Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Spectator Loses It. All of It.

It's been a bad few weeks for the Tories with the combination of the Brown bounce and his subsequent face-stamping proving remarkably effective in making Cameron look like yet another failed leader prototype. The by-election results were so bad that they might reasonably have raised expectations that Conservative fortunes had bottomed out and, now, things could only get better. But then The Spectator hit the streets. On the front cover is a cartoon of Boris Johnson dressed as a pearly king. The main headline is 'King Boris of London'. The subsidiary headline is 'Are Fat People Allowed to Have Fun?' On closer inspection this latter does not, despite the clear impression given by the layout, refer to Boris. Inside Boris is covered by a leader, a reference in the Diary of a Notting Hill Nobody, a long article by Toby Young, who is 'to cover the campaign in these pages and online', and a slightly shorter article by Stanley, Boris's dad. Naturally, The Spectator is backing its former editor. He is, after all, as the leader headline says, 'One of Us.' The reasons given are various but, in the end, they boil down to the fact that Boris is 'a character'. I have commented on this lamentable combination of sentimentality, misconception and delusion previously, so here I shall just draw your attention to one point in the leader. Boris, runs the argument, is accused of debasing politics, but: 'The absurd implication of this is that politics cannot and should not be entertaining. In fact, the humourlessness of modern politics is one of many reasons that it so conspicuously fails to engage the interest or sympathies of so many people.' Where to start? Okay, for the last thirteen years British politics has been covered as pure soap opera and/or comedy. Political journalism has become light entertainment, an aspect, like Boris, of celebrity culture. If people are disaffected, then it is surely because they see the Westminster comedy routine as a singularly heartless spectacle in the light of the abject failure of this government to reform the police, the NHS or the education system. In fact, I suspect the public no longer bothers to make any connection at all between the interminable installments of the political soap opera and what actually happens in their lives. Yet The Spectator, once a great intellectual weekly, seems to think  we don't have enough political entertainment, that a B list celeb is the answer to our prayers. Toby Young, meanwhile, rebuts Ken Livingstone's charge that Boris has no experience of practical management with a point so absurd that I can only think he must be joking. Boris, he says, 'successfully ran Britain's leading political weekly for five years.' Oh come on, Toby, both you and I could put The Spectator together in a day - and, er, it's a lot smaller than London. If The Spectator is any indicator of Tory fortunes, then Brown might as well go ahead and do what he secretly wants to do anyway - suspend elections and declare himself leader for life.


  1. Another brilliant post. I nearly agree with all of it.

    I don't do politics because these days doing politics means taking an interest in the soap opera world you describe, which was started by the papers but has been taken to a whole new level by 24-hour news and by blogs like Guido's.

    The soap opera is founded on two assumptions:

    1) that anyone elected to Parliament is fair game
    2) that anyone elected to Parliament must behave according to a set of absurdly stringent moral rules, any deviation from which (in any area of their life, public or private) means that they can be 'exposed' as a 'hypocrite'.

    I don't have a problem with Guido-types per se - they are just political nerds who spot MPs instead of trains, or who watch PMQs instead of Star Trek. Everyone is entitled to a hobby. They remind me most of those sci-fi nerds who delight in pointing out the mistakes and continuity errors in the shows they obsess about - pouring clever-clever scorn on the only thing they live for.

    Where I get tired is when the political geeks think that what they are doing has any more significance or historical importance than a Red Dwarf fanclub convention. It is an esoteric game and the public in general is utterly uninterested. In the end, all the British electorate wants is a Government that doesn't screw up the economy. Blair managed to not screw up the economy pretty well, but, with Campbell, he made the error of expending energy on endlessly playing the geeks at their own game.

  2. But it is in the iterests of the ruling elites that the general populace have lost interest in politics...they didn't want the kind of popular movements of the 60s continuing to rise against them. To repeat a former point in 1975, the Trilateral Commission, published a study entitled The Crisis of Democracy, which interprets public participation in decision-making as a threat to democracy, one that must be contained if elite domination is to persist unhindered by popular demands. The population must be reduced to apathy and conformism if "democracy", as interpreted by this contingent, is to be kept workable and allowed to survive.
    It is in their interests that while they wage war abroad & let their own countries disintegrate, it all appears as a kind of bad joke. The people are disaffected but this channelled into apathy rather than action, thus allowing the powers that be to carry on behind the soap operatic facade. Though it should probably be stressed that it is indeed a very bad joke.

  3. To add- Every now & again a rock concert is held that satisfies tinges of unease & the inering urge to action.

  4. Andrew:

    I think you have a far too low opinion of the intelligence of the "general populace", and a far too high one of the Machiavellian genius of the "ruling elite".

