You Can Prove Anything With Facts

Clarke's Comment

Will the UK end its lockdown on June 21st? Whilst our PM is desperate to show that he is the personification of the new buccaneering, devil-may-care, get-it-done-and-damn-the-consequences, 'I'm alright Jack' United Kingdom, he is constantly forced into humiliating backdowns by either The Facts, his own poor decision-making or a combination of both.

June 21st was meant to be Johnson's victory day, when the success of the vaccine roll-out was cemented, a year of cock-ups was forgotten and Brexit was somehow vindicated. At the time of writing that seems unlikely: as case numbers tick nervily upwards and the Delta variant spreads across the UK, the idea of full stadia, festivals and indoor gigs seems to be a risk not worth taking. It all could have been so different, of course. If flights from India had been stopped in time, rather than extended for reasons of cynical political expediency, there was every chance we could have avoided the spread of this variant or at least delayed it until more of the population was fully inoculated.

But this is part of a pattern. A government whose only guiding principle is managing the news media and staying in power does not have the intellectual rigour or moral authority to make the difficult decisions that are necessary in a crisis; any crisis, let alone an historical public health crisis. And yet, for an increasingly significant section of the electorate, that does not seem to matter a great deal. When Dominic Cummings testified in great detail to the catastrophic and fatal errors of judgement that Johnson and Co. committed throughout 2020, polls showed that, whilst most people do not trust him, they did believe him. That is, most people would not contest the facts of the matter as laid out to the select committee; that Johnson was absent or distracted and locked down too late again and again.

By contrast, the public trusts Johnson, but they don't necessarily believe him. It's a fascinating distinction, and one that, perhaps, is not surprising in a political culture where 'the experts' are constantly disparaged. Whilst Cummings comes across as a person equipped with a great deal of evidence to back up his claims (albeit rather too late, it must be said), you wouldn't ever want to go for a drink with him. It is reminiscent of comedian Stewart Lee's famous 2007 routine where a London cab driver states, disparagingly, that 'you can prove anything with facts'.

With regards to experts, expertise and the corrosive effects of undermining them, Alex Andreou of the excellent 'The Bunker' and 'Oh God What Now?' podcasts had this to say.
"..this particular gang, for years, starting with the referendum campaign, gave voice to the notion that, since experts don't get everything right all the time, everyone's opinion is equiliberal. They propagated conspiracy theories, which pitted the ignorant against the knowledgeable, and popularised the idea that incivility, belligerence, ignorance and, most of all, kicking anyone suggesting you do something, even when that something is clearly for your own benefit; that all these things made this country great. And we are now seeing the result."

The advantage Johnson has, and one that he shares with political figures as diverse as Nigel Farage, Bill Clinton and possibly even Donald Trump is that, whilst they are all terrible and obvious liars, they all, to a certain extent, pass the 'pub test'. That is to say, the man in the street would, in all likelihood, rather have a drink with any of those characters than someone like Cummings or, more pertinently, Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband, Jeremy Corbyn or Keir Starmer.

This is one of the main problems facing the country, the opposition parties appear unable to recruit, retain or promote the kind of people that can really connect with the electorate. In the case of the Labour party, when good people are recruited, they tend to be swallowed up by the party's toxic factionalism or simply quit altogether; Luciana Berger is a recent example of this. 

This is why it is crucial for us as Renew to provide a platform for all those who want to make a difference and not those who simply wish to climb the greasy pole of hide-bound old party establishments. There is a vast pool of untapped political talent in the UK, people who gravitate to community work, charities, business and the professions rather than pursue a career in politics precisely because of the pervasively dishonest, tribal, party-before-country cultures that exist in those places. How are we doing this? Well, as we know, there is no guidebook to growing a grassroots political movement from scratch, but after three years of trial and error, we have built a great team and retained a great deal of knowledge on how to compete as an underdog, how to be agile, how to work on a budget, how to run campaigns remotely throughout the UK and most importantly, how to stick to our guns in a tough environment. As the summer passes we will be revealing a revamped website, policy platform and outreach plans for the Autumn, so if you want to take part and help build the party, please get in touch.

If you would like to help us further, please Join UsVolunteer or Donate.

Have a great week,

James and the Renew Team


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