Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Little Englanders, smaller minds

Yesterday, the backwoods Tory Party revealed its inner idiocy with precision-tooled stupidity.  To watch the real and aspiring inbred knights of the shires dribbling xenophobic ignorance (admittedly aided and abetted by a number of Labour troglodytes who would find the concept of evolution difficult to grasp, let alone spell) is a salutory reminder of the depths of detritus that need to be shifted before political engagement can be elevated out of the sewers.  No wonder Cameron was keen for the Liberals to be assimilated into his coalition - many of his own people are so barking that they should be left in hot cars on sunny days as a piece of Darwinist experimentation.

Given the state of the European economy, and the deficiencies of the policy response from both Osborne and the Euro-zone, an opportunity for racist ranting was purely cathartic.  The need at present is to get a grip on the fundamental problems caused by the collapse of the financial cargo cult rather than to redefine constitutional niceties - which is the very crime the Tory right believes is committed whenever the issue of dragging the British governmental system into the latter half of the 19th century is raised.  The Poujadist tendency also have the capability to believe in the munificence of big business while proclaiming that "small is comprehensible" with respect to "repatriating" powers to Westminster and skewering the limited devolution ushered in by the last Labour government.  The doublethink continues to astound.

Nobody in their right minds claims that the European Union is perfect, or even perfectible.  However it does provide a major market for British goods and services, it does provide some modicum of protection for the individual and the citizen and it has presided over a lengthy period of relative peace and stability - despite challenges that in earlier periods of history would almost certainly have spilled over into a general conflagration.  It is bureaucratic, slow and frustrating, but it is all that there is.  This is what the Tories fear - as it makes it clear that their capricious populism is restricted within a framework of rights that can be upheld - whereas the cretins wish to return to an era of noblesse oblige and forelock-tugging, where rights are denied and latitude is given only to those with the economic clout or the social and cultural conformity to allow them to be trusted by the state apparatus.  Human rights are fine as a stick to beat ideological opponents abroad (even to the extent of supporting their extermination in sewer pipes) but denied at home as in some way un-British, denying a national moral fibre - this may be folk memories of the dreadful warnings of the debilitating effects of masturbation.  The Tories themselves are probably the best exemplars of the latter.

What is fascinating is to watch Osborne calling for fiscal union within the Euro, while wanting to keep Britain on the sidelines.  The cant and hypocrisy of Europhobic Ministers is continuously astounding, and in some ways more offensive than the knuckle-dragging, ignorant blathering of the backbenches.  The first rule of the playground is that you cannot influence something that you're not part of, and Sarkozy telling Cameron to shut up and let the big boys sort it out was a much-deserved rebuke.  Whatever the deficiencies of Eurozone policy-making the UK has no right to interfere or criticise.

The Tories are still in thrall to Murdoch and the Atlanticist delusion - which is hardly news or suprising, but useful to keep in mind.  The scale of stupidity that they demonstrate (as well as the racist demagoguery beloved of the Mail and Telegraph) is dangerous as they could still bring the British economy down in a competitive protectionist spiral if the EU closed its borders.  They lie about the potential for a free-trade zone; this is a stupid, evil delusion peddled by people whose superficial plausibility is now increasingly modelled on the PR approach of the BNP that would throw millions out of work and destroy the remaining economic base of the country.  They are frightened that the social and political protections of the EU will protect people from their excesses, and water down the chimera of neo-con "reforms".

The issue tore apart the Tories in the 1990s,and hopefully will do again.  What we need now is for the mainstream of politics to coalesce around the need for realism and the positive case for Europe - and if this needs realignment then that may be no bad things.  By the time of the next election we will be forced into a choice between the Tory vision of a British supremacism and a more sober, realistic recognition that the British destiny is part of the wider world.  What was a myth in Victorian times is dangerous nonsense today, and it is vital that we keep this in mind while judging the performance of MPs and their cheer-leading guttersnipe inadequates.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Virgin on the ridiculous

I seldom post about rail travel, mainly because there are plenty of other bloggers out there who do this, and partly because it is a routine part of existence that hasn't got materially better or worse in recent years (in general).  However, following a cringe-worthy journey from Glasgow to London yesterday, the entire juxtaposition of the allegedly supreme private-sector expertise and the grim reality of a Friday afternoon fiasco made me consider the links between fantasy and reality.

Heading south, the train ground to a halt somewhere in the vicinity of Oxenholme.  After about half an hour we were told by our cheery guard (I believe called a "Train Manager" in these times of subtle satire in job descriptions) that there was "a fault with the safety systems".  Not reassuring, especially as the word "safety" has the same significance in railway circles as the Blessed Virgin in those areas where incense and choirboys mix.  However, after a little while, we were on the move, carefree, mobile and heading for Preston.  The guard's view was that the train "might be terminated" there - although those of us with technical nous and access to the Internet knew that this was already the intention.

