Tuesday, 12 October 2010

A Riposte to Andrew Marr

What the BBC's Andrew Marr said about bloggers at the Cheltenham Literary Festival - "A lot of bloggers appear to be socially inadequate, sitting in their mother's basement ranting...spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night" - could have come out of Private Eye's Street of Shame.

Socially inadequate Lunchtime O'Booze spewing and ranting late at night outside the Lamb and Flag...no wonder the late, lamented Jeffrey Bernard was so often unwell.

Andrew Marr should know from John Simpson's book Unreliable Sources how badly the public has been misled by the MSM in its reporting of wars and political upheavals, particularly from foreign parts.

He should also know from Andrew Neil's well-visited political blog that MSM journalism is not incompatible with informative, serious blogging. Therefore to Marr all bloggers with the same tarry brush is as ill-considered as talking about Lunchtime O'Boozers in the same breath as Christopher Booker, Andrew Rawnsley and Jeremy Paxman.

As a mainstream media hack of long-standing and a blogger since April 2008, I know the strengths and weaknesses of blogger-rhythms and journalism.

Journalism is neither objective nor impartial. Items collated by news editors for news pages are selected. News, like time, is man-made; unlike the quality of mercy it droppeth not from the sky like gentle rain. Often news stories are angled, sometimes to reflect an argument or point of view, but more often to get the thing going. Journalists are constrained by deadlines, space and the success or failure of their ability to assimilate at speed disparate pieces of information. The quality of the questions they ask depends on that. Journalists have to interview people they do not like. But good or bad, a journalist has to stand by what is published under his by-line, even if it has been messed up by indifferent subbing. Occasionally he'll be praised. More often he'll be damned - especially when least expecting it.

Bloggers don't have to suffer personal ridicule or death threats, as I have. They can publish more or less what they like without disclosing their identity. They can pick and choose their subjects whereas journalists are asked to chase a story in which they may have no interest. They do not have to interview or question people they do not like. There is nobody subbing their copy or reminding them of C P Scott's dictum: Comments is free but facts are sacred. Within the laws of defamation they are free to be as vituperative or unfair as they like: balance is not a prerequisite as it usually is, certainly in regional journalism.

Andrew Marr should know that our privately-owned MSM, with its self-proclaimed credo to educate, entertain and enlighten, historically evolved from squibs, pasquinades, courants and samizdat pamplets such as the one penned by Jonathan Swift in 1729 - A Modest Proposal for the Preventing of Poor People in Ireland, From being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them beneficial to the Publick. These represented a form of blogging, if you will, in that debunking, damning and mocking often appeared anonymously or under a false name.

Some bloggers are raging nocturnal ranters. But nutters aside - and there are just as many green ink letter-writers to newspapers - there are plenty of others, digging into matters of controversy the MSM is too timid to mine. Irascible buggers such as Richard North - in another life an 18th century pamphleteer - challenge conventional wisdom and accepted opinion on man-made global warming and other scare stories, the European Union and the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These bloggers offer an uncompromising alternative to official policy, editorial bias, MSM ignorance, the cult of celebrity and blandness.

What a pity the celebrated Andrew marred his case the way he did. Meanwhile, the world waits for the appearance of the 33 Chilean miners, buried alive for more than two months. What place will this story get on the news list of Mr Marr's next Sunday morning television show, I wonder.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Afghanistan: The End Game?

The Army Game used to be a popular weekly comedy on British television. In the early 1960s the British Army wasn't striving to combat foreign insurgencies.

Unlike today. The cost of that effort in Afghanistan has registered 307 on the meter. The cost of dying, as David Cameron has already said, is likely to rise through the summer.

But for how much longer? Less than two years, thinks Professor Paul Rogers from Bradford University's Peace Studies department and a contributor to the Oxford Research Group independent think tank, which specialises in issues of national and international security.

He said: "I think the death of the 300th soldier will remind people of the continuing losses in Afghanistan. Sympathy for the Army across the country does not translate into support for the war. I think there is widespread dismay about why we are still there.

