Thursday, 26 March 2009

Hannan goes global

Daniel Hannan is "slightly perplexed" at the viral success of his dressing down of Gordon Brown at the European Parliament, which has now had getting on for 700,000 views on YouTube. It's on course for being the biggest surprise YouTube hit since Tricia Walsh Smith took to cyberspace to highlight her husband's sexual inadequacy.


I have been making similar speeches every week and posting them on YouTube for the past seven months. I made one just now: 60 seconds on how Brussels is spraying money at the European Investment Bank. Perhaps people felt frustrated about the way Gordon Brown had carried on without once asking for their votes. Perhaps they would have loved to tell him what they thought of him, but lacked the opportunity.

That's certainly part of the story. It's hardly surprising that usually only people with a passionate interest in the inner workings of the EU - a minority taste, it has to be said - take the trouble to watch all his clips. Depressing, but true - a truth that the Europhile tendency in the BBC and elsewhere imagines to be indicative of popular assent to (or at least acquiescence in) the continuing process of integration.

But this intervention wasn't, for once, about the wastefulness of the Brussels bureaucrats. It was about Gordon Brown. It was about the manifest disconnection between his frantic gallivanting about the world, telling other countries what they should be doing, even hinting at some form of world government, and the mess he has created.

On the very day that he is lecturing European politicians about their own greatness (and his success) the bank of England governor is telling MPs that the UK couldn't afford the lavish fiscal stimulus that other countries are planning, or have implemented. On the very day he is preaching to New York bankers about their greed and irresponsibility, the Treasury fails to sell the bonds which are supposed to fill the great black hole in the public finances. On the very day that he is hopping around South America asking poorer countries to shoulder some of the burden there's serious talk of Britain losing its credit rating. Which would make Gordon Brown the sub-Prime Minister of an officially subprime country.

So it's not surprising that a huge number of people will have been nodding in agreement with, if not standing and cheering, Mr Hannan's words. His intervention is, apart from anything else, brilliantly succinct, deadly, instantly quotable, a three minute hand-grenade described as a speech.

From "British jobs to British workers" to Britain's being in the "worst condition of any G20 country", he laid into the prime minister who had just finished proclaiming his undying love for all things Brussels. "You have run out of our money", Hannan complained. Comparing the world's major economies to a flotilla of ships, he noted that while other countries had used the good years to "caulk their hulls and clear their rigging", Britain was sailing into the squall in a dilapidated condition.

The last parliamentary attack to go down anything like so well Youtube was William Hague's witty riff on the possibility of Tony Blair being reincarnated as president of Europe. "Picture the face of our poor prime minister as the name of Tony Blair is placed in nomination... the awful moment when the motorcade of the president of Europe sweeps into Downing Street... the melodrama 'when will you hand over to me?' all over again." Hannan has easily surpassed that achievement, though, garnering acclaim from Americans who may still have only the vaguest notion as to Mr Brown's identity.

It is not true that such attacks on Brown's credibility can't be found in the mainstream media. Jeff Randall's repeated and apposite barbs, in the Telegraph and on Sky News, have become required reading and viewing. I particularly relished his comparison the other week of Brown and Bernie Madoff:

What's the difference between Bernard Madoff and Gordon Brown? Answer: one has drained fortunes from gullible victims, plundering their income and savings to create an illusion of prosperity. The other is going to jail....

Nobody knows for sure how much has gone missing, but Wall Street scribes are calling it a $65 billion fraud. Not bad for peddling fresh air. It is, however, a nickel-and-dime swindle when set alongside the 12-year con trick perpetrated by Mr Brown on British taxpayers. That, too, has been a form of Ponzi, but with many more zeroes and little chance of the mastermind ending his days in what Americans call Crowbar Hotel.


The difference in Hannan's case, as well as Hague's, is that on those occasions Brown was forced to listen. It is knowing that he is sitting there squirming, being confronted with the truth about his own punctured pretensions, his own failure, and being unable to do anything about it, that is so wonderful to hear.

But that's about it. Hannan would have said what he said, regardless of whether or not YouTube had been available to spread it abroad. And Gordon Brown would have been forced to listen. True, many people would have missed out on the delight of listening to his discomfiture, not least because the BBC decided it wasn't worthy of broadcast. So the real question is this: once we've enjoyed the cathartic experience of listening to Hannan's tirade, will anything have changed?

