Posts Tagged ‘Daily Mail says something stupid’

So, yeah, anyway, I came out of the Odeon in Oxford yesterday (not the coffee shop, the new one) when I noticed a man looking at the cinema with an expression I can only describe as baleful. Had this been the coffee shop it would be sort of understandable (I have been known to glower at the indignities inflicted on a formerly exemplary cinema myself), but no. And, what was more, I sort of recognised the man. It took me a while to figure out where from, because it does when you see somebody in the flesh who you’ve only previously seen on TV or in a photo. I eventually figured out who the guy was (or at least who he strongly resembled) – it was Peter Hitchens.

That at least explained the baleful stare, because baleful is really Peter Hitchens’ default mode. Peter Hitchens is – well, you know, when I was planning this thing out in my head on the bus home I was all set to go with ‘Peter Hitchens is one of the arch-dukes in the demonic hierarchy of that circle of Hell  managed by the Daily Mail’, but you know what, I’m not going to. I appreciate that by even letting you in on that I am rather ineptly trying to have my cake and eat it, but you know what, it’s a good line and I’d hate to lose it completely.

So I’m not going to stick the boot in on the guy but stick to facts he himself would agree with. Peter Hitchens is a journalist and commentator, appearing primarily in the right-wing UK press and as a purveyor of conservative viewpoints in the media. He is a conservative himself, but – if I read the situation correctly – would demur if described as a Conservative, quite simply because he considers the party to currently be utterly lacking in backbone and not nearly aggressive enough in pursuing a conservative agenda.

Some examples of Mr Hitchens’ personal opinions: he considers Labour’s abolition of the hereditary principle in the House of Lords as ‘constitutional vandalism’. Based on recent pronouncements on TV, I suspect he would also have negative things to say were there to be any attempt to abolish the principle of primogeniture (basically, institutionalised sex discrimination) in the UK royal succession. The largely peaceful resolution of the Northern Irish conflict was a ‘collapse and a surrender to lawlessness’. Fighting against Nazism in the Second World War was a mistake: ‘Imagine: no European Union, probably no Nato, no United Nations, no courts of Human Rights, no Starbucks, no McDonald’s, no kilograms, no mass migration’ (disagreeable consequences of the conflict, in Mr Hitchens’ view). Some people deserve to live in poverty (and, furthermore, there are no ‘truly poor people’ in the UK). He is pro-death penalty and anti-abortion, but then you could probably have guessed that.

[Believe it or not, folks – and I’m not entirely sure I do myself – but someone claiming to be the one and only Mr H got in touch with me (see comments section below) and complained, with uncharacteristic mildness, that I had misrepresented his views on the Second World War. He didn’t go into details as to how, but in the interests of fairness, and to avoid accusations of quote-mining, here is Peter Hitchens’ original article so you can see for yourselves where he’s coming from.

PS. A bit later: or check out the comments section where Mr H recaps what he actually thinks on this topic. Nothing if not scrupulously fair, wot?- A]

My own views are, of course, considerably different, but then this is not really surprising given that even David Cameron, who emanates from roughly the same area of the political spectrum, has publicly described Peter Hitchens as a ‘maniac’.

I’m not sure I’d go that far. I vehemently disagree with virtually everything Hitchens comes out with – every time I take the plunge and glance through one of his Mail on Sunday columns a peculiar gloom and low-level fury grips me, possibly almost as a Pavlovian response – but he comes across as a sane, rational and intelligent man, the substance of his views excepted, of course (put it this way, he’s more cogent than Richard Littlejohn). I have known of him and followed his thinking for nearly 15 years, since a Mail piece frothing about the ‘evil knowledge’ released into the national bloodstream by people swearing on TV in good old This Life (‘These Nasty Lives Will Poison Real Life’ was, I believe, the subheader).

And so to the question I posed my (Mail reading) landlord and landlady some time later: what exactly is the appropriate response for a civilised socialist upon encountering Peter Hitchens in the street? Ray, my landlord, had an easy answer: ‘You go up to him and punch him on the nose.’ I have to say this never really occurred to me as an option. Satisfying though it might well have been, lamping Hitchens was never really on the cards, largely due to my own matchless lack of both physical courage and co-ordination, but also because, well, it’s not really my style.

