Goodwill to all mankind. ‘Tis the season right? Oh well.
Seems I set my self a precendent last year by responding at almost exactly this time to Dan Hodges nihlism. I’ve not bothered with Dan for a while, mainly becuase what was once fun jousting became as tediously repetitive as his columns. I used to enjoy reading Dan in the Statesman. I rarely agreed with him, but his words in that context felt like a challenge I wanted to rise to. And rise I did.
Now Dan is a columnist in the Telegraph. That’s nice for him. I hope they pay him well. He remains a very talented writer. But as we go into the Christmas period I’d like to offer Dan a gift of some advice. He will certainly choose to ignore it, but it is good advice, even if it won’t feel that way.
My advice is this: Stop trying to be a like John Rentoul. It’s doing you wonders in the short term, but it will kill your longer term prospects.
There are a number of similarities. Rentoul built his career by being associated very clearly with a Labour leader. But where Rentoul had a cogent narrative to support and contribute to in Blair and Blairism, Dan’s obsession is a negative one, with a leader he loathes partly on ideological grounds, but mostly because he just really doesn’t like him. Dan has nothing to offer as a positive. He’s not offering Labour an alternative path, championing a different leader or a different vision. He’s trying to tear down, not build up. No wasn’t just a campaign for Dan, it’s become a crippling addiction, a way of life.
It’s perfectly OK not to like Ed Miliband. It’s Dan’s perfect right to do so and to write about it until his fingers bleed. I’m sure the Telegraph will be more than happy to allow him to do as long as it remains useful.
But therein lies the problem. Because this can only end one of two ways, and at present, neither looks very good for Dan. Miliband will either continue to weather the storm and come through successfully or he will be defeated either by the Party or by the electorate. (Personally, my money is still happily on the former). When either of those happen, Dan loses. If Miliband wins, Dan will once again be the man who called it wrong. If Miliband loses, Dan loses his foil. Like Mike Yarwood after the downfalls of Heath & Wilson, he becomes even more irrelevant (I say even more, because his repetitiveness is already threatening his relevance).
Dan is in danger of allowing his talent to become the political equivalent of a diamond sledgehammer – hard, beautiful, capable only of destruction and ultimately pointless. Unless he diversifies, unless he channels at least some – and no one would ask for all, he should still write about Ed – of his energies into a wider variety of topics, and in particular finding someone or something to get behind, then Dan’s doomed to increasing irrelevance. Which would be a huge waste of a once great talent.
*Edited becuase for some reason my theatre addled brain had John Rentoul at the Telegraph not the Independent! Apologies.