Daniel Hannan believes that his new-found Internet stardom demonstrates the changing nature of both news and politics:

The answer is that political reporters no longer get to decide what's news. The days when a minister gave briefings to a dozen lobby correspondents, and thereby dictated the next day's headlines, are over. Now, a thousand bloggers decide for themselves what is interesting.

Moreover:

Breaking the press monopoly is one thing. But the internet has also broken the political monopoly. Ten or even five years ago, when the Minister for Widgets put out a press release, the mere fact of his position guaranteed a measure of coverage. Nowadays, a politician must compel attention by virtue of what he is saying, not his position.

Up to a point. It would be ridiculous to deny that the Web now plays a large part in political communication. Nor that it has much greater potential for subverting the traditional order than any previous medium. Arguably Barack Obama owed his victory over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic nomination race to his YouTube popularity, without which his campaign might never have caught fire. But a large number of "hits" doesn't necessarily, or even often, carry over into political influence. The question about Daniel Hannan, then, is whether he's the new Obama, or the new Joe the Plumber.

Hannan's platform is old-time fiscal conservatism. "You can't borrow your way out of debt"; even "you can't spend your way out of a recession", which is more debatable. Though that debate may become rather academic if the country's creditworthiness continues to deteriorate. There's always going to be a ready audience for that kind of language, on both sides of the Atlantic. That's why Hannan has pressed buttons beyond these shores: beyond the pleasure of watching Gordon Brown brought down to size there's also the satisfaction of seeing the whole political consensus discredited. Or at least wittily attacked. A satisfaction, that is, for those who don't share that consensus.

Yet it is possible to speak for a sizeable minority of the population and yet still be ignored. That was the fate of the Conservative Party for ten years following their 1997 collapse. It could well be that Hannan speaks for just such a disenfranchised constituency. The point is that of the thousands who watched and enjoyed his YouTube clip, the great majority will already agree with him. He will not have changed minds, or the terms of the debate.

In his blog today, the BBC's Mark Mardell explains to his many critics why he didn't think Hannan's speech worthy of a mention in his blog. The "Euroblog" "isn't some bulletin of record on everything that is said", he declares. Besides, he was waiting to go on air while Hannan was speaking. Translation: Hannan's perfect little rant simply wasn't newsworthy enough. Well, it's newsworthy now: but what's the story? The fact that Daniel Hannan laid into Brown? The substance of his criticisms, or the strength of his economic analysis? I suspect not. The story, if it breaks cover into the broadcast media in Britain (it has already featured big on Fox News) will be about the YouTube stats. A story, then, but not really a political story.

The question lurking in the background here is whether the current international consensus, such as it is (more spending, more regulation - but not necessarily in that order) is secure. If it is, then it will scarcely matter how many people watch Hannan torpedoing HMS Gordon. On the other hand, if Brown's policy and leadership continue to leak credibility at the present rate, if the G20 summit turns into an embarrassing fudge or the economy continues its slide, then Danel Hannan's pithy demolition job may come to look like a turning-point. But that would be an illusion.

8 comments:

Jackart said...

I think it could be as defining as "in office but not in Power" of the Major administration...

quisquose said...

A few years ago now, not long after Tony and Gordon took control, my wife who is an oncologist working for the NHS, received an unexpected letter. It was a Saturday morning.

The letter spelled out how the NHS had been neglected by the previous evil regime, what a wonderful employee she was, and how it was recognised that her pay fell short of what she would have been paid if she studied law rather than medicine.

But this was all going to change; so let the good times roll it promised. First off, the issue of pay and the need to retain staff like my wife. Her pay was to increase, the letter promised, by 50% over three years.

We read that letter in a sort of trance. My wife was more than happy with her existing salary; indeed she had recently reduced her hours. She had planned to retire at 55, but a quick chat with our financial adviser told us that she could now retire at 52.

On her return to work, my wife discussed the letter with her peers and discovered that the consensus was generally to reduce hours and bring forward retirements, thus having the exact opposite of what was intended.

So it was quite early in Gordon Brown’s reign as chancellor that I recognised the danger he posed as guardian of our money. He moved money out of pension schemes and into the NHS in such enormous amounts that they didn’t know what to do with it other than offer enormous pay rises. Waiting lists were down, but at what price?

I actually think Brown has some sort of financial autism, he cannot recognise what money is except for use as a political tool.

Anonymous said...

