Monday, 10 September 2012

Boo! Down with this sort of thing

Why did 80,000 people boo George Osborne at the Paralympics? Because the stadium couldn't hold any more. 

The Observer had a debate yesterday on whether Paralympic spectators should or should not have booed George Osborne, Theresa May and various other Tory ministers. Danny Kelly put the case for booing - fairly boringly - and Alastair Campbell, the man who helped fake the evidence for invading Iraq, previously wrote porn as The Riviera Gigolo and worked for tabloid newspapers, put the case against.

Why not, Alastair?
 I can't stand this anti-politics thing that is so prevalent. 
1. Why do you think people are anti-politics? Could it be because your sect's rhetoric was about empowerment while you worked to exclude all but the rich and powerful?

2. Are people 'anti-politics'? Or are they anti-Tory, anti-austerity?

Why else?
there are better ways to show it than rudeness. I thought it was just silly.
I didn't notice a new civility in New Labour's political discourse. There was, however, a New Language, as Norman Fairclough's book called it. It used the vocabulary of liberal-leftism to disguise neoliberal policies, and it - famously - removed verbs from political rhetoric as though to imply that the forces of history were beyond human power. Underneath the rhetoric of democracy, we were told that there was nothing we could do about terrorism and globalisation other than to submit.

As to The Riviera Gigolo's objection to rudeness: I fart in his general direction. Limiting political speech to politeness is a way to exclude radical ideas and radical expression of ideas. It turns political action into a parlour game played by gentlemen. One of my favourite examples of politics in action is when apartheid-era Malan phoned George Formby and his wife to protest against their insistence on playing mixed venues: 'Piss off, you horrible little man', she cried, and slammed down the phone. A more recent example is Desmond Tutu's polite refusal to share a stage with Tony Blair: the PR response was that he'd been rather ill-mannered and ungracious for bringing up these serious political disagreements (and dead people).

Banning rudeness is banning passion, and ordinary people.
The thing about politicians in Britain is that they are out there, you can lobby them, get close to them, there are loads of ways you can protest against them, and booing is a pretty weak way of doing it. Also in the examples you give, they at least had the chance to answer back because they had a microphone. They could make a point, argue back. George just had to grin and bear it.
The most objectionable bit of Campbell's argument was this bit:

This is just plain untrue. Politicians have never been so unreachable. My local MP, the awful Uppal, tightly controls his public appearances so that he never meets anyone with whom he disagrees. On the rare occasions his cordon is breached, he responds very badly indeed, as I've found out. Politicians don't make public speeches any more: 'security', they say, or 'we want to talk to stakeholders'. Mervyn King insisted on an invited audience. When Ed Miliband came to the Wolves ground, the meeting was for carefully-picked invitees, not local party members (I crashed it, and found him charming and convincing). Party conferences are now showcases for control, rather than internal meetings to thrash out ideas. Has anyone out there been invited to discuss the economy with George, or the NHS with Hunt?

The public's access to politicians is severely restricted. Yes, you can tease them on Twitter, but the determined ones can avoid contact with anyone with whom they disagree pretty much completely. Arguments look bad on TV and in the press - especially a press which is always trying to make them look bad.

'You' can't lobby politicians: Murdoch can, despite being an Australian-American living in New York. Party donors can. BAe can. Bankers can. Constituents can meet their local MP if they're lucky, but the whole point of modern political communications strategy is to maintain a one-way system in which they never receive feedback. You reckon Michael Gove has ever had a meeting with an anti-free schools group? Or Hunt with a nurses' association?

When did we get so wimpy anyway? The royals were booed when they toured the East End during the Blitz (more booing history here). Political satire was utterly vicious in the 18th and 19th centuries - far more than now. Campbell's objections simply try to reduce democracy to voting every five years: typical of a Westminster bubble technocrat.

Alastair Campbell thinks we should shed a tear because George Osborne was hurt. Boo hoo. He's hurt us and we get very few chances to express that. He, Alastair and their friends need to take their lumps. It's many years since - very sadly - I believed that the Tories were acting in the public interest, however misguidedly. If they were public-spirited, I'd agree with the Gigolo. But they aren't. As Warren Buffett says, there's a class war on and his class is winning. I think that's worth a moment's discomfort. Booing might seem a bit silly, a sign of political weakness, but it's better than nothing.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Booing on the soundtrack undermines the photo-opportunity. Osborne looked (slightly) uncomfortable; he didn't get what he wanted. It isn't much but it'll do to be going on with.