Friday, November 19, 2010

What Lord Young tells us about politics

Lord Young, who along with Caroline Lucas won a Spectator award this week, has quit his unpaid role advising the Prime Minister. His crime? Having lunch with the Daily Telegraph. Serious stuff.

Actually the key thing he said that has been held up in horror was "the vast majority of people in the country today, they have never had it so good ever since this recession - this so-called recession - started."

Now, as it happens, this is factually incorrect. His opinion that low interest rates meant most people with mortgages had more spending money is not borne out by the statistics but, I'd argue, being wrong about something over lunch is not enough grounds to lose your job.

Labour is posturing saying that those out of work will be "offended" by the peer's remarks which is irretrievably prissy. A minor figure, who isn't even in the government, tells a journalist they think the rhetoric around the recession is overblown over what sounds like a rather sumptuous lunch. Hardly that insensitive and hardly likely to offend any unemployed person who takes the Telegraph.

Actually my favourite bit of the interview is where he says that the cuts will take government spending levels to 2007's figures which wont be that bad. "Now, I don't remember in '07 being short of money or the government being short of money," Well, of course he wasn't short of money he's Lord blooming Snooty! You can't judge the state of the economy on whether the rich are forced to buy economy beans.

However, I don't think he should have gone. We're breeding a generation of political robots, who serve simply to provide an antiseptically wiped set of progressive sounding sound bites no matter how horrendous the policy. By punishing honesty in this way we deepen the trend towards power for its own sake.

For me it seems that Cameron took a "safety first" attitude towards his health and safety advisor, worried about negative press from these off hand, off message remarks. It shows tremendous weakness on his part that he's afraid that the slightest rustle of leaves means the whole tree is about to come tumbling down.

It also shows how this government is much more of an extension of New Labour than it is of Thatcher. Thatcher's government in the eighties had a tame press that was willing to go to war for it's ideals. When the government was criticised they rarely caved in unless it was completely unavoidable.

Lord Young's departure, for what amounts to rather mild (if wrong) remarks, demonstrates a remarkable lack of nerve or loyalty on the part of the top brass. It also reveals Cameron's priority to be seen to "care". That's the taint of Blairism not the boot print of Thatcher and the Coalition wont get through five years cowering at just the thought of gunfire.

The mainstream political consensus has led to the death of ideological politics and the rise of a political class that services the industry, seeking power for its own sake. To lose an advisor for such a minor deviation from the party line is a bizarre waste of "talent". I've no idea whether Lord Young is any good at writing Health and Safety reports but his views on the overall effects of the recession can't possibly effect the work he was doing.

It's all very well those in opposing parties, like me, crowing at a Tory head having been taken - but this is a worrying sign that politics is far, far shallower than it should be. No genuinely radical government could survive in a political atmosphere where people can't say what they think without being shot for it.


darryl said...

I'm left a bit baffled by this as well. He's obviously exaggerating because of the circles he moves in, but for many people, the recession and the cuts will have little effect (in their eyes), and for them and other miniscule mortgage rates have been and may continue to be a boon.

It's not a majority, but it's a significant part of the population. Plenty of whom probably vote Lord Young's way.

This does feel very Continuity New Labour - never say anything to frighten the horses...

DocRichard said...

...don't frighten the horses. Exactly. If Dave had left Young's remark to stand, the opposition would have made political hay with it, quoting it as and when any story of immiseration came up in the news.

DanWhit said...

Actually, a slightly different analysis from your own might be to suggest that Lord Young was forced out not because of 'a remarkable lack of nerve or loyalty on the part of the top brass' (your analysis) but because the British capitalist class is actually far less secure, less coherent in its programme for rebooting the economy, and by extension potentially less powerful than it is trying to make itself out to be. Thatcher and co could take a gung-ho attitude to everything, and do so publicly, precisely because they were politically and ideologically secure. What the Lord Young sacking really shows us is just how POTENTIALLY weak the conservative top brass, and therefore the upper classes, feel themselves to be.

Jim Jepps said...

Dan, I don't think there's a massive difference between us - I agree that the lack of nerve stems from an underlying lack of strategy.

However I don't think there is an identity between the "British capitalist class" and the Conservative Party. After all the rich have three party flavours to choose from, and many take a far less PR-friendly views - because as individuals they're free to have whatever views they like on the EU, immigration, etc.

Parts of the capitalist class has certainly benefited from thirty years of neo-liberalism, but others recognise that the welfare state givesbenefits well beyond any profit than can be made by privatising it.

I'm even more convinced now that those denouncing this government as Thatcherite are wrong - even though there are interesting parallels over policies to reduce the welfare bill whilst increasing unemployment.

Joe Otten said...

Jim, you are worryingly close to what I said

Of course the alternative is that the government really is moderate and caring, but you wouldn't want to know that.

Jim Jepps said...

I often don't want to know what the government is doing these days - but I feel obliged to look anyway.

I am on guard against any cognitive dissonance where I invent reasons for what I'm doing because I'm going to do it anyway... but in this case the government is much worse than I expected and I don't like going on demonstrations - so I'm looking for reasons not to go, but can't find any.

My concern when listening to some Lib Dems is that because they think of themselves as nice people (and no doubt are lovely to their Mums) they can't possibly believe they could support a reactionary government. Yet they are. Hence they need to redefine the nature of the government to suit their concept of themselves.

Thankfully when the Green Party is shit I'm more than aware of it so I'm not prone to that kind of self-deception... probably... not that I'd know it if I was.

Joe Otten said...

But just as a baseline comparison exercise thing, can you identify anything this government is doing that would have been out of character for the last one to have done?

Apart from, obviously, things like delaying Trident, rehabilitating prisoners, restoring the right to protest, scrapping ID cards, etc, etc.

I realise it is politically advantageous for you (as a proxy apologist for Labour?) to pretend the deficit isn't an issue, but I would count that as self-deception.