Of course, there was also the issue of it perhaps not being Hitchens at all. Lamping some unfortunate stranger already saddled with the drawback of being a dead ringer for Peter Hitchens would, surely, just be adding insult to injury. But I did momentarily consider going up to him and saying ‘Peter Hitchens, I despise you, everything you write and say, and everything you stand for: you and people like you are a drag anchor on the culture of this country and a major cause of whatever misery and other problems are currently besetting it’.

But, as you’ve probably guessed, I didn’t. Hitchens went off to glower balefully at something else in Oxford city centre (God knows what; I shudder to think) and I buggered off to GBK for a cheeseburger. My spleen remained unvented; Hitchens remained oblivious.

And I think part of the reason why is due to Hitchens’ attitude towards people like me, not all of whom show such restraint. After all, there was for a while a Facebook group named ‘Peter Hitchens Must Die’. One importunate beggar who only received Hitchens’ views on charitable giving (‘few things are more wicked’ than modern begging and its practitioners) did indeed stick one on him, if Hitchens himself is to be believed.

Quite possibly amusing though all this is it does just provide ammunition for Hitchens and his acolytes to sneer at people holding differing views to them. Oh, those immature, hate-filled, intellectually-incontinent Lefties! They can’t win an argument so they just to try to win a fight! It just provides another opportunity for people on the Right to rehearse the arrogance and presumption of the right-to-rule that we see every day in the workings of the Tories in our current government.

So lamping Hitchens or giving him an earful would just be counter-productive. I think progressives are better, more intelligent, more decent people than the Right would have the world believe. I think liberal and socialist ideas are more coherent and humane than anything the other side can come up with, and I think this can be proven in any venue you care to mention.

But in order to do this I had to treat Hitchens with a courtesy I don’t think his ideas strictly deserve. You know the old saw: ‘one of the greatest victories you can gain over someone is to beat him at politeness’ – perhaps not completely applicable in this situation, but you know what I mean. I wandered off to GBK feeling I had probably retained the high moral ground.

Of course, there are a couple of downsides to all this. One is that, as a result of my civilised inertia, Hitchens remained completely oblivious to the soul-searching and victory of liberal thought to which he was a party. The other is that, as a result of all this, the last time I met someone I genuinely admire, we ended up having a mild row, while the last time I encountered someone I heartily dislike we went our separate ways without him being at all perturbed or rattled in his objectionable worldview. It isn’t easy being the good guy, I suppose.

P.S. A bit later: It occurs to me that even publishing this piece gives Peter Hitchens ample material for an item in his column along the lines of ‘Smug Lefty believes showing basic good manners are grounds for considering oneself superior’. You just can’t win with some people I suppose. Maybe I should have lamped him or just called him names after all.  


Read Full Post »

Given the general grim dismalness of our national and cultural life in the UK at present (although, glimmers of light occasionally occur: Don’t Scare The Hare is being shunted to a less embarrassing timeslot and So You Think You Can Dance has been axed), you have to find something to do in order to stay sane. One thing I do – I can’t say I actually enjoy it, but I think it’s useful and good for me in a self-mortificatory sort of way – is to read my landlady’s copy of the Daily Mail and try to figure out how they can possibly justify printing some of the headlines that they do.

I mean, it is just possible the whole newspaper is some sort of situationist prank (in rather poor taste, admittedly) and no-one involved seriously means a word they say. Or possibly it’s actually published in a parallel dimension where current affairs are very vaguely similar, and it ends up in our papershops as a result of some sort of distributory cock-up. But I’m going to take a leap of faith and stick with my initial suspicion that it really is meant to be a newspaper.

Anyway, let’s look at today’s headline: ‘The day the British people stood up for democracy’. For the benefit of foreign readers: this is a reference to the result of Thursday’s referendum on whether the UK should change its electoral system, replacing the current first-past-the-post system with one incorporating a transferrable vote system referred to as AV. For what it’s worth, the vote came down 2-to-1 in favour of keeping the existing system.

