“It’s not the professional Labourphobia and ceaseless smearing of the Left that bothers me. It’s the total unwillingness to hold the Conservatives to account”.
Andrew Lansley got one, and his Health and Social Care Act has been one of the most catastrophic pieces of legislation in modern politics. It’s been condemned by the medical profession, activists, campaigners, even Conservative MPs, and given the Tories multiple headaches. If it wasn’t for such an indifferent electorate, it might have been much worse.
So surely Dan Hodges, who has done more to distract the public from such sins and help the Tories back into power than almost anyone, should have been kicked something?
To be a successful journalist you need a USP. It’s not enough to write well, have good ideas, even know the right people. You have to stand out, find that unique angle that nobody else has got.
In the cynical arena of British political writing, there’s plenty of tribalism; plenty of exploitation of facts and words to paint your own team in a better light and more importantly, smear the other lot whenever possible. Every now and then there’s another category; the angry defector who switches over and gleefully pans his former comrades.
But Dan has found even more of a specialism, a truly surreal position – as the Kevin Pieterson of political commentary.
The former union man and Labour Party member-turned-ex-member-turned-member-again’s columns in the Telegraph receive rapturous applause from Conservatives and conservatives. And why wouldn’t they? I bet they can’t believe their luck.
And, I suspect, neither can Dan. Because of course none of this would be possible if he was a Conservative. Without his USP he would just be one of a very long line of Tory chatterers getting paid to lay into everything Labour says and does: standard crowd-pleasing journalism.
No, this is far more effective – a Labour man sneering at other Labour types. In public. What fun! It’s KP all over again; those South Africans had so much fun over those messages, and then he did pretty well flogging a book out of it. Although to be fair, even he never actually said that he wanted South Africa to win.
In the months and years up to May 2015 it was generally Ed Miliband who bore the brunt. Nothing was safe, every strategic blunder was brayed at, and used as a way to drip honeyed praise on to the Tories:
“The Government had some good news it wanted to get out today about the record drop in unemployment, and that will now be overshadowed by the Freud row”.
Even when Labour defeated UKIP in Heywood, it was a “catastrophe”, and somehow a victory for Cameron despite the fact that he’d lost a seat to the anti-EU party in Clacton:
“The Tories knew Clacton was coming. They had priced defeat in. No one on Labour’s side saw Heywood coming”.
(I’m not sure even an overt Conservative commentator would have made that connection)
But it wasn’t just Ed that got it. He’s blamed low wage growth on the unions; attacked the Left for its fury against convicted rapist Ched Evans; belittled the importance of the Page 3 debate; bemoaned the “witch hunt” of tax dodgers.
And then came Jeremy Corbyn, from the shadows, and…well. It’s been hysterical: the type of hyperbole they try to beat out of you on day one of a journalism course, and some statements that the most polemic of Tory hacks would probably steer clear of.
It’s so strange to see someone behave in such a venomously orthodox way. To place politics in such high regard over policy, and then take every word of Conservatives spin as gospel, simply to enrage left-wingers.
To so fervently advocate such a dreary polity utterly devoid of ideology. To defends the right-wing press after months, years of cultivating the ferment of resentment towards migrants that has contributed to a political unwilling to help them. He wouldn’t even condemn Katie Hopkins for saying this:
It’s been fantastically useful to the right, and maddening to the left, to have this dull, rancorous yawn in the spotlight for so long. Just look at that distillery of resentment, Twitter, and watch it fermenting live. Dan’s busy day and night – 64,500 tweets so far – baiting the left with a sort long drawn-out sneer; gleefully snapping back at furious lefties with short sharp sarcastic shots.
I find it genuinely miserable – though I can’t help myself – to imagine how much of his own energy and time goes into this odd rebellion without a cause. Like the colleague who sits in a meeting groaning and pulling faces whenever anyone else speaks up, then later drones on to anyone who will listen about all the things that are wrong with the place and the people – beyond tedious.
It’s the exact same blinkeredness that will lead a football fan to scream for a penalty knowing full well his own player’s just dived, only in this case it’s one strange little man in the crowd begging for a penalty against his own team. But personally it’s not the left-baiting that bothers me. After all, by the same syllogism that says the unions are to blame for low wage growth, then maybe Dan should answer a few questions about the crushing defeat of Yvette Cooper and the whole New Labour movement?
No, it’s not the professional Labourphobia and ceaseless smearing of the Left that is the problem. It’s Dan’s total unwillingness to hold the Conservatives to account.
If Cameron, IDS, Hunt etc had been subjected to one drop of the slew of cynicism that Ed, the unions, Burnham, the Corbynistas etc. have had poured over them, things might be very different.
Yes, I’m a member of the Labour Party. But even if I wasn’t, I’d be pretty disturbed about, say, the mental health crisis in Britain; the attack on the rights of people with disabilities; the fact that former health ministers are saying that the NHS ‘is on the brink of collapse’; that single mothers are resorting to foodbanks and the wealth divide is widening; the fact that a group of law students got together and managed to get 95% of Work Capability Assessments appeals in Bristol overturned, or that DWP whistleblowers are trying to tell the world that people with serious health problems are being sanctioned and set up to fail.
You know, the things those naive misguided lefties are talking about in increasingly crowded Labour meetings up and down the country.
