Tag Archives: media

Snipes on a Plane

Over on Comment is Free:

The generous interpretation is that Clegg, like both Kennedy and Ashdown before him, needs to fight a general election before he can expect to acquire a decent public profile. Broadly speaking, I happen to still believe that. But while Clegg, the odd blip aside, isn’t the liability his opponents might wish him to be, thus far he has failed to be much of an asset either. In lieu of having much to bring to the table himself, he depends on the goodwill of his team. Mouthing off in public like this can only sap that.

Dangerous Complacency over the Damian Green affair

Sniping at Tory mendacity aside, I can’t help but feel a palpable sense of complacency in the Observer today over the Damian Green affair.

First up, we have the normally sensible Vernon Bogdanor. WTF? It doesn’t take a Professor of Government at Oxford University to tell you that the police actions were constitutional. The “virtue” of our unwritten constitution is that pretty much anything the state decides to do is, unless Parliament has the foresight to see that it might happen and the backbone to prevent it (that would be a no, then). The real question is whether it should happen in a democratic state. And here it gets murky: I would be the first to argue that individual MPs should have some kind of exemption from the law. But that isn’t the same thing as saying that the office of Member of Parliament should be treated in the same way. I am hardly the first to point out that we expect MPs to deal with confidential information on a daily basis. It may well be the case the 19th century convention dictates that parliamentary privilege is limited to the floor of the Commons itself, but we live in the 21st century now. If that privilege doesn’t extend to MP’s hard drives and filing cabinets, it bloody well should do. And the whole point about conventions is that they can be revised with a wave of the hand. All it took was Michael Martin to say no, and that would be that.

Bogdanor also magics up this straw man:

‘If an MP were accused of theft and keeping stolen goods in his office at the House of Commons, should he be exempt from a police investigation?’

…to which the answer is of course no, but how can you compare that to receiving leaked information? If the test is, did Green do anything as serious as theft, then it is a test he will almost certainly pass by any measure. It is an utterly daft thing to say.

Andrew Rawnsley nails a lot of Bogdanor’s flummery in his article, pointing out that the 18th century law that Green was arrested under should have, if it was not a dinosaur statute that should have been scrapped alongside the law banning Welshmen from Chester years ago, have resulted in both Gordon Brown and Winston Churchill being banged up. But so caught up in the political mess of it all, Rawnsley too lapses into complacency, arguing that because the government is the big political loser in all this, and because no-one is being arrested for calling the UK a “police state” we have very little to worry about.

Yet this is classic wedge politics. I’m trying to avoid referring to boiling frogs here, because that is an unforgiveable cliche, but how much more ground do we have to give up before people like Rawnsley will accept that enough is enough? As he more or less acknowledges in his article, yet another line has been crossed. We’ve had two solid decades of lines being crossed now. The fact that we don’t live in a police state (and we don’t) doesn’t mean we can afford to dismiss it every time we take a baby step in that direction.

It can be no coincidence that this arrest happened during an interregnum period at the Met and a day after Parliament “prorogued” (a fancy word people use to make themselves sound intelligent which means Parliament wasn’t sitting, as it won’t do until Wednesday). Equally deliberate was Jacqui Smith’s act on Andrew Marr this morning, waggling her eyebrows meaningfully and casting innuendo about how there may (or may not) be important principles of national security at hand here (bombs! terrorism!) while, oxymoronically, continuing to emphasise the right of opposition MPs to “embarrass the government” (which speaks volumes about her real attitude towards scrutiny).

Ironically though, if the issue behind the raid is genuinely as serious as Smith implies, the way the police went about it was even less forgiveable. If this really is a matter of national security, then both Cameron and Green (Clegg too would be nice) should have been invited to a meeting in New Scotland Yard, had the nature of the threat spelled out to them, and asked for cooperation. Is anyone seriously suggesting that they wouldn’t have complied? In the event, the high profile of this arrest would have almost certainly damaged any corresponding intelligence work.