It’s a bit late to be discussing the merits of the different systems on offer, as this result effectively means that any chances of electoral reform are gone for at least a generation. Personally I was all for AV, for a number of reasons. It remedied the main problem with FPTP system, which – as I remember discussing with the political philosopher Dr Steve Champlin of Hull University, nearly 20 years ago – can return a victor who only receives a fraction of the vote. It also avoided the main objection I can see to full Proportional Representation, which is that it breaks the direct link between constituency and MP.

And, more importantly, AV promoted consensus politics in a number of ways – by encouraging candidates to appeal to broad base in order to attract preferential votes, and by increasing the possibility of future coalition governments, which by their very nature lead to all the nutters of the parties involved neutralising each other.

On Planet Mail, of course, this translates as ‘an attack on the politics of conviction’. ‘Conviction’ presumably being ‘the Right’. The current Tory meat shields coalition partners, the Lib Dems, took a tremendous pounding in the council elections that were also held on Thursday, which is widely being interpeted as a punishment delivered by an electorate which feels betrayed.

Why do they feel betrayed by a party and a leader which is actually in government for the first time in over half a century? Because to do it they got into bed with the Tories. ‘Last time I vote Lib Dem,’ was a sentiment I heard from more than one friend, when the news of the coalition negotiations broke following last year’s general election. Most people who take an interest in these things feel the Lib Dems and Labour have – or had – much more in common than either party has with the Tories. They’re both, broadly speaking, centre-left progressive parties. I recall, ten years ago, informal arrangements being made between Lib Dems in the north and Labour supporters in the south to trade votes in order to keep Tory MPs out.

This is the reason why the Mail and the rest of the chorus of Tory cheerleaders were so relentlessly and viciously hostile to the idea of AV: they were well aware the Tories would suffer more than either of the other parties if AV were introduced, with Labour preferences going to the Lib Dems and vice versa. The size of the combined centre-left block would be better reflected under AV.

According to the Mail, of course, this system would be undemocratic, which is why the British people stood up for democracy when they rejected it. It is always easiest to express yourself agreeably when you yourself define all the words you’re planning use, of course. Now all the dust has settled and the post-mortems are underway, it’s easy to talk about the half-truths and outright lies peddled by both sides, because it doesn’t really mean anything. However, I would beg your indulgence for a moment.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with opposing a change to the voting system simply on pragmatic grounds (because you’ll get fewer votes under it), as long as you’re honest about it. The No lobby produced a colossal quantity of – how can I put this delicately? – bollocks in an attempt to justify their opposition to AV. Apparently, it was unfair. It was overly complicated. It was un-British.

Jawdroppingly specious and mendacious bullshit in action.

Well, I went to a British university where a version of AV was used in student elections, and we all coped with it, and it didn’t strike us as being any more unfair than FPTP. Most tellingly of all, though, a version of AV – this unfair, overcomplex, unpatriotic system most Tories objected so vehemently to – is the system used by the Tories themselves to choose their own leader.

Let us pause and consider this for a moment.

And then a moment more.

Specious political bullshit and an insult to the intelligence and integrity of the British people, of course, and there’s no real point in complaining about it. Partly this is because of the enormous media bias in favour of the Right, which I’m certain remains the key impediment to any meaningful political change and social improvement in the UK.

But also – well, with the benefit of hindsight I think this could have been predicted, couldn’t it? Anyone involved in this government was going to be unpopular, particularly the Lib Dems, whose particular grail this was. With the Lib Dems cruising for a bruising and the big batteries of the Mail, the Express, and the Telegraph (amongst others) supporting the Tory cause the contest was never going to be a fair one.

Having said that, it’s difficult to conceive of a plausible chain of events that could ever lead to a win for the AV camp. The Tories would never put an AV referendum in their manifesto for all the reasons I’ve mentioned: it would be turkeys voting for Christmas. As the other major party, Labour is also generally suspicious of voting reform and would also be unlikely to make one an election pledge. Only the Lib Dems want a referendum, and this one only came about as a result of the hung parliament in last year’s general election. Hung parliaments are incredibly rare.

Even if, by some fluke, another one comes along at the next election, the Lib Dems will be stuck with the same problems as they had this time: the referendum inevitably being treated as a verdict on a party very likely suffering from the slump in popularity experienced by anyone in government, and the weight of the Tory press going all-out against them.