Preston is a dreary station at the best of times.  Seven o'clock on a damp Friday evening does not even approach such an apotheosis.  The passengers were spewed out into the dimly-lit ambience; the impression was that one was emerging into a film-set that was attempting to juxtapose British life during the Second World War with a method-acting attempt to recreate the ambience of the Bombay railway system in rush-hour.  For around half an hour, the passengers stood by the crippled train, without information about what would happen next.  The indicators presented a litany of increasing delay, the station staff were attempting the "Nothingness" technique of existentialism, and eventually trains were announced to points south, albeit without any urgency to inform the old, infirm and otherwise debilitated (there were a lot of Glaswegians who had spent about three weeks' worth of Scottish GDP in the award-winning Virgin Shop), that they needed to negotiate footbridges, subways and crowds wanting to go to Manchester.

A London-bound train pulled in.  It was not quite the last days of Hanoi, but close.  The train sat still.  Then the public address system crackled into life - announcing that "the train couldn't move until some people got off, as it was too full".  Clearly a few public-spirited people, or those who hankered after their lungs being able to function, did this, as we merrily crawled out in the direction of Wigan, Warrington and Crewe, gradually gettting later and later.  Joyous announcements followed about the potential connecting destinations you could possibly arrive at, especially if the train arrived with a reasonable chance of hoofing luggage, pensioners and doleful teenagers over footbridges.

The line between Stafford and Rugby is not noted for its scenic beauty, so it was just as well that it was a moonlit night.  We had plenty of time to enjoy it, as our friendly signalmen had decided that keeping a local train company was a sensible use of our time and theirs.  Just as we accelerated past it, there came even better news that the train had suffered a tilt failure, and therefore would go slowly all the way to London.  In the end, apart from hapless people wanting to connect at Milton Keynes for such fine places as Tring and Watford, whose train could be seen pulling out just as our doors opened, we arrived in London only 45 minutes late (on the schedule for the train but not the passengers).

Seldom is it worthwhile posting tales of woe such as this, except as catharsis.  However, what was very clear is that as with other walks of life, managers and people able to take decisions to benefit the customer are now so thin on the ground that when something goes wrong, affecting 500 people directly and those meeting or depending on them indirectly, there is never anyone actually there who can think laterally and interpose intelligence.  Every brand is defined by its failings - those without philosophical tendencies or a liking for the Theatre of the Absurd will consider flying or driving after an experience like that.  And that sure isn't environmentalism.

Over to you Ms Greening (get the difficult bits, like "Transport Policy" over in the title).

Reynard at bay - the tip of a stinking iceberg

The demise of Liam Fox, Cheyney acolyte, Thatcher worshipper, and apparently amoral Tory, is probably not cause for prolonged celebration, merely some small-scale gloating.  You can imagine the fuss that the Tories' preferred media outlets would have made if there had been an ambiguous hanger-on sponging off a Labour Minister, or if David Laws had not merely fiddled his mortgage.  So forgive me a lack of sympathy for this odious man's downfall (fingers crossed for George to be next!).

In terms of coincidences, the fact that this all happened the day Oliver Letwin was discovered leaving a paper trail across London's parks (it's all right, his Private Office have confirmed that there wasn't any confidential material reported missing) is a shame.  Fox is undoubtedly the more culpable of the two, but Letwin's smugness also deserves a severe puncturing.

The uniting factor is the contempt for probity that runs like a festering sore throughout contemporary politics.  This is probably a consequence of the "professionalisation" of the area - just as with doctors and other self-regulating parasites - and the removal of all ethical considerations in favour of "don't get caught and if you do it's because you're a victim not a malefactor".  The Tories have some spectacular examples, both at Westminster and in local government, but no party is unsullied.  However if you can find more snoutage than in London's flagship Tory councils and their acolytes at the GLA then I shall be surprised and might even be prepared to eat a few words.

Now Transport gets Justine Greening, a Tory on the make with unacceptable right-wing views, and the new Defence Secretary is a man whose priorities are clearly skewed if he thinks that his new role is a step up.  Britain, as a third-rate fringe European power, is very good at post-imperial posturing, but as with any of the other rightists, Hammond clearly harkens back to the days of tiffin and the rest of the world knowing its place.

