Cameron’s captives and media myopia

Are Britons suffering from Stockholm syndrome over the coalition government? Also, Cable’s woes, whi

Support for David Cameron and the coalition government remains surprisingly high. With thousands expecting to lose their jobs, incomes stagnant, inflation rising and public services due for drastic cuts, you would expect the government to be wildly unpopular. Yet the latest Guardian/ICM poll shows that 43 per cent think the coalition is a good thing.

The explanation, I suspect, is that the country is suffering from a collective form of Stockholm syndrome, the name given to the condition of hostages who develop positive feelings towards their captors. When captors plainly are capable of killing hostages but do not do so, the latter come to believe that such restraint shows admirable kindness and humanity.

The government has shown that it is capable of inflicting great pain in public spending. But several cuts - for example, to school sports and free books for under-12s - are already being withdrawn (partially, at least, in the case of the school books). I suspect that the same will happen with plans by Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, to turn the NHS upside down by putting spending decisions into GPs' hands. Critics predict the destruction of our most treasured national institution. But, the Sunday Times reports, whispers are circulating that Lansley and his scheme will be dropped within months, causing a nationwide sigh of relief and a warm glow of gratitude towards Cameron. As such examples accumulate over the next few years, we shall - or so the coalition hopes - applaud our captors for their compassion, flexibility and willingness to listen.

Dirty laundry

The Daily Telegraph has been criticised not so much for the ethics of its "sting operation" against Lib Dem ministers (though I share concerns that the paper went well beyond the legitimate use of impersonation and entrapment) as for its initial decision not to publish Vince Cable's remarks about Rupert Murdoch. Cable said that he had "declared war" on the foreign media potentate and intended to block his bid for full control of BSkyB. Murdoch owns the Telegraph's rival the Times and could use Sky channels aggressively to promote his newspapers. Some have suggested that the Telegraph, not wishing to bring down a minister sympathetic to its cause, may have suppressed the story for commercial reasons. I doubt this account. As far as the editors were concerned, the mission was doubtless to expose the Lib Dem habit of saying different things to different audiences. The Telegraph has long taken the view that readers are not interested in media stories and rarely gives them more than a paragraph
or two. Its opinion is widely held among older Fleet Street journalists. "The public doesn't want to read about our dirty laundry," they say. Until the Guardian's media section started in 1984, newspapers rarely wrote about their own industry. This suited newspaper proprietors and their lapdogs very nicely: the less scrutiny of their power and how they use it, the better.

Rubbing their faith in it

Bishops know that they will get a hearing at Christmas - if only because other news is in short supply - and invariably use it to complain that the country is becoming "anti-Christian" and oppressing believers. This year, the Bishop of Winchester, Michael Scott-Joynt, argued that it was wrong for Relate to sack a Christian who refused to give sex therapy to homosexual couples. The freedom of those who wish "to pursue the calling of their faith in . . . public service" was being breached, he said. Does his concern extend to pacifists who may wish to pursue their "calling" by joining the armed services and then refusing to take part in wars?

Plane stupid

The eastern seaboard of America has had something like 20 inches of snow dumped on it. I doubt the effect on its airports will be anything like that of the more modest snowfalls on Heathrow. You may think that this is because American airports are run by super-efficient private companies. Wrong. In the US and also Canada, airports, surprisingly enough, are still owned and operated by government agencies - and so, incidentally, is Manchester Airport, which, as my friend and fellow NS contributor Neil Clark points out on the Guardian website, coped well with the bad weather and was recently voted best airport in the world on the social media website Twitter.

Unfortunately, Labour can't say any of this. In office, it was just as enthusiastic a privatiser as any Tory government. That's Ed Miliband's problem: the record of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown has left him with very little ideological ground to stand on.

Winning Poms? Not for long

Remember, you read it here first. As I pointed out three weeks ago, on six out of seven previous occasions since 1900 an English innings victory in a Test in Australia was followed by an Australian victory. Now, after Perth, it's seven out of eight. As I write, England look likely to win the Melbourne Test and retain the Ashes. But, by the time you read this, you may know differently and I wouldn't be at all surprised. England rarely beat Australia except by narrow margins, as in 2005 and 2009.

Even in 1978-79, when nearly all of Australia's leading players defected from the official game to Kerry Packer's "rebels" and England comfortably won four Test matches against what, in effect, was a second or even third XI, the Australians managed to win in the middle of the series, making it 1-2.

If England do win the current series, expect a defeat in 2013 or, at the latest, 2014-2015. Since 1900, England have only twice held the Ashes for more than two consecutive series, and never for more than three. The Aussies are like the Tories - not very pretty, but they always come back. l

Peter Wilby was editor of the New Statesman from 1998-2005