Tuesday 28 April 2020

Guido Fawkes and Right-Wing Cynicism

Panorama on Monday night was damning. Despite recommendations to the government that it should stockpile personal protective equipment, we learned that calls to do so fell on deaf ears last summer. Gowns, body bags, visors, swabs, what should be there simply isn't. It also turns out respirators are some 20 million short than the figure in the ledger. This is more evidence, as if it needs parading, how light-minded the government were about public health before this crisis and were so slow to act, a complacency that put the Prime Minister in hospital. Considered in the round with their miserable failure to pay heed to the massive exercise undertaken in 2016 that wargamed the very scenario we're now living through, and their extreme tardiness to introduce appropriate quarantine measures, there needs to be more than a toothless public inquiry when this is all said and done. There should be trials. The worst death rate in Europe and second only to the United States, the Tories were less asleep at the wheel and more criminally negligent.

Enter stage right Guido Fawkes, the self-styled enfant terrible of political commentary. For someone who likens his tawdry website to the man who tried blowing up a good chunk of the ruling class, the establishment would be hard-pressed to find a firmer friend. For Paul Staines and his merry-go-round of here today, gone tomorrow Guidlets, their immediate response was not to do actual public interest journalism that, you know, could shame the government into preparing properly in the future and perhaps save some lives but go after the NHS workers who appeared on said Panorama. Because one GP was a Labour activist, a nurse a Unison shop steward who is on record for having a few choice words about Matt Hancock, and others who had variously criticised the government, their concerns are therefore completely invalid. If someone is "pro-Corbyn", the implication is their complaints are made up. There is no shortage, medical staff and carers aren't at risk, and shortages if they exist are blown out of all proportion for party political point scoring. All completely wretched, but the truth doesn't matter when you have vested interests to defend.

Guido's charlatanry is nevertheless lapped up by hardened Tories because it confirms so many of their prejudices. The default assumption among many Conservative activists and politicians is their opponents are as cynical and crooked as they are. For them, politics is a game, something not to be taken too seriously. The idea one can be passionate about a cause in Tory circles is an eccentricity because, so often, they are. Remember when Europe was a fringe issue beloved of extremists and freaks? The idea others might identify with the Labour Party, or genuinely care for and feel solidarity with others, or are fired by their experiences of inequality, poverty, and discrimination, or inspired by a vision of how life could be better for everyone is incomprehensible. It's either a derangement, and should be treated as potentially dangerous, or, like themselves, it's not meant at all: it's an effect of an affect.

The rote-learned right wing accusation of virtue signalling is, like so much else about conservative frames, a case of projection. A bastardised form of rational choice thought, the assumption is no one goes in for selfless activity, whether in politics or everyday life. Their abysmal view of human nature allows only for self-interested action, for personal profit. Therefore altruistic action is nothing of the sort, it's the cultivation of narcissistic satisfaction that can be telegraphed to others as examples of personal purity and moral superiority, and from this a certain status is derived. Jeremy Corbyn then and his record as an activist wasn't really driven by outrage at injustice, but so he could revel in a radical saintliness. By their logic then, the NHS workers and care workers on shift risking their health and lives aren't motivated by the desire to help (I mean, would you spoonfeed Alzheimer's sufferers for minimum wage?) but so they can throw their superiority in other's faces.

In such a mindset pickled in cynicism, it's impossible to conceive how NHS workers could speak out against Tory failings if they weren't politically motivated. That someone might become political because of their experience working in a marketised health service starved of necessary resources simply cannot happen. And so it is true of every other grievance. Young people stay away from the Tories not because they get a bum deal, but because of lefty lecturers are brainwashing them. Opposition to government policy is always down to "militants". Popular protests and movements are the work of closely-knit troublemakers of the communist or anarchist type. Their is an impoverished mode of living, of a type of thinking that absolutely resists and denies empathy and ultimately tends in the direction of dehumanising the targets of their ire. And, as we have seen throughout this crisis, as Boris Johnson tries forging a new consensus that will ultimately benefit him and his party, senior Tories have blamed members of the public for disease transmission, and medical staff for using PPE irresponsibly. Guido's cynical attacks are part of this overall thrust at discrediting criticisms of very serious government shortcomings.

Image Credit


Alan Story said...

Nice piece Phil. Will post on my page.

One thing: the first word in the piece is spelled wrong.


Phil said...

Thanks Alan. The perils of late night blogging!

Anonymous said...

When you govern you have responsibility- and that responsibility is not to clap or to wear a badge. It's protecting people- acting in their interests not yours.

My mate who works on the frontline- had to buy her own mask, ( yes her choice) - she told me 'she wont be voting conservative again - cant even get that right'. Acting in her own interests I guess. About time. Stoke on Trent.

Best lockdown read- thanks Phil.

Jim Denham said...

Excellent post: I didn't see Panorama but it seems that for a change, the BBC is doing its job. Johnson & Co's lying about the EU PPE and ventilator schemes should also never be forgotten or forgiven: putting Brexit before breathing.

Anonymous said...

A National Scandal not Herd Immunity...?

Five weeks into lockdown, and after many thousands of people who have already died, only now are care home residents getting access to testing.

My Dad is in a care home. They will never get my vote. Expendable.

Anonymous said...

I did not see Panorama either. Might watch it now. This coverage much better reading than The Guard.

Ian said...

Good post, as ever! But taking account of populations, UK isn't the worst in Europe - exceeded by Spain and Belgium, similar to Italy and France. However, that doesn't excuse the sheer incompetence and lack of care by the government. It could and should have been so much better!