But the most startling thing about the Observer today is what’s missing: no article by Henry Porter. This is the journalist who has chronicled Labour’s raid on civil liberties for the past half decade and who has been warning of just this sort of behaviour. So what does the Observer do? Give him a day off. Notably, there isn’t a “Henry Porter is away” notice at the bottom of William Dalrymple‘s piece where Porter’s column can normally be found.

Notwithstanding the importance of the Mumbai massacre, it is an odd decision. It isn’t as if they dedicated pages elsewhere to the Damian Green affair – it only warranted a single page of news.

Thanks largely to Henry Porter, the Observer has acquired a strong reputation as a champion of civil liberties. I do hope that, as it comes to the crunch, it doesn’t start getting cold feet.

UPDATE: Henry Porter has an article today about the Damian Green incident on Comment is Free. Judging by the length, I’m guessing it was written for Sunday’s Observer.

Strictly correct

This article is entirely uninteresting. I only stumbled across it by chance. But one thing about it did excite me: at the bottom there is the following statement:

An earlier version of this story mistakenly suggested that British programmes were responsible for 53% of global television output. The figure actually relates to the increase in sales of British format ideas.

So what you might say. The BBC made a mistake, happens every day. So what? The BBC made a mistake and acknowledged it, instead of simply changing it and airbrushing the mistake out of history.

Is this a one-off or a change in policy? I’ve not noticed any other acknowledgements like this.

It may be sad to get excited by this, but the BBC’s practice of maintaining they are always right, at all times, even when they are totally wrong, is one of the main things that enrages me about it. I’m delighted that after all the Stalinist airbrushings, we are finally starting to see a chink of glastnost.

See also Mark Pack’s take on bloggers’ reporting standards versus traditional media.

Charlie Brooker says it for me.

If I had had an opportunity over the weekend, I was planning to write an essay on my view of the whole Russell Brand / Jonathan Ross episode. Having read Charlie Brooker this morning however, I now realise I don’t need to:

The sad, likely outcome of this pitiful gitstorm is an increase in BBC jumpiness. I have a vested interest in this, of course, because I’ve just started work on the next series of my BBC4 show Screen Wipe, on which we sometimes sail close to the wind. In the past, the BBC has occasionally stepped in to nix the odd line that oversteps the mark – as it should do, when parameters aren’t out of whack.

But when the Beeb’s under fire, those parameters can change. Last year, following the “fakery” scandals, we recorded a trailer for the series in which I mocked a BBC4 ident featuring footage of seagulls, by fooling around with a plastic seagull on a stick and muttering about how you couldn’t trust anything on TV any more. Pure Crackerjack. But suddenly it couldn’t be transmitted, due to “the current climate”. So God knows how restrictive things might get over the coming months.

Read it all here.

The Daily Mail: the paper for pervs

I’m struggling to avoid writing about the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand affair, but it has to be said that the Daily Mail really do take the biscuit on this one. In it, Georgina Baillie calls for Brand and Ross to be sacked for leaving her grandfather ‘utterly horrified and disgusted’ after ringing him up and claiming that Brand has slept with her. Of course, it happens to be true and the Mail see fit to print several pictures of Andrew Sachs’ granddaughter which might conceivably also ‘horrify’ and ‘disgust’ him, but sod that – BURN THE WITCHES!

To be fair though, that story is being printed in most tabloids today. It is to another story we must turn if we want to really uncover the dark heart of Dacre. Today the Mail also prints a story about teachers having sexual relationships with their pupils. Under the headline “Dear Sir, I really thought you loved me…,” it includes several soft focus pictures of girls in school uniforms and paragraphs like this one:

Awkwardly, 14-year-old Laura Walker sat down on the log, among the dark trees, her thigh just brushing against that of her 32-year-old teacher, Steven Edwards.

‘I had butterflies inside my tummy,’ she says. ‘I knew what was coming.’

The mature man bent his head and kissed the young teenager – ‘snogged’ is the word she uses.

‘I was so excited,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t believe that he was interested in me, but he was clearly showing that he was. The kiss was very passionate.’