So, realistically, we are stuck with FPTP as our national electoral system, very likely in perpetuity. This isn’t really much of an insight, but even so – one has to feel somewhat sorry for the Lib Dems. For their naivety, mostly. One wonders how they will process the realisation that the only times they will be able to force a referendum will be the ones when they are least likely to win one. It sounds rather more like an ugly Catch-22 than democracy to me.

Read Full Post »

Welcome to a new feature in which we look at the opinions and statements of certain prominent people in the world and then reassess them in the light of the wisdom of the Seattle-based film-critic, author, and philosopher Vern.

I bend my knee unreservedly to Vern’s wisdom, wit, and insight, and while some of the opinions I take to task may be ones with which he personally agrees, I hope he will appreciate the respect with which I apply his dictums to new areas of our lives.

Anyway, let’s kick off with a prize piece of silliness from, wouldn’t you know it, the Daily Mail, as it reports the pronouncements of eminent historian/caustic posh bloke Dr David Starkey:

‘The likely scenario if we ever get rid of the House of Windsor is Tony and Cherie [Blair] as president and presidentess. At which point the most thorough-going republican becomes a diehard monarchy supporter.’

Instantly I was reminded of Vern’s meditative thoughts on a different topic entirely, but still applicable if you ask me:

‘You gotta come to a point where you actually think the thing through and realise it doesn’t make any god damn sense.’

 Here is Dr Starkey’s hypothesis, so far as I can work it out: if the British people opt to get rid of the Monarchy in favour of an elected head-of-state, they will instantly elect, to the most prominent, central position in our nation, someone vastly and monumentally unpopular. I’ve heard this trotted out as an anti-Republican argument for decades: currently the demon who’s a shoe-in as president is Mr Blair. In the past it was people like Richard Branson, Margaret Thatcher, Paul Daniels and Terry Christian (I may be imagining the last one).

Dr Starkey may be an expert on the monarchy but he doesn’t appear to have grasped quite how the concept of elections works. There’s normally more than one candidate and – I may be over-generalising wildly here – vastly and monumentally unpopular people tend not to come in first no matter which voting system is in use.

I should say I’m not a Republican myself, nor really an active Monarchist – I’m pro the existing system for the same reason I’m pro-democracy, it’s not a great system but it’s arguably better than any of the alternatives. In any case the chance to help the Daily Mail rethink its position and come a little closer to the path of sense was too good to pass up.

As ever – thanks, Vern!

Read Full Post »

Some thoughts on news values and people in the public eye apparently being phenomenally naive. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been glued to the rolling news since about Wednesday, following the whole Egyptian situation. While on one level it’s difficult to see quite how this can come to a happy conclusion, it’s fantastic and almost breathtaking to see a people come together in common cause this way, seemingly for the purest of motives.

The Daily Mail‘s line on the clashes in Tahrir Square, of course, was to relegate the biggest story in world news to page 10 – pre-empted by much more urgent pieces of BBC-bashing, whining about the EU, and a pig that took part in a dog obstacle course – and the main thrust of the coverage was ‘Ooh, look! Camels!’

Fun as it is to point out things that make the Daily Mail look preposterous, a metaphor incorporating the words ‘shooting’, ‘fish’, and ‘barrel’ springs to mind, and today at least it was not alone in neglecting serious international news. Along with those other bastions of the Tory press, the Express and the Telegraph, today the Mail stuck the following photo on its front page:

I know what you're wondering. Frankly, so am I.


You probably either know who this is or you don’t, and in this case I don’t think there’s any shame in ignorance. This woman is Sally Bercow, who’s notorious for her constant tweeting and left-wing activism, mainly because she’s married to the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow.

The Speaker is supposedly the apolitical umpire of the chamber and not supposed to involve himself in the details of the usual petty wrangling over policy. It seems to be felt by many on the right that Bercow’s general attitude is unbecoming of his office, his missus’s activities threaten the Speaker’s impartiality, he’s a bit of an apostate (the job should have gone to a proper Tory), and that Mrs Bercow is a deranged self-publicist and ought to be locked away somewhere.

