Sunday, 1 March 2009

From simple to sinister

It is now Sunday evening and many have already written about a most extraordinary explosion of brainless vitriol from the deputy leader of the Labour Party, simple Harriet Harman, nonetheless I will not be able to bring my blood pressure under control without saying my piece, so here it is.

This morning the Leader of the House of Commons and deputy leader of the Labour Party was interviewed on BBC television. Her interviewer was a tame poodle of the Labour Party, a man whose wife is not only the daughter of a former minister under the previous Labour government but also a close friend of the woman he was interviewing. This was undoubtedly a good thing. Some have bemoaned the lack of criticism in the questioning and the failure to follow-up daft answers with any sort of penetrative analysis of the weakness of those answers. They have a point, but they miss the real value of allowing someone like simple Harriet Harman to be interviewed by a receptive sponge. It allows her to say what she really thinks, safe in the knowledge that she will not be contradicted or challenged. And that allows us the chance to see how very dangerous she is.

She was asked about the pension arrangements of Sir Fred Goodwin, about which I bleated a couple of days ago (here). Her response (see BBC article here) was in three parts. First she said Sir Fred should not count on drawing his pension "because it is not going to happen", then "the Prime Minister has said that it is not acceptable and therefore it will not be accepted" and finally "it might be enforceable in a court of law, this contract, but it is not enforceable in the court of public opinion and that is where the government steps in". I doubt that she has any idea of the meaning of these three statements, so I'll see if I can help the poor cow.

Her first assertion, "it is not going to happen", a standard form of words used by mobsters. When I dealt with criminal work at the Bar I occasionally acted for people suspected of involvement in organised crime. Some of them had long criminal records and were very likely far more than merely suspected, a couple were later convicted of Mafia-like activities and all suspicion was removed. They operated their business by deciding in advance what the result should be and using any means at their disposal to achieve that result. A brothel is for sale and Robbie the Rasta wants to take it over, Big Terry the mobster says "that is not going to happen". The next day Robbie the Rasta is found to have sustained injuries to his knees and testicles from a number of baseball bats and Big Terry ends up in charge of the brothel. Well well, what a surprise. If you decree the result in advance you are placing yourself in the same camp as Big Terry because you are applying the same standards he applies.

Her second argument is even more worrying: "the Prime Minister has said that it is not acceptable and therefore it will not be accepted". Have we really descended to a state in which the Prime Minister can dictate whether individual transactions will be honoured? Have we really descended to a state in which a senior government minister can boast that we are subject to Prime Ministerial fiat? The sad thing is that we have been in that position for some time. So many laws now give ministers discretion to make major decisions without having to seek specific approval from Parliament that it is hardly surprising to find the government thinking the default position is for more and more matters to be subject to ad hoc exercises of ministerial discretion. None of the major recent decisions taken about the economy have been subject to Parliamentary scrutiny, or, if it comes to that, even of cabinet discussion. The Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer have decided between them to borrow and spend billions of pounds without anyone else having a say at all. Simple Harriet is merely taking that position one step further. Of necessity she has to be seen to support poor Gordon as he lurches from misjudgment to misjudgment. Her hero has within his power the right to hand over billions of pounds to RBS, so why shouldn't he be presumed to have the power to decide how £693,000 a year of that money is spent?

Her third proposition is the one which identifies just how deranged she now is. Remember that the basis of her point is that Sir Fred Goodwin has a legally enforceable contractual right to receive his pension; she is accepting for these purposes that he has a legal right to the money. Then she seeks to suggest that legal rights are subject to "the court of public opinion". Although she is pretty thick, it is hard to imagine she really believes this to be the case. But let's take her at her word, and assume she does believe it. What is "the court of public opinion"? Well, first it is not a court. In a court you have to argue a case against a background of laws. The law trumps everything. Public opinion is just that, the current state of opinion as measured by ... ah, there's the problem. Public opinion cannot be measured except by asking a sample of the public and extrapolating the balance of views held by that sample to find the general public opinion. It is not a reliable way to gauge anything because so much depends on the chosen sample and the framing of the question. And it can change tomorrow and the next day.

Let's put these two questions: (i) do you think Sir Fred Goodwin should receive a pension of £693,000 a year for life and (ii) do you think contracts should be upheld? And let's follow simple Harriet and assume the answer to the first question is in the negative. Public opinion can then be said to be in favour of preventing Sir Fred getting the dosh. It doesn't take a very prescient person to guess that the answer to the second question will be in the affirmative. So where does that leave "the court of public opinion"? It is giving contradictory rulings - that he should not receive the money and that he should receive the money. How do we resolve this conflict. That, it seems, is where the final part of her third proposition comes in. Not only did she say contracts are subject to "the court of public opinion" but went on to say "that is where the government steps in". But the government cannot step in to enforce the rulings of the "court of public opinion" because those rulings are contradictory. In other words she is not, in substance, arguing that public opinion should dictate whether a contract is enforced, she is saying the government should have this power. Seeking to justify her position by relying on public opinion is just a smokescreen.

The position she puts forward is deeply sinister, but it is also consistent with everything she has ever stood for and argued for. She is a dedicated Marxist for whom The State can do no wrong. The arbitrary exercise of power is an inevitable outcome of The State being more important than the people. Simple Harriet is far too stupid to think through what she says, she is in a blind panic to keep her career alive by appealing to the basest instincts of her core supporters. Her absurd comments will come back to haunt her. In the meantime I look forward to her making a bigger even arse of herself when she has to back-track, as she undoubtedly will.


The Great Simpleton said...

"What is "the court of public opinion"?"

Presumably whatever the leader writers of the Sun, Daily Mail and Dily Mirror are saying?

delcatto said...

She is not even a Marxist unless Harpo expounded a political philosophy.