Deception of self and others is a major part of what holds Britain back.
Yesterday, two entirely disparate pieces of news (and an equally unrelated bit of technology bollocks) made me think about the nature of reality. Before that suggests an overly esoteric article, let me make it clear that I’m talking about how, in any advanced civilisation, when the idea of ‘relative reality’ pervades everyday life, it is a sure sign that the culture is sick. What follows is meant to be an entirely practical piece about the ways in which we tend to twist reality; and why, perhaps, relativism may be one of the great cancers of our age.
The first item concerned England’s 2018 World Cup bid. When the FA’s David Davies said on Wednesday that the decision was “going down to the wire”, and the Prime Minister added that he sensed “a surge towards the English bid”, my heart sank. Today, as the venue was awarded to Russia (another mad choice by FIFA) I found myself nevertheless surprised that, of the 22 Council votes available, England had secured exactly two of them. How could anyone on the ground with good intelligence have thought that this was going to be a damned close-run thing?
Hyping likelihoods has become a peculiarly English thing in recent years. Last week the media were full of pundits predicting an English rugger victory against the Springboks. In South Africa itself, England had (they foretold) the best chance since 1966 to win the soccer World Cup. In 2007 Gordon Brown told us he had a Budget “to secure a profoundly solid financial future for Britain”. In 2009, Mandelson told the Labour Conference that “a great comeback was at hand”. All of these predictions proved to be unmitigated bollocks – the wishful unthinking tendency in full flight.
In the examples described in that paragraph, reality was eschewed in pursuit of pride and popularity – a title that any wannabe Jane Austen might justifiably choose for the definitive novel of this decade. Other forms of actuality rearrangement have even less to commend them.
I’m referring to the EU banking stress tests in general, and Barclays bank in particular.
The chaps at Barclays have been quick to tell anyone not too distracted to listen that they above all other UK banks had little or no need of British bailout help. But new US data just released by the US Treasury suggest that there might have been a very good reason for this.
The 2008 Wall Street rescue appears to have been enthusiastically embraced by Barclays, to the tune of $232bn in fact. Indeed, so grateful was this UK bank, it bought the US operations of Lehman Brothers with the proceeds. Unsurprisingly, this has hacked off quite a few Americans. Indeed, one could be forgiven for seeing it as not so much bailing out as cashing in.
An inability to be entirely honest was also apparent in the way Barclays reported to the EU stress-testers a few months ago. Having told the commissioners that their exposure to Italian sovereign debt was scarcely worth reporting, an audit soon afterwards showed it to be in the region of twelve times the original estimate. However one interprets that increase, it isn’t one to inspire confidence.
The result was that, literally, millions of American taxpayers funded the fire-sale of Lehman to Barcap.
My own microcosmic experience yesterday was far less important, but equally telling. Having purchased a miniature netbook for travel purposes, I decided to buy an access-dongle to get broadband on the move. On our way to Wales, I called into a motorway services gadget shop and bought a 3-Mobile set for this very purpose. This is the best system by miles, said the assistant. It works everywhere. And it’s instant.
The blurb in the packaging backed him to the hilt: we cover 98% of the country, it said. What they didn’t say was ‘up to but not including North Wales’. The dongle worked a treat in Lancashire, and not at all on the Menai peninsular. I ran the help call centre (at least they have one) and they said “We have a normal service in that area today sir.” So I tended to agree when the call-centre voice said “Must be a faulty Sim Card. You can get it exchanged in our Bangor shop. And oh, you have to wait 24 hours for it to activate”. So: not entirely instant, then.
Now – as I discovered by conducting retail research during the afternoon – the 3Connect reception on our part of the Menai is hopeless. But this still allowed the call centre to tell me the service was normal – that is, no more useless than on any other day. A 50-mile round trip later, I still can’t get a signal. The sales assistant lied to make a sale. And 3Connect after-sales had been, as the saying goes, economical with the truth.