Mrs Bercow’s decision to let herself be photographed wrapped in a sheet has, not surprisingly, provoked some rather negative reactions from people holding these kind of views. The leggy-brunette-in-provocative-shoot angle makes this story slightly more attention-grabbing (shades of all that Anna Chapman nonsense last summer) but in many ways grumbling about the Speaker is the definition of the kind of story that people in and around Parliament get very excited over, but which real actual people couldn’t give a damn about.

This is not to say that Sally Bercow isn’t a total ning-nong for agreeing to do it in the first place. ‘I didn’t know I was going to be photographed in a sheet until I got there,’ is her response. Hmmm. Still doesn’t mean you had to agree to it, though? As far as I know there isn’t a foolproof legal method of making strapping brunettes get undressed against their will (and believe me, in my younger days I looked hard for one). It all sounds a bit disingenuous to me. And, in case you’re wondering, vis-a-vis Sally Bercow – yes, once upon a time I probably would’ve.

Either this will make people retreat further into the strange news bubble generated by many media outlets – a place like a hall of mirrors, with everything appearing out of proportion, one way or the other – or some kind of realisation as to the nature of a lot of modern news will start to dawn. I may be pessimistic, but I know which I think is more likely.

Read Full Post »

Well, we had an election last year, and unfortunately people were in a selective-amnesia ‘ooh I feel like a bit of a change’ sort of mood and the Forces of Darkness got in. Depressing, certainly, and not likely to improve one’s view of one’s fellow citizens, but until today it never touched me personally – not in any real sense.

I was at a party with a senior BBC techie late last summer and we got to talking about the corporation’s future (I love the BBC – along with the NHS, which wouldn’t you know it is also in the crosshairs of the current mob, it’s one of the things that makes me most proud to be British). He assured me that whatever Chinless Dave might come out with in interviews, plans were in place to break the BBC and then hack it apart.

And the process seems to be starting, assisted by the succession of ‘BBC is morally-depraved/ ageist/irredeemably left-wing’ stories you can read in the Daily Mail every day at the moment – funding for BBC Online is being slashed by 25% and hundreds of websites are to be closed or ‘disposed of’.

So what, you might say. A fair question, but here’s why this stings just a bit more than it ought to. In the late 90s I had one of my occasional self-destruct moments and spent a few years just drifting about on autopilot. In this period I found and joined an engagingly odd website called h2g2. Chances are you’ve never heard of it. h2g2 was the typically-visionary creation of Douglas Adams, a few years before his untimely death. It was a reference resource consisting entirely of user-generated content, like Wikipedia (which didn’t even exist then). It was also, in a slightly eccentric way, a social networking site, like Facebook (ditto).

When I got myself together enough to decide to start writing again, it was h2g2 where I posted most of my work (by this point the site had been taken over by the BBC, as it hadn’t managed to support itself). Mostly I wrote film reviews for the site’s internal newspaper, weekly for three years and irregularly for another five, until the editors and I politely disagreed on a few points of policy and we parted company. I didn’t want to stop writing that kind of thing and so I got myself a blog. Which you are reading now.

Alas, the submissions process for the encyclopedia-side of h2g2 was so rigorous and convoluted that it was soon outpaced by Wikipedia (when it arrived) in both size and public awareness, while the nature of the site’s interface meant it couldn’t compete with the like of Facebook as a genuine social network. Being a BBC site meant it could cling on between those two stools.

Not any more, of course. h2g2 is to be ‘disposed of’ – sold on, if one believes the BBC. I wish I could believe it was possible, but the harsh facts are that this site couldn’t support itself even during the dotcom boom, even with Douglas Adams’s involvement to draw the crowds. The community attached to the site are tremendously loyal to and protective of it, but there simply aren’t that many of them in real terms: there’s no prospect of h2g2 ever turning a profit, which seems to be the only thing that matters any more.

