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Monday, 26 November 2012

Song of the Week - 'South of Love'

As we approach the festive season, this might qualify as rather a topical song.  It's a jaunty little acoustic number that pokes fun at the guy who leaves the office party with a swagger in his step, believing his aftershave aroma to be rather more impressive than it actually is.  We’d probably want to avoid this guy, perhaps because –in the wrong circumstances- we might well be this guy.  Listen out for a modest little Beatles homage at the end.  Let’s hope Yoko and her lawyers aren’t listening.

South of Love

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Will democracy hit the wall?

In the wake of Barack Obama’s victory in the US election, there has been a fair amount of knee-jerk analysis of the demographics of the vote and the possible implications for future campaigns. Many commentators have stated that the Republicans simply have to change (that is, move closer to the so-called centre ground) in order to have any chance of ever winning the presidency again. But, for a party that was perceived by many to have been too extreme to be electable, to have gathered 48.3% of the popular vote doesn’t look like a bad return.

In the rush to suggest what the Republicans should, or shouldn't, do to become 'electable', nobody seems to have considered the possibility that the most important thing in politics might be to have principles and to stick to them. We have become accustomed to the notion that serious or 'winning' political parties must be ruthless, focus-group driven, vote-gathering machines, designed to hoover up everyone on the so-called 'middle ground'. It isn’t just that nobody wants to fall out over political ideas anymore, it’s almost as if nobody even wants to have much in the way of political differences. The so-called ‘third way’ has become the only way. Given the declining turnout at successive elections, I’d be surprised if that many folk genuinely believed that this arrangement was going well for the liberal democracies.

At any given point in history, there will be certain ideas and philosophies that will be deemed unelectable, but that is not to say that such situations will always prevail. We have no idea of what might happen in the next five minutes or the next five years; we have no way accurately to predict the impact of what Harold McMillan famously called "events, dear boy, events."
It is possible that the middle ground might move. It is possible that conditions may one day prevail in which a political party might be able to stand and win on a set of policies and principles that have not been watered down and hopelessly compromised by focus-group fudging and slavish sensitivity to opinion polls. It would be refreshing to encounter a party with the courage to say: “These are the things we stand for. This is what we plan to do if we get elected. If you don’t like it, don’t vote for us.”

Unfortunately, we appear to be lumbered with a professional political class, ever-willing to adjust its ‘principles’ to appeal to as many pressure groups, minority interests, ethnic factions and voting blocks as possible. It seems that no party can gain power without first bribing the electorate to vote for it. Unless we can break this cycle of electoral sweeteners, the prediction made by the 19th century political writer Alexis de Tocqueville is likely to come true:

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.”

If anyone thinks I am over-egging this particular pudding, I will remind you that there are currently two EU member countries being governed by groups of unelected technocrats. Who would bet against that number increasing at some point in the next eighteen months?

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Cock-up or conspiracy?

A few weeks ago, it emerged that the flagship BBC news and current affairs show 'Newsnight' had declined to run a story alleging that one of the Beeb’s leading stars had been a long-term predatory paedophile; the reason given for pulling the transmission was that there was a lack of evidence. Considering the number of Jimmy Saville stories that are now in the public domain, that seems like quite a remarkable claim.
Then, last Friday, having endured a great deal of criticism in the wake of that decision, someone at the BBC thought that it would be a good idea to run a Newsnight programme alleging that another privileged and powerful man had, over several years, sexually abused a number of vulnerable children. Standards for journalistic rigour had evidently slipped a little after the Saville cancellation, because it was decided that this latest edition could run without the bothersome requirement to accumulate anything resembling a body of evidence.

These grim developments made the resignation of Director General George Entwhistle inevitable; anyone who heard his interview on Saturday morning would have realised that he was already a dead man walking.
But how could so many things have gone wrong in the first place? How could so many reporting guidelines have been ignored? There are very clear rules on what should happen when serious allegations are going to be made against any individual. Given that the Lord McAlpine story was all over the internet at least ten hours before Newsnight went on air on Friday 2nd November, it is truly mind-boggling to discover that a 'right of reply' call wasn't made to the man at the centre of the allegations.

In their haste to run with the story, Newsnight forgot the basic requirement to check the facts. Steve Messham, the man who made the accusations, was not even shown a picture of McAlpine and asked the simple question: “Do you think this is the man who abused you?” Now that he has seen a picture, Mr Messham has stated that McAlpine was definitely not the alleged abuser.

Most commentators have put this mess down to monumental incompetence, but is there just a possibility that there is something more significant at play? The BBC is under fire; it has long-term political opponents who claim that it is ripe for radical reform. It is currently confronted with allegations that it allowed a senior employee -despite persistent rumours and allegations- to not only get away with various sexual offences, but granted him a flagship light entertainment show that allowed guaranteed, continuous access to children.

As the revelations and the resultant media attacks accumulate, anyone inclined to conspiracy theories might suggest that somehow floating the idea that “everyone was at it back then” could be seen as a legitimate part of any defence strategy. Dragging major government figures into the mire might help paint a picture of a pre-PC ‘anything-goes’ culture in which pop stars, politicians and actors could, so long as they were relatively discreet, pursue their somewhat unusual tastes. In the context of such a permissive culture, the BBC's indulgence of Saville and his chums might appear to be just that little bit less heinous.
In mounting this counter-offensive, it would also be in the BBC’s interests to impugn its putative opponents, thereby damaging the credibility of their arguments. Perhaps it is not entirely insignificant that the man at the centre of the unsubstantiated Newsnight allegations, Lord McAlpine, was a senior Tory from the Thatcher era.

So -by default or by design- the debate over the future of the BBC may have taken an unexpected twist. The Director General has gone and it is likely that one or two journalistic heads will also roll, but some might consider that a small price to pay if the institution itself manages to survive the coming storm.
All you have to do is spend a few minutes online and check out any number of discussion boards to realise that, for a significant number of folk, the idea that Margaret Thatcher's cabinet was probably riddled with child molesters is germinating quite nicely. For a beleaguered BBC, faced with implacable opponents threatening root and branch reform of its entire operation, that might turn out to be rather a useful card to play.

But sadly, for whatever else it has achieved, this wretched affair has done nothing to help the cause of any victims of abuse.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Song of the Week - 'Falling through cracks'

This track is taken from Gum’s second album ‘Seven Feeble Alibis’.  Although the fine detail in the production was often the key element of Gum’s sound, the playing on this cut demonstrates that the musicians could also cut it as a ‘kick ass’ ensemble.  So many aspects of the Gum sound are represented here; the verses are moody, the choruses dazzle you with harmony and the coda is like Garbage paying tribute to Burt Bacharach by way of a James Bond theme.  One reviewer observed that the contrapuntal vocals on the chorus made this song more complicated than it had to be.  Lovers of straight lines and simplicity would probably prefer that Leigh’s vocals stood alone, but I’m rather fond of the interplay between the lines.    

The somewhat dark lyric explores the idea of watching someone you care about go downhill, fast.    

Gum - Falling through cracks