I’ve been a wee bit busy to blog for a few weeks. What to say? The passion, patriotism, togetherness and hope of the American people deserves celebrating, no doubt as does the amazing civil rights phenomenon of America’s first black president. Obama’s speech however marks a worrying amplification of the Tony Blair school of ‘whatever works’ government – I fear we should get ready for more demonizing of debate and disagreement as it becomes recast as ‘petty grievances and recriminations’ and political ideas as ‘worn out dogmas’. I reckon we’ll see the cult of the expert become a near dictatorship as the dreary march towards an overrated ‘consensus’ looses it’s glamourous camoflage over the coming months. It’s no surprise that Obama seemed so keen to impress the EU’s Philosopher Kings last year, they’re kindred spirits. The projection of so much expectation onto one almost messianic figure speaks as much of our sense of hopelessness and lonliness as it does of our desire for change – will he have the courage to allow decision making and resources to be devolved as far as possible to the people concerned (a meaningful, empowering version of ‘yes we can!’) or decide that a benign but all-powerful state is the only game in town?
Detailed news emerged today of the government’s Change4life anti-obesity initiative amid the usual lurid claims about 9 out of 10 children having ‘dangerous levels of fat’ and us all drowning in a tsunami of lard. A little close examination reveals what a mess of prejudice, quackery and social engineering all of this scaremongering really involves. First, there’s the most recent Public Health Survey, ingnored by the media but showing no significant increases and in some cases apparent decreases in instances of overweight and obesity. This is explored further by Patrick Basham and John Luik (who demonstrate convincingly that talk of an obesity ‘epidemic’ is alarmist) at Spiked. Aside from the dodgy statistics and selective reporting, it’s not hard to see ,once again, the ususal display of Political Class preoccupations; the whole messy, glorious business of life reduced to yet another list of administrative chores such as counting, checking, weighing – the impression of ordinary people as hopeless cattle in need of herding by benevolent experts – the essential vulnerability of children – the over-use of catastrophic language. I’m more and more reminded of Orwell’s food cranks who “cut themselves off from their fellow men in the hope of adding a few more years to their lives”. Laughably, this is the same government that worries about young people with eating disorders and unhealthy obsessions with diet!
With wearying inevitability the usual crowd of experts, health advocacy groups and associated celebrity quacks, many of whom are increasingly dependant on government funding for their continued existence, and united under the simplistic dogma of BMI, gather to endorse the DoH line. Even Nick Park has (at huge expense to the tax payer no doubt) been roped in to produce an animated infomercial featuring cuddly ‘Morph’ characters living healthy lives all over the screen. Perhaps he’d better re-think Wallace’s fondness for cheese, recently designated by the Food Standards Agency as a ‘junk food’.
So bereft of real ideas and vision is the ruling elite that it obsesses over our lifestyles and habits like an anxious parent, unable to trust us or credit us with the intelligence to figure things out for ourselves. No chance of HM Government slimming down a bit then? No..thought not.
I’ve just read Peter Oborne’s ‘The Triumph of the Political Class’ (recently updated to include Super Gord); what a terrific read it is. It offers in detail the idea that the old establishment, which despite its manifest faults at least had the idea of public service, selflessness and duty at its heart, has been displaced by a new self-serving Political Class. This new class is made up of professional politicians who colude to protect each other (even across party lines) and is shot through with corruption, cynicism, cronyism and a deep seated contempt and lack of understanding for ordinary people and their lives. It’s one of the most well argued explanations I’ve come across for the gaping chasm that has opened up between politicians and the public. It challenges the Blairite claim to have established a meritocracy with the view that those in positions of power are in fact largely the carefully crafted products of this cynical, nepotistic and self referrential clique and have little or no experience in any other walk of life. Excellent reading for someone like me who’s sick to death of the current situation but refuses to be cynical about the potential for change. Well written and fascinating.
I haven’t blogged for couple of years for one reason or another but culture, media and sport minister Andy Burnham’s recent worrying remarks on New Labour’s ‘plans’ for the internet had me firing up the old WordPress account again. This story has been blogged on pretty widely since Saturday morning, including this excellent piece by Charles Arthur at the the Guardian, but I felt strongly that I wanted to add my voice to the debate and get involved. Burnham has clearly failed to grasp the distributed nature of the internet and obviously has no idea of the vast amount of content uploaded daily. Then there’s the obvious question of who decides what is suitable or not – underage sex, suicide, adultery, eye gouging, witchcraft and murder? Well, presumably that’d be Shakespeare out then. Practicalities aside though, what do Mr Burnham’s suggestions tell us about the government’s view of us? The proposals are shot through with the current preoccupations of our anxious society, which New Labour cheerfully stokes in its desperation to connect with us – the internet is a nest of racists, paedophiles, jihadis and violent pornographers – technology (as though it had some life of its own) is ‘out of control’ and turning against us – children are inherently vulnerable and easily ‘damaged’. Then there are those assumptions peculiar to this government, and increasingly to all Western governments: every percieved problem requires legislation and attendant regulation no matter how ill considered, unworkable or hasty – parents cannot be trusted to raise their children effectively or safely – adults are passive idiots, easily swayed/radicalised/perverted by words and images and also technologically illiterate (rich, coming from arts graduate Burnham) . Mr Burnham’s suggestion that libel laws be made easier simply illustrate the current view that words can actually hurt us – understandable given the prevailing view of citizens as fragile, identity obsessed neurotics. Tom Watson of the cabinet office is asking people to comment on the proposals at his personal blog with the promise that they will be passed on to Andy Burnham and Lord Carter – given the parlous state of our democracy I may just take him up on it.