Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Compass responds

Since Boris Johnson announced that he was throwing his hat into the ring in the race to become London Mayor, I've commented a few times on the line of attack that the left has tried. It boils down to two, linked, arguments: one that Boris is a member of the 'Tory hard right', and two that he is a racist. The Compass charge sheet, which I looked at here, essentially followed the Livingstone tactic of reading Boris's back catalogue and pulling out quotations where they look like they fit the smear sheet.
Andrew Gilligan picked up on this, noting that the article cited to prove that Boris was an avid supporter of George W Bush was one that described the President as a cross-eyed Texan warmonger, inarticulate, who epitomises the arrogance of American foreign policy; that the article cited to prove that Boris Johnson was a strong supporter of grammar schools was a 1997 piece in support of the Tory position (then, and now) of retaining existing grammar schools, rather than opening more, etc etc.
Compass have responded to this article in an almost impenetrably badly written piece here. There are really only two possibilities for most of their defences of their piece: they do not understand what Boris is saying in his articles; or they do understand and are deliberately misrepresenting it. Take their first 'slam dunk' argument: that Boris Johnson is (or as they now say 'was') a fanatical supporter of the Iraq war. To justify this they take two articles. In the first he notes that he was awe-struck by the extent of American military power in the war (and it's worth pointing out that Boris draws a distinction between the 'war' when Saddam Hussein's forces were defeated, and the insurgency that has followed). Nowhere in the article is there approval of the war stated - what there is, is respect for the military achievement.
To extract from this article the statement that Boris Johnson’s support for the war in Iraq was extreme – indeed to a point that even many supporters of the war might find distasteful in its treatment of issues such Iraqis themselves is extraordinary (apart from being ungrammatical).
Another area of dispute is whether Boris Johnson is a fanatical Thatcherite. Compass's logic here is again somewhat tendentious: Someone who considers Margaret Thatcher Britain’s’ greatest peace time prime minister’ is self-evidently a very strong Thatcherite. Quite apart from the use of 'fanatical' as a pejorative, the two positions cited by Compass are not co-terminous. Most people would consider Winston Churchill to be Britain's greatest wartime Prime Minister. Few Britains would consider themselves 'fanatical Churchillians' on such matters as price controls, or Indian policy. Boris may be a Thatcherite, but to prove it you need rather more than an article saying he thinks she was a great Prime Minister.
The Compass report and the associated City Hall creeps who infest websites and newspaper comments at the moment are mining a barren seam. They sound shrill, humourless and ridiculous. To believe, as they seem to, that Boris is unelectable because he describes a car as 'chick pulling' is so reminiscent of ghastly student JCRs that it can hardly help but send people over to the Johnson camp.
One final point. Compass has described Boris as extremely right-wing; a hardline right-winger; Norman Tebbit in a clowns uniform; and uses the phrase hardline right-wing almost reflexively to describe such policies as being pro-nuclear, or anti-Kyoto. But Boris is not, has never been, and never will be on the right of the Conservative Party. In 2001, as a newly elected MP, he supported Ken Clarke over Portillo and IDS. In 2005 he was such an early supporter of David Cameron that he wrote an article in the Spectator which started off by explaining just who exactly Cameron was. Johnson sits on the left of the Conservative Party - and that's so easy to back up that it's incredible that Compass thinks it can get away with claiming anything different.

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