"The world's grown honest. Then doomsday is near" - Hamlet
Dunno how many readers of Friday's post bothered with the i-player, but I have indeed transcribed the identified couple of Newsnight minutes for posterity. (Obsessive? If you like - it's just that I am genuinely interested in this *post-truth* thing, if thing it be.)
Seems that many of Friday's commenters broadly agree with the "isn't it refreshing" theme. I have me doubts - and not just on Rutter's rather pedestrian grounds of it makes government a bit difficult. Towards the end she says that more honesty (soi-disant) "would actually improve the quality of public debate enormously". But - if we again ignore her mundane point - this conveniently overlooks the fact that Joe Voter ultimately likes his political leaders to look the part, to have thought things through, and to seem to be in charge, in control. Turning up and indulging in a bit of "it's all very difficult", however commendably honest, is the Jimmy Carter trick and it don't work. Honest flannelers - Corbyn take note, if you ever listen to anyone - will always suffer the same fate.
Some other comments of mine in square brackets. It's a huge topic and this is just by way of an input, one among many that could be mustered.
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Newsnight, 8 Dec 2016. Emily Maitlis in the chair, Sean O'Grady (Inde) and Jill Rutter ("Institute for Government", whatever grandiose self-appointed conceit that may be).
Do recent events mean we have entered a new age? - Maitlis asks.
O'G: People fairly obviously over the last year or more have got very tired of politicians mincing their words, not saying what they think; there was a lack of authenticity in political life, and I think what’s happened with the Brexit vote and Trump and what’s happening on the continent of Europe in some cases, for various reasons, and sometimes it’s the radical right, and sometimes it’s the radical left who benefit from this - people are looking for politicians who say what they mean, and mean what they say; ... and I think that if the politicians then choose to make a populist appeal, so much the better for them and they’re benefitting from it; and there’s a huge sort of global peasants’ revolt that’s happening at the moment
M: There’ll be plenty of support for that, won’t there? A politician who sees it, says it as it is, and is admired for doing so.
R: I think you really need to differentiate a bit between politicians and government ... I think Sean’s right – people do want politicians who are prepared not just to spout sort of ‘lines to take’ and things like that; but I think it’s a bit different when you’re talking about things like government and government positions ... No.10 have ... been spending the last 3 or 4 months clarifying a lot of their ministers – quite often a minister goes out and free-lances a bit and then ... No.10 says well that was their position, it wasn’t the government position. It may be a considered view that actually it’s better to foment a bit of debate and there’s only one person who really authentically speaks for the government and that’s Theresa May, and everybody else is doing their own thing – but it does get a bit awkward, we’ve had one area, on Heathrow, where they formally suspended collective responsibility but I’m not quite sure if this is designed or accident ...
What does Boris J do now? … stick with the BJ line - does he stick with the UK government line?
O'G … What BJ has done is which is very important in terms of government is he’s brought ethics into foreign policy just like that, and nobody’s noticed, but we’ve now got a liberal foreign sec in effect operating an ethical foreign policy. [Oh yeah? I seem to recall the sainted Robin Cook trying that ...]
R … think about being on the receiving government, you’ve got somebody coming, are they speaking for the country for which they come or are they not? - and I think that’s where it gets really, really complicated. So in a sense you’re almost devaluing a foreign secretary’s visit because effectively you’re saying it’s not the government.
M: … Theresa May says all those things in private to the Saudi government anyway, so all he’s doing is taking that out of the shadows, if you like, and putting it into the public sphere?
O'G … the point is, for 50, 60, 70 years diplomats, the Foreign Office, what people unkindly call the 'camel corps', those people have been doing quiet diplomacy, behind the scenes diplomacy, they’ve been talking and lobbying in secret things and then when they go to the banquets and so forth they are very polite: and at best, you have a coded message. [Just 70 years? Don't be wet - that's diplomacy since time began.]
Well that’s not doing any good in Yemen, and BJ is completely right, everyone knows it, that there is a proxy war going on in Yemen between the Iranians and the Saudis and in other parts of the Middle East as well, and if we don’t call them out as BJ has done then you go along with that spin and you just get nowhere, and people suffer as a result ... there wasn't anything that BJ said that was actually rude, he was just telling them what they know already, it is like telling the king he’s got a beard.
R: … if there’s sort of an explicit strategy, that you want to ... have a sort of pincer attack and the foreign secretary saying one sort of line and the PM taking a different line, and that’s agreed in advance, and they know, and the foreign secretary knows that the PM might distance herself slightly from him, then I think that’s fine. If actually what you’re getting is two people sort of shooting off in slightly different directions, whatever they’re saying, privately behind closed doors, I think that makes for a policy incoherence, I don’t think it’s terribly helpful, I don’t think it helps advance British interests.
M: Do you think he did it deliberately ..?
R: … He’s relatively new to a very senior cabinet position. As mayor of London it was actually OK to say things on your own account, in the same way actually as Donald Trump can say things on his own account. Once you’re a very senior government minister you are expected to be able to talk for the government …
M: On one level it’s just not very collegiate – he is used to being the BJ figure, is there a little bit of megalomania coming into this?
O'G: … He’s someone who’s not necessarily a very good team player; it’s not helped by the fact he’s a journalist – we journos like to tell the truth every so often as you know, and I think that he’s not one of those people who is inclined to follow his leader always in every word.
M: … the bigger question is perhaps … bluntly, the world has failed … in the Middle East, it’s failed to solve a war, and diplomacy as we know it, doesn’t work – so, does something new need to happen, even if it comes from a strong statesman?
R: … I think there is a very good case for saying actually we need political leaders generally who are prepared much more to level and expose the real choices that they face and have a much more honest conversation, whether it’s on foreign policy or on domestic policy, with the population. Whether actually the events of this year have shown that there’s a real public appetite for that or not, I’m not so sure I would read it necessarily that way, but I think there are lots of areas where there’s almost a sort of conspiracy of not asking difficult questions between the political class which means that actually there’s a divorce from reality and I think actually there’s a general move towards having more debates in public and actually being prepared to admit you don’t know things, that some things are difficult, that sometimes you’ll make the wrong choice, would actually improve the quality of public debate enormously. I think that’s different though from shooting off in different directions because it seems like a good thing to say at the time, I don’t know whether that’s what he was doing or not, but I don’t think you can really run government on that basis.