Monday, 22 February 2010

Submerged optimism

The current issue of bullying in Gordon Brown's office, whatever the resolution - and I doubt there will be one - is another step in the (self) discrediting of politics in this country. Smear and counter-smear alternate, the spin spins ever faster, and the centrifugal force is likely to throw a good many people off whatever mechanism we picture doing the spinning.

National Bullying Helpline's Christine Pratt rushes to deny the denials of the Prime Minister's office, as a result of which Anne Snelgrove, of the Prime Minister's office, sends a batch of emails making serious allegations about Christine Pratt to the Today programme. Pratt denies having claimed that Brown has physically bullied people and denies having refused a meeting with Snelgrove to discuss the allegations about her. She denies insisting on having lawyers present. Snelgrove says she resigned as patron of the charity not because of the allegations but because she didn't want a meeting with lawyers present. Pratt denies having asked for lawyers to be present but asserts that it was necessary to have trustees (not lawyers) because that's what the constitution of the charity says. Snelgrove denies having turned down further invitations to meet, denies that Brown is a bully, though Pratt denies having said he was. Perceived smear, counter-smear. And the facts?

Either one or the other is lying, or - more likely - both are being a little liberal in their interpretations of what actually happened. That is what, I think, may safely be called spin. The fact that Snelgrove is spinning in mud, and that Pratt might or might not have her own mud to spin in, is irrelevant. The point is the mud. The point is the spinning. Whether Gordon Brown ever grabbed anyone by the collar or not does not seem to me an issue of national significance.

On the other hand the sound of Gordon Brown's office wanting to appeal to the 'submerged optimism' in people sounds less like mud than a desperate wallow in unadulterated shit. It's not a question of whether the economic policy is right or wrong, whether it is better to make severe cuts so as to reduce the massive debt or to allow the economy to somehow reflate itself. I don't know. I know my 'submerged optimism' would prefer the latter simply because, by definition, optimism would choose the more pleasant course. I don't want to know about my 'submerged optimism'. It is the submerged optimism of the government that is at issue. Do they actually believe in their cure or is it just for public consumption? The fact that a general election is rushing towards them at great speed suggests to me that 'submerged optimism' is, like patriotism, the last refuge of a scoundrel. 'Look,' they cry, 'just think of nice things and vote us in again!'

We've already been through months of MPs' perks. I want politics to work. I want debate and I want a modicum of straight dealing - not saintliness or even a collection of figures entirely beyond reproach - but a necessary modicum, let's say 80% or so - without which politics is just a private casino. For the first time in a long time I have serious doubts where to cast my vote. God knows, I might go Green, but for the fact that an essentially one-issue party seems unsatisfactory to me. There is a slow collapse in process and something has to be built out of the ruins.


In Hungary on the other hand everything is crystal clear. The rise of the extreme right party, Jobbik, that polled 15% in the European Parliament elections and is polling at 10% now, that is to say well over the 5% barrier required to get seats in parliament, is, apparently, all the fault of the liberal-left, according to the 'centre right' think tank, Budapest Analyses (I get emails so can't link directly). The liberals and the left are corrupt and they keep blaming right wing extremism on, er, the right. In this way they drive people to the, er, right.

As they say:
while many delve into the role of the right-wing media and intellectuals in the growth of Jobbik, the responsibilities of leftist-liberal politics and intellectuals for this development is little discussed.

The result of left-wing governance in Hungary has been a marked degradation in the social and economic situation. Part of this trend is the attitude popular among youth that identifying with far right ideas is a way of rebelling against the political establishment. In reality, this means that the self-sytled leftist and liberal intellectual community – probably as a result of its unquestioning support for the extremely unpopular Gyurcsány-Bajnai line – lost its credibility and can no longer be attractive among youth. One contributing factor in terms of the territorial aspects of Jobbik’s surge was mounting tensions among the Hungarian and Roma population due to growing poverty across the society.

while weakening the Hungarian state administration they degraded the police’s efficiency, which in turn strengthened the perception of flagging public security.

Clearly what is wanted is a stronger police, with greater powers.

And, the trump card:
In Central Europe, and so in Hungary, the strategy of continuing to raise the specter of Fascism as the alternative of the left is a legacy of Communism. In practice, this means trying to blur the distinction between the centre-right and the far right.

In other words the act of describing fascist parties as, er, fascist, leads more people to become fascists.

Bad mistake, thinks Budapest Analyses. Not half enough submerged optimism there. Look, they're not really fascists and they are not really murdering Roma - and we have no sympathy with them, that's just a smear, and anyone who thinks different is a Communist.


A. N. Author said...

Don't vote Green, George, they'll only wreck the suspension on your chariot by the mandatory introduction of the Wymondhan speed hump chicane and force feed you seed cake and alfalfa sprouts.

A. N. Author said...

Wymondham. It's a hard word to spell at the best of times.

