Malice, stupidity or something else? The mixed motives behind political posturing

An irregular series of articles whose main purpose is to capture some of the follies of our times before they are obliterated by next week’s wave of leaderless drifting.

“Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don’t rule out malice.”

Hanlon’s Razor is useful up to a point in these difficult times. Malice is clearly uppermost in the minds of the far left activists who have been attacking “Blairite” MPs. There is nothing stupid about those thoroughly nasty far-right people who have their knees against Theresa May’s spine to make sure she doesn’t succumb to common sense over Brexit. Of those MPs who are making most of the unhelpful noise over the Grenfell fire, Emma Dent Coad is clearly stupid, but David Lammy is not. We need a more complex and multi-sided version of Hanlon’s Razor to take account of negative drivers beyond malice and stupidity. If I had Dent Coad’s back history, the last thing I would want is Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s well-practised investigative skills prowling through the Kensington archives, so self-preservation is perhaps her motivator.

I don’t know what is worse really – our apparent acceptance that political dishonesty (“Oh, you know what Boris is like”) is the default, the sheer nastiness of much political discourse, or the fast-growing suggestion that political disaffection will spill over into civil disturbance. The modern version of the Battle of Cable Street would see Daniel Hannan, some EDL thugs, disaffected agriculturalists, and some retired people moaning about wanting their country back, all lined up against the semi-professional louts of the Socialist Worker Party, Corbyn’s squeaky toy Owen Jones, and gangs of students wanting the free stuff which Corbyn promised them but bewildered by the belated realisation that their hero can’t deliver and wants to deprive them of freedom of movement.

Over it all hangs Brexit, offering divisions which cut across all the other issues, sucking the life out of the economy, and stifling the expectations of  us all except the far right extremists, whose hatred of the EU is visceral rather than logical,  and the far left who think that their socialist utopia can only come if founded on the wreck of capitalism. What strange bedfellows they make.

University Fees

University fees have again become a party political battleground in which genuine debate has become subsumed by tactical play.

Much of Labour’s success in the recent election is due to Labour’s apparent commitment to abolishing university fees. Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell have not explained how they will fund this commitment beyond empty slogans about taxing the rich and corporations, but it sounded good on the stump to those unwilling or unable to think about it very much.

Flushed with the success of this, Corbyn has moved from phantom budgeting to downright lies. His assertion that fewer working-class people are entering further education is simply untrue – but hey – if Boris Johnson and Michael Gove can lie about that £350m on the side of a bus and end up in the Cabinet, perhaps lying becomes part of the qualification for high office.

There is room to argue about Jo Johnson’s 40% figure, but there is no doubt that Corbyn’s assertion was simply wrong. Since he well knew that it is wrong, it was a barefaced lie. Lying, however, doesn’t seem to matter any more when even that nice vicar’s daughter from Maidenhead thinks nothing of saying things which are demonstrably untrue.

There can’t be many people who could win contempt for stabbing Boris Johnson in the back, but Michael Gove managed it as part of his own bid for the leadership. His contribution to the university fees discussion attracted much mockery:

There may be an argument in favour of the present system, but this is not it. Cutting through the ideological crap, there is at least a sensible discussion to have here – about the general benefits to society of an educated work force, about the true cost both to the state and the graduate, and about how many people will ever actually pay off their student loans.

Duck Mess the department

Gove’s insistence on basic grammar while at Education does not seem to have left much of a mark on the Department for Culture Media and Sport, now rebranded as the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport. “Digital” is now a noun, it seems, and who knows what “Culture Media” is? The short form is apparently “Duck Mess”. The motive for this wholly useless (and expensive) change? God knows.

Grenfell Tower

MP David Lammy, pilloried in my recent article for describing the Grenfell fire deaths as “corporate manslaughter” before the embers had cooled, and demanding immediate arrests, moved on to criticising the judge appointed to head the inquiry. It seems clear that anyone appointed is going to be attacked for one thing or another, both by the survivors and by over-excited publicity-seekers like Lammy.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick, he said, was a “white, upper-middle class man” who has “never, ever visited a tower block”. Residents, he added, will say “there are some powerful people here – contractors, sub-contractors, local authorities, governments – and they look like this judge. Whose side will he be on?”. Having thus accepted that commercial experience is a vital component of the judge’s work here, Lammy has presumably been able to identify a judge more capable than Moore-Bick of marshalling the evidence. If not, then Lammy’s squalling is just self-righteous, attention-seeking bollocks.

Lammy isn’t in fact stupid nor, probably, malicious, but he could do with pausing from his self-publicising rampage to consider what he (or rather the survivors and others who live in similar tower blocks) want out of this inquiry (whose terms of reference are set by the government, not by Moore-Bick). I would want an investigation into how the fire spread so quickly with a focus on the tower’s construction and on the directly relevant planning, building regulations, and health and safety considerations. I would also want a review of the steps taken and resources available in the immediate aftermath of the fire, and recommendations as to how local authorities, and others with responsibility for reacting to events like this, could be better prepared. I suspect that Lammy wants a much wider investigation into the whole subject of social housing. Actually, I think that Lammy just wants to make a noise and to take whatever political points come his way.

Jeremy Corbyn popped up with one of those easy but dishonest assertions which his adorers are unlikely to question.

