Chris White writes: Hodge’s troubling amnesia

Margaret Hodge was on the Today programme yesterday morning on behalf of the Public Accounts Committee. She lambasted the Government for its policies on the widening of the M25. Money had been wasted, we were told, because the option of using the hard shoulder had not been pursued. Moreover a shocking £80 million had been spent on consultants. She was also disobliging about PFI.

Many may agree with this. But what was not said was ‘Which Government?’ Ms Hodge carefully said ‘They’ at all times. What she meant of course was ‘We’. It was the Labour Government of which she was a member that made these dreadful decisions.

This is a classic example of what may be termed the Politics of Amnesia. We all expect time to be a great healer. It was not surprising, for instance, that the illegality of the Iraq war should have faded as a factor in the 2010 election despite having been potent five years earlier. People are remarkably forgiving of their politicians even while claiming to be cynical and disillusioned.

But the Hodge episode is a new phenomenon – denying responsibility for very recent acts and policies which are on the record as yours, in the confident hope that no-one will notice.

There are other examples: the debt crisis is portrayed as entirely a world phenomenon, despite the fact that the UK deficit was worse than most other countries and despite the fact that Darling’s growth forecasts were criticised at the time for being wildly overoptimistic (we now know that Brown – and presumably Balls – was behind this disastrous manipulation).

Likewise, it was Labour who instituted Lord Browne’s review of Higher Education and it was Labour who first introduced tuition fees – but without the mass demonstrations now organised by its student arm, the NUS. And Labour was planning to end the Education Maintenance Allowance.

But how do they get away with it? Partially it is unforced errors by the Coalition. If you are going to turn tuition fees into what is effect a graduate tax then say so and reap the plaudits for a much improved policy.

The rest lies with the media. We don’t expect most papers to love us (although the now ridiculous Guardian is perhaps the most disappointing in its partisan coverage). But we do expect the BBC to be a bit better.

In the morning’s programme, there was no challenge to Ms Hodge over her government’s failings. No questions about hypocrisy.

But perhaps that is not surprising from an organisation which has decided to back the No to AV campaign by ordering its journalists not to talk of electoral ‘reform’.

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6 Comments

  • This would be a perfect article were it not for the casual comment about the graduate tax.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 9th Feb '11 - 10:20am

    I don’t think it is hypocrisy to (eventually) accept your own Government’s failings – I would call it honesty.

  • Casual comments are perfectly reasonable if they’re accurate. Which, in this case, it is.

  • 🙂 I don’t think that it is accurate which was the point I was making Tom, but yes, no doubt there is a discussion to be had on a different thread, I just couldn’t let Chris get away with it…

    @toryboysnevergrowup – the point is she was not accepting her Government’s failings, she was trying to imply that the failings were of the current Government which is not accurate in this specific case. Hence the article. Otherwise you are right, there is nothing wrong with accepting your Government’s failings.

  • I saw a shortened clip of the interview and was astonished at the language. Anyone listening would have thought that she was criticising the coalition not her own party from the way she spoke. And I think it was disgusting that at no point in the piece I saw did the reporter challenge Ms Hodge on the fact that this shocking waste of money happened under her parties watch!

    I did not see the whole interview but I doubt many did, most would have seen the clip I saw, so if the reporter did challenge her then the editing was shameful.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Feb '11 - 12:47pm

    Indeed, I remember arguing against the use of PFI when I was Leader of the Opposition in a Labour-run council which was regarded as “flagship New Labour”, and their reply to me was that I was basically an ignorant fool, a dinosaur who did not realise the “private sector know-how” brought in by PFI was a wonderful idea which would make things so much more efficient and better. PFI was treated as if it were “free money”, Labour councillors said to me “look, they are throwing this money at us, how could you possibly object to that?”.

    To me the idea seemed daft from the inception, tying the council into a long-term arrangements which might seem good at the time but I was sure would not do so a few years later with still with many years of the agreement left to go. I remember how the senior councillors and officers belittled me for making that point. It is so difficult to stand up and say something is wrong when everyone else is saying how right it is and how it is the way forward. If you are the leader of a small party, working with more experienced people from a larger and more established party, as I was in LB Lewisham (my policy was always “constructive opposition” so I didn’t oppose for the sake of it, rather I regarded my position as one of making constructive criticism , it is so hard to stand your ground and avoid being sucked in by them.

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