Monday, October 02, 2006

A fatal disconnect

The Telegraph opinion cartoon today shows the Boy Camoron sitting under the Tory Logo Tree reading a book about tax, whence an acorn – presumably – drops on his head, Newton-style. We can't show you the full picture, otherwise the newspaper will demand £70 from us, but we have reproduced (left) a small sample from it (1 pixel) to give you a taster. Readers will recognise it from the top right of the cartoon. (My cheque for 0.035p to the Telegraph Group will follow.)

You can gaze appreciatively upon the real thing, from this link. (One wonders, incidentally, whether the Telegraph has paid a license fee for use of the Tory logo.)

Anyhow, it seems that "tax" is the issue of the moment, the code word being used to signify a putative "right-wing" rebellion, since none of them are prepared to take on the Green Moron over "Europe". With Janet Daley describing his economic policy as economic gibberish, however, it seems this is as good an issue as any over which to have a spat.

But what is striking about this is the way different issues are put in separate boxes and treated as if they were entirely unconnected issues. Thus, while "right-wingers" are no longer prepared to talk about "Europe" but will talk about taxes, no one is putting two and two together and suggesting that, if we left the EU, our government would be able to slash taxes without having to cut any of the "services" which we apparently hold so dear.

Yet another subject which no one talks about is defence – neither "right-wingers" nor the Camorons. Thus, despite the weekend coverage and a strong piece in today's Telegraph, which records how British forces in southern Afghanistan came within hours of retreating from a key base because they suffered a critical shortage of helicopters, the situation in Afghanistan seems to have no political resonance or relevance to the discourse in Bournemouth.

What seems to be happening here is a new and important development in that the chattering classes seem to be able to define (or are seeking to define) what is and what is not "political". If something is defined as political, then we (and the political commentators) are allowed to talk about it. But, if the chosen ones don't consider an issue "political", it is simply excluded from the debate, any input being either ignored or dismissed as "banging on". By this means is the debate shaped and controlled.

If this seems far-fetched, consider the first two leaders in the Telegraph. The first one is headed, "Time to add words to the mood music" and comprises an analysis of the issues dominating the Conservative conference. The second, with the title, "The hidden war", is a splendidly robust attack on the Blair government, declaring:

Britain's military deployment in Afghanistan is built on a false prospectus and is being sustained by a noxious cocktail of spin, misinformation and concealment. Our ill-equipped forces are facing the toughest combat conditions since the Falklands and only now, as battle-wearied troops are pulled back for rest and recuperation, are the true horrors of this hidden war beginning to emerge in a graphic series of their e-mails and digital pictures. What is shameful is that government ministers have been straining every sinew to keep the true facts from the public.
One would have though that such an attack would be meat and drink to the Conservatives, and this leader would be on the lips of every delegate and chewed over by every blogger, highlighting as it does the dereliction of the government.

But not a bit of it. Somehow, by a process which has neither been defined nor clearly understood, "defence" and many other subjects are no longer "political". They seem to have been removed from political discourse, to be considered as nerdy specialities on the fringes with no relevance to the "mainstream issues" defined by the chosen ones.

It is this "fatal disconnect" which is destroying politics. And if we allow the chosen ones to set the agenda in this way, we are simply reinforcing the detachment of the people from the political classes. Politics should not be about what they want to talk about – what they define as important. It is "we the people" who should decide.

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