Monday, August 06, 2007

More Hari Misrepresentation

After the kerfuffle over Johann Hair's gross misrepresentation of Nick Cohen's book, one might have thought that he would have trodden very carefully for a little while. Unfortunately, this has not proved to be the case. Today's article, written with wonderful taste and sympathy in the immediate aftermath of the foot and mouth outbreak in Surrey, combines Hari's by now familiar tactic of selective quotation and misleading conclusions to damn Boris Johnson as an anachronistic shootin'-and-huntin' rural toff who is unfit to run London. The piece, by the way is headlined Time to stop mollycoddling the countryside and to start nurturing our cities instead, which might seem a little odd in light of the fact that the countryside is anything but mollycoddled.
Anyway, lets look quickly at Hari's claim that this outbreak was leaked out of an American pharmaceutical lab. This certainty might surprise those who thought that results as to whether Merial or the Government-run Institute for Animal Health was responsible would not be out until Tuesday, and indeed those who thought that Merial was a 50/50 joint venture between the American Merck and the French Rhone Merieux. Mere facts are not, of course an impediment.
The main thrust of the article lies beyond such casual indifference to the facts.
But the lack of seriousness we apply to the interests of our cities may be about to suffer a much worse blow than this. Boris Johnson's candidacy to run our capital city cannot be dismissed as a joke.
The problem with Boris?
Boris is the voice of a romanticised rural England in constant clash with the reality of 21st-century London. This is a man who supports, and has taken part in, not just fox-hunting but stag-hunting. He writes excitedly: "I remember the guts streaming, and the stag turds spilling out on to the grass from within the ventral cavity. Then they cut out the heart." He goes on to add: "This hunting is best for the deer."
I have a brief confession to make: I can't find this article on the web. However, I am sufficiently sad that I remember reading it in Have I got views for you, and am absolutely sure that the thrust of the article was that he hated stag hunting, was made miserable by the death of the stag, and went away vowing never to do it again, while at the same time concluding that, since deer numbers fell catastrophically when the National Trust banned stag hunting, the best thing for the deer was that it continued. I'll post the relevant text as soon as I can lay hands on it, but by way of example the Amazon review of have I got views for you refers to his horror at the death of a stag. Hari misrepresents Boris's entire argument and does so by selective quotation. Nick Cohen might be feeling a bit deja vu at this point.
But of course, it's not enough to smear Boris as an enthusiastic stag-hunter. He muse be smeared, judiciously, as a racist. The word itself doesn't appear, Hari relying instead on innuendo, but in what other way can the following be interpreted?
This is a man who has, with echoes of Enoch Powell, described non-white children as "piccaninies", and written about the "watermelon smiles of black people". These atavistic mental images feed into his policies.
James Cleverly has written about this already, and I don't propose to do so again. Read what James has said, read the article in question and then ask yourself whether it is just possible that Boris might have been parodying the very racist style that he is being accused of. Also, precisely what policies is Hari talking about here? I'm not aware that he has announced any policies beyond trying to get rid of the bendy buses. What can he mean?
After the London police treated Stephen Lawrence's family with contempt and let his murderers walk free, it was essential for all London politicians to press the Met to reform itself to root out these attitudes. Boris did the opposite. He attacked "the PC brigade" for "punch[ing] a hole in the Metropolitan Police". He damned the sensible Macpherson reforms as "hysteria" and "a witch-hunt", even comparing them to the tyranny of Nicolae Ceausescu. If Boris was mayor, the pressure on the police applied by Ken Livingstone to treat all Londoners equally would be off.
I suppose it's otiose to suggest that Hari reads what Boris Johnson has said about the Macpherson report itself, but if he insists on quoting Johnson, he ought at least give the context. The comparison with Ceausescu was based on the Macpherson report's recommendation that one could be prosecuted for what you said in private - in a conversation with your wife in your kitchen. It was and is the most stunningly illiberal proposal and Macpherson later distanced himself from it. If this is the case for the prosecution, it's pretty bloody thin. But there's more, of course:
Boris has other beliefs that would be just as dire for London. This city is particularly vulnerable to global warming...The London mayor needs to be a voice on the global stage against this on-going disaster, as Ken Livingstone has been. Boris believes the opposite. When George Bush refused to sign the Kyoto Treaty, Boris cheered: "When Bush says no, he is doing what is right not just for America but for the world."
So if you are in opposition to the Kyoto Treaty - a piece of spectacularly useless verbiage that does nothing to address global climate emissions - you cannot be Mayor of London? Rubbish, and utter rubbish at that. Anything else?
London has great gashes of poverty between its glistening towers. The charity M├ędecins du Monde used to operate only in Third World countries - until it was so shocked by conditions here in East London that it felt obliged to open a clinic last year.
Here is this argument: London is desperately poor in parts; the Mayor of London has the power to do something about this; Livingstone has been Mayor for 7 years; therefore the Mayor who has presided over this squalor should be re-elected. Got that? Ultimately the entire article is tripe: all it is saying is that Hari doesn't like Boris Johnson, because he represents the countryside. Avoiding the classic I'm sorry I haven't a clue definition of countryside (in this case, 'the murder of Johann Hari') there is one further oddity in store.
London today is the first truly global city, internationalism made flesh-and-concrete. In my apartment block in East London, there are Russian exiles, Chinese students, a Ghanaian academic and a Colombian doctor - in the middle of a Bengali area.
There is space for everyone in today's London - people from every country, every culture. Except, apparently, shootin'-and-huntin' rural toffs from England. So, an article that runs the gamut from misinformation to misrepresentation, via a sideline in suggestive racial smears. Nice work for the Independent I suppose.

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