Archive

Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

We’ve never had it so good

October 12, 2016 Leave a comment

Back in around 1999 or thereabouts, I suggested in a conversation to some miserable git or other that we were living in a golden age. My evidence for this was that, at the time, we were enjoying unprecedented economic wealth, were not at war with anyone (at least not what we would usually call a war), were governed by a centrist Labour government whose stated primary objectives (of alleviating poverty and improving the life chances of all through education) more or less chimed with the prevailing mood of the nation, and were not, it seemed, imperilled by any aggressive totalitarian regimes threatening our existence. Even the IRA had piped down. Admittedly Arsenal were much too strong for my liking and England still weren’t that much cop at cricket, but things were, on the whole, pretty good.

The only dark cloud (literally) came in the shape of eventual climate armageddon, but there was still time to deal with that.

Whoever I was talking to clearly wanted to start a conversation with someone else, because after some minor hectoring they agreed with me. “Put it like that, and I can see your logic,” they smiled (or so I like to imagine). “Let’s hope things carry on improving, or one day you’ll end up writing a blog – whatever they are – about how prescient you were.”

And here we are.

I shan’t chronicle the past 17 years, but a few things have happened. As the infuriating American saying pithily puts it, “It is what it is.”

So, I was watching the movie “The Big Short” and there’s a great bit at the end where, quoting Michael Lewis’s book directly (I assume) Ryan Gosling’s character amusingly says something like, “post the financial crash, all the bankers were jailed, the taxpayers were reimbursed, the politicians got a hold of things and justice was served.”

Then the payoff: “Only joking. They just blamed immigrants and poor people as usual.”

And here we are.

It’s hard to argue that life is better now than it was in 1999, for those of us fortunate enough to have lived through that golden era. Cynical politicians have managed to persuade the uninformed that “immigrants and poor people” are indeed to blame for their ills. There’s Trump. ISIS. Farage (in descending order of scariness). But, again, it is what it is. My point is that things could very well get worse.

We mustn’t take for granted what we have now, because there’s no guarantee we’ll still have it in 20 years unless we get to grips with the alarming increase in nationalism and racism we’re seeing now. We have to deal with it.

I watched “The Big Short” with a pretty comprehensive knowledge of the events that led up to the biggest global financial crash in history. I laughed, knowingly, about the “immigrants and poor” line. I wondered how they’d managed to get through the whole film without mentioning Gordon Brown or Labour, as I had heard the Conservatives say that the financial crash was all his fault. I wondered why Barack Obama, who has overseen an almost implausibly solid recovery in the US from the ruins of an economy he inherited, is not only given no credit for this achievement but has to watch as his opponents accuse him of trashing their country. It’s a film based on actual events, which makes it clear that bankers and lax regulation by the politicians they owned screwed us all.

Knowledge helps in that way. It allows you to contextualize and analyse. It’s why the likes of Farage and Trump are so dangerous; they are working from a playbook written back in the 1930s and relying on a compliant political class that has indulged their poison.

So yes, it’s ok to get angry at Wall Street and politicians – indeed, we didn’t get angry enough – but not to infer that everything else touched by government is illegitimate. If you want change, yes, vote against politicians in thrall to Wall Street, but not by siding with racists and misogynists.

If we don’t take care to promote the forces of enlightenment, information and reason, the tools we use to share those values may soon be taken from us. If the other side stop respecting the values and legitimacy of our nation and our institutions, then we have nothing to keep this wheezing charabanc on the road.

When that happens, then all the stuff we enjoy now – and I’m talking about a free press, the supremacy of the rule of law, a choice of food at the supermarket – might disappear.

So far, so good: if you’re reading this, you probably agree with every word. Our challenge is to break out of the echo chamber and get this message to the people we need to hear it. And that’s where we – the creative, informed, empathetic metropolitan elite – need to use our skills.

Be creative. Get to it.

 

Advertisements
Categories: politics, Uncategorized

It’s time to take control

June 24, 2016 4 comments

My 16-year-old son was not happy about the referendum result, and nor were his peers. His analysis of those who voted Leave (“the old and stupid”) may not be polite or entirely accurate but it’s better than apathy. He was engaged by this event, and that’s worth celebrating in a democracy.

