Our Superficial Media

The G8 summit in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland, finished some days ago now, but our intrepid journalists in the press are still on the case, poring over and analysing the ramifications and outcomes of this latest summit.

Unfortunately, the minds of our (supposedly) best journalists and bloggers are not concentrated on the policy substance of what was (and was not) agreed at the meeting, distracted as they are by something far more important and consequential – the fact that David Cameron insisted on a smart-casual dress code for the world leaders at this year’s G8, rather than the buttoned-up suit and tie look that is par for the course at these events.

They mean serious business because the ties have come off
They mean serious business because the ties have come off

Iain Dale, writing at Conservative Home, sniffs:

Whoever chose Lough Erne as the venue for the G8 should get some kind of honour. As a PR exercise it couldn’t be faulted. The countryside backdrops to all the interviews and press conferences were simply stunning. Less stunning, though, was the fact that David Cameron seemed to have a physical aversion to wearing a tie at any point during the event. Orders had clearly gone out from Number Ten that this was a ‘dress down’ G8, although it was rather difficult to tell whether Angela Merkel had got the message, as in all the pictures I saw she seemed to be wearing the same, tired old lime green jacket. I assume she brought a change of underwear.

What penetrating insight. In The Telegraph, Benedict Brogan thunders:

G8 summits are notorious for their sartorial excesses: matching floral shirts, ponchos, stetsons, it has become a commonplace for the host country to rope the visitors into trying on some sort of local dress. Yet what happens when the world’s most powerful men (sic) gather in the UK? We make them dress like bachelors emerging into the bleary dawn after a vigorous stag party. We might as well ask them to wear jeans. What’s wrong with a bit of understated English tailoring, as a way of plugging one of our more successful exports? In fact, it’s London Fashion Week. There’s all kind of natty pastel numbers available, rather than the blue blazers. But for my money, they should tie one on to show they take the taxpayer – and their responsibilities – seriously.

Someone might be so kind to remind Mr. Brogan that he would be taking his responsibilities as a journalist for a prestigious newspaper more seriously if he focused on the policy agenda of the G8 summit, and not the dress code.

Even The Guardian gets in on the act, with a dedicated feature in their Fashion section:

Not for the first time, the dress code has proved to be one of the trickier aspects of the G8 agenda. Style novice George Osborne underlined the dilemma with his sartorial excuse to BBC Breakfast on Tuesday. “I’m doing what I was asked,” he said. “I got out my jacket and blue shirt.” Forget tax and Syria, smart-casual is tough for these guys.

Cameron demonstrated yet again that for him sleeves rolled up and no jacket semaphores getting down to business. He famously did it on the campaign trail all-nighter and he’s done it at Lough Erne. For him a suit jacket and tie is for everyday prime ministerial humdrum but real power dressing – when he’s hosting international leaders – means pale blue cotton and unironed chinos.

But the real gem comes from the sub-headline to that same Guardian article, which reads as follows:

Forget tax and Syria, smart-casual is tough for these guys. Cameron demonstrated yet again that for him sleeves rolled up and no jacket semaphores getting down to business.

Forget tax and Syria. Indeed. Some people certainly have; unfortunately, they are the people whose job it is to hold our elected leaders to account, to scrutinise, analyse and challenge their activities and policy decisions. With a barely growing economy, persistently high unemployment (we recently celebrated the economy adding 5000 new jobs – a paltry 5000 in country of 65,000,000!) and widespread dissatisfaction with his leadership, David Cameron must have been delighted to be taken to task over his sartorial choices rather than his lacklustre/harmful economic policies and desire for more middle-east adventuring in Syria.

The journalists will no doubt counter that there is a “legitimate public interest” in stories like this, that the public are interested and want to know, justifying all of their column inches on rolled-up shirtsleeves and ties, and the dearth of column inches on the outcomes of the G8 summit. This argument is complete claptrap. The journalists themselves generate the public interest in these process-driven non-stories, thus justifying (in their minds) their decision to cover them in ever increasing detail. After all, it’s far easier to sit at your laptop for twenty minutes and bang out a vapid column about the fashion choices of our politicians than it is to do some real journalism, and pore through meeting minutes and policy papers to educate and inform the public as to what is really going on.

Enough of superficial political “journalism”. David Cameron, Barack Obama and the other six can wear matching gimp costumes to the G8 for all I care; what matters is whether they (for once) manage to cook up some policies that actually benefit the non-elites in our respective countries, and (wishfully thinking) take positive steps toward hammering out a comprehensive EU-US free trade treaty.

