Thursday, September 07, 2006

Tough on Blair. Tough on the causes of Blairism

An old friend of mine is a fairly senior civil servant in one of the bigger government departments. He insists that Armando Iannucci's ‘The Thick of It’ is a credible documentary rather than a satire.

That the portrait of hapless ministers being buffeted between their own civil servants and the demands of the PM’s press officers, he argues, provides an accurate depiction of the circumstances that surround policy making these days.

There’s probably some truth in this observation. It’s certainly a more convincing explanation than the crude and self-righteous one that I’ve found on the letters page of my newspaper yesterday. A Mr Richard Bryant-Jefferies from Great Bookham in Surrey says:

“Do [politicians] turn on their leader because of questionable policies? No. They turn on them because their seats are at risk. Selfish to the end.”

A sensible, balanced explanation that takes account of all of the factors that are brought to bear on politicians? Or a fatuous piece of fuckwittery? You decide.

But why do politicians and civil servants routinely behave in this absurd way? There must be a reason.

I would suggest that – as with so many things – the quantity and quality of scrutiny that is placed upon them determines the quality of their work. So, for example, no England football manager is ever likely to succeed again until the quantity of ‘stakeholders’ that he has to report to is reduced, and their quality goes up some way above the current ‘simpleton’ standard of popular sports journalism.

Cont >>


Service notice: before the next set of *********s you will find a standard NTaH rant about how wretched political journalists are, and how everything is All Their Fault. Chris links to lots more of this elsewhere. Skip past it if you've read it all a dozen times before. But bear in mind, I blog as therapy. Better out than in.....

Similarly politicians. Their job appears to be to appease a gaggle of shit-for-brains that makes up our paid commentariat. And the influence of those useless spiteful hacks can be seen by taking a random sample of the letters pages in any of our broadsheet newspapers.

Because I’d like to suggest to you that the letters pages of daily newspapers probably tell us more than weblogs do about the state of public debate, and the influence that journalist have upon it. We bloggers often don't bother reading newspapers much. Readers letters are usually written in response to newpaper articles and are subject to the same demands - keep it short and simple or go on the spike.

And, I would suggest that these letters are important because politicians tend to assume that the letters page is an accurate representation of the views of an influential section of the population. (I'd also suggest that this is an underestimation of the people who read those letters, but never mind that for now).

Where the letters are in response to the domestic political coverage in the previous days’ rag, they seem to exaggerate the excesses of punditvision.

Looking at yesterday’s Groan again, for example on Tony’s departure date, for example someone called Gus Pennington says…

“most voters have made their own position abundantly clear: the man must go and quickly.”

Now, while none of the clowns that are paid to comment on this kind of thing would make the same point quite as explicitly, the implication is there every time this question is covered er…. ‘professionally’. Yet there is no evidence offered that any more than a fraction of the people who DO give a Flying Fuck about the Prime Minister’s career have changed the trajectory of that FF since the election last year.

They also provide more transparent examples of the habit that journalists have of conflating a number of points to restate a cherished viewpoint.

In addition, a few weeks ago, I sent you off to read Pierre Bourdieu’s book on TV and journalism. You haven’t read it yet, have you?

If you had, you’d know that one of Bourdieu’s central planks is that what he calls the demagogic simplification of public affairs often takes the form of personalising complex issues in order to make them somehow more interesting or relevant.

So, again, on yesterday’s letters page Nigel Farage MEP (UKIP) sez…

“… for the UK to remain in the European Union means that our trade policy is dictated from Brussels by Peter Mandelson, and any trade negotiations will exclude the British government….”

Conflation, simplification and personalisation all wrapped up in less than one sentence. All of those devices are, of course, integral to almost every piece of political reporting these days. Journalists are just under an obligation to be a bit more circumspect than Mr Farage.


So far, this has been a standard NTaH rant. If you've read anything here before, it was probably a similar post to this one. I know most of this is a bit obvious, and probably doesn’t need saying as often as I say it. But I’m restating it here as part of a rebuttal to Councillor Bob in the comments from the other day. I think (and I’m only guessing) that Bob is implying that my irritation with the coverage of Blair’s Impending Resignation springs from some kind of suspicion on his part that I may have to support the twerp.

Well, Bob, I don't. I’d suggest that, as long as our standard of public debate and the reporting thereof stays the same, we will forever have to put up with highly centralised government, obsessed by short-term targets designed to appease simplistic hacks, with some version of Mr Tony at it’s head.

Not only do I want to see Tony Blair’s departure, I also don’t want any more like him. But we're going to get more of the same for the forseeable because very few people are making the case that we need to be tough on the causes of Blairism at the moment.


Anonymous said...

I want to tell you about the Barnet Joint Campaigns Coach Committee's Coach going to the Time To Go Demo in Manchester on 23rd September. This will be a great day to remember. A day when you can tell Blair to Walk the Plank - That its time for him to go.

The price of the Ticket for the Coach is only £20 thats less than National Express. Why not travel with us. Ring Miranda on 020 8 371 9744 to book a £20 return ticket to the Time to Go Demo with BJCCC

Baz said...

Slightly off the point, but before I got a job I used to enjoy reading the "letters to Ceefax" page (on Ceefax obviously).

Mainly because it must take a particular form of twisted individual, with too much time on their hands, to be bothered to write to Ceefax and comment about anything (ignoring the fact that I must be a particular form of twisted individual with too much time on my hands to bother reading their drivel).

But it has given me a healthy disrespect for letters pages, phone-ins, 606 and the like. The people who can be bothered are not representative of anyone or anything - they are just the people who like shouting. It's sort of "drivel begats drivel". Or something.