We – my wife, daughter, son, his girlfriend and I – had talked a couple of days ago about the repercussions of a Leave vote and I outlined some of the possible positives and negatives as they related to their generation. The only positive they responded to was the possible collapse in house prices. I may not have argued the Leave case very well.

As much subsequent reporting has borne out, most teenagers feel European and can not comprehend for a moment why anyone would vote to leave something they think is working. They’ve grown up in a free and peaceful Europe and are fearful that a Leave vote might change that.

When they saw the result, they were (in their own words) surprised, angry and upset. (Exactly as I used to feel when my country voluntarily voted for a Government which included Jeffrey Archer.) Katie, my son’s girlfriend, asked me specifically to tell them why it might be ok. So here goes.

This vote proves that politics matters. It’s not something that happens to you or around you; you have the chance to change the world and shape it to reflect what you want.

If you don’t like what’s just happened, use your energy, intelligence and passion to change it. Because the 73% of under 25s who wanted to Remain will soon be 25-35s, and in positions of influence.

Don’t want a Government that ignores 98% of health professionals and tries to impose an unfair contract on them? Change it.

Don’t want a Government that looks likely to ignore the will of the people and allow fracking, when we’re expressly told by nearly every scientist on the planet to leave the remaining fossil fuels in the ground? Change it.

Don’t want a society where it’s easier for Chinese millionaires to own two or more properties in London than for many Londoners to own one? Change it.

Don’t like a system that means four million UKIP voters and a million Green voters have two MPs between them? Change it.

Don’t want a society that increasingly champions ignorance and prejudice at the expense of education, and uses expertise as a pejorative? Change it.

Because if the last couple of years have proved anything it’s that there’s no need to feel impotent and ignored. If you find yourselves surrounded by likeminded people who recoil at the casual racism expressed throughout this campaign, or at a political class that has bent over backwards to accommodate multinational companies while ignoring working people in their own country, or that wants to privatise vital goods and services that should be run for the public benefit rather than to line the pockets of already obscenely rich individuals, change it.

You can. You have the power. You have youth, passion and energy on your side, because it’s your future you’re fighting for. You can take control.

And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

 

Enough is enough

June 17, 2016 4 comments

Farage poster

I thought blogging about the poster above might be a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, but a friend asked me to (honestly, that really happened), so here it is.

Any ad – and this poster qualifies as an ad – is constructed using a few universal disciplines. These are usually captured on a brief, and can be boiled down to the following main points:

  • Background
  • Who are we talking to?
  • What do we want them to do?

The brief will also contain a proposition.

Let’s imagine how that brief might have looked:

Background

Britain has traditionally been a tolerant country, with a proud history of providing refuge for  those in danger and helping disenfranchised people from far and near. Indeed some of our greatest achievements as a nation – the stories of which we can be most proud – surround the actions of people such as Sir Nicholas Winton, who saved hundreds of foreign Jewish children from the Nazis.

Our population comprises thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people who owe their safety, prosperity and, in some instances, their very existence, to our country’s generosity of spirit and instinctive ability to distinguish right from wrong. In return, those people have gone on to enrich our nation themselves, living productive and responsible lives in their adopted country.

None of this would be possible if it wasn’t for the vast majority of Britons, who, safe in the knowledge that they have been immensely lucky to have been born in one of the most enlightened and wealthy countries in the world, have been only too happy to help those less fortunate than themselves.

It’s no exaggeration to say that our national identity – both in our own eyes and the eyes of the world – is constructed on our sense of behaving in the ‘right’ way. In 1939, when Europe was in the throes of the greatest existential crisis in our history, we acted. We stared the forces of prejudice, hatred and division in the eye, and we repelled them. We couldn’t manage it alone; we needed some help along the way. But we took the lead. When a despot blamed the ‘other’ for the woes of his people, we refused to accept this demonisation based on religion or creed, and fought back. And we won.

As a result, our continent has experienced over 70 years of peace and prosperity. We helped entrench these values by helping to frame the Human Rights legislation that has formed the basis for much of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Recently, as immutable global pressures of population growth and the rapid development of populous but previously undeveloped countries has accelerated, we have faced a series of tough challenges. Violence in other areas of the globe has precipated forced movements of large numbers of refugees, many of whom have sought refuge in countries which they perceive to offer their families safety, security and the prospect of a better future. That’s human nature; which of us would not do the same?