But I’m not holding out much hope. Our leaders don’t have the best track record when it comes to acting in our interests, and “journalists” such as Iain Dale and Benedict Brogan seem more interested in clucking disapprovingly at their outfits than scrutinising the decisions that they make.

On EU Secession And Straw Man Arguments

Another day, another newspaper column from a political has-been lecturing us on why leaving the European Union or renegotiating our terms of membership would be terrible, just terrible, and consign us to the lowly status of a third world country, adrift in the sea of globalisation with no friends and no influence.

The newspaper columns tend to follow the exact same template, and this time it was the turn of Kenneth Clarke, writing in The Telegraph, to gently explain to us stupid “swivel-eyed” nationalist loons exactly why our views are undermining Britain and putting our future at risk. He writes, with reference to the potential EU-US free trade agreement currently being discussed at the fringes of the G8 meeting in Lough Erne:

For, irony of ironies, it is of course the EU that is making deals with America and Canada possible. It should come as no surprise that President Obama’s officials have commented that they would have “very little appetite” for a deal with the British alone. Quite simply, the political commitment and dedication that the creation of a free market encompassing over 800 million people, 47 per cent of world GDP, and boosting the combined economies of the EU and the US by nearly £180 billion, could only ever be made by the leaders of evenly matched economic blocs.

What nonsense. While this statement may be true for some of the smaller EU member states, until you reach about Spain size, it certainly does not apply to the United Kingdom. Why would any country not wish to negotiate bilaterally with the sixth largest economy in the world, and miss out on the many benefits of tariff-free access to such a large hub of industry, innovation, technology, arts and sciences? Ken Clarke would have us tremble in fear that the mighty President Obama might overlook pathetic, little old Britain if we dared to stand on our own, but he certainly pays attention to the likes of India, Russia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and countless other countries with much lower nominal GDP than the United Kingdom, so that argument hardly stands up.

But of course, Ken Clarke doesn’t need his arguments to bear scrutiny, because they are straw men. He assumes that a Britain outside of the European Union would automatically be isolated, introverted and inward-looking, seeking to shut itself off from the world, but he is putting words into the mouths of the Eurosceptics. He disingenuously proclaims:

There always has been something of the romantic in the British soul. We can’t fail to be stirred by Charge of the Light Brigade visions of Britain standing alone against the odds. It is the same sentiment behind the idea of exchanging the EU for Nafta.

But, in the end, we are a practical race. We know that the empire on which the sun never set was created by intrepid, relentlessly outward-facing adventurers and administrators, not isolationist John Bulls. That “Brexit” would mean curtains for our ability to have any leadership role in world-defining plays like these free-trade agreements would greatly disturb us. Accepting a diminished situation in which the UK is forced to trade by EU rules which it has had no say in setting is simply not in our nature.

I don’t know of any anti-EU people who want to create a Fortress Britain and isolate ourselves from the world – in fact, quite the opposite is true. We feel that the ever more onerous conditions and regulations that must be observed as part of our EU membership damage our national competitiveness and make it harder for us to do the business that we want to do with the rest of the world. If the EU were simply a free trade area then remaining an EU member to negotiate an agreement with NAFTA or the US would make the utmost sense. But the ever-closer union has become so much more than that, spawning parliaments, commissions, foreign policy chiefs, “human rights” courts, and generally extending its tentacles into every aspect of national life. How does Ken Clarke imagine being beholden to all of these anti-democratic institutions improves our leverage or bargaining position when it comes to discussing matters of free trade?

Of course, Clarke is deeply invested in the success and longevity of the European project. He himself is a current member of the secretive Bilderberg group which in the post-war years was instrumental in formulating many of the policies and initiatives that have helped to bring us to our ever-closer union with our European neighbours and allies. Indeed, at the most recent Bilderberg Group meeting in Watford, England, one of the agenda items specifically focused on “the politics of the EU”, which you can read as “how to make the masses support our floundering European project”. The last thing that he would want is to undo his organisation’s stated objectives of weakening the institution of the nation state in favour of larger, pan-national, anti-democratic organisations. The European Union serves the needs of his political and corporatist friends very well indeed; the average voter, less so.

Personally, I don’t appreciate being talked down to by the likes of Ken Clarke, so in retaliation I am going to post this video of him, taken at a campaign event while he still held fairly high political office, being too fat to get out of a racing car that he was inspecting (skip to the 7 minute mark):

 

I’ll change my views on Britain’s need to leave the European Union, or at least drastically renegotiate our terms of membership the day that Ken goes on a diet.