Wednesday 16 December 2020

The Tory Dark Arts

In his most theatrical Prime Minister's Questions so far, Keir Starmer waved a Conservative Party-branded paper at Boris Johnson. This piece, produced courtesy of Wellingborough Tories, provoked a handful of end-of-term laughs and crowned yet another pitiful performance from the First Lord of the Treasury. Yet why the sudden interest in the utterings of Northamptonshire Tories, and how did its revelations provide for another uncomfortable, disassembling moment for Johnson?

Doing the rounds on the internet Tuesday, our mysterious master of the dark political arts put pen to paper and dispensed advice about the ways of the political world. Aspirant politicians were urged to emulate Donald Trump, noting how a "lie can go around the world before the truth gets its boots on." Fake news is less a scourge and more an opportunity, because it pushes "honest politicians" from the front pages. Saying the first thing that comes to mind doesn't matter, as one's opponent will then be scrambling to catch up. Riffing off Trump, our writer adds "If someone tweets ten dubious claims per day and it takes you a week to disprove each one, then you are doomed." It then goes on to fulminate against "wokeism" and how racially discriminated against white people are.

People who actively try cultivating a reputation for cornering the dark arts are, invariably, completely inept and usually don't know the first thing about them. Just to put this out there, assuming the role of a "player" in politics is more than getting sweary, coming up with amusing nicknames for political opponents, and being rude to others. It's not The Thick Of It. In the age of the attention economy, this assumption is understandable. The brash stunts and the, snore, dead cats catapulted by one Dominic Cummings generate excitement and spectacle, and are mistaken for genius moves. Being seen to be a genius means you are one. Photo or it didn't happen. Yet, the real arts remain hidden from view, of pulling the strings and making things happen without notice, getting others to work voluntarily toward your position, of keeping the tricks and influences one has learned to oneself or an anointed few. For instance, according to local Stoke-on-Trent party legend, while John Golding was writing his memoirs - which became Hammer of the Left after his death - John Spellar got wind of this and made his displeasure known. He didn't want the dirty tricks and the fixes, of which these two men were learned exponents and skilled practitioners, getting an airing in public. He needn't have worried. The backroom union fixes that secured the right in the 1980s are largely obsolete in the 2020s. I mean, imagine centrist "modernisers" and rightwingers sullying themselves in the labour movement these days. Still, one wonders what Spellar made of Mandelson's recent "indiscretion".

Back to the beaten track. What was most touching about our Tory initiate in demonology wasn't the affected knowing tone, or the crudity of the Trumpist methods recommended. It was the default assumption, revealed in word after naive word, that the Tories aren't already masters of fakery, spin, and rancid tricks. Cummings had a bull in a china shop approach to Brexit and subsequently, the Barnard Castle farce, but the real genius of the Tories under Johnson is how they've shirked responsibility for pretty much everything. Raging infections? The accumulating dead? The worst economic depression in the G7? Not enough support for workers and the self-employed? The destruction of businesses? Entire sectors imperilled? They're getting away with it.

The Tories lie, which is the very ABC of British politics. Their project, to make the minority interest of their class appear the universal interest is fundamentally dishonest, and they are rather good at it. The fact they get away with this leader after leader, despite all the awful things done, crimes committed and disasters overseen isn't because of the whoppers told or the set piece events. It's the myriad of little things, the manipulations and the framing. These are the real dark arts, and don't let any self-styled municipal mastermind convince anyone otherwise.


Anonymous said...

Labour have a "dark arts" problem too. Labour Leaks report, for example, now not due until summer 2021 (ie after the local elections).

Anonymous said...

I think the article does reflect somewhat that the Labour Party has its 'dark arts' it just puts this into context.

Anonymous said...

Good morning read. Thanks for the articles always informative . Have a good New Year- Look forward to reading your book.

Debby said...

Very well written, very valid point. "Dark Arts" is the perfect metaphor, mostly because it highlights, simply, that we're talking about evil. Plain and simple.