Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Nostalgia The New-Fangled Way

Give praise to the munificence of Wikipedia (albeit by the strange route of John Poulson - John Cordle - Bournemouth East and Christchurch - Christchurch By-Election, 1993) for this profile of the by-election by a scarily young Mark Mardell. Watch out for disturbing evidence of the origins of "The Real Alternative" and a certain Scottish MP making an embarrassing mistake in a former life....

PS Can anyone identify the other members of the Christchurch office who appear?

PPS Oh, and if you're really in need of a pick-up, how about the declaration itself...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Great (And Unfulfilled) Expectations Of An Intelligent Journalist

With official figures confirming the widely held view that the UK economy is going to hell in a handcart, you'd expect an august organisation like the BBC to report this important news to the public they allegedly service. And bless them, they tried the darnedest. Unfortunately, there is no try, there is only do, or do not...

Because what the Beeb are actually reporting is "UK economic growth at standstill". And unlike James Graham's example, it's not just faulty headline composition, the whole article talks about "growth being unchanged" and "growth contracting". In case it needs spelling out, what the ONS measures is the percentage change in the size of the economy, which either shows it to be growing, contracting, or stable. This month's figures show the economy at 0.0% change, i.e. stable; the growth isn't at a standstill, for this quarter it simply doesn't exist.

I wouldn't mind, but this comes just a day after part two of the annual GCSE easier-than-it-was-in-my-day-a-thon. Well clearly it's not if even the economics journalists can't correctly evaluate a percentage change when it stares them in the face...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Clegg Whispers Those Three Little Words

It may surprise regular readers to know that I actually quite enjoy it when the party launches another new energy policy. Not because they're good; I know full well they will be moronic, technologically illiterate and suffused with the very worst in pseudo-religious Church of EnvironMentalism dogma. Nevertheless, there is great humour value in our pontifications; rarely is so imbecilic a policy promulgated with such high-handed earnestness and faith in the one true way of viridism.

So I was fully prepared to leave today's press stunt well alone and was fully willing to give it nothing more than a cursory glance amidst the triple jump final at the Bird's Nest. But then my cursory glance alighted on three little words that were missing from the press coverage. Because despite the spin, the paper absolutely does not say that we want to make Britain energy independent by 2050. Instead, it adds a vital and, frankly, offensive caveat, because what it actually says is;

Britain needs to set itself an ambitious goal - to become energy independent within the EU by 2050.

Let's leave aside for a moment that by using “independent within the EU” we're cribbing lines off Plaid Cymru and ask ourselves one simple question.

Why on Earth would you need to apply that specific caveat?

I mean, I'm all for reducing our dependency on dictatorships like Russia and Saudi Arabia, but is it really necessary to define the world of stable democracies as being those countries that pledge fealty to Brussels? Haven't you just told the USA, Canada, Australia, Japan and the rest exactly where they can shove it? Isn't such an attitude nothing short of despicable from the party that more than any other shouts its internationalist credentials to the rooftops?

What's worse, there's actually a lot to like in this policy. Neither Labour nor Tory has yet grasped that delivering even the renewables targest we have now will actually at some point require HMG to actively do something instead of going around telling everyone how nice it would be if somebody else did something, so to see us getting on board is very welcome.

But then it's all let down by the headline and the three little words. The real tragedy of it all is that, without the caveat, we could have put forward the first realistic energy independence policy of any British political party. For while the renewable dream we've put forward today is the worst kind of technologically illiterate bullshit, with Canada and Australia in the mix we could push on with a truly revolutionary nuclear-renewable mix that really would end our dependence on the Putins of this world.

The headline isn't wrong; we really do need the sort of technological revolution that mankind has so far only managed to fuel through the worst of wartime hatred. I fear however that it is not so much an Apollo that we need, but a Manhattan.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Excuse Me While I Get My Gun And March On W12...

Does anyone know whether Ming is in the country at the moment?

