Tag Archives: media

Liberal Democrats: Winslet (not) here!

According to the Independent:

The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, faced embarrassment yesterday after it emerged that his party used a photo of the Oscar-winning actress for an advert in its conference brochure – without obtaining her permission.

A picture of her on the red carpet at the 2007 Golden Globes was doctored to make it look as though she was at the Lib Dem Council Awards at the party’s conference in Harrogate on Friday evening.

The picture left the impression that Ms Winslet, who has never revealed her political affiliations, was a Lib Dem supporter.

There’s a lot more nonsense but I won’t quote it extensively. A few facts before the Independent gets too excited:
1. The advert is for the Lib Dem LGA Group, not the Lib Dems.
2. The advert is on an internal party document – it isn’t aimed at the public.
3. Who was left under the impression that Winslet was a Lib Dem supporter? The article doesn’t say. It was just a stupid joke, softly taking the piss out of Winslet for her emotional award acceptance speeches. That was the impression I got from it. Is there any evidence at all that a reasonable person (as opposed to a hack trying to make a story out of nothing) would draw any other conclusion?
4. The picture was indeed doctored – in a really obvious way that makes it obvious it is meant as a joke. Again, what kind of a moron would draw any other conclusion?

Clearly the Independent assumes its readers are morons. That may not be an entirely unreasonable assumption actually, given how poor the newspaper has become in recent years. Why else do they stick with it?

A final word on Carol Thatcher

I haven’t been able to avoid this story in the way that I would have wished. One thing that I’ve been wondering about this whole debacle is: why didn’t the BBC insist on Thatcher doing race sensitivity training?

It’s a serious question. It is now clear that she was referring to a black man and not Andy Murray and that being the case, there is no question whatsoever that it was a racist and unacceptable remark. That is not the same thing however as saying that Thatcher herself is racist. Meral Ece, herself justifiably rather intolerant of the special pleading brigade, makes the following point which I think is crucial:

What may have been acceptable 40 years ago, is not anymore. As the ‘Paki-gate, and Sooty-gate’ episodes, and now this, demonstrate that some sections of the privileged classes in British society seem to be living in the era of the Black & White Minstrel Show – hugely popular in its time.

Taking no action whatsoever would have been clearly unacceptable, but I remain unconvinced that simply sacking her was the answer. The resultant row hasn’t changed a single mind about racism and it has degenerated into a partisan spat. The only tangible effect has been to bring back a term that I for one hadn’t heard for years – and you can bet it is now doing the rounds on the school playgrounds. What has burning the witch actually achieved?

By contrast, forcing her to go on a course – possibly at her own expense (or rather, taken out of her own pay) – would have been far more difficult a prospect for those who rushed to Thatcher’s defence to object to. She might well have learned something. And if she had refused to go on the course, she’d have looked very silly indeed. Wouldn’t it have been a more proportionate, and ultimately productive, response?

Finally, let me give the last word to Iain Dale. I try not to make a habit of being nice about Iain, but Derek Draper’s hounding of him over the past few days verged on the bullying, and he makes an extremely astute point here:

Draper’s crowd should be proud of themselves. They rail against imagined racism, yet introduce laws which allow muslim women to be traduced like this.

Thought for the day: does Giles Fraser have a point?

The Vicar of Putney writes:

The problem is that atheism is defined by what it’s against, that it is not theism. And to introduce such a sense of “againstness” would fundamentally alter TftD’s character.

Some years ago, Richard Dawkins was offered a slot to experiment with a secular TftD. He told us religious explanations were “childish and self-indulgent”, “infantile regression” and “lazy”. The whole thing was one long assault.

Of course, lots of people will agree with Dawkins. And they absolutely must have equal access to the BBC’s airwaves. But this sort of denunciation is not what TftD is about.

On one level, I have to agree with him. “Atheism” is indeed defined by what it is against. Dawkins’ foray into the Today programme was indeed an attack on religion rather than a positive contribution. If the only thing non-believers could contribute to the slot was “againstness” then I wouldn’t want them doing it either.

