Category Archives: clichés

The folly of von der Leyen

A mixture of cliché, slogan, and evasion

The president-elect of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, is quoted as saying:

The last four years have taught us that simple answers don’t take us far. All that one heard was ‘Close the borders and migration will stop’ or ‘We must save everyone on the Mediterranean.’ We have seen that the phenomenon of migration has not stopped, and that there is a limit to the ability to integrate [the migrants]. Therefore a global approach is necessary. We must invest massively in Africa to reduce the pressure to migrate. At the same time we must fight organised crime so that we ensure that the Schengen agreement [which allows free movement of people between countries party to it] can function because we protect our external borders [i.e. the EU’s borders].

Dalrymple comments:

This evades almost all the difficult questions about immigration. With a superb indifference to practicalities, von der Leyen fails to tell us how either the push or the pull that drives migration is to be lessened, apart from ‘massive investment in Africa’.

Von der Leyen, he notes,

does not tell us who is going to bankroll this massive investment. Is it to be financed via the forced contributions of European taxpayers and be administered by European bureaucrats? The history of massive aid investment on the part of Europeans in Africa has not been happy.

Dalrymple asks:

If the massive investment is not to come from government, with its almost infallible ability to turn investment into liability, who is it to come from, and for what purposes?

The answer

must be the private or corporate sector. But why is it that the private or corporate sector, supposedly ever on the search for commercial opportunity, does not already make such investments? How is it to be persuaded to do so? Is the purpose of its investment to make a profit or to reduce migration?

Dalrymple observes that cliché has

entered the very fabric of von der Leyen’s mind. Surely it must have occurred to her that it is a little late in the day for investment, however massive, to halt the pressure that has led a third or more of sub-Saharan Africans—who will soon be three times more numerous than the Europeans—to want to migrate to Europe.

Besides, he says,

it is not the poorest of the poor of Africa who arrive clandestinely in Europe; it is those who can — or whose family can — pay the air fare, giving them the chance to overstay their visa, or pay people-traffickers (often several thousand dollars) to smuggle them in. Many migrants enter under family reunification schemes inscribed in European law.

A rising standard of living in the emigration centres of sub-Saharan Africa brought about by massive investment, were it to occur (which is far from certain), would

more probably increase than decrease the migratory pressure, in so far as more people would have the means to undertake the migration.

This thought

does not in the slightest inhibit von der Leyen from using the language of the imperative—a way of thinking that might result in the compulsion of reluctant countries to pursue a futile policy at great cost. Moreover, it is very difficult to see how any effective or selective migration policy could be carried out without a closure of borders.

Dean Swift turns in his grave

Michael Foot, Dalrymple explains, was the scion of an upper-middle-class English family who became a left-wing leader of the UK’s Labour party. He was a decent man, though naïve and misguided, and

unlike most of the politicians of today he was cultivated, being a literary scholar.

He published a study of a year in Swift’s life, called The Pen and the Sword (1957). After his death, his large collection of books by or about Swift was sold. Dalrymple intended to buy a few of the items that he could (barely) afford from the bookseller’s catalogue,

but the whole collection was suddenly bought by an American university library. It was worth more than the total wealth of all but a tiny minority of his countrymen, but Foot devoted his life to bringing about the economic conditions to ensure that no one would ever again be able to assemble such a collection.

In Dr Strangelove, I Presume (1999), Foot argues for total nuclear disarmament,

a cause long dear to his heart, or mind, or some combination of the two.

The first words of the author’s preface are:

Every day when I tried to complete this book with a proper review of the latest evidence, I was interrupted by new discoveries. One of the most moving and instructive was the letter printed opposite.

The letter printed opposite was an open one from ‘Naveena’, a 12-year-old schoolgirl, to the Indian prime minister. It starts:

I am writing on behalf of all children.

Michael Foot

Dalrymple finds this

grandiose, self-important, arrogant and presumptuous, in the manner of youth of a certain kind. It irritates me.

‘Naveena’ goes on to lecture, or hector, the prime minister:

I don’t think bombs protect anybody. You don’t get power by possessing arsenals.

These statements

are highly disputable. Naveena is no little boy crying out that the emperor is naked; she reveals nothing and speaks and writes in clichés that have been uttered hundreds of millions of times, daily and for years.

