The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘media’

When Congress Doesn’t Work

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 18, 2010 @ 09:22

Poor communicator, yes, but I guess that wasn't why he was made BP's CEO...

Anyone watching the tedium of the BP CEO attending the House Committee on Energy and Commerce session on the oil disaster could probably have only managed five minutes at best before turning off. And that’s coming from a political junkie.

I’ve seen US committees in operation in the past. They are powerful bodies, often conducting very interesting and intensive scrutiny of the evidence and their witnesses. Their power comes from the fact that all bills and appropriations have to be examined by the relevant committee. This means a seat on them is very prestigious indeed, especially if it can be used to deliver pork to one’s constituents…

This multiple role means that its members get frequent opportunities to make a name for themselves. And none of them missed the opportunity to indulge their populist fantasies yesterday. Well, all except Representative Barton (R), who licked Tony Hayward’s boots clean.

But, to me, it just doesn’t work. The way the committee works in these situations is almost embarrassing to watch. One by one the Representatives (or the Senators for a Senate committee) take their turn to deliver a pre-prepared nasty speech, full of rhetoric and invective, which the witness has to sit in silence and listen to in silence. They get a chance to reply at the end, but not before more than a dozen people have cast judgement on them… before the witness has even had the opportunity to set out their stall, no matter how unconvincing they are.

That is very uncomfortable to watch. It is not an in-depth probe, getting to the truth. It is a witch-hunt, a kangaroo court, carried out in the full glare of the media for the benefit not of the country, but for the Congress members themselves, in order to get some cheap headlines and show off their prowess to their constituents.

Such is democracy, I suppose.

Only later does it come to questions, a real opportunity to have a conversation with the witness, but even then they have all already made their minds up.

In truth, it looks more like a blood-letting than a proper investigation, with a ritualistic sacrifice from some contemporary hate-figure.

Not that Tony Hayward doesn’t deserve a thorough grilling, you understand. But the acid test must always be: did it generate anything useful? Are we any closer to solving the problem? Is America any closer to leading the way to end its addiction to oil?

The answers are simple: no. But at least it got the Congress some good headlines in the battle to rescue its shocking approval ratings, eh.


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PMQs: To Attend Or Not To Attend?

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 3, 2010 @ 10:07

Clegg did sit on Cameron's right, honest! This is just an older picture...

Yesterday’s first Coalition PMQs provided much grist to the sketchwriters’ mills. And it also illustrated just how Labour intends to proceed taking on the cosy coalition.

After yesterday, the big dilemma for Nick Clegg will be to decide whether he should attend or not. Yes, it’s a coalition, and it would look mighty suspicious if Clegg was never supporting the Prime Minister, but it would also look mighty suspicious if he never left Cameron’s side.

The problem is this: the Labour Party’s leader is going to bring up, during one of their questions each week, a topic that potentially splits the Lib Dems and the Conservatives. If Nick Clegg is there all the time, the goal will be to make him look stupid.

Hattie tried that yesterday, with her discussion on the comedy married couple’s tax allowance. Nick Clegg sat through it with the same expression on his face. No nods. No shakes. No smiles. No smirks. Nothing. Just that neutral expression he has got down to a T.

Yesterday, he managed to avoid giving the game away and revealing his disagreement with David Cameron. Or, at least, I hope it’s still a disagreement.

But we’re only human.

At some point the body language will slip. The pundits will analyse these exchanges to death – even more than usual – looking for the merest curled lip or furrowed brow to indicate Clegg is feeling a little uncomfortable. That’s not going to be healthy for the coalition.

And it’s only going to get worse. Right now there is a comprehensive agreement outlining where the parties agree to disagree. All current issues are covered, and so they can be deflected by saying that Harriet is just trying to play the “old politics” of division.

But as time goes by, new issues will emerge, and Cameron and Clegg will not agree on everything. At least, I hope they won’t. Then Harriet, or whoever the new Labour leader is, will come forward with quotes from rebellious “senior Lib Dem sources” and make Clegg and Cameron squirm.

Clegg would be wise not to make sitting at Cameron’s right hand a regular fixture. Appearing too close to Cameron compromises the Lib Dems independence. But being too distant would undermine the tentative working relationship they have.