Lammy may be cooling down on this as it emerges that many, if not most, of the areas with similar structures have been Labour-controlled, many for some time, and that decisions made under past Labour governments are as much to blame as any under the Tories.

Emma Dent Coad, Labour MP for Kensington, launched into an attack on the appointment of Sir Martin Moore-Bick. Only two things wrong with that: one is that, as a long-term councillor and member of the housing committee responsible for Grenfell Tower, Dent Coad has good reason to be fearful of the findings of the Moore-Bick inquiry, and one can see a reason for her wanting to get her first shot in early; the other is that Dent Coad is unperturbed in her criticism of Sir Martin by the fact that she has never met him. Other people, she says, have decided that he is short on empathy and that is good enough for her. Andrew Neil scientifically dismembered her in this clip:

I said this:

Barrister Gordon Exall, author of the excellent Civil Litigation Brief, was so concerned about the wrongheadedness of so much of the Moore-Bick criticism that he wrote his first “contentious” (his word) blog post on the role of the fact-finding commercial judge. The Secret Barrister followed that with an article in the New Statesman called Grenfell inquiry: critics of Martin Moore-Bick are dabbling in fearmongering which expanded further on the suitability of a commercial judge, and Moore-Bick specifically, to conduct this inquiry – he has “also turned his hand to housing law, family law, employment law, local government law, immigration and asylum law, landlord and tenant law, intellectual property, personal injury, human rights, industrial accidents and criminal law.” Any advances on that, David Lammy?

Others expressed similarly sane opinions:

Meanwhile, Sir Martin Moore-Bick faced noisy barracking at a pre-inquiry meeting. The noisy ones seemed to be same semi-pro agitators from the left who took to the streets shortly after the fire. The interests of the survivors seem to take second place to the opportunity for oiks to shout slogans.

Not the end of Austerity but the beginning of the Tory leadership campaigns

Tory politicians are beginning to think it is time to end austerity. This owes nothing to any sympathy for the poor, but is partly personal – they say they are getting fed up with being browbeaten on the subject by constituents – and partly a belated recognition of the fact that Labour’s appeal in the last election followed from a promise to end austerity.

The position taken by some of these people reflects also their jockeying for power when, as must surely happen soon, Theresa May is dropped over the side. If you see Boris Johnson, for example, querying whether it is time to end austerity, he is not thinking of people driven to suicide by the policies of the DWP but of shafting the cautious Philip Hammond.

Seeing the list of runners and riders for the post-Maybot stakes, one can only be depressed at the quality of the potential candidates. Most alarming of all, is the idea that Andrea Leadsom might be a contender – this is a woman who was demoted from Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for her inability to explain the implications of Brexit to the farmers and fishermen taken in by the Brexit lies (to which she was an enthusiastic party) and now facing economic disaster as a result of Brexit.

It is said that she hoped for the Home Office in the recent reshuffle, perhaps because she could spell all the words in its name without help. A former Cabinet adviser expressed a view on Andrea Leadsom’s intellectual qualities:

The tone of political discourse

The whole tone of political discourse has gone sharply downhill since the Brexit vote. One particularly vile group of Corbynite groupies published a list of “Blairite” Labour MPs who, they said, should go and join the Lib Dems. Here’s an unpleasant Corbynite commenting on Yvette Cooper’s plea for more polite debate:

Is there much difference between people like this and a shaven-headed EDL supporter? The sinister group of far-right Tory politicians anxious to keep the Maybot’s nose to the Brexit grindstone are perhaps more subtle in their threats, but they are threatening nevertheless.

The wheels are coming off the Brexit bus

The wheels seem to be coming off the Brexit bus – that doesn’t mean it won’t crash on through the withdrawal barrier, but there are few left who expect the UK to benefit.

David Davis, the useless, dishonest minister charged with screwing up our relationship with the EU, gave us some unconscious black humour on his reappointment after the election.

There is talk of more extreme Brexiteers taking to the streets if Brexit should fail:

It is interesting, isn’t it, how incoherence and stock phrases are shared across the political divides? You expect lefty squeaky-toy Owen Jones to use words like “elites” and “establishment” in this mindlessly pejorative sense, but here it is from the right.

That line, already peddled by David Davis, provoked reactions like this:

…and some mockery:

It is clear that there is a risk of civil disturbance from the right. Add to that the semi-professional unpleasantness of Momentum, who last week voted to remove the word “non-violent” from its ethical code so as to ready itself for the coming conflict. Throw in those adversely affected by austerity and those set for disappointment as Corbyn’s promises prove to be empty ones, and there is indeed a recipe for multi-sided civil disturbance.

May needs help (no, not like that)

A few short weeks ago, Theresa May was voluble in her criticism of Jeremy Corbyn. Now she has begged him for his help to deliver Brexit. Corbyn wants Brexit at least as much as May does, but his overt assistance may be limited for as long as he can conceal the adverse consequences of Brexit from his new young voters. Not long ago, the advice to May was to let Corbyn sink under the weight of his own inadequacies. Now…

Even Corbyn is bright enough to realise that May’s main aim here is to make him complicit in the pending disaster.  And the ship sails on, powered by the wind of concealed motives, gutless false optimism, and the fear of riot.

Updated after publication to include link to The Secret Barrister’s Moore-Bick post.

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About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
This entry was posted in Brexit, Grenfell Tower and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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