Sunday, May 25, 2008

Working to avoid uncertainty

Gordon Brown's projected demise raises a few questions for me that I've not really seen answered.

There are more than one, but this post will focus on this:

Why has it taken so long for a 'Gordon Must Go' bandwagon to get rolling?

I have a theory about this: It is that the media has a collective subconscious that works to ensure that there is always going to be an easy story to write for tomorrow's deadline. When Ken Livingstone first made it clear that he intended to run for London's mayoralty, for example, there was a unspoken collective decision made that this would be a good thing.

It would wipe the smile of Tony Blair's face for starters. At the time, this was a new and interesting possibility. And it would advance the trope that a generally friendly media was comfortable with:
New Labour are a good thing. They are very sensitive to the prejudices of newspaper proprietors, they are not making a mess of the economy, but even WE object slightly to being patronised in the way we are, and the stage management is getting a bit irksome.
Thus 'spin' and 'control freakery' the first tentative punches to really land on the Blair project. The two bits of moany consensus-building that hacks could participate in without really annoying their bosses.

Ken Livingstone was a perfect vehicle for this. For over a year, he was completely soft-pedaled by the same hacks that monstered him a few years earlier. Red Ken, the honorary patron of Black Unemployed Anti-Vivisectionist Lesbian Anarchists Against The Bomb, the IRA apologist, the bug-eyed Marxist nutcase, became a cuddly, clubabble, lefty buffer. A reminder of when politics was about something, before all of this awful spin.

It was only when the blameless and reluctant Frank Dobson had been seen off and the mayorality was in the bag did the murmuring start again against Ken.

And Boris, I think, benefited from a similar conspiracy this time. Now, I know it sounds partisan, but I think that Ken genuinely has a grievance after the recent elections. He wuz robbed. On his watch, he got the Olympics here, pulled off a very successful implementation of a congestion charge, managed to secure massive investment in the Tube and finally got Crossrail off the starting blocks. Both Labour and the Tories supported the PPP that resulted in Metronet fleecing Londoners - surely the biggest failure of governance in the capital for decades? And who was the most vocal opponent to the original deal? Ken!

Did he get any credit for this? Did he hell. His many successes were ignored, and his numerous shortcomings were foregrounded. Boris' many weaknesses got the same treatment as Ken's virtues. Why?

Because newspapers have joined Project Cameron? Well, yes, partly.

Because newspapers want to give Labour a kick in the goolies? Yes, up to a point - but not overwhelmingly. The Murdoch press is STILL hedging it's bets and The Daily Mail hates Brown a lot less than it hated Blair.

But that collective subconscious knew that there was a general anti-Labour story, one that involved Cameron shaping up as a viable alternative by beating Labour on it's own manor, and it is a story that that could be rehearsed easily. But the main attraction of Boris is this: He is going to supply so much great copy for years to come. The strain was evident throughout the campaign. Every time the camera fell on Boris, you could see him struggling not to say 'cripes' or 'picanniny'. Not to offer some Auberon Waugh-ish general insult in the direction of a fairly blameless demographic somewhere, or to be caught in some clownish tableau that could be recycled again and again.

And how does this apply to Brown? Well, I think that there is no appetite on Grub Street for Labour infighting at the moment. Sure, Brown is getting stick on a number of fronts, and he deserves some of it. But there's not a nice easy story there yet.

There aren't any identifiable factions. There are no Hesseltine-esque pretenders in the wings that can polarise the audience nicely. If Brown is deposed, it won't be at the hands of an ideological nemesis. If anything, it will actually muddy a narrative that everyone has settled for considerably.

Labour may choose to replace Brown with a uniting figure (Straw) in which case, normal service will be renewed shortly (old out-of-touch Labour plutocracy -V- shiny new pretenders). Is this the reason that Straw is being touted so easily at the moment? I ask, because I've not met anyone who really believes that Straw would be offered a coronation, or that he could have the beating of Cameron any more than Brown has. Is Straw the candidate that will balls things up the least for the commentariat?

On the other hand, if Labour choose someone who can kick Cameron around the park a bit (the boy David), that would really balls things up for everyone. You won't be able to say anything that rings true on less than 150 words, and the next election could really go either way again.

It's odd, isn't it? I don't think that newspapers really like uncertainty, even though you'd think they'd love it. Could it be that they work overtime to avoid it? And is Brown going to lose his job despite the best efforts of the commentariat to focus on other things?


The Raffish Dandy said...

Really interesting post but I really can't see Miliband landing anything but glancing blows on Cameron. He'd at least be able to avoid punching himself in the face the way that the clinking fist seems to, but that improvement isn't enough.

Shuggy said...

Really interesting post but I don't really understand it. This is because you've got a thing about the meeja I don't really understand. I think the question is, rather, why did so much of the left-leaning media think Brown was a good prospect in the first place? I really don't get your thing about the media. Timing is one thing but is that really important? We've had a number of journos complaining about the way other journos have turned on Brown. Who gives a fuck? That's a matter for them but as far as I can see, in general they're reporting on one of the most extraordinary political tragedies I've seen in my life. They didn't invent a situation where a sitting Prime Minister has seen a collapse in popularity that you have to go back to Chamberlain to see. And all this without the sacrifice of the Czech nation to the Nazi war machine. Who cares, "Why has it taken so long for a 'Gordon Must Go' bandwagon to get rolling?" What about the facts of the case? I'm more interested in why people thought he was a good prospect in the first place. As for Ken: maybe it's because I care about education that I've always thought Livingstone is a first class prick. I don't understand your defence of him at all. When he was leader of the GLC he was responsible for PC cultural vandalism. Then he does a complete volte face and embraces Al-Qarawadi. Congestion chrage? Yes, good idea - but he's still an unprincipled prick and an enemy of liberal education. Personally I would have rather sandpapered my scrotum then pour vinegar on it than have voted for this odious shit-bag. Did the media invent this? Again the question for me is why people voted for him in the first place. Why aren't you asking why the media didn't give him a hard time earlier? Please correct me if I'm wrong - I'm sure I am - I'm not being sarcastic when I say I really don't understand this post and I don't really understand your whole thing about the media in general.

Shuggy said...

Why aren't you asking why the media didn't give him a hard time earlier?

Sorry, I see you are doing this. But who cares? Maybe it's because they don't possess memories. Or maybe it's because the original hacks have moved on and it's new ones that are writing the stories and like all the people who voted Ken they don't possess memories or weren't around the first time (what's your excuse, btw? Olympics indeed! Gimme a break...) Or maybe it's because if ultra-lefties stick around long enough and, crucially, lose power they become cuddly. Like that unbelievable asshole Tony Benn, for example. (I hate Tony Benn and his idiot son - the way the media fawn over them makes me want to vomit. Can you do a post explaining that nauseating phenomenon?) We can only look on him indulgently because his career of attempting to destroy the Labour party is over, thank goodness. But he's a complete dick-end and no doubt if he re-gained some form of political influence, the original assessment would be re-applied. Rightly so, in my view.

Paulie said...


I know I often do slightly overstate the importance of the meeja, but this time, that's not what I'm really saying. As it happens, I don't think that the media are that important a factor in either speeding or prolonging GB's demise.

I'm really only asking a question that is of varying importance, depending on the matter in hand: Do newspapers sometimes fail to start bandwagons rolling because the lack of a bandwagon will mean that they have more, easier, copy for the forseeable?

Shuggy said...

Uh huh? IN which case apologies for the detritus in yer comment boxes.