Friday, March 20, 2009

More on Macintyre

The James Macintyre piece I referred to yesterday is kicking up something of a bijou stormette.  Fraser Nelson had a go at a rebuttal, in terms not unsimilar to my own:

The CoffeeHousers who despair at Cameron’s lack of radical policies would do well to read this piece, as it will cheer you up immensely. Cameron has adopted a “state-slashing, neo-Thatcherite agenda. While Cameron claims to be committed to spending increases, he is backing “spending cuts and tax cuts.” Rather than declaring Europe to be a low priority, Cameron “presides over the most anti-European parliamentary party in Tory history”. He has apparently reversed his plan not to expand grammar schools (damn, I missed that story) and, even better, William Hague is now a neoconservative. Result! Macintyre can also reveal Tory plans to “penalise single mothers.” He doesn’t give details. Perhaps he’s saving that for next week.

Well Macintyre has had a go back at Fraser today.  It starts with a frankly bizarre query:

Why is it that attacking the Labour party in print is seen as fair game in the Westminster playground and common practice for “neutral” journalists, but dare to turn your fire on David Cameron's Conservative party and you are dismissed as a mad, foaming-at-the-mouth red under the bed?

For a start, you wrote a political column in the New Statesman devoted entirely to ‘proving’ that Cameron was a barking Thatcherite who wanted to personally punish single mothers.  Each to their own, but it doesn’t really paint a picture of a neutral journalist does it?

Well, I am glad Nelson raises nationalisation because the point I was trying to make was precisely that Cameron has failed in making any major change on a par with either Tony Blair's symbolic abolition of the nationalising “Clause IV”, or for that matter, with Neil Kinnock's spectacular expulsion of Militant in the 1980s.

But that was because, in Clause 4, Labour had a highly visible, highly symbolic example of why they were unelectable – their fundamental lack of economic soundness.  The Tories, which have never, even under Thatcher, been as ideological a party as Labour, didn’t have the luxury of an obsolete totem which they could ostentatiously sacrifice.  (Does one sacrifice totems?)  Macintyre’s claim that Clarke would have ruled out tax cuts (forever?  Until they can be afforded?) is either nonsense or identical to current Tory policy depending on which way you read it.

Nelson also denies that Cameron made a U-turn on grammar schools, despite the fact that his original plan of saying there will be no new ones under a Tory government was reversed, with Cameron appeasing his Tory critics, explicitly stating this was not a “Clause IV” moment and saying “I don't go around picking a fight with my party”. I am surprised Fraser, an assiduous Cameron-watcher, “missed” the U-turn story when it was in covered by the rest of the Tory press.

It wasn’t reversed.  The existing policy – that grammar schools were fine where they were, but that they wouldn’t form the basis of Tory education policy – remained in place throughout that summer.  The Tory press went out on a limb over grammar schools (as I went into ad nauseam at the time), but the policy remained the same.

Nelson also ridicules my claim that Cameron is set to penalise single mothers – perhaps this is one of the “lies” he mysteriously refers to towards the end of his blog. He must, then, have missed the story that Cameron will reward through the tax system married couples, and middle class couples when one of those is wealthy enough to stay at home. These are not, I fancy, policies aimed at the single mother on a council estate in Hull.

Guh.  Nor are they aimed at the British Olympic cycling team – are they being penalised as well?  Tax breaks that affect one section of society do not automatically penalise every other section of society.  In other words, when trying to prove that the Tories want to penalise single mothers, it is not enough to demonstrate that they want to help married couples.  I suspect, however, that this cognitive dissonance will rumble on throughout the campaign and beyond.

I’m sure there’ll be more of this nonsense to come – it’s starting to feel a bit like election season again…

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Blogger Trixy said...

Ach, Actually Mr Macintyre is a well informed political journalist, something of a novelty, I find.

And I do rather agree with him that, rather like saying Climate Change might not be man made, attacking Cameron's Conservatives is normally met with howls from 20-40 something men up and down the country. 'He will do this and that' etc.

I can only hope that Cameron is harder on single mothers. Why should I pay for women reproduce rather than go to work?

10:46 pm  
Blogger Tim J said...

I dunno, the last time I remember writing about him was when he was saying that the only way Brown could recover was by tacking hard to the left - which seems a bit, um, reminiscent of Simon Heffer circa 1996.

I suppose, btw, as a chap plum spang in the middle of your age range (and with an imminently reproductive wife) that I ought to apologise...

10:39 pm  
Blogger Tim J said...

Ooh, and by the way, I think I can guess where your picture comes from - do you have a small terrier called Bartholomew?

10:54 pm  

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