What is significant, says Dalrymple,

is that a man like Foot — who had spent a lifetime studying and appreciating Swift, of all people — should have claimed to be moved by such claptrap. I suspect that he was not so much moved by ‘Naveena’ as moved by the goodness of his payment of attention to her, and anxious to demonstrate it to the world. Therein lies a sickness of our time.

Humours of an election

Mid-morning. A few days before a general election. Dalrymple and a confederate are at his mansion in one of the prettier small towns — as yet unbesmirched by the socialist planners — of the English midlands. The pair have enjoyed a large traditional English breakfast including beefsteak, washed down with pints of Burgundy (from the well-stocked cellars of Dalrymple’s château near Alès), and are now sharing a very decent bottle of port. There is a knock at the heavy oak door. Dalrymple directs a liveried footman to open it. An opposition candidate, with her unpleasing 20-year-old son in tow, present themselves at the threshold. They have come to canvass the doctor’s vote.

CANDIDATE’S SON: (mutters something incoherent and derogatory about the incumbent Member of Parliament, who is standing for re-election.)

DALRYMPLE: The Member* came out very well in the expenses scandal — he didn’t claim a penny.

CANDIDATE’S SON (assuming that the word ‘rich’ is a moral accusation): That’s because he’s a rich man.

DALRYMPLE: Is that not an argument for having only rich men in parliament? Better a parliament of rich men than one of men who enter parliament to become rich.

[Exeunt, amour propre wounded, the candidate and her son.]

DALRYMPLE (turning to his confederate and chuckling): Poor young man! I was only teasing him a little, and getting him, still a student, to exercise his mind and escape for a moment from the clichés with which that capacious instrument has probably been filled from birth.

CONFEDERATE: An oafish youth, to be sure. But what in fact is your view on the matter, doctor?

DALRYMPLE: Rich men, provided they start their political careers in their 50s at the earliest, are the best suited for political life. They are more likely to accept the rôle of servitor of their nation than master of it.

Canvassing for Votes, Hogarth, Humours of an Election series (1755), Sir John Soane’s Museum

*Dalrymple’s home when he is in England is in Bridgnorth, and his representative in the Commons is Philip Dunne, Member of Parliament for the Ludlow constituency (covering the district of South Shropshire, and the district of Bridgnorth wards of Alveley, Bridgnorth Castle, Bridgnorth East, Bridgnorth Morfe, Bridgnorth West, Broseley East, Broseley West, Claverley, Ditton Priors, Glazeley, Harrington, Highley, Much Wenlock, Morville, Stottesdon, and Worfield). Dunne is one of the 50 ‘saints’ — MPs who minimised their (taxpayer-funded) expenditure. In Dunne’s case, his parliamentary expenses were minimised to zero.

We will fight them with bromides

Theresa May: ‘enough is enough’, like a silly schoolmistress

Dalrymple notes that after the London Bridge terror attack, the insipid British prime minister Theresa May

referred to the innocence of the victims, as though there were guilty victims lurking somewhere who deserved to be mowed down or have their throats cut.

In post-Diana Britain, Dalrymple points out,

no tragedy or wickedness occurs without the police and other officials saying (as did May on this occasion), ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with the families,’ when this is most unlikely to be true and is an unctuous platitude that brings no solace.

May said on this occasion that ‘enough is enough’.

Meaning what? That a little terrorism is acceptable, as if the perpetrators were boisterous children finally being called to order after having been given leeway by the grown-ups?

She said that things would have to change,

without specifying which things. To specify would have been to invite criticism, opposition, opprobrium—and just before an election, no less. Best keep to clichés.

The cultural triumph of psychobabble

Theresa May: the little ones shall experience distress no more

The British prime minister, Dalrymple reports, has

spotted an opportunity to demonstrate to her sentimental electorate how much she cares for even the least of them by announcing that she wants to put a mental health professional, i.e. form-filler, in every school.

There is, says Dalrymple, a new social contract:

I will listen to your shallow clichés about yourself if you will listen to mine.

Her

compassion by proxy, at taxpayers’ expense, is typical of the behaviour of modern politicians, who need to show their electorates that they are not the heartless or ruthless ambitious nonentities that they might otherwise appear to be. An uncritically sentimental population is a perfect flock to be fleeced in this way, sheep for the shearing.

May’s project, Dalrymple points out,

is also typical of the process of simultaneous work creation and work avoidance that marks the modern state, a process that turns it into a trough from which many may feed.