Oh, dear! That was a total dog’s breakfast

A column startlingly rank in its unpleasantness today from Jan Moir, ostensibly talking about the pre-Budget press breakfast hosted by the Chancellor and his wife:

“Never mind the Budget, what about that ghastly budget breakfast? Alistair and Margaret Darling’s stagey repast on Wednesday morning was more theatrical than an end-of-the-pier Christmas panto – and slightly less believable.”

Quite apart from this missing the point spectacularly¹, the meanness of spirit evident in the sentence is striking – Darling is a man derided as being almost inhumanly dull (to take an example, in his sketch on the budget yesterday, fellow columnist Quentin Letts described Mr Darling as ‘the voice of accountancy manuals made flesh‘), and yet when he does try and present himself in a more relaxed setting he’s set upon. Which way should we have him – personable or inaccessible? Inaccessible it seems:

“‘The regrettable message from this most bogus of brekkies is that the Treasury thinks we are all as stupid as a huckleberry muffin.

It is obvious Mr Darling starts the day with nothing more than a bracing glass of tap water and a frozen suppository.”

Now, there is an obvious debate to be had around the presentation of politics, how necessary it is to have photo ops of you and your wife prior to giving the Budget speech and the idea of the paradox of liberal democracy², but surely we can have it without resorting to personal attacks? Apparently not:

“I don’t mean to be rude, but I bet it’s the first time Mrs Darling has had a frock on at breakfast time since the day she got married.

In her previous life, as a journalist on a Scottish newspaper, her occasionally frowsy appearance meant she was sometimes mistaken for the office cleaner.”

It seems we can’t even avoid collateral damage.³ Somewhere in all of this mud was a point about the manufactured nature of political image, but what Jan determindly misses is her own role in it. She presents a series of caricatures, drumming home the idea of the robotic Darling, his slovenly wife and their snobbish life when they’re off-duty, people disconnected from the electorate they are trying to appeal to. Her objection is the gulf between this ‘truthful’ depiction and the depiction of the Darling’s at breakfast, without stopping to wonder whether the former has bred the latter.

“Look. Kissing babies and posing for unlikely pix may be a necessary, regrettable part of the political landscape, but please, Darlings, don’t insult us too much.”

It isn’t, it’s completely unnecessary. We could be discussing policies, but instead we’re reducing everything to a soap opera of character misjudgements and personal attacks. This column does nothing to improve matters, it just further constructs the public image which the Chancellor will need to oppose if he is to get his message across and be taken seriously. While objecting to the cheapening of politics through theatrics, the column itself cheapens it, defeating what little object it had. To do it so poisonously only compounds the fault. If there’s no place for Darling’s breakfast there should certainly be no place for this.

—————

¹ It’s similar to bemoaning the traditional photo op hosted on the steps of number 11 with the red box – the Chancellor would never wave it about like that if the cameras weren’t there, it’s all a sham.

² Which essentially runs that the more you tell people what you’re doing as a politician, the more likely they are to believe you’re a liar.

³ As a side point,  if you need to apologise or justify your comment before you make it, you probably shouldn’t be making it – it suggests a knowing guilt that what you’re about to say transgresses some sort of boundary.

Advertisements

Fred the Shred’s an easy target, but we should all beware of the nihilists of the Left… itching to reduce this country to anarchy

Here’s a cheery column from Stephen Glover:

“There is an emboldened nihilistic movement bubbling below the surface whose beliefs are profoundly anti-progress, as well as being injurious to the poor in the West and the Third World. In a way they are far worse than the old communist Left, which at least aspired to running an efficient state. This new lot abominates cars and aeroplanes and technology – in short, most of the achievements of the modern world.”

The attack on Sir Goodwin’s Edinburgh property was merely the first skirmish of a bigger war, one that threatens the very heart of our civilisation.

“Just remember that their prescription is not to introduce moderate reforms, but to pull the system apart so that, if they have their way, we will end up eating soya beans, riding about on donkeys and growing clumps of maize in our back gardens.”

The anarchists are coming. Be afraid.

There are a couple of things that we might want to consider before we start barricading our properties to protect ourselves against Swampy’s massed hordes. For one, how are we moving from a single attack on a media hate figure¹ to the overthrow of everything we hold dear?

“Listen to the statement made to Edinburgh’s evening newspaper by those who attacked Sir Fred’s house: ‘We are angry that rich people … are paying themselves a huge amount of money, and are living in luxury, while ordinary people are made unemployed, destitute and homeless. This is a crime. Bank bosses should be jailed.’

Simple souls, no doubt. But also revolutionary ones. And they speak for a growing constituency of anti-capitalists whose analysis of the economic recession – if that is not too grand a word – is fatally encouraged by the Government’s and the media’s jihad against Sir Fred Goodwin and his ilk.”

