This Wednesday he will be troughing at the Ritz-Carlton in the Cayman Islands, where he will no doubt be ranting to bankers, fund managers and other running dogs of capitalism as a guest of the Cayman Islands Financial Services Association. Clearly he is taking the fight for socialism to the enemy…
As for the rest of the Lobby – Guido is distinctly unimpressed with most of them. Why do thirsty Lobby hacks have an annual taxpayer subsidy of £210,000 for their bar? Where is the public interest in this subsidy? What other profession needs a bar at their place of work? The only other business that Guido can think of that gets leads in bars is the oldest profession.
Why can’t News International and Associated Press pay for their own office space and telephone lines instead of sponging subsidies* off the taxpayer? They are hugely profitable businesses.
The lossmaking Indy, Guardian and Telegraph collectively make less profits than Guido does, so perhaps they need their offices subsidised by the people who refuse to buy their papers. Or perhaps there are just too many newspapers and not enough readers willing to pay for them? The Lobby is full of drunken hypocrites recycling spin from the party machines. A cull of their numbers would hardly be a loss to the world.
Peter Oborne in his Triumph of the Political Class characterises the Lobby system as having produced a tame “client media”. He is absolutely right, the Lobby is far too cosily embedded in the politico-media system, far too close to their subjects, with the likes of Nick Robinson flashing his taxpayer-financed credit card to pour the better vintages down the throats of ministers who have their lunch on the BBC telly-taxpayers. The same ministers have their groceries sent to their mortgage subsidised home paid for out of the costs allowance fiddle by low income taxpayers who have just had their tax rate doubled. The system stinks, those who are supposed to be watching over politicians benefit from the system staying the same.
Too much public money is sloshing around Westminster effectively keeping them cosy together. No wonder Nick Robinson and Michael Martin don’t want us to see their expenses – they are the biggest beneficiaries of keeping taxpayers in the dark. At the British Press Awards last night Cameron began with “I haven’t come here to try and suck up to you” then went on to paraphrase H. L. Mencken saying that the relationship between newspapers and politicians should be “fractious, edgy and confrontational”. H. L. Mencken actually said that the relationship between a journalist and a politician should be like that between “a dog and a lampost”, journalists should be pissing on politicians not getting pissed with ’em…
*No taxpayers are harmed in the making of this blog.
The Mirror does a lot of Cameron bashing. Kevin Maguire, political editor, writes Beano-like articles with references to Lord Snooty and druggie Dave, the Bambi-killing toff. All good knock about stuff (though Guido does wonder if this means he patronisingly thinks Mirror buyers have the reading age of a Beano reader?)
The story last week that Samantha Cameron was guilty of “snubbing a charity trying to stop mothers dying in childbirth… because she was too busy with her job… at posh stationer Smythson” struck Guido as pretty low.
The Daily Express had to pay £500,000 to the parents of Madeleine McCann after admitting just making up stories. The Mirror does seem to be going down the same path with this kind of story. It is one thing to follow Dave about on his bike and root through his bins for disposable nappies, to see if his words match his deeds, that is just about defensible. This was just a completely manufactured story to paint Samantha Cameron in a bad light.
*Circulation down year after year for years, it now has a circulation nearly half that of The Sun.
Elsewhere in the Mirror today Maguire makes the point that the most revealing moment of “Cameron’s reckless ride to Westminster was the toff’s removal of his cycling helmet.” You can take the man out of PR, but you can’t take the PR man out of the photo-op.
Maguire went on to moan that the Brownies electorally “hoping that Tory toff Cameron cycles through one red light too many won’t work.” Quite. Guido learns from Kevin that Gordon has a new slogan: “New Labour, Your Britain.” Maguire helpfully suggests “with the government behind in the polls, what about: ‘Labour, Not As Bad As You Think’?
Guido twice in agreement with Kevin Maguire in a single day? Must lie down…
*Guido was taught at an early age that “a smear is not a smear when it is the truth”.
Colvile also got quite a lot of coverage for saying that the BNP’s website was the most popular politics site. It wasn’t. Can you guess which gossipy politics site beat them all with the most visitors last month?
Guido contacted Robert Colvile immediately on seeing the chart, he blamed the CPS and insisted that he had told them to include Guido in the chart. The CPS’s Tim Knox told Guido “sorry” and that they would correct it immediately. Of course if Guido has been included it would put all those millions spent by the Telegraph on new media in a different light – wouldn’t it? To come second to one not-always-sober Guy with a lap-top after losing £10 million on developing your website last year?
