Now that Tony Blair has won a (not particularly unsurprising, but still annoying) third term, the Independent and others are picking him up on the fact that he did so with just 36% of the popular vote and with the support of only 22% of the electorate. The Independent’s campaign for democratic reform is a bit shutting-the-stable-door-after-the-horse-has-bolted but there’s something to be said for it and who knows, maybe Tony might even listen (although I doubt it). The above link links to the Independent’s page of links on the topic, including an online form you can fill in to sign their petition.
This brilliant article in today’s Times calls this “the Basil Fawlty” election (the UK general election I mean, not the one for the new Pope). Journo Martin Samuel’s reference is to the John Cleese character’s catchphrase “Don’t mention the war!”, on account of the three main parties’ hypocritical and cowardly silence over Iraq. But another quote from that great TV series also springs to mind, the one about “the bleedin’ obvious”.
Samuel’s piece, in being staggeringly simple, honest and true, is exactly the opposite of the politicians’ bluster. Iraq is the real divisive issue in this election, the real issue, the only issue. It’s bleedin’ obvious – but nobody seems to be seeing it. Worryingly, one of the people not seeming to see it is Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats. As Jeremy Paxman said to him in a TV grilling last night, “You were the only party that opposed the war. People should be flocking to you in droves. Why aren’t they?”
“There remains a tremendous amount of anger over the invasion of Iraq,” writes Samuel, “and Kennedy is the only party leader that can rightfully lay claim to it. Howard supported the war, Blair started it, but Kennedy spoke against it throughout. This is what any capable marketing executive would call his Unique Selling Point. The Lib Dems should be the true opposition party in this election, yet they are stuck peddling the same tired lines as the big two.”
The reason for this, it seems to me, is that the Lib Dems are afraid (as, in fairness, would the other two parties be if they were in the same position) that the electorate will turn off if they start talking about “stuff happening abroad”; the emphasis of policy, it is perceived, has to be on what’s happening at home – hospitals, tax, education, crime. But this isn’t a normal election with only those normal election issues at stake. As Samuel says, “Vote for what you think a politician will achieve, based around a loose bag of pledges, promises, bluster and speculation. The war is not like that. It happened. We’re in. They’re dead.”
And, I would add – even if Charles Kennedy won’t – vote Lib Dem.
According to today’s Observer, Labour are several points ahead of the Tories in the paper’s latest opinion poll. This article also reports that Peter Hain “launched a fierce attack on self-indulgent ‘dinner party critics’ among the liberal middle classes who are tempted to use the ballot box to punish Blair”. By doing so, he says, such voters “would only hurt the poorest, who were dependent on a Labour victory”. Blair has “got the message” about their displeasure, Hain insists, arguing that those who still disagreed over Iraq or civil liberties “should reopen the arguments after the election”. “There’s now a kind of dinner party critics [sic] who quaff shiraz or chardonnay and just sneeringly say, ‘You are no different from the Tories,'” Hain goes on. “Most of the people in this category are pretty comfortably off: it’s not going to be the end of the world if they get a Tory government. In a working-class constituency like mine, this is a lifeline. It’s not a luxury.”
Well, I have no doubt Peter Hain would love for Iraq and civil liberties to slip off the agenda until after the election. However, he might like to know that it is precisely because of these two issues that I will not be voting Labour on 5th May. He needn’t worry, though, about my vote going to the Tories – they are indeed the totally desperate option. As one of the middle-class liberals he so despises (and, therefore, very proud of it), as stated elsewhere here I will be voting Lib Dem.