So, Stephen makes two claims: that this view is revolutionary, and that it speaks for a wider constituency. Well, it’s not that revolutionary, it’s actually quite reactionary in as far as it is singling out a small group of people for special treatment as scapegoats, rather than addressing the causes of the imbalances in the system. It doesn’t overturn anything, it merely adjusts unfavourable outcomes after the fact. Revolutionary would be nationalising the whole banking sector and re-organising it as a collection of mutuals run for the benefit of their members and employees, for example. Retaining the same system with the same people at the top creaming off a little less is not a revolution. With that in mind, how broad a constituency do they speak for? Well, quite a large one – the Mail, among others, thinks it is high time we looked at remuneration.

Does this constituency necessarily overlap with those wanting to overthrow the capitalist system? No, not even Stephen can conclude that it does:

“A single attack on Sir Fred Goodwin’s Edinburgh house hardly signifies the beginning of mob rule”

So why the shoehorning? If you want to talk about the anarchist mob, why not just have a run at the Wombles preparing for the forthcoming G20? How can we justify the fear that the media is turning us anarchist?

“Is this really what the Government, even the BBC, wants? No one doubts that many bankers, Sir Fred among them, have made unforgivable errors. The sensible response is to introduce reforms so that the same thing cannot easily happen again. The anti-capitalist brigade wants to tear down the whole edifice. Alone, they were pretty harmless and peripheral. With ministers and the media acting as their helpmates, and declaring that capitalism has disastrously failed, they could become dangerous.”

Stephen is equivocating here on the idea of the failure of capitalism. Capitalism has failed: it has failed to pull the underclass up, it has failed to to prevent the gap between rich and poor from reaching such unpleasant levels, it has failed to provide stability or security to the middle classes. These aren’t things it was ever aiming to provide, or which, conceptually, it was ever likely to, but from a human point of view it is a system which fails to give us important things. This is not the same as the system failing in the sense that it doesn’t work – it still works better than controlled economy and people are still better off, in some senses at least, than they would be under anarchism or similar systems.² I have yet to find a media source or minister who is proposing an alternative to capitalism (I’m happy to be corrected on this, as ever). While they’re happy to talk about systemic failures, such as the inability to solve poverty, they do not talk about the system failing.

The media and government, rather, seem to be calling for exactly what Stephen is calling for – reforms to make the system a little less abhorrent. His conclusion, on this basis, is completely unjustified:

“Lay off the bankers. Stop exciting the mob. Let’s hear some robust arguments in favour of free trade, capitalism and open markets. They have produced enormous wealth before, and will do so again, while the policies (if they can be so dignified) of the protesters who will be on show in London next week would lead only to anarchy, poverty and chaos.”

This begs the question, because it automatically excludes reforms of banking pay as part of the solution. It excludes discussions of whether free trade does provide enormous wealth, or whether they lead for anarchy, poverty and chaos for some. These discussions are not ‘exciting the mob’, they are the necessary activities of democracy.

Stephen has conjured an image of rabid anarchists attacking the institution of private property³ to conclude that all arguments against the status quo are out of bounds and all critics are as bad as each other. The argument is poor even were the threat not so overstated. If Stephen wants to reduce the threat to bankers, there is no better place to start than looking at his own paper’s coverage of them. From there he can start thinking about how he can modify the capitalist system to be less piratical. Using the damaging of property of a media hate figure as a prop for the entire edifice of expropriation because you don’t want to discuss reform or your own approach to social problems is a much worse solution.

——————-

¹ Interestingly, Stephen feels that the BBC is largely to blame for the demonisation of Sir Fred Goodwin (“I freely admit that all newspapers have played their part in turning Fred the Shred into Public Enemy Number One, but the organisation which undoubtedly went further than any other was the publicly funded BBC, which is charged with being neutral and even-handed.”). Now, the Mail provides examples like this: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9; and more throwaway lines as found here: 1, 2, 3, 4; throwing up your hands and saying ‘The big boy hit him harder’ in no way absolves you of the responsibility. This is a common enterprise across the media – the Mail has happily contributed to the construction of Sir Goodwin as a hate figure and the responsibility for people treating him as such lies squarely on their shoulders as much as anyone else.

² For very good libertarian and fraternal reasons, anarcho-syndicalism is still a ‘better’ system if you’re starting from scratch, but given our starting point in a capitalist system, there is no way you could achieve this without mass suffering. ‘Better off’ is relative to where you start, and from where we are, I’ve yet to see a better alternative to some form of capitalism.

³ Using Google Street View – “Incidentally, though there is no evidence that they played a role in this instance, Google’s new on-line street maps will be a marvellous aid for voyeurs, as well as for anyone who might want to burgle or damage your home. They show every house in 20 cities, including Edinburgh, and will be extended to many more. Where on earth is the public benefit?” – which Stephen wants to suppress, in spite, presumably, of robust arguments for free trade and capitalism.

