How politics makes hypocrites of us all


5:42 pm - April 28th 2010

by Paul Sagar    


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Is Brown a hypocrite for calling a woman, whom he’d just been nice to on camera, a “bigot” when he thought he was off camera? At one level obviously so: surely if anything counts as hypocrisy, it’s being nice to someone’s face and then saying the exact opposite when you think they’re out of earshot.

But is this the sort of hypocrisy we should or can condemn…without being hypocrites? The answer is pretty obviously no.

To say otherwise, we would have to entertain the belief that (say) Nick Clegg or David Cameron don’t sometimes complain in private about the people they’ve just met in public.

It’s only human to whinge, after all. When you’re on the campaign trail in a very stressful election, letting off steam when you think you’re in private is what everybody short of sainthood does. What’s special about the case of Brown is that he got caught.

Clegg, Cameron and pretty much every other politician in the world will have done what Brown did – they were just alert enough to check their mics were off first.

Accordingly, the Tory condemnation – ironically centering on the claim that Brown is a hypocrite – is itself utterly hypocritical. It could just as easily have been Cameron caught out today.

Imagine: a gay activist challenges him on his party’s lack of tolerance for homosexuals, and when D-Cam gets into the waiting car he mutters about “the whining gays”. Hardly beyond the realms of possibility, is it? So the Conservative assault on Gordon Brown stinks of hypocrisy because they all know it could just as easily have been their man instead.

But it doesn’t end there. Because we all know this is politics. What matters, ultimately, is precisely who gets caught. If it had been Cameron putting his foot in it, I and the rest of the left-wing blogosphere would be whooping with pleasure.

So in calling the Tories hypocrites for calling Brown a hypocrite, I guess that means I am also a hypocrite.

Except that I just admitted it, so maybe now I’m not. Or maybe that’s just what I want you to think.

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About the author
Paul Sagar is a post-graduate student at the University of London and blogs at Bad Conscience.
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Reader comments


What’s with the dog whistle about Cameron and gays?

If you call yourself a hypocrite to stop people calling you a hypocrite I believe the correct term is self-righteous 😉

Just kiddin’. Good post, I agree. No-one comes out of this debacle looking good – the PM, Mrs Duffy, the media, and Joe Public. J’accuse…

Sure it could have happened to anyone. But it didn’t. Take it on the chin and get over it.

And isn’t being called a bigot much much worse than being called a whining gay?

Justin: interesting, I thought it was the perfect example. Cameron, I suspect, is not a personal homophobe particularly but the rank and file of his core vote and many of his parliamentary party are. It always embarrasses him because it breaks the narrative of progressive Toryism.

Gordon Brown is, clearly someone who does not equate ‘immigration’ with the words ‘flooding’ and ‘swarming’; who recognises (given the economy during the years he was Chancellor, how couldn’t he?) the crucial role of unskilled migrant Labour in supporting the lifestyles of the Labour core vote, such as Duffy. It’s humiliating for him to be reminded that a very large percentage of that Labour core vote are both anti-immigration and anti-immigrant. Even more so when a large part of the reason for that is that Labour have been using identical terms to the hysterical right when discussing (ad nauseam) the issue of immigration over the past 13 years.

Having echoed the lie for so many years he found himself unable to confront it with the truth.

I’d say the OP’s example was apt.

Rather good article by John Harris is CiF that also sums up my feelings on this (and I come from north Manchester, near Rochdale).

‘The incident perfectly captures a plotline that I’ve observed time and again, not least as we’ve been travelling around the country during the campaign: millions of people who are confused, unsettled, and often ragingly angry, faced with a political class that affects to feel their pain, but too often holds them in borderline contempt….There are millions of people like this: without their support, to put it bluntly, Labour is screwed.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/apr/28/bigot-gordon-brown-gillian-duffy

@ 4

Harris:

‘…the metropolitan media is part of the same problem. It tends to portray them as latter-day Alf Garnetts, nostalgic for a world long gone, and fired up by the kind of prejudices that have no place in London W1 or W11

<bWord.

