Thursday, March 29, 2007

Hari on Cameron

Johann Hari's piece in the Independent today is a good hint of what the line of attack on David Cameron is likely to be over the run up to the next election. It's essentially a variation on the same theme run by Hitchens earlier - with a slightly more pointed focus. For Hari, it is clear, Cameron is disqualified from the leadership by one simple factor: privilege.
Cameron has claimed he had "a normal childhood" and "a normal university experience", but the facts are rather different. He was born to a millionaire stockbroker and a debutante, with a bloodline that connects him to Elizabeth Windsor. As a child he had a swimming pool, a tennis court and nannies.
So no deviation from the the norm can be allowed. The presence of a swimming pool in Cameron's parents' garden disbars him from attaining public office.
At a time when the biggest issue facing Britain domestically is worsening inequality, do we want to put somebody from the richest 0.01 per cent - with no understanding of ordinary life - in charge?
I'd dispute the fact that the biggest domestic issue is inequality - most conservatives would - but even so, it is absurd to suggest that the social background of a politician should be a factor. Incidentally, I have always hated the phrase 'ordinary life' - like 'the real world' I think it's reflective of lazy thinking and a belief that only what is experienced by the writer counts as 'real'.
The rest of the article is the usual rubbish:
In 2005, he called wind farms "giant bird-blenders"; in 2006, he built one on to the side of his house.
No he didn't, he put a small domestic windmill on his house. It's like saying that a diesel generator is the same thing as an oil-fired power station "In 2005 David Cameron said that oil fired power stations were polluting and expensive - but now he's bought one for his house!"
He called Thatcher "Mother", then announced, "There is such a thing as society."
Which is, of course, pretty much what Thatcher was saying. If Hari hasn't read, or understood, what Thatcher actually said then he's a fool. If he has and is using it to misrepresent her views then he's being extremely disingenuous.
Or look at other pro-poor policies the Cameroons cannot understand and would wipe out. The European Social Chapter gives part-time workers - who are often on the minimum wage - the right to parental leave, regular holidays and other basic protections.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of this (and it's a justifiable argument to say that, if the Social Chapter acts in this way to cut jobs, by making them uneconomic for the employers, then it is the most equitable thing to so to leave it) to suggest that his opposition to the Social Chapter is entirely because of his rich and privileged background is ridiculous. John Major was fiercely opposed to the Social Chapter - was that because of his fantastically privileged background? David Davis is opposed to it - is that because of his huge family wealth? It's just nonsense.
The people who created the idea of flat taxes - academics Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka - explain, "It is an obvious mathematical law that [flatter] taxes on the successful will have to be made up for by higher taxes on average people."
Well, or by reduction in the size of the state - a concept that Hari cannot even contemplate.
If we do not want to be ruled by a Brideshead Regurgitated clique, we need to get to work now to ensure Cameron's rising star ends up as merely a shooting star. Then he can return to his true vocation - as a shooting-hunting-and-fishing star.
And there, I think, we have the basis of the coming line of argument: that Cameron is a posh person and thus unfit to rule. I think it will be a thumping great mistake by the Labour Party if they follow this line (I know Hari is not attached to the Labour Party by the way, it's just that he is articulating what a significant proportion of that party think is the best attack against Cameron). What evidence there is shows that Cameron is more popular than his party - exposure of Cameron in the press increases Conservative support. Far from neutralising this factor, a campaign of explicit class hatred risks increasing support for Cameron, while simultaneously reminding the electorate of what it was that they disliked about Labour in the 1980s.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You say, "For Hari, it is clear, Cameron is disqualified from the leadership by one simple factor: privilege."

But Hari says precisely the opposite, in a passage you choose to skip over:

"Of course, it is as foolish to dismiss a person because he comes from a landed estate as it is to dismiss somebody from a council estate. Franklin Roosevelt was a child of riches but went on to be the greatest left-wing President in US history."

Which totally contradicts the views you ascribe, falsely, to Hari.

6:58 pm  
Blogger punkscience said...

