Monday, 11 April 2011

Why are right-wingers such lousy media performers - except in the US?

Fox's Bill O'Reilly
I’m returning to a point I raised in the Comments section of a recent post,namely why, when it comes to the UK, is the Devil (i.e. the Left) able to field the most articulate spokesmen? As I pointed out, excellent writers such as Charles Moore, James Delingpole and Roger Scruton, when faced with jaw-droppingly stupid representatives of the liberal politico-media elite, tend to start umming and erring and missing obvious debating points rather than blasting the crap (and there’s an awful lot of it) out of the fat, smug leftie fish swimming around the surface of the barrel directly in front of them. 

This has worried me for years. Or, to be more accurate, it has enraged me for decades!

There are exceptions – Douglas Murray and the excellent Niall Ferguson, for instance – but on the whole the people from whom I regularly receive intellectual nourishment through the medium of the written word leave me deeply frustrated when they open their mouths. (It’s not really their fault - they’re brave to put themselves forward, and the dice are heavily loaded against them.).

This doesn’t only apply to political commentators: it’s the same when it comes to genuinely right-wing politicians. Margaret Thatcher was effective in the Commons, but not a great TV performer. Keith Joseph and Nigel Lawson didn’t cut the mustard. Norman Tebbit was slightly better – but again, his real milieu was the hustings and Parliament (I’m convinced he became an effective TV performer thanks to the leather-clad boot-boy puppet of him created by Spitting Image). John Redwood? Er... And all David Davies had to do was deliver an okay speech at a Tory conference and he’d be PM right now instead of Cameron (who’s an okay performer, but very far from being a right-winger - as one could surmise from his readiness to lie about the number of black students accepted by Oxford University last year). 

Here’s a round-up of some possible reasons for this frustrating phenomenon:

1. Right-wingers are generally more scrupulous when they argue: they tend not to lie in order to win a debate. Left-wingers don’t care what they say to win an argument – listen to that revolting blister Peter Hain or the even more repellent Ed Balls for more than 30 seconds and you realise you’re listening to people who’d swear that day was night in order to come off best in a verbal joust.

2. Right-wingers are trying to describe the world as it is, rather than painting kindergarten murals of how they’d like it to be: lefties are always doing their own version of John Lennon’s vomit-inducing supposed classic, “Imagine” (“Imagine there’s no debt crisis – it’s easy if you try”). Being tethered to reality makes it difficult to get the audience to warm to you – when one person is saying “if we do ‘x”, things will probably be slightly better than they are today”, and the other is saying “If we do ‘y’ the world will be an orgasmically wonderful place”, there’s only going to be one winner in the popularity stakes. 

3. In debate, right-wingers are slowed down by the weight of history. As my correspondent, DM, explains, left-wingers are lighter on their feet: ”It's the nimbleness of ignorance. A left-winger starts with the knowledge that history has nothing to teach us, it's all awful, especially the British Empire, and what we actually need is a new world. Only the future is certain, etc ... Left-wingers are the hares in the race, while conservatives have to travel with the whole weight of history on their back. That's a handicap, it slows you down.” The Right’s deep reverence for the past and all it can teach us can make it sound fuddy-duddy and hidebound to a barely-literate audience used to instant-solution soundbites designed to divert attention from anything remotely resembling a practical difficulty or a lesson from history.

4. Right-wingers think carefully about what they say, because they believe that their statements have a relationship to the real world. Left-wingers are only really interested in the emotional impact of their words: the only real criteria they apply to their utterances are “Does it make me feel good about myself?” and “Does it make the audience feel good about me?” The disastrous effect of any policy they’ve trumpeted doesn’t outweigh the Feel-Good Factor. For instance, the only important thing about Nick Clegg’s “fair access” policy on Higher Education and his deranged plans to prevent parents from seeking the sort of advantages for their children that he – and many other left-wing politicians – benefitted from is whether it makes him feel good when he’s talking about them: the results simply don’t matter! 

5. Right-wingers can be hypocritical, dishonest and even criminal. Left-wingers have taken this one step further: they no longer feel that the principles and policies they’re propounding apply to them. This allows your modern urban liberal to rail against private medicine and private education while making full use of both for themselves and their families (usually at our expense). Champagne socialists used to defend themselves by claiming that they wanted everyone to be able to quaff the bubbly: the new breed of socialist want no one but themselves to enjoy the benefits they demand as a publicly-funded right. This sort of breath-takingly immoral chutzpah comes in really handy when you’re trying to win an argument – don’t do as I do, do as I say!

6. Right-wingers are always singular on any TV or radio platform: left-wingers are always plural. This means that our hero generally has to face a gang of assailants attacking him from all sides (invariably including the person chairing the panel). As soon as one leftie has landed a blow, another one nips round the back to deliver a kidney punch while the third knees the Nazi in the knackers. Contrariwise, when our rightie stops umming and erring long enough to get in a punch, another panellist trips them up, allowing their fellow-liberal enough time to recover and launch a counter-attack. (When there’s a live audience, the left:right ratio is usually 99:1 or thereabouts).

So what’s the answer? As long as the UK retains broadcasting rules which allow the left to control all political debate on TV behind a smokescreen of impartiality, nothing will change. Ofcom, which is supposed to administer these rules even-handedly, is a publicly-funded organisation, which means it is institutionally left-wing. As long as TV executives and programme-makers remain overwhelmingly liberal – which they will – programmes likeQuestion Time and Newsnight will get away with setting up right-wing guests as barking-mad, carpet-chewing, fascist Aunt Sallies. 

And that’s why, apart from Fox News – where long-time programme host Bill O’Reilly (“the spin stops here” - see illustration above) shows just how good a right-winger can be on TV when his cuffs are removed – I prefer my political debate in written form these days.


  1. Richard Littlejohn. Peter Hitchens. David Starkey…I’m not sure the right does that badly when it comes to spokesmen.

    Talking of Imagine…Peter Tatchell chose it on Radio Four on Friday or Saturday to analyse. He said he didn’t understand why the world couldn’t be that way. His other choice was Joan Baez singing We shall Overcome. I had to go for a lie down afterwards.
    Sunday, April 24, 2011 - 10:55 PM

  2. I’ve just tracked down the Tatchell item on iPlayer, and I’m also going to have to go for a lie-down!

    And yes, I may have been a bit hasty trashing the performance of right-wingers in general. I suppose it’s really that I’m disappointed with my favourite writers for not performing as well as they should.
    Monday, April 25, 2011 - 01:06 PM