To read Hodges’ comment pieces you wouldn’t think there was anything remotely amiss in Britain. When the worst A&E performance figures on record were released in January, Dan kept shtum. Until a few weeks later when he wrote a piece saying that Labour was “blind to the political realities of the NHS”.
The day after the Independent Living Fund was scrapped, Dan was praising the “brave and imaginative” Liz Kendall, mocking the “self-parody” of Andy Burnham, and talking about the “Downing Street test” that Cooper didn’t quite pass. Oddly nothing about the ILF, or the 17,000 severely disable people affected.
When the war between Jeremy Hunt and despairing, ground-down doctors and nurses raged over the summer, crystalised in the #iminworkjeremy and #weneedtotalkaboutjeremy campaigns, Dan was pitching in with pieces about the “lunatic wing of the party”, which, he said, might be best served by a Corbyn win because “maybe then the Left will finally get it”.
As chronically over-worked, under-appreciated nurses, doctors and HCAs took to social media pleading for the public to take notice with huge support from Labour members, Dan was explaining to the British public how “The Labour party is a joke. We should stop taking it seriously”, gleefully announcing that his decision to re-join the party had “enraged some of my new comrades on the Left”.
Presumably the same members who work in the medical profession. Or were campaigning on their behalf at the time. And leftie journalists like me who I’m proud to say were trying to use our (more humble) perches to desperately raise awareness of the phenomenal pressure doctors and nurses were and still are under, and the dangerous path on which the whole service has been set. The words ‘doctor’, ‘nurse’, ‘hospital’, didn’t feature in Dan’s work at the time: not once. I’d honestly say nobody has done more to blind Telegraph readers to the actual reality of life on the wards and sabotage any real debate on the NHS so effectively. Jeremy Hunt should be eternally grateful.
Rather than questioning it, Dan has greedily swallowed the hook, the line, the sinker and the entire bivouac of Tory NHS spin; not least the hopelessly flawed line that an extra £8bn will make all the problems go away:
“They will have also been pleased to have had such a significant hit on health, an issue that Labour thought they had staked out as their exclusive territory”.
(Those of us who have taken the time to understand the vastly complex issue of NHS provisioning, staffing and commissioning will grasp how woefully, and wilfully inadequate this line is).
Since it emerged earlier this month that volunteers at a Law Centre in Bristol had managed to get 95 out of 100 Work Capability Assessment decisions in their local area overturned, or that people are committing suicide after wrongly being declared fit-to-work – each a perfectly good reason for Iain Duncan Smith to resign, you might argue – not once has IDS, the DWP, Work Capability Assessments, disability, even come up in Dan’s political writing. There’s been lots of the “The day the Labour Party died”, “ Welcome to the hypocrisy of the Jeremy Corbyn era” and “Jeremy Corbyn’s first PMQs will eventually destroy him” stuff. I’m getting bored just typing these headlines out.
Just imagine what would happen if a Labour DWP secretary had been caught red-handed, screwing over disabled people this way: Dan would be hysterically running around screaming.
Public debt has risen at a frightening rate since 2010, immigration has risen to record levels despite hard words about reducing it to 10s of thousands – no criticism at all. It took a child washing up lifeless on a beach for Cameron grudgingly to agree to take on more refugees and arrange a hasty PR trip to a camp in Lebanon, the blandishments continued.
If this had happened on Labour’s watch under an even nominally left-wing leader, just imagine the outrage. In fact there was outrage – at the idea that the Labour leadership hopefuls might take advantage of the refugee crisis, because that would have been cynical.
It would be funny, if it weren’t so serious. But it is, acutely serious: this utterly dishonest faux commentary has removed an entire layer of reality, of suffering, from the political narrative, and even worse, provided absolution to the perpetrators of some truly pernicious political acts.
If the suffering of severely disabled people, people wrongly declared fit-to-work and the maligned medical professional hadn’t been relegated from the mainstream political narrative by New Labour ‘modernisers’, then maybe it wouldn’t be considered so unfashionable to take a stand on them now. The Conservative Party would have had a much harder time since 2010; Labour would be more united now.
It’s understandable that a loyal Tory hack would want to sweep these things under the carpet. But for someone who calls himself a ‘Labour man’ to hold the carpet up is, frankly, incredible.
And I genuinely don’t see the point. He spent months smearing Corbyn and Burnham for everything they said and did during the leadership race – they came first and second respectively. But of course, that’s the best thing that could possibly have happened to Dan; if Cooper got in he might have been forced to start doing some truly uncomfortable things, like holding the Tories to account.
Whether Dan admits it or not, he’s done wonders for the Conservative Party. You can call yourself what you like, it doesn’t make it so. You can call yourself a Labour supporter, but when you say you’d prefer George Osborne to be Prime Minister than the leaders of the Labour Party, I think it’s time to drop the act. If you spend your days and nights undermining everything the Labour Party says, even distorting the truth to do so, it’s definitely time to drop the act. And if that means losing your journalistic USP, that’s the price you pay to retain a drop of integrity.
Why did Lansley get a peerage and Dan didn’t? If Labour man Dan had been doing his job, Andrew might not have got his. I genuinely believe that – something tells me Dan will never get it.