For quite a few years now I’ve been quietly marvelling that the BBC were continuing to keep h2g2 ticking over, given that this basically involved them using UK taxpayer’s money to fund a small, culty, international community. But the news that they’re pulling the plug still came as a bit of a shock. I’m sympathetic to the BBC’s position, but still saddened. The site is still there for the time being, of course (currently in the middle of an unfortunately-timed and bug-ridden redesign). What will happen if they can’t find a buyer for it I don’t know – survival as a read-only resource for the database part, oblivion for the community areas, I would guess (the possibility of having to export 200-ish old reviews makes me blanch a bit, to be perfectly honest).

Such are the realities of 21st century life, I suppose. Money may be saved, objectives prioritised, and so on, but the world will be duller and less peculiar place. There may just be a chance of h2g2 clinging on somewhere in the online equivalent of one of those wildlife preserves for mad parrots or depressed primates (something Adams himself might have seen the irony of), and I know that there are no doubt future swings of the axe to look forward to that will cut deeper and hurt more people more painfully… but, anyway. So long, h2g2, and thanks for… well, much more than I can easily say.

Read Full Post »

I have a confession to make: I am a lapsed Republican. Not in the gun-toting, health-care-abominating, American sense, but in the ‘I’d rather be a citizen than a subject and find the whole edifice of Monarchy vaguely absurd’, British sense. I’m still fairly convinced on the citizenship and absurdity issues, but I must confess to having been swayed by the arguments that keeping the nation’s symbolic leadership apolitical is surely a good thing, and that – regrettably enough – one can’t rely on elected officials to provide society with an appropriate moral compass these days.

This does not, however, quite make me a Royalist – at least I certainly hope it doesn’t, if some of the behaviour on display this last week is representative of Royalism in general. I refer, of course, to the moronic inferno which has erupted since the news broke that wossname is going to get spliced to her with the legs. If I didn’t know better I would swear that some vast, Manchurian Candidate-esque programme of brainwashing had been performed, with the nation’s collective IQ conditioned to drop about 40 points at the merest mention of the phrase ‘Royal Wedding’. Okay, so it’s been a while since we last had one of these, certainly the full pomp-and-circumstance-get-your-commemorative-mugs-here kind, but surely people must be aware that the Royal Family’s strike rate with these things is not all it could be (but then again, I’m not really one to talk).

Lest we forget.

As a friend of mine (and fellow member of the failed marriage club) observed, though, when it comes to weddings you can’t really go in with a contingency plan in case it all goes wrong. Every wedding is really an expression of hope – well, all of those that aren’t business deals or kidnappings, anyway – and this one is no exception.

Even so, that doesn’t excuse the onslaught of silliness filling the media for most of the last week. Leading the charge, like you couldn’t guess, was the Daily Mail, which commissioned its own survey, containing many inimitably stupid questions: will the Royal Wedding cheer up the nation? (Personally I wouldn’t presume to guess what the nation will get enthused about: these are the people, after all, who are voting to keep Ann Widdecombe on Strictly.) Would the Sainted Di be pleased with with the lad’s choice of bride? (I didn’t know her well enough to be sure, myself, but as Kate appears to be neither a sympathetic hagiographer interviewer nor a photogenic charity case, the jury must surely still be out.) Is it a good thing that Wills has opted to marry a commoner (oh, come on, she’s hardly been plucked from an Asda checkout, has she) rather than another Royal? This question is surely just ‘Are you a fan of inbreeding?’, inverted.

Even so, all this is small potatoes compared to the seismic impact (or so you’d think) of Charlie’s declaration that Camilla could reign as Queen. Well, if you consider someone saying ‘That’s well… we’ll see won’t we?’ to be a declaration of anything. Good Grief, of course Charles is going to go off-message and say silly things on a fairly regular basis. That’s one of the things I’m looking forward to when he finally assumes the throne.

Even this pleasure may be denied us if the public have their way, as apparently public opinion is that we should skip over Charles’ generation and just give the crown straight to Wills. I must confess to not understanding the exact reason for this preference – is it because Charles is slightly loopy? Are people still fixated on that tawdry business with him cheating on Saint Di? I suspect it’s a mixture of this and the fact that William is younger and better looking than his dad, in which case we are in danger of reducing the succession of our head of state effectively to the level of The X Factor. And in any case, folks, let me run you through a few salient points.

