Let them eat PR

As expected, more bluster from Boris this evening. Viewed rationally, the Cummings affair is a storm in teacup, a concocted media frenzy cum vendetta. No doubt Cummings himself was acting rationally. But after eight weeks in lock down following government rules, which for many have involved great personal sacrifice, these are not normal times.

People are angry, not because they are suffering a periodic fit of morality, but because, once again, there has been no admission from government that a mistake was made, no apology, no explanation, and all communicated with a casual, arrogant disregard.

It is not only that they engage in spin, evasion and passing the buck. We expect nothing less, or more, of our politicians. The bluster of Boris may even be judged a refreshing change from the robotic mantras of Mrs May. It might even be thought that some element of spin and evasion, of managing public relations, is desirable in a crisis; though we also remember that when Ian McDonald fronted the MoD press briefings during the Falklands War, his deadpan delivery was both admirably reassuring and effective in ensuring the then government won the ‘propaganda war’ against the Argentinian junta.  

It is the assumption that the populace can be fobbed off with any old public relations blather. What grates is that the likes of Johnson, Hancock and Sunak believe that we, the populace, are so servile, so lacking in critical faculties, so credulous, that we will swallow the turd (to borrow one of Johnson’s metaphors) we are served without a murmur of protest.   

Whatever one’s view of the crisis, it is difficult to deny that serious mistakes have been made and thousands of lives have needlessly been lost. Even hardened ‘it’s only the flu’ and ‘they’re stealing our liberties’ conspiracy theorists would be hard pressed to deny that – for example – we have failed to protect our care homes.

Even the government’s own scientific advisors now admit, both on and off the record, that serious mistakes have been made. There is now even an alternative SAGE headed by the government’s former chief scientific advisor Sir David King. Yet still we are told that the right action was taken at the right time in the light of the best scientific evidence in the best of all possible worlds. Confronted with Keir Starmer’s surgical analysis of the government’s failings over contact tracing and care homes, all we got from Boris Johnson was more ‘rolling out’, ‘ramping up’, ‘night and day’, ‘absolutely focused’, ‘world-beating’ bluster.  

We are to believe that it does not matter whether the government has acted competently, or efficiently, or strategically. There is no need for us to know the detail or weigh the evidence. There is no need for comparative graphs and statistics (unless they serve the government’s purpose), or for scientific advice to be published so that we can make our own judgements.

There is no need for questions to be answered or responsibility assumed. All that matters is that we have faith. That we believe and trust that our representatives are working ‘night and day’, ‘straining every sinew’, ‘working round the clock’. That they are ‘absolutely determined’, ‘absolutely focused’, and ‘throwing everything at it’. That their achievements are ‘absolutely brilliant’, ‘astonishing’, ‘fantastic’, ‘world-leading’, and delivered ‘in record time’. That they are engaged in a perpetual process of ‘rolling out’ and ‘ramping up’. So long as the hyperbole flow in an endless stream at the daily press conferences, we can rest satisfied and reassured.

What breeds such arrogant disregard for the people, such contempt for the masses, and such utter detachment from reality? Is it the air of ‘effortless superiority’ cultivated in certain Oxbridge colleges that is to blame, that vague mix of idleness and duty that has traditionally propelled our gilded youth toward politics? Is it the sense of privilege and entitlement of the products of our great public schools?

Is it the apotheosis of a new class of slick managerial sloganizing PR men, for whom presentation and marketing are all important? Is it narcissism, the inability to accept criticism without suffering personal slight? Is it the age-old lust for power and greed for riches, which nowadays takes the form of fat directorships and consultancy fees? Or is it simply the complacency of a liberal governing class, no longer burdened by the sense of paternal responsibility that decent Tories used to feel, and devoid of any moral compass?  

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17 Comments on Let them eat PR

  1. Thank you. Mr Miller, for a thought-provoking article. Here are some of the many thoughts provoked by just one of your paragraphs.

    “Whatever one’s view of the crisis, it is difficult to deny that serious mistakes have been made and thousands of lives have needlessly been lost. Even hardened ‘it’s only the flu’ and ‘they’re stealing our liberties’ conspiracy theorists would be hard pressed to deny that – for example – we have failed to protect our care homes.”

    1. It’s a fact that thousands more lives have been lost than at the same time of year in previous years, but it’s not at all obvious to me that these lives have been lost to the virus, rather than to the media-induced panic. And in a population of tens of millions, thousands of deaths are statistically insignificant.

    2. One doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to think that this virus is “only the flu”. It’s perhaps a little worse than the ordinary seasonal flu, but nowhere near as bad as the Spanish Flu a hundred years ago. The sensible policy would have been to advise and help all the people who depend for their lives on flu vaccines to stay at home until a vaccine for the Chinese Flu is found, while persuading everybody else to keep calm and carry on.

    3. One also doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to notice that many of our traditional liberties have been taken away, and that the ancient legal principle that “what is not explicitly forbidden is allowed” has changed to “what is not explicitly allowed is forbidden”.

