Friday, 30 November 2012

Cameron still responds to Murdoch's dog-whistle

David Cameron's performance responding to the Leveson report demonstrates why the man is unfit to be Prime Minister.  It is perfectly possible to be a civil libertarian and argue that the media needs to be underpinned by a statutory backing for a regulatory framework - not arguing for intervention in content but in ensuring that relations between the media, politicians and the police are subject to independent and effective scrutiny.

All the press, from the rarefied and reasonably-ethical to the cesspool of the tabloids, has been sailing closer to the abyss for the last thirty years.  What Leveson exposed is that a dying medium becomes more and more desperate and less concerned with probity, especially with the active or passive collusion of those who the public have a reasonable expectation to defend them from abuse.  This alone is sufficient to require action to defend the public.

Instead what we received from our Prime Minister, who increasingly resembles Thatcher in being dependent upon Murdoch's support for continued political survival beyond the reasonable sell-by date, was a casuistry worthy of Opus Dei in arguing that, despite all evidence to the contrary, all that was needed for self-regulation to work were incremental tweaks to the existing framework.  A more sceptical person than I would imagine that News International had some input to the insipidity that he came out with.

The facts that the Prime Minister, despite warnings, employed a media adviser who is now facing criminal charges, and that the engagement with News International in the run-up to the 2010 election saw a total reversal of Tory media policy to a pro-Murdoch agenda, and that he then used illogic and unreason to perpetuate the career of Jeremy "Rhyming Slang" Hunt even when the test of what a reasonable person would think had been exceeded, demonstrates a huge lack of judgement and moral turpitude on a level that should be called out.

However, as a dog knows not to bite the hand that feeds, Cameron still seems impelled to deal with his patrons leniently.  Off he goes to Cruft's for obedience class - jumping through logical and ethical hoops to get his mates off the hook.

One Tory backbencher asked whether the Liberal Democrats should still be in Coalition with the Tories following Clegg's endorsement of Leveson's recommendations.  Leaving aside whether they should have been there in the first place, this is pertinent.  As it becomes clear that Cameron remains Murdoch's parliamentary representative, Clegg has to weigh up what that means for democracy going forward - even at the expense of his remaining electoral prospects.  

It might be that Clegg should use Leveson as the final piece of evidence that the Tories have given no thought to the realities of Coalition, and that they cannot be treated as rational or ethical partners.  This is a time to surf the wave of disgust and revulsion, not to tie in a political destiny with a bunch of amoral clients whose interests are diametrically opposed to a free, scrutinising press, and who see in the media a means of stifling debate rather than promoting plurality, information and engagement.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Little England on its last legs

When feeling optimistic, you can imagine that we are living in the last days of the ancien regime.  Whereas in earlier times, soothsayers and self-styled prophets would crawl out of the woodwork, we now have media phenomena such as the Poujadist Nigel Farage and his merry band of people for whom the Conservatives are not sufficiently knuckle-dragging (a concept which takes some getting used to, given the craven performance of Dave and his merry bunch of apparatchiks).

There have been two gambles on nationalism this year - the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics.  Now that these have come and gone, the hollowness at the heart of England is only too apparent.

England feels like a country that has lost any sense of purpose; now there is nothing left but for the dog-whistle issues of immigration, Europe and insecurity to be paraded before the public.  A corrupt and incompetent political system, unrepresentative, unaccountable and undemocratic alienates most people, who can watch slack-jawed as the plutocrats suck their pensions and social provision dry, while the merry band of outsourcers remove any form of accountability or responsibility from politicians and officials.

The petty-minded and ignorant attempt to blame everything on Europe means that even when there is some point to complaint, for example around the bloated and insulated Commission, the mere fact that it is an English politician leading the charge diminishes the impact to molecular level.  Given that the Commission appears to be the last vestige of neo-liberal idiocy within the Union is ironic, but that would be too difficult a concept for the backwoods Tory cretinocracy to grasp.

The monarchy will survive, for the time being.  However the residual affection is not enough to withstand more scandal, or the recognition that the feudal nature of the constitution is not tenable as the United Kingdom moves towards federalism.  The Established Church is doing its level best to disestablish itself, which would be no bad thing.

Still, when UKIP think that Michael Gove is a serious potential partner, we can only hope that this is surrealism gone mad.  The tumbrils will be out in force with Leveson, the by-elections and the recognition that the absence of a Plan A for the economy has gone on too long.  There is a little chink of light that the exploiters and the hypocrites who live in a mythical 1950s state may find themselves swept aside by anger, and a recognition that England is a backwater which needs to assess where it stands in a world where its superiority complex has become a laughing-stock.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Cameron wants to kill what's left of democratic accountability

Forgetting the appointment of Lynton Crosby (the evil behind the evil that is Boris) for a moment, Hamster-face achieved approbation from his paymasters at the CBI for announcing his intention to strip the mere mortals of British society of most of their vestigial rights to challenge, complain and generally make the process of government reasonably accountable.

