Tuesday 31 December 2013

Shadowy Nonentities

Although he is far too soft on the right-wing Press, and especially on The Times which is particularly egregious in this regard and which he does not like, Peter Oborne writes:

Here's how to get political publicity in three easy steps: 1. Set up a "Tory-supporting" think tank. 2. Attack the Tory party. 3. Get the story to The Guardian.

According to Nick Watt at The Guardian, Ryan Shorthouse of the Bright Blue Think Tank believes that David Cameron is "pandering to prejudice, uncertainty and anger" and sending out a "negative and uninspiring" message.

But who or what is Ryan Shorthouse? According to Nick Watt, he "used to work for the culture secretary Maria Miller" and is "close" to Andrew Cooper, who used to work in Downing Street. Clearly a weighty figure.

There is a picture of Shorthouse on the Bright Blue website and he looks about 16 years old, with a background as a "research fellow" at the Social Market Foundation. According to the website, "Ryan is a writer and expert on Conservative politics and philosophy."

So much for his credentials. What does Shorthouse represent? Bright Blue’s website contains a list of about 40 Tory MPs who – claims Bright Blue – are "parliamentary supporters". So I rang up two of them. Gavin Barwell, Tory MP for Croydon Central, told me that "on this occasion he’s not speaking for me." Robert Halfon, Tory MP for Harlow and another "supporter" of Bright Blue, told me that "the article was wrong. The government have done huge amounts to help the working poor."

It looks to me as if Shorthouse speaks only for himself.

The same process also works on the Left. Over at the The Independent, Patrick Diamond, a "former policy adviser to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown", says that Ed Miliband lacks credibility on the economy.

This boring and commonplace view was the excuse for a long story across pages eight and nine of The Independent.

One of the most damaging side effects of the rise of the political class has been the rise of backstairs apparatchiks like Shorthouse and Diamond. They may have their uses, but they are not important in and of themselves. It is time that political reporters stopped attributing significance to the opinions of these shadowy, unelected nonentities.

The most interesting remarks I saw over the Christmas period came from John Redwood, who called for a rise in interest rates, and launched a brutal attack on quantitative easing, in his indispensable daily blog.

But who cares what Redwood thinks? He’s only a former cabinet minister, one of the most senior and respected Conservative MPs, the former head of Margaret Thatcher’s policy unit, and former fellow of All Souls.

With credentials like that, his views are clearly of no importance whatever in comparison to political giants like Ryan Shorthouse and Patrick Diamond, whose views have been given such prominence in The Guardian and The Independent.

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