A Times columnist, the decline in deference, and why he can go f*ck himself

Yeah, it was a cheap joke but this is a (largely) free newsletter... what do you want from me?

I like David Aaronovitch as much as I admire the next war-hawking, doggerel-peddling, columnist throwback to the stumbling ‘90s, as readers of previous episodes of this newsletter and the ongoing trash fire that is Twitter will know. But I have a few thoughts about his latest column and, since I don’t have a sinecured position at a Murdoch newspaper that they will only take away when I am carried out of the building in a Fox News-branded bodybag, I have to share them here…

Aaronovitch, a man who was scammed into buying a worthless leather jacket not long ago and who in the early-00s was ‘fooled’ into backing an illegal war, has decided to write about young people again. That’s unwise given he’s less clued up than Cluedo victim Dr Black, and thinks WAP means War, Again? Please!

He starts his column with the kind of lede most editors would send back, ringed in red, with the not-unreasonable note, “What the fuck is this?”:

Not so very long ago I went into my local pharmacy, picked up my prescription and waited for the bill. I looked at the assistant and she looked at me. There was an awkward pause. Then she read my mind. “You don’t have to pay any more,” she told me. And I thought God, am I really that old? Followed by, why am I getting a subsidy I don’t need? Then, but isn’t it rather nice and don’t I kind of deserve it? It took me almost a full day to recover from the ambivalence.

If a bloke in your local pub started telling you this anecdote, you might indulge him, suspecting perhaps that he had recently suffered a head injury, but we should expect rather more from someone on a large salary nominally paid for writing commentary and analysis.

To sum up: David Aaronovitch is 66 and he had forgotten that.

Now for the science bit… not, sorry, that’s an old slogan that no one has any interest in anymore, but you can understand how I might have got confused, reading a column made of old slogans no one has much use for ‘these days’. No. It’s not the science bit, it’s the ‘deliberately misunderstanding something in order to produce a column bit…’:

And then this week a chap called Dennis Reed set it off again. Mr Reed is director of a pensioners’ group called Silver Voices. He had been involved in discussions with the BBC and was angry that the corporation was planning to go ahead and make most over-75s pay the licence fee… In 2015 it was decided that the BBC would pick up the tab for it from [2020] onwards, at a possible annual cost of about £750 million. However, it was left to the BBC to decide whether the subsidy would continue…

The intention was, I believe, to force the BBC to make significant budget cuts to pay the fees of all over-75s. But the BBC demurred. Instead, it is charging over-75s who are not on pension credit (i.e. who are not poorer pensioners), so that the cost is reduced to £250 million. It’s this that has incensed Mr Reed… he is advocating a course of action in which an unneeded subsidy to pensioners would lead to job losses for a number of younger people. This is, of course, not his intention.

I’m not surprised that Aaronovitch continues to misunderstand or rather pretend to misunderstand people’s intentions.

He’s been relitigating his view on the Iraq War for almost 20 years now:

Aaronovitch argues in his column that it was ‘no one’s intention’ to make young people worse off while making older people better off. That’s horseshit.

It has been the intention of the Conservative Party since… well, forever. The young are not the Tory constituency, however many alt-right and neo-fascist ‘young’ MPs the party manages to get into Parliament.

Young people did not vote for the Conservative Party, but pensioners like David Aaronovitch did in huge numbers. If we’d had a Logan’s Run election, with only the under-30s allowed to vote, Jeremy Corbyn would be in Downing Street.

I’m not suggesting we disenfranchise everyone over 30 — I’m 36 — but am simply noting the demographic facts. The Conservative Party makes sure older people are well catered for and cushioned from the true effects of the government’s strip-mining of social protections, cultural institutions, and the very fabric of the state because it needs them to believe that young people are simply whining.

The Tories also make the assumption — with plenty of data on their side — that humans, in general, have a tendency to pull up the ladder once they have secured a comfortable life for themselves. The flaw in that theory, however, is that Tory policies (and those pursued by Blair and Brown’s often Tory-lite administrations) have led to a nation in which the young cannot buy a house, secure a permanent job, or have any of the trappings of middle-class security that once incubated new Tory voters.

Despite having written about politics for more than 30 years, Aaronovitch’s analysis is so rickety that if it were a car, it wouldn’t just fail its MOT, but fall apart on the way to the test centre, leaving him sitting in the driver’s seat with just the shell of a vehicle around him, like some flatulent Flintstone.

Hooking his column on what he calls “the mega-survey of five million people” that found “those in their twenties and thirties had markedly less faith in democratic institutions than their forebears had at the same age,” the columnist gropes around for an explanation:

You can theorise about why this has happened and throw in social media, the decline of deference and many other factors, but the link between material improvement and political satisfaction is a pretty well-tested one. In other words, we could be seeing a kind of slow Weimar Republic, in which a loss of prospects gradually detaches the young from a commitment to liberal democracy. If mainstream politicians don’t pay attention to this, a door will be left open for a smart populist who can harness young people’s grievances.

And that’s all before the pandemic. Out there, the jobs market for graduates and school leavers is murderous and the employment situation for millions who are clinging on to often poorly paid jobs is precarious. Even when we bounce back after the pandemic, the situations of millions of young people will have been altered for the worse. Here in Britain, as if that wasn’t bad enough, their elders have managed to saddle them with Brexit, often championed by semi-domiciled billionaires who will never feel the effects of what they have wrought.

What he actually means is that these problems have been flagged up — time and time again — by mainstream politicians, but they simply weren’t the politicians that he, a 66-year-old man with a habit for tedious credulity, likes.

That he drops a reference to the Weimar Republic is just proof again that we are living with a British media class obsessed with the pre-war, war, and post-war years (as I wrote yesterday) and which only has solutions that lean so heavily on war analogies that they collapse like a Great British Bakeoff creation in the bear-like hands of shagger and occasional baker Paul Hollywood.

The fact a former Eurocommunist, who in a protest on University Challenge answered all the questions with names of Marxist thinkers and Communist leaders, is now honking on about the “decline of deference” as if punk never happened is really quite something. That he believes young people have been screwed over accidentally is simply the arse cherry on top of this shit sundae of a column.

It’s crucial for columnists like Aaronovitch to propagate the belief that the system has gone slightly wrong at the moment but will soon be restored to its proper function. In Aaronovitch’s particular fevered imagination that would be kicking the clock back to about 1998/99 when he and his technocratic pals in the Blair administration were large and in charge, hopped up on Clinton, and not yet banging every drum in the shop calling for WAR WAR WAR.

No wonder he was picking up all those prescriptions…