Julia condemns Grayling's 'The Wire' comparison

by Stephen Tall on August 26, 2009

In the absence of much real political news, Tory shadow home secretary Chris Grayling’s rather bumbling attempt to drink the kool-ade – by referencing cult US crime TV show ‘The Wire’ in a speech echoing his party’s tired ‘Broken Britain’ theme – has backfired.

As The Indpendent caustically notes today, not only has Mr Grayling shown himself to be guilty of ludicrous hyperbole, but he’s also been forced to admit his Wire knowledge is a little on the scant side:

… his comments are not backed up by facts. With 234 murders in 2008 Baltimore had nearly twice the number of London, despite having less than one tenth of the population. In fact the chance of being murdered in Baltimore, a city with a population of about 650,000, is one in 2,700. In Britain the chances are one in 85,000.

You are also more likely to be robbed in Baltimore than in the UK – the chances being one in 150 compared with one in 1,000. And more likely to become a victim of burglary – one in 80 compared to one in 90.

But Mr Grayling also appeared not to be that familiar with the fictional either. In a radio interview he was forced to admit that he had not even watched all of the of the acclaimed shows, saying: “I’ve seen most of the first series. I’ve seen a number of the other episodes.”

The comments had echoes of other occasions when the Tories have attempted – and failed – to ‘get down with the kids’, most notably when William Hague wore a baseball cap and when he once claimed to have drunk 14 pints of beer in one day.

Lib Dem shadow communities secretary Julia Goldsworthy wins quote of the day for this contribution:

The fact that the Tories can only comprehend the issues real people face through box sets watched in the comfort of their own living rooms only highlights their total detachment from the concerns of Britain’s inner cities.

“We look forward to Chris Grayling’s reassessment of the devastating impact of Thatcherism on this country once he’s watched series 2.”

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We are far too influenced by the USA entertainment industry here, we seem to forget that firstly it is meant to be entertainment, secondly it carries with it assumptions that do not apply here because of the very different geography of their country compared to ours. Sometimes it seems people here are living in a sort of half-life in which they view the world as portrayed by USA entertainment as reality and the world that is immediately around them as a sort of half-life.

I would have thought, however, that Mr Grayling would regard this country supposedly becoming more like the USA as a good thing. The politics of his party has been consistently to try and move this country more towards the USA model with low taxes and low welfare and more of an “entrepreneurial” spirit. Mr Blair also took up this theme, but surely Mr Grayling’s party wants even more of it. To signal this they have pulled away from the European centre-right which they regard as far too European and statist, and talk of being “Atlanticists”.

So, if there are signs we are looking like the USA, should not Mr Grayling be saying “Rejoice – we are reaching the goal are set in 1979”? Of course, some of those signs when taken in isolation may appear unpleasant, but that is what this politics is about – more raw capitalism, which must of course have losers as well as winners. The rotten lives of the losers serve as an example to prompt the winners to work harder and so avoid it. This, so Mr Grayling’s politics says, means on the whole we will be richer and that is to be regarded as a good thing.

If Mr Grayling has changed his politics and now no longer regards the USA as the model we should work to, he ought to be honest enough to admit that. Perhaps there are some nice television programmes set in European social democracies he could sit down to watch.

by Matthew Huntbach on August 26, 2009 at 10:38 am. Reply #

What Chris Grayling also probably doesn’t realise is what one of the key messages of The Wire actually is.

In the third season, a major in the Baltimore PD decides, acting without orders, to set up drug tolerance zones in several abandoned neighbourhoods of West Baltimore. Within these zones his officers actively overlook the sale and use of drugs – outside of them they institute a policy of zero tolerance.

Not only do they manage to get all the addicts in one place where they can receive help and counselling – they manage to get all the dealers off of residential streets.

The scheme is a roaring success and violent crime in West Baltimore plummets – until the media get hold of it and, despite the visible success, all hell breaks loose.

