Thursday, 28 July 2011

Pull the Other One

One could be forgiven, when watching the news of what inevitably became known as 'Hackgate' for wondering what the Hell is wrong with David Cameron. I mean, he can't run an economy, we know that much; he can't win elections without help from his valet, Nick Clegg; basic human decency is something so foreign to him that his initial response to any ethical question is to apologise politely and tell the questioner he doesn't speak Swahili _ but a scandal like this should, surely, be right up his alley? This whole thing is, when you get down to it, a matter of public relations - and that used to be Cameron's job, for goodness' sake.

It's at that point that I remember Dave never got one of the limited range of jobs he's done on merit. Every single career opportunity he's had has been presented to him on a plate, on the 'who you know' principle. Why study and graft, after all, when you can just get a mate from Buckingham Palace to put in a good word for you?

So I don't buy the lazy idea that David Cameron is a 'master of spin'. Blair - he could spin. Blair got landslides. Cameron's much-vaunted PR skillz only got him a deeply unfulfilling political cohabitation with the Lib Dems. And Blair knew how to get angry properly, too: how to project just the right sense of wounded feelings while still rhetorically defending himself. When Blair got angry - even when you were equally angry with him - you had to fight back a strong urge to nod, admire his spirit, and admit you had to see his point of view. When Cameron gets angry, he looks like a petulant child telling Nanny his Papa could have her killed. David Cameron, angry, is one of the most pathetic sights I have ever seen, and I have seen a man vomit into a self-service cinema popcorn machine.

Still, you can't hang around with the real media sharks without some of their tricks rubbing off on you, and I'm not just talking about being able to chop out three lines on the rim of a seatless toilet in Hoxton while keeping the lockless, barely-hinged door shut with your pinstriped buttocks. So, reading the Guardian this morning, I wasn't surprised to see that Cameron's Tory-led coalition have wheeled Vince Cable out to talk about crackers:

The inclusion of that Christmas crackers bit by Cable - or whoever wrote his speech for him - is a damn cute piece of PR. The reason it works is that it makes journalists' jobs so much easier. First of all, it gives them a ready-made hook on which to hang the story, and it plays into a well-established tabloid myth about 'health and safety gone mad'. But there's also something appealing about the word 'crackers', a faintly-comic, ludicrous, almost retro word for behaviour that is supposedly insane, but not in a serious way; a word you might find in Whizzer and Chips, or that Bart Simpson might say in the 'cockernee urchin' voice he does sometimes. And one of those words, like 'romp', which seems to find its most natural home in the pages of newspapers. It's irresistible.

Weirdly, the only paper I can find which has went the whole hog and put the word in their headline is the Belfast Telegraph, with 'Crackers: the silly trading laws about to be scrapped'. Maybe the sub-editors decided this was a little too cute, and rejected it in the way that you can find yourself turning down people you desperately want to get off with when they make their own intention to get off with you too obvious. But most papers picked up on the ludicrous crackers rules prominently in the body of their reports. And in that sense, the work was done, and the real agenda of the Tory-led government concealed, as usual, in the last paragraph of the article - or in a hanging sentence, as in the Guardian:

'Cable said the Red Tape Challenge would be extended to 25 more themes and sectors, including employment law, by next summer.'

The italics there are mine: because those three words, 'including employment law', are really what this is all about.

As Justine pointed out in our last post, the Tory idea of helping businesses is to make the labour market more 'flexible': code for a world in which you sell your time to corporations for peanuts and can be sacked at any time. Since before the election  they have carried out a propaganda campaign against two key pieces of legislation: the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equalities Act 2010. Christine Burns has taken note of how the Red Tape Challenge seems unusually preoccupied by the latter of these; many other bloggers have noted the deluge of anti-human rights propaganda in the right-wing press. With that in mind, there can be little doubt as to the true aim the Tories are wrapping up as a silly-season story: they want you to think they're making it easier for you to buy Christmas crackers; but what they actually doing is making it easier for your boss to give you the sack. And if that happens, it won't matter how old you are when you go to the shops for some yuletide cheer: you won't be able to afford it anyway.

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