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Strictly come statecraft: Laurie Penny on how the government protects the rich

This is a government that sees the wealthy as its core constituency.

Dance, Vince Cable, dance! The Business Secretary, whose hotly anticipated reality tv debut will be airing on Strictly Come Dancing's spangly Christmas Day special, has made the supreme error of actually having and expressing an agenda. His ongoing humiliation in the press and the to-ing and fro-ing over his continued place in cabinet prove beyond question that the Liberal Democrats have no real influence in this Coalition government: they are there to smile and soft-shuffle and sprinkle a bit of liberal glitter over Tory policies. Cable's declaration that he would oppose Rupert Murdoch's takeover of BSkyB is unhelpfully aggressive towards a key sponsor and promoter of the Conservative Party, so his puppet-masters have seized the strings, ensuring that the Business Secretary dances to the right tune.

Mr Cable, along with millions of left-leaning citizens, may have been labouring under the impression that the Business Secretary, who won the public's trust and confidence as a steady hand on the economic tiller during the election debates, is in the cabinet in order to guide policy. This has clearly been a gross misreading of the situation. Cable, more than any other Liberal Democrat, is not part of this cabinet of millionaires in order to wield power. He is there, in the words of Douglas Adams, in order to distract attention away from power - specifically, to lend legitimacy and a venerable, brow-furrowing, statesmanly air to the savage programme of spending cuts and welfare destruction being enacted by the Conservatives in cabinet who, lest we forget, did not actually win the general election in May.

Almost nobody has questioned whether or not Cable may have had a good reason for wanting to wage a private war against the Murdoch media monopoly. On the contrary, Conservative reasoning on this question was best expressed by Douglas Carswell MP, who wrote on his blog:

Murdoch's "empire"....is the product of millions of free citizens willingly paying for products and services that Murdoch provides them. Politicians like Mr Cable and I are only able to do all the things we claim to be able to do because of the wealth creators like Murdoch. We should not forget it.

This is a government that protects the rich at all costs, praising business owners and media moguls as "wealth creators" while doing everything in its power to divert wealth towards them. This is a government which sees the rich as its core constituency -- the people without whose mandate politicians could not "do the things they claim to be able to do". It's a strictly choreographed dance of corporate-sponsored statecraft, and any Lib Dem who falters over the rhythm will be jerked mercilessly back into step. On Christmas Day, we'll all get to see Vince Cable dance to the music of cartoon politics -- but if you look closely, you'll see David Cameron pulling the strings.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

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What the tragic case of Charlie Gard tells us about the modern world

People now believe medical science can perform miracles, and many search for them online.

If Charlie Gard had been born 40 years ago, there would have been no doubt about what would, and should, happen. Doctors treating a baby with a rare genetic condition that causes the body’s organs to shut down would have told his parents “nothing more can be done for him”. Charlie – deaf, epileptic, his muscles wasted, his brain probably damaged – would have died peacefully and unremarked. If an experimental US treatment had given such children an estimated 10 per cent chance of survival, his parents would not have known about it. Even if they had, they would have sorrowfully deferred to British doctors.

Now people believe that medical science can perform miracles and, through the internet, search the world for them. Yet they do not trust the knowledge and judgement of the medical profession. They rally public support and engage lawyers to challenge the doctors, as Charlie’s parents unsuccessfully did in the hope of being allowed to take their child for experimental treatment in America, despite warnings that it would be ineffective and distressing for him. This is a strange situation, the result of medical progress, social media, globalisation and the decline of deference. It causes much heartache to everybody involved but, like Charlie’s death, it is probably unavoidable.

Mogg days

A few weeks ago, Jacob Rees-Mogg was a 50-1 outsider for the Tory leadership. Now, as I write, he is third or fourth favourite, quoted by the bookmakers at between 6-1 and 10-1. For a few days, he was the second favourite, ahead of both Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond and behind only David Davis, the clear front-runner. Perhaps Davis organised rich friends – of which I am sure he has a few – to flood the market with bets on Rees-Mogg to frighten Tory MPs into rallying behind him.

But do not write off the man dubbed “the honourable member for the early 20th century” – generously, in my view, since he looks and behaves as though he has stepped off an 18th-century country estate and he actually lives on a 17th-century one. Rees-Mogg, a hard Brexiteer, would be an appropriate leader if we left the EU with no deal. Having excused ourselves from the world’s largest and most cohesive trading bloc, our best prospect for earning our living would be as a giant 18th-century theme park. Who better than Rees-Mogg to front it?

The royal revenue stream

Princess Diana is the gift that keeps on giving. TV companies produce documentaries on the anniversaries of her death and marriage. New tapes, photos and letters are unearthed. Anyone who cut her hair, cleaned her windows or sold her a frock can make a bob or two from “my memories of Diana”. Most important, Diana guarantees the future of the royal family for at least another half-century. In an ITV documentary, Prince William spoke movingly and sincerely (as did his brother, Harry) about losing a mother. Even the most hard-hearted republicans must now hesitate to deprive him also of a throne.

Strictly newsreading

I am a BBC fan. I regard the requirement, imposed by the Tories, that the corporation publishes the names and salary bands of employees paid more than £150,000 a year as an attempt to exploit “the politics of envy” of which Labour is normally accused. But I wonder if the corporation could help itself by offering even more transparency than the government demands.

It could, for example, explain exactly why Gary Lineker (£1.75m-£1.79m), Jeremy Vine (£700,000-£749,999) and Huw Edwards (£550,000-£599,999) are so handsomely paid. Do they possess skills, esoteric knowledge or magnetic attraction to viewers and listeners unavailable to other mortals and particularly to their women colleagues who are apparently unworthy of such lavish remuneration? Were they wooed by rival broadcasters? If so, which rivals and how much did they offer? Have BBC women received lower offers or no offers at all? The BBC could go further. It could invite a dozen unknowns to try doing the jobs of top presenters and commentators, turn the results into a programme, and invite viewers or listeners to decide if the novices should replace established names and, if so, at what salaries. We elect the people who make our laws and the couples who go into the final stages of Strictly Come Dancing. Why shouldn’t we elect our newsreaders and, come to that, Strictly’s presenters?

Mail order

A tabloid newspaper, founded in 1896 and now with its headquarters in Kensington High Street, west London, obsessed with the Islamist terror threat, convinced that it speaks for Middle England. An editor, in the chair for a quarter-of-a-century, who makes such liberal use of the C-word that his editorial conferences are known as “the vagina monologues” and whose voice is comparable to that of “a maddened bull elephant”. Sound familiar?

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Splash!, a newly published satirical novel about a tabloid newspaper from the long-serving Daily Mail columnist Stephen Glover. Now I have had early sight of The Beast, due out in September, also a satirical novel about a tabloid paper, written by Alexander Starritt who briefly worked on the Mail after leaving Oxford University. Like Glover, he pays homage to Evelyn Waugh’s classic Scoop, where the main characters worked for the Daily Beast, but there the similarities end. Glover has written what is essentially a defence of tabloid journalism. Starritt offers a fierce, blackly comic critique, though he cannot, in the end, quite avoid casting the editor Paul Dacre – sorry, Charles Brython – as a heroic, if monstrous, figure.

How many other journalists or ex-journalists are writing satirical novels about the Mail? And why the presumed public interest? Newspapers, with fewer readers than ever, are supposed to be dying. Fiction publishers seem to disagree. 

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 27 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Summer double issue