20 September 2006

When all we can do is bitch

A man amongst women: I think they call this 'assisted suicide' - double-click to enlargeAn intriguing and illuminating article, brought to our attention by one of our forum members, dissects the relationship between the MSM, politicians and NGOs. It is an important contribution to the debate about the way we are governed, a debate which should be pursued here with much more intensity, but has hardly started.

Headed "MSM, NGOs and paranoia", and written by Nelson Ascher for Pajamas Media, the strap tells us that the article looks "at the strange symbiotic relationship between the Mainstream Media and Non-Governmental Organziations and what it means to our lives", but this is one of those occasions when the strap undersells. Ascher also tells us a great deal about modern politics.

"Nobody trusts the government," he begins, continuing with a familiar litany:

…The politicians are corrupt. The government is always lying to the people. It works against the people’s true interests and only promotes the selfish interests of its own members and their friends. Those in power invent scary threats to distract the public’s attention from their own wrongdoings.
Familiar that is, on both sides of the Atlantic so it is with some justice that Ascher declares: "No, I'm not talking about the US. Well, not exclusively at least." Then, with equal justice, he asserts:

Everything I've just said has been repeated day in day out, for years and decades, by the papers and the electronic media wherever there’s anything resembling a free press. That's the MSM's real message in all democratic nations. Whatever else they talk about is secondary.
Nelson AscherHis thesis then develops with a discussion about the migration of influence and thus power (the two being heavily interlinked in democracies) from politicians to NGOs, something we have noted many times on this blog, and to which my co-editor referred as recently as yesterday.

As far as it goes, the argument is entirely plausible and thus merits not only careful reading but also some consideration. Ascher is getting to the heart of the malaise in modern democracies and he is not offering transient thoughts about ephemeral issues.

Moreover, the qualification "as far as it goes" perhaps applies more to this side of the Atlantic than it does to America. From that American perspective, Ascher writes:

While a measure of scepticism is necessary and healthy, cynicism is counterproductive and eventually dangerous. Whatever else the MSM have been doing since at least the end of WW2, they have more often than not been treating governments, politicians, democratic institutions and public figures as guilty unless otherwise proved. Through the criminalization of normal politics, they have contaminated the public with a universal cynicism.
For the British scene, however, "cynicism" is too mild a word and does not convey the fact that there another step beyond that in the degradation of politics. The word for that is "contempt".

Where the situation probably differs between the US and Britain is that Congress still has power – as indeed does the president - and therefore individual politicians still have power. Cynicism, if it is merited, can apply to a situation where those politicians habitually abuse that power – who put "self", party and cronies before the public interest. But, in the UK, power has drained from the body politic to a plethora of other bodies, leaving an empty shell populated in the main by vain, posturing nonentities, for whom the only appropriate reaction is contempt.

Here, it is not just the European Union which has inherited the power once held by our own politicians. Much of the power to conduct routine administration – and much of the responsibility for supposedly governmental activity – has been delegated to officials in civil service departments, to agencies, to quangos and even – the bane of Ascher's life – NGOs.

Even in local government, this applies. When the agenda is not dictated by central government (and through it the EU or agency diktats), the rule of the monitoring officers and the Standards Board means that the councillors – our locally elected representatives – are in the thrall of their officials and have next to no power to make any decisions of consequence. And this goes to the core, where even (or especially) bodies like the police – supposedly under some form of democratic accountability - are a power unto themselves.

Politics in the UK, therefore, has become a sham. Ministers, rather than controlling their departments, become apologists for them. And where the power has drained away to the European Union, they complain bitterly – when challenged - that their hands are tied, or pretend that what they have been instructed to do by our central government in Brussels they were going to do anyway.

As a result, when we meet groups of politicians, the last thing they tend to do is discuss politics – not in the real sense of policies, the governance of the country and the issues that affect the lives of ordinary people. You get political small talk – endless gossip about who is "up" and who is "down", who has the ear of "Dave", what so-and-so is doing, and who is bitching about whom – a torrent of trivia which fills the working day of the average Member of Parliament and, to a similar extent, that of the average councillors and other elected representatives – for all the world like tales out of school.

This very much reflects the human condition in that we tend to worry and agitate only about things we have power over – things we can change. We cannot change the weather, for instance, so we do not agitate about it: we simply bitch. Similarly, we cannot change what the European Union does so the body politic does not agitate in any meaningful way – it simply bitches occasionally and then moves on to those very few things over which it has residual power. Hence we get the political agenda dominated by "schools 'n' hospitals", the areas over which politicians still have limited but decreasing power.

By the same token, the MSM, locked into the closed loop of the political bubble, closes its eyes to that which it cannot change – and concentrates on the same minutia that obsesses the political classes. It fury (and power) is expended on critiques of the personal peccadilloes of our politicians, its feeding frenzies reserved for those who fall foul of its purient mores but never for misrule, abrogation of power or plain incompetence.

Unfortunately, much of the British political blogging scene has caught the same disease, which is hardly surprising, dominated as it is by the same self-appointed claque of wannabes, "insiders" and groupies, their posts infected with ego-driven "wheneyes" and "eyeams", the phrases, "When I..." and "I am..." invariably to be found in the first paragraphs, if not the first sentences.

Thus, unlike the US blogs, the most hard-edged of which deal with real politics, we see the obsession with "trivial pursuits", the same diet of gossip, backstabbing and character assassination that sustains the dead tree sellers and the airwave polluters. No wonder the MSM sustain and promote their favoured few – they come from the same festering cesspit. Little minds stink alike.

This is what makes Ascher such a refreshing read. Here is a man discussing grown-up political issues in an intelligent, thought-provoking – dare I say, adult – manner. This is a skill that, in this country, we are going to have to re-learn. Otherwise, assailed by the torrent of trivia and gossip, too late will we realise that our freedoms have gone and we are left in a situation when all we can do is bitch (then only between consenting adults).