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Blasts from the past

Last weekend I had a nice little surprise. Guido, in his Seen Elsewhere section, linked to a piece by Carl Packman entitled Of course I Remember When Ian Hislop was Eurosceptic. I clicked on Packman’s piece, because I too remembered when Ian Hislop was very EUrosceptic indeed. In particular, I remembered an amazing diatribe which erupted from him on BBC TV’s Have I Got News For You, way back in early 2003. I recalled this Hislop eruption because I wrote a piece for Samizdata about it at the time. Hislop is now a Remoaner, but he certainly wasn’t then, as I then noted, and as Packman recalls and records. What I did not anticipate, when I began reading Packman’s piece, was that Packman would include in his piece a quote from that same Samizdata posting of mine. Very pleasing. What goes on the internet stays on the internet, provided only that someone is curating it capably, and even if it was posted way back in May 2003.

It is no big criticism of Carl Packman to say that he seems to have read that one Samizdata posting, but not any other EUro-postings here, and maybe not any other postings here at all, apart from that one. (Fair enough. I have only read this one piece of his.) And Packman seems to have got the idea that we Samizdatistas were not then at all happy about the fierceness of Hislop’s EUro-scepticism. But I for one was delighted by it, and most of our commenters on that posting, and most Samizdata writers and commenters from that time until now, have been very critical of EUrope. It was just that in that particular posting I was concentrating on what Ian Hislop had said and on why it mattered, rather than including a lot of other stuff about why I personally agreed with him, which I did, and was delighted that he had said it, which I was. Indeed, having done some digging back into my other EUro postings here from around that time, I have been surprised by how early and how vehement my personal hatred of the EU and all its works was. Trust me, there’s plenty more EUro-detestation from me in the Samizdata archives. Not everyone who has written for Samizdata hates the EU, but it seems that I have hated it from way back. What is more, this hatred, from me and from others here, might actually have had consequences.

The other thing that occurs to me about Ian Hislop’s apparent volte face over EUrope is that there is one way in which he was and is being entirely consistent. Hislop, I believe, really does believe in speaking, if not always truth exactly then at least insults, to power, unlike a lot of the people who merely say that they do. Well, now, thanks to the Brexit vote in the EUro-referendum, Brexit is a dominant political orthodoxy. And Hislop is now determined to keep the argumentative pot good and stirred about the wisdom or lack of it of that attitude.

In 2003, on the other hand, when Prime Minister Tony Blair was riding high, very few people indeed would have then have foreseen that Brexit would eventually happen. (I certainly didn’t expect it. I didn’t expect that we would be allowed a vote about it, and until the Brexit vote actually happened, I didn’t think that it would happen.) Which means that, then and now, Hislop was and is aligning himself against the dominant orthodoxy of the time. It’s just that this orthodoxy changed. Yes, on the mere EUrope issue, Hislop is now revealed as a turncoat. But he turned his coat for a very respectable reason.

Packman, in his piece, ruminates upon what Hislop really thinks. I think that what Hislop really things is that raspberries and rotting vegetables and brickbats and mockery should always be thrown at whoever and whatever, politically, happens to be in charge at any given time. If only to keep alive the principle that this can be done. Compared to that principle, Hislop’s supposed principles about the mere details of this or that political argument are, to him, relatively unimportant.

(See also this posting by me here, also from way back, ahout John Gray, another man who has often been accused of being inconsistent. Gray is presumably even now ruminating about how the hopes now being placed by the likes of me in the benefits of Brexit will be dashed. Because: doom, doom, doom. I couldn’t find any Gray stuff yet along these lines. He seems so far to have confined his EUro-pessimism to the future of EUrope rather than the future of the UK. But once Brexit is sorted and the optimism over here really starts to kick in, trust me, Gray will be heard saying that it will all end in ruin and despair. In Gray world, everything that people think might be really good always ends in ruin and despair, regardless of whether it actually turns out like that for real. And the good news is that he is usually wrong.)

20 comments to Blasts from the past

  • Barracoder

    Ian Hislop, the plastic iconoclastic.

