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MITCH BENN: The disingenuous pundits who are going to the dogs

Owen Jones. Photo: Twitter. - Credit: Archant

Comedian Mitch Benn takes to task the political commentators going to absurd lengths in search of the moral high-ground.

If there’s anything more depressing than the sight of someone truly stupid giving full rein to their stupidity (and we’re getting more than enough of that at the moment, not to name any presidents) then it’s the sight of someone genuinely intelligent pretending to be stupid in order to feign not understanding a reasonable objection to something extremely foolish they’ve just said or done in order to carry on saying or doing it.

I’m getting used to seeing that sort of behaviour from certain political commentators.

I’ve mentioned before that Julia Hartley-Brewer is a lot smarter than she sometimes feels the need to portray herself as… A few days ago she appealed to her Twitter following to assist her in 
a dilemma. She was trying to make a hotel reservation online and had encountered a suspicious-looking pop-up demanding she enter her credit card details; she asked her followers if this might be a scam.

Many snarky Twitterers – including, I’ll be honest, me – picked up on this as evidence that Ms H-B (a staunch and still unrepentant Brexiteer) had finally accepted the wisdom of getting all the relevant facts before making an important decision.

After a few days of this ribbing (some instances more good natured than others) Ms. H-B responded, in (mock?) derisory fashion, finding it hilarious that people ‘seem to think trying to book a hotel and supporting Brexit are pretty much the same thing’, suggesting that we may 
add ‘analogies’ to the list of things she doesn’t understand. Or rather, pretends not to.

An altogether more public and toxic instance of the same sort of faux ignorance arose a few days later at the other end of the British political spectrum.

In a speech to the centre-left group Progress, Chuka Umunna responded to a spate of attempted deselections of moderate Labour MPs by Momentum-led hardliners by calling upon the party leadership to ‘call off the dogs’.

This was greeted with howls (sorry) of not-entirely convincing indignation by Corbyn supporters, principally, (and inevitably) Owen Jones.

Jones has always been and remains a highly intelligent and thoughtful writer; his enthusiastic abandonment of even the pretence of objectivity in order to serve as the Sean Hannity to Jeremy Corbyn’s Donald Trump has been truly dispiriting to watch.

Jones took to the Twittersphere to remind Chuka that ‘party members 
are not dogs’ and to insist that ‘the constant dehumanising narrative used against hundreds of thousands of decent Labour members – who just want a better world – as a thuggish rabble has to stop’.

Even before one considers that many on Owen’s ‘side’ in the current Labour schism have been eager to dehumanise the other side (who also, by and large, ‘want a better world’ and criticise the current leadership precisely because they doubt their ability to deliver this) as traitors, warmongers and closet Tories, this is deliberate point-missing on a heroic scale.

The word ‘dogs’ in the expression ‘call off the dogs’ doesn’t refer to people at all, rather it’s a metaphor for the harassment to which one is objecting. Umunna wasn’t calling Corbynistas ‘dogs’, he wasn’t calling anybody anything, and Jones knows it.

Certainly it didn’t take much Googling to find an example of Jones using the expression himself, on his own blog as recently as April; in that instance he was demanding that the British media ease up on the anti-Corbyn rhetoric. So if Jones genuinely considers the saying ‘dehumanising’, evidently dehumanisation is only a bad thing when it’s the ‘centrists’ who are doing it.

By all means, defend the honour and conduct of your fellow ‘purists’, although when you’re trying to purge pro-Israel MPs with such grim abandon that Iranian state television feels encouraged to run gloating items about it (whether or not they’d been invited to do so) you might, just might, take a moment to consider whether you actually are the Good Guys in this specific instance.

But if, in order to make this defence, you have to start pretending words mean something other than what they mean, if you have to accuse someone of saying something you know they didn’t say, it makes your case look far weaker than it might in fact be. Like, perhaps, you’re not really so sure that you’re in the right this time.

Doubt is good. Doubt leads to enquiry, to study, to clarification, to learning and understanding. It’s certainty that leads to atrocity.

Meanwhile, I hosted yet another People’s Vote Rally last weekend, in Cardiff this time. The movement for a final deal vote is, and must be, a truly cross-party affair; I’d been saying for a while that we’d know we were getting somewhere when Conservative politicians started turning up to speak at People’s Vote events.

So it was with a great sense of encouragement that I introduced Guto Bebb, Tory MP for Aberconwy, to the podium. We also had some words from Jeremy Corbyn’s occasional arch-nemesis Owen Smith (it’s weirdly pleasing that the antithesis of Owen Jones is a guy called Owen Smith, isn’t it?).

Those of you who can get to London for the big march, on October 20, mark it in your diaries right now. As I said in Cardiff, a mistake many of us made, me included, back in 2016, was to think that other people were going to sort this out for us. We know better this time. Resist.

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