Life is full of mysteries. Why does sour cream have a sell-by date? Why do seers never win the lottery? Why is there only one Monopolies Commission? Why did sports shops in Russia sell 500,000 baseball bats last year, but only three baseballs and one baseball glove?
Difficult as those questions are, I could venture an answer, if after long deliberation. One mystery I’ve never been able to solve is how The Guardian has acquired its reputation as a serious newspaper.
It’s not only that it’s madcap left wing, though this by itself suggests a certain degree of cerebral frivolity. It’s just that its writers are – how shall I put this politely? – rather remiss in the area of intellectual rigour and basic education.
Witness Leo Benedictus (an alias, one hopes) who the other day attempted a piece of satire aimed at UKIP. Now any student of the Swift, Thackeray, Austen, Waugh school of satire will know that it can only be effective if based on reality, however remotely.
A satirist can’t just pick up any stray thought hitchhiking down the road – some of those will end up stealing his mind long before he arrives at his destination. Satirists who don’t realise this are fools. Those who pass falsehoods as reality are knaves.
Yet it’s not necessary to choose between these two Shakespearean extremes. Benedictus’s piece Quiz: Would You Pass Ukip’s ‘Fruitcake Test’? shows it’s possible to be both.
In common with every other political party, UKIP is making its prospective candidates in the European elections answer a vetting questionnaire designed to filter out unfit candidates.
Benedictus proposes his own version of the quiz designed to pierce UKIP’s heart with the rapier of wit. Instead he bludgeons himself with the axe of ideology divorced from any recognisable reality.
He offers several questions, each with three answer options. Option 1 is The Guardian orthodoxy springing from the cloud-cuckoo-land ideology the paper espouses. Option 3 is the answer that a UKIP candidate of The Guardian’s fevered imagination would give. Option 2 is somewhere in between.
Option 3 and partly Option 2 are where satire is supposed to come in, bringing along its time-tested device of hyperbole. But satirical hyperbole is like a caricature: it works by exaggerating something real. If it exaggerates nothing but the author’s ideologically inspired silliness it’s zero multiplied by 1,000 to produce, well, zero.
Take Question 3, for example: “What measure would you prefer to use to limit immigration?” The view supposed to reflect UKIP’s philosophy is Option 3: “A 50ft electrified fence around coastline of the British Isles.” The Guardian’s philosophically and politically correct answer is Option 1: “None. Immigrants enrich British life, improve international relations and contribute growth to the economy.”
Now I probably know more UKIP members than Benedictus, yet I’ve never heard anyone express a view of which Option 3 is supposed to be a satirical hyperbole. My UKIP friends are opposed to excessive immigration, especially when it involves millions of people aggressively hostile to everything that has historically defined Britain.
They say it’s folly to believe that we can have the same country with different people – and they’re right.
The Guardian’s Option 1 confirms that the paper has no wish for Britain to remain Britain. Well, it’s certainly entitled to its own opinion. But it’s not entitled to its own facts.
These show that the only long-term growth to which massive immigration contributes is that of the welfare state. Already by 1997 only 12 percent of the arrivals from what used to be called the British Empire came for work purposes. The rest, in overwhelming numbers, have become a burden on our creaking social services.
As to improved international relations, it’s hard not to notice that in the Muslim world hostility to European, and specifically British, civilisation has grown exactly at the time when all checks on Islamic immigration have been removed.
No doubt some immigration can enrich British life. No UKIP member will argue that Henry James, Rutherford, Hayek, Wittgenstein or T.S. Eliot should have been kept out by an ‘electrified fence’. One doesn’t even hear many complaints about the 300,000 Frenchmen now living in London.
What UKIP objects to isn’t immigration but colonisation – which is the only way to describe thousands of mosques across the country, and whole cities, such as Birmingham, Leicester, Bradford, Leeds and inner London, that are 20 to 30 percent Muslim.
Nor would any normal person, especially if he’s opposed to female circumcision, be able to see exactly how the arrival of 50,000 Somalis a few years ago enriched Britain. Next year’s confidently predictable advent of hundreds of thousands of Gypsies also finds few champions among UKIP members or indeed any sane people not blinded by The Guardian’s ideology.
Or take Question 4: “If you had to lead Britain into war with any country, which one of these would you choose?”
The Guardian, supposedly clever, answer is: “Syria, reluctantly, as part of a UN-led humanitarian effort.” The UKIP answer is supposed to be “France!”
Thus the intelligent people are supposed to escalate to war precisely the policy that has turned Syria from a stable, if unpleasant, country into a blood-soaked land torn apart by civil war. Yet Nigel Farage, who speaks several European languages and is married to a German, is supposed to hate France because he doesn’t think Britain should be ruled out of Brussels.
Reluctant as I am to drag myself into it, I share UKIP’s distaste for the EU. Yet I’m writing this in France, where I spend almost half my time and where I probably have more friends than the entire editorial staff of The Guardian put together.
When the weapon of satire misses its mark, it turns into the boomerang of self-mockery. In the words of the mayor in Gogol’s Inspector General, “Whom are you laughing at? You’re laughing at yourselves!”