The sensible thing would be for Clegg to sit at Cameron’s side no more than 50% of the time, and possibly as low as 25%. It is just too easy for Labour, otherwise.

Politics in the media age, eh…

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The Voters Can’t Handle The Truth

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 28, 2010 @ 09:47

OK, it was the obvious picture, but who cares...

A few weeks ago I had a small argument with a friend. The subject: spending cuts. In the end, it turned out we were rather violently agreeing. Our expectations of government are too high relative to the amount we are all prepared to contribute.

So yesterday, the Institute for Fiscal Studies thought they would come out and tell us all how much of a bunch of liars our political parties are. This morning, it is front and centre of all the papers, and it dominated the broadcast media yesterday. Political journos love it. Adam Boulton really got his rocks off attacking Peter Mandelson about the lack of information regarding where the axe is going to fall.

Cast your mind back, merely a few months, to September last year. The Tories were banging on about an austerity agenda. George Osborne instructed us all to dig out that hairshirt. Calamity Clegg jumped on the bandwagon, talking about the need for “savage” cuts. Even Alastair Darling joined in.

And what happened?

The electorate didn’t like it. It was all too real. Too bleak. Too depressing. Life is difficult enough already without the politicians seeming to revel in how much they can make it worse for everyone.

We like to pretend we want our politicians to tell us the truth, but the real truth is that we can’t handle it.

If Nick Clegg came out in tomorrow’s debate and said, “We will cut 15% from the NHS, freeze school spending, slash defence by 20%, freeze public sector pay for the next three years and look to make 10% of the workforce redundant,  freeze all benefits for the next three years and scrap all the “bribes” like free TV licences for the elderly and winter fuel payments” you can be sure that the response would be swift and damning.

The truth hurts. And, in reality, the people don’t want to hear it. It cuts too close to the bone.

Trust and responsibility in all forms of life is a two-way street, and politics even more so. Our politicians have a responsibility to be honest with us, but at the same time, they will never trust us. They will never trust us again to act rationally, because we act irrationally. We are too fickle, and too fleeting. We are distracted by whether or not Peppa Pig is going to appear at a Labour Party PR stunt. Our politicians have to talk to us in soundbites, because if they don’t, they won’t keep our attention. And worse, if they try to be more complex, it will invariably get distorted by the echo chamber that is the media.

The politicians can’t trust us to listen carefully, and the people don’t want to listen. We don’t want to listen because politicians in the past have abused that trust, and have acted irresponsibly with the power we’ve given them.

Politicians are to blame. The people are to blame. The media are to blame.

What’s truly worrying is where this cycle is going to end…

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The Knives Are Out

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 22, 2010 @ 10:11

Adam Boulton looked like an onion even then. Just slightly browner on top.

Today’s handful of newspaper front pages (as seen here) show that the media have had enough of the Clegg love in. What surprises me is why it took so long…

The groundwork is clearly being laid for an assault on everything to do with the Lib Dems. The fact that the Telegraph was desperate enough to go back into its expenses CD demonstrates that fully. And yet, this little gem was about the best they could do. A few hundred pounds per month from a few private donors, all fully declared.

Desperate stuff. And, if it’s played wrongly, could easily be used by the Lib Dems as a sign of how the “establishment” from the “old politics” is ganging up on them. Mr Cameron’s friends, Mr Murdoch, and Alistair Campbell’s old boys all getting their favours called in by their masters in order to preserve the corrupt and cozy establishment which is feeling threatened by the surge of the wave of change heading its way.

I should be a political strategist. That one’s for you, Nick, and I hope you use it well. No charge, this time.

So bollocks to the media and their “have become the subject of intense scrutiny” lies, as if they are the neutral third parties bravely reporting the scrutiny of others.

And bollocks to the other parties too.

But I think they’re going to be much more clever.

Amidst the endless obsession with some volcanic ash, you may not have realised that tonight is the second Prime Ministerial Debate. Another 90 minutes of fun is headed our way.

Will Brown and Cameron get the knives out for Clegg?

They can’t. Only one of them will be able to. If they both do, Clegg will once more play the blinder he did last week: indict them all in an establishment conspiracy.

But which will go first? Whoever gets the luck of starting will surely make it clear from the outset that Clegg is not the change the country needs, and then yadda-yadda about a “dangerous” plan to scrap Trident, and a love for all things European.