You want to have someone as King? Okay, that’s fine. That makes you a Monarchist. Nothing necessarily wrong with that. But the whole point of having a monarchy is that you’re effectively giving up any say in who gets to be your head of state (short of having a civil war and retaining a big man with an axe). God’s in charge of that, or heredity, or something. (This is why I think Monarchism and religious belief are so often to be found together.) If you want to have a say in who your King is, then you’re coming out in favour of democracy and you need to have a serious think about what you actually believe. The concept of an elected monarchy is a severely strange one, normally limited to places in overblown fantasy stories written by Americans (the planet Naboo in Star Wars, for example). And if you want to go and live somewhere like that then I’m pretty sure there’s no point me talking to you in the first place.

Anyway, I’m not asking to do any deep thinking. I’m not asking you to be particularly insightful or reflective or innovative. I’m just asking that you try and keep a coherent position. Is that too much to ask? Come to think, I fear it probably is.

Read Full Post »

Everyone seems to be banging on about fairness and what’s reasonable when it comes to money at the moment, and it seems to me that two things in particular throw this issue into sharp focus – Gideon ‘the Mad Axeman’ Osbourne’s decision to ravage the state finances, and the ongoing saga of which football club young Rooney will be playing for in future, a story so gripping that even I almost started paying attention to it.

I had meant to write something about our current obsession with fairness and exactly how that relates to equality, but stuff got in the way (as generally happens when I mean to do anything). At least now I have the time to do so. 

The mantra that Chinless Dave and the crew have been trotting out relentlessly since the details of their plans started to emerge is that ‘everyone is making a contribution’. They are presenting this as a good thing, in that the richer strata of society are doing their bit cash-wise. Their critics (hi, my name’s Andy, nice to meet you), on the other hand, say that this is a bad thing, as the cuts they unveiled are clobbering the poor, who (as their name suggests) were already least well-equipped to cope with any sort of financial crisis.

It really doesn’t matter whether the rich are contributing a greater percentage of their income or not. For someone making £1000 a week to lose 10% of their income is simply not the same as someone on £150 a week losing the same amount, or even a smaller percentage. The two things would only be equivalent if rich people absolutely had to pay more for their food and accommodation and other essentials of life, and they don’t. Rich people can afford to pay more (once again, as their name suggests).

I am occasionally asked why I’m so relentlessly hostile to the Tories and the reason why is simple: their philosophy treats the existence of this kind of inequality as an unavoidable necessity. Their system is all about competition, which obviously means there are going to be winners and losers. It treats human existence as a kind of savage and very high-stakes game. This would be more acceptable if they were committed to ensuring that everyone was (as far as possible) playing on a level field, but they’re not. Wealth buys opportunity: who your parents were still plays as large a part in your destiny in this country as who you are as a person.

Clobbering the poor as part of the current cuts is all about equality (equality of contribution, or thereabouts), but has very little to do with fairness. (It’s only really ‘equal’ if you view the whole situation in the coldest and most detached terms). Or, to put another way, it’s only as fair as the society in which we live – which is to say, not particularly. Of course, for anyone to actually come out and say as much would mean talking about the elephant in the room when it comes to modern politics, and exposure to the greatest venom and ridicule the Tory press are capable of generating. Not much chance of that, then.

Much grumbling about the inequities of young Rooney’s pay packet as well – I understand he’s now going to make at least £150,000 (or, to put it another way, roughly five times my life savings) every week. (Nice work if you can get it, I suppose.  Right now I would be happy to pull in 0.1% of that, provided it left me with time to finish the short story collection I’m hoping to publish by the end of the year.) Cue shrieks of outrage from the press again – I was particularly amused, as usual, by the Mail, which ran Rooney’s story on its front page with the banner ‘The Wages of Greed!’, underneath a massive advert asking ‘Is there £50 in this newspaper FOR YOU???’ – joined up thinking, that’s the way.

