You know what I don’t believe in? Engineering. Shameless pseudo-science. You want to watch out for those so-called ‘engineers’. See that bridge that fell down in Cumbria the other day? Lordy, they’ll be cashing in on that. Up they’ll pop with their ‘stress points’ and ‘foundations’ and other such insider-ish, clubby mumbo-jumbo. As though any of it actually meant something. As though bridges hadn’t been falling down forever, for no particular reason at all.
And medicine? God, that’s even worse. I mean, sure, sometimes you get a fever and somebody gives you some pills and you get better, but is there really a link? I doubt it. Kick up a fuss, though, and they freeze you out. They’ll stifle you. They’ll call you a crank. Because unless you’re one of them — a ‘doctor’ with ‘training’ — they just don’t want to know. As though they didn’t have a vested interest in the status quo. It makes me sick.
I am, of course, being childish and contrary. Did you spot that? Actually I do believe in engineering and medicine, quite fervently. Just like I also (point alert) believe in man-made global warming. Why? Here’s why: it’s because I don’t know anything about it at all.
Sure, I could do something about this. I could pack in this journalism lark, go back to university, spend three years replacing my useless philosophy degree with something science-ish, then do a masters, and then do a PhD, probably in climatology. But I can’t be arsed. And when I can’t be arsed properly to understand something, I tend to defer to those who can. I trust engineers to build bridges and I trust doctors to cure diseases. Likewise climatologists on man-made global warming. Most of them seem to believe in it. They might all be wrong, but they’re less likely to be wrong than I am. Call me a mindless stooge, but that’s good enough for me.
Where has it come from, this sudden consensus among Britain’s right-wing punditry that there’s some kind of scam going on here? Yes, Delingpole, I mean you, and plenty of others, too. What gives you the right? It’s like your hairdresser diagnosing multiple sclerosis. For a while I thought this was just one of those weird and slightly endearing irrationalities that some old folk on the right have, like the passionate hatred for speed cameras, or the way they aren’t inherently amused by the whole concept of John Redwood. But I’ve watched it develop and spread over the past couple of years, first with amusement, then with alarm, and now with a sort of horrified panic. Guys, you’re not just fiddling while Rome burns. You’re actively going out and smashing up the fire engines. You’re terrifying me.
There’s an argument to be had, sure, about what we do about man-made global warming. The politics of it all. That’s where Lord Lawson pretends he’s coming from, and I’ve no problem with that at all. Would a global rise in temperature actually be all that bad? Is it worth our while, in the long run, to decarbonise our economy? Do the costs of wind farms (views) outweigh the benefits (cleaner electricity)? Etc. Fine. That’s what pundits are for, and we can all bicker about that till the cows come home (or don’t, because they’ve all been shot). But to actually challenge the premises? The cold, hard science? Why do you feel you have anything to contribute at all?
‘But there were these climate scientists at the University of East Anglia,’ you’ll chirrup, excitedly. ‘And leaked emails show that they were conspiring to conceal research that…’ Yeah, whatever. Not interested. So some of them are crooks. It’s like giving up on doctors because of Harold Shipman. I appreciate that you lot don’t like to be called ‘climate change deniers’ because of the implied Holocaust equivalence but, melodramatic as it is, the comparison hasn’t come from nowhere. You are the forces of anti-science, anti-reason and anti-fact. Your natural bedfellows are the 9/11 Truthers — people who believe that the way to deal with something frightening which they don’t understand is to recast it as part of a convoluted fantasy which they do. Go back a few hundred years, and it’s people like you who would have cried ‘witch’ and run for the kindling when the village crone predicted that bad things might happen if you shagged your sister.
Do you think Sarah Palin might be the next president? I don’t, really, but I wouldn’t put money on it. ‘People don’t want to admire,’ wrote Frank Skinner in the Times last week. ‘They want to identify with. They don’t want to be thinking “I wish I could do that”; they want to take comfort in the fact that they easily could.’ Actually, he was quoting a nameless BBC executive, and considering the meteoric rise of The X Factor twin contestants Jedward. It works for Sarah Palin just as well. The electorate can look at her and see ‘one of us’ just trying to get by. As opposed to ‘one of them’, a lofty snob who reads books and stuff. Apparently Sarah Palin doesn’t believe in man-made climate change either. No, really.
I’ve been wondering whether there could ever be a British Sarah Palin. What do you think? We have less of a stomach for overt patriotism, and we like our politicians to listen, or at least to pretend to. Can you imagine a British Prime Minister with views so impervious to any challenging fact or counter-argument? Can you imagine one who just spoke over her foes, actually despising them, or ignoring them, or both? Can you imagine one who was such a satirist’s dream, with unchanging silly hair and a silly voice and problem kids, and a long-suffering husband, forever in her wake?
We don’t have the same rural culture in the UK, so she couldn’t hail from our equivalent of Alaska. A politician who came in from the Highlands or South Wales would be considered far too unworldly. Our Sarah Palin equivalent would have to be suburban. But the South would make her too establishment and the North would make her too chippy, so she’d have to be from somewhere in between. Grammar school, I should think. And not from a professional background, but obviously not actually working class either. Again, somewhere in between. Maybe something like, oh, I don’t know, a grocer?
Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated November 28, 2009