Do we really need this level of detail and flowery prose in an article which is supposed to be about exposing child abuse? This isn’t the first time I’ve read stories in the Mail which are ostensibly censorious but appear more than a little salacious. I recall reading an article about an actress a couple of years ago who was apparently raising her child with a gay man which went into an inordinate amount of detail about her physical characteristics and naked frollicking.

But the killer, for me, is the change in tone when the story examines the case of a female teacher sleeping with a male pupil:

Looking at Dean Dainty – a normal, spiky-haired, slightly scruffy schoolboy – you wonder how any grown woman could think it appropriate to view him as a sexual being.

The relationship began when Dean was 15 and the teacher gave him a mobile phone ‘for doing so well in her class’.

On it, he found her own personal mobile number, and they began texting each other. The texts quickly became sexual. No doubt the schoolboy could not believe that this pretty, blonde teacher might be interested in him.

‘We arranged to meet up, and she swore me to secrecy,’ he says.

He went to after-school break-dancing sessions with her, and she took him into a pub.

The affair was clandestine, with the pair – Dean was by now 16 – snatching sex wherever they felt they would not get caught.

Where are the references to his thighs? Or the talk about how ‘passionate’ their kisses were?

This ambiguous attitude towards paedophilia is of course nothing new in the Mail – it was one of the things that Chris Morris’ Brass Eye Special a few years ago both parodied and highlighted in its immediate aftermath. But we should never forget that these self-appointed guardians of moral virtue are uncomfortably close in attitude to the very people they claim to be condemning.

C4 News Poll: Cable for Chancellor! (UPDATE)

I was on MoreFourNews this evening, talking about Channel Four News’ YouGov poll of marginal constituencies:

(it’s all televisual LIES by the way – the whole thing was done in green screen in ITN’s underground Danger Room. I half expected Gollum to virtually take part as the fourth guest.)

Because the poll is mainly focused on Lab-Con marginals (with a couple of Lib-Cons and three way marginals thrown into the mix), there isn’t much to comment on from a Lib Dem perspective. The main lesson is that the polls are incredibly volatile at the moment. C4’s poll last month predicted a 150 Tory majority; now it’s down to 50. If that was the situation going into a General Election, a hung parliament would very much still be on the cards.

The other lesson is that the Tories are doing really badly when it comes to public confidence in their ability to manage the economy; a complete inversion from 20 years ago. George Osborne’s ratings are atrocious. And this is a potential opening for the Lib Dems. While 15% think Darling is the best chancellor, 12% say Osborne and 19% say Cable (and among Tory supporters, Osborne only beat Cable by 28% to 20%, a damning indictment in itself in my view). If this was a nationwide poll, Cable’s rating would no doubt be even higher.

As I discussed in my CiF piece today, that isn’t translating into support for the party. It is however something to build on. We finally appear to have started moving beyond our media-imposed narrative of going through a period of implosion and uncertainty. 2008 has been a relatively gaffe-free year.

All the post-Kennedy crap is still lingering, but it is fading fast and will have almost vanished by 2010. My prediction is that with Cable lending us credibility and Clegg an unknown quality, we’re currently looking at quite a good general election. Both Ashdown in 1992 and Kennedy in 2001 managed to defy the low expectations people had of them.

Clegg still needs knocking into shape; nothing will convince me that the confusions this summer over tax didn’t lead to our autumn conference being a wasted opportunity. But if he can learn from his mistakes then I still wouldn’t rule out net gains.

What the Big Brother incident says about Lembit’s narrative… and campaign.

Claims that Lembit will be appearing on the next Celebrity Big Brother have now been vigourously denied. But there remain two problems.

The first thing is that the story “rang” true. CBB is pretty much the only celebrity reality TV show Lembit hasn’t appeared on. He’s made much out of his appearances on I’m a Celebrity and Celebrity Apprentice*. And he has of course appeared on a myriad of other chat and panel shows. By contrast, no-one would have believed the story about Ros Scott or indeed pretty much any other MP. That is an image problem which Lembit himself has cultivated. So while it may indeed be “mischief” to invent stories such as this, it is only planting a seed in well cultivated soil.