I only ask because Newsnight are trying to evaluate the effect of our Olympic performance on the national psyche and they're doing so with the help of everyone's favourite athlete-cum-politician...

Jeffrey Archer

Setting aside the morality of giving media air to a convicted criminal, could they really not have got the politician who actually ran in the Olympics rather than the one whose athletic claim to fame was being hit by a discus while watching a race?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

You Can Leave Your Hutton

To judge by the BBC's coverage yesterday, the whole Olympic Games have been tragically overshadowed by a major international incident as the world discovered a nine-year-old girl miming. And they say these London media types have no sense of perspective...

As much as anything else, I'm annoyed by it all largely because I didn't need a admission on Radio Beijing to tell me that she mimed, or that the fireworks thing was CGI-ed; I could see that with my own eyes when I watched the ceremony.

But it's also worth reflecting that it really is only the British who care. To take just the handful of foreign news sites that occurred to me last night, Libération weren't covering it, Al Jazeera weren't covering it and the Drudge Report was highlighting The Telegraph's coverage of it... And yet, there at the same time was Newsnight embarking on a serious discussion of the morality of it all with style rent-a-quote Stephen Bayley.

Now if the Beeb had some evidence that the Chinese authorities were faking athletes performances (something that for a Communist regime, even a cuddly post-Maoist one, isn't, you know, beyond the realms of possibility), that would be serious news worthy of studio guests and a live link-up with Matthew Pinsent in the Olympic Village. What we have instead is the sporting equivalent of someone faking the intro clips for the bands in the Eurovision Song Contest (You mean amusing incidents involving market stalls, BMX riders and jugglers with green, white and red balls aren't a daily occurrence in Belgrade?)

Bill Simmons, one of my favourite sports columnists from America, suggests that all organisations should have a Vice-President of Common Sense. It's a fine idea and we should start with the BBC, particularly in this post-Hutton world. Ultimately, we're clever enough to understand that there is such a thing as the magic of television and that it might be used to make something as utterly inconsequential as an Olympic Opening Ceremony look a bit better; wasting air time pontificating about the morality of it is nothing but pure meeja hor onanism.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Not The Work Of Homer

I seem to have spent an awful lot of time today thinking about this whole question of narratives; the belated spring clean I'm undertaking is probably to blame for this, as are James Graham and Ros Scott. Either way, I doubt you'll be surprised to learn that I haven't found many answers under the piles of paper.

As much as anything this is due to not really knowing what is required. I know that Neil Stockley and the other narrative advocates are right, I do. But agreeing with it gives me absolutely no insight into what it would be. Not that this should surprise me particularly; I am after all a policy wonk of many years standing and that in itself appears to be part of the problem.

Either way, we should resist any effort to use policy to drive any change in the narrative (which, let's face it, is what we're expecting to happen with tuition fees). We undoubtedly need to get better at communicating it, but we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that we do have better policies than the other parties.

There is, however, one thing that does occur to me as a necessary ingredient for the mythic narrative.


I may be a policy wonk, but the policies I care about make me angry. Council tax makes me angry. The benefit trap makes me angry. The state of the railways makes me angry. And after eighteen years of Tory neglect and a decade of New Labour bungling, many millions of Britons are angry too.

Not that any of this means that we need Nick Clegg smashing up the Question Time set or taking Scunner Broon outside for a kicking (although I am minded of Leo's line in the West Wing about blowing the Sultan's brains out in Times Square then crossing the street to Nathan's and buying a hot dog...)

What it does mean, however, is being willing to say not merely that we disagree with policy x or policy y, we disagree with what you stand for, in its entirety and to do so with absolute forthrightness. It doesn't even have to be about the words; Ming's conference speech last year could have done it with the right intonation. What's more, anger is a narrative the Conservatives can't steal. David Cameron is not going to summon rage from the depths of Notting Hill, and reaching for it and getting no further than Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells will just look silly.

Of course I'm almost certainly wrong about all of this. But can we at least agree that we need to sort the narrative out and start doing it?