Post-strewth politics

In the afternoon of 15th January, the day I put up some thoughts on Project Fear on Cliscep, and Theresa May lost by over two hundred votes in the House of Commons on her original Withdrawal Agreement, agreed with the EU, I read something truly shocking in the Daily Telegraph:

Michael Gove

Age: 51

Odds: 12/1

The reputation of the Environment secretary – and former chairman of Vote Leave – has recovered from his decision to withdraw support for Boris Johnson in the 2016 leadership election with his war on plastic.

Boris was by contrast at 6/1 with Ladbrokes to be the next Tory leader. Based on Oddschecker this Friday he and Gove are now level-pegging at 5/1 with the said bookies. The recovery has it seems continued apace. But do Cliscep denizens agree with the Torygraph (called that because it’s often been considered a semi-official mouthpiece of the party) on the reasons for the man’s fall and rise? And what to make of them? Are we sceptics winning? (It’s a somewhat ironic question but you get the idea I hope.)

James Delingpole wrote warmly of his old friend – as a friend – in The Spectator a week ago. (In No luxury has ever disappointed me as much as my wood-burning stove. Paywall issues, sorry.) But James says he’s totally gone off Gove as Tory leader. At the end he advocates Liz Truss. She’s at 66/1 according to Ladbrokes. Do we sceptics sometimes prefer the rank outsider, out of principle? (Ironic again. But with a serious edge.)

When I found myself at the pub with James a year ago, after Christopher Booker had presented his ideas of the climate phenomenon as groupthink at the GWPF, I knew I had to ask him about Gove as Environment Secretary. The line James took then was that Machiavellian manoeuvres by Dominic Cummings were to blame. And that reminds me, Brexit: The Uncivil War has only four days left on Channel 4’s catchup service, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Cummings. Highly recommended as excellent telly, if imperfect history. And, I feel, containing some of the answers on what’s been happening with this Tory unhopeful, then hopeful again, since June 2016.

Cummings has only once I think retweeted me on Twitter. On that occasion he was the only one. A kind of solitariness I can cope with. I’m sure he can!

Project Fear again but moving on, and not in a good way. On the strangeness of the new conspiracism generally, I strongly recommend John Gray on its American variant in The rise of post-truth liberalism in Unherd in September.

And that’s all for now. I did have more but there are as always other things to attend to. Having seen Ben Pile call Gove a ‘moron’ on Twitter, and Jaime Jessop be not much more polite about him on Cliscep recently, on the wood stove initiative Dellers is also fed up with, I’d appreciate any feedback at all on the small mysteries to which I’ve drawn attention.

15 thoughts on “Post-strewth politics

  1. When Gove went from Education to Brexiteer to Environment to Remainer, he proved not so much that he was a huge disappointment but that brain transplants were real. I just wonder who the donor was.

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  2. Anyone who could approve three creationist schools as Education Minister is, in my opinion, way way past strewth politics. God awful politics perhaps?

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  3. The John Gay article you link to has an excellent analysis of the intellectual disarray and conspiracist tendencies of the liberal élite. The problem of the political right has always been how to persuade a majority of the electorate to vote for policies which favour only a minority, a problem which they’ve proved pretty good at solving since about 1830. The left’s problem – how to persuade a majority of voters to vote in their own economic interest – has proved more difficult. It involves co-opting a certain proportion of the governing class to form and explain policy. These “radicals” could be persuaded to act against their own class interest out of some higher principle ((Christian charity, political theory, or simple intellectual rigour.) Thus the left got leaders like Jaurès, Luxemburg and Hugh Gaitskell (you can’t win them all) and the intellectual support of the likes of George Orwell ad Bertrand Russell, and the right got a run for its money. However intellectually respectable, the left intelligentsia was always a motley team of outsiders.

