Monthly Archives: April 2010

America’s Take On Bigotgate

It’s about time that America got revenge on the UK for us laughing at supreme brainbox George W Bush so often over the years.

The perception over here is that Americans have about as much interest in foreign affairs as Nick Griffin has in owning a lentils company, but The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central has taken a shine to our election, and the following video is the result. Ripping into the quaintness of our debates, with banter about English accents and traditions thrown in for good measure, Jon Stewart’s piece is a lovingly crafted pisstake which is also really funny. More, please. Unfortunately I’m the Gordon Brown of non-Youtube video embedding, so you’ll have to click on the link below (I blame Sue).

Bigotgate, US style…

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Follow The Leaders

Only a short entry tonight, unfortunately, because I’ve been riveted to the coverage of the final Leaders’ Debate and it’s getting late.

While watching the broadcast, my initial impression was that Clegg had won. Even though I thought he came a little bit unstuck on talk about the Euro and immigration, he seemed slick enough to have emerged victorious.

So I was rather surprised when the initial polls came out, saying that Cameron was the victor. I had seen him evade questions on his immigration cap, and thought it might have harmed him.

But when reading the tweets and the comments and the analysis later – in particular a Shadow Lib Dem Minister apparently admitting in private that Clegg “lied” about his policy towards the Euro (an extraordinary admission!) – the narrative started to form that Clegg was a bit light on substance, and that his repeated attempts to dress up the others as being part of the Old Politics (TM) was becoming a bit old hat.

Brilliantly, Alistair Campbell, after spinning that Gordon Brown had won, was subsequently witnessed saying to a couple of security guards, “We’ve had it”. Yet in possibly the best spin of the entire campaign, he then claimed that he was referring to his beloved Burnley FC. Who are… er… already relegated. So that’s bollocks, then. And that’s politics for you.

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Brown’s Black Wednesday

It’s rather ironic, given Gillian Duffy’s surname, that the Prime Minister ended up begging her for mercy.

As the television, radio and internet go bonkers over Gordon Brown’s encounter with the 65 year old Grandmother, I thought I’d point out a few things which seem to have been overlooked.

Firstly, when Mrs Duffy first made her remark about immigration, Gordon Brown’s initial reaction was to break out in that sly grin he makes whenever he thinks that someone he’s talking to is an idiot. In poker parlance, that’s a “tell” (more on the grin later). Rewatch the footage, and you can see the wheels turning in his head at that moment. Do it. Witness the thought process in action. “Oh God, why am I having to listen to this fool…?”

Secondly, the media’s obsession is with Brown’s use of the word “bigot” in the car to describe Mrs Duffy. However, the more damning contempt for her was shown before the bigot comment. Just listen to the way he says that having to talk to her was “ridiculous”. And then, most tellingly, when asked what she actually said, he puffs dismissively and says, “Everything”. This shows that the immigration excuse is just a convenient red herring. In fact, he disapproved of everything she said, simply because she didn’t agree with him. He wasn’t expecting to have to talk to an ordinary voter who had real issues with his policies. “Sue” was going to be in trouble for leading her over to him. All this only goes to reinforce the widely held view within Westminster, that you either agree with Brown or you’re wrong and not worthy of having an opinion.

Thirdly, on the Jeremy Vine show during his first apology, Brown went with the line that he said what he did because of Mrs Duffy’s question about immigration. Leaving aside the above, which calls that excuse into question, it’s notable that Brown was looking at his notes when answering, trying to construct a pre-conceived narrative. The Labour Party seemed to initially be in two minds about whether or not to start smearing Mrs Duffy because of her views on immigration. It’s a bit difficult to accuse a lifelong Labour voter of being a Tory stooge, though, and luckily for them, the Party quickly decided that such a strategy was going to backfire. The point is this: the difference in the language used in Brown’s answers when initially confronted with the evidence and then in Mandelson’s spin to the BBC, when compared to Brown’s later apologies, was really stark.

While delivering the story of his personal apology to Mrs Duffy after their meeting, Brown’s grin was back on overdrive. It was plastered all over his face for the entire statement. The other side of the grin “tell” is that it’s used whenever Brown is being disingenuous and knows that he’s in trouble. Yes, he was profoundly sorry – sorry that he got caught. Sorry that he knew it was going to have a big effect on his day’s campaigning. It’s obvious from the recording in the car, and from the Jeremy Vine interview, that it was only when the gravity of the situation became clear that he went into full-on damage control. To the credit of the Labour Party, the reaction was quick when it came. But it was a reaction to avert more disaster, not a pro-active heartfelt penitent moment as the Prime Minister would like you to believe.

