The Spectator's Notes

Why bother joining the Labour party?

11 January 2020

9:00 AM

11 January 2020

9:00 AM

Now that there is yet another chance to vote for a leader of the Labour party, if you are prepared to pay £25 next week, lots of my friends, none of them Labour supporters, are joining up. Their idea is to vote for the Corbyn ‘continuity candidate’, who seems to be Rebecca Long Bailey, thus ensuring, they think, continuous Conservative rule. As someone who is not a member of any political party, and is therefore eligible to join Labour, I am thinking of following suit; but something gives me pause. There is a real question whether the extremists in Labour are any worse than the moderates. The Corbynistas are, for sure, nasty, stupid, narrow and wrong. But that is visible to anyone aged over 25. They have not behaved worse over Brexit than they have over anything else. The Labour moderates, on the other hand, traditionally considered respectable, have been unprecedentedly disgraceful over Brexit. I don’t think the worse of anyone for backing Remain, but I do think very much the worse of people who claim the centre-ground in British politics but worked night and day for nearly four years to nullify the referendum result, especially when they cloaked their refusal as a desire to hold a second ‘People’s’ vote. Sir Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry are just as great a menace to the public weal as Ms Long Bailey and less likely to be found out by the media in time. So if I do join, I am not sure who I’d vote for. So I think I won’t.

In a rare visit to the cinema recently, my wife and I much enjoyed Knives Out, a whodunnit which makes you laugh, as on-screen murder often does. Nowadays, the certificate at the beginning issued by what used to be called the British Board of Film Censors (now ‘Classification’) gives a warning of the content e.g. ‘some strong language’. In this case, we were promised, among other things, ‘moderate sex’. It is an odd expression. Did it mean the sort of sex that Sir Keir Starmer might enjoy, as opposed to the more extreme sex favoured by members of Momentum? We never found out because, although we looked very hard, we could not find any sex in the film at all. Was it so moderate that we missed it?

Let us be honest about Dominic Cummings’s blog advertisement for jobs at 10 Downing Street. Have you even heard of the following which he mentions: the ‘bad Nash equilibrium’, LessWrong, Seeing Rooms, ‘Tetlock IARPA prediction tournaments’; Python, SQL, R; Postgres, Scikit Learn, NE04J; ‘critical transitions in a thermo-acoustic system’, Spyros Makridakis, Model-Free Predictions of Large Spatiotemporally Chaotic Systems from Data, Scale-free networks are rare, Judaea Pearl, Bret Viktor’s talks, Dynamic Land, ‘agent-based models’, the hedge fund Bridgewater, ‘von Neumann’s foundation of game theory and “expected utility”’, the ‘complexity of probabilistic inference in Bayesian networks’, C.C. Myers, William Gibson novels, Lacan? I’m afraid I have heard only of the last, which perhaps proves Mr Cummings’s point that ‘what SW1 needs is not more drivel about “identity” and “diversity” from Oxbridge humanities graduates but more genuine cognitive diversity’. I feel that the media, with our customary idleness, are failing to explain what the great man is on about. We do not have genuine cognitive diversity.

The nearest thing in history to the Cummings blog is the reading list which Sir Keith Joseph, Mrs Thatcher’s intellectual patron and first Industry Secretary, issued to his civil servants on coming into office in 1979. It contained 29 titles, including The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, both by Adam Smith, J.A. Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and eight works by one K. Joseph. Dom Cummings and Sir Keith could scarcely be more different characters, the former being hard as nails and the latter honourably ineligible for the struggle of life, yet I sense they are brothers under the skin. They both think/thought deeply about conservative change and, thank goodness, they are/were both what Mr Cummings’s blog calls ‘true wild cards’.

There is anxiety at the BBC, where the Cummings effect is thought to threaten the Today programme. If ministers are told not to appear on it, people ask how it can survive. Although a supporter of the Cummings frost towards the BBC, I feel it would be perverse if Today were the victim. It is well-edited, with a much wider range of subjects and attitudes than are displayed on PM, Woman’s Hour, Newsnight, virtually all comedy shows and arts programmes, and many more. Woke BBC persons regard it as scarcely better than the Daily Mail. Today is in the eye of the storm because it is the BBC’s main political programme, not because it is the worst. The problem with the BBC goes wider and deeper. First, there is an astonishing lack of editorial leadership by the bosses. Second, filling that vacuum, is journalistic triumphalism. It was revealing during the election campaign that Nick Robinson complained of the Tories misinforming ‘some very high-profile journalists’. Obviously, they should not misinform anyone, but it is not a good thing that a public service broadcaster committed to impartiality should have ‘very high-profile journalists’. The most respected journalist on Today is the sports supremo Gary Richardson, because he knows a lot but no one knows what he thinks. If there were more Garys, perhaps government and BBC could sign an armistice.

It was my great pleasure, when guest-editing Today after Christmas, to get a hunting horn blown on air by the composer and huntsman-Master Andrew Sallis. I quickly had complaints, however, from friends in three different stables that morning. As they were tacking up, they told me, and Today was playing on their radios, the sound of ‘Gone away’ was too exciting for their horses and near-pandemonium ensued. Anyone wishing to sue for damage should please contact the BBC director-general, Lord Hall of Birkenhead.

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