  • Mr Ed

    What goes on the internet stays on the internet, provided only that someone is curating it capably, and even if it was posted way back in May 2003.

    Ah, yes, but there’s going to be a ‘Right to be Forgotten‘ soon, you see. So what goes up, must come down. It’s not censorship, it’s internet gravity.

    Don’t you remember the discussion about this during the General Election?

  • In the interests of balance, the original episode of Have I Got News For You is here:


    So, feel free to judge matters for yourselves…

  • Mr Ecks

    No such thing as a “respectable” turncoat.

    If Hislop’s attitude derives from Brando in “The Wild Ones” –ie “What are you rebelling against? Whada’ya got?” then Hislop is a moron.

  • No such thing as a “respectable” turncoat.

    If Hislop’s attitude derives from Brando in “The Wild Ones” –ie “What are you rebelling against? Whada’ya got?” then Hislop is a moron.

    Not only that, but in the intervening years, the arguments he made back then have not grown weaker, but stronger. If anything the EU is even more corrupt than it was.

    Given that nothing has improved in favour of the EU, the only justification that makes sense is cash or cowardice.

    Neither of them are in any way laudable and in Ian Hislop would describe such a reversal as hypocrisy if found in others.

    Maybe the “Never Ever Biased” BBC politely let it be known that he’d need to moderate his views or he’d find the Have I Got News For You welcome mat extended elsewhere. After all, the BBC gets a considerable sum of money from the EU, so if it came to a choice between money and Ian Hislop, then Hislop would be gone.

  • Alisa

    After all, the BBC gets a considerable sum of money from the EU

    Not that it surprises me or anything, but how exactly does that work?

  • @Alisa:

    This probably covers most of it, but as both the EU and the BBC are keen to muddy the waters as much as possible, it’s bundled up into all sorts of special purpose vehicles (development funds, prizes, targeted funding, etc.)

    After all, no point in shilling for the EU if you don’t get paid for it now is there?


  • Alisa

    Thanks JG 😡

  • Paul Marks

    I do not think that Mr Hislop is rebelling against power – after all his fellow Remainers are still in power. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor …… these people voted to “Remain” and they have not got the slightest intention of reducing taxation or getting rid of the thousands of pages of E.U. regulations.

    Indeed the Prime Minister is introducing as special Bill to Parliament to turn all E.U. regulations into British law.

    There is plenty for Mr Hislop to attack – but he does not do so. His attacks are based on the myth that Leave people are in charge.

  • Cal Ford

    Agree with the other commentators that you’re being too kind on Hislop, Brian. Rebelling against whoever is in power for the sake of it, without regard for the issues, is idiotic. (What if it’s the non-Communists who’ve taken over from the Communists?) And most of the current UK power base is made up of Remainers, not Leavers.

    (Although it’s not easy to tell his views, I think that over the years he’s moved away from the more sceptical Private Eye viewpoint of the likes of old-timers such as Ingrams and Booker, and has become more influenced by views of those currently around him in TV and the media in general. Like Paul Merton, who is a constant scumbag.)

  • I was amused by Packman’s descriptio of this blog:

    The Samizdata blog (made up of a varied group of of social individualists, classical liberals, whigs, libertarians, extropians, futurists, ‘Porcupines’, Karl Popper fetishists, recovering neo-conservatives, crazed Ayn Rand worshipers, over-caffeinated Virginia Postrel devotees, witty Frédéric Bastiat wannabes, cypherpunks, minarchists, kritarchists and wild-eyed anarcho-capitalists from Britain, North America, Australia and Europe)

    Hislop’s Euroscepticism surprised me, the fact that hes a remoaner now not so much. He’s always seemed to be one of those statist sorts of people who can believe two contradictory things at once without any problem. The first thing they believe is that all humans are corrupt, fallible and need Big Brother to look down on them to make sure they are behaving and the second is that even though the exact same people work for Big Brother somehow Big Brother itself as a whole is neither corrupt nor fallible. JK Rowling, whose depictions of Fudge &co in Harry Potter make you think she must be some kind of libertarian, is another

  • Sam Duncan

    Good comment, Cal.