Cameron has to attack, to rescue his damaged reputation from last week. He has to rescue his severely dented image, which last week was exposed by him standing there, absorbing all attacks and not dishing any out. His authority took a knock. He will be out to correct that.

Brown, instead, will throw in some sly digs at Clegg, which may be more successful. After all, he won’t want to get his hands too dirty in the mud-slinging. He will want to look… well, Prime Ministerial. And if Clegg overreacts by playing the establishment conspiracy hand too early, especially if Brown isn’t explicit or is very polite about it, it might weaken his standing as a level-headed, composed leader.

There are severe dangers for a front runner: all the focus is on you, and you have to live up to those expectations. It’s why David Cameron struggled so much last week.

But fortune is on Clegg’s side. The debate topic: international affairs, so the silly media agenda on expenses is out of order. Opportunity: Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. Strengths: Blair and Brown’s performances at Chilcot; a debate format that will only allow broad questions; Adam Boulton as moderator will not be able to further media agendas; and Cameron and Brown cannot ask questions of Clegg either

Clegg showed his skill as an underdog last week. Brown has been trying it for weeks, to some degrees of success, but hit his glass ceiling.

If Clegg can show he’s comfortable: by rising above the other two, by sticking up for his point of view, and by once more showing how different he’ll be, and giving another confident, calm performance, he will once more persuade viewers that he’s got what it takes. There’ll be no fireworks, but there’s no need for it. The good work has already been done.

Remember the Obama lesson: the first debate proved he was no bogey-man, but a sober, thoughtful, rational individual. The other two debates did nothing to change that narrative, and the more people looked, the more they liked.

The moral of the story: more of the same please, Nick. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

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Life Before Politics

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 10, 2010 @ 09:35

OK, this photo has no relevance to the article, but it's still good...

The Stuart MacLennan fiasco has got me worried.

Not about him in particular but about all of us.

Let’s face it, he was axed because the media would never let it go until the pound of flesh was extracted. The opposition parties, sensing endless free-hits, would also keep bashing away. Labour had no choice but to stop the gangrene by amputating the limb.

Amusingly, the other parties then continued to attack. The Tories hilariously quipped, “Why wasn’t he sacked sooner?”. The SNP, naturally, were in deep joy, seeing, as they do, Labour as the big target in this campaign.

So far so predictable.

But there is a big issue behind this. Yes, maybe Mr MacLennan was still posting silly comments to Twitter even recently, but the main source of the controversy was regarding posts made over a year ago.

Is it possible to have a life before politics now?

It seems not. I realise with each passing day that the more I write on here, the less likely it ever is that I will be allowed to enter the political world sh0uld I choose to do so in the future. And that’s because I have a huge and growing paper trail, filled with my honest beliefs, contradictions, mistakes, and general uninformed tedium.

The same is true of most of my generation, and will be true of the next one. We’re almost all on Facebook. Some of us have Twitter. All of us will post something at one point that we shouldn’t do, and could be embarrassed about in the future.

A tiny few will go into politics. And will they be held to ransom by something they may have said many years ago?

In Sarah Palin’s words, “You betcha!”

This is disastrous for political life. It seems now the only way to ensure a smooth passage into the political realm is to make sure you take a monastic vows of silence and abstinence.

The day you enter secondary school.

And don’t bother getting drunk at any point. Or taking any drugs. Hell, don’t bother with partners either. They’ll only end up selling their story to the Daily Mail or the News of the World.

Don’t join any societies. Don’t get involved in the community. In fact, just don’t speak to anyone. They may be laying an elaborate sting to set you up.

In short, just don’t bother living.

We are in grave danger of only allowing those who have lived an extraordinarily sanitised existence into politics. We are in grave danger of being represented by people who know nothing about life because they have never lived a single day of it.

Yes, we need our politicians to be beyond reproach when they’re in power. And they need to be showing some signs of that level of trustworthiness before they get there, but let’s not risk having a political class of grey nobodies with zero charisma and zero character by denying people a private life before politics.

Because if you think the current lot are bad, wait till you see who’s waiting round the corner.

Never mind Tory Boy – say hello to Anodyne Boy.

