Friday, September 05, 2003

Hypocrisy meets Daily Mail Watch

Polly Toynbee has noticed something.

"Never mind the substance of a policy - that's boring and time-consuming. The fun is targeting the next minister who might be knocked off his or her perch - will Hoon be the next Byers? (The public barely heard of either dull fellow until they came under fire.) This is political decadence, games filling the vacancy in ideals and ideas. "

All terribly true. The only thing is I don't remember Polly castigating the Guardian in the days of cash for questions, sleaze, Aitken, Mellor, Milligan et al. Indeed the Guardian seemed rather proud of themselves. There were 11 Jeffrey Archer stories in one recent month alone, after 6 years of Labour. Yet "there is no press "responsibility". To whom? Why should the Mail and the rest beat their swords into ploughshares?"

And "daily grotesqueries will continue to decorate the front page of the Mail and others." What - like "Outrage As Toxic Ghost Fleet Sets Sail For Britain" ?

Polly can see the problem all right. Observation 10, analysis 0.

"Journalism of left and right converges in an anarchic zone of vitriol where elected politicians are always contemptible, their policies not just wrong but their motives all self-interest. Those on the left should take this very seriously indeed. The right is individualist, anti-government, anti-tax, anti-collective provision. Undermining the idea that government is a force for good is its ideological aim, alongside the mad militias of Idaho. But the left, which purports to believe in government, should be wary of joining the same all-governments-are-rubbish camp. This anarcho-individualism is a very British mindset - and it is not compatible with social democracy."

Ignore the idiotic Idaho stuff and she has a point - the same point that spiked makes over and over again. The death of 'deference', so celebrated by the Guardian, and a belief that all mainstream politicians are contemptible, is indeed bad news for social democracy as Polly knows it. Things fall apart - the centre cannot hold.

Solution ? "When some newspapers continue to distort, cut them off and denounce them bravely. Making enemies also makes friends."

The BNP won another council seat last night (note - the photo on the BBC site is of an ex councillor, not the Essex winner). Barring a series of high profile arrests on charges of paedophilia and cannibalism just before the election, they are likely to win several European Parliament seats next year, thanks to PR.

That's it, Polly - keep those eyes tight shut and keep blaming the Daily Mail !

Thursday, September 04, 2003

And Finally ....

Two Ananova stories ...

A small victory for freedom of speech ....

And don't try this at home.

Does anyone know if the friday thing is any good ? People seem to be willing to pay for it. Does it make the Onion and Framley Examiner old hat ?

Though parent site hangingday reminds me strangely of au currant.
On Citizenship

Magnus Linklater hits a few nails on the head in the Times.

The trouble with tortuous definitions is that they raise more questions than they answer. Sir Bernard has tried to come up with an approximation of what it means to be British, while at the same time emphasising the importance of our “diverse range of cultures and identities”. He says he does not favour the idea of a “melting pot” or “assimilation”, because that implies a surrender of identity; but he is equally against “separate enclaves, whether voluntary or involuntary”, because that suggests ghettos. He is uncomfortable about the phrase “parallel lives”, because parallels never meet. Even defining terms is difficult enough; he speaks of “multiculturalism”, while the Home Secretary prefers “diversity”. If Sir Bernard had stuck to the first bit of his report, which was about the importance of learning English, he might have had an easier time of it.

Josie Appleton pointed out a year ago that 'the exercise of trying to tell immigrants how to be British is becoming an embarrassing demonstration of the fact that the elite doesn't know itself'. She returned to the attack in February, and again in July.

"The British government, by contrast, is attempting to develop the formal rituals of British citizenship in a complete vacuum. There is little general sense of what it means to be British; no spontaneous movement attempting to strengthen national identity. Indeed, the government's attempt to make British citizenship into an event is a response to the fact that being British doesn't mean much at all.

But this raises a problem, because rituals can't be invented in a vacuum. The whole business becomes arbitrary - whether immigrants pledge allegiance to the Queen or to the principle of tolerance, whether they meet in a mosque or a town hall. Who's to say? When it comes down to it, the government knows that it wants to make British citizenship more meaningful, but doesn't know how."

UPDATE - Richard Littlejohn makes the same point more colourfully in Friday's Sun.

UPDATE 2 - Minette Marrin and Nick Cohen weigh in.

Journalists and 'Civilians'

Boris Johnson on Hutton .....

There are two nations sundered from each other in modern Britain, and they are the members of the politico-journalistic complex, and the civilians.

Like the cockroaches capable of surviving nuclear fall-out, the first group can take almost any kind of verbal punishment. The other nation is composed of people who believe that words mean what they say, and who weigh their words, and feel eaten up with guilt if they make a mistake.

One nation is so habituated to spin, exaggeration, half-truth, suppressio veri and suggestio falsi that they are genuinely unable to tell when they are guilty of these practices themselves. The other nation is always amazed to learn the process by which their thoughts, often balanced and full of saving clauses, are converted into newspaperese.