    I remember, years ago, Hislop saying something like, “The true satirist is necessarily a conservative. He’s the one standing on the sidelines loudly wondering what the world is coming to”. So to that extent, I think Brian has a point. What the world was coming to in 2003 was Britain being ordered about by the likes of Giscard. Today, what the world is coming to is Britain knocking great lumps out of the European Construction.

    But, in the end, Paul’s correct: the Establishment is still firmly in the hands of Remainers. Of course, this goes largely unrecognised because people still think the Establishment is the old-boys’-network/London clubs/House of Lords axis it was 50-60 years ago, rather than the Guardian/BBC/quango Blob it has become today.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    It would be nice to think that Hislop has become a Remoaner out of a cussedness and desire to throw custard pies at whoever happens to be in power. But for that to be true, we might have seen his Private Eye magazine going after global warming issue with a more skeptical eye, rather than, from what I recall, mocking skeptics as deniers (I am pretty sure I saw Hislop do this on Have I Got News for You a few years’ ago.)

    Hislop has been excellent, by the way, on the attempts by the Hacked Off! crowd to regulate the press; but then when his own immediate interests are threatened, he’s every bit as hostile to state over-reach as the authors on this blog.

  • John K

    I feel that Hislop has become one of those North London lefties who rather looks down his nose at the little people who dared vote Brexit. Like most of his sort, he has probably never met anyone who even voted Brexit.

    These days, I suspect he derives most of his income from the BBC, via his appearances on “Have I Got News For You”. Given the sort of money paid to newsreaders, if he is not making a quarter of a million a year from the BBC, he needs a new agent. That’s a lot of reasons not to rock the left liberal boat when it comes to Brexit, climate change and the rest.

    You can be the editor of a genuinely satirical, anti-establishment magazine, or you can derive most of your income from the statist BBC. You can’t do both.

  • Although John Galt (August 9, 2017 at 5:15 pm) is right about the BBC getting some money from the EU, the fact that it needed an FoI to make them reveal it is more significant, and its ideological acceptability to them far more significant still.

    When it dumped Top Gear, the BBC lost more money than JG’s article shows them getting from the EU, but that loss was ideologically acceptable.

    You’d need a lot of money to persuade a typical BBC executive to like Brexit, or any other manifestation of freedom from the elite.

  • staghounds

    “Brexit is a dominant political orthodoxy.”

    Ha, ha, ha. There won’t be any Brexit, and my wager is still open.

  • lucklucky

    Once more the problem started with narrative and the terminology adopted.
    The Unionists took over the word Europe to have more appeal and no one fought them at that battle level.

  • Paul Marks

    I should have pointed out that are “Remainer” government is not just against cutting taxes and getting rid of E.U. regulations – it is also against any reduction of government spending.

    Even utterly demented things such as “Overseas Aid” (refuted by Peter Bauer decades ago) have been increased by the “Remainer” government – indeed they keep finding new ways to waste unlimited amounts of money, for example “Crossrail 2” (some area of London has not been dug up yet – dig it up now!) and “HS2” – the bottomless money pit.

    And if the country was still not bankrupt after their schemes, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor would think up new schemes.

    “Paul – Jeremy Corbyn and “Vince” Cable are worse” – I have not denied that they are worse, my point is that the elite in general is driving this country (and the Western World) to destruction.

    There is much for Mr H. to attack – endless taxes, government spending and regulations.

    But he will just carry on making weak jokes about “Austerity” (and other totally mythical things) – I think Mr H. is a shit. Not that it actually matters.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Cal Ford @ August 9, 2017 at 8:48 pm:

    Rebelling against whoever is in power for the sake of it, without regard for the issues, is idiotic.

    Pretty much. It will frequently lead to alliance with genuine villains.

    There was a prominent French liberal/radical who championed the Confederacy during the American Civil War – because they were “rebels fighting for independence”.

    And lately, we see the fashionable Left embracing violent Moslem reactionaries as rebels against the dominant “Western” culture.