Monday, September 06, 2010

Coulson: Am I Being Machiavellian?

I am sure he will be surprised to find me linking to a blog which essentially is critical of me, but I found Paul Sagar's article on my reaction to the Bad Conscience blog a fascinating read. Read it for yourself HERE.

Essentially he says my reaction fits in entirely with Machiavellian thought! Here's an extract...

Iain Dale is currently illustrating a fundamental dynamic of politics, and
helpfully demonstrating a valuable Machiavellian insight.

Dale has written what can only be described, at least from an anti-Tory perspective, as a desperate blog attempting to defend Andy Coulson. The argument (such as there is one) runs: Coulson is good at his job now; allegations against him relate to his
former job which he has already resigned from; accessing people’s voicemail
without their knowledge is not hacking; John Prescott and Alastair Campbell were
terrible media manipulators and are thus hypocrites to attack Coulson.

There’s several dozes things wrong with this, and I don’t need to spell
them out. So just the most obvious will do: if Coulson is implicated to the
extent the New York Times alleges, then he oversaw systematic criminal activity.
If so, Coulson is not suitable for a role coordinating the Conservative Party’s
relations with the media, and with access to the Prime Minister’s ear.

But I reckon Iain Dale knows all this, because he isn’t stupid. I’ve seen him debate and he is sharp and very quick off the mark. So what’s going on?

Quite simply, Dale is doing what is required of the high-placed party animal: fighting for his pack.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the situation, Dale is prepared to ignore the truth and go so far as to apologies for what may be criminal, and is certainly immoral...

...For Dale is being manifestly Machiavellian. And I use that term technically, in line with the great Florentine himself. Namely, that Dale is prepared to defend immorality and the possibly criminal in the service of his primary political aim: promoting and defending the Tory party, insofar as he sees this as necessary for achieving his fundamental political goal of a strong Conservative government

To those outside of Dale’s party this appears abhorrent. Non-Conservatives hold the relevant standards of morality and non-criminality above the career of Andy Coulson or the reputation of the Tory Party. But to Tory loyalists, what matters most right now is the perceived higher political value of defending the party. Hence obfuscation and defence of the indefensible are not only permitted – they are required.

And within the realm of politics, in a certain sense there’s simply nothing wrong with this. Because it’s just what politics is about: the visceral defence and promotion of your tribe, sometimes by accepting dubious means, to promote what you believe is a higher good.

Now, I can see why he thinks this, because he's right, political parties are tribes and when one of our own is in trouble there is a definite tendency to circle the wagons. And maybe there is a subconcious part of me that is doing just that. But that is certainly not my primary motivation in defending Andy Coulson from the left wing vultures that are determined to pick over his carcass.

But where Paul is wrong is that I would never, ever defend anyone - no matter how strong the tribal loyalty is - if I thought they were guilty of a criminal act. I suppose there is a bit of a devil in me in that I have a track record of sticking up for people who hit on hard times politically - Neil Hamilton over Fayed and both Hamiltons over the Ilford rape case, immediately come to mind. It wasn't a popular thing to do at the time, and many of my friends told me I shouldn't have gone public. But in the end, if you believe someone is being traduced unfairly, and you don't speak out, what sort of person are you?

So although I may not like some of the things Paul Sagar has written, or indeed what his blogreaders say in the comments, I'd point to his blogpost as an example of top quality blogging.


The Grim Reaper said...

It's hard to know what to make of this one. We musn't forget the highly questionable way in which The Guardian got hold of this story in the first place, for starters. It's safe to say that I don't like The Grauniad one bit. Then again, I don't like the News of the World, I don't like the Tories and I sure as hell don't like former newspaper editors. It's like trying to choose from the worst of a bad bunch.

As for you Iain, of course you're being Machiavellian. It's what you could end up doing more and more in the next few months as criticism of the coalition starts to pile up. said...

Iain, thanks for the kind - probably kinder than I may deserve - comments, and for the considered reflection.

Alex said...

Well, in a sense you are. Andy Coulson is that he says he didn't know about any phone tapping, others say he did, and other comentators say it was not possible for him to be editor of the NOTW and not know how the stories were obtained. The only valid defence for Coulson is that neither side has yet produced any evidence, so Coulson is innocent until proven otherwise.

Unfortunatey, that doesn't make for good political gossip.

Glyn H said...

The point is that no one tainted with being editor of such a vile low life hypocritical rag as the NoW should been anywhere near CCO. This is just fall out from a US anti Murdoch cat fight but it shows the foolishness of appointing Coulson. Had nobody noticed the damage that the skunk Campbell eventually did to his master?

Man in a Shed said...

Isn't the real story "why does the New York Times care ?".

My guess is that someone form the "Forces of HellTM A Darling" has been back to their usual tricks. Now there is something worth investigating if it shows that Labour hasn't even started to route out the moral corruption that riddled it in office.

Windsor Tripehound said...

What Sagar doesn't say is that the allegations (which the BBC keeps referring to as "fresh evidence") are the unsubstantiated assertions of a sacked and disgruntled ex-employee, two years after the event.

Minnie the Minx said...

The New York Times claim they have evidence against Coulson but they refuse to produce it for verification or investigation. How are we supposed to know that it exists?
The Guardian, The Independent, the BBC and numerous Labour politicians will believe any old claptrap without asking for evidence to support it. Luckily the general public is not so stupid. The journalists and politicians who believe every word of the unsubstantiated allegations about Coulson are the same ones who believed every word about weapons of mass description and 45 minujtes.

Gallimaufry said...

Machiavelliain. Please excuse the pun.

Mirtha Tidville said...

Just Liebour trying to put up a smokescreen for their own folly....Nothing to see move along please

pete-s said...

