Two Wasted Hours in Doughty Street
by Sean Gabb
I must apologise to those of my readers who logged onto 18 Doughty Street last night to see me discuss the issues of the day. If you were among them, you will have wasted your time. I said very little, and what I did say had little effect on the course of studio discussion.
This was at least partly my own fault. Failure in anything hardly ever comes entirely from without. But it was also a defect of the way in which the programme had been set up.
I knew this would be bad television from the moment the cameras were switched on. I found myself trapped on a couch with some loud woman from the BBC, with a toad in a suit who was something in the Greater London Conservative Policy, and with a Labour apparatchik who had cycled up from Rotherhithe. I never caught their names, and do not feel inclined to look them up on the Doughty Street website. These struck up a detailed and generally approving examination of the new Cabinet Ministers appointed by Gordon Brown. With growing disquiet, I sat listening to the flow of knowing, self-referential chatter. The other guests seemed to be competing on who could claim to know more of the new Ministers and who could pass the most flattering comments on their ability.
I looked at the studio clock. There were two hours of this to go. I wondered if I might get through the first hour by saying nothing at all, and leave before the second hour.
Suddenly, Iain Dale turned to me and asked if I thought the Conservatives might have trouble finding people of sufficient quality to shadow the new Ministers.
Yes, I answered wearily, the Conservatives would have trouble matching the quality of these new Ministers—but only because they were themselves even more useless and morally corrupt than Labour. I added that a better government than the new one could easily be formed by choosing two dozen people at random from the catering staff at the Palace of Westminster.
That started a flood of denunciation. The Loud Woman asked grandly who I thought I was to speak so slightingly of our masters. I answered that every politician I had ever met was human trash—the better ones were in the game for the money and sex; the rest were plodding control freaks.
The Toad drifted into a monologue about his hard work for the people of London. Mr Dale asked if I thought he was trash on the grounds that he had once stood for election.
This was at least entertaining. I had a good sneer at the Loud Woman and the Toad, whose passion for “democracy” was matched only by their refusal to consider leaving a European Union that had made every ballot box into the country into a dustbin.
And that was my whole contribution to the evening. Mr Dale and his other guests settled into a long examination of whether David Milliband was intensely brilliant or merely brilliant. My further interventions were ignored or quickly wrenched back to the question of who was in and who out.
And this went on for two solid hours! The trio of bores beside me might easily have gone on all night. My biggest regret is that I lacked the courage to get up, to unplug the microphone, and to go home to my wife.
Now, I have been accused, because of my recent postings, of political nihilism. My accusers have a point. But what is wrong with nihilism?
Suppose you are taken into a restaurant, where everything offered is some preparation of stinking fish. Do you placidly go ahead with your order? Or do you throw the menu aside and comment on the smell?
And suppose the other guests—who all seem to have a connection with the management—strike up a debate on the merits of poached as against grilled stinking fish. Do you join in? Or do you head for the door?
And—to complete the analogy—suppose you find yourself chained to the table with a feeding tube shoved down your throat. Is it reasonable to do other than wish for the waiters and the unseen kitchen staff to be taken out and shot?
That describes the politics of this country at the moment. And if saying so is nihilism, I am a nihilist.
That, of course, has described the politics of this country for some time past. But the full banality of things was disguised by having Tony Blair as Prime Minister. There is a glamour in unrestrained evil that even I cannot resist. But if Tony Blair was the Prince of Darkness, those who replace him— and those who want to replace them—are a pack of grinning trolls. He was worth hating. These are barely worth despising.
Now, before going to a full confession of how much I am already missing the wretched man, let me return to Doughty Street. When this channel was started, I read and to some extent believed the claims that it would be a challenge to the hegemony of the established media—that it would bring new voices to our politics and new perspectives. After my last two appearances on the channel, I am beginning to see the many virtues of Drivetime on BBC Radio Slough. This does not drift on all evening, and is not filled with non-entities talking in first-name terms about other non-entities.
I wasted my time last night. I wasted the time of anyone who was tempted by my alert to log on. Once these comments have been read in Doughty Street, I suspect I shall not be invited back. In any event, I am not sure I want to be invited back.
NB—Sean Gabb’s new book, Cultural Revolution, Culture War: How Conservatives Lost England, and How to Get It Back, can be downloaded free from http://tinyurl.com/34e2o3. You can help by contributing to publishing and distribution costs