Under this rule, even Osama Bin Laden is British

Although to the outsider sometimes disturbing, I’m starting to see some comforting familiarity in Richard’s columns. Take this, from today:

“Some years ago, in the wake of the Afghan hijack fiasco at Stansted, I invented a spoof game show called ‘Asylum!'”

which reminded me of a story I’d previously touched on, in which Richard reminisced:

“Around the time of the hijack, I even invented a spoof game show called ASYLUM!, which is still doing the rounds on the internet.”

which made me think there might be more, and indeed there are, such as this gem:

“A few years ago, after the Afghan airliner hijack at Stansted, I invented a game show called ASYLUM! in which contestants from all over the world merely had to set foot in Britain to be showered with benefits, free homes and cars.”

or this:

“A couple of weeks after the Siege of Stansted, I invented a spoof game show called Asylum! Hijack An Airliner And Win A Council House.”

Although I still don’t find the concept amusing, I can at least now greet it as a part of the furniture – it’s an anecdote Richard and I share, because like him I know the punchline. Now, far be it from me, who has never invented a spoof game show in my life, to mock another man’s pride in what is clearly, to him, a beautiful child, but it seems to me that the punchline is somewhat flawed.

The thing about asylum, which should be obvious from the name¹, is that it is a type of refuge. We offer it to people fleeing persecution, war or threat to their persons. Such people tend to have trouble fleeing – if what your government really wants to do with you involves spark plugs and water, they’re unlikely to issue you with a passport or let you across the border as a substitute. If what you really want to avoid is your government having fun at your expense, a different tack must be taken. Since the legal ways are not options, the only options are illegal. The fact that you have needed to forge your passport or hijack a plane to escape almost guarantees you access to asylum – firstly because the fact you’ve gone to the trouble suggests something was up with you in the first place and secondly because, if your government did like you originally, they’re unlikely to look on you so kindly after you’ve been publicly on the run. Part of the problem with Richard’s putative game show, and his asides at Abu Qatada later in his article, is that asylum isn’t granted in these cases in spite of the illegal means by which the country was entered, but partly because of them.

The second problem again relates to the nature of asylum as flight from persecution, warfare, or threats to the person. All three of these make the hiring of a removal company to get your property out in good order, and the access to your bank accounts to do the same with your finances, somewhat difficult. Not only do you lose your country, livelihood and lifestyle, but you also lose everything you owned and had spent a lifetime building up. Even an asylum seeker who’d lived a life of Littlejohnian prudence and accumulation would arrive unable to support themselves. Throw in any problems with the language, the fact that qualifications may not be readily transferable and a sometimes unwelcoming local community and the alternative to a council house is homelessness and beggary. That is not my definition of asylum, and it is an unattractive alternative to winning Richard’s game.

Which is also a long way of saying that Richard’s prescience:

“It was supposed to be a joke but, as always, was based on fact. I can remember writing that none of the hijackers would be deported and they’d all end up living here permanently, courtesy of the mug British taxpayer.”

is not so prescient after all.

For Richard, this long interlude is merely a way of introducing his main subject, the ‘undesirables’ who were granted refuge. Now there are two obvious problems with this – the one raised above that hijacking a plane doesn’t make you an undesirable but merely someone desperate enough to hijack a plane, but also the simpler point that refuge is not immigration. The people who we would normally want to keep out, and Abu Qatada seems as objectionable as any, arrive fleeing persecution. To send them home is to condemn them to whatever it was they were trying to avoid. If that thing is sufficiently bad that we would take them if they weren’t ‘undesirable’, it is hard to see how we can morally send them back to it. To put it simply, there are some things you would not wish on an enemy. As soon as that’s the case, we’re stuck with them, and in our benefit situation previously outlined. It’s not ideal, but it’s the right thing to do.

Which brings us to:

“To add insult to injury, a panel of European judges has awarded Qatada £2,500 in damages for the brief period he spent in Belmarsh prison after 9/11.

Another ten foreign terror suspects held at the same time also received payouts ranging from £1,500 to £3,400 each.”

and the idea of the ‘right thing to do’. Having people such as Qatada, who we would normally send home but can’t, presents something of a problem. We need to find a way of preventing him from causing harm while at the same time being unable to deport him as we would normally. In such a situation, the Law is normally a good rule of thumb to follow. Were he not a refugee, but a UK national, he would be free to go about his daily business until he had done something which was against the law, be arrested for that illegal act, given an opportunity to offer a defence for his actions, and then tried in accordance with the evidence available. He wouldn’t just be banged up on the suspicion that he’d done something wrong before he’d had a chance to consider the charges. Were that to happen, he’d be entitled to compensation. Again, the facts that Qatada is here on a charitable basis and is not someone we’d have chosen to have on any other terms makes this compensation unfortunate, but those facts don’t make his claim for compensation any less compelling².

Which leads us to Richard’s crashing finale on who Britain should defend, citing the case of Binyam Mohammed:

“Binyam Mohammed is an Ethiopian citizen who was granted leave to live in Britain. In 2001, he decided he’d rather live in Afghanistan.”

