Politics is war, by any other means


by Sunny
29th July, 2008 at 5:20 am    

Anthony Browne, writing in the Daily Mail.

“If people don’t learn the difference between right and wrong, it is not just that they become anti-social. They don’t learn the fundamental lesson that there is only one person responsible for what they do — and that is themselves. Nothing is wrong, and nothing is anyone’s fault; it is always someone else’s. Don’t blame me for what I do; it’s society’s fault.

Obviously, there are always external factors which have a big influence. People from difficult backgrounds definitely have higher hurdles to jump over, and need help. But for all of us, whatever our background, what we do is ultimately up to us.

This Left-wing moral neutrality comes from the best of intentions — wanting to sympathise with victims and other vulnerable people. If they do something anti-social, it is because anti-social things have been done to them — they are not at fault. And if you can’t judge someone for their actions, there can’t really be a right or wrong thing to do.”

via Dave Hill, who quite rightly says: “I weep before this edifice of patronising, self-serving, intellectually dishonest, straw man-abusing, willfully sub-Gumby arrogance.”

Hmmm… I wonder what Nick Cohen has to say now about his newly found mate. Anyway, the thing is – the man Boris Johnson has recruited as his new Policy Director has always been a tosser when writing about social/cultural issues. Browne is worse than Rod Liddle and possibly even Jon Gaunt. And because he keeps saying the right things, people on the right keep promoting despite his obvious lack of intelligence or nuance.

But this development is great for political reasons. Boris Johnson was hated by a lot of people when running for Mayor because people thought he didn’t get this wonderfully cosmopolitan city. He didn’t, but pretended anyway. Now he’s hired a deranged loon as his policy director and its great, not only because it gives us added motivation for getting rid of Boris in four years time, but because this means the political divide (left v right) gets wider.

Frankly, all this political centrism is boring. It’s a bit perverse but I rather like some elements of American political culture – where the left-right divide is so wide that there is huge hatred and fury on both sides for the other. It makes for more interesting politics. I also want to see a bit more anger on the left. British politics lost a lot of that with Blair and frankly the left always did well when it was united against easily identifiable enemies. Anthony Browne and Boris Johnson are perfect for the job. Bring it on, I say.


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  1. C Chandra — on 29th July, 2008 at 7:58 am  

    I completely fail to see your problem with Browne’s remarks – they seem eminently sensible to me. I think you are allowing your dislike of Browne and Johnson to cloud your judgement on this one!

  2. cjcjc — on 29th July, 2008 at 8:49 am  

    ““I weep before this edifice of patronising, self-serving, intellectually dishonest, straw man-abusing, willfully sub-Gumby arrogance.”

    It would perhaps be helpful if either he or you could point to the strawman and/or to the dishonesty in those remarks.

  3. El Cid — on 29th July, 2008 at 9:12 am  

    Sunny,
    I hope this is some kind of joke, some kind of test.
    Political centrism may be boring but it is less dishonest than the polarised political head tennis that you advocate.
    Your idea of politics is about points scoring — sorry, controlling the narrative. My idea is about problem solving.
    You are everything that you claim to hate sir! You are the Thrasymachus here.
    While Anthony Browne’s comments clearly lack nuance, there is nothing that I can see that should offend. There comes a point where people DO need to take responsibility for their actions.
    Why don’t you come out into the open instead of playing games. Strawmen? This post of yours is a strawman. What are you scared of? Explain yourself. You owe it to your readers.
    Moreover, wake up and smell the coffee. The Tories are coming because the economy is going down the cakehole and they are outflanking Labour in the centre ground.

  4. Rumbold — on 29th July, 2008 at 9:20 am  

    “You are the Thrasymachus here.”

    Not enough people get accused of sophistry these days.

    Sunny:

    According to the quote in red, all Anthony Browne said was that there is a difference between right and wrong, and that people should take responsibility for their own actions, with the caveat that some of the weakest need help. If only the Labour government thought like him (or the Conservative high command for that matter). If that makes him hard-right then quite a lot of people are hard-right.

    Which bit, in that particular piece, did you find objectionable? Saying that people should take responsibility, or the rejection of postmodern relativism?