In the interests of "removing red tape" - translated as making it easier for the CBI (another prime unelected lobby group) to make a quick buck - Cameron tried to invoke a Churchillian Little Englander mentality in the current economic climate.  Removing controls on planning, removing the need for government to consult, consider equality and making it much harder to challenge Ministerial and bureaucratic decisions through judicial review are all further evidence that the Tories want to take us into a combination of feudalism and crony capitalism, with them and their mates creaming off the profits.

Given the complexity of government activity, through outsourcing, PFIs and the extent to which everything is wrapped up in "business-friendly" contracts, any removal of the citizen's right to contest the action of government is a fundamental assault on democracy and human rights.  Not that this worries the Tories, who have been happily spending their time creating as many mechanisms to protect their clients from the consequences of bungling, authoritarian politics.

Removing rights, in the name of "efficiency" and because government knows best, is a slippery slope - even dictatorships maintain a fiction of a rule of law.  This is time for revolt, and time to exploit every current opportunity to challenge government, and to ensure that the Tory crony state is challenged.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Hardly a disaster for democracy

The earth will not stop rotating on its axis because of the risible turnout in the England and Wales Police and Crime Commissioner elections.  For those of us who bothered to vote it will make no tangible difference to either our daily lives or the conduct of policing - replacing an unelected Police Authority with a dubiously-mandated egotist is unlikely to result in much change.

Pathetic though the elections were, they tell a very uncomfortable tale about democratic engagement and the power that the electorate feels it has.  The incentive to vote is directly proportional to the amount of difference it will make, and this suits political parties just fine - as well as the centralising hand of bureaucracy and graft that is permitting far too much of what should be communal activity to fall into the hands of outsourced greed-monsters whose definition of accountability is ensuring that the brown envelopes can be weighed.

When David Blunkett pops up to say that people are tired of constitutional innovation, you realise quite what a mountain needs to be climbed to encourage any thought of citizen power.  Civic participation and engagement should not be optional, but successive governments have, through emasculation of democratic powers, centralising control and contracting out services that should be accountable to elected politicians in ways that render scrutiny impossible, it's hardly surprising that most people can't be bothered.

Still, Michael Mates lost, which for all those burned by Asil Nadir can only be seen as a positive outcome.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Does the BBC bell toll for "Newsnight"?

The decision of the BBC's Director-General to fall on his own sword marks at least a partially-honourable example of accountability in public life, which Dave and his ethically-challenged cohorts should do well to note.  A poorly-researched report which trashed the reputation of a senior Tory donor, and the apparent lack of editorial control within "Newsnight" are sufficient, when the spotlight is trained on editorial and personnel incompetence, to warrant a raft of resignations and reforms.

When the medium becomes the message, and public discussion focuses on what appear to be sloppy journalistic and editorial practices, then even the stoutest defender of the BBC needs to sit up and take notice.  There is a raft of evil still waiting to be dragged into the public realm, and this approach to the issue makes it more rather than less likely that the opacity of bureaucracy, the arrogance of politicians and the incompetence of supposedly responsible agencies will be illuminated.  Instead, the crisis in child protection and the conspiracy of silence will be less probed than the media story which has emerged almost as a proxy for areas that there is too much murkiness and suppressed guilt about already.

Not that this means that the BBC should be immune from criticism and probing.  "Newsnight" has rapidly deteriorated in recent years from a flagship of political and analytical journalism into a fringe programme, personality-driven and with an agenda that appears to have become designed to seek attention, to reflect on its presenters' foibles, and to create much sound and fury while not actually holding politicians and others to account.  From a late-evening appointment view, it has fallen into the trap of being an excuse to switch over to the radio where the analysis is far superior on "The World Tonight", and less obsessed with the metropolitan reticules and generating its own mythology.

Therefore, perhaps the time has come to put it out of its misery - as it does nothing as well as "Channel 4 News" or indeed the plethora of other media outlets that maintain a real-time presence.  A parish magazine for London neurotics is not necessarily a good use of the licence fee, especially as its premise of more detailed analysis has been overtaken by the expansion of access to information.  Thirty years on, a great reputation is being tarnished - and it brings obloquy on the remainder of the BBC.

Why it's radical to remember

Since 1918, there has been an organised commemoration of the victims of war - not glorifying militarism and pseudo-patriotism, but saluting the courage and sacrifice of generations whose lives were defined by the conflicts that they had done very little or nothing to engender.  It is perfectly possible, and actually much more rational, to remember in the context of the ultimate futility of armed conflicts.  This is not disrespectful to anyone beyond the political caste whose manipulation and failure cost lives and prosperity across the world.

Of all the nauseating spectacles that the right perpetrates, the wrapping of itself in the poppy and the Union Jack is the hardy perennial.  Every year there is a witch-hunt of anyone who appears to dissent from the simplistic narrative of nationalist drivel and narrow-minded conformity that demeans the millions of combatents who have fallen in the service of others.

This is the real disrespect.  For the rest of humanity, we should be ensuring that political and personal morality and conduct precludes repetitions of butchery and mass slaughter, with gratitude to those whose otherwise unsung service provide us with a context in which to this.  Flag-waving and appropriation of a narrative do not achieve anything, beyond demeaning those whose myriad individual experiences are co-opted for a partial narrative.  We cannot allow this to happen, for that would ultimately invalidate the real reason to remember, reflect and contemplate.