Writing in the Daily Tell-lie-graph, swivel-eyed Conservatory Mr Daniel Hangman makes a case for disagreement between members of political Parties: it's not a gaffe to disagree. So he should be allowed to say whatever pops into his pointy head.
But in the SAME piece, he cannot resist a back-handed slap to "Labour and Lib Dem MPs voting – in defiance of their commitments, their constituents and, in most cases, their consciences – against a referendum on the European constitution."
In other words: disagreeing with your Party is GOOD, unless you disagree with ME in which case it is COMPULSORY.
My big fluffy nose detects the slight whiff of HYPOCRISY here.
IF Mr Hangman wants people to have the choice to DISagree with their Party, he has to let them have the choice to AGREE with their party too; and if he wants people to take what he says as meaning NO MORE than what he says, then it is NECESSARY that he affords the same benefit of the doubt to other people. In this case: he CANNOT know that people were voting against their consciences, and yet he wants to read HIS interpretation into their actions, at the same time as saying it is wrong for other people to read things into what HE says.
In the same vein, here is Mr Hangman's blog saying that he thinks President Barry O's summer reading list smacks of spin. Once again, Mr Hangman does not afford someone else the benefit of taking their word at face value. Why does he think that HE deserves this benefit if he won’t give it to other people?
For Mr Hangman, sauce for the goose is clearly how very dare you for the gander.
Now, it may not have escaped your attention that my Daddy Alex and Mr Mark Reckons have been having un peu d'un spat about Mr Hangman.
Obviously, as a FAIR-MINDED fluffy elephant, I shall CAREFULLY and IMPARTIALLY consider both sides before deciding that Daddy is right.
The centre of the disagreement is whether we should judge Mr Hangman ONLY on the exact words that he says or whether we should read more into them because of the CONTEXT of those words. Essentially an argument between what he SAID and what we THINK he said.
And, ironically, several people say that Daddy Alex would BAN Mr Hangman from having his opinion; that is only what they THINK, whereas Daddy's actual position is the exact OPPOSITE: Mr Hangman should NOT be banned from telling us his opinion, and we should not be banned from saying what we think of him BECAUSE of his opinion.
Ironically (again), Mr Hangman's position is to insist that he has NOT told us his opinion. As I will go on to explain, this is, I'm afraid, a rather, er, FLEXIBLE use of the term "honest answer".
It means that the question really is this:
Is it CREDIBLE that a senior Conservatory, having lived through the last four decades, steeped in the politics of Great Britain, with the intelligence and knowledge that must go with achieving the position of Member of the European Parliament, is it CREDIBLE that he would NOT know that there is an AUTOMATIC context that goes with the name "Enoch Powell"?
In ancient fairy tales, the "Book of Enoch" is one of those bits of the Bible that were edited out in order to get it down to a PG rating. Partly it deals with the NEPHILIM, the monstrous "half-breed" children of the "immoral" marriage between human beings and angels, which comes down to some VERY old-fashioned (by which I mean racist, horribly, horribly racist) ideas about "mixing of blood".
Which brings me on to Mr Enoch Powell.
Very few politicians become so totally identified with one single policy or incident that their name becomes a CODE WORD. You might, perhaps, think of Mr Chamberlin who was unlucky enough to become synonymous with "appeasement" or Mr Profumo who's name is now uniquely identified with what these days we call "sleaze".
Mr Enoch Powell is another of these RARE individuals, thanks to a speech that he gave in April 1968 in which everyone remembers him saying that immigration was a BAD thing because in fifteen to twenty years black people would take over from white people.
Now, do I REALLY need to establish that this is racist? Horribly, horribly racist?
Even without using the language of SLAVERY and all that frightening BLOOD imagery, the idea that it's a BAD thing for black people to be in charge is obviously HUGELY WRONG.
Even today, not twenty but FORTY years later, the VAST under-representation of non-white, non-male, non-middle-class, non-heteronormative (cool word!) persons in our mother of Parliaments shows it's almost HYSTERICALLY inaccurate too. Though of course HYSTERIA is exactly what the speech was aiming at. It wasn't about the FACTS of the speech, which were undeniably flat wrong, it was about the FEAR that goes with the idea of "the stranger" coming and taking the inheritance that we quite naturally want to go to our nearest and dearest.
And, of course, even though everyone REMEMBERS him saying that about fifteen to twenty years, that ISN'T what Mr Enoch SAID. What he ACTUALLY said was that he had a conversation with a man, and the OTHER MAN said those things.
Taken entirely at face value then, just on what Mr Enoch ACTUALLY SAID, does that mean that we cannot say that Mr Enoch agreed or disagreed with those views?
No, obviously not.
We HAVE to take the CONTEXT: the framing of the speech and that it was MR Enoch's CHOICE to repeat those remarks. He was NOT a stupid man, he knew what he was doing: by framing the speech as some kind of Socratic dialogue where he puts his views into the mouth of a maybe real maybe made up "other man" he is only providing a FIG LEAF of "no it was the other fellow" to cover himself.
I'm not saying that it was a very GOOD fig leaf, because it didn't work, and – entirely rightly – Conservatory leader and later Prime Monster Mr Heath fired him on the spot.
