Sunday 31 January 2010

Would the real liberals please stand up?

Might I make a small request to the BBC? When it comes to reporting foreign politics, particularly in the U.S, could they try for a little more balance? I like Obama as much as the next person, I listened to his victory speech in full (thank you BBC iPlayer), but the love-in of the last few weeks to ‘celebrate’ his one year anniversary is a little over the top; as was the ‘flags at half mast’ response four years earlier when Bush won his second term in office.

In your shoes cartoon
The BBC would do well to avoid the simplistic ‘Republican equals bad, Democrat equals good’ message that it’s been pumping out, but since this has been going on for years I imagine that’s a forlorn hope. It reminds me a little of an idiotic article I read many years ago in The Guardian newspaper, in which they gave over a whole page to a portrait of the ‘typical’ Conservative-voting woman. You can probably guess the tenor of the piece, full of stereo-types more likely to be found in an airport novel than the real world. I wonder who the journalist was, I have no idea but I bet they’re now in politics or writing 'working class' drama for Auntie.

Likewise I’ve no idea what happened to the earnest young socialist who visited my school and whose only memorable comment was to question Margaret Thatcher’s femininity. It’s a common theme I’ve encountered all too often; when some liberals talk about the opposition, be they Republican, Conservative or anyone who dare hold an opposing view, the gloves come off. Women who don’t toe the line have something wrong with them, non-whites are portrayed as betraying their race and whites are inherently racist. So many labels; I’ve lost count of the number of times the BBC has used the term “black Americans” or “white Americans” – are they kidding me?

I really shouldn’t have been surprised therefore to read another crude ‘news’ report on U.S healthcare reform; Why do people often vote against their own interests? Reform seems eminently sensible to me, but I know several Americans who oppose these measures. I respect their opinion, they’re not idiots, they just happen to have a different outlook that no-one, least of all the BBC, can be bothered to explore properly. In the same report Drew Weston, an ‘exasperated Democrat’ is quoted as saying:
Obama's administration made a tremendous mistake by not immediately branding the economic collapse that we had just had as the Republicans' Depression, caused by the Bush administration's ideology of unregulated greed.
It’s an extraordinary statement with not an opposing view to be found. Indeed the story is so sloppily written it's not always easy to tell where the quote stops and the journalism begins. A balanced report might have pointed out that it wasn’t Bush who deregulated the banks, a measure widely held responsible for the start of our current economic mess, but his cigar loving predecessor Bill Clinton. If memory serves me correct, wasn’t he a Democrat?

Of course greed and countless other unpleasant attributes can be found all too easily in politics, but to be na├»ve enough to believe, and irresponsible enough to suggest that they reside solely on one side of the political spectrum serves no purpose. It's playing to the home crowd, it’s lazy but more than that it’s wrong. Just as conservatives need to stop throwing around ‘socialist’ as a form of insult, there are some liberals who need to be little more… liberal.

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Just what is international law anyway?

Though I’m loathe to side with either Jack Straw or Tony Blair (particularly our former Prime Minister) in the Iraq inquiry, I have to admit I’m somewhat bemused by the question of whether the invasion of Iraq was legal. In touting this query I’ve heard numerous references to ‘international law’ without any mention of the precise law that is supposed to have been broken. International law is often nothing more than an agreement or commonality across existing states; where there is no common ground there is no law. Does anyone seriously believe the US under either a Republican or Democrat administration would acquiesce to a requirement for UN authorisation of military action?

The real issue remains how the UK government misled parliament with such spurious military intelligence. The ‘45 minute’ claim was quite clearly rubbish; my only surprise when I originally listened to the presentation in the House of Commons was that no-one expressed any doubt. In this respect the guilt lies not just with Tony Blair but the entire Labour party for being so compliant, though the Conservatives do themselves little credit having provided such poor opposition. Indeed the only party to come out of it with any standing is the Liberal party – and I never thought I’d hear myself say that.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Proportional (non-) representation

House of Commons
Imagine living in a constituency where your parliamentary representative isn’t the person who received the most votes.

Imagine living in a constituency that voted for an independent candidate not allied to any of the major political parties, who is thus prevented from representing you because being independent they have no visibility at a national level. Conversely a party that has minority support across the country aggregates their national vote and is ‘allocated’ a place in parliament. Imagine that ‘allocation’ is your representative. Imagine they belong to the BNP.

Imagine a Member of Parliament having to vote on a bill that is unpopular with their local constituency. Elections are near, you have a narrow majority as it is but ‘the party’ can ‘guarantee’ support in the form of transferred votes; side with your constituency and you’re on your own. Imagine how this will affect the decision making process.

All of these scenarios are possible with proportional representation; a system that favours the political party whilst disenfranchising local electorates. What many people in the UK forget is that when we vote we are voting for an individual and not the party to which they might belong. As such our representatives are directly accountable to us. The appalling parliamentary ‘whip’ system  is an indicator of what will happen on a much wider scale with the introduction of PR - one purpose of this system is to ensure an MP votes "the way their party wants".

I’d rather have a system where our political representatives vote the way we want.

Wednesday 6 January 2010


For the first time in an age I found myself snowed in and unable to get to work. It was 50:50 but a text message from an ex-colleague who lives not far from the office Downfall Hitler Youthpersuaded me of the futility in making an attempt. So I found myself at home with no remote access to work and had to take the day as leave.

I watched Downfall; a film I’ve wanted to see for a long time yet somehow managed to miss despite the numerous repeats last year. Though it’s a tremendous film, its real achievement is in portraying the various bunker occupants as human beings rather than unique expressions of evil. As the film critic Roger Egbert wrote:
...he [Hitler] was not a great man, simply one armed by fate to unleash unimaginable evil. It is useful to reflect that racism, xenophobia, grandiosity and fear are still with us, and the defeat of one of their manifestations does not inoculate us against others.
In avoiding caricature we are prevented from writing a line under this history, in humanizing the protagonists we are reminded that such evil could happen again; and this is what makes Downfall a truly great film.

Saturday 2 January 2010

It was a wild rumpus

It was a film I admired and could easily become a film I love. Where the Wild Things Are was made by people who remembered what it’s like to be a child; everything from Max’s relationship at home to his adventure with the wild things spoke of the truth. The wanton destruction, the picking of sides and the unexpectedly violent mud-clot fight; it was wonderful.

My favourite book last year was The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. I have admittedly not read much, something I hope to rectify this year, though I seem to remember saying something similar in the past. I have two borrowed so there’s somewhere to start. However as a warning familiar to many, never express an interest in anything specific. For Christmas I received three books on the Roman Empire, one on the Persian Empire and one on Ancient Civilisations. I can’t recollect the last time someone gave me non-fiction on a period subsequent to 1066AD.

For my favourite album there was slightly more to choose from. I’m not the music buyer I once was, there are no longer stacks of CDs purchased on a weekly basis, but now that DRM on online purchases is a thing of the past MP3 downloads are becoming the norm. I’ve downloaded on many occasions this year… yes, it’s a miracle. A lot of good albums but standing out was Tale to Tell by The Mummers.

It is the most uplifting magical music of an age and such a shock to read that the composer behind the group, Mark Horwood, had committed suicide.