    That changed in the later half of the 20th century, with the class of intellectuals and academics expanding from the tens of thousands to the tens of millions, and acquiring class consciousness on the way, which involves an unconscious awareness that they (we) “are not as other men are.” Even the thickest journalist or university professor can’t be persuaded to chant “I want to be poorer so the working class can be richer” so leftwing attention veered towards moral rather than economic questions, with our modern Mrs Jellabys taking on colonialism, third world under-development, and now climate change.

    The Gove question is surely just another shuffle of the pack which the Tories have been past masters at for two centuries. Half the time they throw up an idiot, so the next time they try something different. It’s what Engels would have called Scientific Toryism. The left’s problem is far more serious because its got an ideology behind it. I can’t see them solving it until hell freezes over (which might come sooner than we think, if the cycles are favourable.)

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  4. Thanks Geoff. I decided yesterday that it was wise to give people the opportunity to vent about Gove, before diving into some details that I think (but I could be wrong) should be of interest to all of us.

    There was one moment in the film Uncivil War that has really stayed with me and relates to your framing. But I won’t try to go there now. This week yes!

    Alan: thanks for picking up the God meme (as Dawkins would say) in my title. But only three creationist schools? Gove and Cummings could hardly have been trying. Or maybe they were giving freedom and this was an unwanted side-effect that even the creator would find awful?

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  5. Yet Ladbrokes are unmoved. The easiest rationalisation of the bookies’ view (grounded in their continuing desire to make money!) is that a “Stop Boris” effort will be mounted, with Dominic Raab and others likely to swing behind Gove. That could be wrong. The situation will depend on how Brexit is deemed to have gone. The more interesting ConHome survey I think is yesterday’s: A majority of Party members back May’s deal – if changes can be made to the backstop.

    My questions in any case were about whether the Telegraph was right about why Gove’s bookie-perceived fortunes have improved since the dark days of July 2016. Guido and ConHome both give another reason for the more recent move, which I’m sure has contributed. But, like it or not, I think the ‘war on plastic’ has also been a factor. And I wanted to take a look at that.

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  6. Richard, just how many creationist schools does an Education Minister need to approve before they become ineligible to hold any office? Yet here we have an ex BBC Newsnight Review pontificator being touted to replace May. Oh my poor country. I will have to renew my Canadian passport.

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  7. Alan, I think you mean what I would call young-earth creationism. I disagree with that view on the relationship of scripture to science and I could go back to Francis Bacon to discuss this. But that would be a diversion too many for me here. I’m also not going to leave the UK because of Islamic schools which not only teach young-earth creationism but a lot of other, for me, more harmful beliefs. I don’t count any of this against Gove and Cummings. And I would suggest we move on from this point, though of course you are free to continue – and I will not delete your comments if you do! That’s a promise.

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  8. Richard,
    You make some good points, and sweep broadly trying to get some answers. I have made some notes that may help tie things together. Or provoke alternative perspectives. 🙂

    Why is Gove, given his perceived flaws, having this renewed popularity? The answer, I believe, lies in his speech in the recent No Confidence debate. It was the final speech prior to the vote, summing up for the Government.

    He starts by saying there have been many passionate speeches, first commending some on his own side and then saying there have been powerful speeches from the opposition benches. Specific opposition speeches that Gove highlights, he complements the speaker but then undermines their case for supporting no confidence. In particular, the Shadow Secretary of State (Tom Watson) is mentioned as sharing three things in common with Gove. Both had lost weight recently (Watson more), both are friends of Israel (Watson more).

    And we both recognise that the Member for Islington North is about the worst possible person to lead the Labour Party.