Incidentally, Peter should note that I prefer cabernet sauvignon to shiraz, although seeing as he’s so busy generalising I doubt he’s got time for such details. And by the way, are we middle classes he lambasts the same middle classes as those his party want “the poor” to aspire to being? Surely not!
mad.co.uk, an online magazine for creative and media characters whose weekly email I’ve somehow managed to subscribe to, are currently running an “election special”, approaching leading branding and design agencies to “revamp the visual identities and brand positioning” of the main parties. This week they’re focusing on the Liberal Democrats, whom Thoughtcat believes represent the only decent choice in the coming election. The posters and slogan (“Honesty is our best policy”), created by The Design Group, is pretty good IMHO, and has prompted me to have a go myself. I’m no professional designer or ad person (“No kidding!” – The Design Group) but I’ve come up with three newspaper ads / posters and put them on my main site at www.thoughtcat.com/libdems.htm
The improbably-named Daniel Finkelstein writes an interesting piece in the Times today headlined “How do you know when a politician is lying? When his lips move”. He concludes: “Claiming that the world can be transformed radically and quickly by political action is bound to result in disappointment. But politicians don’t do this because they are liars. They do it because they are fools.” Can I take it then that the bottom line is that the public wouldn’t be interested in an honest politician? Go on, Westminster! Break the mould!
Following a moan by a New York Times journalist about the exposure Google gives blogs in its page rankings, John Naughton writes a defence of bloggers in the Observer, pointing out that the contempt held for blogs and their authors by experienced journalists is misplaced. “Journalism has always been, as Northcliffe observed, ‘the art of explaining to others that which one does not oneself understand’,” explains Naughton. Let’s hear it for Northcliffe! Wasn’t he the chap in Wuthering Heights?
Elsewhere in the Observer, it is reported that the producer of Big Borether, Peter Bazalgette, modestly asserts that the way to get more people interested in politics is for Westminster to adapt to the voting methods used in his “reality TV” (an oxymoron if ever there was one) programme. I somehow have my doubts that MPs in the House of Commons will agree to let themselves be nominated for eviction by each other on a weekly basis and then have their political future determined by text message. And who could be bothered to sit through 659 sets of nominations every week? In any case, Bazalgette is missing the point completely to infer that politics can only be made more relevant and interesting to “the masses” with the use of such trendy techniques. What people would actually respond to are some politicians who capture their imaginations, and above all, who they can trust.
John Reid, leader of the House of Commons, is reported today to be under fire for saying of Iraq: “I believe there are weapons of mass destruction there. I know we haven’t found them yet, but because we haven’t found them yet no more means that there was not a threat than not finding the money stolen from the Great Train Robbery means that Ronnie Biggs was innocent.” This Prescottesque tongue-and-truth-twister is even worse than Jack “Short” Straw’s “rewriting of history” yesterday when he said “it’s not crucial” now to find the weapons. All this comes despite Tony Blair going on and on like a bloody scratched record for weeks before the war about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (the expression was of course used so much that he had to truncate it to “WMD”) being the pretext for military action, which we all knew was bullshit anyway. My respect for our politicans just gets lower – at the same rate, in fact, as their respect for the intelligence of the people they claim to represent disintegrates. How can people like Straw live with themselves? Why not just go and get an honest job like being a milkman or something? It might not pay as much but at least it’d be human.
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If you missed the BBC2 programme “The Nation’s Favourite Food” last night, think yourself lucky. My wife and I were watching it while we were eating… never again. This alleged top ten of the UK’s favourite “seduction” foods included strawberries in chocolate, and, of all things, prawns. They also interviewed an inarticulate 12-year-old DJ about champagne, filmed a bunch of sloane-rangerettes blowing up a kitchen in an attempt to make chocolate vodka cocktails, showed Melinda Messenger spitting out an oyster and, perhaps worst of all, filmed Peter Stringfellow. In his kitchen. Cooking a chicken casserole for his girlfriend. I mean, Jesus. It made us yearn for a Get It On bar.
For anyone who doesn’t watch TV or doesn’t live in the UK, this was just the latest TV show in recent weeks claiming to represent the UK’s favourite this-or-that as voted for by viewers. In the past few weeks alone we’ve had the UK’s top 100 film stars, the UK’s top 100 romantic films, the 100 worst people in the UK (all on Channel 4, it should be said), not to mention the soon-to-be-announced BBC Big Read, a poll of the UK’s favourite 100 books. I’m all for anything that encourages people to read, but even that’s a bit of a naff idea (especially as the number one will probably be something I haven’t read). Something else I haven’t read is Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man but this total lack of imagination on the part of TV programme-makers is the Last Straw and would seem to bear out the feeling that The End of Television is nigh. How many more cruddy TV shows can they make on the basis of things voted for by viewers? More importantly, when are TV companies going to realise that the results of these programmes don’t represent the views of the UK but instead just the views of the six people who voted? Plus, the only people who do vote in these things are people who don’t do anything except watch cruddy TV programmes all day. It’s like that exchange in Woody Allen’s Manhattan:
IKE: You’re going by the audience reaction to this? I mean, this is an audience that’s raised on television. Their standards have been systematically lowered over the years… these guys sit in front of their sets and the gamma rays eat the white cells of their brains out… I quit.