You're retort is flawed and not just in the manenr described by anonymous. Johann's points are substantial and clearly stated. Yours aren't. Its as simple as that.

"I'd dispute the fact that the biggest domestic issue is inequality - most conservatives would"

So what is the biggest domestic issue? I don't agree with Johann here- its blatantly climate change and loss of biodiversity and ecosystem functions. But you don't even try and respond.

"or by reduction in the size of the state"

This is a cheap shot. Reduction in the size of the state requires efficiency improvements in the services they offer; or are you suggesting even reductions in state services beyond the current paltry level? The former requires investment to produce returns, the latter is a typical conservative policy and hurts everyone who can't afford an alternative (i.e. 90% of the population).

Your power station jibe is such a poorly constructed ripost it doesn't even merit mention.

As for Thatcher, I have never been drawn to increase my understanding of her era in power. By all accounts it is a sordid tale of misgovernment and deprivation. One that I feel, as Johann describes, Cameron is only too keen to measure up to.

Yes, Cameron is a posh person. Yes he has no connection with the world experienced by the majority (>99%) of the population. Does this bar him from government? Of course not.It does make him an unlikely choice for the electorate, however. You will see this all to clearly once the backlash against Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara dies down in his absence.

12:59 am  
Blogger Tim J said...

Anonymous - Hari does say that. But since he goes on to say

"At a time when the biggest issue facing Britain domestically is worsening inequality, do we want to put somebody from the richest 0.01 per cent - with no understanding of ordinary life - in charge?"

he pretty clearly feels that Cameron's background does disqualify him. As he also says

"If we do not want to be ruled by a Brideshead Regurgitated clique, we need to get to work now to ensure Cameron's rising star ends up as merely a shooting star. Then he can return to his true vocation - as a shooting-hunting-and-fishing star."

I would say that his earlier row back is pretty definitely overturned.

9:45 am  
Blogger Tim J said...

PunkScience: Biggest domestic issue? Education perhaps? Law and order? How to deal with drugs? Whether to restructure the NHS? The combination of a housing shortage and arcane planning laws? Just not inequality.

If you reduce tax revenues you have two choices don't you? You increase borrowing or you reduce spending. Public spending has massively increased in the last ten years - if you believe that there is absolutely no room anywhere for a reduction then I think we're going to have to agree to disagree.

On the power station point - Johann Hari quoted Cameron's dislike of wind farms - enormous power generators 80-100 metres in height. He then said that Cameron was a hypocrite because he had a 'wind farm' on his house. He doesn't. He has a small windmill. The equivalent between an oil-fired power station (large scale, designed for contribution to the National Grid) and a diesel generator (domestic, small-scale) is perfectly apt.

"As for Thatcher, I have never been drawn to increase my understanding of her era in power. By all accounts it is a sordid tale of misgovernment and deprivation."

The point I was making was that in saying there was such a thing of society - but that it wasn't the same thing as the state, Cameron was virtually echoing, and certainly not repudiating, what Thatcher said. If you are unaware of what she said, or in what context, then either look it up, or ignore it.

Cameron has no experience of the world as lived by everyone else? If this refers to the UK, I'd say that he has more extensive experience of the NHS than most, is sending his children to state schools, pays taxes, has a wife who goes to work...

This no experience of the real world jibe is a translation of 'he's posh and I don't like posh people'. If the electorate really didn't like posh people explain why Blair beat Major, Hague and Howard.

9:55 am  
Blogger punkscience said...

A response devoid of clarity and brimming with spin. The "biggest issue" implies one particular topic, not a plethora.

Borrowing is not to be contemplated, it is not acceptable to pass today's problems onto the next administration or generation. For Gods' sake have the cojones to at least try and deal with problems instead of dodging them!

Johann's ridicule of Cameron's "giant bird-blender" comment is wholly appropriate in the context of his article. He is discussing Cameron's PR campaign to cast himself as a tree-hugger and, therefore, has every right to contrast his conflicting statements and actions as hypocritical and deceitful.