    The main attack line in the speech was the alternative – a Government lead by Jeremy Corbyn. In Gove’s view, in cases where the vast majority of MPs vote to take action for the country against aggressors, Corbyn is either “present but not there” or votes against. So we could not expect Corbyn to stand up for Britain in any Brexit negotiations.As I see it there are two elements here in Gove’s speech. There is legitimacy in other points of view and people are not immoral or bad people for people for holding those viewpoints. But a vote of “no confidence” is one way or the other. When the case for the other perspective is made, it is far worse.
    The first paragraph of John Gray’s article is informative. The intelligentsia were not interested in finding out reasons why people voted for Trump. Rather they came up with spurious reasons why they may have made the wrong choice.
    Near the start of the Channel 4 film Brexit: The Uncivil War Dominic Cummings is shown going to pubs asking people not only what they thought of the EU, but why they thought the way they did. Those thoughts Cummings then mapped out into strategies, so that the campaign enhanced the Leave case and undermined the Remain side. He had to take on board both legitimate and the illegitimate/obnoxious arguments on both sides.
    Project Fear, in my opinion, stems from this lack of recognition that there may be some legitimacy in opposing perspectives, whilst not even acknowledging there is some weaknesses in one’s own. From the narrow-minded and highly partisan perspective, any allowance for an alternative from one’s own is near apocalyptic. Something quite small in the wider scheme of things and maybe a positive change (such as average temperatures increasing by a few tenths of degree or leaving the EU with a No Deal Brexit) is seen as tipping reality to some sort of apocalypse. 

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  9. Richard. My intent was not to divert discussion here to a topic that may not be discussed further on this thread, but was to use that topic to illustrate just how appalling I consider “Govee” to be. Why did he, as Environment Secretary, fall for fake science and embark upon legislation banning plastic microbeads. How could anyone lacking any modicum of legal training, be willing to take on the roles of the chief justice offices? What chutzpah, what arrogance. It is my belief that Govee has messed up whatever he has attempted. Interfering and micromanaging school examinations like no other Minister caused immense harm to everyone’s moral (I watched my granddaughter’s falling out of love with learning as a direct consequence of curriculum changes imposed by him).
    I think we are safe, the Tory Party wouldn’t entrust their future to such a man – would they? They rejected him once before.

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  10. Good points, Manic and Alan. Well, well expressed anyway. How do we know the microbead scare is based on science as fake as climate science (pace Mosh) is a genre of question I wanted to get to. But I’m not going to burble on now. The more the merrier. Be back tomorrow.

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  11. Manic:

    Near the start of the Channel 4 film Brexit: The Uncivil War Dominic Cummings is shown going to pubs asking people not only what they thought of the EU, but why they thought the way they did. Those thoughts Cummings then mapped out into strategies, so that the campaign enhanced the Leave case and undermined the Remain side. He had to take on board both legitimate and the illegitimate/obnoxious arguments on both sides.

    Project Fear, in my opinion, stems from this lack of recognition that there may be some legitimacy in opposing perspectives, whilst not even acknowledging there is some weaknesses in one’s own. From the narrow-minded and highly partisan perspective, any allowance for an alternative from one’s own is near apocalyptic. Something quite small in the wider scheme of things and maybe a positive change (such as average temperatures increasing by a few tenths of degree or leaving the EU with a No Deal Brexit) is seen as tipping reality to some sort of apocalypse.

    Profound observations and true ones, to my mind. The later scene where Cummings takes two others from the core Vote Leave team – I think Douglas Carswell and Matthew Elliott – to a house in something not much better than a trailer park, to a couple who said they’d never had a visit from any campaign for anything their whole lives is the one that really got to me, transcending any narrower issues. I believe this attention to forgotten people did indeed tip VL over the line – and deserved to. (I am therefore perhaps subscribing to what Tom Slater in Spiked called the great-man theory of Brexit. Good review that, which helped convince me I should watch. You the reader still have two days!)

    Daniel Hannan was less happy about the depiction of a close friend:

    Douglas Carswell was, in real life, the MP with the largest personal vote in the Commons, one based in no small measure on his readiness to spend a lot of time in parts of his constituency that had previously been neglected. In Jaywick – on some measures the most deprived place in England – his vote rose from 27 per cent when he first contested the seat in 2005 to 70 per cent in 2014 when he called a by-election to allow local people to endorse his change of party. Yet, in the drama, Douglas is ludicrously shown saying that he has never visited parts of his patch before.