The message? “Getting tough” doesn’t work. “The war on drugs” doesn’t work. “Just say no” doesn’t work. People are going to get high and other people are going to get rich getting them high. The choice is between having them getting high in a dark place, full of gangs and violence – or a bright place with a sign on the door saying “this is the way out”.

The thought of the Tories suggesting something that progressive and pragmatic makes me laugh, frankly.

by Joe Taylor Condliffe on August 26, 2009 at 12:21 pm. Reply #

Agree with Matthew, why cant we have more quality European productions, like Wallender.

by Kevin on August 26, 2009 at 12:28 pm. Reply #

Good post Joe, it’s just a shame that so much of the tabloid press don’t see it that way. I admit to not having seen The Wire, but Wallander is good (I prefer the Swedish version currently on BBC4, but then maybe I am also being a bit patriotic about it). On the subject of good quality European crime shows, I would suggest the French series Spiral that was on BBC4. Although many critics said it was quite American in its style and I can’t say it showed France in a particularly good light.

by Anders on August 26, 2009 at 1:11 pm. Reply #

Not sure that Joe got the message of series three right, perhaps he could watch it again: if regulation doesn’t work, neither is it acceptable to sit back and abandon members of the community to a hellish fate or be pleased that charity volunteers clear up the messes which never should be created in the first place.

So the show looks at the school system in series four and see where education is failing…

Lovely quote from Julia Goldsworthy – if she originated it she should do so more often!

by Oranjepan on August 26, 2009 at 3:49 pm. Reply #

It’s very unpatriotic of him not to have used a great British show like Morse as his example. It provides clear evidence that living in Oxfordshire is more dangerous than in New York 😉

by Liberal Neil on August 26, 2009 at 4:19 pm. Reply #

But would a leftie’s paper like the Independent ever be supportive of a conservative politician,nobody’s fooled by the title,well many of it’s ex-readers perhaps were?

by john zims on August 26, 2009 at 11:04 pm. Reply #

The Wire is a great show which teaches us a lot about universal themes- whether we are in Baltimore or Bradford- but Grayling is obviously not the one to really bring those out. He is a moron. Still, a great show which provides much food for thought on the nature of institutions, targets, the future of the media, our education system, racism etc

by Steve on August 27, 2009 at 9:38 am. Reply #

Matthew has a point, there was a very good Italian Detective show on BBC4 a few months ago as well.

We are force fed a diet of American drivel.

It is a bit rich Gormless Goldsworthy going on about Grayling using The Wire when our very own Party are happy to tap into modern culture to use Perez Hilton’s blog to promote policy.

As for her “quote of the day” I could take that a bit more seriously if she had any experience of inner city life herself. On the one hand she is criticising him for using “The Wire” to make a point about politics then she does it herself. That is not quote of the day material, that is making an arse of yourself material.

by Meandyew on August 27, 2009 at 2:57 pm. Reply #

Liberal Neil, Oxford is positively safe and sedate compared to the mean streets that are Midsomer.

by Meandyew on August 27, 2009 at 2:58 pm. Reply #

“We are force fed a diet of American drivel.”

Absolutely. Apart from The Wire, The West Wing, John Adams, Ally McBeal, Frasier, South Park, Oz, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Lost, and Prison Break what as US TV ever done for us 🙂

by Hywel on August 27, 2009 at 3:31 pm. Reply #

The Simpsons! How could I omit The Simpsons!

by Hywel on August 27, 2009 at 3:32 pm. Reply #

“force fed a diet of american drivel”?
sure, american pop culture has some dark, cheap and tacky elements to it. but the beatles and the stones will never make up for you guys giving us oasis, simon cowell, and victoria beckham. as a baltimorean, i’m perfectly aware of my city’s flaws; but having lived in london, i can say that at least we have our own character. y’all are made of plastic. i’d much rather run the risk of being shot in baltimore than slowly bored to death over the course of a lifetime in england. billie holliday could beat up posh spice any day of the week.

by enkidu on August 29, 2009 at 5:06 pm. Reply #

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