Were these facts the case in full, Richard would probably have a point. However, I have not found anyone else asserting that he left to live in Afghanistan – Binyam himself says he went to see what the Islamic state looked like, and because he wanted to kick a drug habit away from his familiar haunts. He was arrested less than a year later, trying to return to Britain from Pakistan. Although born in Ethiopia, he’d lived in the UK since he was 15, and had been resident for 7 years. He’s worked here, paid taxes here, had leave to return here and was trying to return here. There is currently no evidence that he planned to commit any crime on returning. This is not quite the same as Osama Bin Laden, Richards reductio ad absurdum. This is just another example of someone who has been accepted under Britain’s protective umbrella  – and so someone who should be accorded the same treatment as anyone else under that umbrella, such as Richard himself. Again, even if we believe that Binyam is an ‘undesirable’, we would have reason to protest him being arrested without charge, tortured, detained without the access of a lawyer and slated to be tried in a kangaroo court that had the power of the death sentence. These are not things that should happen to someone Britain had offered to protect.

Fundamentally, this all comes down to the fact that foreign people are just as worthwhile as people who have always paid taxes here. You don’t buy fair treatment under law, you don’t buy the right not to be tortured abroad or have a foreign government persecute you. There are things that cannot be done to you, and that means there are things we cannot send foreigners home to have done to them and things that we cannot do to them here just because they’re foreign. That’s not the crazed punchline to a game-show themed joke, that’s consistency.

—————-

¹ The derivation I have of it is from the Greek ‘sulon’, referring to the right of seizure, ‘a-sulon’ meaning ‘no right of seizure’. Even without this derivation, we have a long history as ‘asylum’ as a practical synonym for ‘refuge’, as in mental hospitals – refuges from mental illness.

² As a slight aside, it’s worth noting here that this has nothing to do (as Richard suggests in: “And until Britain repeals the pernicious ‘yuman rites’ act, here they’ll stay, indefinitely.”) with the Human Rights Act. Rights to asylum and treatment on reception are enshrined in international law and rights to a fair trial are traditional and would be mourned by Richard if they were ever threatened.

We show tolerance to ‘gays’ and get tyranny in return

The Mail is a contrary beast. Some days it mourns the decline of civility, the next it opens our minds to the dark tyranny that civility truly is:

“We cringe to the new Thought Police, like the subjects of some insane, sex-obsessed Stalinist state, compelled to wave our little rainbow flags as the ‘Gay Pride’ parade passes by.”

Quite. It’s like Ceauşescu all over again, only this time he likes same-sex couples, not statist command economics. I must say though, I missed that memo (I assume I was out binging and stabbing the elderly). I thought the most that was ever demanded of me was not to be rude. And, to be fair, that was never really a demand, that was an upbringing supported by the idea that I’d be happier if people got on with me.

This is not a thought that is alien to ‘Peter’¹ – he  doesn’t like rudeness either:

“You think I exaggerate the power and fury of these forces? The totalitarian rage on this subject is quite astonishing. I have had several brushes with it, and been called rude names by its militants.”

Now name calling is almost always wrong. At best, it’s an unwelcome mirror (and we should consider whether ‘unwelcome’ is wrong on a case by case basis). Presumably ‘Peter’ would prefer the basic respect owed to him as an individual – the consideration of treating him as an equal. At the very least, this would involve extending the courtesy he would expect for himself, or a reason why such courtesy should not be extended. In short, civility and civil rights.

We couldn’t say, for example, Daily Mail writers are just not as good as the writers for other newspapers merely by virtue of their set membership, therefore ‘Peter’ shouldn’t be allowed to wear cuff-links. That would be a non sequitur following on from an initial unfounded belief². While we’re talking about unfounded belief, ‘Peter’ might rightly accuse me of prejudice, given that I’m adducing no evidence for disliking Mail journos apart from a general gut feeling. Whether ‘Peter’ would want to call me on that would depend on whether he wanted to wave the mirror at me, and whether he thought I’d see myself in it if he did.

For ‘Peter’ to hop up and down, as so many have in the Mail recently, over the grandparents at the center of this story is to obfuscate and avoid the issue. We can imagine the scenario involving a straight couple and the story not existing. We would have no complaints about “this demand, that they mouth approval of the new regime like the defendants at some show trial” as their grandchildren are brought up by strangers because they are considered too old and too infirm to be entrusted with the care of a vulnerable child. The problem they have is not that grandparents are always better than strangers. It’s that gay couples are never as good as grandparents, even if those grandparents wouldn’t be as good as a straight couple according to the rules for adoption as they presently stand. Unfortunately for ‘Peter’, either he’s going to have to justify that belief, or live with me being rude and calling him a bigot. It’s not totalitarian, he doesn’t have to like it, he just has to accept that until he’s justified his position, I’m going to assume it’s mere prejudice and ignore it for practical purposes.