    I would accept, for what it’s worth, that the film took liberties here in depicting something that was, however, in a deeper sense importantly true. There was also this hilarity from the queen of UK conspiracists on Twitter:

    That’s almost as good as the typical climate fact-check from consensus central.

    I also felt an affinity with this tweeter with just 50 followers (unlike Cadwalladr and Christian May):

    But the best commentary on the film for me by far came from Charles Moore in the Telegraph:

    Brexit, the uncivil war, rages on because our MPs continue to ignore the voters

    A TV drama told a story of forgotten people finding their voice. Will Parliament listen to them next week?

    When our great visionary poet William Blake read Paradise Lost, he commented that “Milton was of the devil’s party without knowing it”. He meant that the portrayal of Satan in Milton’s epic of the fall of man was the most real and active thing about it. Milton’s formal position, of course, was for God and against Satan, but, because he was a “true poet”, his creative energy sided with the Devil.

    James Graham’s television play, Brexit – The Uncivil War, appeared on Channel 4 on Monday. It was not, I hasten to say, in the Milton literary league. But it exhibited the same phenomenon that Blake noticed. In formal terms, the play was on the side of Remain.

    It wished us to believe that the referendum result had somehow been cooked by the algorithms of a billionaire Donald Trump supporter called Robert Mercer. It contained a pious little speech by David Cameron’s spin doctor and Remain campaigner Craig Oliver (played by Roy Kinnear) against the “hate and bitterness” built up over 20 years by Leavers.

    All the author’s creative energy, however – and all the interest for the audience – centred on the Leave campaign director Dominic Cummings (Benedict Cumberbatch). This brilliant, rude, solitary, funny, anti-establishmentarian from Co Durham was the only one to watch.

    Will mad Dom overcome the fustiness and self-serving of politicians on his own side and the massive propaganda and vested interests of his opponents? Having listened to the voices of the voiceless and conjured the phrase “Take Back Control” out of his tortured brain, will he succeed? That is really all the viewer (and, I suspect, the playwright) cared about.

    Amen to that. And that’s just some background for what I really wanted to talk about in this thread. In time.

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  12. Paul.
    Govee’s spots remain unchanged. Can’t we exercise the Peter Principle and shift him to be in charge of a Northern Ireland marshmallow border?

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  13. From the BBC 9 minutes ago as I write:

    Three Tory MPs have resigned from the party to join an independent group, set up by former Labour MPs.

    Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen wrote a joint letter to Theresa May to confirm their departure.

    The PM said she was “saddened”, but her party would “always offer… decent, moderate and patriotic politics”.

    The three criticised the government’s “disastrous handling” of Brexit and said it had undone “all the efforts to modernise” the Conservatives.

    Gove was always a key moderniser, meeting with Cameron, Osborne, Boles and Finkelstein each week, from the second Blair election win of 2001, before he was an MP, to try and work out how to ‘detoxify’ the Tory Party, at that point part of an obscure faction. In that sense, I agree with Alan, not Jaime, that Gove hasn’t changed his spots. He always believed in ‘hug a husky’ yet, at the very same time, he hated the ‘green crap’, just like the man eventually chosen to lead the modernisation drive. (Finkelstein always assumed that, if any of them became the leader, it would be Osborne.) But Gove broke ranks with his four friends once an in-out referendum on the EU (a commitment from Cameron he argued against, like Osborne) became a reality.

    Unlike Alan, but like Jaime, though, I believe Gove was doing good, with Cummings, in attempting to reform schools – and indeed, later, to reform prisons. For the latter reason I don’t agree with Gove himself that Theresa May was right to sack him. But by that time he was trying to crawl back into the corridors of power. When he got there he found the environment was his brief and his ‘modernising’ side came back into play, big time. He still hates the green crap, believe me, but that is going to be well hidden for quite a while.

    It’s what David Runciman calls Political Hypocrisy. I have some further thoughts on it. I must get them down before the end of play today, as I must extract myself from Cliscep and do some real work! Sorry for all the delays.

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