When is a contradiction not a condradiction?

A few days ago, I saw a tweet by Dan Hodges – a Mail on Sunday columnist – with a link to a piece by him in The Mail+ – and I couldn’t not comment.

In his Tweet he said “The Tory leadership campaign has been long and divisive. But ultimately it’s been good for Liz Truss, and the country”.

My response was to question that last part with:

“it’s been good for the country” – past tense? Have you failed to notice that we’ve lacked a functioning government during this stupid process, and the cost of living problems faced by the country have worsened?

How exactly has it “been good for the country”?

Unexpectedly, Dan replied to my tweet, saying [the answer is] “in the piece.”

So let’s look at that. The piece itself can be found here. Having read it (so you don’t have to) the only reference I can see to his claim that the leadership election has been good for the country can be found at the end. The penultimate paragraph makes the – what I consider absurd – claim:

in the end, this eight-week contest has served [Liz Truss] – and the nation – well.
“in the end, this eight-week contest has served [Liz truss] – and the nation – well.” – Dan Hodges

But the only reasoning I can find in the entire piece is the final paragraph:

[the leadership contest] was to find the best replacement [for Johnson]. [...] The Conservative Party has done just that.
“[the leadership contest] was to find the best replacement [for Johnson]. […] The Conservative Party has done just that.” – Dan Hodges

In other words, he hasn’t made a case for Liz Truss as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister being good for the country, it just appears to be a conclusion based on the idea that she is who they have chosen.

So, back on Twitter, I replied:

You come to that conclusion in the penultimate paragraph, but the reasoning given in the last is simply the opinion that the Tories have made the right choice.

So your past tense assertion is actually an opinion/prediction.

Which I predict won’t age well. 😝

A lot less surprising than Dan’s original reply is that he hasn’t replied in this case!

What does any of that have to do with the title? In and of itself, absolutely nothing – but although I didn’t comment on it at the time, I did notice something else in the piece.

Part way down the article, he discusses the arguments that have been made about the lack of effective government during the leadership election. This begins a little over half way down, where he says:

Another fashionable argument is that the length of the leadership contest has seen a self-indulgent and callous government abandoning a desperate nation to its fate.
“Another fashionable argument is that the length of the leadership contest has seen a self-indulgent and callous government abandoning a desperate nation to its fate.” – Dan Hodges

That paragraph ends with the assertion that this argument “ignores reality”. He goes on to point out that it was Boris Johnson and ‘his cheerleaders’ who began claiming that “‘You can’t create a leadership vacuum in wartime’” – which was used as an excuse to keep him in Number 10 – and Dan points out that “Now it’s been appropriated by his most ardent critics.” The unsaid bit is “who wanted him removed from Number 10” – as if that’s contradictory.

it was Boris and his cheerleaders who first began peddling the line, ‘You can’t create a leadership vacuum in wartime’. Now it’s been appropriated by his most ardent critics.
“it was Boris and his cheerleaders who first began peddling the line, ‘You can’t create a leadership vacuum in wartime’. Now it’s been appropriated by his most ardent critics.” – Dan Hodges

Is it, though? Before I explain why it isn’t, here’s the next paragraph, where he claims there’s another, similar inconsistency with the cries – coming from the same people objecting to the leadership contest – for a general election:

Similar inconsistency can be found among those who claim the leadership election represents an intolerable distraction [and] in the next breath cry: ‘What we need is a General Election!’
“Similar inconsistency can be found among those who claim the leadership election represents an intolerable distraction [and] in the next breath cry: ‘What we need is a General Election!’” – Dan Hodges

The problem is, those critics are right. The leadership contest has created a vacuum in government at the worst possible time. When he made his questionable resignation speech, Johnson said:

I want you to know that from now until the new Prime Minister is in place, your interests will be served and the government of the country will be carried on

It was subsequently confirmed that he would remain as Prime Minister until his replacement as party leader was elected. He then popped off on a couple of jollies, so exactly the opposite of carrying on the government of the country.