DICK: All right. Just relax. Take a lude.
IKE: All you guys do is drop ludes and take Percodans and angel dust! Naturally, the show seems funny.
So Clare Short’s finally resigned, huh? If there’s ever a modern-day equivalent of the fable of the boy [sic] who cried wolf, this has to be it. But what’s even more irritating than the fact that Short didn’t follow through her threats to resign before or during the war, when it would have had a tad more credibility, is that she does make some good points in this interview, such as describing Tony Blair as less Washington’s poodle than its “fig leaf”, adding, “Fig leaf number two is ‘blame the French’.”
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Shopping in Tesco’s today, I came across a shocking product, “Get it on”, which described itself as a “sex fruit and seed bar”. Sex, in Tesco’s?? Disgusted by the mere thought of it, I examined the label closely: The Food Doctor, which makes the bars and others in the range, claims that its combination of rye, pumpkin, hemp (hemp??! in Tesco’s??), banana, figs, mango and gingko biloba “support the flow of blood to the extremities… The rest is up to you.” Of course I popped two in my basket immediately (one for me, the other for my wife), covered them with a copy of the Guardian and proceeded warily to the till. I got home, we tore off our wrappers (of the bars, that is), and… well, sadly I have to report that it was less than erotic. In fact, half a mouthful and we were put off just about any kind of romantic activity for the rest of the evening…
Culture secretary Tessa Jowell says reality TV is being “flogged to death” at the expense of quality drama, comedy and current affairs. That makes two criticisms of crappy television in the Independent this week, the other by Dylan Moran (see previous post).
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The Guardian reports on an artistic experiment-cum-“performance” by Plymouth University’s MediaLab in which they put six monkeys in a cage with a computer to see what would happen. Not a lot, was the unsurprising result after four weeks. Supposedly a variation on the philosophical question of whether an infinite number of monkeys given an infinite amount of time and typewriters would eventually rewrite Shakespeare, in practice it appears that macaques simply type the letter “S” repeatedly, and, as test designer Geoff Cox says, “get bored and shit on the keyboard” – I know the feeling. The whole thing reminds me of Douglas Adams’ theory that the white mice humans have been experimenting on for years have in fact been experimenting on us all this time. The macaques were obviously onto Cox and his team and simply refused to play the game. Now that’s evolution.
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John Humphreys has been presented with the Gold Award in the 2003 Sony Radio Academy Awards, for his “outstanding contribution to British radio”, according to the Independent, who also featured an entertaining profile of the broadcaster, journalist and general damn fine political interviewer earlier this week.
Several papers report today on an interview Tony Blair granted the UK’s war-friendliest rag, The Sun, in which Tone confides with characteristic disingenuousness that he considered resigning over his stance on Iraq and that he was “upset” when the UN didn’t pass the second resolution. It’s hard to imagine a more minty piece of humbug than this: if millions marching through central London (and just about everywhere else in the world) to protest against the war, and the vote of some 150 of his own MPs in opposition to the government’s action didn’t convince him to either quit his post or oppose military intervention himself, what, exactly, would have done?
The Guardian (which headlines its report, “Blair feared for premiership over war” – what, in the past tense?) also quotes Blair: “The most terrible thing for someone in my position is to end up losing your job for something you don’t really believe in.” Final proof, then, that the killing, “orphaning”, maiming and general destruction has always come second to our illustrious leader’s preservation of his own career.
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So, farewell, then, Sir Paul Getty. When I read the news, I couldn’t help but think of the great line from Leonard Cohen’s song Jazz Police: “Jazz Police are paid by J. Paul Getty / Jazzers paid by J. Paul Getty II…”