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Healthcare Reform Passes; Hell Freezes Over

Posted by The Futility Monster on March 27, 2010 @ 09:19

What's more scary: that some Americans actually believed this shit, or that the people behind this campaign were so cynical enough to dream it up?

I couldn’t let my final post of the week go by without making some comment on the success of the US Congress to, finally, pass a healthcare reform bill. A bill that was lauded as a “big fucking deal” by Vice President Joe Biden must have something going for it.

And it does. It makes a delicate step in the right direction for improving the lives of millions of Americans. It’s nowhere near where they need to be, but it will bring America closer to the rest of the civilized world in ensuring that thousands of people do not continue to die because they have no access to healthcare.

But you know what it is most of all? It, combined with recent international manoeuvres by Obama regarding Israel and the West Bank, and the gentle nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia, show that something is occurin’ once more in America. That something is our old friend, missing for almost a year.


I have been on a big downer about Obama during this healthcare fiasco. His handling of the situation over the last year has been poor at best. Weak. Wishy washy. Unclear about what he actually wants to achieve. Appearing to dither. Aloof.

That is, until the last few weeks, when he realised that it was time to get directly involved in the campaign, put his entire presidency on the line, no matter what the cost.

Really, we all knew there would be no “cost” to him. We all knew that his poll ratings were flagging because of the failure to deliver during this spectacularly long and boring healthcare debacle.

No sooner did the bill pass Obama’s ratings took a significant lift. Approval and favorability up by between 5 and 10% depending on the pollster. It seems the American people actually like success, and want change after all.

All of this is in spite of the fact that a plurality still disapprove of “the healthcare bill”. Of course, whenever a pollster has broken down the bill into parts, asking their opinion on the things within it, approval of it skyrockets. Just goes to show that Obama’s team have been extremely poor at explaining exactly what it is they’re doing, and failing to define their enemies as roadblocks to delivering all of these goodies.

But this event, hopefully, will be the Duh! moment of the year to the Obama administration.What they think of as risks are actually nothing of the sort. The public are easily misled by the media, especially one so eager to deliver “balance” by countering a Democratic opinion with a rabid Tea Party one, even if only one of those “opinions” actually has a basis in reality. Hint: it’s not usually the latter.

Obama should take a moment to enjoy this success, and use it to drive a hunger for more. It’s time for him to exploit his platform to deliver another major piece of reform before November (immigration, please!), for the simple reason that he will never again get a Congress this far in his favour.

Make hay while the sun shines, and all that.

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Labour’s Last Budget. For Now.

Posted by The Futility Monster on March 24, 2010 @ 11:43

The end of Darling, perhaps? The possibilities of the next few months are varied and exciting!

So here we are again. Another non-eventful Budget Day. After all, with comprehensive spending rounds, ordinary spending reviews, pre-Budget Reports and endless briefing and leaking, hardly any of what we hear today will be a surprise.

To fill the void, the networks have to do something. Invariably, this is endless speculation, combined with the classic “let’s visit a marginal constituency and do some random vox pops”. And, naturally, the “average family” will have their numbers crunched, and discover that the rise in price of wine is going to plunge them into deficit for financial year 10/11.

That’s all I’ve witnessed so far, in my flicking between BBC and Sky News. And now, the liveblog, as it happened, in chronological order…

11:42 – BBC talking to someone who set up business during a recession. Madness, said the reporter. Sounds about right, from my experience!

11:45 – Kay Burley emoting on Sky News as she feeds the ducks. Tragic.

11:53 – thoughts now turning to PMQs. David Cameron has an open goal today with the latest Labour sleaze allegations. But Brown will deflect because of the sole dodgy Tory in the mix. And then accuse him of not talking about policy. Net result will be lots of sound bites, lots of guffawing, lots of interventions from Mr Speaker… but no change in the polls. No one cares.

11:57 – Sky News in analysis mode. BBC News in “emotive strings over graphics mode” showing the economic changes since 1997. Guess which one I’ve got on…

12:01 – PMQs underway with the usual tributes to the fallen. That’s the cue to switch to BBC Parliament for uninterrupted coverage. I find the “commentary” interjections on BBC2 rather irritating.

12:02 – this faff over defence spending is appallingly dull. Inter-year spending, who cares. The general trend is indeed a real terms rise. Splitting hairs from politicians, what a surprise.

12:05 – Cameron begins with a tedious joke about today’s civil servants strike. This stuff doesn’t resonate, as we all know, but we do it anyway.

12:06 – gold sales for question 2. Pretty hard to know where the top of the market is. I suspect we can go back centuries and work out where gold sales lost the country money. Fucking load of rubbish.

12:07 – Cameron persists, refocusing on Labour trying to cover up their incompetence. Better line, but Brown deflects again.

12:09 – Question 4, Cameron carrying on. He should have given up. There must be other issues to talk about. Oh my.

12:10 – Question 5, Cameron delivering the soundbites, the same things he’s repeated for years now. Another joke. Killing time. No question. Brown gets his chance to redeliver every sound bite he’s already said about Labour’s “success” over the years. Cameron has lost badly here. No Question 6? Maybe I miscounted…

12:12 – Nick Clegg gets his turn. Going on political corruption, the great elephant in the room. Accusing the others of blocking reform. Brown going softly. He knows what the polls are saying. Hung parliament, anyone?

12:13 – Clegg’s second go is the laundry list of failed attempts to remove corruption. Silly Tory MPs continue shouting about “Michael Brown” as they have for weeks now. Yes, let’s fling shit and ignore the failures of this Parliament.

12:15 – whip’s handout questions shall now commence.

12:17 – Gordon Brown can’t wait to be remembered for the result of the next election, apparently. I share his excitement about what lies ahead!

12:19 – Brown repeats his warning about the poor behaviour of the Tories regarding the BA cabin crew strike. It’s not becoming of a future government. No one wants another government antagonising the unions.

12:20 – sounds like mephedrone is to be banned before the election. Hmm…

12:23 – it’s curious how Bob Spink has become a real backer of Gordon Brown since his departure from the Tory Party.

12:27 – PMQs petering out. Alistair Darling is itching to go…

12:30 – Ian Paisley getting a swansong, in which he even referred to Norn Iron as “the North of Ireland”. Gerry Adams would be pleased. Unless I misheard again. Could hear a pindrop in the House. Brown offers glowing tribute.

12:32 – Budget underway. Speaker makes way for the Chairman of Ways and Means. Hurrah.

12:34 – Alistair Darling giving himself and his government a pat on the back for guiding the economy through and out of recession. This is going to be the Labour line in the election.

12:35 – Darling’s introduction promises a few billion of goodies.

12:37 – Budget Days are all about narrative. Darling has just set out his stall as to how the British economy has weathered the storm. No measures announced yet.

12:39 – it is disappointing that the government will not pledge to keep one of the banks we own in public hands. The sector needs to be kept honest. Darling pledges any future sell offs will recoup all money invested. That was always going to be the case, but the headlines have always been about what the government was “losing” by nationalising these banks.

12:42 – Darling sticking to his guns on an international tax agreement on banking. Attacking the Tory line of Britain doing it unilaterally. Darling is right, but will the agreement happen?

12:45 – Darling using this free airtime as a chance to deliver a party political broadcast. Politicians never miss an opportunity, do they.

12:47 – joyous talk about automatic stablisers, without the word being mentioned. Lots of tinkering with tax credits underway. Talk of retirement age limits and young people’s unemployment. Hmm.

12:49 – the numbers are flowing thick and fast now. These minor little tinkerings don’t sound much, but they are going to make a difference to the things Labour can say in the campaign. Stamp duty is the big change here. First time buyers getting a big help…

12:51 – Labour backbenches enjoying the stamp duty change, with a redistribution of the tax on houses over £1m. Tories enjoying the fact that the policy has been stolen from them. ISAs now getting some adjustments to encourage more saving.

12:52 – the forecasts, what everyone wants to hear. How optimistic is the pessimistic Darling going to be? Answer: not very. A minor adjustment to next year. This year unchanged. The future is bright, says the Chancellor. Well, he didn’t, but he could have.

12:55 – now the borrowing numbers. Darling talks about the greater tax take he’s enjoyed lately. Borrowing forecast this year down. Lots of jeers, naturally; these numbers are still high.

12:57 – still many years of borrowing to come. Darling pledges Labour will indeed achieve the deficit halving pledge in the next several years. But there’s no numbers yet as to how on Earth this deficit cut is achieved. Spending cuts, for sure. But he’s not admitting it. Tory frontbench frantically crunching numbers for their response.

13:00 – spending cuts mentioned. Of course, no cutting “now”, which implies lots of cutting later. It has to be, in order to achieve the deficit reduction strategy.

13:01 – tax rises being mentioned, but they’ve all been announced before. Darling insisting these tax rises are not “ideological”. “Those who have benefited the most from the growth should now contribute” – or words to that effect.

13:02 – “sin tax” changes underway. Alcohol and cigarettes taking a little pounding, but particularly cider. Put the Scrumpy Jack away.

13:03 – inheritance tax thresholds to be frozen for the next four years. Very good. Darling clearly aiming that one at the Tories.

13:06 – Darling is apparently going to deliver a range of goodies in the public services over the next few years. But no real cuts to the budgets have been announced. This is voodoo economics.

13:07 – Darling is deferring most of the tough decision to after the election, in the Comprehensive Spending Review. The only thing he’s prepared to talk about is “efficiency savings” and waste. The magic bullet. It’ll never happen.

13:09 – Lots of public sector staff in jeopardy; definitely going to be moved out of London, at least. The bad part about it: endless civil service jaunts to London at taxpayer’s expense for “meetings”. A wave of privatisations is to begin too, by the sounds of it.

13:11 – now discussing growth, and how that will help cure all our financial woes. But just how much consumption can the world sustain? Bye bye, environment.

13:13 – goodies for investing in businesses. A public “investment bank” by the sounds of it. Sounds a bit like a Lib Dem idea, except I think we wanted it to be “green”.

13:18 – lots more investment in public infrastructure underway. That’s a lot of money. But it’s essential, really, if we’re to have any hope of sustaining economic growth in the future. Good old cost-benefit analysis.

13:20 – the broadband tax is confirmed.

13:21 – not a long Budget speech, by any means, but we’re now into the usual ending territory of recent years. But no signs of a finish yet.

13:22 – special attention going to be paid to the computer games sector. That is impressive; the pols have spotted how much money this sector could make the economy through its massive exporting (USA, Far East, Europe). They never miss a trick, do they.

13:24 – Darling insists universities are going to foot the bill for the rising amount of students.

13:26 – Ashcroft is implied as Darling talks about tax avoidance/evasion. Labour benches loving it, especially an agreement with Belize on tax dodging. Cameron/Osborne refusing to look up from their furious scribbling. Labour MPs very excited, begging for more.

13:29 – creeping up to an hour, and Darling is releasing the goodies now, pension increases, child tax credits, personal tax allowances for the old dears (who vote) going up, Winter Fuel payment to be sustained at the higher levels of recent years. We Love Pensioners! Especially Those Who Vote Labour!

13:30 – think it’s ending, with more political posturing. Laying out the election choice. Think Darling has done a decent job, but we’ll see what Osborne has to say…

13:32 – Tories in feisty mood. Cameron taking credit for the stamp duty cut.

13:33 – Cameron, freed from the shackles of having to ask questions, is going on the big messages. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t bother at PMQs.

13:35 – going at a rate of knots. Spending, cuts, deficits, debt, bloat, taxes, Britain closed for business. Cameron calling for an election to put Labour out of their misery.

13:36 – Cameron’s Budget Bashing is well underway. The numbers they’ve been scribbling down are all flowing out. It’s all good for the cameras, but is anyone listening? The end soundbites are what we’re after. They will indicate where we’re going in the next six weeks…

13:39 – Tories are cheered up by Cameron’s jokes. But not by the numbers. Feigned indignation all round.

13:40 – a few years ago Cameron did a Budget response that was impetuous and arrogant. This is reminding me of it.

13:41 – Cameron hurling allegations at Brown and Darling about their forthcoming consultancy fees. Childish.

13:43 – Tories planning on giving more power to quangos, a new one to manage budgeting forecasts. Oh dear.

13:45 – here come the soundbites. They’re being rattled off at incredible speed. Lots of one-liners too. I think William Hague wrote this Budget response.

13:46 – Cameron promising a radical change of direction. New leadership, new energy… stirring stuff to the Tory benches. It’s not gonna be that easy for him.

13:47 – Clegg’s turn. A reminder of the government’s failure. BBC and Sky News have abandoned Mr Clegg’s response, to be shown later. Isn’t it just as well the coverage rules change when the election begins?

13:49 – Clegg pointing out the lack of detail on spending cuts. Spot on.

13:50 – Clegg won’t spend on a “like for like” replacement of Trident. That’s not the same as not spending on a nuclear ‘deterrent’ at all.

13:53 – 8m economically inactive, says Clegg. Does that include people like me, able to sit around writing about a Budget that no one cares about, to no readers? 🙂

13:55 – Clegg rattling through his statement too. Perhaps he’s worked out no one is watching.

13:57 – the message on tax thresholds is going to be the Lib Dems’ big message at the election. Fairness to be the central idea. I just hope it’s all fully costed, or it will unravel very quickly at a time when the nation will be paying the most attention to us.

13:58 – Clegg concludes, “this Budget is the old politics”. Maybe. And there was the sound bite for the news programs, if they ever show it.

14:01 – Mandy in his usual form on BBC News. Looking forward to outlining his package of savings, it seems.

14:03 – Mandy and Iain Duncan Smith arguing very forcefully with each other. Charles Kennedy trying to pin down Mandelson, but he’s a slippery character…

14:05 – BBC journos enjoying tearing the fine detail of the Budget apart. This is going to happen over the next few days; can Labour survive it? Previous Budget experience would suggest not.

14:08 – Nick Robinson emphasising the pointlessness of this Budget. Hey, I told you that at the start of this post!

14:17 – with the BBC and Sky News now in full pointlessness mode, regarding how the Budget affects YOU and what your tweets have to say about it, that seems a good point to conclude.

Overall, the whole damn thing might as well have been a pre-recorded election statement. Budgets don’t really have the allure they used to. No major goodies, but a few things to talk about. Meanwhile, the Tories and Lib Dems will be able to carry on hammering their usual messages.

Roll on May 6.

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The Media Never Takes The Union’s Side

Posted by The Futility Monster on March 22, 2010 @ 23:03

There's two sides to every story...

Whilst perusing the Metro this morning, I was struck by the cartoon that appeared on the front.

For those that didn’t see it, it showed two air traffic controllers having a discussion about the latest figures from Unite, which talked about how many union members were on strike, how many phoned in sick, etc. The caption read:

I’ve got a flight BA0124 from Bahrain preparing to land but I don’t know whether to believe him…

That is very revealing. These days, the media is very much trained to treat the union’s point of view as suspicious at best. Meanwhile, the management side of the dispute is frequently portrayed as the dispassionate observer, because they are the poor ones who are being forced to suffer so much from the strike.

It puzzles me when this change happened. When did the media decide that telling the story from the point of view of the workforce was not interesting to us? Or maybe they’ve always been that way.

Union officials are always interviewed in a hostile manner. They are accused of not caring about the business’ future. They are shown as backward, as unwilling, and inflexible to the demands of the global world. Luddites in a modern age where “progress” is rendering them out of existence.

This is usually contrasted with the interview with the bosses, who say it’s not their fault, and these are the times we live in. They sigh and say they’ve done their best to work with the unions, but they just cannot afford to meet the “unreasonable” demands.

Then some film of picket lines, of strikes, some rather rough looking workers. Then, usually, a few vox pops from Angry of Tunbridge Wells, who has missed their flight because of a callous and selfish workforce.

This may be an exaggeration, but it’s not far off the truth from what I’ve witnessed.

Why is the media so unquestioning of business when it comes to industrial disputes? Why has no one investigated the strong-arm tactics of Willie Walsh and BA? Why do we never find out exactly what it is that makes train drivers want to strike so often? So too of the Royal Mail. And, inevitably, of the civil service.

We’re expected to assume that the managers are indeed acting in good faith, and that their figures can always be trusted.

That doesn’t seem fair to me.

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Clarky Cat Is On The Loose

Posted by The Futility Monster on March 17, 2010 @ 11:40

And so it begins...

It is extremely unfortunate, or perhaps richly ironic, that the drug mephedrone, making headlines this morning because of the tragic deaths of two teenagers who had taken it, has the following nicknames: “M-Cat”, “MC”, “mieow” and “meow”.

Because, when I heard this, my mind turned to thoughts of yellow bentines, cake (the made up drug) and, of course, clarky cat.

Satirised by Chris Morris and the Brass Eye team almost 13 years ago, in scenes that caused great controversy at the time due to the willingness of popular figures to lend their names to a campaign that was entirely fictitious, the problem now is that satire ceases to be funny if it’s actually true.

I have no doubt that mephedrone is indeed dangerous if you stick it up your nose. I imagine snorting most things are. Cillit Bang, Mr Muscle, soap powder…

What worries me is that we are now in danger of witnessing yet another full scale moral panic regarding a drug which has been the result of no research, no previous media information, with the resulting effect that almost the entire population know nothing of it.

That is where things start to go wrong. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so too do the media.

Into this void we are going to see endless tales of the “dangers” of mephedrone. Politicians will jump on the bandwagon. There is even talking of classifying this drug as Class A, and yet you have Peter Mandelson admitting this morning that he had previously no knowledge of it.

Perhaps in a month or so, or less, we will be seeing celebrities coming out to warn da yoof about the dangers of this drug. And, naturally, the celebrities will know no more than anyone else.

Evidence. Evidence. Evidence.

I wrote about this same subject before when Professor Nutt resigned from government’s drug advisory panel. Where drugs are concerned, if we must be going down the route of prohibition (being a crazy liberal, I am unconvinced), the best we can do is to do things thoroughly. Yes, there will always be a political decision, and there will be variations in human physiology, but science is pretty damn good in fields like this, and we should use all the tools at our disposal.

But since that’s not going to happen, and with an election imminent, democracy is once again going to be exposed as a failure when it comes to resisting short-term bouts of populism. I’ll bet even the Lib Dems will find it hard to resist the tidal wave of calls for a ban. After all, would you want to look like the outsider on an issue like this?

No. Not when we’re going to have the Daily Mail and Express, with a dash of The Sun and Sky News dictating the agenda.

But still. As long as we all don’t have to live with arms that feel like a couple of fortnights in a bad balloon.

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When The Media Fail

Posted by The Futility Monster on March 8, 2010 @ 11:38

The latest developments in the Jon Venables story are extremely worrying. Not because of the “alleged” allegations spiralling around the media, courtesy of gutter Sunday press, but because I’ve just watched Sky News and witnessed Dominic Grieve, Shadow Justice Secretary, being drawn into the row in a disappointing way.

Dominic Grieve is probably one of my favourite Conservative politicians. He is cool, rational and utterly logical. A staunch defender of liberty and freedoms, winning all the arguments regarding ID cards and Gordon Brown’s pitiful attempts to extend detention without trial to 42 days with breathtaking ease.

He is no populist.

That is, until now.

He has just given an interview in which he basically demanded Jack Straw comes to the Commons with a statement forthwith to “clarify” the issues involved.

Wrong move.

The endless speculation in the papers is a terrible thing to begin with. We seem to be reaching a stage where it’s OK to print whatever you like now, because the chance of being indicted for contempt of court seem to be slim to non-existent these days.

But the real problem, both for the course of justice and for the media, is that the judiciary will not be beholden to the populism of politicians. If newspapers continue to print stories, which have ranged from merely a breach of the order, to a fight, to drug taking, and now to child porn (notice it getting worse because you can’t libel someone who has no reputation to defend?)… then if this does indeed come to trial, the defence have an extraordinarily easy case to make that a fair trial is impossible.

Fair trials. Remember those? I know we’ve sold a lot of our values and liberties down the river in the past decade or two, but the right to a fair trial has to be preserved.

Bizarrely, it would actually be in the media’s best interests if they shut the hell up. They’ll be the first ones to moan if there is no trial because a court agrees that it would be impossible to select an unbiased jury, especially if his new identity is either disclosed or leaked to a paper, who must be itching to print what they doubtless already know about Venables’ new life.

But it would also be in all our interests to make sure the trial is fair, Venables gets due process, and whatever may or may not be coming to him.

There is no alternative that is acceptable.

And to see Dominic Grieve, of all people, selling out what remains of justice’s fundamental principles, and turning this into a political football, is extremely disheartening.

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