Monday, April 16, 2007

Manufactured Outrage?

Johann Hari, whose writings seem to irritate me more and more, has a piece in today's Independent that might be a precursor to a new generation of left-wing excuses for failure. I say a new generation, but actually this looks very similar to that peddled by Kinnock, Foot and Hattersley in 1983, 1987 and 1992: the 'right wing press' systematically distort and subvert the ideological message of the left to dupe the public into voting Tory. Apart from displaying a level of belief in the electorate commensurate with an ideology that holds it as an article of faith that the state is better qualified to determine the spending and behaviour of the individual than is that individual, this article seems to me to get so much wrong in so short a space of time that some degree of fisking is in order.
For a start the title: Don't let this Labour government drown in a sea of lies and distortions. You might think this to be a reference to this government's remarkable talent for mendacity and to the arts of suppresio veri and suggestio falsi. It is, however, with regard to the media. It's hard though to repress the reaction that, if this government wishes to avoid drowning in lies and distortions it should first look to its own sluices.
Getting as far as the sub-headline in the piece, and there's still not much right: I have not seen any evidence that the decision to let the hostages speak caused any harm to anyone. What evidence are you looking for? There's little doubt that the British Armed Forces have suffered considerable damage to prestige; the rather supine nature of the surrender (for all that it was the correct decision in the circumstances) can very easily be seen to encourage similar operations: does Hari have to wait to see a repeat performance before he sees the damage done?
Des Browne's sweaty appearance at the despatch box will be a swift sequel to the Pensions Scandal, the Gold Sales Scandal and the Budget Scandal, all hyped into life by the right-wing press over the past few months.
So none of these, all of which involve economic issues of varying complexity (to be honest, even I noticed at the time that the decision to sell gold during an asset price slump, and to pre-announce the sale thereby guaranteeing further price falls smacked of economic idiocy - that Gordon Brown not only should have known this, but was explicitly told it is not a non-story) is a genuine story? Surely they all go to the heart of biggest political story there is - whether Brown is a bona fide economic genius, or a clunking ham-fist.
Scandal One: Bravo Two Hero-to-Zero. What, exactly, is the problem here? See above: a catastrophic loss of prestige and face in a conflict in a region where prestige and face are extremely important. It was a very poor decision to allow the sailors to sell their stories - apart from anything else it transferred ownership of what those stories contained from the MoD to the Sun or the Mirror.
Allowing them to sell their stories helped Britain too. The truth about their longest-fortnight has gone all over the world, and rebutted the Ahmadinjadhian propaganda that the hostages were held in golden chambers and fed caviar. Far from "respecting" women, as the institutionally misogynist Iranian regime claims, the world has been reminded that they single out women for abuse and sexual intimidation.
Well, it might have done if the stories had been designed for that purpose. Instead we got Mr Bean in tears because they took away his iPod. This isn't to say that the hostages were weak, or wrong to 'crack' if indeed they did. It is to say that allowing your emotions to ooze onto the pages of the Sun means that the story will be designed to make you look like a victim - not an image the Royal Navy should be cultivating.
Scandal Number Two: The Great Pensions Robbery that never was. In 1997, Gordon Brown did something brave and authentically left-wing. He ended a fat government subsidy for people wealthy enough to pay for private pensions, and ploughed the money into the NHS to bring waiting lists for everyone - rich and poor - crashing down. The effect on the pensions system was minimal: the removal of a £5bn subsidy cannot bankrupt a £1,000bn industry.
We've seen this sort of version of events before - from Polly Toynbee. Take £5bn (or £7bn or £8bn) a year for ten years and pretty soon you're talking real money. Take into account the opportunity cost of that money (ie: it wouldn't have been stuffed under a mattress but making returns) and you're looking at something in the region of £100bn. A 10% fall in the value of an industry is significant and substantial.
Look for example at the recent decision to require all students applying to university to state on their UCAS form whether their parents went to university. This was reported as an act of incomprehensible madness and spite. The government's reasonable - and left-wing - argument was never heard. Imagine two students. One went to Eton, enjoyed one-on-one tuition, never had to have an evening-and-weekend job, and was the sixth generation of his family to go to university. The other went to a comp in Hackney, had A-level classes of 25, worked every night at Pizza Hut, and has no relatives who went to university. If the second student got three Bs, isn't it likely she is smarter than the Etonian with three As?
Likely? Who the hell knows? But in any event that's not the argument Hari's trying to make. Imagine two students: One went to Eton, enjoyed one-on-one tuition, never had to have an evening-and-weekend job, and was the sixth generation of his family to go to university. The other went to Eton, enjoyed one-on-one tuition, never had to have an evening-and-weekend job, and was the son of a self-made millionaire and the first of his family to go to university. Isn't it likely that if the second got three Bs, that he is smarter than the first with three As? Well, no it isn't. By all means take into account the educational background of the applicants - Hari is right to suggest that it is easier for the privileged to get good grades at A level - but taking into account the educational background of the parents of the applicants introduces a bizarrely arbitrary element to application.
It is, in fact, indicative of the distorted logic of the left that I highlighted earlier. The problem: not enough 'poor people' are going to university. The solution: make it harder for rich people to go to university. I'd be inclined to think that it would be a better solution to improve the quality of primary and secondary education in the state sector - rather than fiddling with entrance to university.
All I am saying is that we should praise the good as well as damn the bad, because if we carry on as we have over the past few months, leaving the government undefended before a torrent of right-wing lies, we will end up back under Tory rule soon. Then future will not be Brown; it will be black.
Together comrades! Forward with Brown future! Death to definite article!
UPDATE: As mentioned in the comments, this post is referenced on Hari's website - which I agree is extremely decent of him.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you, but I found the article from a link at Hari's site... and you have to give him credit for that.

9:51 pm  
Blogger Roger Thornhill said...

More unreason from the sociofascists.

It can never be the fault of their dysfunctional dogma.

...and why since when is it a 'subsidy' when the Chancellor does not take money from you?

A nice Fisk, btw.

7:38 pm  

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