Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Malcolm read the telly critics with interest:

What would be the take on Hitchens' demolition derby around the Cameron circuit?

As predicted, Andrew Billen in The Times was distinctly sniffy:
That Cameron is a chameleon in a PR man’s suit is beyond dispute. But a hypocrite? Hitchens was in no mood to consider the alternative proposition that the electorate’s thrice-delivered rejection of the Tory Right might just have persuaded Cameron not only that the old polices were keeping him from office but were Wrong. People change their minds, as a former Trotskyite currently now keeping up the spirits of The Mail on Sunday readers recalled. As for the peril posed by the coalescence of British parties in a mushy liberal centre, isn’t the greater threat to democracy having an Opposition that’s pathologically unelectable? Hitchens’s argument suffered from not having bothered to define what Conservatism stood for, a definition worth attempting since, in my memory, it has been at various times, free-trade and protectionist, appeasing and belligerent, pro-market and corporatist, for Europe and against it.
Then there is Sam Wollaston in The Guardian, nicely acidic in the Nancy Banks-Smith slot:

It's a pity Dispatches: Cameron - Toff at the Top (Channel 4, "the liberal elite's favourite TV station", as Pete once called it) is written and presented by Hitchens, a man with all the charm of Gollum. Because if you can stomach it, and the hypocrisy, there's some interesting stuff in there; and it's high time the media-Cameron love-in ended and he got a bit of a kicking. Not only will Dave leap, lordily, on to any bandwagon that's passing, but he actually doesn't believe in anything at all. According to Hitchens, he's an opportunist, a chancer, a politician who has never actually been interested in politics. And by attempting to copy New Labour he has essentially eliminated voter choice.

Worse still, he's a horrid toff, and was once a member of the Bullingdon Club, a bunch of braying Hooray Henries (no Henriettas allowed) at Oxford who dress up, get horribly drunk, smash places up, then get Daddy to send a cheque to take care of the damage. Never mind the U-turns, or the lack of policies, surely the photograph of him, puffed out like a peacock with his public-school Bullingdon chums, will be enough to ensure he never gets anywhere near Downing Street.

Yes! That's nearer the flavour we want.

However, what intrigued Malcolm was how the Daily Mail would take it. The Mail was far from a cheer-leader for Cameron in the leadership election; and not much has apparently changed. A small, but significant problem: the only way Malcolm would allow that fascist rag into the house is as cat-litter (and, since Malcolm is ailurophobic, Redfellow Hovel is a feline-free zone). So, he sneaked a look at the on-line edition.

He discovered no review (at least that he could find) but something better. Peter Hitchens, of course, is a Mail on Sunday columnist; and he used his column this week to trail the programme.


Gold dust. Let's start with two magnificent portraits of the great man.

The first is Cameron after losing a Conservative seat at Stafford in 1997 on a 10¾ swing (slightly above the national swing?), and obviously practising for 2009. It doesn't help us to resolve the mystery of the migrating hair-parting, alas.

It can't get better! Or can it?

Next up is young Dave, still up at Oxford, but not in his Bullingdon Club waistcoat-and-tails. Here he is holidaying in Kenya, snapped by his then girl-friend.

Now all Malcolm wants for his birthday triptique is Dave in plus-fours, shooting at Glenarm Castle, County Antrim. Any sightings of that one?

That's the hors d'oeuvre. Now for the real meat.

Malcolm has to hand it to the brothers Hitchens: they are magnificent haters. Pete vs Cameron. Chris vs Galloway. For some time Pete vs Chris, and vice versa. Well, actually, Chris vs pretty well anyone. And yet Malcolm finds it hard to disagree all the time with either.

So to the Mail on Sunday trailer for the dump on Cameron:

Principles, old boy? What are they? The poor dears [i.e. Tories] just feel unsettled and unhappy when they and their old friends from Eton aren’t Cabinet Ministers, much as they feel uneasy and upset about the banning of foxhunting – which arouses the only true political passion most of them have. They are angry and impatient about being deprived of their birthright. So angry that they are prepared to do almost anything, and spend almost anything, to scramble back into Downing Street.

