Friday, 28 August 2009

The Showdown Of The Cynics

Mark Reckons goes from strength to strength.

His reasoned and reasonable commentary continues to see him praised by opponents while challenging the established consensus opinion, so it's not much of a surprise that he is making waves in the blogosphere.

He'd just better watch out because one misstep while walking the tightrope could see him fall from a great height - just how long will it be before the sensible wing of the tory party tries to lure him with tempting promises?

Anyway, less of the speculation and back to the meat of the latest story.


Mark reports on how tory heart-thob Dan Hannan identified Enoch Powell as an influence on him and how no less a figure than Labour's 'how-many-jobs-this-week' Peter Mandelson rose to take the bait.

It came after a long campaign of Hannan grabbing the airwaves in a blaze of egotistical publicity, including deliberately stirring controversy by using his ability to speak eloquently, channelling some of the more anti-statist sentiment swirling about the country.

This campaign is interesting for how it has been designed in advance to generate increasing levels of attention for himself (and consequently his party) with a succession of deliberately calculated attacks on the sacred calves of the left followed by deliberately calculated praise for the standard-bearers of the right.

It simply couldn't be more cynical if a public relations company had dreamt up the scheme!

So when opponents of Hannan (ie Mandelson) descend to accusations of dog-whistling and attempt to smear him by association with a man known for supporting a widely derrided anti-immigrantion policy of repatriation they are walking into a trap. Not only are we able to learn that Hannan was born in 'darkest' Peru (of all the possible exotic places), but through the wonders of backlinks we can show how he can also use the more nuanced defence of differentiation between the man and his words.

For, as Sunder Katwala of the Fabians points out, Powell was a 'cultural essentialist' who argued that national separation - not racial segregation - was vital to maintaining an ordered society. For Katwala, Powell was fearful of the speed of integration and dubious about it's potential success.

However, the most accurate description of Powell which I've heard was that he was perhaps the most powerful political mind of his generation who was ruthlessly logical too. His only flaw was to start from a misplaced and inaccurate premise. Which turned out to be a major drawback, as history proved Enoch was an overblown prophet of doom.

So perhaps Powell was merely a man of his time viewing society through the lens of his own lifetime and experience - Tony Blair certainly gave him more than due credit when he offered an effusive eulogy to him.

All of which means we must be more careful when disentangling the snatched puffery of Fleet Street interviews.

Hannan had previously forewarned us he knew that to raise up the spectre of Enoch Powell would be a lightening rod to criticism from the left, so why does anyone remain surprised when he did?

More importantly, however, how can people who wish to avoid giving the oxygen of publicity to Conservatives pre-empt Hannan's next attempt to steal the ground from under their feet?

The limelight can only be maintained by holding a firm grasp on the public arena, but where the the silly season at the end of summer was once was filled with apprentice journalists earning their stripes as they learnt the pitfalls of their job, this drab period as now been taken over by politicians with an opportunistic eye and just enough knowledge and profile to be able to manipulate a compliant media.

With an active blogosphere now capable of endlessly churning over the smallest snippet of comment to keep it alive Hannan is a new type of public figure who has learnt that he no longer need bother spin his own messages - we are capable of doing it for him.

So the fact that Hannan has finally been challenged by the old master of these dark arts suggests we are now at a tipping point where the most successful method of capturing the public consciousness is changing - a new breed of cynical politician is emerging from the primeval swamp of politics to supplant the old dinosaurs.

This duel of the generations will have only one winner, I only wonder how many losers there will be.
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