Desmond Swords said...

I switched from BBC 24 News in disgust, over to Sky News, only to discover they too were devoting the morning to this non-event that another low, small step towards the eradication of social gravity.

The political parties are acting with the most transparent disingenuousness and it is laughable, sad, tragic, silly and indicative of how far down the line we all have conned ourself that the world we live in is democratic.

Watching Cameron in peachy glow, addressing the very unimportant sideshow of Gordan Brown exhibiting a human side at work, conning attention away from the genuine bullying, bombing and 'collateral damage' murder of innocent anonymous civilians in Afghanistan deemed unworth of more than a passing several second mention on the 'news' - made me think how thick we all are.

Bread and circuses, sheeple drones debating if Gordan Brown bullied his staff, who are then encouraged to ring a bullying hotline, some PC bint tarted up for a brief slot being grilled by a fat-faced arse licking mouthpiece of Murdoch, himself doing the bidding of the anonymous crooks whose idea of being human is enslavement through debt and conjuring money out of thin air, along with the paranioa they need to fool us there's always a ficticious enemy, war on terror that needs to be fought near the oil on which their sleight of hand dollar con occurs.

Gordan Brown being like you or I, is all very tricial and wholly unimportant, definitely NOT news, but as important stufff as what Katie Price did next with Pete, Alex and the clothes a plastic god wears, what they buy, where they shop, names, names, words and language: imagine Thatcher, she'd be first for the chop if bullying hotlines were around in 1980's Britian.

Poet in Residence said...

In Hungary's neighbour Austria the campaigning is unofficially underway for the prestige post of Mayor of Vienna. As I predict it, it will be a two horse race. The incumbent (Socialist / Red) is guaranteed to keep his job but with a reduced majority (he could fall below 50%) and the Far Right populist (FPO / Blue) will be runner-up with about 25%.
Apropos bullying at no. 10. Nothing new. Shades of Maggie. Thaat woman had bollox.
But whatever the issue I always believe Gordon. He strikes me as a reasonably honest trier - quite something for a politician.

Billy C said...

And in all this media scavenging and hysteria, the real victim is real bullying. We all know what it is/was, but now it's been degraded to a boss throwing a tantrum because somebody cocked up.

Nicola said...

Billy C for president I say.

George S said...

You heard Nicola, Billy? What about it?

Desmond, you probably know I am not on the same side of the barricades as you in respect of Afghanistan - nor are most Afghans to judge by polls (if you can trust them.) I cannot quite see why US forces would want to 'murder' (as you put it) innocent Afghans, unless you are positing the US as an agent of pure evil (you might be, many others do). I don't think the tragic deaths of innocent Afghans was described as collateral damage by anyone.

I don't think life under the Taleban was entirely free of collateral damage either - except that most of it was not collateral. Not as such.

A.N. Author - fair enough, I wouldn't want to be force fed alfalfa sprouts. Though it's more likely to be (organic) sugar beet in Norfolk.

Caroline M Davies said...

Well George at least you will get a vote in your constituency. Here in Buckinghamshire we are likely to get the choice of Speaker of the House of Commons vs UKIP.

George S said...

My constituency is S Norfolk, Richard Bacon (Conservative) and nothing much else beside sugar beet., Caroline.

In Norwich I could have had Charles Clarke (Lab) or Dr Ian Gibson (Lab), the latter until recently ejected, since when replaced by Chloe Smith (Con). Interestingly, with the deselection of Gibson, Labour lost almost 27% of their last vote, leaving Smith an easy winner.

South Norfolk has been Tory since 1950. Before then it alternated between Labour and Tory, and before then it was solidly Liberal.

Labour polled third behind Lib Dem last time round (about half the Tory vote), UKIP almost invisible.

The People's Republic of Norfolk votes Sandringham.

Billy C said...

"The People's Republic of Norfolk votes Sandringham."

I'm beginning to think it's the only sane vote left, George. That would make any bid for President a redundant excercise, so I'll just sit under the elderberry tree and watch the world go madly by.

By the way, although I've not commented, I've read your account of things since your father died. I've experienced the same thing myself and had to sift through letters and documents as you did. It's only when you do that you fully realise that 'father' was more than a father.

Diane said...

You have triggered a great deal of debate, George. Given your lively analysis of Hungary, I wonder what your thoughts might be on Ukraine? Not only is the Orange Revolution now completely defeated (apparently) but the same pre-2003 group are now back in much for a moment of "openness" and a momentary pause in the poisoning of yer opponents (much more effective than the very, very familiar sight of a manager turning into a bully because his job is Too Much To Control and the troops won't do what he wants them to do -- i.e., love him).

George S said...

As far as the bullying debate goes, Diane (and Billy) it wouldn't at all surprise me if Gordon Brown acted violently at times. It's not pleasant to have the economy fall in on you as soon as you step through the door. His performances under questioning often gave me the impression of a steam roller temperament that is not concerned to answer questions but to impose his view by sheer force of time and volume. He is not much good at debate partly because of that.

