One happy side-effect of yer basic glerbleconmicmeldow is the sharp and unflattering relief into which it has thrown some sections of the media – perhaps the whole purpose of media itself. It’s not just that some people persist in not getting what the credit crunch was all about (pay close attention: it wasn’t ree-al mon-ey – it hasn’t “gone” anywhere). It’s that the frequent commentators’ habit of attaching emotive reaction and playground moralspeak to everything they report serves them spectacularly badly when the main substance of the news is economic.
The innate demand of the media engine is that “bad” news be trumped in some final and definitive way by “good” news. Or vice versa. They are, to give them credit, entirely unfussed about whether or not we “win” the glerbleconmicmeldow. But they do demand that someone “wins”. Or Panorama will know the reason why. It’s all totally subjective, of course. The current narrative is that Gordon Brown has won and is “back in control” on the basis that he’s taken some action in an economic emergency. You think he wasn’t taking various less exciting actions three weeks ago? You think there weren’t pictures of him smiling available for press use three weeks ago? Of course you don’t think that, you’re a bright spark who knows how to read newspapers critically, but you get my drift.
The trouble is that applying this simple goodies and baddies logic – irritating at the best of times – to an economic crisis makes the media look utterly bananas. At its height, the mad rodent school of news-making generated several successive days of headlines like this: “FTSE plunges to 21-year low as confidence wanes on world markets”, “Shares surge 7% as bank bail-out restores confidence”, “Markets no longer quite so confident three days after bank bail-out, fall again, this time to worst levels for five years”, “Market recovers slightly in totally nonsensical manner; we reckon this time it’s serious; Brown’s political comeback is complete”, “Market is slightly down again – we ask why?”
And so on. Honestly, guys, are you going to do this on the front page every single day from now on? Because, that’s kind of how markets work all the time. Actually, they’ve finally broken ranks today with David Cameron, Afghanistan and some child porn (not in the same story) but for a whole fortnight it’s been pretty much wall-to-wall angels-on-pinhead-speak. They might as well have spent their time dousing to ascertain the feelings of the wider cosmos and the Great Being. And they wonder why their circulations continue to plummet? This stuff makes no bloody coherent sense.
The other feature of commentariat behaviour that has been disastrously pinned to the wall is the demand for consistency, no matter what is happening to the economy, the world or Peter Mandelson’s hair. Makes perfect sense if the subject under discussion whether you’re for or against ID cards, makes no sense whatsoever if it’s whether you think interest rates should go up or down. Andy Hinton points to a quote from BBC headless rodent Andrew Neil, for example, who is worried – squeak, squeak! – that Vince has gone off the boil because he’s now calling for suspension of the independence of the Bank of England, having said at Lib Dem autumn conference that this would be the wrong thing to do.
Now, I (calling on my in-depth knowledge of, er, middle Anglo-Saxon burial practices) am by no means convinced of the wisdom of suspending the independence of the Bank of England. And Vince’s say-so should be questioned as much as anyone else’s. But even in my dark age ignorance I am tolerably sure that one or two things have, er, changed since the Lib Dem party conference? You know, shifting goalposts? Or pitches, in fact?
The epithet “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” was never more relevant than now, but the media insistence that everything look and sound the same from one day to the next, even from one month to the next (except when it’s Tory environmental policy under discussion, obviously), makes their reportage of a rapidly unfolding economic crisis a nonsense.
Danny Finkelstein displayed a similarly infantile grasp of political morality a week or so ago, tsking over the sad decline of Vince Cable-as-seer (I’m pretty sure he’s doctored his original post, by the way, which I remember as more damning than this; but I’m prepared to be corrected):
Three weeks ago he told the Liberal Democrat conference that:
“The Government must not compromise the independence of the Bank of England by telling it to slash interest rates and generate another dangerous inflationary ‘bubble’.”
In the same speech he contrasted Tory emptiness with the Lib Dem’s: [sic]
“more deeply rooted, more principled, alternative, a clearer analysis of why Britain faces a growing crisis; and a more honest statement of what the Government can and cannot do.”
Then on Sunday this principled, deeply rooted, more clearly analytical man said this:
“What is required is for the chancellor to write to the governor saying that on a temporary emergency basis the committee should assume a central role in countering the crisis with a large cut in interest rate.”
At least when Tony Blair did u-turns he generally moved from the wrong position to the right one. Cable’s new position does not have this merit.
And a lot of boringly clever-sounding people with – damn them – actual knowledge of the subject under discussion came along in the comments to make Fink climb down from the mast to which he had nailed his trousers:
Three weeks ago the FTSE was at 5200. Three weks ago RBS’s market capitalisation was double what it is now. Three weeks ago Ireland and Germany hadn’t unilaterally made moves to guarantee saver’s deposits. Three weeks ago Iceland hadn’t enacted legislation to prevent the country from going bankrupt. Three weeks ago HBOS hadn’t announced merger talks with Lloyds. Three weeks ago … well Danny you get my point… He made the statements at the time of the conference based on the situation at that time. Events change on a daily basis and at the present moment liquidity is the problem. Lowering interest rates, even if temporarily, could encourage LIBOR to fall and banks to lend to each other.
Tcoh. Don’t you just hate these well-informed spods with their bloody longer-than-two-minute attention spans turning up just when you’re trying to fudge together an emotionally-based partisan narrative about the economic crisis from the bits that weren’t good enough to make your main column last week? It shouldn’t happen to a highly-paid opinion former.
Between them, these two stories mark something the party needs to watch out for. Somehow, be it by osmosis or masonic meeting, the media have decided that Vince has had his day in the sun (which, make no mistake, was bestowed upon him initially because they thought it might ruffle Nick Clegg), for no better reason than that it’s in their disturbingly primitive collective nature to build up idols and then pull them down again.
Expect more groundless finger-pointing and portentous “ummmmmm” noises to follow, and gradually form itself into delicate layers of insinuation like puff pastry, until no-one can remember how the air-filled pile of specious slop that forms the Case Against Vince Cable started, but they’re pretty sure there’s no smoke without fire, and anyway it’s on the deputy editor’s mood board this week so let’s run a story about it. Quickly though, I have to call my crystal healer about moving my car insurance.