————-

¹ I assume that ‘Peter’ wants us to call him by a name he’s comfortable with, which is why I’m putting it in inverted commas.

² Or, at best, no non sequitur and two unfounded beliefs, but I think the belief that lesser writers can’t do justice to cuff-links, even if they have help dressing from better writers, is one that is generally accepted. At least, by anyone not aware of the evidence to the contrary. Which is all lies anyway. But I digress.

Poverty? It’s just a lie the Left uses to destroy the middle class

What I find interesting about today’s column by Peter Hitchens is how close he is to those he opposes without realising it. Take his line on selective schools:

“New Labour’s real untouchable Clause Four has, for the past five decades, been its furious, foaming-at-the-mouth hatred for selective state schools. Why? Because such schools offered real social mobility, earned by merit.”

Now, he’s right that selective schooling is meritocratic, up to a point. Its limitation as a system is that not everyone starts from the same point – as he says slightly earlier in relation to child poverty  “the children in our most deprived households have no responsibility at all for the conditions they live in”, and the same is true of any child. Selective schooling appears to offer every child a chance to climb the greasy class ladder, but below a certain level your chances of having the support, facilities or environment that would allow you to pass the 11+ are fairly small. In a two-tier system, attendance at a selective school offers sufficient advantage to confirm middle-class status while non-attendance reduces your chances of achieving it further. Rather than being a avenue of improvement from one class to another, selective schooling acts to entrench social position. In a selective system, the children who have no responsibility for the conditions they live in become the parents who have no responsibility – they follow the only path open to them, model their behaviour on that which surrounds them (Peter’s “grim mental diet of TV slurry and an almost total absence of good examples in their lives”) and raise children just as innocent of it all as they were.

The reason for the focus on child poverty isn’t because children make us gooey eyed, but more the practical consideration that if you can get them while they’re young, you have an opportunity to break with the past – in the same way as the vision of a meritocratic selection process moving children up from one class to the next. The Labour scheme is, in that sense, identical to the Hitchens scheme. It’s also similar in that, thus far, it’s failed. Peter is right to question it in exactly the same way that we have a right to question the failure of selective schooling to end poverty previously.

To do so on the grounds that:

“[Labour ministers] just aim to ‘close the gap’ between them and the remaining working households, the hated ‘middle class’.”

seems a little short-sighted though. Essentially the complaint here is that the taxation system that has been imposed has been imperfectly redistributive, with the money coming from the wrong people. However true that is, the lack of imagination behind the redistribution is more damning. ‘Closing the gap’ was never going to be enough, because it accepts the distribution of individuals amongst socio-economic classes as it currently stands. It says it’s OK to have an underclass so long as they’re slightly richer than they are at the moment. It is in principal as selective schooling is in practice. It is ridiculous to replace the one with the other.

Peter’s response to this, that the fact that both schemes are failures means we should regress to the one that at least worked on paper, is as illegitimate as his reasoning:

“The middle classes are not good because they are better Off. They are better off because they are good. This is the fundamental truth that socialism has always hated.”

Socialism, as I understand it, says that given the same opportunities, anyone has the same chance of being good, because essentially all people are the same. Peter appears to be accepting this earlier in his piece – children have no responsibility for the conditions they live in, they’re just children. The middle classes are good, by and large, because they came from middle class backgrounds that allowed them to grow up good. Rewarding the middle classes for being good by permitting a two-tier educational system that ensures their children will also be good does not allocate resources on the basis of desert, as he implies, but does so on the basis of the hereditary principal. If Peter wants to oppose comprehensive schooling, he’ll need to do better than that.

Both Peter and Labour want a society in which every individual has the chance to grow up ‘good’. Neither of their plans has worked, and neither will work. That we’re still discussing this 12 years into Labour’s term is staggering. That the solution Peter’s offering is no better than selective schooling is more so.

No longer will we need to watch Life On Mars to relive the drab poverty and political bankruptcy of the Seventies

I’ve been avoiding stories on the economy and the budget, for two main reasons. One is that money isn’t really my area of expertise (in so far as I have an area of expertise), but more important is a sense that no one really knows what the correct answer is, so any speculation is fair. Whether the economy sinks or swims as a result of Darling’s budget remains to be seen – it’s not really something we can speculate on with any great deal of accuracy from where we stand at the moment.

Having said that, we should note a couple of things. The first is that Darling probably wouldn’t have done it if he didn’t think it was going to work. The idea that this was a budget designed to paper over the cracks for long enough to get the government re-elected implies that the government’s sole aim is staying power for the sake of being in power. I don’t believe that anyone operates at that level of abstraction. This isn’t Macbeth. And it’s not like you can do anything particularly interesting with the power, it’s only good if you’re using it for something. In fact, you’d probably be freer and better paid by retiring to a board of executives, or becoming an emissary to the Middle East. Given that the popular opinion of the budget is that it stores trouble up for later, Darling either genuinely believes that to be wrong or thinks it’s the lesser of two evils and something we can clear up later.