Most Britons – those decent, honourable people mentioned above – understand that we must do our best for these people. Their displacement may be temporary but in the short term, they need help; both from us and our European neighbours. It may make life a little difficult for us all; but it’s all relative. We know that doing the right thing doesn’t always mean doing the easy thing. And that we aren’t living in a place where hospitals and schools are being bombed.

Who are we talking to?

Most Britons are like the people mentioned above.

We’re not talking to them.

We’re talking to the others. The ones (and there are many) who are dissatisfied with some aspects of their life (who isn’t, after all?) but will not be able to understand that the lack of sufficient housing, school places and hospital beds in the UK has literally nothing to do with, for example, a photograph of Syrian people queuing in Slovenia.

What do we want them to do?

We want them to vote Leave in the forthcoming referendum. There are plenty of entirely reasonable arguments for rejecting the EU and wishing to leave it, but these are far too complicated for this target audience, so let’s just appeal to the worst in them, while at the same time betraying many of the values (see above) that they would probably wish to be associated with. It’s ironic that by invoking fascist imagery we will be seeking to gain the votes from people who are the most vocal about their Britishness, which might be summarised as “gloriously anti-fascist”. But there you are.

A welcome corollary of this is that such a blatant dogwhistle to the racists, bigots, ignorant and uninformed, will inflame the majority of the nation to such an extent that they will protest. Many of these protests will come from people who, thanks to the qualities listed above, have gone on to achieve much in our society and will therefore be easy to portray as “out of touch” and “elitist”. Another way to describe them might just be “tolerant, decent Britons”, but let’s try to avoid that, eh?

Proposition

Are you a small-minded racist who hates knowledge, intelligence and other people? Nigel wants your vote.

Mandatories

As voting day approaches we will continue to appeal to the very worst in a minority of British people, and probably link all immigrants with terrorism, so please prepare the ground for that. Thanks.

 

 

The verdict is IN

I’m sure our readers are waiting to hear how the Breakfast team are voting in the forthcoming European referendum, in which case today is your lucky day.

It’s IN. For all of us.

None of us have been polled – online, by phone or any other way – so we’re hopeful that there are others whose opinions are unsolicited and who feel the same way. The team all have their own reasons for wanting to stay, and I am (surprisingly) not egotistical enough to think that my opinion will sway anybody one way or the other.

However, whatever your answer to the question so eloquently posed by Mick Jones a few years ago, please sit down with a cup of your favourite hot drink and read this.

It’s powerful stuff.

 

 

When you don’t know who to trust, find an ad agency

April 20, 2016 Leave a comment

I’m not sure that phrase has ever passed anyone’s lips, but the messages we produce are bound to be, in no particular order, legal, decent, honest and truthful.

With that in mind, we were only too happy to continue to assist the nation’s junior doctors with their quest to over turn the government’s imposition (or is that ‘introduction’?) of a new contract. Here are the fruits of our labour:

SUPPORT-OUR-JUNIOR-DOCTORS-PROTECT-OUR-NHS

If it’s facts about the junior doctors’ dispute you’re after, you’ll find plenty of them in the leaflet.

However, you ‘ll struggle to find them in most of our national press, because while their content is obliged to be legal, there’s not an awful lot of decency, honesty or truthfulness to be found in our newspapers. I don’t even believe the football scores in the Daily Mail any more.

The Breakfast team are proud to support the junior doctors and will continue to do so, on behalf of everyone in our country who has ever relied on our NHS.

 

 

Categories: Breakfast news, politics

What rhymes with Hunt?

February 11, 2016 Leave a comment

I’ve been mulling over this post for a while now, specifically since I went to see Jon Ronson talking about his recent book, “So You’ve Been Publically Shamed”. If you haven’t read it, do: it’s a fascinating examination of the modern phenomenon of social media shaming, which also raises some interesting points about the disappearance of nuance and context in modern life.

Shaming didn’t begin with social media – I suspect there are a fair few ‘witches’ at the bottom of ponds who may argue that mediaeval Britain got there a while back – but its escalation over the past few years has been significant. The case of Justine Sacco is particularly interesting, as the tweet which caused her to become a global hate figure and lose her job was actually a self-mocking piece of satire, the meaning of which eluded her audience. Or at least eluded those who were invited to read it once they’d decided she was a privileged white racist.

