Saturday, 8 October 2011

BATman versus Catwoman

 The Telegraph sums up everything you need to know about the Ken Clarke / Theresa May argument in three lines:

  • Theresa May, the Home Secretary, says something untrue.
  • Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary, points out that it is untrue.
  • Commentators call for Ken Clarke to be fired.

It's almost as if karma works in the real world.* Agree or disagree with what he stands for,** Ken, does come across as a human being, saying what he thinks, who should easily be able to outshine the standardised, image-controlled, pre-screened, focus-grouped, on-message political partybots who surround him. But, even when he's plainly right and his opponent is exposed as wrong for all to see, his voice seems doomed, Cassandra-like, to fall on deaf ears.

It's as if Ken's murky past as Deputy Chairman and a director of British American Tobacco (BAT), is coming back to bite him. BAT, you'll remember, was lobbying hard to water down health warnings on cigarette packets aimed at the rising generation of new addicts in developing countries. As an example of socially worse-than-useless corporate irresponsibility, inflating the market for a product that causes massive, avoidable, levels of illness, suffering and premature death, is right up there with pedalling dodgy collateralized debt obligations, trading junk bonds or flogging arms to dictators.

I suppose Ken deserves some kudos for walking the talk - he's clearly a man who likes a good cigar, which makes him less hypocritical than a non-smoking tobacco company executive who smugly prolongs his worthless existence with a healthy, balanced diet and regular visits to the gym, courtesy of the millions of consumers he guides, spluttering, into an early grave.

Of course, it's not really karma, just the fact that Clarke's fact-based criticism of May's immigration fairy tale doesn't chime with what the party spin doctors and powerful, xenophobic, elements of the press imagine the public want to hear. Telling truths that contradict the powerful is, it seems, a serious offence.

"Catgate" may seem like a trivial storm in a saucer of warm milk, but if you want to know why people are disengaged from party politics, look no further. Why would anybody take party politics seriously when a truth-free assertion that happens to conform to the prevailing groupthink trumps the plain truth? That Daily Mash headline Government must not get bogged down by facts, says May was absolutely spot-on.

It'll be interesting to see where evidence-free politics takes us in future. Maybe the chancellor could announce that he's sorted out the national debt by having a quiet word with Father Christmas, who's agreed to have his magic elves conjure up a few billion gold bars, to be gift wrapped and left at the Treasury on the night of his annual present drop. It would be a complete lie, but it's a story people would like to believe which is, apparently, all that matters these days.

*I'm don't really believe that karma operates in any real sense. You don't need to look very far to see bad deeds rewarded and bad stuff happening to folk who do good (I'll leave assertions about ultimate cosmic justice in some future incarnation / afterlife to the clerics and theologians who have cornered the market in being dead certain about unprovable things).

** I mostly disagree.