This grumble aside, it is still worth reading, particularly the point about voters now expecting government to be as good as Google. Responsive instantly, open and transparent. Something that Guido would have emphasised, is the idea of the blogosphere as the Gramscian “site of struggle” for the politico-media world’s mindshare. In this world new media can compete vigorously with Big media. In the U.S. the Drudge Report, according to the respected Pew Research Centre, is the second most important online source of campaign information in politics, behind only the New York Times and ahead of the Washington Post. So it will be over here too, and the readers will still enjoy insulting the politicians…
UPDATE : Guido has got a sneak preview of the new post-Kampfner, Geoffrey Robinson edited New Statesman:
When Guido first started this blog he took the view that politicians were held in too high esteem, that they considered themselves to be the ruling class rather than public servants and that the media far from being feral was too tame in its treatment of politicians. That was part of the motivation for starting the blog. From time-to-time the Peter Riddells, Sir Michael Whites and Polly Toynbees of the world complain that it is impossible to report on politics well if you start from the position that they are all scoundrels and have no sympathy for politicians or the practise of politics. Sometimes they specifically addressed that criticism directly to Guido.
Guido never said all politicians are greasy-pole climbing, self interested scoundrels. He does however have a suspicious mind and this is basically his default view until proven otherwise. It takes a certain kind of egoism to want to be a politician. The louder they claim it is because they “want to make a difference”, the tighter you should grip your wallet.
The more you meet politicians, the more you realise that they are not as others. For the ambitious climbing the greasy-pole is all, life for them is a non-stop reality TV show, with power and all its trappings as the prize. Political self-interest is their supreme motivation. Policy is a tool of partisan self advancement, slogans are stepping stones to power and the public is to be manipulated for votes in a democracy of spin. These politicians are really dangerous.
For those who realise that becoming an MP is probably the upper limit to their achievements there are broadly two types; the good constituency MP and the porcine politicians.
The “good constituency MP” is the stuff of legend, furthering his voter’s interests, dealing with their problems with a staff well versed in welfare issues, righting wrongs and often acting as the counsel of last resort to people suffering at the hands of the massive bureaucratic state that politicians created in the twentieth century. They may take on non-partisan causes which are in the public interest – John Hemming’s work on child protection springs to mind, protecting children from social workers and legal indifference.
In contrast the “porcine politician” is contemptible. So long as they keep their local newspaper happy and don’t get caught shagging the intern they are a lifelong burden on the taxpayer and little use to anyone but the party whips. Generally they want a quiet life, the occasional junket to the West Indies to “study” efforts to combat global warming will suffice. If they are not the type to know their interns carnally they may employ the wife to supplement the housekeeping. Exploiting the car mileage allowance yet claiming for two first class return train tickets every week, claiming a second mortgage allowance despite their constituency being on the London Underground and charging the full daily subsistence food allowance (no receipt required) are all par for the course. If they are particularly greedy, helping out lobbyists can be rewarding.
Sometimes a porcine politician does good things, sometimes a usually decent constituency MP gets caught with his hand in the till or on top of a research assistant. These are of course generalisations.
It seems to Guido that the public has an innate wisdom, it knows this and it knows it is being spun, but is too weary of politicians to care. Too busy getting on with their lives to be bothered about politics. Unfortunately the politico-media nexus is too lazy or too embedded in the Westminster Vilage to try to change things for them. Imagine you are Sir Michael White, thirty years in the Lobby, having spent most of your writing career rubbishing good journalist’s stories on behalf of unattributable sources. Those sources are your claim on the front-page. You are not going to jeopardise them and tear up your meal-ticket to Shepherds. Therein lies the problem. Until the media changes from reporting what they are spun to always questioning the behaviour and motivations of politicians, we will be cursed with the political class we have. The current orgy of politician bashing is however a good start.
Newsnight seems to be on top of the zeitgeist, night after night Crick and Grossman have been unveiling political skullduggery, Hencke at The Guardian, Sam Coates on The Times and Chris Hope on the Telegraph and a few others seem keen to tell it like it is, so hopefully like sharks they will get a taste for political blood. Politicians will then out of self interest temper their ways.
It will require us first seeing a few politicians jailed pour encourager les autres. The people want it. Give the people what they want and it might even do wonders for newspaper circulation.
Yesterday on the Today programme there was a discussion as to if the mainstream media would sit on a story that Guido would not. Sarah Montague dismissed the idea that there is in fact a cosy media elite.
Well here […]