Monday 3 January 2022

The Tyranny of Cranks

 Happy New Year.

I want to start this blog with a minor example of my wider argument. Although it is a minor example it is one to which I will return. It is about the television biography of Walter Smith which was shown on the BBC a few days back. .

Walter Smith was one of an increasingly small number of working class Scots who successfully managed major football clubs at the highest level. Busby, Shankly, Stein, the too easily forgotten George Graham, and, of course, Sir Alex. We will not see their likes again. Smith died on the 26th of October last year and it was an entirely appropriate thing for his life to be celebrated at the New Year.

But the New Year is, in truth, two days. Hogmanay and Ne'erday. And his biography wasn't shown on either day but rather on 30th December, despite there being a very obvious slot, nine to ten PM on the 31st, when when we were treated instead to an ersatz Masterchef episode. 

Now why would that be? Because Smith was overwhelmingly associated with one football club, Rangers, and marking his life in such a prime time slot would have have been loudly protested by a fringe element of their rivals, Celtic. I emphasise the fringe element, but they would have been very loud in their protests that this was an "outrageous" insult to a different tradition (for in truth Rangers and Celtic are "more than football clubs). In this they would not have spoken for anything like the majority of "Celtic minded" people but they would have claimed to do so. And there would have been a confected social media row. And the opposite tradition would have weighed in, equally vociferously. So somebody at the BBC decide they would head this off by showing the film in a less "controversial" spot. That they would submit to the tyranny of cranks. 

And what else have I seen over the holiday? Well I saw the Harry Potter reunion film. It's very good and, towards the end, very moving. But if ever there was Hamlet without the Prince, this was it. For J,K. Rowling did not appear except briefly in some archive footing. We had the contemporary recollections of almost all the (surviving) major character actors, of the films' directors and producers and of course of Harry, Hermione and Ron. They have real world names which I can probably, with a bit of effort, recall. But they are not famous for their real names..Wwhat we didn't have was the woman who thought the whole thing up. Who made the former groups very rich and the latter group very famous (and rich as well into the bargain). 

Why? Because Rowling had expressed a view on the gender recognition debate with which a small,  though this time cubed in their intensity, number of people object. . A view that while people can live their lives how they want, that can't be on the basis of a small group of people, 50% of whom are, as part of their own argument., mentally ill, asserting their "rights" at the expense of a much larger group of people, indeed a majority of people. Women.

Now this is where I want to expand briefly on what I mean is the tyranny of cranks. No matter what you think of the trans lobby, it expresses its view strongly and repeatedly, whereas most other people have other priorities. So the temptation is not to bother engaging with fanatics, leaving that to others. Particularly if it is unlikely to affect you personally. Men in day to day women's spaces, such as toilets and changing rooms, does not affect men at all, other than a small number of perverts who might see an opportunity. When it comes to refuges and prisons, thankfully, though the former are undoubtedly essential, relatively few women will ever need use of them, while the latter will only ever accommodate a small, small minority. When it comes to the idea that, one day, we might see people born male contesting women's sports and, by reason of physiological advantage, winning women's events and breaking women's records? We'd cross that bridge when we come to it. Even if by that time they were on the other side. So why bother with engaging in an argument that will only bring you abuse "Somebody else will fight this battle". So, in that spirit, why not just quietly sideline Rowling rather than stir up a lunatic fringe who will traduce you, and worse, for supposedly being her ally. All power to those who have not been prepared to go along with that in the year past and more power to their elbows in the year ahead.

Which leads me to my third example. Compulsory Covid vaccination of NHS and care staff. Now, I am in favour of that. So is the UK Government and the Labour Party. 

But, before Christmas, there was a vote on this in the House of Commons and a significant number of Labour MPs voted against. Why? Because Unite the Union was against. and Unite the Union remains an organisation to which a small but significant group of Corbynista MPs owe loyalty before that  which they owe to the Labour Party.

But why was that the policy of Unite the Union? 

Unite is not the major TU player in the NHS. That is Unison, who have a more nuanced position.. But presumably the other members of Unite hold views similar to those of the general public who are overwhelmingly in favour of compulsory vaccination of everybody, never mind just NHS staff. Insofar as I can decern from googling, Cuba, a country from which Unite seek example, if it hasn't yet got to compulsory vaccination, is certainly close to that. You can understand, if not agree, to opposition on the libertarian right but why, on the communitarian left, would you see such opposition? Because they had surrendered to the tyranny of cranks. Those activist members who had quietly, indeed enthusiastically, been vaccinated, had no appetite to debate anti vaxxers who gained their information from dubious sources on the internet, maintaining, in the face of all objective evidence, that, at best,  vaccination would  do them no good and, at worst, that it might do them actual harm. And the latter, pro vaccination,  group also assumed that whatever the views of Unite the Union compulsory vaccination of NHS staff would become Government policy anyway. In which view they were thankfully correct. But in the meantime they had nonetheless surrendered to the tyranny of cranks.

And that brings me to my final example. Insofar as it impinges immediately on everyday life, the most important.

Domestic gas prices are imminently going through the roof. Choosing about heating or eating is not an empty slogan, it will be a reality not just for poor people but even for not so poor people over the next six months. Because we import the vast majority of our gas and the wholesale cost of that imported gas has, for various reasons, gone through the roof. 

Yet all of this is completely unnecessary. Domestic gas prices here are FIFTEEN times more expensive here than in the USA. Why? Because they frack and we don't. Because, on that matter, we have once again surrendered to the tyranny of cranks. 

I have literally no idea why. Those who initially opposed fracking here were a combination of anti-science loons and nimbyers. But they realised these were not winning arguments. So they settled on three. That fracking might compromise the water table, that it might cause earthquakes and that it would encourage us to rely more on fossil fuels. That was maybe fifteen years ago. Since which time, in the USA, admittedly with others in office but mainly under two Democratic, environmentally conscious Presidents, the Americans have conducted the largest of control experiments. Has anything come of these concerns? Is the water table compromised? Have there been earthquakes? Are they more reliant on fossil fuels? all three. 

So what is the argument now? That we shouldn't be using fossil fuels at all or, at least, to discourage that, only at huge expense. Easy to assert if you are a middle class tosser who can quietly pay whatever required.  Not so attractive if you a low paid single parent trying to keep your kids warm in the depths of Winter. And anyway, we can't stop using fossil fuels immediately. It is wholly impractical. We can start, indeed have started, down that route and that is entirely a good thing but why not use domestically available fuel in the interim? It would be much cheaper and would create jobs here. If ever there was a tyranny of cranks, this is it.

But I want to finish where I started: Walter Smith. In many ways his biography was a standard football one, "He memorably won this and nearly won that." But there was one very clear exception. He carried the coffin at Tommy Burns funeral. For those few of you who do not follow football, Tommy Burns was a player at and then manager of Celtic. And a devout Catholic. Walter Smith could not have been more the opposite. But they worked together in the Scotland management team and became personal friends. Burns died tragically young and on his death his widow asked if Smith would help carry his to the church.  Now this was a big thing in the west of Scotland. The manager of Rangers, as he then was, carrying a coffin in to a Catholic Chapel. And a lunatic fringe of the Rangers support would undoubtedly take issue with this, And not disguise their views, 

But Smith (and Ally McCoist beside him) did not hesitate. For they realised that for progress to be made, you needed to stand up to the tyranny of cranks.

Let that be for all of us our motto this new year,