Friday, March 21, 2014

Why should "Teenage mistakes" matter in politics?

Recently, the BBC announced that Duncan Weldon would be Newsnight’s new Economics Correspondent. Naturally I was delighted. I known Duncan since he was eighteen, and this is a job which he’ll be brilliant at. A former hedge fund manager, economist, and political adviser, he’s shown that he knows how to take difficult and incomprehensible economic policy issues and communicate them in a clear and accessible way, winning praise across the political spectrum. More importantly, Duncan started his journalistic career right here at this very blog , demolishing the nonsense about teh evils of Gordon Brown selling off our gold!!! It is a very encouraging precedent for aspiring journalists to start off writing for me and end up on the telly reporting for the BBC. But when Duncan was appointed, I also knew what would happen next. And sure enough, someone has dug up an article which he wrote when he was nineteen about something stupid he did when he was sixteen, all as part of the vicious political ‘game’ of politicos who were at Oxford together and who have risen through the political and media ranks since, all trying to destroy their political opponents by any means however cynical or trivial. He’s explained what happened on his own blog - , and to describe it as a storm in a teacup is to do a disservice to weatherbeaten crockery. The real story here isn’t ‘teenager does something stupid’. It’s the extent to which politics and the media is a closed circle where what people did at university more than a decade ago is fair game to be used against them, because it is such a closed and elite circle where what someone wrote in Cherwell student newspaper is something that still matters. Some of the people shopping this story around the papers and feigning outrage at youthful flirtations with the far right will have been at the OUCA sing songs where they sung songs such as ‘Dashing through the Reich’ (if you don’t know what OUCA is, then trust me, you really really aren’t missing much). A lot of the coverage of politics in national newspapers isn’t actually for the benefit of their readers, but is code for different sets of politicos to attack each other, to the bemusement of anyone outside the bubble. I always hoped that some of the brilliant people who I knew at Oxford and who are still good friends, such as Duncan, would go on to fulfil their potential and make full use of their skills and talents, as indeed they have. But I also assumed that they would be a few alongside a much greater number of exceptional and talented people from all backgrounds and walks of life. Instead, most of the talented people w are shut out from politics and the media and the game of politics rages on. That is why Duncan is being attacked today, and why at some point soon the equivalent will happen with some Tory rising star who today is enthusiastically sticking the boot in while secretly hoping that their turn to take a public beating won’t come. Really and truly, not just in this case but for political allies and enemies alike, this kind of stupidity and fake outrage about what people do when they are teenagers needs to stop.