Yes, it’s that time again, time for a rant.
Since becoming self-employed, I spend more time at home, not surprisingly. I sit in my upstairs office, writing, composing or whatever, broken up by the occasional trip downstairs for a brew and a cigarette. It’s a habit to switch on the radio as I do so, and catch a few minutes of Radio 4. Over dinner, like today when I was tucking into a couple of Staffordshire’s finest oatcakes (with the holy trinity of bacon, cheese and tomato), I listen for a little longer.
There are only a few things that rile me on Radio 4 enough to make me switch it off. If I hear ‘The Archers’ music, I will dart across the room, jump like an action hero expecting an explosion, and hit the off switch. I will also only listen for a few minutes to Radio plays that are too concerned with being high-brow than having any drama or plot, before switching over to ‘Radio 4 Extra’ and hoping to stumble on some old ‘Hancock’ or ‘Goon show.’ And finally, ill conceived comedies that parody ‘youth’ culture with such insightful dialogue as ‘innit blood’ and ‘that’s wicked man’, also have me reaching for the buttons, before I cringe myself to death.
Other than that, I will enjoy or at least put up with most of its programming. I can sit and listen to biographies on people I never knew existed, I will listen to Gardener’s question time (even though most answers involve sowing a few centimetres apart, plenty of sunshine, a good peat-free compost and careful pruning) – I like a lot of the panel/sketch/sit-coms, and I usually enjoy a good phone in or studio debate. Well, enjoy maybe isn’t the word, which is why I am writing this.
Today’s ‘World at One’ (45 minutes of news and commentary with Martha Carney etc..) had a good old, completely pointless interview with conservative MP for transport Steven Hammond, and the shadow deputy cabinet leader, Harriet Harman. I had to make myself listen, because as soon as I heard the voice of Hammond, I realised if he was in the same room, I would be clenching my fists. Harman, though not as vacuous, would have me shaking my head and telling her to go away and think about her life. This is not an uncommon feeling, I get it almost every time I hear senior MPs from most parties talking about pretty much anything.
It is my theory that despite their talk of engagement and transparency, the last thing they want us to do is like, engage, or see behind the world of politics. And to this ends, they employ several tactics, here are some of the worst culprits:
#1 – Boredom
What’s more fun than listening to two people contradict each other with statistics eh? When was the last time you went down to the pub and had this heated conversation:
Steve: You heard that according to KPMG in a study commissioned by the HS2 Company that the benefits to the economy will be over 15 Billion a year Dave?
Dave: No. I heard from the office for national statistics that the expected overspend is going to push the budget for the project to nearly eighty billion, and that the institute of Directors has downplayed the economic benefits, saying they could be as low as 20% of predictions… on average.
Steve: Yeah? Well, fuck you Dave.
… Apart from that last line (excuse the profanity), it’s just not a human way of speaking is it? None of us can engage with this tosh, because it is exactly that, complete crap. What’s more, as on today’s radio show, the presenter’s just sit there, growing fat on our licence money, letting these idiots talk made-up numbers as if it is cutting edge news and commentary! Remember Mitchell & Webb’s ‘Numberwang’ sketch? They should use that as the manifesto for a challenger party.
#2 – Evasion.
This is one I’m sure we are all familiar with. The kind of tactic that has driven Paxman to being the hate-filled ticking time-bomb he is today. Evading the answer. Let’s go back to the pub.
Steve: Anyway, did you hear what Michael Gove said today about food banks? He said that in many cases it is due to choices made by the people who use them that they are in that situation. Don’t you think that comment could be seen as insensitive at a time of high-unemployment, an increasing divide between rich and poor, north and south, and the ruthless slashing of people’s benefits, often for no fault of their own? At best it might be accurate in only a few cases, statistically not worth mentioning, at worst it shows a complete disconnect between the people who run the country, and the people who actually live here.
Dave: I would like to go back to what we were talking about earlier, about HS2…
Steve: Okay. Let’s do that then, and forget I ever asked.
That is pretty much what happened on the show today, and in countless other exchanges on our daily feed of party politics PR. A presenter asks a question, the interviewee evades it by referring back to an earlier point, or simply just reframing the question into something completely different! As per:
Steve: Actually Dave, I would like you to answer the question about Gove’s comments on those poor people who are in the terrible and presumably humiliating position of having to use food-banks in one of the richest countries on Earth please.
Dave: Well I think the question is really, is Gove doing a good job on education? To which the answer is, yes, I think he is.
Steve: Dur. Thanks.
Why the hell do we let them get away with it? Why does the BBC let them do this? They should cut them off, mid-sentence and announce “as the minister is unwilling to answer our questions, we are no longer going to continue with the interview”.
#3 – Flagrant Self-Righteousness
Now this one is almost exclusively a Tory tactic. I noticed this quite soon after they came to power. It goes something like this:
Steve: I’ve heard that since the welfare reforms, suicide rates have rapidly increased as people who are disabled, or just suffering hard times in their lives, are under increasing pressure to return to work before they are ready or able, and often without a decent job to go to, and are basically being bullied by private companies to attend intrusive and biased medicals.
Dave: Well I think you’re wrong and we’re right! We are going to stick to our ways because we think it comes across as bullish self-determination, when in fact, nothing you can say will make us change our minds because we know we weren’t really elected and this is the best shot we’ve got for five years of awarding private contracts to businesses we have interests in, and to inflict our vision of a divided and serving class system to this country! Basically, you’re wrong, we’re right and na na na na na to you, you stupid filthy peasant slave.
Steve: Alright! Hold on! I thought we were having a debate here?
Dave: You think I would want to debate with you? Are you insane? Did you go to Oxbridge? Does your family or your private investments fund my time and lifestyle? Do you think you are allowed access to me or other influential people without paying a hefty price like the big lobbies? Why in the name of the devils jockstrap would I want to debate with you? Fetch me a badger slave! I’m hungry.
That might be an over exaggeration, but then again, how often do you see Tory MPs who are ‘outraged’ by accusations that their policies are ill-conceived or failing? They aren’t exactly the nice, balanced kind of people who would say, “you’ve got some interesting points, let’s sit down and talk about this in a constructive and adult way” are they? They are blatantly self-righteous. Ian Duncan Smith once actually responded to an anomaly in his use of statistics by saying, “They are right, because I believe they are right”, or something similar. Is that really good enough? Simply believing you are right despite all evidence to the contrary? No, it isn’t is it. To further illustrate this point, today Tory chairman Grant Shapps has been ‘outraged’ by an independent report from a UN representative that criticises the ‘bedroom tax’ (sorry, subsidy…), so he spat his dummy out and is logging an official complaint! You don’t think that maybe she had a point? That criticism is a good thing? That debate means just that?
The problem is we are dealing with a capitalist ideology, and unfortunately this ideology transcends parties as its major proponents are massively more influential and financed than our own ‘elected’ leaders. None of them will ever make any real decisions, because it is out of their hands and they have no real control. So instead, they bore us, evade questions and ‘stick to their guns’ to distract us from the truth that they (at least the most senior ones) are self-interested, career driven sociopaths who are bought and sold by the highest bidders.
So that’s today’s rant. Why not switch on the news and see how many of these, and other tactics, you can spot? It’s a fun game for all the family!