Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Peter Oborne and the Crisis of Conservatism

Good on Peter Oborne. Good on him for telling the Barclay Brothers to stick their job. Regular paid writing gigs are hard to come by for journos, so to spurn what is one of the cushiest jobs on Fleet Street for a matter of principle shows him to be a writer with value and integrity, however much regular readers and me disagree with Oborne's politics.

There are some fascinating parallels between the pen portrait he draws of life at The Telegraph and the sorry state the Conservative Party find themselves in. As I've argued previously, the Tories have become dislocated from their core business support and now represent the most backward and socially useless sections of British capital, along with a still hefty but sure-to-dwindle residual support. Beholden to the city and uncompetitive, labour-instensive sections of business their horizon no longer encompasses the interests of capital-in-general and as such end up adopting policies harmful to the collective business interest. The clamp down on overseas student visas, austerity generally, and the toying of Britain's relationship to the EU for party political advantage immediately come to mind. In short, the Tories and the people they represent have become decadent, and now represent a danger to themselves. Before Thatcher the Tories were careful never to attack the roots of their support. Now their tear them up with glee abandon, unknowing and uncaring it is they who will ultimately pay the price. The short-term is all and everything else can go hang.

Now for the situation at The Telegraph. Oborne writes lyrically about the paper as if it was an Enlightenment salon straight out of Habermas's musings on the public sphere. It never was, of course. The paper has always been a reliable friend of Conservative reaction. It is a rag whose rotten soul is suffused with entitlement, the defence of privilege, vicious contempt for the poor and, particularly, the labour movement. In this The Telegraph has unswervingly served its class well. Yet there has always been space in its pages for more thoughtful conservative thinkers and writers. Because, ultimately, a paper articulates a range of (broadly) similar interests it has to have space to allow alternative perspectives and dissident voices - within a certain range - to appeal to a wide readership composed of those varied interests and perspectives (tedious Trot tabloids, take note). Furthermore as a broadsheet paper, a fully paid-up member of Britain's so-called quality press, one can justifiably expect a certain adherence to a set of ethical standards and professional probity. Oborne resigned because the freedom to do journalism, to make judgement calls based on it was fatally undermined by commercial pressures generally and the advertising relationship with HSBC in particular.

The Barclay Brothers and their hapless lackey, Murdoch MacLennan, get both barrels. They are intent on undermining the long term health of the paper in the pursuit of short-term gain. Oborne mentions the fake 'woman with three breasts' story they stuck up as clickbait, but there are plenty of others that are entirely incongruous with the paper's character. But who gives a shit as long as the clicks keep rolling in? More serious is the claim which, devastating if true, that Telegraph journalists were ordered to destroy evidence of alleged HSBC wrongdoing at behest of senior management for commercial reasons. As Oborne rightly notes, the unspoken covenant the paper has with its readers does not exist as far as the bosses are concerned. And as standards slip, ethics are compromised, and the paper is seen to bend to the will of a market leader in tax dodging, the long-term readers who provide a stable subs and sales base are getting pissed up the wall. The roster of political writers under Benedict Brogan - gone, along with Ben himself. The foreign news desk - gone. The sub-editors who know the difference between 'refute' and 'disagree' - put out to pasture. The paper is eating itself for the sake of shareholder value, and there will be little left after the feast. Gluttony today, starvation tomorrow has become their guiding principle.

The Telegraph's entirely self-inflicted woes are a microcosm of the wider crisis of Conservatism. Their kind are unfit to run a newspaper, let alone a country.


Speedy said...

Yes, however re politics it is professionalism, isn't it - both parties have sold out their supporters and core values in order to self-perpetuate. The survival of the organism, called Tory or Labour, and the meaning that the political animals who constitute their membership derive from them, is more important than what they were created for in the first place. I'm sure there must be a fancy Marxist term for this?

These are decadent times - the professional political class has too much to lose by acting on principal (doing the right thing as opposed to the popular thing) so when true threats emerge, such as IS in Libya, they stand by. This will not end well - what follows decadence? Reaction.

BCFG said...

I think this parrots too much the idea that the Tories represent 'small' capital in relation to 'big' capital.

But 'big' capitalists are the ones who benefit from tax evasion more so than 'small' capitalists. the local coffee shop doesn't set up headquarters in Luxembourg or wherever to avoid tax, but Starbucks does. So the local shop pays the full whack, the international corporation pays b=next to nothing.

It is 'big' capital who are penny pinching here and seeking the lowest tax rates. And it is they who seek to influence politics.

Gary Elsby said...

To be perfectly honest, I thought the story of the woman with three tits was worth front page news in the Telegraph.
If people want to read column inches about some financial irregularity or other, they should tune into the big brother house for all the gossip.

Phil said...

Decadence isn't always followed by reaction, Speedy. Rather it's the other way round. When reaction triumphs the victorious authorities grow decadent. What tends to happen to them then? Nothing good if 1789, 1848, and 1917 are anything to go by.

Phil said...

I don't think the Tories represent small capital at all, especially when it's such a varied mass. Rather, as I've argued before, the Tories at the moment tend to represent:

1. Capital that is labour intensive
2. Capital that is socially useless, but affects an appearance of dynamism (i.e. finance, speculation, etc.)

What this piece argues is that the situation The Telegraph find themselves in is similar to the Tories as a whole. As both pursue their short-term interests they're cutting away at the legs that support them.