Friday, 14 November 2008

Dangerous populism

The inconsistency of Mr. Gaunt

On the 3rd of this month I wrote about how "Jon Gaunt is the most appalling hypocrite". I pointed out that even though Gaunty had spent years railing against New Labour's "nanny state", his own moral politics demand even greater state control over our lives.

In this week's column, Gaunt's confused and duplicitous idea of state intervention was evident, as he tackles the tricky subject of Baby P - a story that has dominated the news cycle ::

A child needs a mum and a dad if possible.


The doctrine of always trying to keep the “family” together is garbage.

Jon walks his carefully constructed nuance with the words "if possible" and "always". He carefully checks the box marked "golden rule of rightwing social populism: the traditional family unit is best", and qualifies it by claiming that in fact this premise is "garbage". So which is it, Jon?

Also, this "doctrine" you speak of?

Social services remove children from their unfit parents all the time, usually to the righteous indignation of rightwing populists like as Gaunt. That the nuclear family is best, and that social services merely meddle in people's lives, has always been The Sun's default position.

Never has there been a doctrine of keeping kids with abusive parents. As one of our writers wrote this week, working in the Social Services is a thankless career. You're criticised for interfering in family life, yet you're crucified in the national press if you're too cautious in breaking up a family and a case turns into a criminal one.

Indeed, without even the slightest awareness of his own inconsistency, Gaunt for the second time in as many columns, refers to the Social Services (who he's arguing weren't strict or interventionist enough) as the "SS" - unsubtly comparing the department to Hitler's Schutzstaffel (this was also, no doubt, a little dig at his current personal woes).

You can't, in all seriousness, allude to the SS and then accuse the Social Service system of being wishy washy.

Now Jon Gaunt grew up in the care system. So he should be forgiven for having a complex view of the role of social services in our lives - but let's be frank, a careful and informed opinion hardly fits Gaunt's bombastic populism, does it?

This is the problem with this brand of lazy commentary: Gaunt and others are allowed to flit between attacking the nanny state for its social excess and demanding that heads roll when they're accused of not interfering enough.

Commentators never adhere to the same consistency they demand from politicians: a blatant disregard for the privileged position they hold in our society.

Bringing politics into the debate

Also in the same column; Jon Gaunt condemns Gordon Brown for accusing David Cameron of trying to score political points, during a PMQ session that featured a heated exchange over failures in the case of Baby P.

There was no party politics. But Labour have been playing at social engineering for the past 11 years. I believe the ultimate responsibility lies with them and the Guardianistas that they have created in every section of public life.

So in the very same paragraph where he argues that Cameron wasn't attempting to bring party politics into the debate, Gaunt launches into a partisan tirade against who he blames for the baby's death.

Hypocrisy? Gaunty? Never!

So it's not with the abusive mother and boyfriend, where the "the ultimate responsibility lies", or indeed the Haringey social services, but with the government and those loathsome Guardian readers [meme alert!].

Of course everyone directly involved in Baby P’s case must be sacked.

How very big of you Jon. Without knowing the outcome of either the police or government investigations, Lord Gaunty feels qualified to demand the immediate termination of everyone involved.

Is this not lynch mob journalism at its very worst?


Mike Power said...

The real truth about the Baby P story is that it is not newsworthy at all.

The real story should be about how this is a relatively rare occurrence (rarer in England/Wales than in any other country bar Italy) and given the extent of drug use (the main causal factor in most cases of child neglect) in the UK it suggests that, in spite of being underpaid and overworked, social workers are doing a pretty reasonable job.

Aaron Murin-Heath said...


Excellent points, well made.

But you're adding common-sense to media hysteria. Now where will that possibly get us?

Mike Power said...

It's the ignorance that upsets me. The truth is that Laming did absolutely nothing to prevent child deaths. He provided the reasoning for a huge additional bureaucracy and that's about all. The real fact behind the Climbie death have been obscured because of the race issues involved, plain and simple. Instead, a low-level, inexperienced social worker was vilified and driven to a mental breakdown and a long-winded report came up with tons more work for hard pressed professionals to deal with.

Anyone would think that Laming's report brought an end to child deaths and this case of Baby P has been the first one in 8 years.

Since Laming there have been over 200 such deaths and a fair proportion were (naturally) children considered 'at risk'and known to social services. But can you recall 200 episodes of Daily Mail/Sun apoplexy? No, of course not.