This is our truth, tell us yours
Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself. When Jem asked me to think of a tagline for this blog, we had a few options. One of the ones I didn’t pitch was ‘because Nick Cohen is a twunt’. Not that Nick Cohen is the only twunt in the media, but he exemplifies the sanctimonious section of the commentariat who see themselves as unacknowledged legislators, the thought leaders of the nation, but free of the restraints that apply to those who are accountable to the rest of us.
Here’s an example from today’s episode in the continuing self beatification of Nick Cohen as the most saintly liberal in Grauniad Towers. “Malice and mobbish rage drive the Twitter storms that break more often than the autumn rains. A leftwing cookery writer uses David Cameron’s dead son to attack the prime minister. But instead of noting that we have all said vile things in our time, conservatives scream that she is a lesbian and campaign for Sainsbury’s to stop employing her as a celebrity chef.”
By chance the offending tweet from Jack Monroe was re-tweeted into my timeline this morning. Now, dear reader, leave aside the unseemly regard I have for Jack for a moment, and do what Nick Cohen apparently hasn’t done, and read the tweet. What Monroe said was that Cameron uses ‘stories about his son as misty-eyed rhetoric to justify selling the NHS to his friends’.
That’s not using Cameron’s son to attack him. It’s attacking Cameron’s sanctimonious, hypocritical use of his family story to justify the attack on the NHS, an institution that exists to look after all our sons, all our children, and which won’t be able to if we continue pouring billions of pounds into privatization schemes that benefit a tiny minority at the expense of the health care of the majority.
You’d think a journo like Nick Cohen would be able to spot the difference. It’s pretty important. I suspect Cohen didn’t actually read the original tweet, just the Twitterspat afterwards. It’s classic Cohen, the use of a ragbag of cut and paste anecdotes to sustain his central thrust, which is that we all have something to fear from state surveillance. He even pulls out the much recycled story of the Dorset council which was excoriated for using its surveillance powers to check whether a family were telling the truth on an application for a school place.
What Cohen won’t put in the dock is the role of the media in all these stories. The Jack Monroe story went hyper not when Jack criticised David Cameron for using his dead son, but when the Daily Mail set its attack dog, Sarah Vine, wife of the Tory Chief Whip, on Jack Monroe. The Dorset council story went ballistic because the media whipped up a frenzy about it, led by the likes of Nick Cohen, who, as a product of a selective grammar school and an Oxford PPE graduate, does not seem to have the same concerns as the rest of us that school admissions should be non-selective, and not determined by parental willingness to lie on application forms. If you have criteria for admission to a school, you must also have a means of checking that no-one’s cheating. Far from being an act about gangsters, as Cohen claims, RIPA meant that the surveillance necessary to find out if a family were telling the truth on their forms was regulated and recorded. We’ll assume that Nick didn’t cheat in his 11+, and happily accepted invigilation, even though he wasn’t cheating, so why shouldn’t a council invigilate the schools application process? Only Nick knows, but from over here it seems Nick doesn’t care about that obvious point, so long as he can have his rant about liberty, which is, in Nick’s world, whatever he defines it as.
I don’t know what they taught at Nick’s grammar school in leafy Altrincham, but in my primary school they taught us to show our workings out, to prove that we reached our conclusion by the correct method, rather than guesswork. That’s why it’s embarrassing to be on Cohen’s side in the debate about state surveillance of the internet, because, judging by his evidence, he got there by guesswork, not careful working out.
So here’s a hint Nick. Instead of ranting about surveillance, provide us with some evidence that you’ve thought about the realities, that some surveillance will be required, no matter what you think, and some evidence that you’re willing to face reality.
I’m willing to accept surveillance, provided it’s purposive, specific and supported by a risk assessment of a crime or wrongdoing proportionate to the degree of surveillance required. Mass surveillance is the least effective way of meeting that need that I can think of; that’s a reasoned, approach Nick, not a lecture from the platform of the dangers of not agreeing with Nick.