But what of everyone’s favourite moral compass: Denis MacShane, my case study for tribalism? Yes, he of the “same old party” comments when Tory council candidates were arrested for electoral fraud, and a bizarre Tweet last night when he slagged off Conservative blogger Iain Dale for holding strong views about sacked homophobe Philip Lardner. At the time of writing it may surprise you to learn that, since the Gillian Duffy incident, MacShane’s Twitter feed has been strangely inactive. One suspects that if it had been David Cameron insulting a pensioner, he might have had something to say. The silence is deafening. Tribalism continues unabated, the moral compasses coming with on/off switches depending on who’s said what. And isn’t that the very definition of bigotry?

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What The Sun Thinks Of Its Readers

The Sun’s editorial today was the usual copy-and-paste routine about a hung Parliament causing the world to explode, and the Labour Party being more useless than Iain Dowie in a Mr Universe competition. But it did contain a flash of unintentional brilliance.

Here was the groundwork: “Today Mr Brown has taken it (the debt) to £776billion. Interest adds £5,000 every second.”

And then later on, the punchline: “Just think: Labour debt has increased by half a million pounds since you started reading this.”

The debt increased by half a million pounds just while I read the editorial? Really? When I got thinking about this, it revealed something which I found rather amusing.

It’s 274 words from the start of the article to the punchline. At a stretch (going slowly), it took me 30 seconds to get there. But The Sun thinks that it should take 100 seconds. Therefore, the newspaper thinks that its readers read at a rate of less than 3 words a second! That’s primary school reading age!

Shows you just how much The Sun rates the intelligence of its readers, eh? I do so love Freudian slips.

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Tribalism II: The Revenge

Tribalism increasingly bores me. It’s ruining debate. I’m not talking about the laugh-a-minute, knockabout, playful fun of supporting your favourite team and enjoying a friendly rivalry with your opponents. I’m talking about the overly blinkered version, where nastiness…

Oh wait, that’s the beginning of yesterday’s blog. My apologies. Today’s entry returns to the subject, with a rather nice, beefy, specific example of how it affects political discourse for actual politicians.

Please come with me to the Twitter feed of one Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham (he might want to change that profile, actually, as he’s MP of precisely nowhere for another week and a half yet). I was linked to something he wrote today by someone I follow on Twitter, a comment which was also retweeted by another 38 people. The person who linked me to it is a highly talented writer and a Labour supporter. All fine, you might think: Labour supporter, Labour MP, comment made – of course they might want to highlight it.

But the tweet from Mr MacShane was rather interesting. Here it is: “2 Tory council candidates arrested in Yorkshire as police investigate vote fraud. Same old party. No national coverage of course.” The agenda’s pretty clear when you break it down, right? That the media is all Tory. That the Tories themselves are fraudulent. It’s rather similar, actually, to the Murdoch-bashing, all-Tories-are-c***s stuff I was talking about on the blog last night. A bit of generalising spin.

While it would be easy to dismiss this as just another bit of sly electioneering, the truth of the matter is that it actually highlights the tribal nature of politics rather nicely. For while the Tories are the same old party, apparently (remember: the clear inference is that they’re fraudulent and have always been fraudulent), it took me just a few seconds on Google to bring up the election fraud that “would shame a banana republic” and the 3 Labour MPs fighting expenses prosecution using an ancient Parliamentary Privilege law and the Ecclestone Donation Scandal and Keith Vaz in general and Peter Mandelson and Peter Mandelson, and in this election campaign we’ve already had the sackings of John Cowan and Stuart MacLennan. I could go on.

Labour scandals all, some of them involving fraud, some concerning highly inappropriate behaviour – all of them not very nice. Yet strangely, I don’t remember Denis MacShane commenting on any of them. I don’t remember him calling Labour the “same old party”. He seems to have a knack for selective reading, which is the absolute hallmark of tribalism.

He does, however, have time for the frankly ludicrous: “Florist tells me she assumes Tories will put up VAT to 25 % to pay for tax cuts 4 rich. If she is saying that why aren’t the press?”, and the simply untrue: “Pure Orwell! Kent Cnty Cl Tory Leader says M Gove’s plans mean less money for state schools and then Gove says Kent Tory is a liar. Surreal.”

However, I was happy to see him say the following: “Clegg was happy to support D Tel smears against other MPs as he postured as Mr Clean. He is no better or worse than others politicians.” A bit of wisdom that Mr MacShane would do well to listen to himself, no?

I only highlight his comments in particular because they resonated with me after yesterday’s blog. I’m sure that if I went to the Twitter feeds of other MPs in different parties I’d find a lot of similar rubbish, but the above example does rather spectacularly show off the point I was making yesterday. Closed minds. Blinkered views. Not what we want to see. And nor, frankly, should we want to see people spreading it. Not even intelligent people who we happen to like.