The concept of gradated truth is, of course, a nonsense of logic, like ‘slightly pregnant’. It emerged during the Australian security publications trial of twenty years ago, and was uttered by a senior UK civil servant – which explains immediately why it is both insane and dishonest. It was the forerunner of spin, and all the hobgoblins that came with it. And it too is just another reality distorted by smart-arsed relativism.
The X-Factor represents almost all of these truth-twisting methods in one ghastly format. The panel hypes the tuneless, talentless and undifferentiated output of the contestants with comments like “you faded away towards the end of the song” and “you need to do some work on the vocals” – showbizz jargo-bollocks for “you have a reed-thin voice miles off the note”. Each panel member exaggerates the performance of his or her performer, slagging off the efforts of the others. And allegedly ‘discovered-live-on-air’ voices (accompanied by ECU camera-shots of amazed tutors) have all been vetted in advance.
The show’s business model relies on premium-line phone votes, and so it’s obvious at times that awful (but eccentric) freaks are being lambasted by Simon Cowell purely to get that performer some public sympathy. All this increases vote levels…and thus Mr Cowell’s hugely undeserved personal fortune.
Britain today is a country in the grip of deception, self-deception, illusion and delusional belief at every level of government, the economy, banking, the media, and social norms. The Labour Party is based on it, the Coalition’s policies demonstrate it, the news channels thrive on it, and the average drone at the bottom believes it to a frightening degree.
But there are signs – very encouraging signs – that the ‘average’ alcohol-fuelled and tattooed blob is still far from being the majority in what’s left of the United Kingdom. I have seen private research conducted since the Election suggesting very strongly that Clegg’s Yoof Army didn’t turn up at the ballot box because they had already nailed him as a phony. (He’s been nailing himself more firmly to that particular cross ever since).
Strikingly, despite triumphalist ‘it’s beginning to work’ stuff coming out of the Treasury and Number Ten, the UK voter remains solidly pessimistic about the economic outlook. Over 50% of the adult population now favour secession from the EU. Most economists have been surprised (yet again) about the speed and diligence with which British households have run down debt, ignoring pleas to get out there and consume again.
But if we continue nurturing educational values that positively discriminate against contrarian thinking and determined empiricism, in the end Harry Enfield Slobs will become the norm. Only an educational system encouraging the aspiration to learn, think for oneself, and above all strive for higher standards can reverse the process. For in many cases, the culture of deceit feeds upon both an unwillingness to interrogate information, and the easy acceptance of a sufficiency: “Oh…..whatever, it’ll do” typified the English 2018 World Cup bid. In a competitive world (we have learned over the last half-century) good enough is not enough.
Earlier this week, a schoolteacher sent out a pupil assessment to the parents with fourteen grammatical and spelling mistakes in it. There was an immediate rush from the NUT of ‘exceptional case’, ‘not our experience on the ground’ and ‘urban Daily Mail myth’, but it is none of these things: it is entirely factual, and has evoked a grovelling apology from the Head who let the assessment go out. When a couple of morons phoning Jeremy Vine that lunchtime said it was all a fuss about nothing, the BBC switchboard seized up with the number of irate parents dying to tell the apologists how wrong they were.
As I’ve posted before, I believe the core of Labour’s outlook on life – its Weltanschauung as the Germans would say – is still most widely represented among the teaching population, and the malign folks who run the Care services in Britain. It’s also there among the middle ranks of local government, Whitehall and the trades union movement, but many bureaucrats will soon be forced to change that view by joblessness – and the TUC in particular is already demonstrating just how badly it may overplay its hand. But the teacher/social worker axis has access to the main levers of how people behave, all the while convincing those same people that the State should be both all-providing and all-powerful.
May has already funked the step-change of attitude in relation to the police. Osborne has completely blown it on EU and banking. Gove has made a start on the educators, but still underestimates their strength. Little or nothing has been done to rein in the Council kid-snatching loonies.
The existence of these centres of stiff resistance to change is not a fantasy: they represent a pernicious reality adept at bending reality. Until they are routed, British life will never get the full reality check: it will merely keep paying the reality cheque.