With that said, you can veritably feel the tremble in Fraser’s writing; the hatred; the bile. It isn’t enough for atheists to define themselves as not believing in God, but then most – including Dawkins – don’t. Fraser might be able to cite a single essay penned for Radio Four, but anyone who has ever read Dawkins can testify that 90% of his writing is overwhelmingly positive and in awe of the world. Atheism may by definition be negative but you can’t apply the same argument to humanism, rationalism, pantheism or even (despite its inherent silliness) Brightism. By contrast, the same argument does apply to a monotheist (“our god is the one true god”). According to Fraser’s argument then we should restrict Thought for the Day to Hindus and the odd witch.

Is it really true that Thought for the Day contributors don’t denounce? Only yesterday, Richard Harries was tut-tutting the Atheist Bus Campaign (and its religious imitators) for telling people to not worry. At it’s best, Thought for the Day is often about denunciation – I always liked Antonia Swinson’s uncomfortable truths about the excesses of capitalism (perhaps that’s why she was only allowed to record three editions). At its worst, it is often about denunciation as well – I am surely not the only person in the world who has found himself leaping out of bed and shouting at the radio because the TftD presenter has just casually just damned half the population (in their usual polite, measured tones). As much as Giles Fraser might like to think otherwise, you cannot argue for something without implicitly opposing – and thus denouncing – something. This is what happens on Thought for the Day, day after day. Hasn’t he been listening?

It is a shame that Fraser doesn’t even try responding to Sue Blackmore’s points about TftD last month, also published on Comment is Free. The best he can do is denounce Dawkins for being denunciatory and to tell us all to “get a life.” All in all, it is a little lame and condescending.

That Thatchgate, names-for-tennis-players scandal

This week, Charlie Brooker gave the world the New Media Dictionary. For me, the most memorable term described in this list is this:

nowtrage (nowt-rage) n. Lame and unconvincing tabloid outrage designed to create a self-perpetuating storm of controversy. Also, nowtrageous (adj); eg: “This Jonathan Ross pensioner sex-joke story in the News of the World is embarrassingly nowtrageous.”

Two days later and we are in the grip of “Thatchgate” – yet another example of the collective nervous breakdown that is currently going on inside Auntie Beeb.

My first reaction to this story was “ooh, doesn’t Mark Stephens’ hair make him look like a…” (one of the things that bugs me the most about this story is that people are now running around using the offending word as if there was no tomorrow, just as the Prince Harry incident a few weeks ago suddenly made it okay to mention the word “Paki” every thirty seconds). In fact, I nearly blogged to this effect last night. I have since learned that even having that casual thought, let alone blogging about it, is enough to render me an unforgiveable racist, even though it doesn’t involve holding any view about any black people at all. Merely having seen a jar of marmalade in my youth is enough. Bring on the scarlet letter.

This morning Iain Dale made a perfectly valid defence of Carole Thatcher on the Today programme. At the heart of his argument was that she was referring to Andy Murray’s hair. It turns out that was not the case, which is clearly a problem for him. Yet for even attempting to defend her, LabourList has branded him “racist” and declared that “it is up to him to clear his name.” Thoughtcrime is not enough – now we are in the territory of presumed guilt until proven innocent.

I’m not in the business of defending Thatcher or denouncing the BBC. To do that would involve researching this story in a lot more detail than I consider to be sane. I am a little concerned however that the only meaningful contribution Derek Draper seems to want to add to public political discourse is to import the lowliest of gutter journalist values into the blogosphere. And it was pretty near the bottom to start with.

The problem is, I get the impression that he loves it. My first encounter of him was back in 1997. At the height of his glories as a Mandelson staffer and before “Drapergate” he came to address the Manchester Student Labour Club (I seem to recall him having a book out at the time). His single most wistful anecdote that he recalled of his student days was being dangled out of a second storey window by a bunch of Socialist Worker types, having enraged them to such an extent that they were willing to contemplate actual murder. I got the impression then that those were the moments he lives for. Twelve years later and I suspect I was right.

People like that are bad news for politics, whichever side of the fence you are sitting. The sad thing is that a lot of relatively respectable Labour people seem to have thrown their lot in with him with this LabourList adventure – the exact sort of people who like to whinge endlessly about how awful Mandelson and Ali Campbell were (but did nothing about it then).

If this sort of thing is really what it takes for Labour to win a fourth term then on no account should they be permitted to do so. My suspicion though is that it will backfire spectacularly before the election is called.