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Tribalism increasingly bores me. It’s ruining debate. I’m not talking about the laugh-a-minute, knockabout, playful fun of supporting your favourite team and enjoying a friendly rivalry with your opponents. I’m talking about the overly blinkered version, where nastiness takes over and objectivity becomes rarer than the dodo’s lesser seen second cousin.

Of course, many of us are used to this form of blind faith in football and videogames (console wars, how do we love thee? Let me count the ways…), but the last couple of weeks have really brought it home to me that politics is just as capable of bringing out the no-seeing-eye.

One of the forums I frequent is predominately made up of people with views on the left of the political spectrum. Does this mean that election talk is full of hearty speeches about how the socialist model is the way forward and public services are king? Surprisingly not. No, in the midst of blasting the Murdoch press for being biased and overwhelmingly negative (both true, of course), I’ve lost count of the number of times that the Conservative party as a whole, and their supporters, have been called that very naughty “C” word that I won’t write on this blog. And no, it’s not “crap”, “comical” or “crustacean”. Rhymes with hunt. Nice, eh? Yep, a third of the population of the country and a vast swathe of its politicians are labelled – generalised – with the most insulting term in the English language. That’s what passes for political debate, apparently. For calling the Tories c-… er… not very nice people, is encouraged and seen as perfectly acceptable, while any opposing viewpoint sees the person espousing it ridiculed, laughed at, and generally seen as not being worth the support of oxygen.

Now, it’s easy to stand back from this and call it supreme hypocrisy, right? While the Tories are being portrayed en masse as people who don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves, and see themselves as all superior, the attitude towards anyone who dares take the opposite viewpoint is… well… to insult them and treat them like second class citizens. There’s irony for you. Sure, you may not like a party’s policies, but don’t resort to such shallow rubbish when it comes to arguing against them.

Back to football. A devout fan of Manchester United simply cannot bring himself to admit that Alex Ferguson or his team can do or say anything wrong, or that… say… Liverpool can do anything right (though this season, on that latter score, they may have a point). But to me it’s sad when all trace of objectivity is lost. It’s blind devotion. It’s borderline insane to have such a black and white (or rather, devilish and red) view of things. And when that devotion turns to insults and nastiness towards opponents, doesn’t that rather defeat the purpose of the game of football?

I’m not saying that all opinions are equal. I’d sooner run that hateful Graham Norton cartoon through the entirety of Doctor Who than give a platform to the BNP or Bristol Rovers supporters (*massive wink for the latter*). But I do think that society in general should open its mind a little more and be prepared to listen to different arguments, than be so entrenched in its views that it automatically cuts itself off to new possibilities. Is that really so much to ask?


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The Next Chapter

A bit of a status update. I’m still waiting for feedback from one of the big London literary agencies on the full manuscript of Certainty that they (surprisingly) requested. I’ve just started writing the sequel in the meantime, which is called Mirrorball. I’m a chapter in, now, and it’s proving rather enjoyable and easy to write. That won’t last, of course – never does – but for now it’s a great feeling that it’s all clicking.

And today I read the debut novel of a hugely promising new author called Daniel Clay. The book is Broken, and it tells the story of a community that gradually unravels following a single, violent event, from the perspective of a comatose eleven year old girl. Surprising, shocking, scary, heartbreaking and devastating, it’s a genuinely fantastic work of fiction which takes the general setup of To Kill A Mockingbird and transplants it to modern Britain, filling it with compelling characters and an extremely well constructed plot.

There are various parallels between Clay’s life and my own. He wanted to be a writer for years, but had a day job as an accountant. He’s represented by the very agency that has requested my manuscript. His is a success story which proves that the so-called “slush pile” (the load of unsolicited manuscripts which litter the offices of every literary agency) can sometimes work. Amazingly, Broken was rejected by thirty literary agencies before it was finally picked up. Reading the final product, this seems absolutely insane. But it leaves me with great heart. That such a novel was passed over by so many people is proof that rejection isn’t necessarily an attack on your work – it’s just that you weren’t in the right place at the right time with the right material.

Daniel has kindly given up some of his time over the past week to help me out with the questions I’ve had about literary agencies and his own experiences, and he’s a lovely guy. So it was doubly satisfying to come away from his novel with the opinion that Broken is, without a doubt, one of the best debuts I’ve read in a long, long time.

In fact, I like it so much that I’m encouraging everyone to buy it. It’s well worth it!

Oh, and wasn’t Doctor Who brilliant? Like night and day over last week’s sorry attempt. Steven Moffat should write them all. Maybe now’s the time for the blog piece on New New Who, which I shelved following the Daleks episode that left me worried about where the show was going.

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