If Coulson had been behind a contrived scheme to tap phones, then he should be condemned. However the story appears to be; journalists try to get a lead by listening to voice mails of politicians who have left their PIN on default.

If you are that stupid..............

Mick Turatian said...

The odd thing is how all these labour people weren't kicking up a fuss about their phone accounts being messed with at the time.

Could it be that Murdoch was then still being wooed to support Labour?

Right Hon. said...

What's the big deal?
Sleazy politician employs sleazy PR man. Happens all the time.

wild said...

It is hardly a surprise to find a Labour Party supporter citing Machiavelli. The craving for power (so they could redistribute wealth into their own pockets) is pretty much all that New Labour amounted to in the end, and for “progressive” Leftists, the fact that they bankrupted the country while doing it is just a bonus.

The Media pretend that the entirely manufactured moral outrage of various Labour Party apparatchiks (who in the last government had a track record of being a hate filled bunch of morally and intellectually challenged bigots) is sincere, while the rest of us pretend to be shocked that a tabloid journalist admitted obtaining some of his stories by listening to messages on private voice mail accounts, or (most surprising of all) an embittered ex-tabloid hack (sacked because of his unreliability) has sold (to a rival news organisation) a story that the editor (who as it happens has already resigned over the story) knew what the journalist in question was doing to get his stories.

As a political scandal it competes with the William Hague story. It is almost as feeble as it is cynical.

Roland Deschain said...

Iain, the BBC are determined to keep this one going. It's not their job to spearhead Labour attacks. Has the penny dropped yet with the Tories that BBC's left-wing bias needs to be sorted out, and should have been years ago?

Weygand said...

99% of the electorate will have never previously heard of Coulson and will not give a fig that when he was an editor of the NoW he may have known that reporters may have hacked into Jowell's or Prezza's phones; whatever heinous deed this may be in law.

What they will be asking is why the Labour Party hasn't got more important things to worry about - especially as Prezza has never uttered a word worth listening in to and even if he had nobody would have been able to decypher what it was.

pete-s said...

3:04 Rt Hon --- Yes did not a Mr Blair employ a Mr Campbell.

Richard Holloway said...

Using Paul Sagar's arguement, couldn't the entire previous cabinet be classed as equally Machiavellian for "supporting" Gordon Brown when they knew what a mess he was making.
The mock outrage is typical Labour, but they really know how to manipulate the media.

Why isn't there a stock list of Labour horrors to highlight for Tory MPs whenever Labour attempt to get on their high horse over issues like this? There's plenty of material and Labour used the "it was the other lot when they were in" as a defence for the full 13 years.

Right Hon. said...

pete-s said...
3:04 Rt Hon --- Yes did not a Mr Blair employ a Mr Campbell.

Well done you... My point exactly - the colour of the government has changed but it's still the same old sleazy behaviour.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

Right Hon. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

"But where Paul is wrong is that I would never, ever defend anyone - no matter how strong the tribal loyalty is - if I thought they were guilty of a criminal act."

Really? Even crimes that shouldn't be crimes at all - such as the possession or use of recreational drugs, say? Or consensual prostitution? Or peaceful protest which the police decide to label "behaviour liable to cause a breach of the peace"?

Criminal laws are made by legislatures, and legislatures are not always right. It is possible for an act to be morally right and yet constitute a crime, or, conversely, for an act to be morally wrong and yet be perfectly legal.

And our criminal justice system is profoundly screwed-up. We have the highest prison population in Western Europe, grossly overcrowded prisons, and far too many people being given prison sentences for minor non-violent offences. (To his credit, Ken Clarke has been talking some sense about this lately.) Not to mention the erosion of our civil liberties and widespread abuse of power by the police.

I realise this doesn't have anything to do with Andy Coulson, and I apologise for derailing the thread... but I just don't understand why so many people show such instinctive deference to the criminal law, as though Parliament were some sort of a moral authority. (FWIW, phone-hacking is both illegal and immoral, so I'm not actually talking about the present case here.)

RonLiddle said...

Theresa May (recently seconded from FAB) whom in opposition was the champion of moral standards within Westminster must have been mightily annoyed at having to answer that question.

I'm sure an equivalent list for the co-alition record is quietly heading into double figures, not bad given the limited time they've had.

If Coulson is found to be lying, he lied whilst in employment of the Conservative party and then the government.

I hope we don't have to wait for another set of memoirs to finish this story off. I'm memoired out.

DespairingLiberal said...

I'm quite sure that if you'd had your voicemail hacked, you would be yelling for the police from the rooftops.

Coulson got away with this because his chums in the Met ensured a plodding investigation.

Thank goodness for the long-established police <--> tabloids "relationship" and for Andy Hayman's wonderful job offer at the Screws so soon after it was all sorted to everyone's satisfaction!

I wonder what else was promised to Rupe at Dave's island visit?

RonLiddle said...

"But where Paul is wrong is that I would never, ever defend anyone - no matter how strong the tribal loyalty is - if I thought they were guilty of a criminal act."

You're happy to defend Gary McKinnon. Whom himself is a convicted hacker.

(although I conceded perhaps not against the crime, but the disproportionate sentence and fact that he'd be standing trial overseas....I also support him)

Hughes. said...

Yet another bad application of the term "Machiavellian", with the added contrivance of making claims this is some superior scholarly analysis, above the usual misuse of his name.

Personally, I'm certain Coulson will have known what was going on on his watch, but there is no new substantive information from credible sources over and above what was looked into the last time this was being investigated, under a Home Secretary of a different political stripe.

However it's dressed up, Sagar's piece is no better and no worse than anything you may have said on the subject. Partisan tit-for-tat of no actual merit to the investigation. Just keeping the noise up, and trying to keep it interesting .