Friday, 24 November 2017

Some thoughts on the Darren Grimes affair

I first met Darren Grimes in early 2016 at Vote Leave HQ, on one of my then occasional trips to Westminster. We were phone canvassing back in the days prior to my employment, when my face was partially hidden by a grotesque, indefensible goatee. These are times I prefer not to look back on. Thankfully, blonde highlights have given me a more vibrant look which I have embraced with characteristic aplomb. 

As a bisexual guy, I quite enjoy the company of gays. I find them to be unfailingly witty and funny, especially over cocktails. I consider them sexual cousins and will always stand up for LGBT rights. Unsurprisingly, therefore, my initial impression of Mr Grimes was positive. In person, Darren (who is, by the way, publicly out) and I have always gotten on pretty well. We have never been anything other than civil with each other and I consider him to be funny and pretty charming. 

My assumption is that this view is reciprocated, though Darren did unfriend me on Facebook and unfollow my Twitter a couple of months ago. I do not yet know why this was but I suppose it doesn't matter. He has been friendly with me since at Adam Smith Institute events. He isn't obliged to follow and I do understand the need to trim down timelines. He intensely dislikes the EEA option and continuously spouts vacuous propaganda against it, so I suppose I'm not missing much.  

I should here establish that I know nothing about the expenses situation. I find the whole thing very confusing and I am disheartened by watching fuel added to the fires burning inside those desperate to stop Brexit. I worked on social media channels and did not collaborate with Outreach - the department which oversaw the running of our associated sister campaigns. I'm not going to libel or throw baseless accusations around. This is a matter for the Electoral Commission and it's best to stay out of criminal investigations. Ultimately the issue is none of my business. 

Given how atomised the Vote Leave campaign was in terms of the delegation of responsibilities and general interaction between departments, I was never likely to have been told about anything related to our donations. My impression was always that, broadly speaking, people kept themselves to themselves. The minutiae of campaign policy was discussed in private meetings, not openly in the office. I suspect this is a uniform characteristic of modern PR and social media-sensitive political campaigns, so journalists reading needn't be too sceptical. 

Where I do have some interest in the speculation surrounding Darren is the snobbish mentioning of his degree - in fashion design - in order to put the boot in and further belittle him. Quite often the phrase 'fashion student' is adopted with subtle, mocking undertones. Surely the holier than thou commentators over at Buzzfeed and The Guardian ought to know better than to play the man. Especially when that man is down as it is. This interests me because I relate to it. 

Being at the centre of a media shit storm is not fun at all. I have one experience of it, albeit for something less politically significant. A couple of months ago I wrote what I considered to be a wholly innocent blog post which ended up going viral and resulting in quite a few lost friends and a fair amount of publicity. It was my first experience being caught up in such a frenzy and, as I explained, it was not good for my mental health. It remains a useful source of caution and reminds me that I do not need to be in the public arena for the sake of it. 

The phrase 'intern' was used on a number of occasions to describe me. Not especially hurtful and factually untrue, of course, but the goal remained the same: he's young, let's use it to demean and discredit him. This is the tactic we see employed against Mr Grimes and it should act as a reminder to young people who dip in and out of the public domain that there does exist a certain air of bitterness and snobbery in and amongst sectors of the public and chattering classes.

When I was on the BBC with Huw Edwards back in September, I was bombarded with tweets afterwards condemning the state broadcaster's decision to have a 'blogger' on that 'looked about 18'. I'm 22 on Monday, so there may be a compliment in there somewhere. It does not just happen to me. Various other friends of mine of the same generation lucky enough to be handed occasional TV or radio spots, face similar levels of condescension. 

I have always thought it best to shake up the representation in the British media, so I tend to take the view that introducing young blood is a positive. Certainly a large number of producers and journalists at major media outlets seem to agree with me. It's nice, I rather think. Age should not matter as much as ideas and information matter. And routinely do we see much older figures grace the airwaves, often vastly inadequate and some outright liars. 

A degree in fashion design simply reflects Darren's interests at the time of study. Similarly, my Bachelor's has nothing to do with politics. When I left school I wanted to be a football reporter. I had no clue of politics and certainly no burning passion for it. My main concern was pursuing a course of action I saw as being right at the time. Human beings make choices based on their subjective circumstances. For Mr Grimes this principle is no different, and those who attempt to utilise this snobbery ought to remember that. 

For what it's worth, I don't think much of Darren's political commentary. His analyses of withdrawal issues often succumbs to lazy, conventional wisdom. His critiques of the EFTA position are tiresome canards and he has repeatedly demonstrated a complete lack of conceptual understanding of the very issues he has been given authority to speak about. Most notably, he still doesn't understand the scope of the Customs Union and doesn't well grasp the vacuousness of claiming Brexit will give us regulatory sovereignty. 

Here, for instance, from 0:44 to 1:03, he mistakenly assumes that the Customs Union is the mechanism which prevents Britain from signing its own trade deals, despite this being down to the Common Commercial Policy (as I have told him twice over Twitter, providing treaty evidence each time), and also implies that leaving the Single Market gives us control over our regulatory regime. This ignores the fact that regulation has been globalised and technical standards are mostly passed down to nation states by international forums like UNECE, CODEX and the ISO. 

Communicating these issues, I will grant him, is difficult and nobody can be expected to know everything. It is especially hard when pressured and nervous on the radio, but his comments do not reflect nervousness. They reflect ignorance. I respond in kind to his claims with reason and facts, not childish comments about his choice of degree. A base level of respect is a necessary prerequisite in order for anybody in political discussion to actually listen to you. 

I recognise that we are all prone to errors of this kind and so I give him the benefit of the doubt. I make mistakes all the time, but learn from them very quickly. I hope he isn't found guilty of anything by the Electoral Commission and sees his reputation tarnished beyond repair. He will, though, need to strengthen his comprehension of various facets of the Brexit debate if he is to be taken seriously. Ultimately this will be his best response to the latte drinkers at trendy news sites intent on degrading his political legitimacy. 

1 comment:

  1. “A base level of respect is a necessary prerequisite in order for anybody in political discussion to actually listen”

    That depends on the nature of the discussion and what you want to get out of it. If you want to persuade the person you are talking to that a certain proposition is correct then you do need to show them some courtesy or they will stop listening.

    But when politicians, pundits and the representatives of various interest groups engage in political discussions in the media they are not really trying to persuade each other of anything. They are trying to gain votes or public support for a particular position so their remarks are aimed at the listeners/viewers rather than anybody in the studio. But there are many different ways to get people on your side. It can be done by appeals to reason, appeals to emotion and identity, appeals to self-interest, distorting the facts, outright lies and discrediting the other side with personal attacks. The reality of electoral politics is that rational argument, respect for the opponent and factual accuracy are all just tactics. They are used when they are likely to be effective and ignored when they are not.

    Therefore, when you enter a political debate you must always consider what goals the other participants will have and what tactics they are likely to employ in pursuit of them. The ones who are only looking to gain support for their own side will not feel any obligation to confine themselves to evidence and logic, or even to debate the issues in good faith. Some of them will use spoiling tactics to prevent any discussion of points that are harmful to their side.

    So, you must also have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and what tactics will move the discussion in that direction. Sometimes that will be as simple as repeating a particular fact that you want the audience to remember. Winning the debate is not the same thing as proving a proposition and it is not always necessary to do either.