Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Campaigning Support for Gay marriage

In the past few weeks an Internet meme has emerged concerning gay marriage. It started with a college humor video suggesting that gay guys would marry straight guys girlfriends'. It was a winsome piece of humour, playing to the idea that certain gay stereotypes would be very attractive to women, and that therefore straight guys should support gay marriage in order to eliminate the competition. Then a bunch of gay women thought that lesbians could follow up on this and came up with a whole load of reasons why straight women should support gay marriage. There was a pretty dramatic response, which the girls also responded to themselves with great good humour.

Meanwhile straight men also decided that they could support gay marriage, although disparaging the idea that gay men would want to marry their girlfriends... since they did not even want to do that themselves. Gently they too took the rip out of some of the stereotypes, this time straight stereotypes. On the other hand the straight women were more interested in responding to the straight guys, who they clearly found rather obnoxious, rather than respond to the gay ideas. 

Frankly the Lesbian videos were genuinely very funny, but it is amazing how a single idea can populate the the whole Internet. Popular causes and the easy access to the technology are transferring campaigning into a whole new direction.

Equally interesting how the battle of the sexes continues unabated, even in the subject of gay marriage.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Can the Tories survive another decade?

The British Conservative Party is an extremely successful electoral machine. Over the nearly 170 years since it was founded in 1834, it has been in government more than half the time. It is currently the most powerful political party in the UK, holding the largest single bloc of seats in the House of Commons, the largest number of Peers as well as being the largest single British Party in the European Parliament (holding 25 of the 72 British seats) and being a dominant force in local government too, with over 9,000 councillors. In the face of such a record it may seem absurd to even question the future of such a political success story.

Yet the fact is that the Tories are facing a mounting series of challenges which could certainly lead to electoral defeat and potentially political irrelevance within a pretty short period. 

To me, the fundamental problem remains the unresolved merger of economically liberal ideas, which in the Conservative Party, are usually deemed "right-wing" with socially liberal ideas, which are usually deemed "left wing". David Cameron as leader has followed a largely left-wing social agenda, even as he has tried- with only partial success- to get the country through the economic crisis by following a right-wing economic agenda. However his socially liberal views have allowed his political enemies within the Conservative party to paint him as left wing across the board, which is emphatically not the case. More to the point the social conservatives are both increasingly vocal and increasingly unlikely to give way, even when the majority of their party do not support them. Overlaying this economic and social cleft there remains the poisonous issue of Europe, where an ever more intractable group of Europhobes are refusing to accept any compromise - insisting ever more vocally that the only way is out.

It is not just that the Conservative Party is divided- all political parties comprise differing points of view- it is the bitterness of the divisions and the rancor with which they are held that is making the Conservatives ever less attractive electorally and ever more difficult for a leader- any leader- to chart a safe course. Take Europe, David Cameron is the most Euro-sceptic Prime Minister in British history, he has- very wrongly, in my view- been prepared to veto major EU agreements and has been highly critical of the policies of other EU governments. You might think that the Tory Europhobes would regard him with some approval, but in fact far from it. The social conservatives and the anti-Europeans are fanatics in the classical definition, they won't change their minds and they won't change the subject, yet they have to function in a political world. Cameron has to function within the EU under a series of functional compromises, yet his own side regard such compromises not as an essential political tool, but as a betrayal,

When every decision is viewed through such a distorted prism, it becomes ever more difficult to make a decisions at all. In the circumstances it was only a matter of time before such dinosaurs as Peter Hitchens or Janet Daley would start to speculate over David Cameron's job security- but the issue they have made a litmus test, gay marriage, is a battle the social conservatives have long ago lost. Even the deeply social conservative "Cornerstone Group" (aka "Tombstone") has not been able to muster too much resistance, yet the noise that they have made simply reminds the voters how far behind the times so many Tories still are. Indeed, with an average age well into middle age, the Conservative membership is ageing pretty rapidly out of existence. In fact these Tory activists have been defecting to UKIP in some numbers, but it is a measure of how powerless party members are that the Conservative Party itself remains largely unaffected- it has become a virtual campaigning organisation, using paid deliverers and highly targeted voter ID software.