Those of you currently on LabourList might want to consider jumping ship before the captain decides to play chicken with an iceberg. Feel free to ignore me.

You are all individuals! (Obamamania)

I didn’t watch Obama’s inauguration this evening. Instead, I sat on the bus reading the coverage on Twitter. For some reason, reading all these excited 140-character messages about Obama bigging up the atheists and getting down with the gays (or possibly not) – interspersed with irrelevancies – reminded me quite a lot of this:

Does the Guardian work for an Octopus God?

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Okay, panic over. It turns out that rumours of Martian tripods returning to earth and confusing our!women! with wind turbines have been exaggerated. It transpires that it was, in fact, a combination of metal fatigue and what sounds like a rather unspectacular fireworks display put on the family of Guardian journalist Emily Bell.

Fair enough. Mystery solved. But what the hell is the guy going on about in the first paragraph?

“It was huge,” John Harrison, a farmer from Saltfleetby, said yesterday of the light display he saw in the Lincolnshire sky on Saturday night. “At first I thought it must have been a hole where the moon was shining through, but then I saw the tentacles. It looked just like an octopus.”

I suspect John Harrison has been at the rarebits again. Nevertheless, that description does sound familiar. And then it hit me: this is almost exactly what happens at the end of the first Hellboy film.

Somehow I doubt the Great Old Ones are particularly interested in wind energy, but maybe that’s what the Guardian wants us to think.

Eek! Evil EU ban our traditional way of light!

Chris Applegate’s life work is without purpose. Why? Because the Daily Mail is unspoofable. What satirical mind could have come up with this pile of nonsense for instance?

Revolt! Robbed of their right to buy traditional light bulbs, millions are clearing shelves of last supplies

Millions of Britons are finally waking up to the fact that their beloved light bulb will disappear for good after 120 years.

Traditional 100-watt bulbs are vanishing from the High Street because of a controversial European Union decision.

Yesterday panic buyers were snapping up the remaining bulbs in a last-ditch attempt to stockpile the final supplies. Hundreds of leading supermarkets and DIY chains – including Sainsbury’s, Asda and Homebase – have already sold their last remaining bulbs after a surge in panic buying.

Other stores say they have enough stocks to last until the end of next week.

Let’s work backwards on this one. First of all, very few stores will have enough stock to last until the end of next week. That’s how modern shops work. Why keep loads of deadweight stock in store when you can have it delivered to you when you need it?

Secondly, until you read this, were you aware of any panic buying? No? Me neither. On the other hand I am very much aware that one of the main suppliers of lightbulbs on the high street, Woolworths, shut its doors for the last time yesterday. I was also very aware over Christmas how all stores were keeping their stock particularly low. During an economic downturn and with the banks in trouble, we should expect this as cash flow has become that much more important.

Thirdly, traditional? Joseph Swan invented it 131 years ago (with that crook Edison trying to rip him off as per). How does that count as “traditional.” My generation’s grandparents will have had gas when they were kids – that is how new an invention this is.

Fourthly, 100w? If your complaint about energy saving lightbulbs is that the light from them is “harsh” (I disagree, but there you go), why would you want a 100w bulb? Wouldn’t a 60w or 40w suit you better (lower wattage bulbs will remain on sale until 2011)? I am not a historian of the lightbulb but I’m pretty much willing to bet you that the “traditional” bamboo-filament bulbs of the late 19th century would have blown up if you put 100w through them.

Fifthly, an EU decision? The UK voluntarily signed up to the scheme.

Sixthly, energy saving bulbs cause seizures? Epilepsy Action don’t think so (hat tip: Blagger).

Seventh, energy saving bulbs cause rashes? Maybe, in certain cases, but only for people who already have dermatological conditions.

Eighth, energy saving bulbs damage the environment? They do contain trace levels of mercury, but if recycled properly are no problem (I’ve been using these bulbs for over 20 years and have never even seen a broken one – they’re much more robust than incandescent bulbs). “Traditional” bulbs contain mercury as well – in fact by switching to compact fluorescent lamps, you will reduce the level of mercury you use.

Regarding points six, seven and eight though, they are out of date as LEDs are set to replace CFLs over the next few years. The main barrier to introducing them has been, yes, the predominence of the “traditional incandescent light bulb.”

