Anatomy of ineptitude


Yes, I know I should be moving on to more edifying fare – and I really need to get that review of Richard Seymour’s book off the back burner – but I am forced to pose the question: just why is the Gail Walker column so unmissably bad?

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t just a matter of me disagreeing with it – there are plenty of pundits I enjoy reading, even if I don’t agree with them. Nor is it just a matter of general badness. There is, I think, a serious mismatch between the writer and her chosen material.

I have a vague memory of Gail from, oh, it must have been the Good Friday Agreement period, when each Saturday’s Telegraph would have as a big splash the Gail Walker Interview, wherein our intrepid scribe would enjoy a chinwag with Daphne Trimble. Although, logically speaking, she couldn’t have been interviewing Daphne every week, but it always seemed to be somebody like Daphne. Then I lost touch with the Tele for some time, due mainly to having been in countries where you couldn’t get the Belfast press. Then, when I came back, our Gail was equipped with a fully-fledged column, a column that seems only to have grown in size since.

Earlier iterations of the column showed a focus on showbiz and lifestyle, with a particular liking for the old Glenda Slagg motif of picking apart female celebrities in a don’tchajustluvher/aren’tchajustsickofher manner. That, I feel, is where Gail’s heart really is, and if she has a forte, that’s it. But, in a manner common to lightweight columnists, she has a hankering to be taken seriously, and so has ventured into politics more and more often. And not just local politics, which is the usual fare of the Tele pundit. (Lindy McDowell’s recent fixation on Israel isn’t that much of a departure. You have to remember that, for unionists, the Israelis are ersatz Prods, the Palestinians are ersatz Catholics and Hamas are functionally the same as the Provos. Thus cheerleading Israel also functions as refighting the Troubles.) But our Gail sets her sights higher and likes to venture into high-end international politics, where she gives an unfortunate impression of being hopelessly out of her depth.

Gail’s other big shtick is that she’s the no-nonsense Tory taking on the liberal elite. This isn’t very difficult to do – the Daily Mail runs a small army of columnists doing this every week – but Gail suffers a lot from a local problem in that Norn Iron doesn’t have a liberal elite, it has a reactionary elite. She gets around this by declaring war on her bête noire, “the lefties”, but that only demonstrates that she has a serious case of Lefty-In-Your-Head Syndrome. She obviously has no experience of the left, or knowledge of its arguments, and indeed her categorisation of who constitutes “the left” is alarmingly broad. (Insofar as one can tell. Mindful perhaps of the libel laws, Gail almost never names her targets.) So we get the construction of straw-man arguments like “The lefties all love Mugabe” or “The lefties all want to kill the Jews” which Gail can then attribute to her unspecified “lefties” and allow herself to feel virtuous for opposing the position she’s just made up and smeared people with. It does begin to grate a little.

So, this week Gail does the inauguration of Barack O’Bama. It is, I should explain, traditional for Belfast columnists when covering American politics to write stuff like “You’re Very Welcome, Mr President”. Gail, having nailed her colours to the McCain-Palin mast, is a little more sour, but still keeps up the façade. And there are a few little gems I’d like to pick out.

The most excitement is found among the Left. (But isn’t that always the way, no matter what the issue is.) They’ve always been dreaming of a president who would, let’s see, be nice to the Soviet Union, take the side of the Arabs and Palestinians, get rid of right wing tyrants and turn a blind eye to the leftie tyrants, and most of all lift the embargo on Cuba and be nice to Fidel.

Does Gail not know that the Soviet Union ceased to exist almost twenty years ago, or is this an attempt at humour? And can she point me to anyone, outside of the Republican blogs, who claimed that O’Bama was going to do all this?

Amid all the furore of the US presidential race, there’s one thing that always consoles me. It’s the penchant of the Americans, whatever their political colour, for voting an American into office.

Not some British trade union doppelganger. Not some woolly liberal fence-sitter. But a full-blooded commander in chief of the US Armed Forces on land, sea and air. They’ve done that again this time, and he happens to be black.

Very soon the British liberals are going to wake up one morning and discover with shock that Obama was a Yank all along. And a GI to boot.

Well, I would be very surprised if the new president wasn’t an American citizen – it’s in the Constitution, after all. But the “commander in chief” bit is the important one. There is a point in that eventually O’Bama is going to invade some foreign country. Surrounded by people like Clinton, Holbrooke and Brzezinski, it may be sooner rather than later. Many, perhaps most, people would see that as a bad thing. But Gail is all “Ooh, I love those hunky GIs in their spiffy uniforms! Come on, Barack, invade a country just for me!” One senses that, as a girl, Gail must have seen Top Gun once too often.

For me, I’m just glad there is still an America. Still prepared to put its soldiers and its money in where nobody else wants to go. It’s already a great nation and it makes all its presidents great.

Even Dubya. Even, this early on, President Obama.

Hail to the chief.

See what I mean? Full marks to Gail, though, for sticking to her view that Bush-43 has been a great president, rather than the worst holder of that office since Woodrow Wilson. And get this:

The truth is, the reason why so much ‘hope’ is pinned on Obama in Britain is because America and its culture actually dominates Britain to a greater degree than any other European country.

Unable to elect a loony left government of their own, the loony lefties here keep hoping the US, in some brainstorm, will do it for them.

It’s also a kind of inverted racism on their part. Somehow Obama’s blackness, they think, must mean he is more like them in their whitey dreams of equality. (Colin Powell, of course, is also black but had he been elected president, one shudders to think how the left would have responded. He is a right wing republican, and that’s far too complicated.)

Firstly, as America is the sole remaining superpower, who holds the presidency has a certain influence over all of us. Secondly, Colin Powell is a not some rightwing nutjob, but a centrist, even liberal, Republican who could easily be a centrist Democrat, much like Eisenhower.

But hold on, are we being lectured on racial sensitivity by a woman who used the word “honky” in last week’s column and “whitey” in this one? Is there some weird psychological thing going on here, or is it just plain crassness? Or both?


  1. Phil said,

    January 21, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    “Somehow Obama’s blackness…
    “Colin Powell, of course…

    Surely somebody must have noticed the contradiction between these two (successive) sentences? “Ooh, they think he’s liberal just because he’s black. And because he is liberal – but even if he was black but not liberal, they’d still think he was liberal because he was black. Silly them, hypothetically!”

  2. Garibaldy said,

    January 21, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    Saw this. Her silliest column in a while.

    Seymour’s book got a glowing review in the Morning Star a week or two back, and the blog got lots of praise too. Let’s see you top that!

  3. Der Bruno Stroszek said,

    January 22, 2009 at 10:02 am

    Andrew Sullivan – who I actually kind of like, despite rolling my eyes hard whenever he talks about British politics – had a good point to make about this new cottage industry on “Ooh, you lefties are going to be disappointed!” columns; Obama spent the entire campaign season promising to govern from the centre, consider every option and listen to the people he disagreed with, and most people took him at face value. The only people who *didn’t* – and therefore, the only people who will actually be disappointed when he doesn’t turn out to be some kind of hardline Communist firebrand – are the people who were campaigning for McCain.

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