The second is that Stephen Glover’s comparison with the 70s is not right. It’s arguably not as off with his previous comparison of the present with the Stasi, but he’s certainly beginning to mark himself out as someone whose analogies are faulty. Let’s start with the scene-setting:

“Viewers of the series are invited to believe that we live in a more enlightened and privileged age. The Seventies, as depicted in Life On Mars, were a drab and dingy decade. The police are supposed to have been unreconstructed brutes.

Whether or not the series is right about that – and I suspect that in some ways the police were more effective then than they are now – it is broadly correct about the Seventies.”

There should be no doubt – we do live in a more enlightened and privileged age. We no longer have the Black and White Minstrel Show, it’s easier to convict men of violence towards their wives, homosexuals can marry and the European Human Rights act ensures that the reactionaries can’t take any of that away from us. And, although Glover suspects that the police used to be more effective, suspicion is no longer good enough to convict them of it¹.

“Economically, the country virtually ground to a halt. Britain was widely seen as the sick man of Europe.”

The extent of this sickness isn’t mentioned, but is the point of the comparison. The 70s was the decade of the Three-Day Week, the Winter of Discontent, bodies unburied, rubbish on the streets and Sunny Jim wondering about crises. Grim though the future might well be, we’re not talking that grim. No one is. Even Glover can’t bring himself to say it’ll be that bad. But this is the association he’s drawing on. There is a chasm between then and now though, making the analogy unworkable.

You can tell it’s failing with the very first piece of evidence produced:

“The trades unions, rapacious then, have much less power now, though they still flex their muscles.”

Presumably he means the public sector unions and the RMT occasionally working to rule or carrying out one-day strikes, which isn’t quite the havoc of the 70s.  Union representation is much lower than it was, secondary picketing is now illegal and, having had the 70s and the Miners’ Strike, unions are a lot less militant. ‘Flexing their muscles’ now consists of withholding money to the Labour Party. For the record, a strike isn’t, in fact, merely a flexing of the muscles, it’s the democratic expression of the will of a union’s members in response to perceived unfair treatment by an employer. Such as when they renege on a deal to abide by an independent pay review body. The language Stephen uses paints a false picture, and an unnecessarily gloomy one.

“As in much of the Seventies, we do not expect the economy to grow or the stock market to rise. Unemployment is certain to increase, as it did throughout that decade.”

This quote has the opposite problem – rather than trying to stretch the point it manages to say nothing at all. If the best your analogy can manage is that in both the 70s and now we had unemployment and inflation, all you’ve managed to prove is that both had recessions. The comparison suggests a similarity of scale and accompanying social unrest, which is a bit of a leap.

“Such people [entrepreneurs] are bound to be discouraged by the new high-tax regime towards which we are drifting under Labour, which after 14 years of being ‘new’ is reverting to its old, high-spending self.”

The gap between the richest and the poorest in our society is wider than its ever been and considerably larger than in the 70s. The argument suggests that people will be put off earning money, for fear of having it taxed. Which is dubious, and implies the equally dubious ‘trickle down’ theory which practice has proven to be false². A better way of ensuring that the engines of the economy kept spinning would be to keep business taxes low, while still cadging a little bit more off those who can afford it. Which is exactly what the Chancellor did. And if Stephen believes that those earning in excess of £100,000 are the ‘not-so-rich’, then I don’t want to know how poor most of us are.

“By 2014, Government debt is projected to be 57 per cent of GDP, higher even than it was in 1976 when a stricken Labour Government had to be bailed out by the International Monetary Fund.”

This comparison is slightly misleading, as much of the debt currently held is not debt in the conventional sense but distressed assets which may well turn a profit for the taxpayer. On top of that, the government didn’t look for a loan from the IMF to solve it’s debt problem (that would be silly – a loan, to pay a loan) but due to the precipitous fall in the value of sterling caused by the balance of payments crisis and the high price of oil. Suggesting a link between the two as if the current debt foreshadows another loan from the IMF verges on scaremongering.

“Another depressing parallel with the early Seventies is the absence of strong Tory policies that differentiate the party from Labour.”

Just to finish off, if our impending doom weren’t enough, no one is around to save us. Except politics is very different now than it was in the 70s. The lack of distinguishability between the two parties is a result of the homogenisation around the centre of British politics – Labour have become more like the Tories. The Labour of today, even with their slight retreat from their ‘New’ heights under Blair, are unrecognisable from the party of the 70s. Again the analogy of the 70s suggests a more worrying similarity than actually exists – as evinced by doing a search on the Conservatives’ website for “smaller state”.

An arguments by analogy stands or falls on whether the two things being compared are similar. The present and the 70s are superficially so, in that they both had recessions, but the political and social situations were completely different. Glover goes through his article overlooking that, suggesting by implication that the recessions will have the same paths and same outcomes. The dissimilarities mean he is not entitled to draw that conclusion. I wouldn’t be worrying about burying your relatives yet.