"There is some pretty serious re-thinking going on behind the scenes. The Strategic Defence Review of the whole armed services will look at Afghanistan. They cannot keep 9,000 to 10,000 troops there for another ten years.

"Scaling down is likely to happen all the faster because there is a new Government and, more significantly, because domestic politics in the United States dictates that American tropps have to be withdrawn before the 2012 presidential election. That's the plan; if it works, the British will happily go along with that.

"I meet quite a few soldiers, including squaddies. They will acknowledge that the rate of training of the Afghan Army is very slow and they do not trust the Afghan police - they're too corrupt.

"Although they see themselves as proving themselves to the country, because fighting is what an army is all about, there are mixed feelings about the future. Very sharp intelligence officers I have spoken with know they - the army - cannot win.

"The more troops that go in the more they are seen by locals as occupiers and resistance rockets. In the first four months of 2010 the number of roadside bombs doubled over the same period for 2009. For a larger percentage of Afghans they are occupiers.

"I will be very surprised to see the same number of troops out there in the next two years.

"Had a large peace-keeping force been put in place after the Americans defeated the Taliban in 2001, the situation in Afghanistan might have been different."

Prof., Rogers has consistently argued that the US made an error of judgement after 9/11. Instead of treating Al Qaida as a "trans-national force of criminals" and sending in small specialist forces to bring them back for trial as criminals, it treated Bin Laden's men as members of a terrorist army.

So it looks as though the fate of the British Army in Afghanistan depends upon the election strategy of President Barack Obama. Is that what is known as a 'special relationship'?

Richard North warned in Ministry of Defeat that the British, in a state of denial about Iraq, ran the risk of making the same military and political mistakes made in Afghanistan.

"This is a politicians' war - it has nothing to do with the people. The people did not ask the soldiers to 'invade' Afghanistan, know little about the country and are indifferent to the aims of this Government, even if they are aware of them," he said.

More than 1,800 NATO soliders have now been sent home in boxes, more than 1,000 of them Americans - hence the significance of the US presidential election.

Can anybody without a vested interested seriously doubt that what has happened to Defence Chief Jock Stirrup and now General Stanley McChrystal are but two moves on the chess board of Afghanistan towards the end game?

Monday, 7 June 2010

Cutting the Obvious

The first cut is the deepest, says the hit pop song. Angela Merkel has made the first swipe with her axe, announcing cuts of 80 billion euros in Germany by the year 2014.

Laugh that one off Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy. The Germans expect the southern member states of the EU to be no less ruthless. They won't, of course. Where's there's a euro there's usually a wangle. Claiming for bogus olive oil production used to be a favourite scam. Probably still is.

Now Europe waits to see how good a head's man David Cameron is. He says everybody in the country is going to be affected.

Until events prove otherwise I shall take the Prime Minister at his word and assume that this means...

. Abolishing universal child benefits and winter fuel payments to pensioners. In future no British Government will pay women to have babies irrespective of social background, marital status, and record as a good citizen - ie not a screeching neighbourhood drunk or junkie. Universal benefits of every description will be means tested.

. Ending free drugs and needles for junkies. All junkies will be obliged to undertake supervised cold turkey until free of addiction. Ditto alcoholics.

. Cutting payments to quangos - about £43 billion - by at least half.

. Saving approximately £21 billion annually by giving Scotland independence and withdrawing its £13 billion subsidy - that will really give the Scots something to moan about. Similarly suspending the UK's annual payment to the EU of about £7 billion until the EU's books are signed off by auditors. Neil Kinnock, sorry, Lord Kinnock, should be able to advise David Cameron about that matter.

. Scrapping all payments for climate change projects immediately. That alone should tot up to something in the region of £18 billion a year.

. Slashing Overseas Aid Payments, which largely maintain the status quo because its not in the interest of government agencies to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

. Stripping out managerial layers from the NHS, education and social welfare.

. Reducing defence spending. The only way to prevent the boys at the Ministry of Defence wasting mega millions on expensive toys unsuitable for the type of warfare going on in Afghanistan.

