When Iannucci says:
"The cuts aren't about economics any longer – they're about ideology. And the ideology is that a big state is bad and state interference is bad."Jefferies invites him to agree with the proposition: "So the US Tea Party agenda has been smuggled into British politics?"
And Iannucci readily does:
"Absolutely, and nobody so far is fighting against it. Take quangos. The ones they're keeping are the ones that benefit business, while cutting the arty-farty ones that cost very little and arguably earn money."I wouldn't go to the wall to defend every decision the Coalition made in its bonfire of the quangos, but there are a number of points to be made here.
The first is that Jeffries has a rather clunking interviewing style - you suspect that, deep down, he believes his readers are more interested in the views of S. Jeffries than of anyone else.
Then there is Jeffries' and Iannucci's shared lack of economic sense. How can the cuts not be be about economics "any longer" when the Coalition has only been in power for six months? And what is his alternative? Higher taxation? Higher borrowing? Sticking his fingers in his ears and humming?
Most important, though, is that this another example of a common form of Guardian thinking - what I once termed "polytoynbeeism":
You divide the world into two groups: there are sensible people like you and your readers, and there are people who hold ludicrous views. There can be no middle position.Here the proposition Jefferies and Iannucci are advancing is that there are people who agree with every last penny of spending by the last Labour government and there are people who support the Tea Party agenda. There can be no middle position.
Mark Steel has based a whole stand up and journalistic career on this trick. His every column or routine runs in essence: "So the Tories say X do they? I expect they say Y and Z too!" And everyone laughs.
They laugh because this technique is a form of political group grooming. It reminds you how generous and sensible you and your allies are, and how cruel and stupid your opponents are.
I am sure Iannucci does not really believe this. He could hardly write such subtle comedies if he did.
And this position allows no room for what I suspect is the majority position among the British people. That is that they were willing to support the higher public spending under Labour but became increasingly sceptical about the value for money it represented and impatient with the nannying side of the government's agenda.
Oh, and it also makes it impossible to account for Labour's defeat at the last general election.
Elsewhere, Jefferies gives the game away by writing:
He has another idea for the series. "We have to cast someone who is utterly thrilled to be in power, amazed to find themselves in government, but who has death in their eyes when it comes to enforcing the cuts." This sounds as though he's – please God, make it so – poised to make Nick Clegg the butt of his next satirical series.Again we see that, interesting though Iannucci is, Jeffries thinks that it his own opinions that Guardian readers will most want to hear.
And why is Nick Clegg the enemy rather than the Tories? To answer that, we need to turn to another Guardian article.
On Monday Julian Glover wrote:
British politics is a lot like the class system. You're supposed to know your place, and if you are a Liberal Democrat that place isn't meant to be breakfasting with the prime minister at Chequers. He's the first liberal leader for generations to mistake democracy for an invitation to help run the country. He's broken the code. He's slept with the wrong sort. He's even married them. And now he's being hated for it.He later added:
This mindset does not judge the coalition for its actions but condemns the fact that it exists. The fury – far beyond the scale of anything the Lib Dems expected – is rooted in a hostility to pluralism that regards Conservatism as something approaching an evil, and any Lib Dem association with it an unnatural compromise. Presumably, the only acceptable outcome would be ceaseless Labour rule.Exactly so. And it is this hostility to pluralism that leads intelligent people like Jeffries to take refuge in such absurd simplicities. You are either with him and vote Labour or you are against him and support the Tea Party.
In much the same way, Labour spent years blaming the Alliance for "letting Thatcher in" in the 1980s. As though, had the Alliance parties agreed to magically disappear, the British people would have made the absurd figure of Michael Foot prime minister.
There are other factors at work here too. The Guardian's staff has always been a battleground between Labourites, Marxists and Liberals. Jeffries is a former jazz critic of Morning Star (seriously), so we can guess which wing he lines up on.
The Liberals were clearly in the ascendant when the newspaper backed the Liberal Democrats in the last election. Since then there has been a backlash - see the absurd piece on Danny Alexander by Marina Hyde that is also in today's paper.
Economically, the Guardian relies heavily upon the public sector for readers and for advertising. It's recent retreat into ideological simplicities represent a sort of core readership strategy.
But, just as when a political party adopts a core votes strategy, this risks putting off floating readers. Or even loyal readers like me who do not work in the public sector and would rather like an adult approach to the current political situation.
Rewritten slightly after someone kindly pointed out I had attributed some of Iannucci's words to Jeffries.