    4. It’s not surprising that the residents of our “care homes” have suffered. The reason they’re residing in “care homes” is that nobody cares about them. They’re “don’t care homes”. They should be abolished and people should be taught, expected and required to honour their fathers and mothers, not dump them as soon as they become inconvenient.

    • By the way, Mr Miller, I propose to sue you for the sum of £50,000,000,000 for distress caused to me and the rest of the PJR Community by your insulting headline.

      Members of the PJR Community who, like me, are also members of the Hopelessly Short-Sighted Community might easily read your headline as “Let them eat PJR” – a disgusting Fascist attempt to incite cannibalistic violence against the PJR Community and especially its hopelessly short-sighted Community Leaders.

      There is already unrest in the PJR Community, as these comments prove:

      “Miller must resign.” – PJR

      “I’ll never take Miller’s advice on lockdown again.” – PJR

      “Gie us his bairns’ names an’ we’ll gie ’em a’ a heidin'” – PJMacR

      So hand over the cash, Mr Miller, or I’ll share your proven approval of cannibalism with the Instagram community and the Tiktok community, and you know what will happen then.

      Yours all-too-plausibly,

      PJR

    • PJR – I tried to address your points 1,2,3 in a roundabout way in my blog ‘Do conservatives have an absolute right to be conservative?’ but it was obviously so roundabout that it made no impression at all. The conspiracies reference was a bit of a wind up, and I don’t know the truth about the virus, but the liberties question is I think more complex than libertarian conservatives imagine. Traditional conservatives like Scruton believe we do owe an absolute duty to the state, the body politic, the sovereign law-making body, because all our liberties are derived from it. To put it very crudely, in a crisis, we do as we are told. Which leads on to care homes. Aren’t care homes the product of a hedonistic libertarian society that puts the satisfaction of our atomistic individual desires above social and moral duties – to family, to community and to state? Traditional societies recognise familial duties and obligations precisely because they don’t value individual liberty above all other values.

      PS Thanks for the compliments but I’m afraid I can’t take the credit for the title.

      • Alistair, a care home is a specialist environment in which elderly and inform people who cannot (or can no longer) be tended by their relatives are placed, and where they can receive professional standards of provision for their medical and personal needs. It can and sometimes does involve dumping by adult children who, very like many of the anti-lock-down adult children, just want to romp in the fields of their supposed freedom. But in the vast majority of cases that is untrue and unkind.

        Trad conservatives are, of course, wrong about duties. Their civicism makes them so. It is kinship which rules the human heart and necessitates obligations. It is your people … those from whom you are descended and to whom you belong … to whom you owe life and to whom you naturally owe service. The family is the first manifestation of bounds in this respect, but family is a widening gyre, to abuse Yeats’ somewhat unhappy phrase; and in a typical racially European kinship group such as the English or Scots or Welsh the genetic distance between any two random individuals is about that of third cousins.

        In contrast, as recipients of one’s vital loyalty the state and “communities” are artifices for the terminally self-estranged.

      • Alistair Miller:

        I’m alarmed that you may think I’m a libertarian: I approve of liberties only when they’re traditional. (Nowadays, the freedom to defend tradition is the freedom I chiefly defend.)

        The blessed Sir Roger is right to emphasise the duty of obedience to “the state”, which I’d prefer to call “the crown in parliament”, but what happens when “the state” is hi-jacked by its enemies? Ought one to obey Lenin? or Mao? or any British government of the last 75 years? Loyalty to one’s country and its traditions ought to trump loyalty to the state. Our lords and masters have spent too long urinating all over our country and its traditions to deserve automatic obedience.

        As for the care homes, I think we agree.

        But meanwhile, American cities are burning, and British cities will probably be burning soon, partly because an American policeman was a bit too rough with a suspect, but mostly because the evenings are warm enough to make rioting fun. Black lives matter less when the weather’s chilly.

  2. So servile? Trouble is, we are. We all fell for it from the word go. The ravings of some mad, monster, raving luny writing in the Daily Raving Luny ensured that we toed the line and will continue to do do until the last, helpless, defeated virus about-turns and returns whence it came. Then we’ll all know that the state knows best.

  3. I am probably in a minority of one (even among SR readers) in thinking that politicians and high officials should be judged according to their competence to do the job and not according to whether they follow rules (even rules they have themselves laid down). Scientific advisors have had to resign to appease public feeling and if they were otherwise the best people for the job (meaning their law-abiding successors are second best) the public should find this worrying at a time of crisis.

    • Interesting point. I think it was John Watson who was forced out of his behavioural psychology university post because of a liaison with a post grad student. He went into advertising and we have him to thank for the switch from tedious details of a product to associating the item with something rewarding: babes draped over car bonnets come to mind.

    • John Stevens:

      You’re in a minority of at least two. One could call it the “1066 and all that” principle: it is possible to be simultaneously a Bad Man and a Good King (and vice versa).

      As for Mr Cummings, I don’t think he did anything illegal or morally wrong, but is he good enough at his job to deserve to keep it? He’s employed as a “spin doctor” but has failed to put a positive “spin” on his own harmless actions, instead doing enormous, unnecessary damage to his employers by making up ridiculous excuses. Our friend Andrew is quite right in saying that a jury would laugh at his excuses. He ought to have remained silent. Having made his ridiculous statement, he ought to have been fired for incompetence.