. Slashing the numbers of councillors and MPs. Bradford Metropolitan District Council has 90 councillors and five MPs. The cost of the councillors alone is £1.8m a year and rising. All of them get a basic salary of £12,700. Others get extra responsibility allowances ranging from £12,500 to £35,000. Those who don't enjoy ERAs merely have to turn up twice a year to guarantee their money. Nice non-work if you can get it. As things stand this country is a satrapy of the Greater European Empire of the EU, therefore we don't need 650 MPs in the House of Commons as well as European Members of Parliament. Playacting at democracy costs us at least £4 billion a year, maybe a lot more. Get rid Mr Axeman. Public service is just that: providing the public with services they need. It is not a job creation scheme for graduates, political activists and women who think they have a right to a career rather than a desire to serve.

Of course, little or none of the above will actually happen. The Ugly Kingdom, the UK, can rest easy in the grease and gravy of its dependency. But I'm not bitter.

Monday, 12 April 2010

That Picture on the Labour Manifesto...

It conjures up the days of Flanders and Swann, before the Beeching cuts, when Britain was networked with state-owned railways and families could take a steam train into the country, find a sunlit hill, and look towards the future optimistically.

Richard North says it reminds him of railway posters of 50 years ago. It reminds me of the kind of Communist art, call it social unrealism, favoured by Joseph Stalin: bright, sunny landscapes with smiling peasants in collectively-owned rippling wheatfields; the strong arms of bronzed industrial workers; the excitement of electricity pylons.

Only, in the picture on the cover of Labour's manifesto the cosy Beatrix Potter fields are unmarked by either electricity pylons or wind turbines. There they stand: the ideal white nuclear family, without an iPhone between them: mum holding the baby, dad standing with son, gazing into what looks like a nuclear explosion of a sunrise. In the far distance the silhouette of a city on a hill. The caption is: A Future/ Fair for all.

Wait a minute...isn't this picture of an England on which the sun does not set reminiscent of the picture Winston Churchill painted in his Finest Hour speech of June 18, 1940, just before the Battle of Britain?

...If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world move forward into broad, sunlit uplands...

It's a picture of the future in the guise of the imagined past, how things used to be before Windrush docked, before Yorkshire's mill owners imported all that cheap labour from North West Pakistan, before the egregious European Union opened its borders and opened up Blair's Britain to the wondrous benefits of over-population, religious intolerance and cultural diversity.

It's a future devoid of the social anxieties of the present. In short it's a picture of Peter Pan's Never Never land, where no one grows old, needs emergency hospital treatment or the assistance of the police or social workers. A future where youngsters are not abused and killed, where families are functional, crime is low, the weather is always sunny and the trains run on time.

The subliminal message of this piece of kitsch is, of course:- if you, the voters, can withstand the blandishments of David Cameron and Nick Clegg, then we, the Labour Party and you, can look forward to a sunny future.

This must have been the sort of picture that the Ministry Health, under Enoch Powell, showed round the townships of Jamaica in the mid-1950s, when London was short of nurses and bus conductors. While I didn't expect Labour to be honest and publish a picture of a wasteland, nor did I expect them to treat the public like foreigners, although in one sense I suppose we are.

Even people unable to read can see through this picture. Just because they can't spell subliminal or discuss semiotics in their pilates class, they know when they are being sold a pup. Think of all the people who have come back from a shit holiday in Spain, having mistaken the picture on the holiday brochure for reality.

For Labour's dream to be reality Gordon Brown and his merry chairpersons would have to stop immigration, restore marriage as the only basis of family life, withdraw all planned spending on climate change schemes - wind farms, again - and abandon John Prescott's scheme to fill greenfield sites with 300,000 new homes.

The boy in that idyllic picture can grow up sure in the knowledge that he won't be called upon to get his legs blown off in some doubtful foreign war. The baby, assume it's a girl, in the interests of balance, won't grow up hiding her face under a veil.

A future, fair for all: if you can forget the Australian national anthem - Arise, Australia fair - it's almost a line from a party marching song.

A future fair for all

A future fair for all...