——————

¹ He’s also, very clearly and simply, wrong: upholding the law implies being within it, the fact that the guilty sometimes walk free for lack of evidence instead of being fitted up is a mark of a job done properly.

² The graph covers a period of predominantly low taxes for higher earners, which were ideologically justified on the basis that the best way to make everyone rich was to allow the rich to get very rich. The wealth would trickle down. It hasn’t, as the graph happily shows.

Exposed: The sinister secrets of Labour’s party list

Were it not for the fact that it’s been a very quiet week, I wouldn’t have bothered with this column by Littlejohn, not least because this blog is in danger of starting to revolve entirely around him. This would be a mistake – his writing is designed to upset people such as myself as much as they are to inspire his disgusted readership – posting on him, up to a point, only gives him attention that his views don’t really merit. Having said that, the opinions of others deserve a fair hearing. So here we go again:

“Back in 1997, Tony Blair claimed that the party was nothing less than the political wing of British people as a whole.”

Which is more or less accurate, but taken out of context. To take a similar example, a part claiming to be ‘the vanguard of the proletariat’ does not claim to be ‘made up of the proletariat’ but ‘vanguard leading the proletariat’. It was a hyperbolic exaggeration even at the time, but Blair’s Labour came a lot closer to having the support of the nation as a whole than anyone had recently.

“But the list of members posted on a website shows it to be a declining rump of lecturers, school teachers, social workers, trade union officials and former councillors.”

Not quite: union officials, lecturers and teachers in particular have left the party in droves, objecting to marshal policies in Iraq (and, before that, in the Balkans), micromanagement in education and PPIs. The rump of the party is what it always was – blue collar workers and those in the public sector. Like nurses, and policemen. Incidentally, what’s wrong with teachers now – how is their support to the detriment of a party?

“Many of them have never had a proper job in their lives and harbour dubious histories, in some cases descending into outright criminality.”

Littlejohn is a professional journalist and broadcaster. History is the past. Having committed a crime does not disbar you from holding political opinions.

“They include a significant number of extremists, including plenty who previously belonged to an assortment of Trotskyite and Communist organisations – facts they have tried to conceal from the public.”

Given the number of ideas that are possible, the probability that the first ones you hold are correct is very, very small. Even smaller if you’re a Trot. The fact that Labour members have moved on (and if you think that they haven’t, you’ve mistread Trotsky) to the point where they don’t really want to be reminded of their student beliefs is actually quite encouraging. We certainly can’t use it as a smear: the fact that someone used to think something but now doesn’t talk about it or act on it is not the same as them still thinking it. By the by, who are these brave socialist extremists? Where is the Revolution?

“Some people may be shocked at the news that one of Labour’s most senior figures had been involved in a massive pensions swindle and is also wanted in connection with the disappearance of billions of pounds’ worth of Britain’s gold bullion and foreign exchange reserves.”

A slight misrepresentation: although you could call Brown’s abolition of dividend tax a  ‘swindle’ because he knowingly relocated £5 billion a year from pensions to the Exchequer¹, it wasn’t actual stealing, merely a decision to tax income that wasn’t previously taxed. It reduced earnings for pensions relative to a future in which the decision hadn’t been made, but that’s not the same as theft. And our bullion and foreign exchange didn’t disappear, they were sold off. Arguably foolish, but not malign. People may be shocked when you put it like that, but that’s because you’ve deliberately misrepresented it.

“Approached by reporters, he refused to answer questions and blamed everything on the Americans.”

Not everything – the comments I’ve come across relate to the sub-prime crisis starting in America, which it did. Again, this may well have been more luck than judgement, but the problems of defaulting mortgages have, so far, been much smaller over here so far. It would also be somewhat unfair to blame Brown entirely for a problem with its roots in policies Labour inherited which encouraged people to own their own home. Property fetishism didn’t start under Labour, however much they failed to restrict it.

“Another leading light is a serial offender who obtained a mortgage by deception, was guilty of an outrageous stamp duty scam and was sacked for selling passports.”

Another misrepresentation: the mortgage provider in question investigated and said “Having completed this review, I am satisfied that the information given to us at the time of the mortgage application was accurate., the resignation related to a potential conflict of interests relating to the source of his second loan². He was also cleared of dodgy dealings relating to passports, having resigned to clear his name.

“He is also suspected of using his previous position at the European Commission to do favours for a businessman who has been linked with the Russian underworld in exchange for lavish hospitality.”

‘Suspected’ is the key word here – as trade commissioner, it was his job to meet foreign metals dealers. The idea that the lavish hospitality on offer that his office provided him with was sufficiently poor that it could be trumped by the mere yacht of a Russian arriviste underestimates the opulence of the EU.

