Almost Marx …
After last weeks column:
Headline: At the Tory conference Boris Johnson bemoaned the lack of heckling. Well, it may come soon enough
At my first Tory conference, in 2006, I was given a very simple instruction by the Telegraph politics team: find Boris Johnson and follow him. It wasn’t hard. There he was, urging parents to push pies through school railings if they didn’t want their kids following the Jamie Oliver diet. Or warning that localism could lead to sharia law in Tower Hamlets, or criticising new rules on car seats for children (“When I was growing up, we all bounced around like peas in a rattle — did it do us any harm?”). When an elderly audience member fainted at the Telegraph fringe meeting, perhaps overcome by the sheer thrill of Johnsonian proximity, he swept from the stage to pick her up, chair and all, and carry her outside. At one point he spent an hour hiding in the party press office as the media laid siege outside. He was where the news was.
Fifteen years later Boris was again the dominant figure of Tory conference. In fact its entire architecture was shaped around him. Because of Covid uncertainty, his ministers were confined to a temporary auditorium, separated from the main exhibition hall by a set of black curtains. For Johnson’s big speech on Wednesday, however, the cameras and banners were moved to a larger, grander, purpose-built space — a crowded, adoring BozzaDrome. And whereas the prime minister had time to quote poetry and riff on the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, his colleagues got a much briefer moment in the spotlight, with a choice between a seven-minute speech and a 20-minute discussion. A few, such as the chancellor, had a little longer, but even they were frequently competing with the hubbub from the main hall.
Naturally, party conferences usually focus on their leaders. At that 2006 conference David Cameron delivered not one keynote but two, and our system has only got grown more presidential since then.
A combination of a ‘Life Report’, on his journalistic beginnings at the Telegraph, and his reportage, that is a pastiche of Trollope’s ‘long carpeted hallways’? if I recall this reference correctly? Or perhaps a critical evaluation of C.P. Snow’s novels, that is etched into memory ? The past wedded to his musings on Boris Johnsons, longing for a bit more political melodrama, featuring himself, in the present.
The regular reader of Mr. Colvile must give him his due as a political writer/commentator, who relishes politics as practiced, in all its inglorious particulars.
Mr. Colvile’s essay of October 16, 2021 and his self-presentation is at best failed comedy:
Headline: Faith in the state? It only took a short call from Test and Trace to disillusion me all over again
In the face of it the headlines about soaring Covid case numbers are deeply alarming. But they miss out something important. Covid has, against all expectations, become a disease of the young. There are still tens of thousands of cases a day. But among those over 18 prevalence of the disease has barely budged since summer. What is fuelling the numbers is cases in schools, with 8.1 per cent of secondary-age children and 3.1 per cent of primary estimated to have been infected as of October 9 — both far, far higher than in any other demographic.
For me, data turned into anecdote last week. Having escaped the Tory party conference moshpit with barely even a cold, I got an email from school on Monday: the six-year-old’s teacher and her assistant had both tested positive. The lateral flow test gave my son the double line, the PCR test confirmed it and then it was back to the familiar routine of self-isolation, Zoom classrooms, masked deliveries at the door and trying not to breathe in at night as two coughing, mildly feverish children clamped themselves to my side.
I thought the worst part of it would be persuading the kids to have testing swabs stuck up their noses not once but twice, including an honest-to-God wrestling match at the testing centre. But then I got the call from NHS Test and Trace. It wasn’t just that the sound faded out every two seconds. Or that the on-screen script froze, so the caller had to put me on hold for ten minutes while they reset the computer. It’s that the entire process seemed to have been designed without any consideration of what it would be like to deliver or listen to the script.
The political melodrama continues, with Mr. Colvile as the victim of a bureaucrat asking inane questions about his children. Eventually aided by Cass Sunstein, whose new book is called ‘Sludge’.
This is a textbook example of what the US academic Cass Sunstein calls “sludge” in his new book of the same name: dispiriting, dehumanising, time-swallowing bureaucracy that actively makes people’s lives worse.
Who can forget Cass Sunstein’ s other political interventions? Here Jeremy Waldron reviews Soft-Core Authoritarian Sunstein’s ‘Nudge’:
And my own comment on @gilliantettFinancial Times essay of June 9, 2021
Cass Sunstein, a leading behavioural scientist who helped to popularise the concept of the “nudge”, a policy technique that steers people towards certain actions, has written that Biden’s plan to embrace evidence-based policymaking incorporates “an explicit endorsement of behavioural science — and it calls for much more of it”. Sunstein himself has been hired by the Department of Homeland Security.
The sad news is that Mr. Sunstein is a lawyer, not a ‘a leading behavioral scientist’ ! See my essay for the particulars
Mr. Colvile, as Thatcherite, chatters about the virtues of the ‘Free Market’, that utterly collapsed in 2008, and destroyed both the Working Class and the Middle Class. The Question that Mr. Colvile fails to address, in his advocacy for that ‘Free Market’: where is the Radiant Economic Prosperity, that Thatcherism and its folk hero Hayek thought to be axiomatic? Perhaps not enough of the cleansing bath of ‘Austerity’?
Even a Thatcherite like me wouldn’t argue that we should have a free-market flourish in testing and tracing, with firms giving a special discount on self-isolation for choosing their services. But my experience cuts against the narrative of the pandemic offered by government.
The conscious destroyers of the Welfare State, Mr. Colvile and his fellow travelers, and its institutions: @CPSThinkTank continue their War against the Welfare State, as if their ignominious past, and present, has been subject to a viable erasure. The Welfare State’s raison d’être was/is the care and maintenance of the Public Welfare. Not the propping up of a Capital, stepped in political mendacity, that exalts ‘The Market’ as the sine qua non of human aspiration!