The second thing is the length of time it took to rebut the story. Indeed, at the time of writing (1.20pm) the denial has yet to appear on his official website. No bloggers were briefed to start the rebuttal process. Why the length of time? Could it be that his campaign team weren’t completely sure the story wasn’t true and wasted the morning trying to track down the candidate? This suggests that a) Team Lembit perceive the same image problem that the rest of us do and b) either the campaigners or the candidate is not really concentrating on the fight.

Issuing a denial on a website is a five minute job. Is it really too much to expect Lembit to sort this out?

UPDATE: * Not forgetting Big Brother’s Little Brother of course**.

** Oops. Didn’t mention the All Star Talent Show, All-Star Mr and Mrs, Celebrity Weakest Link and Celebrity Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

Nick Clegg dismisses u-turn on tax as “mere details”

Thanks to Linda Jack for pointing me in the direction of Nick Clegg’s interview on the Westminster Hour on Sunday evening.

In a fairly bad tempered interview given the easy ride that Caroline Quinn gives him (just imagine what a Paxo or Humphries would have made of this), he goes back to the formulation which most of the party is pretty comfortable with, namely that if we can meet all our spending priorities and “have money to spare” we should provide further tax cuts to people on “low and middle incomes.” This is a complete and utter u-turn in comparison with his Telegraph interview in which he says that the “vast bulk” of the party’s planned £20bn savings will be ploughed into tax cuts for “people on middle incomes.” In one particularly dismissive phrase, Clegg goes onto suggest that this wobble is all due to bloggers (in particular “Clegg’s Candid Friend”) getting “carried away” with “mere details”. I think I would put in another way:

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

I have to admit to getting heartily sick of this shit. Whether it is about God, how many lovers he’s had, the Lisbon Treaty and now tax, Clegg is incapable of getting it right first time whenever he talks to a journalist. His interview in the Telegraph marked a significant shift in policy. If we hadn’t got obsessed with “mere details” (what’s a few tens of billions of pounds between friends?), the confusion would have continued.

Clegg’s problem when talking to the media was identified during the leadership election. He’s had the best part of a year to sort this out, yet every couple of months he goes off on one playing silly buggers like this. It simply isn’t good enough.

When I wrote on Comment is Free last month that the party has a major communications problem which lies at Clegg’s door, I got a lot of stick for making a problem out of nothing. I can only hope that a few more people now realise this is actually quite a huge issue which needs to be resolved urgently.

The day I murdered British journalism

For God’s sake, doesn’t any journalist have a sense of humour? First a public rebuke on the BBC for being “pompous” now journalism.co.uk doesn’t see the funny side. Any minute now, I’m expecting the National Union of Journalists to issue a press release calling for the government to take action against bloggers issuing death threats to their members.

For the last time: it was a joke. It was certainly satirical, in that one of the problems of British journalism these days IS that – due to the pressures of rolling news environments – a lot of the time journalists can simply “not be bothered” to cover stories in a less superficial way. And yes, it probably isn’t fair to draw this wider conclusion from this simple exchange of tweets but he was a bit arsey, I thought it was a nice line and figured he was broad-shouldered enough to take it. If I was being self-important, I would have written a 2,000 word essay about it (and believe me, I could), not a short quip before writing about something else entirely.

But of course, I mentioned it was a joke in the comments of that article this morning, for the record. Why didn’t Judith Townend mention that fact? Could it be that she “couldn’t be bothered”?

It’s nice to be noticed, but in the middle as I am of this act of journalistic mass-onanism, I am starting to feel like the biscuit…

UPDATE: That journalism.co.uk website has (as of 11.30pm on 2 September) generated one hit for this website. Not exactly a hub of activity then!

Is it okay to hate Tim Leunig?

Burning a dummy in effigy
Guardian Readers burn Tim Leunig in effigy.

