Articles

“Wake up and smell the deficit denial”

In Uncategorized on October 22, 2010 by chr1sr0berts

Phillip Hammond
Of late, I’ve noticed the phrase “deficit deniers” being used by the Tory govt. This is another in a long line of subtle discursive tricks. This one is particularly powerful for a number of reasons. Firstly, it associates the desire to provide an alternative narrative – in the ongoing ‘debate’ regarding UK debt – with that of appeasement. Phillip Hammond played that card last night on Question Time. Secondly, it places those that attempt to mobilise these [any] alternatives firmly in a position whereby in the first instance, denial has to be disavowed before any further debate can take place. In vernacular, conversational analysis terms, one is “on the back foot” so to speak, immediately. It’s a neat trick of association, connotation and disruption.
*this is not to say that alternatives cannot be voiced, Caroline Lucas did so last night on the very same programme, but she is something of a rarity and I’d wager that the “you’re in deficit denial” lobby certainly get a larger airing/hearing.

Another repeated piece of chicanery is that “cutting the public sector” has been conflated with “Cutting the deficit” Again, a subtle trick – although of course has been the desire and dominant theme of all neo-liberal, conservative ideologues since the days of Friedrich Von Hayek and Milton Friedman – but it seems like it’s working a treat, cutting deficit and cutting public sector are now, to all intents and purposes the same thing. So we end up with vox-pops on evening news bulletins with members of the public saying “Yeah, we know the cuts are coming”; “I don’t know much about politics but I know we’ve been living beyond our means” and such like – the tortured metaphor of the good housekeeping/ good housewife invoked by George Osborne, an analogy so lame it can be dismissed and critically interrogated by an undergraduate economics student, is allowed to stand (almost) unchallenged. This is not to say that these are the only narratives – “it’s all the fault of the banks” is occasionally allowed to be heard. However, this locates blame on a (bad) practice as opposed to shedding light on a barely regulated, neo-liberal system of economic and social organisation, that tends to subordinate human need to capital interests. It’s a version of “a few bad apples” as opposed to a bad cart. Incidentally, this style of “capitalist realism” is brilliantly mapped out by the excellent Mark Fisher here: and his book is available here:

In some ways we can trace this recent debate back to the election campaign – it of course goes back farther but we’ll restrict it, in this instance to this year. During the election campaign, most, though not all politicians sought to narrow the debate. Crucially, the other key players in political communication – media organisations and the journalists therein, whether through political expediency, ideological agreement, or just plain inability to critique, allowed this discursive narrowing to take place. The upshot is that we are now in the position whereby the ruling coalition (class) are able to say “look at the mess left by the last administration” ad infinitum; and “look the cuts are essential, they’re not our fault”. With regards the first point, it’s wearing rather thin and thankfully, people in the public sphere are now beginning to tire of this narrative and explicitly stating so. With regards the second point though “look, the cuts are essential/necessary” it’s a bit more of a struggle to propose an alternative narrative and it’s a further demonstration of discourse in action. What it demonstrates is that the elite political class have managed to impose upon events their own (partial, class interest, capital based) frame through which to view the political debate. I recently wrote about political and economics journalists habits of reproducing dominant themes as “common sense” here:

So, we return to the discursive shaping of events by news and current affairs journalism. In the current economic conditions, it is a partial failure of political communication reporting, broadcasting and journalism that this crisis of capital can so easily be represented and reported as “public sector profligacy”. Perceptions of what constitutes fairness are being effectively (stage) ‘managed’ by rhetorical flourishes and discursive tricks that frame the debate(s) too tightly. In this environment, we cannot allow those that stand to gain the most set the terms of the debate….what to do, how to counter it?

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