Friday, December 11, 2009

Kettle (again)

This latest article by Martin Kettle pretty much summarises the problem with his entire political outlook:

My argument with other liberals does not depend on the view that Obama is right to increase troop numbers in Afghanistan, that Rowan Williams is sensible to try to keep the church together, that the Blair government was actually rather a good one, that limited agreements at Copenhagen are better than none at all, or that the Iraq inquiry is doing a pretty useful job in spite of some of the Vicars of Bray who have turned up to give evidence at it – although as it happens I believe all these things.

The problem is that Kettle confuses being self-consciously "mature" and "grown up" with accepting second best. F'sure be willing to accept that in the Real World things won't turn out exactly as we would want them to, but don't pretend that an appropriate response to this is acceptance.

What those immature "liberals"[1] that Kettle is decrying are doing is massively more helpful than what Kettle is doing. The liberals attack politicians for falling short. Kettle praises politicians for being mediocre. If we want a general improvement in the standards of our political culture then it is important and necessary that politicians are attacked for falling short. Politicians are powerful people, by and large, and as such need to be reminded as frequently as possible that when they behave badly they have behaved badly and when they have failed they have failed.

Suppose Kettle were to get his wish, and for everyone who has criticised Blair over the Iraq War or Obama over remaining in Afghanistan to recant and state that it is entirely understandable that these things should happen, and that you can't make a pancake without breaking eggs etc. Then what would happen? Politicians would suddenly discover that they can get away with anything. All thanks to the strength of Kettle's arguments.

So what is Kettle good for? If he is wrong, then he is wrong and not particularly interesting with it. And if he is right, then politicians should be allowed to be venal and corrupt, which would be pretty crap.

To reiterate: *I* understand that politics is a messy business, but then so is caring for the elderly, but you don't get journalists advocating lower standards of care-home cleanliness just *because* caring for the elderly is a messy business. Quite the opposite, in fact.

So yeah.

Where does Kettle get off saying things that are quite clearly bad and stupid?

Politicians are neither bad nor stupid. They are wrestling with difficulties.

Everyone is wrestling with difficulties. I'm wrestling with difficulties. Kettle, Lord help him, is probably wrestling with difficulties. That's the human condition! *Some* politicians are undeniably bad *and* stupid. That this may be true of a minority is beside the point. Politicians are sufficiently powerful that it is good SOP to give them a kicking when there is even the whiff of wrongdoing.

PS: Howard Jacobson does the same thing in The Independent, in the middle of an article slagging off the Coen brothers:

You don't have to like anybody. Men/ women, straights/gays, God/the devil – in art you can hate the lot. But there is something retarded at the heart of not liking when it targets the obvious. Living in this country at the height of Blair-baiting was like living in one giant fourth form. Listening to atheists is the same. It isn't that they're wrong, it's that they haven't moved on from the disillusionments of adolescence. Politicians lie, God isn't very nice. Get away!

The problem here is the same: the accusations of immaturity against those doing the right and necessary thing and having a go at powerful bastards. It's not as if Kettle or Jacobson advocate a more pro-active approach over just having a go. They actually seem to be saying that doing the political equivalent of growing a goatee and hanging out in dimly lit bars (i.e. playing the Kettle "too mature for manure" card) is preferable to the political equivalent of getting a job and just getting on with life (i.e. treating politicians as a class with contempt and occasionally having a go at powerful bastards).

In summary: Kettle thinks giving politicians the benefit of the doubt because they are powerful is a good idea. I disagree. Politicians should not be given the benefit of the doubt precisely *because* they are powerful.

[1]: I have a vague sense of who Kettle is referring to when he talks about "liberals" in this context, but I would prefer it if Kettle made it clear.

No comments: