Saturday, July 30, 2011

The right get it. The left don't, yet...

I don't know about you, but I've been getting quietly frustrated watching various Labour Party thinkers knocking each other about discussing what flavour of leadership it should be offering, and what the party's strategy should be - as though it mattered.

I don't think it does. The Tories have benefited enormously from the actions of deniable right-wing outriders. Parts of the Labour Party seem determined to colonise the space that a lefty version of this could take.

The British right have known who their enemy is for a long time. David Beetham explains who our is very concisely here. An intelligent pro-democracy movement in the UK could give Labour a great deal more help than it can conjure up from within its own membership.

I reckon so, anyway.

Democracy, libertarianism and petitions

Chris has a slightly odd point to make about Guido's petition to re-introduce capital punishment.

That ... "...libertarianism and democracy conflict, simply because public opinion is on many issues very illiberal"

This is the latest in a long line of positions in which we have to pretend that something that isn't democracy provides the standard by which democracy has to be judged by. It's also demonstrably wrong at the moment.

Sure, Guido wouldn't get many of his libertarian views through a referendum. This is not the same thing as saying that they won't get democratic support.

Democracy isn't supposed to be a simple reflection of the reflexive opinions of the majority of people whose views are strong enough to get them to a ballot box. And referendums are not very democratic by most of the standards that we apply to modern democracy.

Update: 31/7. Just seen a very good article on the state of polling around capital punishment - well worth a look.

At the moment, we've got a majority of MPs implementing all kinds of economically liberal idiocy - policies which have little vocal support outside of right-wing think tanks and the people who own newspapers.

Now that's democracy.

OK - it'd be better if newspapers were more pluralistic, but representative democracy is quite good at delivering for libertarians. It probably wouldn't be if we could remove most of the obvious logical flaws in the practice of representative government, and that would - IMHO - be a good thing.

But I don't think I've ever met anyone that is generally in favour of libertarian measures outside of the circle of political obsessives that haunt politics and it's blogosphere. I'd never met one until I started blogging.

Take public political discourse for example. This is governed by a set of rules that define the word 'balance' (in media terms) as a situation where someone who knows what they're talking about is balanced by some fuckwit (trans: columnist) who can pronounce the words 'nanny state'. The mid-point of compromise is, therefore, around halfway between this one fixed pole and the spread of actual views held by actual people who know what they're on about.

Parliament is snided out with libertarians. Most Lib-Dem activists have recently been surprised to find that their own party is run by them (coincidentally at the point that they enter government for the first time in living memory - funny that, eh?)

Every second newspaper columnist is one. Those that aren't have to spend half of their columns throat-clearing, covering the most commonly-anticipated libertarian objections to the line that they will push - before they start to make their own arguments.

Covering climate change? Call someone who imagines that it's all a statist fantasy. Covering government expenditure? Call the Taxpayers Alliance (representative only of rich tax-dodgers) for a quote.

Even Peter Risdon's argument (in Chris' comments) that you can advocate libertarianism by democratic means, therefore it's compatible with democracy doesn't really hold up. You're not a democrat if you stand for election saying 'vote for me and I'll hand the power wielded by democratic institutions to other social forces'. Democrats have to sumbit to recall at the end of their term.

The flaws in representative democracy, and the various informal regulations that we have to ensure that it works serve libertarians very well indeed.

(Update: Apologies - I put the wrong link on the first word of this post that rendered it all a bit useless - fixed now)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Press criminality! Abuse of power! Who knew?

Doesn't it say a lot that many of the ... er... revelations that have brought this crisis to a head had been in in plain sight for some time?

Not wanting to take anything away from Guido's investigative powers (after all, he seems to have ... er... unearthed it first), but the evidence that Piers Morgan broke the law by listening to Paul & Heather McCartney's messages was not obtained by patient digging through unpublished papers gathered by subterfuge, or a painful process of tracking down reluctant witnesses and coercing testimony out of them. No. It was brought to light after someone read an old copy of The Daily Mail.

And then, there's that marvellous secret video - obtained using cutting-edge investigative surveillance techniques in which a private conversation between Rebekah Brooks and ... er... a Parliamentary Select Committee in 2003 ... which revealed evidence of criminality. Evidence that was pounced upon by the authorities within only eight years of it coming to light.

I still love that pause where Ms Brooks plainly feels a sharp tap on her ankle from Mr Coulson's direction.

You know you're above the law when you can make a public confession of criminality without showing the slightest concern. You also know a great deal about British journalism that - even though there's been plenty of columns from The Great and The Good over the years about how politicians need to stand up to press barons, it needed a journalistic class-action of the kind we're seeing now to bring this matter to a head.

Without taking anything away from the journalists who have now done so, this story falls in the bleeding obvious column much more squarely than it fits in the one marked who'd have known it?

Now that's power for you.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Right Wing Nutters

The news that Anders Behring Breivik is a libertarian nationalist should come as little surprise, and should illustrate the danger of a lot of the rhetoric that has been coming from those quarters.

This is, after all, a rhetoric that has been seen as being either innocuous or even convenient to some parts of the political spectrum that aren't confined to the far right.

I'll not make anything more about the fact that he is an organic farmer as well, but if you have a moment, this thread should give you an idea of just how closely he is intellectually aligned with a lot of obsessive bloggertarians elsewhere in Europe. For the record, The Libertarian Alliance deplore the killings, but.... the general, agreeable theme that the EU is somehow a Nazi/Marxist conspiracy is one that they'd go along with, it seems. Here it is, neatly wrapped up by the posting by Professor Kevin MacDonald and the commenters that frequent the site. On Breivik....
"In general, it must be said that he is a serious political thinker with a great many insights and some good practical ideas on strategy (e.g., developing culturally conservative media, gaining control of NGOs. and developing youth organizations that will confront the Marxist street thugs)."
Given that this is just another example of right-wing nutters putting the gains of western liberal democracy at risk, we're beginning to even see the British centre-right waking up to the nastiness that is so central to their own politics. First (as previously noted here) with Charles Moore, and today with Boris Johnston saying....
"....there is something both curious and troubling in his obsessions. He goes on and on about the EUSSR and “Eurabia”. He attacks multiculturalism as a “big lie”, and asserts that “political correctness now looms over Western European society like a colossus”. “Can the European Union be reformed?” he asks. “I doubt it. The EU is bound together by a self-serving class of bureaucrats who want to expand their budgets and power, despite the harm they do.” He claims that Europe has been systematically betrayed by mass immigration from Muslim countries, and that the method of this immigration has been concealed from the electorate. He cites a great many British commentators to make his points. Indeed, it is fascinating to see how rooted is this Norwegian extremist in the political discourse of the Anglosphere.

My friends, there is no easy way of saying this: a lot of what this evil nutcase says could be drawn from the blog-post threads that you will find in the media, especially the “conservative” media, in Britain. Some people will read his dismal expectorations and conclude that this inflammatory guff is what really drove him on. They will say that his barbarism was spurred by fury at the EUSSR and immigration, just as the murders of 9/11 were triggered by the various tenets of Islamic extremism."
This is why the de-murdochification of public life is so important. The right are beginning to realise that the ideological warfare that they have been conducting for decades may end up bringing only a pyrrhic victory. They may impose their Californian direct democracy on the liberal-democratic west, but would any of them want to live in it?

Could we all wake up and acknowledge what a threat this is now please?

(ht to Shuggy for pointing to Boris's article)

Update 26/7: The Charles Moore link pointed to the wrong place. Fixed now - apologies.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Media balance

Further to the previous post, which touched on the way that public debate is framed around a notion of balance - where balance is defined as radical conservatism on one side of the fence and .... er .... anyone else on the other. Nothing else could explain why a journalist would ever quote the Tax Payers Alliance.

Steve Jones' report on science reporting at the BBC is well worth a look here. It's conclusions on a range of scientific issues - particularly climate change - are, I believe, good ones. Listening to the Today programme, their idea of balance seems to be that they need to get some who has a clue about what they're talking about and then balance it with more arsehole who knows how to pronounce the words 'nanny state'.

So 'balance' becomes a debate around whether a rational proposal to do something should be tried at all.

Other examples: Coverage of the marching season in Northern Ireland - bringing community representatives and marchers around a mic to discuss things may be a good way of explaining the situation in a classroom, but as a means of covering an ongoing situation in which most people don't care for either side that strongly and have a bigger preference for a quiet life undisrupted by proxy-incidents for violent sectarian agendas.

The prize here is pluralism. Any recasting of what journalism's mission is needs to recognise a failure in providing properly pluralistic debate based upon rational arguments and not the power to frame discussions. Now we're re-negotiating our compact with the press, it may be a good time to bring this issue up?

Interesting times

I don't know about you, but I was very taken aback by this remarkable column - "I'm starting to think that the left might actually be right" - from Charles Moore (yes, really, that Charles Moore). He seems to be making exactly the same points as Tim Garton Ash did - noted here)

About the only point I'd disagree with him is in his characterisation of the trades union movement - one that has all of the hallmarks of someone refusing to bring any empathy to the analysis of a subject that he instinctively dislikes. You'd think that unions were inflexible and pusillanimous in a vacuum of their own making?

Anyway, happy days. And then this post from Umair Haque, asking if the finance sector is simply a cult further brightens a Saturday morning.

I doubt if there's an intelligent and reflective right winger anywhere today who isn't reviewing the main line of attack levelled at non-capitalist modes of collective action: That, without market mechanisms, organisations of all kinds are rapidly captured by the bureaucrats that run them - budget maximising bureaucrats who enrich themselves, award themselves unearned status, doing their job badly and inefficiently and crowding out the dynamic entrepreneurs who would solve the problem without troubling the taxpayer.

Remember, this is probably the central argument in modern politics - one where radical conservatives line up against practically everybody else. I'd suggest that this explains why Chris is wrong here - the imbalance in media ownership is much more than a court-politics distraction.

Everything else is largely a side-show or a proxy for a debate we shouldn't even be having (in Universities, it's labelled as public choice theory but really, anyone who has read a newspaper in the last 35 years will be fully familiar with it). And, over the past few years, we've seen the right comprehensively lost it.

There is no budget maximising bureaucrat as larcenous as the finance sector have been. When someone like Charles Moore is prepared to concede this, it must be seen as an opportunity.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Glassman: "I'm not racist, but..."

... I am an objective ally of racists."

I paraphrase, of course. But now that Blue Labour has had the last rites read to it, it's worth thinking a bit about what else we need to be pushing Labour to do if we're urging the party to adopt a liberal position on immigration.

One thing the party could do is offer Anthony Painter a job somewhere near the top of it's policy-making structure. This is a very good post over on Labour List complements this one on the Guardian site - both worth a read.

This bit stood out for me:

"...when communities change rapidly there is plenty of research to suggest that people can become alienated and mistrustful.

These challenges can be mitigated by a sensible immigration policy mixed with imaginative and determined community interventions..."
This is the gap in Labour's thinking - a gap that I don't think it's yet capable of filling.

What are these imaginative and determined community interventions? Where is Labour discussing them or addressing them? Where is the evidence that Labour thinks that this (social engineering?) is part of the role of government?

Labour would have been incapable of coming up with a concept like The Big Society - an idea that works on many levels if you can get over the real appeal that it has for the Tories (hiding an assault on collective action behind a backing for a version of it that's doomed to failure without a strong public sector behind it). When you choose social enterprise as your engine for change, you might as well admit being a saboteur of your own idea.
One of the big hidden problems Labour has had for a long time now is that it's policy drivers were managerialists. Consultants can sell government big solutions or things that involve policies. But no-one in the last government was interested in something that involves improvisation and local spontaneity. You can't procure or commission that sort of thing.

In the minds of a large part of the previous Labour government, that's like saying that it's impossible to contemplate.

The debt crisis and democracy

I often find it hard to explain my own near-obsession with populism, the dangers of active citizens and the need to strengthen representative democracy at the expense of pressure-group politics.

Is this really such a huge issue, or is it just some odd bit of political perfectionism? Tim Garton-Ash seems to be on my side of the argument here - arguing that this democratic decadence could have disastrous consequences for everyone living in a western liberal democracy.

Do read the whole thing, but these two snippets stand out:
"What we see today on both sides of the Atlantic is a perversion of democracy. It consists in giving vocal sections of the people what they want in the short term rather than proposing to most of the people what they need in the longer term – and taking the risk of short-term unpopularity along the way, as all good leaders have done."
... and..
"This is a politics that is hyper-responsive to money, special interests, media campaigns, pressure groups, focus groups and the latest opinion poll or sub-national election. It's no accident that Washington and Brussels compete for the title of lobbyist's paradise. It turns out that what both these huge, sprawling polities, the EU and the US, do better than anything else is the aggregation of particular interests – and the appeasement of as many of them as can be appeased at any one time."
The only huge point that he neglected to make in that article was about how the banking crisis itself can largely be explained by the way that these commercial pressure groups cued parliaments up to be incapable of regulating them in the first place.

What with the rest of the world being converted to the Murdoch-root-of-all-evil position, I'm feeling as smug as you can when you're being po-faced at the same time. I think I'll take the rest of the month off on the strength of being proved right about everything ;-)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

For the first time in my lifetime, Labour need the far left (and vice versa)

Labour has, for some time, regarded the left as a bit of an irrelevance.

This is understandable for the most part. Nothing makes any campaign more doomed to failure than it's adoption by the SWP*.

But perhaps this is about to change - for a number of small reasons.

Firstly, historically, the far left may have bore Labour even less goodwill than it bore the Tories on the grounds of our betrayal ("if only Labour had allowed itself to become the vehicle for our campaign on , everything would be OK") and a wider inchoate beleif that Labour squat on ground that belongs legitimately to the People's Front of Judea or somesuch.

Secondly, we've seen political parties successfully uncoupling themselves from the expressions of their own Freudian Id. Cameron has enjoyed the kind of weather that has been made for him - often by UKIP-voting bloggertarians in the Tax-Payers Alliance. He's never been under any pressure to personally endorse their tea-party-ish demands.

It seems that the public no longer have expectations of politicians as 'thought leaders.' No-one has really attacked Labour for not endorsing UK Uncut. We all hated the Murdoch press enough to adopt a 'by any means necessary' approach to attacking it and we knew enough about how extra-parliamentary power works to know that it would have been too risky for Ed Milliband to be expected to lead this apparent coup d'├ętat (and let's not get carried away yet here - the right-wing press is far from finished...)

It seems that Ed piped up at just the right time - early enough to gain a few polling points from a manoeuvre that may have permanently spiked a long-term asset of the political right. The left will have seen that Labour parliamentarians (with lots of quiet support from the Lib-Dems!) have the ability to finish something off as long as the running has been made for them.

Labour now needs the left as a deniable asset - in the way that the Tax-Payers Alliance has performed this service for the Tories. And the left needs Labour. It seems to me that - for the first time in my lifetime - that the left may be prepared to play ball.

With a lot of activist energy...
  • supporting consumerist campaigns,
  • attacking poor private-sector management,
  • attacking private sector corruption and incompetence, and even public sector management where it's adopting private-sector managerial practices,
  • attacking corporate welfare,
  • attacking pay-disparities in all sectors,
  • attacking corporate governance that finances political parties or lobbying campaigns
  • making the same points about budget-maximising bureaucracy in the private sector that the right make about government bodies...
... perhaps the left and Labour have a happy partnership in prospect. As long as Labour stops seeing itself as being part of the left - and as long as the left stops demanding that Labour acknowledge the partnership.

Neither side need it, after all....

*Don't get me wrong - the actual SWP itself is still the poison that it always was. But my limited knowledge of the far-left tells me that they're no longer the ... er ... force (*snigger*) that they were.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

It's hard to overstate just how stupid the Lib-Dems have been on PR

This is not a post about ideological differences or matters of principle. I'm agnostic on PR and have always been on the end of the Labour Party that has been more amenable to co-operation with the Lib-Dems.

It's one, simply, about the standard of thinking and quality of education within a political party.

In May 2010, the Lib-Dems signed up to an agreement to hold a referendum on AV - a system of PR that is greatly inferior to the one that they advocated.

They did so on the grounds that it would be a step in the right direction and represented a compromise between their absolute preference and what was achievable.

They did this, presumably, believing that you can win a referendum on something that the right-wing press don't agree with.


Remember, the corollary of this is that - if you lose the vote on PR-lite, it's going to be almost impossible to then make the case for the full-fat version a few years later.

Remember, this is a party who have almost no common defining features apart from a shared belief in proportional representation. They thought that a referendum on AV would create the conditions that would make it more likely that PR would be introduced in the long-run.

"The only acceptable option given the AV referendum result is to have all AMs elected by first-past-the-post, and we believe that each of the 30 new constituencies should elect two AMs by that system," he added.

"I think in retrospect we have to accept that we got it wrong when we set up the assembly with a two-tier electoral system that has two kinds of AM, and it should now be changed.

"We believe the only change that would be possible without a further referendum or general election manifesto commitment is a change to first past the post.

"The case for AV at Westminster level was defeated by a thumping majority for first-past-the-post. This is the only voting system that commands cross-party and public support in Wales."

Now - again, leaving aside ideological differences or questions of principle - how on earth did anyone in the Lib-Dems actually think that agreeing to a referendum on AV would do anything other than completely shag up any prospect of their party getting it's central demand met?

This is not a minor question; It raises accusations of what may be the worst political crime of all. This crime is not dishonesty - something that may sometimes be dismissed as a venal sin when higher matters of principle are at stake - or corruption (again, not something that indicts a political movement as much as individuals within it).

It's the crime of sheer political incompetence. Why have there not been resignations or witch-hunts to track down the idiots that led the party up this particular garden path? Because - remarkably - no-one in that party seems to be able to point to an example of themselves making a point that should have been completely obvious to anyone who understands how referendums work.

It's a party that has no witch-finders.

When a party doesn't have anyone who can say that they warned their colleagues about a bit of obvious stupidity, it is a party that is in terrible trouble.

(HT Anthony from Demsoc for the link to this story)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Where Labour needs to take the News of the World story next

Tom Watson is personally playing a blinder at the moment. And Ed Miliband has, by most accounts, had a good week. But there still seems to be a lack of real strategic intent from Labour in handling the News of the World story. We have a few historical mea culpas that we should probably get out of the way now for once and for all.

But I'm surprised that Labour isn't making more of Cameron's overt complicity in creating the bizarre situation this week in which Parliament is formally unable to end Murdoch's bid to take control of BSkyB.

His pre-election broadside on OfCOM was the clearest example of a proposed regulatory change serving the interests of one powerful player - in this case, News Corporation.

It all fits in with a wider pattern. The very processes that can make media regulation work have been subtly undermined - with both Parliament and the commentariat succumbing to Murdoch's lobbying power - over decades.

The Guardian deserves plenty of praise for it's work recently, but over the years, I found their former Media correspondent Emily Bell to be one of the worst offenders in this regard. Over the years, many editors took the odd decision of taking Murdoch apologists such as David Elstein on as neutral industry commentators on media issues.

Isn't it odd? The Guardian's Steve Hewlett was on the radio yesterday joining a quiet chorus of handwringing going on about how Jeremy Hunt was going to have to try and derail the due process that should - by rights - allow News Corporation to have their way on this issue.

Update: 14:30pm, 13/7/11: BSkyB bid withdrawn

In asking 'Who is more powerful - Murdoch or Parliament', Robert Peston echoes this himself here:
"My impression is that Mr Murdoch is outraged by the impression created by Parliament's behaviour that he and his company are guilty before formal investigations have run their course.

In fact I would not be at all surprised if he were to cite the actions of MPs in voting for him to end the bid as evidence for him of the impossibility that he will get a fair hearing in the judicial and quasi judicial reviews of what the News of the World and other parts of his British operations may or may not have done."
But this is the problem. Over decades, Murdoch's various lobbying arms have cornered the British state into applying rules, creating decision-making processes and appointing regulators that are congenial to their corporate interests.

The process by which the BSkyB decision was going to be made was cooked up in connivance with News Corporation. It's not a respectable one and it should be ignored (and Vince Cable should be reinstated while we're at it).

The Wikipedia account of the 1990 Broadcasting Act is as good a place as any to start. Over the years that follows, we've seen broadcasting (both here and at EU level) being nudged into the territory of what are essentially telecom regulators with only the BBC being subject to any effective form of accountability.

And now we act like we're surprised by the pickle that Parliament finds itself in.

The 1990 act and subsequent strategic decisions on media regulation all need revisiting. Even senior Tories at the time knew what the eventual outcome was going to be and were dismayed. Neil Kinnock would have done it as a matter of priority, and the abandonment of this focus was one of the game-changers that created New Labour. Continuity Labour needs to pick up the ball that was dropped in the early 1990s now and press for wholesale reform of media ownership rules.

After all, it would be good to be well-placed to make the right response when (if!) Tom Bower publishes his biography of Richard Desmond, won't it?

Friday, July 08, 2011

How to hit Murdoch where it really hurts

This is a lightly-edited reworking of a post that was published here a couple of years ago. The case it makes may attract more attention now than it did at the time.

I’ve never seen much written anywhere about why Murdoch is so anti-EU. Is this some personal political hobby-horse that he’d developed over the years? A hang-up that he pursues in his spare time, and one that he’s prepared to place his newspapers in conflict with the government over?

Or does he have a business reason for doing so? Is the problem Murdoch? Or his businesses?

I think that the latter is a more persuasive explanation. The EU – and more specifically, their TV Without Frontiers (TVWF) directives - have made life very difficult for Sky TV to compete with their Public Service Broadcasting rivals. These regulations are designed to ensure that broadcasters actually make programmes for the audiences they serve rather than importing them from very robust marketplaces (in this case, the US).

I did a post a while ago outlining what TVWF was about, and it’s here. (NB: Large parts of TVWF have now been ported into the AMS Directive - particularly the measures around promotion and distribution - see this para:
"Member States shall ensure, where practicable and by appropriate means, that broadcasters reserve for European works a majority proportion of their transmission time, excluding the time appointed to news, sports events, games, advertising , teletext services and teleshopping. This proportion, having regard to the broadcaster's informational, educational, cultural and entertainment responsibilities to its viewing public, should be achieved progressively, on the basis of suitable criteria."
Translation: You have to start investing in quality locally-made TV programme-making and stop filling your schedules with imports and low-rent crap.

Up until now, the UK government has simply not questioned BSkyB's assertion that this level of investment is not 'practicable'. In the time I worked on this, it was always made plain to me that questioning this assertion was a completely toxic minefield that needed to be avoided at all costs.

The EU provides the only level where UK content-production industries can get the benefit of the cultural exception. Without EU regulations, you could wave goodbye to…
  • TV made specifically for UK audiences
  • Thriving cultural industries throughout the UK, benefiting from an healthy investment climate
  • Thousands of jobs in creative sectors
  • The values of public service broadcasting
  • TV programmes that aren’t constantly interrupted by adverts
  • Radio 3. Radio 4. Radio Six. Radio Seven. Programmes aimed at ethnic minorities and other interest groups.
  • Progressive payment for entertainment (goodbye licence fee, hello TV stations for kids that are all adverts)
  • Impartial broadcast news (goodbye Fiona Bruce, hello Fox News)
Anyone who has worked around media policy-making (I did for four years) will know that these issues are the permanent elephant in the room. The level of access that Sky lobbyists enjoy, and the amount of muscle that they flex can't be understated. Here's an account(pdf) of how commercial lobbyists have particularly abused their strength in the UK to defend global interests.

I remember some analogy - a while ago - about how the fine art of taxation is like having the ability to pluck goose-feathers without much hissing. I'd say that the fine art of government is about giving Sky lobbyists as little as possible without having them turn on you.

So: Now politicians are in a bold mood, here's a question for them: How come BSkyB enjoys a continued let-off from the European rules that insist that commercially sustainable TV stations should invest in local production? Enforcing this rule would create tens of thousands of jobs in strategically useful industries - a reinvestment of profits that are currently exported by a tax-dodger. It would also have a huge cultural benefit to the UK and create a climate in which the BBC are no longer engaged in a race to the bottom with multi-channel broadcasters.

Time to raise this issue again, I think?

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

So how does the whole BSkyB thing play out?

In my determination to write a blog post that will be proved wrong in record time, lets look at the chessboard now that the News of the World / Dowler revelations are out in the open (with worse to come, possibly).

For many people, the idea that any corporation - especially one that is owned by someone with an outspoken personal political agenda - is not a fit and proper owner for a media company that has with the monopolistic reach that News Corp enjoys.

Breaking Murdoch's stranglehold over political discourse is a hugely important milestone and one that it unlikely to be passed for the forseeable. There's too much at stake here.

If he still wants to take over BSkyB (it may not be as cheap as he'd like it to be), it means that he has been weakened in relation to the current government.

Jeremy Hunt would be able to drop his pants, spread he legs and touch his toes in public with more dignity than he'll muster in agreeing to News Corps demands now, but as long as the price is right, I'm sure he'll have to do it. They already risked major friction in the coalition by shafting Vince Cable over this, and Hunt detests the BBC sufficiently to play ball here.

The point is - and this is good for the Tories - the price just went up.

So: Rebekah Wade will not be given up lightly. When she is sacked, it will be a means of drawing a line under the story.

Once the fuss has blown over, Hunt will give the whole thing the go-ahead. And any hopes Labour had of not being savaged relentlessly by the Murdoch press over the next four years are now gone.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

No-one said it was supposed to be easy

Just a quick one here. I’m sure that Ed Millibot’s dreadful interview will come back to haunt him.

But, during all the fuss that was being made about this on Twitter, I noticed an account of how it was conducted by one of the hacks involved.
There is an etiquette involved in pooling, which everyone understands. Ask the obvious question, and get the obvious answer. Don’t try to be too clever or esoteric, either with your questioning or your camerawork. Make sure the material is usable by everyone (reporters: stay out of shot) and relay it as soon as the interview is done.
This is, quite simply an open shameless admission from a named journalist, of churnalism along with a statement that the whole thing is endemic. Any organisation that uses pooled interviews of this kind is, by definition, deserting their duty.

The thing is, to anyone who has worked around politics in the last twenty years or so, this is an open secret. It’s one that requires a variation of what Norm calls Mbunderstanding from anyone who has to demonstrate empathy to political reporters. As a willingness to do this is the essential pre-condition to working in political communications, we can probably assume that every successful political press officer, SpAd, journalist and elected politician connives in it with impunity. Who loses (apart from all the people that a functioning press are supposed look after)?

So, all political communications have to be fatally compromised because of the need of media owners to maximise efficiency.

The next time a journalist uses the term ‘fourth estate’, could you punch them in the face for me? Kthxbai!