The Guardian sings from the Crosby songbookPosted: July 15, 2014
At the SEA Conference last month, Peter Wilby, distinguished former education correspondent and former editor of the New Statesman, discussed why it is that the quality of national political journalism is so low. One of the fundamental causes in his view was ignorance. That is ignorance of the detail of any substantive policy area and a determination to focus on Westminster village games – who’s in, who’s out, who’s up and who’s down.
There was a classic of its kind in yesterday’s Guardian by someone called Christina Patterson – who tweets, I kid you not, under the tag @queenchristina. So no false modesty there. Most of the article is simply a confection of village gossip – so we get the bacon sandwich, knowing the price of a pint of milk, the barrister wife earning maybe £200k (many QC’s wouldn’t get out of bed for that!) and cherry picked opinion poll findings.
No one would claim the polls are great but one thing they do show is that people think Cameron is hopelessly out of touch with their lives – so is any comparison made by Patterson between the two? Of course not. You would have to say that this goes beyond ignorance and is shading into malice straight out of the Crosby playbook. Or maybe journalists are really as totally innumerate as this would suggest?
At the heart of the article though is the now very tired accusation “we don’t know what he stands for”. If Patterson really doesn’t know what Labour’s position is on key issues, she really does need to get out more. Things we – that is she – doesn’t know include:
“will he carry on funding free schools” – absolutely clear, no successful school will be closed but they will be brought under local accountability arrangements. There will be no new free schools and decisions on new schools will be made by local Directors of School Standards.
“a price fix doesn’t amount to a vision for change” – quite right which is why Labour has been clear that this is the preliminary to a complete restructure of the energy market including separating generation from sales.
“if he hasn’t ruled out a referendum on Europe, when might he rule on in?” – there will be a referendum if a future treaty change involves transfers of powers to the EU – otherwise not. The fact that a few mouthy backbenchers panic and want something else doesn’t make the policy in any way unclear.
“many of us think that the government could be doing a lot better on education, youth employment and building industries for the future. But saying you’ll have a one nation approach isn’t the same as showing how you’ll make that nation better”. Where to begin … has she really missed the Adonis report on growth, the local government task force report, the Husbands report on 14 to 19 education and training, commitments on house building and so on and so on.
And that’s not to mention the first steps to controlling the private rented housing sector and the repeal of the Health and Social Care Act. Not everyone will like all these policies. But the accusation that there aren’t any is not one that can stand a moment’s scrutiny.
And then to cap it all, our (her?) obsession with primogeniture is wheeled out. “He wrecked his brother’s dreams … (this) certainly isn’t the usual definition of a “family man”. So older brothers have rights that younger ones don’t have. Are we still dominated in our thinking by the inheritance rules of the landed aristocracy? Is it not possible to imagine that people thought about how the party might move on from the Blairite cul de sac and who might be best placed to do this?
When you actually take an article like this apart, ignorance begins to sound like a generous assessment. My first question when reading any article like this is to ask, who wanted this in the paper.? In this case, was it the Blairite rump still seeking revenge for the defenestration of 2007? Or the Tory media operation? Because this could hardly be bettered as a presentation of their destructive argument … except that “Red Ed, the plaything of the unions” has unaccountably been missed out. I expect Patterson ran out of space!
Surely there must be an opening on the Mail for someone of her talents.