“And isn’t being called a bigot much much worse than being called a whining gay?”

oh, the wonderful, delicious, multi-layered self-impaling irony.

Good article. I entirely agree.

This hasn’t told me anything about Brown that I didn’t already know, and I fully expect that Callmedave and Clegg would do something similar, although hopefully turning the mic off first. What do Callmedave and Clegg think of people who complain about immigration within the EU? Do they think those concerns are valid? Or bigoted? I think they’d secretly agree and sympathise with Brown.

I suppose the only good thing is that Brown’s nasty nature has been revealed to a wider audience, who were (unaccountably) previously unaware of it.

9. Chris Baldwin

You’re right, Paul

“I suppose the only good thing is that Brown’s nasty nature has been revealed to a wider audience, who were (unaccountably) previously unaware of it.”

Well, there was the little matter of Andrew Rawnsley’s new book and a front page Observer story a month ago…

11. Nick Cohen is a Tory

Rawnsley’s book is written by a right of centre journo who personally hates Brown and has links with the new Tories.
It would have surprised me if it wasn’t a hatchet job

“Rawnsley’s book is written by a right of centre journo who personally hates Brown and has links with the new Tories.”

Oh FFS. It’s not always a conspiracy y’know?

13. Nick Cohen is a Tory

I think you may be right paul
I have just listened to remarks.
It sounds like the “Thick of it.”
Labour are screwed

“Waiting For The Etonians” by Nick Cohen and “The End of the Party” by Andrew Rawnsley may look like rather silly books after 6 May.

I think Rawnsley is more ultra-Blairte than Tory, It was from Blairites he got his stories about the Blair/Brown feud.

When Blair appeared before the Chilcot Inquiry Rawnsley raged at him, not because of the Iraq War, but because Blair had made such a bad case for the war that did not help fellow ‘liberal interventionists’* like Rawnsley.

* what a weasel expression ‘liberal interventionist’ is.

I suppose the only good thing is that Brown’s nasty nature has been revealed to a wider audience

How exactly? What he said was quite correct. What he did wrong was not saying it to her face.

“I think Rawnsley is more ultra-Blairte than Tory, It was from Blairites he got his stories about the Blair/Brown feud.”

Given that I’ve read Servants of the People, Rawnsley’s first book, I’d have to conclude that this is complete nonsense. Mostly because Blair comes in for a repeated and horrible bashing in that book.

oh, and Rawnsley has since gone back on his support for the Iraq war and conceded that it was a very bad idea indeed.

y’know, it is possible to criticise Gordon Brown, and even the Labour Party, without being a minion of hell.

(Which is not to defend the post-2002/3 Nick Cohen, in case you were wondering. He is most definitely off with the fairies.)

17. Shatterface

‘Imagine: a gay activist challenges him on his party’s lack of tolerance for homosexuals, and when D-Cam gets into the waiting car he mutters about “the whining gays”. Hardly beyond the realms of possibility, is it? So the Conservative assault on Gordon Brown stinks of hypocrisy because they all know it could just as easily have been their man instead.’

Not even close. If he’d been tackled by a Christian fundy asking what he was going to ‘do’ about all the gays, then he’d called the fundy a homphobe behind her back THEN you’d have a fair analogy.

“What he did wrong was not saying it to her face.”

No, I think it goes a bit further than that. As I say, this doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know about Brown. He hates not being able to bully people, and he has little in common with the average Labour voter. That’s not news to anyone around here. Nor, I hasten to add, does that necessarily make him a bad leader.

What is new is that Brown’s disconnection from the voters and his bullying manner are revealed in a way that’s accessible to the people who don’t care about politics. That’s a good thing, because there are a lot of those people. Where will the lost Labour voters go? Not to the Tories, oh no, no chance of that. They’ll vote for another party, one that’s Labour without Brown.

19. domestic extremist

What 5.captain swing quoted; and John Harris’ last two paragraphs are also spot-on:

somewhere within Labour’s collective psyche, there will a creeping awareness of how they arguably ended up here: by mortgaging their future on a mixture of contorted electoral arithmetic, and secondhand free-marketry, and so forgetting their own people that their own prime minister met an pretty average Labour voter, heard her concerns, and came away seething. (It’s worth bearing in mind a phrase beloved of market traders in the West Midlands: “Never make a mug of your punter.”)

