Saturday, 4 June 2016
Going for Gove
It started off reasonably enough: “I think people in this country have had enough of experts, enough of organisations with acronyms saying they know what is best…” said Michael Gove last night. What he meant, of course, is expert advice is at best an educated guess and many expert predictions (or non-predictions) have proved false. The expert left wing economist David Blanchflower forecast that 500,000 jobs would be lost if the Tories ever got into power. And ‘experts’ have for many decades been warning of six days to save the NHS.
Many experts are funded by groups in whose interests they broadcast their advice or their visions of the future, yet rarely are they brought to account for their errors or for their deliberately misleading partisan announcements because their purpose has already been achieved; if you can’t see the future you can at least attempt to shape it. Announce a rise in the numbers with wheat allergies and you will see a rise in the numbers imagining they have wheat allergies. Keep telling everybody they will be worse off and they will begin to feel worse off. Aside from obvious professional competence in medicine, mechanics, science and the like, expertise is a slippery thing. Alchemists were experts of a kind.
But Gove’s perfectly reasonable articulation of what an enormous number of people feel but never get the chance to say to an audience was deftly interrupted so that Faisal Islam could then repeatedly claim that he said “We’ve had enough of experts.” And there was the headline. People who didn’t watch the Sky News ‘town hall’ event – and quite a few columnists who did – now believe that Michael Gove, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for justice, who relies all the time on being briefed by experts, has summarily dismissed their views.
Oh, how do they lie to you? Let me count the ways... The distortion of what interviewees are trying to say has become commonplace in our relentless pursuit of making a drama out of a crisis, itself founded on perfectly ordinary events. A misplaced pronoun, an ill-advised word and the real message is lost, twisted into something far from that intended. Not long ago Benedict Cumberbatch was pilloried for accidentally calling people ‘coloured’ instead of whatever approved term was then in favour – white people aren’t fully briefed in this area. And when Diane James was trying to make a fair point about a preference for employing English-speaking foreign workers in the health service she was howled down by a mob just looking for an opportunity to denounce her as a racist.
The electorate complain that there are insufficient facts availabe to make a decision over the issue of British sovereignty versus European Union supremacy. They are bombarded with soundbites which either speak to their own prejudices or rattle their previous understanding. How much do we ‘send’ to Brussels each week? How many jobs ‘depend’ on membership of the EU? Who will win and who will lose if we leave or if we stay? None of these questions are truly accurately quantifiable and even if such accurate figures were available they would be dressed up and gift-wrapped and PR’d and offered for sale under a campaign which fundamentally ignored the unalloyed truth.
So, it all comes down to feel. Who do you like the look of? Who sounds like he’s your friend and not like a sharp-suited salesman? Who do you trust? Michael Gove’s argument was really about all of this; the lack of trust in the political and big business elites; the sense of cards being stacked against the ordinary worker (‘twas ever thus); the weight of oppressive power represented by centralised, bullying, unelected government. By the way Faisal Islam kept on interrupting and misquoting him, he was rather in danger of appearing to be on the side of the bullies himself.
No gimmicks - over to you...
Whatever the truth of the matter the central question for this referendum has little to do with facts and experts and televised debates and battle buses and twenty-four hour media coverage. In or out, there will be consequences for a relatively small number of people; for the majority little will change. The question is, do you believe in an independent Britain, governed democratically, where the government can be held to account by the people? Or would you prefer to leave your fate and that of your children in the hands of bureaucrats whose roles you can’t describe and whose names you’ve never known?