But this is what we mean by saying "talking in code" or in today's jargon using a "dog whistle": human beans cannot help but read more into things than are actually said. It's actually an evolutionary ASSET to pattern-match quickly and draw intuitive conclusions; it means that you get to answers faster and thus have more time to react, to fight or flee. Clever people know this – it is the BASIS of all oratory. And for that matter all comedy. (JOKES, you see, work because we pattern-match what we think is going to happen and then the punch-line derails that in an unexpected and therefore humorous way.) It's the same process that means you can understand exactly who I mean when I refer to, for example, "Mr Daniel Hangman", even if I get the exact words WRONG sometimes.
And the same process again allows "Enoch" to become CODE for "we doesn't like furriners in these parts". That is a GROSS oversimplification of something that Mr Enoch didn't in fact, in so many words, say. And yet at HEART it IS the message that he was putting across: "You're afraid of people who are different; support me and – quite literally – I will speak for you."
So, a famous and highly intelligent fire-brand politician goes WAY off message tapping into the unconscious but powerful "fear of the foreigner" and has a fig-leaf of "no, what I actually said was…" to cover up the fact that you cannot escape from reading more into what they said.
Does that sound at all familiar?
Mr Hangman, being a Conservatory, refers NOSTALGICALLY to the PAST, a Golden Age when MPs had to be CONVINCED to vote for legislation because they were all independent-minded free agents with their own consciences. Never mind that they were all loaded with money and often barely knew the geographical location of their constituencies let alone visited them.
Mr Hangman then goes on to blame the media for the robotisation of our MPs, the habit of them all to be "on message" lest they feel the wrath of the whips for committing – or, worse, allowing the papers to SAY they have committed – a gaffe.
But I rather think that it goes deeper and further back than this.
The change in politics post World War Part Two, or even Part One, was intrinsically linked to the (at long last) universalisation of the franchise. That means everyone could (at long last) vote in elections. In response to that, Parties chose to sell themselves as coherent, agreed policy platforms; the individualism of the MP was deliberately played DOWN and the idea was that you voted for the Party and the manifesto that went with it.
This was easier all round. Easier for the Parties, certainly, because they only needed one manifesto not six-hundred. Easier for the media who could cover the election nationally, rather than as a hotch-potch of local contests with no (patterns again) overall picture. And easier for the voters too, because (at least in theory) there's a direct translation from how you vote to how Parliament is made up to how policy actually turns out.
So if MPs and MEPs from political Parties can – in general – be trusted to say the same things, and vote along the same lines as they said they would, then that puts power into the hands of VOTERS.
Oh yes it does.
Sure, it gives power to the whips and the party hierarchies too. But the ability to make CHOICES between candidates at election time comes down to having some idea about WHAT THEY WILL DO if you elect them.
A House full of Independents and Mavericks is a recipe for NOT KNOWING which way ANY of them will jump in any given situation; it give all the power to the ELITE Members of Parliament and none of it to the voters who are choosing on some kind of "I'm a Celebrity Get Me Into Parliament" basis, rather than a choice about how they want their MP to behave.
The rise of the "gaffe" in the media is a SIDE-EFFECT of the Parties choosing to portray themselves as homogonous. Of course, there's then a whole load of feedback as the Parties try to become EVEN MORE identikit to avoid the "gaffe" accusation, and "rebels" become local heroes not least because they get media attention for being different and stepping outside the conventions.
Hello again, Mr Daniel Hangman who, remember, first came to prominence for stepping outside the conventions of POLITENESS to lambast Mr Frown to his face, something many of us would LIKE to do but can't (which is probably why it was so popular on HootTube).
Now, arguably this reduced ALL politics to the "politics of the playground": you're not in my gang so you smell; oooOOOooo you didn't say the same as Mr Balloon even though you signed up to a manifesto where you PROMISED that you WOULD, sort of thing. I'm sure there must be a more edifying way to do politics, but we are where we are, and if you WANT to play in the playground, and if YOU play by the playground rules, it's too late to say "it's not FAIR" when everyone else does the same back to you.
So, Mr Hangman says that Mr Enoch is his political hero, the one British politician on his list, anyway.
Superficially, based on JUST the words, that tells us NOTHING. He could have said Dan Dare. He could have said Wonder Woman. He could have said Gollum.
But these questions – and answers – are SUPPOSED to tell us MORE about the person being interviewed BECAUSE we read more into them than JUST what the words say.
So we are SUPPOSED to "get" that in some way Mr Hangman IDENTIFIES with Mr Enoch. Maverick, populist, hero-of-the-right furriner-bashing Mr Enoch. Racist Mr Enoch.
Does that mean that we can assume that Mr Hangman is a RACIST too? His voting record suggests otherwise. But, as I said, it's simply NOT CREDIBLE that Mr Hangman does not know that Mr Enoch is a CODE WORD for xenophobia.
Which means, because he omits any reference to the CONTEXT – indeed DENYS the EXISTENCE of the understood context, especially when that context is so unavoidable as in this case, in fact when he himself sets the context as "somebody who understood the importance of national democracy" (translation: "furriners are bad") – it means it is IMPOSSIBLE to say that Mr Hangman's answer is "HONEST".
Saying there is no context is not just impossible, it is wilfully misleading, possibly even deceitful.
He KNOWS that we will read more into what he says; he WANTS us to read more into what he says. To then protest afterwards that we HAVE read more into what he said is, a teeny-tiny touch, hypocritical.
(And THAT is why I agree with Daddy.)