This may sound tangential, but I’m rather reminded of a passage from a Tony Blair conference speech that both set out New Labour’s credo, and captured its essential pathology. “The character of this changing world is indifferent to tradition,” he said. “Unforgiving of frailty. No respecter of past reputations. It has no custom and practice. It is replete with opportunities, but they only go to those swift to adapt, slow to complain, open, willing and able to change.” That doesn’t describe Gillian Duffy, nor millions and millions of other people. And in this awful episode, here are the wages of that ever-festering disconnection.

This article is terribly flawed:

But it doesn’t end there. Because we all know this is politics

No. No, it isn’t.

@16 Paul Sagar

Well if Rawnsley is NOT a Blairite that is NOT reflected in his Observer’s columns. Maybe like many New Labourites in 1997 he is now a “disillusioned former New Labour supporter”, there’s a lot of it about and it’s very fashionable at the moment.

January 2010:

‘It was a six-hour reminder that he was – and remains – the consummate political performer of his era that’s ‘bashing Blair is it?

and “thinks the Iraq War was a very bad idea now” – I bet he fucking does as he wipes off le oeuf sur le visage – and he’s got a bloody funny way of showing he was wrong:

‘I am instinctively a liberal interventionist who thought that Tony Blair played a creditable role when British forces saved Sierra Leone from sadistic thugs and did so again when Slobodan Milosevic was stopped from ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

One of the many tragedies of the Iraq war is that it will be hugely more difficult for any future British leader to persuade his country that there are times when it is not just right but an obligation to intervene when tyrannical states threaten their neighbours or their own people

stick to wrtiing prolix bollocks on your own site son…..

Accordingly, the Tory condemnation – ironically centering on the claim that Brown is a hypocrite – is itself utterly hypocritical. It could just as easily have been Cameron caught out today.

Have I missed something? The reaction on Tory blogs has overwhelmingly been ‘OMG – major Brown fuck-up! How funny!’ And I’ve heard absolutely no official condemnation from the party itself. Almost all the story has been media-driven, not party driven.

Thing is not so much the bigot remark but his pathetic moaning at the encounter overall, his blaming of “Sue” and the initial ludicrous response “if I said it…”

He clearly can’t take ANY questioning or criticism.
He is on if not already over the edge.

Telling her to her face that she was bigot would be bullying. Smiling and patronising her and then saying what you really thought out of earshot is err what normal people do.

Captain Swing:

” ‘It was a six-hour reminder that he was – and remains – the consummate political performer of his era that’s ‘bashing Blair is it?”

Sorry to point this out to you, but just because you don’t LIKE a politician (and I, personally, do not like Blair) it doesn’t follow that they are not a very good politician. Blair was a shit, but he was also the most gifted politician of the past 30 years except for Bill Clinton. It’s just a shame he had no principles to go with his talents. Rawnsley is able to acknowledge that -as he is doing in the passage you quote – without therefore being some rabbid Blair partisan.

“‘I am instinctively a liberal interventionist who thought that Tony Blair played a creditable role when British forces saved Sierra Leone from sadistic thugs and did so again when Slobodan Milosevic was stopped from ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

One of the many tragedies of the Iraq war is that it will be hugely more difficult for any future British leader to persuade his country that there are times when it is not just right but an obligation to intervene when tyrannical states threaten their neighbours or their own people”. ”

Presumably you are therefore saying that there was no difference whatsoever between Serbia/Kosovo and Iraq? Because Rawnsley can quite consistently say that he thinks there are times when it is right to use military force – and the example of Serbia/Kosovo is perhaps (though I won’t commit myself to this, as it was a very complicated situation) and example – whilst also saying that Iraq was not such a case and therefore a terrible and tragic mistake, and on more than one front.