  5. cjcjc — on 29th July, 2008 at 9:28 am  

    “You are the Thrasymachus here.”

    Excellent!

    I am now determined to work that in to a conversation before the week is out!!

  6. Leon — on 29th July, 2008 at 9:57 am  

    And because he keeps saying the right things, people on the right keep promoting despite his obvious lack of intelligence or nuance.

    In politics intelligence or nuance aren’t key to success; judgment and connections are.

    I rather like some elements of American political culture – where the left-right divide is so wide that there is huge hatred and fury on both sides for the other. It makes for more interesting politics

    It works over there because they have a constitution and guns. In Britain if we ever became that divided it’d probably cause a civil war…

  7. MaidMarian — on 29th July, 2008 at 10:18 am  

    I can only agree with el cid (4) and hope that the last paragraph is actually the result of someone hacking into this page and changing the article.

    The American style of political knock-about has resulted in huge alienation from politics and the need for any candidate to preach to the converted hard-liners with the results that moderates get squeezed out. Granted, at the local level some do reach out to the other side but you can not seriously tell me that American levels of division are a good thing.

    Politics does not exist for the entertainment of the blogging class and journalists. Whether politics is interesting or not is rather down the list of priorities. If I am looking for interesting politics, I will head back to the lecture halls at university thanks all the same.

    As to directed anger and identifiable enemies, the British left has a long and proud tradition of manufacturing enemies and directing anger towards them the moment the left gets into power. It is depressing enough to think that the most progressive government I am ever going to see is New Labour c1997-1999 without the added thought that the sectarian left will eat any young on behlaf of the Conservatives.

    I have no idea where the political model for this century lies, but it sure as hell is not on the other side of the Atlantic. There is a world of difference between politics and government and this article, like so many on the left, appears to totally miss it.

    Almost forgot – Browne’s remarks are a bit on the vitriolic side (it was written for the Mail) but I don’t see too much offensive there.

  8. cjcjc — on 29th July, 2008 at 10:39 am  

    Vitriolic?

    You must lead a sheltered life! :-)

  9. bananabrain — on 29th July, 2008 at 10:52 am  

    sunny, i do think you are pining for the days when the left had windmills to tilt at. the one place you probably don’t want to be is where people think that you’re just being a mindless oppositionalist. you’re better than that. why don’t you dig into the thinking you had about “speaking truth to power” and opposing bad government in the name of liberty?

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  10. Refresh — on 29th July, 2008 at 10:59 am  

    ‘Politics does not exist for the entertainment of the blogging class and journalists.’

    Oh but it does, or rather bloggers and journalists exist for the politicians. People disengaged a long time a go.

    A good example was Leon’s thread about Gordon Brown being under pressure from his own MPs. That line you may recall was fed to him by someone ‘in the know’.

    I still think the best political weapon the electorate has in our democracry, is not voting. You know the electorate will have won, when ‘the middle ground’ decides that voting should be compulsory and political parties should be funded by the taxpayer.

  11. soru — on 29th July, 2008 at 11:20 am  

    Politics done properly is not war, it’s sport: there are rules, everyone ends up envigorated from taking part, and noone loses any limbs.

    This piece is the equivalent of watching the other team slip a chain of passes through your defences, and saying ‘if we did that it would be ruled offside. A bit of show-off fancy footwork doesn’t change the fact that they are cheating scum’.

    You can’t be paralysed by respect for the other side, as Labour seem to be these days, but when they shoot and score, you can’t carry on pretending it didn’t happen.

    Otherwise you totally lose the ability to communicate in terms anyone but a hardcore political fanboy would take seriously.

  12. MaidMarian — on 29th July, 2008 at 11:27 am  

    Refresh (11) – ‘I still think the best political weapon the electorate has in our democracry, is not voting.’

    Decisions are made by those who show up.

  13. Refresh — on 29th July, 2008 at 11:40 am  

    ‘Decisions are made by those who show up.’

    But its not working for the electorate though and like it or not that is what counts.

  14. Leon — on 29th July, 2008 at 12:42 pm  

    A good example was Leon’s thread about Gordon Brown being under pressure from his own MPs. That line you may recall was fed to him by someone ‘in the know’.