So with membership falling, and the growing perception that the party, even when on the popular side of the argument, can not effectively formulate or follow through its ideas, the Conservatives are on a slippery slope. Of course many would say that the coalition was to blame, and that the Tories will merely follow the depths that the Lib Dems have already plumbed. Yet there are signs that the Lib Dems could be poised for a modest, but significant recovery. As UKIP nibbles away at the right of the Conservatives, the Lib Dems have been winning significant numbers of council by-elections too. Given the bizarre maths of the British electoral system, it does not take that many votes to fall away before major damage can be inflicted on a political party.

A UKIP/Lib Dem squeeze on the Tories- sounds like wishful thinking, yet in some contests it has already been happening.      

Monday, December 10, 2012

Goodbye Europe? No, Goodbye Britain

In 26 European Union countries, (and one acceding country, Croatia) today is something of a celebration, albeit a muted one, given the circumstances of continued economic hardship- the European Union will formally receive recognition as the winner of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. In one other European Union member state it is the occasion of ridicule and disbelief. Admittedly the contemptible British press prefers to hypocritically attack an Australian radio programme for an unfortunate prank that went badly wrong, so probably remarkably few people in the UK may be aware of the special recognition that the EU is getting, unless they encounter some sneering comment on page 17.

Across the British political spectrum, the European Union has become a bogeyman for all of the ills that afflict the dis-United Kingdom. "Brussels bureaucrats"- although there are actually fairly few of them- are the first in line in the British political blame game. Britain is allowed to opt out of more than half of the activity of the EU, and yet "Brussels" continues to be accused of unwanted meddling. It is a fantasy, but those who protest are branded as obsessive Europhiles. In fact, as my friend Willis Pickard points out, Leveson has condemned the anti-European newspapers for "fabrication" and "careless misrepresentation of the facts". He also makes clear the impact of the unrelenting hostility of the press has had on government policy making. It is essentially impossible to make a positive case for engagement with the EU without receiving a barrage of negative coverage. Alone of the EU leaders, Gordon Brown chose to sign the treaty of Lisbon late and in a locked room- a pitiable display of cowardice, to be sure, but one that underlines how far the UK is now from the mainstream, even of agreements it actually signs. 

Funnily enough support for British membership of the EU has slumped to a new low.

The result is now that the once unthinkable idea of British withdrawal from the European Union is now being taken seriously. Yet the principle proponents of this one-way ticket have failed to explain what they would settle for. The Economist, not a notably left-wing publication, points out just how reckless an EU exit could be- the fact is that the only way to gain the supposed benefits that the anti-Europeans expect from withdrawal would be not the "simple commercial/trade relationship" that the Tories and UKIP wish for, but in fact a complete withdrawal- including from the single market, which the Tories still profess to hold so dear. The fact is that the Europhobes have been either breathtakingly naive or willfully blind- out will indeed mean out and that means completely out, otherwise there is simply no point in leaving at all. Rather like the SNP, who have also been caught out by their wishful, rather than practical, view of EU membership, the Tories can not have it both ways. Yet despite their abject failure to address the critical issue, the noisy Europhobes are still being taken seriously by their friends in the press- if by ever fewer people elsewhere.

The European Union would be diminished by a "Brexit". Yet the European Union will survive- indeed it still seems likely to acquire even more members. It would be recognizably the same institution. Can the same be said for the United Kingdom? 

The foundation of the success of the SNP in Scotland has been "independence in Europe". Could it be that new life is breathed into the sickly support for Scottish separatism if a post-EU United Kingdom finds its economy trashed and its political clout reduced to the same level as Malaysia? Far from the reinvigorated Kingdom that UKIP and the Tories proclaim, we could instead see the rapid end of the British state. To my mind it is at least as likely as any other outcome from this reckless, ill planned and ill judged policy.

So I believe in two Federal ideas: the British Federation and the European one. They are complimentary, not opposed. To break the EU, as UKIP and its allies propose, would not be good news for the EU, but it could be utterly disastrous for Britain.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Deeply saddened

A dedicated nurse. An Australian spoof. A British tabloid security scare. A world-wide "scandal". 

A suicide.

