Saturday, January 04, 2014

World War Wankathon - And They're Off!

"Today, one of Britain’s most eminent historians hit back at what he described as an “ignorant attack” by Education Secretary Michael Gove on his analysis of the conflict..."  The Independent, 3 January  

And with that, did Michael Gove win.

You might well disagree.  You might think that Gove's arguments about the "Blackadderisation of the First World War" have been roundly trounced and the preening politician hurled wailing back into the pit of churning, resentful guff from which he was spawned.

Well, no.  Consider - Does Michael Gove really consider the justice of the Empire's cause in World War One a vital issue?  Does Theresa May genuinely not understand how the European Court of Human Rights works, despite the legions of expert lawyers at her beck and call?  Does Baroness Warsi actually lie awake in mortal terror of secular assaults upon religion

I suggest not, and this should be especially clear in a week that saw 72-point screaming headlines about non-existent hordes of eastern Europeans descending upon England like a plague of locusts.  

Sadly, Gove's pronouncements are just the starter pistol for this year's WWI commemorations, and they make it abundantly clear that the Tories intend to spend the whole time issuing wacky jingo statements about unpatriotic academics metaphorically urinating on war memorials and all those scummy pacifists who would've left your daughters at the mercy of the Hun's depraved lust.

What does this have to do with the actual war?  Well, nothing, but then Theresa May isn't addressing any form of the European Court that actually exists, and Warsi's secular extremists are pure phantasms, and both intentionally so.  Neither are any more real than the planeloads of Romanians that never were.  

These rows are started for the sheer hell of starting rows and the angrier and more partisan they are, the better.  Raging barneys about bugger all fire up your supporters; they give the impression of solidity to mere waffle and subsequently fill newspaper pages that would otherwise be full of tales of governmental incompetence and deceit with flatulent nothingness...  And perhaps best of all for the budding bullshit artist, you can afford to lose utterly, since nothing was ever at stake and defeat is meaningless.

What would Tory Party HQ prefer in the headlines this week, do we think?  Gove Defends War Dead From Attacks By Snooty Professors, or maybe Brainless, Clueless Government Still Driving Britain Into Penury Out Of Spite*?

The sad fact is that there's no way of winning these interminable ructions, if you're trying to inject a bit of truth into the discussion, because the truth simply doesn't matter.  Hardly anybody reads extended debunkings of governmental cant on human rights or immigration, or indeed on any other issue.  Any response merely lends credence to the idea that a Gove or a May is making some kind of serious argument, rather than farting great clouds of noxious blah into the atmosphere.

If there's any way to tackle this nonsense, it's surely a mixture of laughing, pointing and then returning to the government's godawful record of malice and deceit across the whole range of public policy.  Facts tend to possess a power that fluff doesn't, and it seems to me that mockery should always trump mock outrage. 

Mind you, you'll have to go elsewhere for facts or skilled satire.  The best you're going to get from me is the observation that Michael Gove looks like some kind of pallid, bulbous-eyed, wriggling horror that you'd throw back into the water in revulsion if you hauled it out of the North Sea. 

*The British press being what it is, it's probably fanciful to imagine that papers undistracted by He-Said-She-Said shite would otherwise be holding a Tory government up to some kind of scrutiny.  Nonetheless, distraction is the entire purpose of He-Said-She-Said shite.

It also seems to me that this kind of highly-politicised row over patriotism and our wars is significantly more foul and disrespectful than anything Richard Curtis ever wrote, especially given all the vows not to politicise commemorations, but it doesn't seem much like many people care about that, either.


ejh said...

While in principle I have some time for this argument, I think in Michael Gove's case he does actually believe in the phantasms which he conjures up.

Vicky said...

Or we could attack elitist claptrap on all fronts, as hard as we can, in front of as diverse an audience as possible, to give ourselves the best chance of making something stick. A bit like nailing Al Capone for tax fraud.
Analysis of WWI isn't a straight left/right issue and there will be people previously unaware of Gove's woeful understanding of history (I've seen enough to believe these views are held genuinely) who become less inclined to support his policies the more publicity his statements receive. We'd be daft to miss the opportunity this centenary represents. The best chance we have of wrestling control back from the Tories is to keep poking at the points of conflict within conservatism, to build up a broad coalition of opposition to their current programme.
This isn't to say that we shouldn't also hit them head on - we need to keep shouting about the harm they are doing - but this sort of argument is far from being frivolous or counter-productive.

ejh said...

Also, while it might be possible (and best) to ignore it if it were just Standpump, it's a bit different when it's a prominent member of the government. Standpump's just a low-circulation magazine that thinks it's still 1972 and Bernard Levin is standing alone in defence of civilisation, but Gove, unlike people who just think they're Churchill, really might be a future prime minister and for him to use his position to traduce professional academics is the sort of thing that shouldn't, really, be ignored.

flyingrodent said...

You may be right, and feel free to give it a bash.

Myself, I can see only one winner emerging from a fight between an aggressively stupid government minister and unnamed lefty academics.

organic cheeseboard said...

I'm with Justin in that I think Gove genuinely does believe this. It comes back to his being a journalist rather than politician - to be an opinion journo you really do have to believe in the shite you peddle, no matter hwo rubbish and thoughtless it might be.

It's also got the opinion journo stamp: 'I've read* a book which confirms my prejudices thus they must be correct'. See your Freedland post too.

It's funny, though, because although there's clearly a debate to be had about all this, it strikes me that it's not something that's likely to appeal to anyone. It's definitely 'look over there' stuff as you say, but Gove is hardly likely to win over swing voters with this anti-lefty ranting, of which this is not an isolated example.

I'm all for his becoming Tory party leader since he's a) massively unpleasant on camera and in print, and a dreadful communicator anyway; b) he's got absolutely no ideas that actually appeal to anyone; and c) he's far too keen on picking pointless fights; oh and d) he's also completely opposed to any kind of transparency, which is fine in a relatively unimportant ministry but would fuck him up royally if he were, say, shadow foreign sec, let alone pm.

Though I actually reckon he doesn't want to lead the party but rather get loads of lucrative writing gigs and directorships once they're out. Ditto Cameron and Osborne. That's the Blairism they truly believe in.

*'read' here means 'read about', probably in a press release or another article which someone pointed in my direction