Someone did actually say to me ‘£200,000 a week just to kick a pig’s bladder about! It’s ludicrous!’ I felt inclined to ask what they felt would be a reasonable sum to pay to a top footballer. Would £20,000 a week be more reasonable? That still sounds like a fairly obscene sum to me, but it’s clearly one the clubs can afford with ease. Professional athletes are, in some ways, basically just entertainers, and as such they’re paid what the market will support. I am prepared to bet the editor of the Mail would sooner chainsaw off his own genitals than come out in support of a legislated wage cap for anyone in this country, or indeed the world. There should be no limit to the prize money in the Tory game. In any case, don’t blame Wayne Rooney for a system he’s spent his entire adult life in and which he has no incentive not to manipulate to his maximum advantage. Once again, people are complaining about their houses being a bit poky, while steadfastly averting their gaze from the pachyderms they seem quite happy to share them with.

Read Full Post »

In another bold innovation, your correspondent breaks new ground (for this blog, anyway) by reviewing a programme before it’s actually finished airing. Well, this isn’t an actual review per se, but anyway. Our text for the evening is Channel 4’s The Taking of Prince Harry, another in the broadcaster’s series of  made-up documentaries about bizarre and unpleasant things that haven’t actually happened but, you know, might one day.

Following last year’s cheerful and not at all provocative exploration of what might happen were the government to have a former glam rocker lawfully killed (reviewed right here in one of our earliest outings), this year’s production poses the question of ‘What would happen should the Queen’s grandson get shot down over Afghanistan and be nabbed by the Taliban?‘ Knowledgable coves pop-up and speak gravely and measuredly about things they no doubt know a great deal about, while – er – reconstructions of things that were never constructed in the first place play out, giving work to many actors who are otherwise unknown. (It also offers a glimpse of a pleasing otherworld where Chinless Dave isn’t the Prime Minister.) Occasionally glancing through the Daily Mail (know thine enemy and all, and it’s not like I actually pay for the wretched thing) means I know how it actually ends – young Ginger gets sprung by special forces at the last minute.

As you’d expect from such a high-profile production this is lavish, credible, and solidly made (though it did seem to drastically overestimate how popular the Prince is with the general public). But it also seems to me to be a fundamentally pointless exercise. Yes, no doubt it would be utterly ghastly if Prince Harry returned to play a further role in Operation: Endless Bloodbath (as I fondly refer to the Afghan adventure), and if he was then shot down and then captured by the Taliban. But one way and another I’m not sure we can do anything to stop that happening, short of telling the lad he can’t be in the army after all (in which case we still face the problem of what to do to keep young members of the Royal Family from hanging around on street corners and making a nuisance of themselves).

It would similarly be horrible should pigeons develop a taste for human flesh and savage office workers and city dwellers across the country, but I can’t see C4 throwing money at a drama-documentary on the subject. If X Factor finalists started spontaneously detonating at random intervals, scything down their retinue and crew members with bone fragments and the like, many people would doubtless get rather distraught – but once again I don’t see much mileage in going on about it, as I strongly doubt it’ll happen. The only reason this got made was because its very nature and subject matter was guaranteed to provoke a loud response from certain elements of the media, and in turn guarantee the network a healthy dollop of cut-price publicity.

So C4 deserves a tut and a disappointed shake of the head for making this show, but the media deserve no less for going along with it. Every outraged double-page spread and stringent leader article denouncing it as provocative and unnecessary just ensured more viewers for the actual programme, which in turn increases the chances of an even-more-dubious offering appearing next Autumn. (The Mail, which as you’d expect honked louder than most that this programme should be cancelled and the makers dragged off to the Tower, then went on to list it as one of its TV Picks of the Day.) 

Many of the brickbats slung at this show were truly moronic – it might give the Taliban ideas, screeched one article. Really? Do we honestly think the Taliban are so thick as to need to take strategy tips from Channel 4 programme makers? It might upset the Queen, somebody else said. Well, I find the majority of prime-time TV upsettingly banal and formulaic, but no-one ever thinks of my feelings.

So I’m left wondering – are the press really so dim as not to realise that complaining about programmes like this provides them with exactly the oxygen of publicity that their makers are relying on? Or do they simply not care, overwhelmed by the chance to have a really good outraged chunter about something,  secure as ever in the belief they have the moral high ground? If you really don’t like a show like this then the best thing you can do is to pretend it doesn’t even exist.

(Advice, I notice, which I am contradicting simply by offering. Sometimes you just can’t win.)

Read Full Post »