'What you can't square you squash. What you can't squash you square.' This memorable one-liner, more redolent of Chicago under Prohibition than Downing Street, was uttered by Lloyd George. The Premier was reflecting upon one of his constant obsessions: the British press. His method of dealing with it, not wholly abandoned to this day, possessed a buccaneering simplicity. He ennobled the newspaper tycoons, distributing titles with a zest which startled the unworldly George V. What, the bemused monarch must have wondered, were the orders of chivalry coming to? Although this square-or-squash principle was never again to be voiced with such disarming candour, at least on so illustrious a level, it has lost none of its force. The application may be more subtle but the game's the same. The disappearance of old cronies, even older brandies and cigars, has in no sense limited the scope for prime ministerial wiles. Indeed, the advent of television has led those set in authority over us to ever fresh audacities in the presentation of their policies. Modern administrations, moreover, command a bureaucracy schooled in concealing what the participants in the decision-making process are actually doing. We are in the hands of the manipulators, say Messrs Cockerell, Hennessy and Walker, a trio tried in the ways of Fleet Street and Shepherds Bush. The massage has become the message.
LRB 5 July 1984 | PDF Download