Angus Take House

Worst Take of the Week: Papers Can’t SAY Anything vs Hillary on Migration

Hugo Rifkind on the "outrage engine" faces off with Hillary Clinton being like 'maybe Europe's got to stop taking in refugees actually??'

by Angus Harrison
23 November 2018, 11:42am

Hillary Clinton, maybe having a good time thinking about curbing migration in Europe (Photo by Evan El-Amin via Alamy Stock Photo)

Welcome to Angus Take House – a weekly column in which I pit two of the wildest takes the world's great thinkers have rustled up against each other. This is your one-stop shop for the meatiest verdicts and saltiest angles on the world's happenings. Go and grab a napkin – these juicy hot takes are fresh from the griddle.

TAKE 1:

Hugo Rifkind has some opinions

What’s the story? The glorious free press of the United Kingdom.
Reasonable Take: They write what they want, they write what they waaaaaant, the British commentariat, they write what they want.
Egg and Free Press Sandwich: It is getting harder and harder to spout ill informed bollocks. And that’s a problem.

If there’s one thing writing this column has taught me, it’s that there is no shortage of space for “unpopular” or “contrarian” opinions, and absolutely no shortage of idiots willing to fill that space. In fact, the continuation of this entire series has been based entirely on the reliability of journalists saying wild and awful things. Whether it’s encouraging outright fascism or defending plastic straws, pick a consensus and I’ll find you an odd little bloke prepared to disagree with it for £250.

Nevertheless, UK journalists seem intent on insisting they are some sort of endangered species, unable to sneeze without being cancelled by the thought police. The latest to offer up his thoughts was Times columnist Hugo Rifkind. Speaking at a “Mindshare Huddle” event – an evening we imagine was about as stimulating a thought-cuddle as it sounds – he called on journalists to “stick up for each other”, decrying the outrage engine that scares journalists off writing what they believe in.

He continued: “We’ve reached the stage where, as a journalist, if you publish something, the most salient response that comes back isn’t whether you’ve been right or wrong, it’s whether you’ve been approved or disapproved of… Papers will avoid tackling difficult subjects to avoid enraging parts of their readership they don’t want to enrage.”

Now, you probably don’t need me to tell you, but it isn’t actually that hard to get a reactionary opinion published in the pages of a major newspaper. In fact, you might even go as far as to say that the cycles of outrage and backlash sparked by knowingly incendiary articles are a business model for the majority of them. You might even point out that actually, ours is a climate that sees reactionary writers rise to the top of their industry.

And that’s just the bigots. More broadly, the suggestion that most columnists actually have a coherent or consistent set of convictions is a stretch. The life of an opinion-generator is a constantly changing thing, dependent on political mood, the events of the previous week, and which newspaper is paying. Rifkind himself goes on to explain he had considered writing a column against the idea of holding a second EU referendum a few weeks ago, before deciding against it because he “didn’t want to lose allies”. He has, he added, since changed his mind on the subject.

As often seems to be the case, what this really comes down to is a confusion between criticism and censorship. Write transphobic or hateful words, and expect to be described as such; change your mind every week, and expect to be taken less seriously. But until the double-team of ‘When Did Politics Get So Divided?’ and ‘Oh Jeremy Snorebin, What About the Midlands?’ pitches you all send out every week start getting rejected, I think you’re alright lads.

TAKE 2:

Hillary Clinton Guardian migration screenshot

What’s the story? Hillary Clinton, on how to defeat populism. Wait, didn’t she...
Reasonable Take: Surely the response to populism is to properly interrogate why people feel isolated and abandoned, considering recent history rather than resorting to a knee-jerk responses.
Hillary and Stilton Soup: Surely the response to populism is to say “Make America Great Again” in a posh accent.

One of the most infuriating facets of contemporary politics is the unbreakable reverence afforded politicians and commentators who’ve continually proved themselves to be out-of-touch and out of ideas. Despite the fact he hasn’t been in power for over a decade, and how consistently he’s been wrong about the fate of his old party, Tony Blair can still expect the best seat at 7.48M in the Today Show studio whenever he wants it – just as David Cameron can expect tens of thousands for after-dinner speaking, despite his most recent public speech being his own limp resignation. Now, barely two years since she lost the presidency to the baddie from Back to the Future, we are already turning to the sage words of Hillary Clinton.

In a recent conversation with the Guardian, Hillary Clinton has revealed some very big thoughts, notably that if Europe wants to save itself from the rise of right-wing populism, it needs to, yes, restrict immigration. The interview is part of a series the Guardian is running on the subject of populism – because obviously the best people to talk to about why neoliberal politics are failing are the people who championed them in the first place.

“I think Europe needs to get a handle on migration because that is what lit the flame,” she says in the interview. “I admire the very generous and compassionate approaches that were taken particularly by leaders like Angela Merkel, but I think it is fair to say Europe has done its part, and must send a very clear message – ‘we are not going to be able to continue provide refuge and support’ – because if we don’t deal with the migration issue it will continue to roil the body politic.”

Yes, that’s right. If you can’t beat them, join them but pretend you’re doing something completely different.

This shouldn’t really come as a surprise. The centre have been pushing the “legitimate concerns” button for years now, completely ignoring the global financial crash of 2008 and the imposed austerity of European governments, in favour of the vague phantom of immigrants that “ordinary working people” are so scared of. What makes Clinton’s entry to the canon so disheartening is both the nature of her sinking so nakedly to Trump’s level, and that she’s not even talking about America; she’s having a go at Europe, taking the out-of-touchness of the centre-left to new cross-continental heights.

In the vacuum of ideas that is the centre, this was the logical endpoint – Clinton even goes on to say she doesn’t know why populism “is so attractive to people” in this moment. It is genuinely a much easier flex for these people to resort to base-level anti-immigrant rhetoric than it is to admit that their brand of politics has failed. And the worst part is: it won’t win them any votes! There are already plenty of far-right rotters who are very good at being racist, they’ve got the game sealed up! Oh well, it’s not like she’s going to run again in 2020 with this sort of tosh!! Hmm? Oh.

PRIME CUT: Rifkind!! Remember folks: it’s not censorship if you keep getting paid to say it.

@a_n_g_u_s