  5. Brit, have a look at Big Brother, Pop Idol, Eastenders, The Apprentice, etc & tell me I have too low an opinion of the masses as they've been moulded. Huxley didn't simply happen to get lucky with his Brave New World prophecy- it's all very self-evidence the direction things are being pushed. We're not being subjected to the inanimate laws of nature but to human forces. That populations of dumbed down people paying attention to oases of absolute intellectual vacuity, such as Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, etc as opposed to figures of genius like John Lennon or Bob Dylan...Do you seriously believe this has hapened by accident; that life has become so degraded after the rising wave of consciousness of the 60s through some kind of massive inherent will to ignorance?

  6. I was under the impression that John Lennon was fairly popular. They even named an airport after him. He was no Beethoven or even Betjeman, though.

    Look, I understand that it is a critical element of your self-image to be a lone goat amongst the sheep, rising above the general idiot tide whilst also cocking a heroic Guevara-like snook at The Man, but nobody disses The Apprentice on my watch. It's ace.

  7. I'm delighed you understand that, Brit. You might also enjoy this lone-goat emanation, The Slave Mentality, which sorry to impose too much, ends with the lines,
    "In the pure form, because of the absolute alignment of the person with the slave mentality, a truth revealing attack on the social order of things is experienced as an attack on his personal being, and despite the power of the evidence presented to awake him to reality, the structure of self which he believes himself to be acts as an impenetrable force-field exactly like in those sci-fi films where incoming misssiles are annihilated by this defence mechanism. This shield is doubly effective in that it actually tends to re-direct the attack back on the person trying to wake him up- this typically rendered where the messenger of the uncomfortable truth is mocked as a "Conspiracy Theorist," & the slave strucure left intact & even reinforced. As in the films, however, in all but the purest slaves this defence-shield can be weakened if enough outside force generated, or ideally from an enlightenment experience within where this hallucinated self vanishes of its own non-real accord."

  8. Wow. Andrew, should all these dummies protecting their slave mentalities behind impenetrable force fields be allowed to vote, or should we just get it over with quickly and put you in charge of everything?

  9. Er there was rather a good (i.e. terrifying) piece by Fraser Nelson in that Spectator on what Brown's been up to...

  10. An interesting discovery to add to your excellent post. In 1982 the Spanish socialists came to power with the slogan 'Por el Cambio' (For Change). In 1993, by which time Gonzalez was mired in 'Felipismo' and a state murder campaign against ETA, they used the slogan 'El Cambio del Cambio' (The Change of the Change)....there's a lot of change being bandyied about by Brown. I've also come across the 'Mexican Institutional Revolutionary Party' which stayed in power for seven decades.....God help us. The Spectator is rubbish nowadays, and Boris is very, very likely to make a dreadful job of being mayor, if idiots elect him.

  11. PS. Another parallel: Gonzalez brought into government a number of independent experts- including Judge Garzon- the very magistrate investigating the murder campaign against ETA.....I have a feeling someone here has been researching Spanish practices. Typically the entire provincial political commentariat here failed to spot this when waxing lyrical about Digby Jones, the Admiral, and Lord Stevens.

  12. Boris Johnson isn't standing as mayor because he's a suitable candidate. He's standing because the Conservative Party is washed up and knackered and he's all they've got. Simple as that.

    Labour isn't going to rule the roost for ever. And one day, probably not far off, the world economy will pull the plug on the London as Richistan gig. In the meantime, we are just going to have to live through our own sordid little version of the last days of the Bourbons.

    It's sad about the Spectator, of course. Its writers are far too intelligent not to know they're really taking at face value one sham, con and puffed-up nobodaddy after another. Maybe they've been told they'll all lose their jobs unless they concentrate on who has it and how they spend it because that is what the public "really wants" and, besides, the investors are insisting. The BBC disease can be catching.

  13. Is Boris in danger of becoming the Tories' John Prescott? I think we should be told.

  14. Two points.

    I cancelled my Spectator subscription after Boris gave up the editor's chair

    Boris is standing, not because the Tories are washed up but because the politics surrounding the London Mayor are the politics of personality. They have absolutely nothing to do with politics, as we know them. BJ will trounce once red peril by a huge margin.

  15. River of DeceitJuly 21, 2007 6:59 pm

    I've just read Polly Toynbee's article on Boris where she calls him a sociopath. I think i've figured out where all her venom comes from.
    When you googled Boris (before he became mayor) an article he did would appear just a few down where he completely and hilariously destroys Polly and effectively outs her as a closet conservative.