  4. Alistair – isolation is getting into your soul.

    First off, DC did nothing that any parent might have done in his position. What we are seeing is the factitious outrage of the hostile media including the British Bellyaching Corporation, not a troubled people. The mob at DC’s gates is a direct parallel of the mobs we see in such places as Pakistan, and saw in Germany, France and Poland in WW2: all the vices, hysteria and unreason of Hitler Youth, SS and Red Guards are on display.

    Mistakes? Every country has been flying blind on this one and it will a year or more before we can tell what policy was right. My guess is that policy will be a small factor among many others: compliance and common sense of the population; % of oldies/fatties/other genetic vulnerabilities; location of oldies – large/small care homes, or home alone or with extended families. Guido has published a chart showing our care homes have fewer deaths than EU countries – on the EU’s own figures.

    One example of how difficult gathering valid data is going to be. Colombia (where a family member runs a business) has the strictest lockdown in the world. You can go out two days a week depending on the odd/even number of your ID card. Similar rule applies to your car – so some days you can go out but not your car; others, your car can go out while you stay home. All fine, except it’s not enforced. More than half the police have vanished, shops are open and crowded, traffic jams are besieged by hawkers thrusting stuff through windows. Masks are compulsory but people pull them down to talk to you. In some towns they’ve tried women one day, men the next – but trans M/Fs have started punch-ups by going out on the day that most people (RC country) think they should stay home.

    The scatterplot of deaths against population is going to show countries bunched together is my prediction. Any outliers will be liars or counting errors.

    • “DC did nothing that any parent might have done in his position”

      Really? Hmmm. Knowing his eyesight may have been defective he loads his wife and child (about whose safety he was ostensibly so, so concerned) into a car and drives it. So far so bad. But then, apparently, we are told that this is actually a test run, “to see if it was safe”. I wonder what could be determined from that, that couldn’t have been with just a jolly good look down the road from a standing position.

      Anyway, let’s just say this all passes your credibility test. Surely it must be stretched to breaking point when you hear that he didn’t sensibly remain on local roads – just in case he found it wasn’t ok and needed to get back home quickly – but made a beeline for a well-known beauty spot half an hour’s drive away (“We ‘found’ ourselves on the outskirts of Barnard Castle” – ha ha, imagine our surprise). On his wife’s birthday, to boot.

      I did jury service last year, and if this tale was told from the witness box I would have been openly laughing.

      How do the driving test examiners do it? How can anybody swallow Cummings’s nonsense?

      • Frankly, I don’t give a damn what he did.
        In the same week that our impertinent, degenerate media behaved like a third world hate-mob another two dozen Pakistanis were arrested in Bradford for raping children. This heinous crime, in a long line of similar crimes, got one line in the papers and perhaps a brief mention in some obscure regional BBC slot.
        The press and the BBC should have been blocking the roads outside the council offices, the police HQ, and the mosques and schools where this religion, which has brought depravity and misery to the world, is celebrated. Those are the people who have questions to answer, not a man who has harmed no one. Does it not occur to you that our despicable press is as racist as Labour and not just its neo-Nazi wing? Do you think Dom would have been subjected to vilification had he had a darker skin tone?

        • Michael McManus:

          Thank you for reporting news that ought to have been on the BBC front page but mysteriously wasn’t.

          “Do you think Dom would have been subjected to vilification had he had a darker skin tone?”

          Having observed the constant vilification of Priti Patel, I think the answer might perhaps be yes. The calculus of immunity from criticism is complex.

          But of course, if they’d been Ahmed Cummings and Fatima Patel, they’d be revered modern saints, along with the unfairly denigrated martyr Sir Ali Savile.

          And it would have been best of all for them if they’d had themselves surgically converted into Fatima Cummings and Ahmed Patel, in which case the BBC would have given them their own prime-time chat show.

  5. Alistair: “What breeds such arrogant disregard for the people”

    Guilt and elitism.

    Guilt because they took no action for ten fateful days while Boris’s libertarianism got the better of him and he the rest of the cabinet, and now they have to broadcast their immense commitment and tremendous success. Meanwhile on the Malabar Front …

    Elitism because they belong to a political class which has been, for decades, been manically engaged in changing the population of these islands to one to which they, as the post-aristocratic perpetual ruling class, have no personal connection whatsoever.
    Beyond that of ruler and ruled, of course.

    • Exactly. Now that the lockdown is disintegrating, and no-one any longer believes a word of government advice, we face the likelihood of a second wave and the worst of all worlds. But there is a way out. My prediction is that BJ will accept a generous offer from the Chinese to provide us with a nationwide track and trace app.

      • There will be no second wave. The vaccine manufacturers themselves have stated that they’re worried the silly little virus will be extinct before they can get a vaccine out and so won’t make any money flogging it to the idiots who pretend to run the nhs and the country in general…. oh dear how sad never mind….