Damage by dilution

Thoughts on #piggate

The twitterati hadn’t even reached their second earl grey of the morning and there were already several hashtags jockeying for pole position in the ‘Cameron gets intimate with a pig’ trendathon. Eventually #piggate was the chosen rallying cry of the thousands who have nothing better to do on Monday morning than pass off old Charlie Brooker jokes as political satire. The injustice, they wailed, that the BBC doesn’t knock the migrant crisis off the top slot for an unconfirmed 20 year old smear against someone who looks like David Cameron. For some, the free press isn’t cheap enough.

Piggate doesn’t tell us much about Cameron or anything interesting about the tendency of crowds to enjoy ridiculing the powerful. Rather, the ferocity of the story to spread, despite legally queasy silence from a number of national papers and our public broadcaster, demonstrates the power of trending gossip to drown out the official message.

We saw this last week with the dummied-up outrage at Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to join in with the national anthem at a WW2 memorial ceremony. Any cursory view of the crowd would show that there were plenty of others –no doubt for reasons as self-conscious as political- who were also shy singers. But it was Corbyn’s closed trap that caused mouths to froth. The noise that was generated ensured that anything substantial that the new Labour leader wanted to talk about –the trade union bill, reforming PMQs- was virtually lost.

It is the government’s turn for damage by dilution. Big plans on the future of nuclear power were sidelined in favour of discussion of how best Downing Street should not respond to a story it doesn’t accept. The joke, of course, is ultimately on us; living in a democracy it is sad when rubbish collects and we can’t make out the world around us. It could be that one day the decision to underwrite billions of a Chinese state investment in British nuclear power turns out to be a catastrophic error. When asked by our grandchildren what we were doing when the UK signed away its energy sovereignty will we be honest enough to admit that we were retweeting pictures of David Cameron 69ing miss Piggy?

Gerard Corvin

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