Press, politico and blog reaction to the Policy Exchange’s Cities Unlimited report has been quite extraordinary. The Guardian today was particularly wretched, producing a big special article extolling the North (if you really think it’s so great, why did you leave Manchester then?) and quoting David Cameron extensively (audio here):

“This report is rubbish from start to finish,” he said, repeating the charge four times in two minutes. “I think the author himself said it might be a bit barmy. It is barmy.” Referring to the report’s co-author Tim Leunig, he added: “I gather he’s off to Australia. The sooner he gets on the ship the better.”

Being part of a multi-media network these days, the paper has been prominently advertising Chris Grayling’s rebuttal of the report on Comment is Free (“I’m not allowed to say what I really think of it on a family website”) while failing to mention that Tim Leunig himself has an article giving his side of the story. To compound things, the paper has issued a handy extract of the report providing all the “damning quotes” while failing to mention its actual proposals or even provide a link to the report.

On the blogosphere, Leunig is variously described as a “twat” and a “fucking idiot.” Recess Monkey has been far more restrained, merely posting a mugshot of who presumably all right thinking socialists should direct their Daily Hate towards. Finally, noticing that no-one in the media appear to have noticed that Leunig was the central party’s golden boy 12 months ago (he being of the Community Land Auction idea), the Lib Dem press office have issued a standard press release so all local parties can join in with the fun (I’m surprised that Tom Papworth is moaning about this though; doesn’t he have some Focus leaflets to deliver?). But just to show what a classy act we really are, the party has declined to issue a national press release. I’m sure those of us working in public policy are now really reassured that the party will stand by us when the chips are down.

What is most remarkable is that in the last 24 hours since it has been available, none of these people appear to have bothered to read the actual report. Jonathan Calder has, and it is hard to fault his analysis:

David Cameron has called Cities Unlimited “insane”. My own reaction on reading it is quite different. While I like the idea of selling empty property cheaply to its neighbours and local control of development funds, it seems to me to be based on two quasi-Marxist assumptions. They are:

  • contempt for piecemeal reform;
  • the belief that it is the state’s role to forecast how society and the economy will develop and then expedite that development.

The fact is, Leunig and James Swaffield do bear some responsibility for the mess they have found themselves in. Fundamentally, they appear to not be able to make their minds up. On the one hand, most of the prescriptions of their report are excellent. But their analysis of the situation is at the height of economistic hubris. No-one can deny that northern towns such as Manchester and Newcastle have declined since the height of the industrial revolution and have struggled to recover since, but how does that inform us about the future? No-one can deny that the south east has been beneficiary of the post-industrial era, but how does that lead one to conclude that it will remain the case over the next 20-50 years? Can you really measure success and failure in such simplistic economic terms (I for one would move back to Manchester in a heartbeat if I thought I could have a similar career to the one I have here in London; I can’t stand the Capital)? Fundamentally, how can you claim to believe in devolution and reject ideas of a command economy while proposing to plan UK-wide demographics down to the last neighbourhood?

It isn’t really the north that should be upset by this report, it is the good burghers of Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire whose countryside Leunig and Swaffield are proposing to tarmac over. Yet this is based on the assumption that in a post-industrial information age, location will remain as important as it was 100 years ago. My ill-informed analysis is different: the south east has boomed while the north has wilted because that is where the UK’s knowledge economy has been focussed. Invest in a knowledge economy up north and there is no reason why we can’t see benefits across the country. From reading the report, I would expect Leunig and Swaffield to agree with that, at least up to an extent, so why preface their work with the counsel of despair which has caused them so much heat over the past 24 hours?

Back to the media reaction though, I have to wonder if this whole row has been engineered by the Policy Exchange deliberately. The Smith Institute has just had an uncomfortable year with the Charity Commission breathing down its neck. The Policy Exchange must know that its intimate, revolving door relationship with the Conservatives is likely to come under scrutiny sooner or later. So, why not engineer a row with the Tories? And use a Lib Dem as the patsy to boot?

Earlier this year, there was a suggestion that Nick Clegg’s Policy Exchange speech had been leaked to David Cameron thus allowing the Conservative leader to undermine his rival by making a strikingly similar speech 24 hours earlier. Charity Commission investigation or not, if you are a Lib Dem you would be well advised to only sup with the Policy Exchange with a very long spoon.