I don't care what Thatcher did. It was during my childhood and I make a point of concentrating on the future and not the past. Offhand I can say that every informed opinion I encounter on her government has negative connotations for the wellbeing of the UK (with the exception of the Falklands War). I feel no hypocrisy in regurgitating such analysis without looking deeper into the matter.

I made a mistake casting Cameron as a "posh person". This makes me sound like some sort of SWP commie-cuddler. Of course he's "posh" by my standards but that is no cause for complaint. I have "posh" friends as I went to a grammar school but I do not consider "posh" to be a bad thing (far from it- 'old' money breeds far less sociopathic attitudes than 'new' money). No, Cameron might be "posh" but he is also evil. He aspires to power for his own ends, not for the benefit of anyone else. This is the root of my loathing for the little turd. His shallow and translucent attempts to curry favour whilst plotting to subsidise his rule through raised taxes on those least able to afford them.

1:54 pm  
Blogger Tim J said...

Whatever the biggest issue is in domestic policy, I do not believe that it is inequality. That was what I said in my original post, and I gave a variety of issues that I believe to be more important in my follow-up comment. I'm not sure I know which them is the most important - merely that all of them are more important than inequality.

Borrowing is a feature of Government finance, and always has been. It wasn't, however, something I was advocating. I was advocating a reduction in Government expenditure.

Hari said that Cameron's opposition to wind farms was made ridiculous by his possession of a domestic wind turbine. I think that's ridiculous for the reasons I have given. If Hari can find Cameron, today, calling for large scale investment in wind farms then Cameron's criticisms of a few years ago will look inconsistent. At present, it doesn't.

If you dislike Cameron because you disagree with his policies that's absolutely fair enough. The charge of being 'unprincipled' is a slightly unfocused one - it's more of a feeling than anything that you can actually pin down. It was, however, largely the point of Hari's article, and Hitchens's programme, that Cameron is a Bad Thing largely because of his poshness. I don't think that's a valid argument.

2:09 pm  
Blogger punkscience said...

Sorry, I don't accept that Cameron's derogatory comments about wind turbines is not relevant when he then goes and fits one to his house in an attempt to appear 'green', regardless of the scale of the device. Instead of fitting one himself why didn't he propose increased subsidies for people who want to buy them? There's words and then there's actions and Cameron is crap at both.

The "biggest issue" in politics is too subjective to bother discussing further.

I dislike Cameron both for his policies and his lack of principles. I can pin it down as precisely as Johann has in his article. His duplicity in the pursuit of votes knows no bounds. Big surprise- he's a politician!

3:51 pm  
Blogger Tim J said...

David Cameron has not fitted a wind farm to his house! It is a perfectly coherent position to be in favour of small-scale domestic wind turbines, but not 100 metre high wind farms.

In Hari's piece he tried to specify which areas of Cameron's policies/personality demonstrated his lack of principles. Unfortunately, when you examine them closely - whether it's his 'repudiation' of Thatcher, his 'inconsistency' over wind farms or his 'poshness' - none of them amount to anything. As I said, a politician's 'unprincipledness' (for want of a better word)is largely a matter of perception - when you try and nail down what it is that is unprincipled you usually find it slipping away.

3:58 pm  
Blogger Stephen said...

Tim, you say:

If you reduce tax revenues you have two choices don't you? You increase borrowing or you reduce spending. Public spending has massively increased in the last ten years - if you believe that there is absolutely no room anywhere for a reduction then I think we're going to have to agree to disagree.

There seems to be an implied link between tax rates and tax revenues.

Reducing the tax rate can (it is by no means guaranteed) actually increase your tax revenues. It is quite possible for the extra output of a country - output unleashed by the jobs that businesses can afford to create thanks to lower taxes - to more than make up for the reduction in rates.

When this happens, the state's income increases, because it is making more from high volumes and low margins than it was previously doing from comparatively lower volumes and higher margins.

This is how the big supermarkets can undercut the corner shops and still turn a profit.

5:26 pm  

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