Deputy not dogged for barking up wrong tree

LEP Columnist Barry Freeman
LEP Columnist Barry Freeman
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Nick Clegg is a lucky cuss. Lucky to inhabit a culture so lost in its own myths and institutions as to have apparently lost ability to think critically of same.

Three weeks ago today the Deputy Prime Minister blurted a line which should haunt the rest of his political career. A thick schtick with which he should be beaten, zealously, forever, in honour of his vapidity. He would not be the first. From Cantona’s sardines to Donald Rumsfeld not knowing what he didn’t not know, it is common for public figures to offer comments, observations or interpretations which henceforth damn them in the common mind. Often unfairly, the examples cited above being obvious examples. Firstly, everyone knew exactly what Cantona meant. But because he chose to express himself through whimsical metaphor rather than the lumpen cliche our snooty media expects from footballers, they instantly and ever since branded it pretentious (no greater crime in Britain) gobbledygook. Secondly, anyone claiming an open mind who finds quarrel with Rumsfeld’s “there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know” actually proves themselves closed to reason. Mocked from utterance on, he will wear this line about his neck for all time; an albatross for a Modern Mariner!

Yet objective thought reveals he articulated a perfectly valid philosophical viewpoint. One first advanced by 14th century Persian philosopher-poet Ibn Yabin (as Doctor of Political Science and Princeton scholar Rumsfeld likely knew well). Not having it? Okay, applied in practical terms to your own experience, consider those things you have come to understand about various complex aspects of life which, in youth, you grouped loosely under the heading of ‘getting old’ and paid no further mind? Can life’s headlong chase around learning curves which intersect and overlap be fairly described as a journey of ‘known (we eventually know to expect something) unknowns (but never have an idea exactly what)’? I’d say. So lay off Rummy! Or at least, focus on the ruthless warmongery rather than misinterpreting a rare crumb of wisdom.

Speaking of crumbs, this was the only polite response to Clegg’s clanger during January’s Commons debate on changes to the laws of royal succession. A sage (ie fit for stuffing somewhere due to get roasted) contribution which would raise a laugh if burbled by a child, let alone a grown man in a suit. “The current rules of succession,” he gravely intoned, “belong to a bygone era.” Widely reported. But given low priority, unremarked upon. For all the world as if this were a reasonable thing for a cognisant adult to say, rather than an insight comparable to ‘Queen wears shiny metal hat we call crown’.

Yet Clegg walks away. Why? Not because his drivel was missed. Worse. Because it chimes with a wider idiocy. Namely the now popular myth that an archaic institution like the monarchy can ever be made compatible with modernity. Lucky old him.