This struck me a few years ago, after the Sunday Times had sent a reporter to join Hull Labour Party, in an attempt to get a story on John Prescott. John Humphrys on the R4 Today programme interviewed Prescott's agent, a true Old Labour man who was apoplectic with rage against the journalist.

"But surely" interrupted Humphrys, "he was only doing his job".

But to the Old Labour man, the journalist was a fellow human who had lied to him, misled him, tricked him, to get his story. He felt betrayed, that the journalist was despicable.

John Humphrys just didn't know what the fuss was about. He simply couldn't see the problem. And while Humphrys may be a smug, self-satisfied liberal hypocrite, he's not an evil person. He's just lived in that world too long.

Anti-Bullying Tsar Appointed

Brian has this about right.

"Whatever you did last time that achieved nothing, do more of it."

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Murderer ? Martyr ?

Foetus ? Baby ?

How the State Can Mend Damaged Kids

Polly Toynbee at her considerable worst.

As for the moral panickers, if they want to avoid future generations of scary youth, they should urge higher taxes to pay the state to become the best possible nanny to all babies.

And she sincerely believes every word.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Forget High Crime Rates - What About Stressed Lawyers ?

The Independent on the duties of a Director of Public Prosecutions.

The article responds to criticism of old Blair chum Ken Macdonald's appointment coming from - among others - Michael Howard, the Mail, and the Telegraph.

Some are concerned about his dope-posting past (is the Sunday Times photo of his Oxford class available on the Web ?), others by his career defending various terrorists and murderers, others by the fact that he's never conducted a prosecution in his life.

But the Indie knows whats important. Never mind 15 million crimes a year (BCS figures) - what about the poor lawyers, struggling under the twin burdens of stress and racism ?

"The past few years have shown that the job of DPP is one of the toughest in public service. Macdonald will not only have to contend with criticism for the handling of thousands of cases each year but also for the conduct and well-being of all his staff.

An independent investigation recently found the CPS to be institutionally racist, while an internal report has shown that a high number of lawyers have suffered from stress. These are the real issues facing the DPP - and the ones on which he will be judged."

Monday, September 01, 2003

Democracy = State-Controlled Media

Three wrong-headed Guardian specials today - and that doesn't include Roy Hattersley

Bea Campbell takes time out from telling lies about families and abuse to tell lies about why Tyneside council estates aren't nice places to live. Apparently if the council stumped up for some decent doors and coloured kitchen tiles, people wouldn't fire shots through her windows. But the council are tight fisted - so poor Bea has had to move. What's a renowned author, journalist and academic doing in a council house anyway - aren't there people on the list in greater need ?

Darcus Howe bemoans the fall in attendance at Notting Hill Carnival. Apparently if the council stumped up more cash ... and also the stuffy, conservative organisers aren't keen on getting those rough hip-hop and garage boys involved. Darcus rightly points out that that's where the musical action is - those happy days of One Love (for I and I) seem to have gone, and F*** You Bitch has taken its place.
Not sure I'd want to be hanging round the So Solid Crew sound system though. Maybe the Carnival could move to Shooters Hill.

"And Finally ...." Andrew Graham - Master of Balliol College, Oxford, non-executive director of Channel 4 and author with BBC chairman (and Labour donor) Gavyn Davies of "Broadcasting, Society and Policy in the Multimedia Age" says the taxpayer must continue to stump up more cash ......

"Citizens are entitled to core information about their society, much of which now comes from broadcasting. Citizens are also entitled to participate fully in society; and democratic discussion, much of which takes place via television and radio, is an essential part of such participation.

The delivery of these rights is not the purpose of the market. To be met, they require the existence of broadcasters - public service broadcasters."

There is a case to be made for a state broadcaster, and two dozen cases against Mr Murdoch. Unfortunately Mr Graham isn't going to make it. Anyone who thinks 'rights' are to be 'delivered to', rather than possessed by, citizens is off to a bad start. Anyone who thinks that the discussions we hear on BBC are 'democratic' has just made his case worse - isn't this the organisation where 'populist' is a term of abuse ?

And this destroys his piece. "Notwithstanding the friction between the government and the BBC on the particulars of Gilligan's report, no one has cast any serious doubt on the much more important question of whether, overall, the BBC reported on the arguments about the war in an objective manner." There we hear the authentic voice of the liberal - 'no one I know thinks the BBC is left wing, so it can't be'.

Try this site for starters.

The same cannot be said of Fox Television in the US (owned by News Corporation). Indeed, Page reports that the consistency of view across all the News Corporation outlets in favour of the war displayed a unanimity of view greater even than the Pentagon. When, at the same time, a large proportion of Americans are reputed to believe that Saddam Hussein was implicated in al-Qaida terrorism, a belief for which there is not a shred of credible evidence, one wonders if the world's largest democracy is being well served by its media.