I've already said this on a different blog comment, but the plea is still unanswered:

I'm retired, with savings and a miniscule mortgage that I shall probably pay off. I have no debts and intend no large expenditures, protecting my savings as far as possible. What can I do?

Other than vote, when allowed to, what else can I do? I expect many other people, possibly more exposed financially, also don't know what they can do. That is why Brown's insouciance is so distressing. He doesn't appear to give a damn.

FrankFisher said...

Well this is the message H - that the only consensus is among the media and political classes; the rest of us are mad as hell.

All of us? No. But more than an insignificant minority, I think. Not only do we disagree with Brown, we disagree with everything - in my own case, EVERYTHING - he does or believes or says, and we disagree profoundly with the bailouts and everything that goes with them.

But do you see this on the MSM? Is the range of opinions reflected? Nope. It's the DD story - my story - again. The disconnect. The refusal to disseminate the common man's view. And it is not an accident. It is a very long way from being an accident.

silas said...

I think that the popularity of the Dan Hannan clip is probably down to the enjoyment of watching someone say something to Gordon that no-one else seems to do.

The sad thing is that Nigel Farage and Dan Hannan have been doing this sort of thing for months and it rarely gets reported. Without people like yourself, Trixy, Jackart, OH, Dizzy and Guido posting the link, I'd be surprised if a quarter of the people who have viewed Hannan on YouTube would actually have seen it.

Bloggers, worryingly, seem to be doing more of the research into Government lies, damned lies and statistics than the well-paid reporters of ITN, BBC & Sky.

We get the MSM press corps asking the same questions week in and week out; never any asking "do you actually know what you're doing?" or hunting him down on non-answers.

It makes political reporting (specifically Nick Robinson) a repetition of whatever the Prime Minister (or one of the spinners) has just said without any investigation of the truth behind it.

PMQs has got to the level of pointless recently. Neither side of the Chamber seem able to do anything of consequence to disrupt the flow of the other.

It's almost like the main parties in Westminster want there to be a disconnect between politics and the public at large, and the MSM are assisting them in this desire.

Letters From A Tory said...

Smashing the press lobby is indeed crucial because it has driven the New Labour machine and has been abused for too long.

The fact that our news is no longer confined to the newspapers is good for everyone (apart from politicians and journalists, obviously).

Bob's Head Revisited said...

Most of those 700,000+ YouTube viewers will be wondering who this Dan Hannan bloke is. But I think that helps to give it more power.

William Hague's witty barbs were delicious, but not only was it very humourous, it was also done by a well-known, personable chap who is well-liked by both sides. He probably drinks and chats regularly with the Labour MPs and ministers. Even diametrically opposed parties are often much more friendly out of the House than most of us realise.
So Hague's barbs were blunted somewhat.

But Hannan doesn't really come across like that! He looks too intense. Plus, he is not well known. Who is this sharp-faced, wiry bugger with the starey eyes, mercilessly laying into our PM?

The video has that power of the little man, the unknown man on the fringes who suddenly gets up and starts saying, with wonderful sharpness and clarity, what so many who privately rail against this monumentally incompetent government, try to say every day through pounding fingers in front of sputum-flecked screens.

Hannan's, though, was a beautifully controlled rant by someone we don't know to someone who thinks he is not just above the law, but who thinks that he should be above having to put up with these upstarts who would dare criticize him.
I'm glad it's popular. It's at least good to know that lots of people appreciate these small but important acts of defiance.

McDuff said...

Hannan's rant would have been less soured for me had he not been standing on the Tory platform. It's not that Gordon Brown doesn't deserve the rocks that are thrown his way, just that I've yet to see the Tories even offer a hint of an alternative, apart from possibly taking some more money away from poor people. But to be fair to them, that's their answer to everything. They seem nothing if not utterly relieved that it's not them in the seat when the crap's hitting the propeller, rubbing their hands at all the benefits they can gleefully find an excuse to slash when they get into power.

Further, I'd say that "you can't spend your way out of a recession" is more than a little debatable given that most economic historians believe the United States did exactly that in the 30s and 40s, and the extent to which it didn't work was more indicative of how little they spent rather than how much. Of course there are people who disagree but by and large they are the same types who believed that you couldn't spend your way out of a depression but that you could deregulate your way to financial utopia - i.e. not the kinds of people whose track records are all that and a bag of chips.

So, all credit for him on standing up on the soap-box and shouting at the dour scotsman, not so much for his party's record of having anything substantive to say as means of an alternative.