It's been a good week.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

The BBC, "quality" and the Tory lowest common denominator

After a month's purdah, principally a consequence of excessive spleen and a wish to watch the full gory detail of the conference season unfold before letting loose opinions, not much seems to have changed.  The economy appears to be heading towards a brick wall with the inability of Osborne and Alexander to grasp that we are in a paradigm most closely analogous to that of 1931 rather than 1981 - and even the Bank of England printing money won't save the situation.  More on the need for a contemporary Keynes at some stage.

Months of anticipation and leaks meant that the BBC's announcement of cuts, job losses and reduction in its output was probably not given the attention that it should have been.  It may be a belated punishment for its role in undermining the naked Murdoch empire, or it may just be the knee-jerk reaction of Tory bigots who fail to see the importance of a relatively impartial broadcaster not beholden to advertising or answering directly to the political authorities.  The sight of Lord Patten, seemingly unchanged from the "acceptable face of bigotry" persona that he used to support the adulterous Major to such good effect, supporting the obscenely-overpaid Director-General in announcing massive retrenchment in public service broadcasting is surreal, but not unexpected.

The BBC's description of its approach as "Delivering Quality First" is risible on many scales and many levels.  For a start, experience bears out that "quality" is a nebulous and subjective concept, and can be stretched to cover almost any multitude of sins - at its best it means delivering a reasonable output, at its worst it allows people whose practical and intellectual capabilities to judge others' efforts through a prism of process-driven hokum.  Management-speak is always a good sign that the foundations of the proposition are completely sham and bogus, and this does not cause any readjustment of that perception.

To propitiate the devil, and preserve the existing management, the BBC has taken on board additional responsibilities - including the World Service, the Welsh Channel Four and providing subventions to extend broadband provision in the countryside.  These are further calls on its resources that are, in many respects, worthy public services.  The World Service, in particular, has always been funded directly on the perfectly-logical presumption that since it is not targeted at UK residents it should be not be paid for by them, except as part of a general levy to promote British interests and values.  At least inside the main BBC it will be safe from bean-counters at the Foreign Office.

Public service should be about providing output for the wider community beyond that which the market provides, or at a cost that is reasonable to the end-user.  The perversion of the media market by Sky has had huge consequences not just for the BBC but for commercial broadcasters, who find themselves outgunned and outbid for rights to programmes by an organisation that has combined rapacious greed with targeting the gullible to part with huge monthly sums.  The BBC should have the confidence to protect these outputs rather than concentrate its resources on promoting the generally-dreadful BBC1, which apes commercial television for the most part (figleaves at marginal times don't count).

The problem remains that the Tories would then have a field day, claiming that the BBC is elitist and ignores the cretinous masses who consume pap from other media organs.  Reading the "Times" and the "Mail" is instructive as they seem to regard anything that the BBC does as being tantamount to despoiling virgins, especially if it might be considered to be putting forward any view other than the bile-filled maunderings of petty-bourgeois Philistines.  So left-liberals find themselves defending the BBC by default, rather than enthusiastically.

To me, the BBC still does a great deal that is totally worthwhile.  Radio 4 irritates because it seems to believe that the country is bordered by the M25, and the "Today" programme is too self-congratulatory and no longer as rigorous as it once was, but it is still essential.  6 Music is generally very good  - treating its audience with respect and  not being remitted to respond to commercial requirements.  "Test Match Special" would be missed!  BBC4 seems to secure most of my limited TV viewing these days - and that is under threat.  Doubtless the Tory right will dribble out objections to sub-titled programmes, but they challenge the cosy Anglo-American consensus that the neo-con agenda wishes to promote.

Of other services that I might want to use, Radio 3 has finally disappeared from much of the radar.  Constant re-jigging to become a slightly up-market variation of the Classic FM aural wallpaper, at least in the mornings, has excited a great deal of comment.  Hopefully it will also encourage people to switch off, as the only message that the hapless Controller seems to appreciate is audience figures.  For six hours every day there is a ghastly, patronising melange of nothingness - competing head-on in the market should encourage the commercial sector to cry foul and the audience to get something back.  However, the schizophrenia of ratings and public service will not be resolved. 

I am, fortunately, too young to be in the BBC's target audience for local radio.  There is much sound and fury about the proposed cuts - but most of the current output is uninspiring.  John Birt has a lot to answer for, as the attempt to mimic national journalism with limited resources results in inanity and wall-to-wall coverage of puffs and press releases.  Thirty years ago, the BBC local network was more limited in hours of broadcasting but still managed to cover much more than just local news - and it is probably indicative of the current paucity of vision that what is proposed to be stripped out is the last vestige of local culture and identity.

Now to fill in the consultation document that will rubber-stamp a further diminution in the belief that good broadcasting is the mark of civilisation.