“One of Labour’s most prominent members is a school teacher from Redditch, who has an insatiable appetite for punishment and correction and is known simply by her chat room name: ‘Jackboots Jacqui’.”³

Again with the teachers, it’s mystifying. And is Littlejohn against punishment and correction now? That’s unfair – the death penalty has nothing to do with correction, and the sort of punishment he’s thinking about are fines for failing to obey restrictions on bins and speeding. The S&M jibe doesn’t really cover that – some sort of play on the nanny state would probably have been more apposite – but I suppose it’s his article. Again though, ‘punishment and correction’ is a bit of a misreading of the intention to modify behaviour with stick rather than carrot. It’s not the stick that is the purpose of the exercise, it’s merely the method.

“On the afternoon we contacted her at the address listed, she told our reporter that he had been a very naughty boy, demanded to see his identity card and said everything he did was being recorded on CCTV and may be used against him on YouTube.”

Note, however – when the observation is happening to a private individual at the hands of the press, that’s a fine and glorious thing.

“Another couple, from Yorkshire, collect in the region of £600,000 a year from the British taxpayer. We went to the property they list as their primary residence for expenses purposes, only to be told that they spend most of their time at an address in London, where their children go to school.”

For those that missed it, here is the Parliamentary Standards Committee’s on that particular couple. As previously mentioned, the tax man benefited from Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper’s misjudgement.

“One Labour MP, from Sheffield, threatened to set his dog on journalists attempting to question him about his relationship with a wealthy American magazine publisher and his involvement in fast-tracking a visa for her nanny. He then burst into tears.”

And now we’re getting laughs from a blind man and his guide dog? Although, for once, the point about the minister is correct – Blunkett was criticised by Alan Budd’s report into the nanny’s visa decision, saying “I believe I have been able to establish a chain of events linking Blunkett to the change in the decision on Mrs Casalme’s application.”

“Another veteran Labour member lists his occupation as ‘ship’s steward’, but further inquiries revealed he lives in a turreted, baronial-style mansion with two Jaguars in the drive. How he managed to rise to high office without any apparent intelligence, manners, charm or O-levels, remains a mystery.”

Prescott is an interesting target, as he is actually part of what Richard refers to as ‘the real economy’, and Richard isn’t a fan of intellectuals. The only objection I can see is that he’s a bit nouveau – but aren’t we all? It’s also a fairly weak objection, when set against someone clearly intelligent enough to be repeatedly elected (regardless of O-levels, which don’t measure intelligence but attainment, which is something distinct), and actually quite charismatic if not exactly charming. And can we really claim a man isn’t socialist when the grace and favour house in question is owned by the state?

“The website also records one Anthony Lynton Blair as a member of the party. When challenged about it, at his elegant home in Connaught Square – ‘Chez Negative Equity’ – he laughed at the suggestion.”

He’s lost me – I must have missed that one.

“The leaked details also reveal the staggering fall in membership of the Conservative Party since 2005. The names of everyone considered potentially racist, homophobic, Eurosceptic, doubtful about global warming, or even vaguely Thatcherite, have been crossed out.”

A nice touch this, reminding us that all politicians are dodgy, not just those in power. Although surely making the party less unpleasant to minorities is a good thing?  Eurosceptics still have a place on the Conservative Party website, science supports global warming (presumably making science Tory), and the Tory leader recently said this: “Nearly 20 years after she left office, Margaret’s achievements appear, if possible, even greater than they did at the time.Nearly 20 years after she left office, Margaret’s achievements appear, if possible, even greater than they did at the time.”

“The few remaining members of the party all went to Eton and are alumni of the notorious Bullingdon Club, which specialised in getting horsewhimperingly drunk and smashing up restaurants.

Shortly after the leak became public, all pictures of the Bullingdon Club were bought up by a wealthy benefactor and taken down from the internet to protect their guilty secret.”

And, once more, we’re back to embarrassing student days.

“The website also illustrates the parlous state of the Liberal Democrats. One former leader lists his address as the Last Chance Saloon Bar, Priory Clinic.”

Just to round off, we’re laughing at alcoholism.

Now, I said at the beginning that the ideas of others deserved a fair hearing – if nothing else because otherwise we don’t know that they’re wrong. Sometimes I wonder though. This is nothing more than a collection of smears, half-truths and inaccurate jibes. He’s clearly aware of actual areas of debatable policy – like Jacqui Smith’s sticks or Gordon Brown’s tax adjustments, but rather than engage with them he goes for the easy option of attacking their characters. Badly. Literally the only mud that sticks in the entire thing regards an ex-Minster’s poor judgement as he tried to repair his collapsing love life. As ever, the whole thing is ill-judged and nasty. I just hope I’ll have something more interesting to play with next week.

—————

¹ Torygraph coverage here, Indie here, Moneyweek here and Auntie Beeb here.

² For those who’ve forgotten, Mandelson received a loan from Geoffrey Robinson, a businessman under investigation by Mandelson’s department.

³ As far as I can make out, this is a sobriquet he’s given her himself.