As it happens, I opposed the Iraq war. I think Rawnsley got that call very wrong. But I happen to have the political and analytic acument to be able to make basic distinctions and employ a functioning concept of nuance.

Hence the only appropriate response to this – “stick to wrtiing prolix bollocks on your own site son” – is to tell you to fuck off, your patronising Dunning-Kruger case study.

“This article is terribly flawed:

But it doesn’t end there. Because we all know this is politics

No. No, it isn’t.”

Oh. What is it then? Astrophysics?

@Richard W

Yes, but calling her a bigot behind her back and then coming out and a) trying to pretend like you didn’t really say it and then b) going back on what you said when it’s proved that you did say it, is what cowards do.

To me that’s the real story. It’s fine for Brown to call her a bigot. If that what he feels then that’s what he feels. But to come out and say “I didn’t really mean it” after being caught out shows the kind of man he really is. A real man would stand up, say “yes I said that, and this is why I said that”. If it turns out he’s in the wrong then he stands up again to admit his fault.

Why does anyone – except, ‘course, those in power – like politics? Christ, the Marquis de Sade would quail from the stuff these people seem to enjoy. Haven’t they heard of self-flagellation?

Total disaster. Worse than ‘clinging to guns and religion’, Joe the plumber, Jennifer’s ear, guts on the beaches and the Sheffield rally combined. We all know that politicians are lying, liars who lie, but this is just typically Brown.

On the other hand the original question “All these eastern Europeans – where are they flocking from?” was a treat.

30. WhatNext?!

This “all Tories are homophobes” business needs challenging.

Yes, there are Tory homophobes, yes too many at the top of local associations, and yes those at the top of the party should have known much, much better given upper-class open-mindedness on the subject. (Amazing what they used to get up to …..). Yes, Labour governments since 1997 can point to their record on gay rights with considerable pride.

However, the question is this: how does homophobia amongst Conservative voters compare against homophobia amongst Labour supporters? The answer may be uncomfortable ……..

Brown ‘s attitude explains why so many middle class labour politicians are persuading working class voters to suport the BNP. Until Labour concentrates on training a work force which can match Germany’s for skill rather than spending time on cultural issues, it will contine to make these mistakes. If Britain had a highly skilled workforce employed in a high value manufacturing immigration and the BNP would not be a problem. However, the prospect the dining tables of metropolitan London become concerned about producing a highly skilled manufacturing workforce are a long way off.

But is this the sort of hypocrisy we should or can condemn…without being hypocrites? The answer is pretty obviously no.

To say otherwise, we would have to entertain the belief that (say) Nick Clegg or David Cameron don’t sometimes complain in private about the people they’ve just met in public.

Only if all one’s statements have to make sense as part of a partisan / tribalist discourse. Clegg, Cameron and Brown are all hypocrites – why can’t we condemn all three? The only political party that tends towards decency is the Greens, and their very decency damns them to irrelevance, because of our stupid system (corporate media, capitalo-parliamentarian “democracy”, FPTP, etc).

@ paul sagar

Blair was: ‘the most gifted politician of the past 30 years except for Bill Clinton’. What? More gifted than Thatcher?? Than Reagan, ‘The Great Communicator’?? I don’t see many people fighting over his legacy, saying ‘I am the heir to Blair!’.

Compare & contrast with the Tories and Thatcherism (and I detest Thatcher). He is now one of the most discredited & disliked figures in public life in Britain. Even New Labour consider him poison as shown by his solitary appearance in the election campaign. Gifted? Really??

And what do you mean by ‘gifted’? That he had some charisma, a nice smile, was a bit like a sleb and won three elections? What did he do with those victories? We all know the answer to that, we’re standing amongst the ruins and will be paying for his ‘gifts’ for decades. Go and ask the Iraqis if they think Blair was ‘gifted’.

Your definition of a ‘gifted politician’ seems to be a reductio ad absurdum of “errr…well he had a bit of charisma, was a good performer and won three elections”. I won’t draw the obvious historical parallel, let’s just say I’d rather have a dull, old duffer like Clement Atlee that a ‘gifted politician’ like Blair any day. And Rawnsley was one of his biggest cheer-leaders.