    It wasn’t ‘fed to me’ I asked them what they thought of the current situation with Brown and that was their reply, we then had a semi longish conversation about it, the Labour party and politics generally…

  15. Refresh — on 29th July, 2008 at 1:08 pm  

    Leon, thanks for the clarification.

    Most of the stories being fed to the media seem to be from the nameless. Michael White makes that point today in the Guardian.

  16. Leon — on 29th July, 2008 at 1:22 pm  

    Sunny, I wonder about you sometimes…

    Here you’re saying you want more division, more anger from the left yet over at LC you say:

    There’s a tendency among the left to become outraged when a move to the middle is made – just look at the howls that greeted Obama when he went to the political centre. But to win elections this is what has to be done.

    So you recognise the reason we don’t see any. It can look like that you either aren’t 100% sure of what you believe or worse, that you’ll say one thing to one audience and another to another one…

  17. Sunny — on 29th July, 2008 at 2:13 pm  

    Your idea of politics is about points scoring — sorry, controlling the narrative. My idea is about problem solving.

    I agree – but a political divide at atleast means you have two different competing visions of society to choose from. At least you have the choice, rather than having to choose between two spinmeisters desperately trying to make the other side look worse. That is the situation we have here, and look – the Americans are way more interested in their election.

    Leon – regarding that point – I’m not going to deny that any politician has to appeal to a broad constituency by sometimes being centrist on certain issues.

    But there are clear policy differences between Obama and McCain.

    Can anyone name me clear policy differences between Cameron and Brown? and tell me why you’d accordingly vote for either?

  18. MaidMarian — on 29th July, 2008 at 2:26 pm  

    Sunny (17) – ‘Can anyone name me clear policy differences between Cameron and Brown?’

    You are over-personalising this, rather like American politics is overpersonalised.

    Politics may be about absolutes but collective government is not. Indulgently divisive politics as your article skates close to championing ignores the real-world balances that have necessarily to be struck. From you position in the media you may well find this, ‘boring,’ but you would say that wouldn’t you? Divisive politics is a recipe for disenchantment.

    Ignoring the need to strike balances and focussing only on the self-indulgent has been a Labour Party specialty since the 1930s but that doesn’t make it right. Whatever bad one could say about Tory governments they did not by and large have their own party and media baying for blood on a regular basis.

    You may well pine for the absolute Sunny, but if voters are cleaving from Brown to Cameron does that not suggest that they have an outlook that is rather centrist? Enterianing or not.

  19. cjcjc — on 29th July, 2008 at 2:52 pm  

    Sunny, perhaps you could make it clearer what you object to in what Browne wrote?

    See Rumbold at #4.

  20. Sunny — on 29th July, 2008 at 3:11 pm  

    Because this is all bollocks:
    If they do something anti-social, it is because anti-social things have been done to them — they are not at fault. And if you can’t judge someone for their actions, there can’t really be a right or wrong thing to do.”

    It depends on the context. A leftie would never ever, ever excuse a man for raping or domestically abusing a woman. So this straw-man falls over for a start there.

    In other contexts, the problem is how you approach the solution not the problem. The right’s answer to crime is bigger prisons and harsher sentences.

    LEfties would quite rightly argue that most crime is usually the result of social circumstances (apart from a percentage that will always exist) in aggregate. For example, crime has been falling across the western world over the last decade as economic opportunities have improved and ecnomic well being has improved. It had nothing to do with harsher sentences.

    So a leftie position would be that social circumstances have a bigger impact on crime stats than what the right would like to believe.

    Browne is neither clever not very right on the issue. He just wants to have a go at the left, and for that reason has to erect a strawman to make an argument.

  21. cjcjc — on 29th July, 2008 at 3:22 pm  

    Erm, so the “strawman” case is in fact your very argument.

    And why would domestic violence be immune from your “social circumstances” rule?

  22. El Cid — on 29th July, 2008 at 6:59 pm  

    You know, in hindsight, I like this post, because of what it has provoked. There is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much here.
    I suspect that you, Sunny, are dabbling in experimental forthrightness. Shake the tree: see what happens. Well good for you. I honestly don’t believe that you believe what you have said, that you are torn. Because it just doesn’t make sense. There was a time when you were pursuing a new broad-based political agenda that promised a post-racist nirvana (at least I thought). But you will never achieve unity through division.