Anyhow, I’ve been positive for some time that we need to return to civility in modern discourse: nowadays it’s too easy to shout down those with whom we disagree, especially when we’re not likely to bump into them in real life.

This is particularly hard to observe should you happen across some of the disgusting abuse handed out to the likes of Charlotte Church when she dares to air her opinion on something (she is a woman! Who’s not impoverished! How dare she comment on inequality?), but disagreeing loudly and rudely with bigots or misogynists is hardly likely to change their minds.

I may not be the first person to say this, but I’ve never seen anyone reconsider their opinions after being hectored or lectured: remaining calm, rational and using, heaven forbid, facts, is more likely to persuade those who remain open to persuasion. (Stewart Lee used to recount an occasion when he gently took issue with some of the assertions made by a racist cab driver only to be told, “You can prove anything with facts”, which is fortunately true.)

I have made a conscious effort to dial down my own indignation and instead to return to satire (which has always been my preferred method of response to ignorance) or polite persuasion. But this is hard to do, as another recent prompt for this article proved.

Standing in a ten-strong queue at Pret a Manger recently, I was a little put out to see one brazen individual walk through the queue and take their place directly opposite the next available server. He immediately got served: I’d just endured a particularly shit commute so I called him on it. The gist of his reply was, “No one queues in Pret”, which I was able to immediately disprove. He followed this with, “That’s the problem with this country: too many people are prepared to just stand in line.”

I can get a bit rattled, even when trying to keep my cool, but before completely losing it I realised I’d just encountered my own “You can prove anything with facts” moment. There really is no arguing with someone who feels sufficiently certain of themselves to shamelessly put their own interests ahead of everyone else’s. And if I’m self-aware enough to recognise that in Pret on a Tuesday morning, it should apply on Twitter too.

So from now on, no name-calling or insults; no bandwagon jumping or slander. I’d even like to retract my recent assertion that Donald Trump has a low IQ, because there remains a slim chance that he’s conducting a satirical experiment and might actually be the smartest person in the room.

And so on to the final prompt for this post, the hot-off-the-presses news that Jeremy Hunt is to impose his contract settlement on Junior Doctors.

CQI0JuiWUAAt9vj

The subsequent outpouring of abuse directed at the Health Minister simultaneously demeans his accusers and lets his bosses off the hook. He’s not doing this in a vacuum, or because he got out the wrong side of bed; he’s doing it because it’s part of a carefully calculated plan to privatise the NHS. If the Tories (or Labour, who were equally guilty of privatising things on the quiet) were honest about this, and let the nation decide how they wanted health provision to evolve, we could have a grown-up discussion. Instead, we are left with the undignified scene of a man whose surname rhymes with the worst swear word in the world* blatantly lying on national television. Lying. My assertion is that the way to ensure this tactic doesn’t work is to calmly and rationally present the facts (which admittedly might necessitate abducting the editors and columnists of a few national newspapers for a few days, but hey ho), before letting the public decide. Because resorting to abuse and personal insults immediately cedes the high ground and the high ground is the final remaining place where those in possession of evidence, facts and persuasion reside. (It’s the same reason why we should never torture prisoners or sell arms to Saudi Arabia.)

I firmly believe this is how a civilised nation should go about things, and if Britain is nothing else, it remains – I hope – a civilised nation. I’m going to try and stick to this credo; you’re welcome to call me out on it when I fail.

*Finally, if you don’t know what’s the worst swearword in the world, please, please spare five minutes to read this column – by Jon Ronson – which might just be my favourite newspaper column ever.

 

Our new TV campaign

January 12, 2016 Leave a comment

Tonight, some of Breakfast’s finest work will be seen by millions of people. Here’s a sneak preview:

NHS placards

Chris Williams, our esteemed Creative Services Head/ Resolutely Unqualified and Ironic Human Resources Manager/ Semi-Fictional Accounts Person is the lucky other half of an extremely dedicated and hard working junior doctor. As a result, we are fully aware of the facts behind their strike action and accordingly are more than happy to support them in any way we can, which in this case involved Chris producing some placards. I might have stuck a comma after Mr Hunt, but let’s not split hairs…

Whatever your political persuasion, the liberal use of what can be generously termed half-truths (Ok, lies) by the minister, employed in tandem with muck-raking by the right wing press, and deployed against people who work to the point of exhaustion to help save lives, is not on. Is it?