I won’t go into all Blair’s wars, and he was the greatest war-mongering PM we’ve had in recent times. Let’s just say I am opposed to that amorphous and noxious concept ‘liberal interventionism’ and I don’t really think you are. But then I am a mere mortal and you: ‘happen to have the political and analytic acumen to be able to make basic distinctions and employ a functioning concept of nuance’ (this condescending, de haut en bas, amour-propre style is a hallmark of your site. Keep it up and in 20 years time you could be the new Hugo Young, or Simon Jenkins)

But despite all your gifts that you modestly list you don’t really want to commit yourself on Blair’s wars cos it’s a bit ‘complicated’ like….Yeah…right….

My position is the same as that of the elder-statesman of columnists Alan Watkins, to wit: “if we still had National Service we would not get involved in wars because the children of the middle-class would be in the army”. Quite. Maybe even you! (I don’t really see you in Elvis Costello’s word as being one of: ‘the boys from the Mersey and the Thames and the Tyne’)

‘As it happens, I opposed the Iraq war’ Good for you Paul! So did I and a few others too.

‘I think Rawnsley got that call very wrong.’ Me too! And I just went to a secondary modern while Rawnsley was a product of Rugby and Oxford. But I won’t hold me breath and wait for the products of state schools to replace the Oxbridge mob as political columnists.

You’re educated aren’t you Paul? I see you references to “my first masters” and “my proposed PhD” on your site. But you can overdo this and end up like John Redwood or Oliver Letwin. Some cynics say an intellectual is “someone educated beyond the limits of his, or her intelligence” But I’m sure this doesn’t apply to you Paul.

So I’m a ‘Dunning-Kruger case study’ eh? I admit I had to look that one up, because I did only go to a sec-mod and I’m a prole

I have to be frank here. I was disappointed. It smacked of a university students common room in-joke, type-gag. But then I remembered your site which is pretty much like a university students common room with students politics too boot. In fact if I had to sum up your site I’d paraphrase Henry Kissinger: “University politics are so vacuous precisely because the stakes are so small.”

Toodle pip!

I think the correct quote is “vicious” rather than “vacuous”…for information only…

Brown toast for brekkie this morning. Yummy.

@ 34

I said I was paraphrasing Kissinger

Bad Conscience are too busy congratulating each other and using phrases like ‘ad hominem’ to ever be vicious

#30. WhatNext?!

“This “all Tories are homophobes” business needs challenging.”

Couldn’t let this go unchecked – the conservative PARTY are the ones looking to govern and make our laws so I think the homophobia in the VOTERS of whatever party is irrelevant. Day in day out we get more tory MPs revealing their true feelings; shadow home secretary things ‘NO GAYS’ is an OK sign for B&Bs, shadow defense secretary thinks age of consent should be raised for gays because AIDS is more dangerous than the army, Cameron himself thinks it’s fine to support dangerously homophobic legislation in Europe, and most recently this: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2010/04/28/former-tory-candidate-attacks-cameron-for-political-correctness/

please stop kidding yourself

Brown is a hypocrite because in November of last year he said he ‘never agreed with the lazy elitism that dismisses immigration as an issue, or portrays anyone who has concerns about immigration as a racist’. He stated: ‘Immigration is not an issue for fringe parties, nor a taboo subject – it is a question to be dealt with at the heart of our politics, a question about what it means to be British.’

Daily Mail

Now if you listen closely to the radio broadcast where he tries to defend what he did, he says that “It was a question about immigration, that was annoying.”


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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  21. Gordon Brown is the worst sort of Hypocrite « Left Outside

    […] the above hypocrisies Brown is guilty as charged. But frankly speaking Paul has things right, Gordon Brown is a hypocrite, but only as far as any other politician ever has […]

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  24. links for 2010-04-29 « Embololalia

    […] Liberal Conspiracy " How politics makes hypocrites of us all Clegg, Cameron and pretty much every other politician in the world will have done what Brown did – they were just alert enough to check their mics were off first. (tags: gordon.brown politics 2010election) […]





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