None of this endears him to me - though, on the other hand, I am not sorry that he does not consider it his chief job to endear himself to me, or indeed anyone else. His chief job is running the country. It is when he then does try to endear himself that problems arise. If he is a gruff and difficult man then that is what he is - I think people would accept that. The actual bullying stories - by which I mean pushing secretaries off chairs and regularly humiliating people (I think the word 'regularly' is important here) by shouting at them and calling them names - may or may not be true. The later biographers will hope to settle that.

Billy is, I think, right on this, and so is Gwilym (PiR). I don't like Gordon - I would prefer another Prime Minister from the same party (though don't ask me who) - but I don't make my liking of him as a person a political principle and, in the bigger picture, his gruffness and bad temper are not as important as what he does as part of his office.

It was the rush to counter-smear that really annoyed me. It's the Mandelson doctrine: 'If anyone criticises you, criticise back so hard they'll never walk again, and never mind who or what else suffers in the process'.

In terms of the Ukraine it seems pretty dreadful. I imagine the Russian influence - Russian power generally - is doing its darndest to reassemble the old Soviet Union, if only as an informal alliance (it could become formal later at some stage.)

Diane said...

Dear George, Yes, Ukraine looks to have lost its momentum toward European integration. The success of the Orange Revolution broke the Soviet hold for a while (at least in the western part of the country). I wouldn't be surprised if the country didn't eventually split in half.............down the middle........But, thanks to the neglect of the European press, we forget that it's the largest country in Europe apart from the Russian Federation (heavy duty steel industry as well as passage for gas/oil, and a massive agrucultural area -- all pretty run down but enormous resources). The arts????

Very kind words to you about the touching accounts of your father's life in his momentos.

Poet in Residence said...

By chance I was listening to Radio Ukraine this morning and they were talking on there about the EU and the RU etc. and trying to sort out their future options. Difficult. I had the feeling that they need to show that they need the chance to play with a straight bat.
After the heaviest winter snowfall for more than 30 years Ukraine's weather forecasters are predicting major flooding when the thaw comes April/May. Holland, CZ, Belarus and Rumania have already signed-up to help out. That's 3 EU countries apparently on the ball.

I suppose Brown's brawlers will now have their minds on other things, we probably need to beef up our presence in the Med esp. around Cyprus in case Turkey goes belly up following the arrest of some 50 Turkish military top-brass for planning a coup (Operation Sledgehammer).

Nicole S said...

'His performances under questioning often gave me the impression of a steam roller temperament that is not concerned to answer questions but to impose his view by sheer force of time and volume.' George, that is so spot on. I still think he's a rubbish prime minister, though; too keen on power for its own sake. Someone has said that he is Kenneth Widmerpool, which is wonderful. I have been finding your photos and reminiscences of your father very poignant. Please accept my belated but heartfelt condolences.

George S said...

Well, I think he is a rubbish prime minister too, Nicole. Though that is not primarily because he does or does not bully his staff. You could be a very good prime minister and still be gruff and have a foul temper and be liable to bully your staff. I think this issue is the shadow boxing, the phony war if you like, before the real election campaign begins. I expect that to be the loudest, most brutal, most stupid of my lifetime. And what makes it worse is that I have a very bad suspicion that it is exactly what people expect and even hope for.

One interesting question is whether we are to revise our opinions of Gordon as the steady-as-she-goes, expert-hand-on-the-tiller chancellor in view of the near collapse of the financial system of which he was an ace exponent. If he did indeed 'save the world' once the crisis started, it might well have been himself he was saving it from. He rather reminds me of Mickey Mouse in Disney's Fantasia - the Sorcerer's Apprentice part, where all the buckets and mops go mad.

And thank you for your kind condolences, both Diane and Billy and Nicole.

Poet in Residence said...

Where's John Prescott when we need him. Gordon could hold the towel.

And as for the Tories you don't see them brawling like drunken tarts on a Saturday night, those straight-laced Eton boys have much better things to doooo! oooh oooh do it again miss! thwack!
thwack! you naughty boys.

Billy C, here's my [X]

George S said...

Billy, that X could be a vote, or a kiss, or the earnest of a signature. It is yours to do with as you will.

Billy C said...

Ha ha, I think I'll leave it where it is if you don't mind, George. PiR seems to be too well versed in affairs of Eton for me to get too close to it. :)

Poet in Residence said...

Billy C, I confess to actually passing Eton on foot, quite smartly, a fair lick, briskly in fact, keeping to the opposite side of the road.
I was on my way to view Schloß Windsor. Alas, also, from the outside. An original kid from the wrong side of the Port Dinorwic tracks, Billy! Branded by Anglophile society as a Welsh Nationalist (which I wasn't) ... but that's another story.