Two kids are motherless, but don't worry the press had nothing to do with it. They did not doorstop her, or harass her in any way, so that is all right.

But hey, its OK the British press can regulate itself.

In other news. The Leveson inquiry finds that there is a systematic anti European Union (read = paid for) bias in several British newspapers.

In other news, there is now an opinion poll that suggests that the majority in the UK would vote to leave the EU.

In other news, the Conservatives now tend to support withdrawal from the EU.

In other news, the cost of withdrawal is never discussed, because doing so is deemed by the tabloid press as being "pro-EU propaganda"

Don't worry. Its OK. the UK press hardly ever kills anyone. They hardly ever make mistakes.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Making the same mistake twice

As I read through the Sunday news, I am struck with a sense of fatigue. The responses to the Leveson Report might have come straight from an episode of Yes, Minister. The self-serving posturing of the corporate press merely confirms all we feared most: they have a profit-driven agenda which is little or nothing to do with the national interest and which they will ruthlessly defend. The switch from open contempt of David Cameron to mild adulation, merely because the Prime Minister has essentially rejected the core recommendation of the report- that new arrangements should be underpinned by statute- reveals the Press at its cowardly, bullying, lick-spittle worst.

As it happens I am disappointed in Leveson. I think the report failed to address the rapidly changing nature of the media- the increasing diversity of media channels and the rise of citizen-journalism- and this is a critical failing. However the hysterical vituperation that has been delivered by the press, defending indefensible press intrusion on the bereaved, for example, as a matter of the "free press", makes me think that they, like so many other institutions in the United Kingdom, have long ago lost any kind of moral compass.

The fact that the Mail on Sunday felt free enough to launch yet another smear attack on Nick Clegg within a couple of days of the publication of the report is a measure of the limitless arrogance of Paul Dacre. Yet it could hardly have been a more compelling example of why the British Press has become an international by-word for immoderate hostility and corruption. In short it is not much of a step to describe the network of foreign ownership, powerful influence and the extremist venom of the so-called opinion-formers as a malevolent, evil influence on British public life.

Yet "the fault, Dear Brutus, lies not on our stars, but in ourselves". The fact is that the people of Britain allow themselves to be manipulated by the distortions, lies and special pleading that the Press serves up to them. The crisis that Britain now faces- economic, political and specifically national- needs to be addressed calmly and intelligently, and yet we continue to give ear to the barrage of greed and stupidity that passes for informed comment in Britain today. Facts are ignored or lost in a cacophony of bawling ignorance.

"My opinion is just as good as yours" is universally believed, even if some opinions are based on completely false premises. The Press does not seek out the truth between contending ideas, still less does it "speak truth to power", rather it allows people like Johann Hari to become respected columnists, even when it is clear that they are little more than fantasists. All the time, the concerned citizen seems to lack the discrimination that would filter out ideas that are not based on at least a nodding acquaintance with the facts. 

In the age of the Internet, it is a simple and immediate process to check facts. It is a measure of how twisted British journalism has become that even as the availability of facts has become easier, so ever greater errors are found in the Press. It should be a standing rebuke to every newspaper editor in the Kingdom that an organisation such as FullFact.Org can publish on a daily basis detailed analysis of claims made by scientists, politicians or the press- and can refute so easily many of the headlines.

I believe that the British Press is a major contributor to the current national crisis in Britain. The idea that these corporate entities, a large number of which are foreign owned, are the only thing keeping the British political world free of corruption is laughable. I do believe the public has a right to know. I do not think that protests by the Press we are seeing now are about the principle of right to know, I think they are about the far more limited principle of profit. I do not think that Leveson addressed the issue of the boundaries of the public domain- either a privacy law or a law on the free press. Most of all, I am sad and angry to see how easy it is for the corporate press to continue to manipulate the voters based on a false agenda. 

The rise of the blogosphere and such sites as Fullfact are a testament to the death roll of the newspaper industry- the corporate media, from Fox News and The Daily Mail, to the Guardian and the BBC, have a declining influence, yet it is still pervasive and still pernicious. In the end it is is a matter of public and personal responsibility that individuals must maintain a personal scepticism, and unless we do that, we will continue to be mislead by opinions which are private interests masquerading as the public good.