Monday 27 April 2009

Dan Hannan: dazed and confused

We promised on Saturday to bring you Dan Hannan's thoughts on Iceland's left landslide.

Here they are.

He thinks they will come as a surprise to us, he's said exactly what I predicted on Saturday: that he will now be forging new alliances with the Eurosceptic Left-Greens. Indeed, this blog noted the EU Observer report that a majority of voters were opposed to membership, and predicted that the real argument over the EU would not begin.

It must be a crushing blow when the one country which was pursuing Hannanism so vigorously swings so far left, so we must forgive him for being dazed and confused.

Strangely, Hannan seems particularly keen to tell his readers that he can never quite tell apart Sunder Katwala (who has been GenSec of the Fabians for five years, and blogs here at Next Left) from Sunny Hundal (who runs Liberal Conspiracy).

He thinks we are interchangeable, and compares us to Ant and Dec.

He knows he was on TV with me, but now pretends it was Sunny. (Slightly strange: Dan and I spent over an hour together as we were doing Question Time Extra ahead of the London elections: I found him good company, and indeed learnt a good deal from his analysis of who can really be trusted on Euroscepticism in the Tory party).

Is this funny?

As far as I can tell, the humour depends on a 'don't these chaps have funny names' piece of side-splitting hilarity, or may be a nostalgic attempt to revive the sadly neglected 'why is it so hard to tell Asian people apart' humour that many people thought was getting a bit stale back in the early '80s when I was at school.

Grow up Dan. Its 2009. No doubt, Hannan will stress that his motives are benign, but its at the puerile end of schoolboy humour at best.

Though I realise its just a distraction technique to move us on from the great Hannan's advocacy of the Icelandic economic miracle. (On the radio recently, again with me, he was keen to stress how irrelevant Iceland's collapse was to his critique of Gordon Brown).

I've been warm about David Cameron's efforts to get his party into the modern world, so that that is one of the ways that we do manage to tell Dan and Dave apart over here on Next Left.

Though if Hannan gets his own way on policy, that will get more difficult.


Sunder Katwala said...

There are several responses to this in a longish thread at Liberal Conspiracy.

Anybody who - unlike me - is aware of what the Pinkie and the Brain cartoon is may enjoy Laurie Penny's analogy of Sunny Hundal and myself.

The Independent diary also mentions it.

Sunder Katwala said...

Several LC commenters challenged Sunny Hundal's post, and his headline "Sometimes I can't tell brown people apart either". I have posted this there.

Can I just come back on those who think there was nothing to challenge or question at all here. I think that’s wrong, though nor do I think it is the biggest thing in the world.

If you want to deconstruct what he writes, I think it becomes quite clear why it is legitimate to be mildly offended by it, though it was doubtless intended as a bit of rib-poking. (And I have certainly been winding Hannan up - though over what he has written and said, rather than, eg his posh background).

1. It starts as a gag about names

“They are called, confusingly, Sunder and Sunny”.

Maybe Hannan or somebody else would write “they are called, confusingly, Daniel and David”. (It might also be that the confusion and the humour he intends the audience to find depend on the sense that these are confusing names to remember. There is quite a tradition of this too, though a diminishing one).

2. But that wasn’t the objection. A number of people suggest that the reference to Ant and Dec shows that Sunny’s interpretation can’t be right.

But I would disagree with that.

“as with Ant and Dec, I’ve never been entirely clear on which is which. I once appeared on the BBC with Sunny (or possibly Sunder), and he seemed a very nice fellow”.

The Ant and Dec reference turns it from something about similar NAMES to a SIGHT/VISUAL gag - so that when Hannan appears on TV with me (and spends an hour chatting while watching Question Time) he can pretend it was probably Sunny, or maybe not.

So it is definitely now a joke which echoes and resonates with the [well established] genre of “they all look the same to me”. If that is accidental, it is very clumsy. (And he is talking about two people who look very unalike).

(Indeed, it might well be that the Ant and Dec reference may well even be deliberately in there to innoculate against this interpretation, which some have taken it to do, though in fact it does the opposite if you think about it. I think that is possible because I suspect the author may be aware he is being mildly transgressive in a giggly schoolboy way - he is doubtless proud to be anti-PC - but he may want to signal too that he isn’t crossing the line. If that were right, he’s dug himself in, perhaps unintentionally)

3. Hannan wishes to be dismissive of myself and Sunny. In order to make the joke about our interchangeability work, he can not identify us properly by using our surnames [names], nor can he remember who he has met or been on TV with [visual].

Both of those are a very clumsy way to be dismissive of us as lefties, or to say we write similar things about his deregulatory passions. (This rudeness is of course a pose and in person he has heightenedly good manners).

I am confident that he is not a racist; I was accusing him of being juvenile and puerile. I think it is a deliberate bit of schoolboy giggling, and I think that the ambiguity is part of the giggling, while trying not to cross a line he shouldn’t.

So yes, the joke was “just a joke”, but it was an ill-judged one. It was mildly offensive to those it was about, and not I think unreasonably so.

On the whole I think it is the sort of thing Old Boris might have written to be casually funny, and that New Boris would steer miles clear of for good reasons. (I have never written about those Boris columns and would not attack him for them: they weren’t racist. they were playing with caricatures and stereotypes. But I think part of the point was to titilate a readership to show that he could be mildly transgressive and use terms that are anti and non-PC in a way that he could defend. His problem was that comedic commentary and being a politician are different, though I don;t think attacking him by taking them out of context was fair). But would he repeat the trick now as a politician? Of course not.