‘In the Public Interest’? Yeah, right.
A motley crew of left-wingers is using the fallout from recent scandals to grab a bit of influence for themselves.
Taking advantage of Hackgate and the banking and MPs expenses crises, a section of liberal thinkers is vying for greater influence by launching a campaign against the straw man they dub the ‘feral elite’. Worst of all, they are doing it under the façade that they are representing the interests of the public, who it’s clear they hold in contempt.
They may call their campaign In the Public Interest. They may be calling for ‘a new jury of people to put the public interest first’. But it’s evident from the outset that In the Public Interest supporters have no interest in reflecting what the public is actually interested in. Because, surely, if you were going to randomly select a panel of 1,000 members of the public to act as a ‘jury’ of what’s in the public interest, the first, most glaringly obvious thing you would do is ask them what social and political issues concern them?
That’s far from obvious to this campaign, established by the left-wing pressure group Compass. After all, they already know what’s in the public’s interest. How could the issues that most concern the public be anything other than those In the Public Interest has already determined the public jury will examine? These are media ownership, the role of the financial sector in the crash, the selection and accountability of MPs and policing. Surely such a choice is self-evident given, in the words of the campaign’s founders, the ‘waves of extraordinary public horror’ in reaction to Hackgate and other incidents?
Far from it. In reality, there was no such collective sense of horror among the public after Hackgate. As Frank Furedi has observed previously on spiked, it was instead confined to a ‘narrow stratum’ of British society: ‘People in the pub or on the streets are not having animated debates about the News of the World’s heinous behaviour. Rather it is the Twitterati and those most directly influenced by the cultural elite and its lifestyle and identity who are emotionally drawn to the anti-Murdoch crusade.’
The same can broadly be said about the MPs’ expenses scandal and the financial crash, neither of which invoked the public outcry opportunist members of the media and political classes often claim it did. And, following the knockout blow the public gave to the electoral-reform lobby in the referendum on the Alternative Vote earlier in the year, how ‘selection of MPs’ is seen to be a burning issue among the populace is simply baffling. ‘Policing’ is simply added to the list without explanation, as if this was self-evident.
Not wanting to leave anything to the public to decide in this proposed jury, In the Public Interest has even helpfully pinpointed the cause of all this ‘horror’ the public are experiencing, something they dub the ‘feral elite’: the ‘politicians, bankers and media moguls [who] share a common culture in which greed is good, everyone takes their turn at the trough, and private interest takes precedence over the public good’.
They even go so far as to dictate the outcomes of their proposed initiative, which would be ‘a new public-interest test with ethical procedures for the corporate world… and the proper treatment of national assets, services and utilities; and the outlawing of excessive concentrations of elite power in places like banking or the media’. Offending members of the ‘feral elite’ would also be mandated to attend public hearings – just like the Murdochs did in parliament - where members of the public can grill them on issues that In the Public Interest has ordained are relevant.
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Astoundingly, this clique of campaigners is actually attempting to masquerade as the public. In an open letter to the Guardian – where else? – a gaggle of luminaries claim: ‘Only we, the public, can hold power truly to account by testing whether what happens is in the public interest.’
‘We the public?’ There is not a single shred of evidence of a groundswell of public support or demand for such an initiative. In fact, if you click to see who their supporters are on their website, the only signatures you can view are figures deemed ‘influential’ enough. Either public support is lacking, or they don’t want to sully the petition with the names of insignificant, irrelevant plebs who might put their name to it. Or both.
In an article outlining their intentions, the campaign’s founders are at least a little more forthright, admitting: ‘There is an irony in that this call is coming from another group of the self-appointed and self-righteous. But in today’s celebrity world, this is the only way left to draw attention to an issue; and the issue is, letting the public decide.’
For people who claim to have faith in the public’s ability to decide, their complete disdain for the ability of the public to be able to draw attention to an issue of concern to them is simply breathtaking. The only way the interests of the feeble demos can be heard, it seems, is if a few celebrities bang the drum loud enough for the little people to be given a platform.
It is true, however, that it’s a bit ironic – and, many would likely add, more than a bit rich – that this campaign is being undertaken by ‘another group of the self-appointed and self-righteous’. What we have here is nothing more than a left-wing section of the liberal elite, emboldened to the point of atrocious arrogance, jockeying for greater power and influence as the hollowed-out condition of the right becomes apparent. They are, it should be noted, already making a complete hack job of it, managing to alienate swathes of groups and individuals who would, if the campaign had been approached differently, likely have proven enthusiastic bedfellows.
But this new self-appointed and self-righteous clique is actually far more insidious than even the most caricatured version of the coterie of ‘greed is good’, Gordon Gecko types they claim to be calling to account. Not just due to their slippery, underhand attempts to cloak their own special interests in democratic garb, but also because of their contempt for the idea that the public is capable of engaging in democratic activity without the help of a carefully-managed ‘public jury’. Individuals can make their own minds up without being spoon-fed about what their interests actually are and without having ‘celebrity’ campaigners getting their concerns heard for them.
In truth, the In the Public Interest campaign is about as far from being in the interests of the public as you can get.
Patrick Hayes is a reporter for spiked. He is producing a debate at the Battle of Ideas called The rise of the clicktivists: will the revolution be digitised? on Sunday 30 October.