Well, up to a point. Fox make no secret of their support for US troops and aren't ashamed of calling them 'our boys'. But it's not the only channel in the USA. Murdoch didn't BUY his Fox audience - he built it, taking market share from other more liberal channels, just has he turned the UK Sun from a pale left-of-centre paper to the big and profitable beast it is now. And for a Master of Balliol to connect that with an instance of American ignorance makes you wonder when they stopped logic classes at Oxford. British kids are notoriously ignorant - is that down to the BBC ?

Putting the same point another way, should the UK not fear for its democracy if public service broadcasting were to be squeezed into the ghetto-like position occupied by the PSBs in the US (where they are constantly under-funded, plead for contributions and hold only around 5% of the market)?

So America is not a democracy. And without the BBC we might not be one either. But presumably Egypt, Saddam's Iraq and Saudi Arabia, with their dominant state-controlled media, are OK. Oxford seem to have stopped teaching politics and history as well as logic. Is that what Fukuyama meant ?

An Utter B****** ?

From the Hutton Enquiry site.

7 Q. Did he discuss any of the questioning?
8 A. I got the impression that the questioning had been quite
9 tough. He did make a particular comment about one man,
10 about the strength of his questioning.
11 Q. What was his particular comment?
12 A. I must admit I was surprised he said it. He said it
13 very quietly, with some feeling, and that was that this
14 man was an utter bastard, because of the nature -- not
15 the questions he asked but because of the manner in
16 which he asked them, I think. I hate to say that
17 because I am very conscious that this gentleman has
18 perhaps had some adverse publicity since, and I would
19 hate to inflict any more on him. But Dad did not name
20 the person and by this time we had got home.

Dr Kelly's daughter seems a very forgiving lady. In fact she's shamed me into removing the link to said MP from this story.

Sunday, August 31, 2003

Diana ! Diana !

Lo, all our media pomp of yesterday
Is one with Ninevah and Tyre !

On the sixth anniversary of Diana's death there is no BBC Online story, and an admittedly cursory trawl through the Sundays only finds this from Mary Riddell in the Observer.

And pretty dreadful it is too - taking several hundred words of not-very-much to conclude that "personal tragedy is too frail a foundation to bear the weight of public recrimination. That was the lesson of Diana's death. Britain has failed to learn it." What ? Eh ? Come again ? Pardon ? Me no understand.

Let us go back in time. It's almost impossible to overstate the hysteria that gripped a fair proportion of the population and the entire mass media after Di's crash. The Today programme's Sue MacGregor trawling the crowds outside Buckingham Palace for mourners willing to attack the Queen on air. The wailing and cries of 'Diana ! Diana!' as her coffin was taken out. I remember wondering if I was living in Buenos Aires or Tel Aviv – we English just don't (or didn't) go in for that sort of thing. Weren't there some suicides ?

A shameful anecdote follows.

On the funeral morning my children were due in the nearest (small) town for their swimming lessons. It had been announced in the local paper that all leisure facilities in the large town some thirty miles away would be closed that day, out of respect to the deceased. And already there had been criticism on local radio levelled at institutions staying open. The funeral was starting to take on some of the attributes of a high-profile funeral in the West Bank or the Falls Road - staying open was potentially bad for your health.

Now Daddy wanted to stay in and watch the funeral that morning, anticipating a spectacle - but he didn't want the kids to miss a lesson.

Pick up the phone to the local council's Leisure Department.
"Will you be cancelling and rescheduling swimming due to the funeral ?".
"Are you sure ? Bigtown have cancelled theirs."
"No, we'll be opening as usual".
"Who took that decision - can I have his name ?"
"Well xxxx is Head of Leisure Services - here's his number."

Phone to the paper.
"Evening Gazette ? - do you know Smalltown council are keeping all their leisure facilities open on Saturday ? Bigtown have shut all theirs. I think it's shameful. No respect at all."
"Have you got the name of someone there we could speak to ?"
"Well xxxx is Head of Leisure Services - here's his number."

The council rang back within an hour to tell me all the swimming pools would be closing and the lessons rescheduled.
Daily Mail Watch

Was it au currant or Natalie Solent who blogged recently abut DM-abuse coming from the usual suspects ?

Here's two examples from today .....

one from Moan Smith in the Indie (surprise) ...

"... Daily Mail, which would no doubt be mortified to learn that somewhere on the planet a woman has managed to be rich, famous, single, successful and happy."

and one from Carol Sarler in an otherwise top-notch, spiked-style Observer piece. Probably wouldn't have been published without it, as it attacks the counselling culture beloved of Guardianistas. "Come on, Carol - think of your audience. Can't you just sex it up a little ? Tell you what - how about a go at the Daily Mail - that always gets the juices flowing ?"

"How about this, then ?"

"an abandoned young mother, eking out meagre benefit payments, alone with two small children at the very top of an inner-city high rise, able to descend in the urine-fragranced lift only on the alternate Wednesdays when it actually works, and all the while knowing that the Daily Mail lurks to scream its particular abuse at her when she fails to cope."

"Love it."