    There are many themes here but I am going to zoom in on just one. As I have grown older, I have come to question a lot of the ideas that I automatically lapped up from my circumstances, mentors, and peers.

    I still identify most with the culture and weltenschauung of Labour, the working class, and the inner city. But this one idea I think is especially flawed and unhelpful:
    “LEfties would quite rightly argue that most crime is usually the result of social circumstances (apart from a percentage that will always exist) in aggregate.”

    This kind of wishy-washy bollocks is a recipe for policy paralysis.
    “Most”, “usually”? I don’t think so.
    “A lot, some” — ok, maybe.
    That part of it can be “explained” by social circumstances.. yeah, ok, up to a point.
    But what does one mean by “social circumstances” in a rich society when not having a tv is seen as a form of poverty. Does it extend to cultural and family specifics? The absence of a father, an unwillingness to integrate, forced marriage, large families, etc. These are all social factors too. Remember that.

    Moreover, most victims are victims because they too happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong fucking time. Of what relevance is wishy-washy thinking to them?

    Finally, one should not define a left-wing and right-wing state of mind according to whether one subscribes to a belief that human beings left to their own devices with no state apparatus will result in a Hobbesian life that is nasty brutish and short or one that basically sees humans as essentially good. Because the truth is really somewhere in between.

    People, children included, need to take responsibility for their actions. Full fucking stop. However, unlike some uber-liberals, I also believe in redemption. That is important too.

  23. El Cid — on 29th July, 2008 at 7:30 pm  

    “The Tories are coming because the economy is going down the cakehole…”

    When I mix my idioms like that my dual culture is betrayed. I, of course, meant “plughole”. You might point out that I am simply falling back on the old “I am a second generation immigrant, I went to a shit comp and had free school dinners, don’t you know” excuse. And you may well be right. So in the spirt of #22 I will stand up and declare that the buck stops with me. I am an ignoramus and I will try to do better next time.

  24. Shamit — on 29th July, 2008 at 7:37 pm  

    Sunny

    I agree and disagree with you. While you are right on policy goals I think the narrative between the parties have been changing and is different on how to go about achieving those political goals. I actually did write an article on this a while ago and I think it still holds true. Have a look:here

  25. cjcjc — on 29th July, 2008 at 9:33 pm  

    Ignoramuses (-i?) don’t often bandy the name of Thrasymachus around!

  26. Merseymike — on 29th July, 2008 at 11:00 pm  

    Browne is a convert from the left. When he was an observer Journalist, he often described himself as being on the left, whilst starting to write ever more right wing features – notably, tirades against the NHS.

    He now openly associates himself as a conservative – taking the path trod by Mad Mel Phillips et al.

  27. Shamit — on 29th July, 2008 at 11:10 pm  

    sorry

  28. Sunny — on 30th July, 2008 at 12:16 am  

    Heh, El Cid I think you’ve called it right. I’m shaking the tree and seeing what comes out.

    But there is a serious point to be made about a wider political divide – that it offers us real differences in vision and ideas to go forward. And it offers us real competition. Does that mean more disenchantment with politics as MaidMarian says? I don’t agree – given that a common complaint among people today is that they don’t know what the parties stand for and they all sound the same.

    El Cid also says:
    But what does one mean by “social circumstances” in a rich society when not having a tv is seen as a form of poverty. Does it extend to cultural and family specifics? The absence of a father, an unwillingness to integrate, forced marriage, large families, etc. These are all social factors too. Remember that.

    I agree – and this is what I was talking about. The environment has a huge impact on a person, and I’m not saying that absolves the person from their mistake, but it does mean that if you want to get to the roots of the problem or try and solve it, then simply longer sentences and bigger prisons is not going to work.

    That is the key difference in how the left and the right (if you want to use generalisations as Browne does) approach the issue.

  29. El Cid — on 30th July, 2008 at 10:03 am  

    I think the key lies in redemption (an old fashioned Christian principle that modern secular society seems to have problems with).

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