I think that Aaro might be a reader of this blog. There are a couple of subtle, under-the-radar hints in the latest missive (and what other type would good old Dave be in the business of giving?). First, referring to himself as “Uncle Aaron”; this is close enough to “Aaro” as you need. Second, I think that the reference to ” the side of untaxed millionaires, heartless garage owners and Chris Woodhead” is a coded shout-out. We’ve been going on a little bit on this blog (or at least I have) about Ms Melanie Phillips and her strange journey from the bruschetta-munching Left to the odder bit of the Right. Now people with fewer grey hairs and trimmer waistlines than the AW posse would be forgiven for thinking that Mel went Mad over issues of Middle East policy, because the general theme that soft-left voters in the UK are the most anti-Semitic people in the world is her main theme these days. However, that ain’t so. Melanie’s journey began with the book “All Must Have Prizes”, which was a heartfelt rant about egalitarianism in education policy which came about as the result of a friendship she’d developed with the then Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead (a friendship which, IIRC, survived revelations about the unusual circumstances of Mr Woodhead’s departure from full-time teaching, circumstances which could have caused a cynic to suspect he’d been shagging a sixth-former). We’ve (by which I mean, I’ve) been suggesting that Nick Cohen is heading down the same route with his screeds about grammar schools, and I think that with this otherwise inexplicable jibe, Decent Dave is providing “Uncle Aaron’s Advice Column” to his younger and more headstrong ex-colleague, reminding Nasty Nick that he is indeed getting himself on the same side as the unspeakable cunt Woodhead.
Any road up, enough of this bollocks, Bruschettaboy, what was the Tuesday Aaronovitch col like? Well … it was an example of the genre. To be honest, my heart sank with the opening paragraphs and I moaned to myself “oh fuck no, he’s doing funnies this week”. But in fairness, not all of the jokes are as bad as the first one and Aaro actually does remind us that when he wants to be he’s a good writer; Sir Simon Jenkins would certainly sell a bollock to be able to write a sentence like “He has the accent of his class, and when he talked about the poor his eyebrows created the shallow V of toff earnestness, often seen when Royalty visited bombed-out Cockneys during the war”. As an example of the columnist’s art I would classify this week’s as better than workmanlike. As an example of Aaronovitchism, however, it’s a perfect example; it’s got all of the characteristic twitches in it which lead him infallibly in the wrong political direction.
We’ve got the trademark DA insouciance about honesty in politicians:
” He didn’t say much, being for the moment constrained by collective
responsibility … It was what happened after he sat down that was so interesting
[Michael Gove got up on his hind legs and spoke, so this is presumably
“interesting” meaning “boring”, like rappers saying “bad” when they mean “good”
–BB ] … And the implication was that these were all Cameronian policies that
David was not yet in a position to advocate”.
This is “liberal optimism” all over again. Vote for the guy who says he’s going to do X on the basis that you really like the idea of Y and he might be lying. The terrible thing is that I don’t think Aaro realises that this is ridiculous.
We’ve got the innocence about economics that marked last week’s col, too. If you think about it, Michael Gove’s apparent proposal for a ” system of school vouchers, ‘weighted emphatically in favour of the poorest'” doesn’t make any sense at all if you interpret it in the way in which Aaro wants to. Either you’re going to transfer a lot of resources from the middle-class and the rich into educating the poor, or you’re not. The Conservative Party aren’t, and Aaro knows it. So, therefore, the “system of school vouchers”, if and when it arrives, won’t be “weighted emphatically in favour of the poorest” in any meaningful way at all. What has happened here, as with the fanfaraw about globalisation last week and a few other bits and pieces in past Aaro columns on economic policy, is that he’s heard someone talking about “markets” and immediately his eyes have glazed over and his critical facilities have deserted him. There is a facial expression which is characteristic of a lifelong socialist listening credulously to miraculous claims about the power of markets, but I’m not as good a writer as Aaro so I can’t describe it for you. As with Cohen’s fixation on “cultural power”, I think that this inferiority complex of the modern Left when faced with ideas that were known by Thatcherites to be stupid in the Thatcher years dates back to the Hutton-era Observer, “The State We’re In” and thence back to Giddens’ Third Way and the birth of New Labour itself. Maybe for a Christmas special I’ll dig back into the archives and write a piece on the sociology of Hutton’s Observer, because I suspect that there we will find the roots of Decentism. For the minute, I will remind readers disposed to give the benefit of the doubt in the same way that Aaro did that the Conservative Party was in power for eighteen years between 1979-1997 and dominated by free-marketeers for almost all that period. If there was a single Adam Smith Institute idea that wasn’t implemented then, it’s because it was absolutely unworkable.
And finally we’ve got what I regard as the psychological core of Aaronovitchism; rampant neophilia. Dave says it in practically as many words; he’s not endorsing David Cameron for any reason to do with British politics; he’s endorsing him because he’s young. The vital forces, the relentless urge to action rather than inaction, all those nebulous things that Tony Blair exemplified in his speech about the “Forces Of Conservatism” (given Dave’s own status as liberal journalism’s Mr Asbo, by the way, it is a bit rich of him to take the piss out of anyone else for “wanting to go back to a time when nice young women didn’t drink”). We’ve banged on in the past about the plain fact that this is opinion journalism as midlife crisis by proxy, but it’s interesting to see what sort of policies it has led Dave to.
And the answer to that is that Aaronovitchist Decentism, unlike the Cohenist strand, is fundamentally an aesthetic politics. The Britain that he wants to live in doesn’t have any particular strong politics to it; it’s just a country at the Northern end of Europe with booming house prices and a youngish, slightly pushy, slightly posh chap with a few kids in nappies, forcing law after law after new law through Parliament like a sausage factory, constantly remaking the Constitution but always leaving it the same. In other words, it’s the politics of Britpop. The trouble with this is that we are boats against the current, and the attractive green light of 1998 recedes further into the past every year. One day hooded tops will be as ridiculous as crinolines, but it’s not obvious that Dave’s vision will have changed. The forces of conservatism, like middle aged spread, have a way of catching up on you.