The Telegraph are happily reporting that David Miliband, an atheist, sends his son to a faith school. He ‘has been accused of hypocrisy’, we’re told in the most passive of passive voices. It’s not the Telegraph accusing him of hypocrisy, in their website-front-page top-section headline; oh no: it’s other people. And what a terrible hypocrisy it is. It means…wait, what does it mean?
As ever with this type of story, it doesn’t mean much. 99% of hypocrisy stories are dickish, because they don’t go beyond risk-free attack. When newspapers accuse someone of inconsistency, they’re not making any statement on the rights or wrongs of the positions, so there’s no comeback. Media pure-hypocrisy stories conjure up an air of vague wrongness, without ever honing in on a specific problem. What is the Telegraph trying to say, here? That hypocrisy is a binary personality trait, and David Miliband can’t be trusted on anything, ever? That there’s something wrong with faith schools? What? It’s meaningless.
Everyone’s a hypocrite. Everyone fails to meet their ideals, and everyone has to compromise sometimes. Government ministers more than the rest of us. I suppose continuous, spectacular hypocrisy could eventually become a point unto itself, but most of the time you have to go beyond the inconsistency. You can use hypocrisy as the starting point – the minister says x, but does y, because the problem with x is… – but isolated it’s just trolling. If you want to be completely ridiculous you point out inconsistencies across the entire government, as if such a massive organisation could avoid such problems. This is all Private Eye does, as far as I can tell. Such things only feed cynicism, and stifle useful argument.
And, aside from that, mentioning a minister’s children is pushing it. There could be all sorts of reasons for the choice of school, none of which need bringing up in a newspaper. Anyway, the Telegraph eventually finds someone who’ll say the word ‘hypocrisy’, albeit more gently than you’d imagine from the headline. But they don’t have much luck elsewhere:
The British Humanist Association, which wants to remove the right of faith schools to discriminate on the basis of religion, said Mr Miliband’s choice of school was a private matter.
This is why I like the BHA: they’re classy.