David Cameron is their revenge. And that’s one of the reasons why his toffishness and extraordinary, semi-aristocratic background is such a big theme of the programme I’ve made ...
Hitchens is quite positive in this polemic:
Proper conservative politics come from the suburbs, not from the broad acres. The gentry have no idea how much New Labour’s policies hurt us down in Acacia Avenue. They’ve never been there and regard our privet hedges and semi-detached homes with just as much horror and disdain as the Islington Left do.
The Mail piece inevitably is a far more effective synopsis than Malcolm attempted last night (and Malcolm feels embarrassed not to have seen it aforehand). There are significant differences in the conclusions made in the Mail and on Channel 4.

The first is this:
The current storm of personal abuse directed against Gordon Brown is a coded way for New Labour people to endorse the new Tories, in whose hands the Blair legacy of political correctness and high taxation will be quite safe. I predict high-level defections from New Labour to the Tories in the next 18 months.
Well, there's always a Reg Prentice. But who now remembers him? As for "high-level defections", things are rarely as simple as that. Malcolm remembers the dark early '80s, when Bill Rodgers was playing siren for the SDP while the London Labour Briefing were being thought-police (a pushmi-pullyu double act). Personal experience, over many years on the close fringes of things, tells Malcolm that far more "defections" are the consequence of short-term ambition and personal grievances (both grieving and being grieved against) than anything ideological.

Hitchens, pace Billen above, came from being a university Trot to his present posture. His grasp of dialectics assumes that, just as Butskellism crashed into Thatcherism, so "the Blair legacy of political correctness and high taxation" must also meet its inevitable antithesis.

The other is the way Hitchens finished his programme, by hanging a hat on Richard Neville's "inch of difference". Malcolm suspects few younger Brits quickly call to mind Neville, who breezed in and invented Oz (a magazine and then a moniker) and went to gaol for it. He's still about, as Quixotic as ever, describing himself as a "futurist". And, as far as Malcolm recalls, the original quotation was:
there may be only an inch of difference between Wilson and Heath but it's in that inch that we live...
It achieved currency largely from the lips of John Lennon in an interview with Robin Blackburn and Tariq Ali for Red Mole.

Hitchens was arguing that Tories must be different: this used to be the "clear blue water" of John Major and Michael Howard. Hitchens' platform, it needs to be remembered, is to look for a realignment on the right of British politics, and the demise of the present conservative party. He maintains that, by being a Blair-clone in the mushy middle, Cameron:
  • puts opportunism above any principle. [How true, how very true.]
  • leaves the right wing open for occupation by others. That presumably means the BNP, particularly so if UKIP is dying the death. UKIP seems to be where Hitchens belongs, with his anti-EU rhetoric and his social attitudes. And couldn't UKIP do with him—and, in a perfect world, the Mail. Though, admittedly in the Northern Ireland Assembly election a sole UKIP candidate took 2.7%: that made the total NITory haul of o.5% as derisory as it deserved.
  • disenfranchises natural Tories (in the same way "New Labour" has disenfranchised socialists, perhaps).
In other words, Hitchens is a Whig, a free liberal (NOT Lib-Dem). He distinguished himself from Thatcherism some time ago:
she failed to fight the Left on the equally important battlefields of education, the family, morality and culture, a terrible waste of a unique and unrepeatable opportunity. She spectacularly failed to reform the BBC in a way that would benefit the country. And she had a thoroughly unconservative contempt for institutions and traditions. She was also far too presidential, and some of her actions opened the way for Labour's much greater attack on the constitution. Her economic policies were far from perfect, and did much unintended damage to British manufacturing industry. And she allowed herself to be browbeaten into joining the Exchange Rate Mechanism, a surrender that did not save her
So, in hopes of further Hitchens' squibs, Malcolm
(borrowing Norman Clegg's words again) seriously entertains hope that this one will continue to be potty on a full-time basis.

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