All in all, the Mail story amounts to a confection of lies and misleading scare stories. Pretty much nothing in it turns out to be true. So no change there then.

Nine wishes for 2009 #1: Lembit Opik to prove me wrong

Partly, admittedly, because I set up a Google Alert of his name earlier this year during the Presidential election, Lembit Opik never stops getting in my face. His latest interview was in Wales On Sunday yesterday (odd since just a week ago Lembit was dismissing the same paper as “poor use of [his] time“). Regarding the presidential election, to the surprise of no-one, he is utterly unrepentent:

“I’ve been thinking about why the party establishment did not support me for the presidency. I put forward a new agenda, painting politics in primary colours, and perhaps they’re just not ready for it.

“I do politics in quite a distinctive way, and maybe they’re not comfortable with that kind of approach.

“I want us to be a party where we can express a strong corporate personality and strong individual personalities.

“Perhaps I frighten the horses, but the point is that, if you don’t, you’ll never create a political stampede.

“I do my best to reach out to the kind of people who don’t watch Question Time and Newsnight, and I think it would help politics if more politicians did so.”

But it wasn’t just the party establishment that didn’t support Lembit – it was 70+% of the party. Chris Huhne wasn’t supported by the establishment in either leadership contest he stood in, yet managed to leapfrog Simon Hughes in the first and came within 500 votes of winning the second. Are we all supposed to be mindless automatons?

What genuinely perplexes me about all this is that if Lembit could point to a single tangible fact which proved his hypothesis that appearing on Have I Got News For You was actually beneficial to the party, much of the criticism would be muted. The counter hypothesis is that a) most of the programmes he appears on either ignore politics altogether or advance an anti-politics agenda which Lembit himself does nothing to address and that b) while no-one can dispute the rise of Boris “LOL!!1!! LOOK AT HIS FUNNEE HAIR!!?!!” Johnson, Johnson never went within a million miles of half the paper-bag-opening-level programmes that are Lembit’s meat and drink and, frankly, when it comes to personality, Lembit is no Bozza. Have you ever seen a more polite, well-spoken individual on HIGNFY, Big Brother’s Little Brother or Celebrity Apprentice? The fundamental problem with Lembit’s celebrity appearances is that he doesn’t even make the most of them. In that respect, those who compare him to the Cyril Smiths and Clement Freuds of the past are missing the point.

But go on Lembit, prove me wrong in 2009. It is put up or shut up time. Because I can see how his grand master plan might work, I just don’t see it actually working.

If he is to do that however, he will have to embrace technology – something he has thus far managed to avoid in the way that 8 year old boys avoid baths. Oh, he bragged about his supporters on Facebook, many of whom appeared to be of the “LOL!!!1! LOOK AT HIS WONKEE CHIN!!!?!?!” variety, but that is a dead giveaway of someone who just doesn’t get technology. He doesn’t even have a website, or rather, he has *snigger* an ePolitix one, which is almost even worse. Even his Daily Sport column isn’t published online. So where do all these people who see Lembit on the television have to go? If they Google him, they’ll find a Wikipedia Page, a bland profile on the official party website, his defunct Presidential campaign website and a couple of videos. After that, it’s girls of a weathered and Cheeky variety all the way down. Lembit’s online “narrative” is written almost entirely by other people.

Iain Dale boasted 65,000 absolute unique visitors in November and 578,000 unique visitors in 2008. Given that only a fraction of Daily Sport readers will read Lembit’s column whereas almost all of Dale’s visitors are there because they want to be, those are figures that should give him pause for thought. If Lembit’s media appearances really do help him to reach out to people who would otherwise be unengaged, then he ought to be able to match and even beat Iain Dale’s readership in very little time at all.

It isn’t as if his target audience are somehow not online. Indeed, the people who Lembit claims to be reaching out to are over-represented on the web.

So what I’d really like to see in 2009 is a Lembit Opik blog to put us all in our places. If Lembit is right, then such a blog would climb to prominence quite quickly. What’s more, it would bridge the gap between the programmes he appears on and his politics. He’d win, his critics would be proven wrong but wouldn’t mind and the party would gain a major new asset. So how about it?