No argument can fail to be enhanced by an Orwell quote. That's why he's become the authority of first resort for people who don't know what they're talking aboutby Alastair Harper / May 10, 2010 / Leave a comment
No-one, ultimately, had a clue about the election. The pollsters, the politicians, the pundits got it wrong. Even the bookies, who are always meant to be right, having a financial interest in being so, were wrong. No-one predicted the result we got or understands it now we’ve got it. Why did people vote this way here, that way there? Why did the Lib Dems lose seats? Who benefits most from a Tory deal? No idea.
Amid all this confusion, spare a thought for the poor political columnists, the people who have to pretend that they can still explain it all in 600 words. What on earth can they write? When a political journalist isn’t sure of their ground, the first rule is to keep things portentous, but vague. Tell the party leaders what they should be doing to make a success of this election. Just don’t say it’s what they will do. The second: when you do come down strongly on someone’s side, refer to a higher authority to give yourself the requisite gravitas. Someone whose authority will not be questioned – someone who radiates an indefinable but unimpeachable cachet. In America, if it’s not God, it’s the Founding Fathers. Over here, it’s Orwell.
Many journalists, moonlighting as clairvoyants, are able to reveal exactly what Orwell would think about any contemporary political question. In the last month alone we’ve learned how Orwell “foresaw our treatment of Sharon Shoesmith” (The Independent), that this election represented “a campaign that Orwell would recognise” (The Indie again), or how Orwell, an old Etonian just like Cameron, wouldn’t mind a bit of fagging (The Daily Telegraph).
If not giving us updates on Orwell’s spectral Twitter feed, then writers are letting us in on the secrets of the “real Orwell” (© The Times, The Scotsman and The Herald, all 2010), as if we’ve been making do with the beta version for the last 70 years. Another Times article is happy to set us straight about how “people invoke George Orwell … wrongly as universal patron saint and defender of the poor.” The fools! Thankfully, the columnist is able to explain to us that Orwell disliked the “benefit cheats” he met in Wigan, despite the non-existence of any real welfare state for them to cheat in the 1930s.
Crudely put, George Orwell is anyone’s bitch. Whatever the topic, whatever the political position, he can be wheeled out…