Yes, there is more to the government than just him, but the current government of the UK, thanks to our broken ‘first past the post’ system, is formed by the Conservative party, many – most – of whom are slightly distracted by the leadership contest. That’s not just members of the party, but also its MPs and, yes, ministers. MPs and ministers who are being paid, by us tax payers, to look after the interests of their constituents (MPs) and both their constituents and the country as a whole (ministers).

In short, those who were critical of the leadership election on the grounds of it forming a governmental vacuum have had their criticisms entirely justified. That what they wanted was rid of Johnson, which would lead to a leadership election and thus that vacuum isn’t contradictory, because it shouldn’t have resulted in this vacuum! Governmental duties should have carried on as normal, including those of the Prime Minister.

Similarly, those want a general election – which includes me – aren’t being contradictory if they’re also critical of the vacuum, because the goal is to replace a government that, even when sitting normally and supposedly working, quite clearly isn’t.

If anything, by attempting to highlight a contradiction, Dan has created an inconsistency in his own argument.

Going back to one of the paragraphs mentioned above:

Another fashionable argument is that the length of the leadership contest has seen a self-indulgent and callous government abandoning a desperate nation to its fate.
“Another fashionable argument is that the length of the leadership contest has seen a self-indulgent and callous government abandoning a desperate nation to its fate.” – Dan Hodges

As noted, Dan says this ignores reality. He reasons this by looking at the alternatives and seems to be to be questioning whether things would be any better if someone else been put in place as an interim Prime Minister while the leadership election takes place. So, if I’m understanding him correctly, he’s acknowledging the lack of effective governance, with an argument that none of the potential stand-ins would be any better.

One of the potential stand-ins he specifically mentions is Liz Truss – the person who, by the end of the piece, he concludes is the best person the Conservative Party could have chosen for a new leader, and replacement Prime Minister.

Which is it Dan? If Truss wouldn’t have been any better as a stand-in Prime Minister than Johnson remaining in place while his replacement is found, how on Earth can you conclude she’s the best choice to replace him?

As for the argument that those asking for a general election are – in effect – asking for a lack of governance while the election takes place, I would argue that it’s better to have a lack of leadership and governance while:

  • The entire government – formed by a party that has shown itself to be acting against the interests of the country (yes, I know that’s actually a different argument) – is hopefully replaced with a better one.

Than it is to have a lack of leadership and governance while:

  • the party of government, which has shown itself to be acting against the interests of the country (see above!), holds an internal election to find out who the next contender will be in the contest to identify the worst Prime Minister ever.

Mark my words, Liz Truss will be a strong contender in that contest, and will give Boris Johnson a run for his money. Or, rather, his donors’ money.

Another supposed contradiction – one that, really, isn’t contradictory as he was suggesting – was highlighted by Dan Hodges on Twitter yesterday. He said “When the NI increase was announced the narrative was it was terribly regressive because of the impact on lower income earners. Now Truss has committed to reversing it, the narrative is that reversal is terribly regressive because of the benefit to high income earners.”

A similar point was also made today by Daniel Finkelstein, a columnist for The Times, who said, “When the national insurance hike was announced it was said to be very unfair. Yesterday Liz Truss was told that reversing it was unfair. These can’t both be true.”

In fact, both can be true – if you look at more than just the hike and reversal on their own and consider the circumstances at the relevant times.

The hike itself is unfair for lower earners because it increases the amount of money deducted from their pay packets. It may not be much at that end of the pay scale, with higher earners losing more, but every penny counts when the cost of living is rising.

On that basis, reversing it sounds good – people who are earning less are getting a small amount of their pay packets restored.

The problem with the reversal is twofold. Firstly, the original hike was instigated to bring more money in to the treasury, ostensibly to help pay for health and social care – so presumably health and social care are going to lose out if it’s reversed.

Secondly, while reversing it means restoring a small amount of money to the less well off, the cost of living is far worse now than it was when the hike was announced and pushed through. The way I see it, the problem isn’t that it’s unfair, it’s that it’s a peashooter in a tank battle. More needs to be done, but this decision seems to be to be just a way to brush off the need for it and say ‘Look, we’re helping you.’

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