Sunday, February 27, 2005

Tory Moderniser: The Tabloids Ate My Homework

Personally, I never rated Douglas Hurd, but you've got to give him some credit for penning such an honest insight into the world view of the Tory moderniser. If you're in a hurry Douggie has fortunatly provided one sentence which sums up the essence of their philosophy:

I suspect that every home secretary would agree with Charles Clarke’s final conclusion that there was no advantage in altering the present law which permits the reasonable use of force against burglars
Ah well then, that settles it! Hurd doesn't even appear to conceive of the idea of the Home Secretary as the servant of the people and the Law as the reflection of the common morality. It is against this background that we should judge his complaints against the newspapers. Indeed, Hurd's charge sheet is a perfect example of the rule of thumb that 90% of the time when people attack 'the tabloids', they really mean 'the public'. Criticisng the tabloids is just a way of calling the public STOOPID by proxy. We're all honest-to-goodness, salt-of-the-earth types, but those nasty tabloids keep warping our tiny, little minds:

Anyone interested in prisons or our criminal justice system knows how the public are pushed towards brutality by part of the press — by the reporting of court cases, the exploitation of the understandable misery and anger of vulnerable victims.
Are you getting that ? Us primitives are being manipulated by the tabloids and their cunning strategy of reporting what goes on in our courts, and reminding us that it's not all some detatched intellectual exercise. I can see why m'learned friends would be anxious not to remind us that their Gramscian lunacy has real-world consequences in terms of shattered lives, but I'm not sure why anyone should think the tabloids should help them along in their deception.

As if to ram home the point that Tory modernisers have given up dealing with the public, in favour of seeking asylum on the Islington dinner party circuit, Hurd chooses to attack one paper in particular. Can you guess which ?

In its triviality, the press supposes that we cannot absorb sustained argument. It prefers to deal in symbols. These are selected to stimulate one of the three qualities which the press particularly favours in its readers — brutality (including envy and blame), fear and sentimentality. These qualities seem to be particularly highly regarded in the Daily Mail.
Now, let's get this clear. The Daily Mail is Britain's biggest selling paper, and generally pro-Conservative. The modernisers often cast the Tory Right as this decades' Militant. Well, here's a moderniser effectively calling eight million potential Conservative voters idiots. So which side of the Party is really disloyal ? Which is too extreme to engage in practical politics ? Hurd's rantings bring to mind the old joke about the GDR government dismissing the electorate and appointing a new one. Apparently, the reform Hurd has in mind for the Conservative Party consists of throwing out all the Conservatives.

At risk of stating the obvious, newspapers face election every day. There's a word for editors who let their papers get out-of-sync with the public: unemployed. The Press deals in extremes, but its flaws are those of the public writ large. Great leaders recognise that fact, weak ones….well, here's Hurd again:

Politicians are there to use their judgment; if they abdicate that task too often, there is no point to them. We can remember dangerous dogs, the firearms legislation after Dunblane, and, more recently, questions of gambling and drinking hours.
Would it be excessively 'tabloid' to point out who was in power when the Dangerous Dogs Act passed and the first round of post-Dunblane witch hunts occurred ? Let's not mention the Balkan experience. That's what Hurd is really on about. Just as Hurd tacitly admits that to report fairly on what happens in our courts is enough to rouse public anger, so any fair analysis of the philosophy espoused by Hurd and his fellow travellers would be devastating. That's the thing that really bugs them - they have the right CV, the right pedigree and they're the talk of the cocktail circuit, but every time their ideas get exposed to real people, they get laughed at.

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