaningless phrase if it doesn't include accountability of the police (or any other groups of people who are given special powers or responsibilities).

11/05/2007 03:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, God...Where to start on Martin Kettle? I'm assuming it's the same guy who wrote Uprising about Brixton 1981? The guy who reported (approvingly) that senior New Labour wanted Merkel to win in Germany?

Like a lot of New Labour types, somewhere along the line he's abandoned all/most of what he believes in. In MK's case it was supoposedly for 'English liberalism' and 'social justice'. The reality, however, was always the same: Why Tony Blair is a Good Thing. This meant defending Blair in the last ditch. (It's worth reading his Comment is Free pieces round the time of the Blair/Brown handover for a case study in mounting political hysteria: 'We'll make Milliband stand, even if he doesn't want to!')

The other tendency he's shown is an increasing self-reagrd as 'Serious' political commentator, exhorting the rest of us to 'get real', even as he attempts to defend the scrapping of the BAE enquiry. (I'm using 'Serious' in the manner of Glenn Greenwald over at Salon [example]). All he ends up doing instead is endorsing the government line. (This isn't a party allegiance, because MK has claimed he cares more about politics; he might, but my argument is that he cared more about Blair, which isn't the same thing.) In short, he fancies himself as Hugo Young, but has neither the style, the independence of mind, nor the distance from politicians to make it work.

Go archive-hunting here.

11/05/2007 06:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How much is Martin Kettle a Decent as opposed to a Blairite? They're not exactly the same thing, and I always had Kettle down as the latter.

11/05/2007 06:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks to the Yorkshire Ranter, I've got Kettle's BAE article. Read, and weep.

11/05/2007 07:04:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

In response to h's comment, I did wonder whether he was just getting Sir Ian confused with Tony and hence the strident defence.

11/05/2007 09:21:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Oh yeah, Kettle, something else. I'm sure I remember a column in 1997 which said that he'd been a friend of Tony Blair for some years now and he hadn't told us, but now that Blair was Prime Minister he thought it was the right thing to say so. I seem to also remember thinking that this constituted somebody making a big show of being ethical when actually they'd been doing something rather unethical: writing about how great somebody was without revealing that they were a personal friend.

Kettle's a pompous twat, I can't say fairer than that.

11/05/2007 09:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My personal challenge is to post, whenever Kettle is on the Guardian's 'Comment is Free' - "Kettle, you are a pointless fuck."

It always comes out as - "Deleted by Moderator".

I will never get the hang of these computer thingies.

11/05/2007 10:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kettle isn't really a Decent; he's a Blairite spin-doctor. There is a great deal of overlap (and some of the illogicalities are the same) but some crucial differences. Kettle doesn't pretend to know anything about genocides or humanitarian interventions, for example. His main focus is keeping New Labour, for which he thinks it's necessary to keep on moving to the Right.

11/05/2007 10:17:00 PM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

I think there's some truth in the view that Kettle is a Blairite shill rather than specifically Decent. However, if he is a Blairite shill, he is one in the same way in which Aaro is, so he falls under the site rubric of "Aaronovitch Watch" rather than "World of Decency". Or something. In general (though I think I may be in a minority on this) I'd caution against such a restrictive definition of Decency as to exclude the likes of Kettle and Aaro. It ought to be defined around self-styled "sensible liberals", rather than nationalists of another country or straightforward rightwingers.

11/06/2007 08:07:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

Doesn't he have the classic Decent career path, though? Oxbridge, the extreme Left, then the Guardian Media Group or the Times and the London Labour Party, then Decency?

11/06/2007 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

Of course, I should really apologise here for stealing one of Dsquared's jokes in the last Kettle fisking.

11/06/2007 11:32:00 AM  

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