George Hook cites "truth and integrity" but revels in know-nothing pride

Radio review: But novelist Howard Jacobson celebrates education with Matt Cooper

George Hook

George Hook

 

If the prospect of listening to a left-wing politician express support for transport strikes sets alarm bells ringing, Matt Cooper has hit on a novel solution. On the Last Word (Today FM, weekdays), Cooper talks to People Before Profit Alliance TD Bríd Smith about the likelihood of industrial action in Dublin Bus, a possibility the deputy seems quite happy with. 

Cooper attempts to talk to Smith, who is in her Dáil office, but their telephone conversation is repeatedly interrupted by a fire alarm beeping loudly in the background. “This is going to be a difficult,” Smith says, “it’s a fault in the system.” She stays on air, not because she wants to fight the system from within but because Cooper has no one else lined up to talk to. 

It is the most interesting thing about the discussion. But it’s worth pondering the idea of an alert to warn listeners about certain topics: Donald Trump, for example, is an omnipresent hazard. Cooper also speaks to English writer Howard Jacobson about his latest book, Pussy, which is not, alas, a feline-themed work but rather a satirical novel about a predatory sybaritic US president.

Jacobson, unsurprisingly enough, takes a dim view of Trump, particularly his election stump statement that he loved “the poorly educated”. In Jacobson’s mind, this was not an assertion of compassion for those lacking opportunity, but something darker. “Trump seemed to be saying he loved the state of being uneducated,” he says. 

For Jacobson, this philistinism is a bellwether issue in the populist era. The Brexit debate, he says, was notable for its bitterness. “The defiantly uneducated were being told to resent the metropolitan educated elite,” he says, proudly identifying himself with the much-reviled latter group. “I think words are useful things to have.”

Cunningham is candid about his culpability for what happened to him – a 'self-centred scumbag' is one of the milder epithets he uses about himself 

It’s a bracing interview, with Cooper clearly enjoying his guest’s prickly wit. But as Jacobson explains how words have enabled him to discover things, not least common ground with those of different backgrounds, he sounds almost wistful, as though he knows such ideas are dangerously unfashionable these days.

Texas

George Hook, for one, seems to regard “education” as a term of abuse when he talks to reporter Richard Chambers on High Noon (Newstalk, weekdays). Chambers is travelling through Texas, gauging attitudes of ordinary Americans. He stops off in the city of Austin, where he talks to local resident Amanda who bemoans Trump’s election as the logical outcome of voters “going on their gut” rather than educating themselves on issues. 

Hook rightly points out that such views are rare in Texas – Austin is a liberal outlier in a deeply conservative state. But when he characterises Amanda as saying “you should only be allowed to vote if you’re educated”, Hook misrepresents what has actually been said. Chambers responds that his reasonable-sounding interviewee had “a very extreme view”, and accuses Americans on the east and west coasts – the metropolitan liberal elite, presumably – of having “a sense of entitlement”. 

Chambers reassures his host with his next guest, an impeccably polite Texan woman who disapproves of the insults hurled at Trump. (That Trump’s campaign largely consisted of insulting others is overlooked.) The report also features a self-described “moderate Republican” who grumbles about Trump’s “bumper sticker” sloganeering and “the death of facts”. These assertions prompt Hook to characterise the man as “an education snob”.

It’s dispiriting. For all that Hook talks passionately about his belief in “truth and integrity”, he frequently seems to revel in defiant, know-nothing pride. The irony is that he can also listen and learn. Analysing data from the 2016 census during his regular slot with Deirdre Cullen from the Central Statistics Office, the host seems primed for a rant on immigration, particularly when he hears that 82,000 people moved to Ireland in a year. “Pander to my bias,” he chuckles.

In fact, Hook is mollified by Cullen’s data. As well as including 28,000 returning Irish, the numbers are dominated by people from the UK, Brazil and Poland, as well as “old Europe”. Hordes of marauding migrants from the Maghreb (northwest Africa), Hook’s pet bugbear, are conspicuously absent. It’s notable, however, that Cullen doesn’t mention how many Muslims live in Ireland. This may be due to political correctness or a desire to maintain the equanimity of her host. But overall, the item is informative and stimulating, helped by Hook’s playful relationship with his guest. A valuable lesson all round.

Drug courier

The value of learning features heavily in the story of ex-con Gary Cunningham, as recounted on the Niall Boylan Show (4FM, weekdays). Finglas native Cunningham tells how, after the death of his six-month-old daughter who had Down syndrome, when he was 17, he became an alcoholic and a drug courier, a career choice which landed him in Mountjoy Prison. 

Despite his misfortune, Cunningham is candid about his culpability for what happened to him – “a self-centred scumbag” is one of the milder epithets he uses about himself. But he is unapologetic in his defence of the oft-maligned prison education programmes that helped set him on a more productive path, including writing a memoir of his time in jail. “What would you prefer, if I came back and reoffended? Because of the way I did my sentence, I’m the person I am now,” he says. He is also speaking at an event on Easter Monday in City Hall, Dublin at 1.30pm on the very topic.

It is, by Boylan’s standards, a low-key item – he can troll guests with an alacrity that makes Hook sound like a wellness counsellor – but it’s absorbing and inspiring. Education improving lives? Now there’s an alarming idea.

Radio Moment of the Week: No more Mr Nice Guy

Golfer Pádraig Harrington has a reputation as one of the sport’s nice guys but he shows his spiky side on Game On (2FM, weekdays). Commenting on Sergio Garcia’s victory in the US Masters, Harrington doesn’t gloss over their bitter rivalry. Recalling his victory over Garcia in the 2007 British Open, Harrington says he was as polite as possible, “but he was a very sore loser and he continued to be a very sore loser”. They greeted each other when on the Ryder Cup team, but “with gritted teeth”. Still, Harrington concedes he was, er, “delighted with the emotion” when Garcia won. Ouch.

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