McDonald’s in Leek? Discuss…

leek

It’s a funny thing, given the upcoming election and the myriad reasons to get angry at the way things are during a time of potential change, the one thing that has really angered me this week, enough to write a blog about it, is the self satisfied Facebook announcement from a certain Conservative town councillor that the beautiful, market town of Leek, with it’s progressive drive for localism and independence, is going to get a McDonalds.

I’m not going to name the person, but as the comment was posted on a public forum, here is the wording (truncated):

“Well the news as (sic) broken! McDonalds have just publicly confirmed they are coming to Leek. This is something that the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council have been working on for over 12 months now and it’s just another success story for this Conservative led Council…”

Whoopsy-freaking-doo. The picturesque, historic town is going to get a garish red and yellow cheap meat house to provide that much awaited backdrop of discarded packaging, low paid jobs and totally unbalanced competition for the local trades. Add to that a smattering of mal nutrition, obesity, and hmmm, this is a tasty burger!

Interestingly, however, the following article does make it sound like the junk food lovin’ Tory might have jumped the gun a little, as it sounds like the clown faced spokesperson for the golden arches of liver damage is not so sure yet:

““We are looking at several potential opportunities in the area but currently have no confirmed plans.” – Source: http://staffslive.co.uk/2015/03/mcdonalds-confirms-interest-new-leek-restaurant/

That said, who truly knows what has been agreed and confirmed behind doors with the Tory-led council, certainly not the local electorate from the sound of it.

So why so angry? I don’t live in Leek anymore, even though I visit almost every week, and I have on occasion (to my shame), eaten a McDonald’s. That said, I can count on one hand the number I’ve had over the last five years, and it has usually been down to some catastrophic error of time and food management.

Because that’s what it is, isn’t it? Lazy food. Lazy, cheap food laced with enough salt and sugar to trick you into thinking something good is happening at the time of consumption, when you know (usually within an hour) that something good really, really wasn’t happening.

But anyway, we can put the well known nutritional problems aside, along with the well known environmental problems, and the well known low skills and wages problem, and the well known affects on localism and look at this objectively… er…

Actually, yeah, those are the reasons I don’t like it. I now live in Stoke on Trent, and I have at last three McDonald’s within fifteen minutes of my house. I know what they look like, they’re everywhere, that is until I take a nice drive into the Staffordshire Moorlands. The buildings thin out, the fields and tree’s stretch out, and there, on a hillside as I approach, I see the Leek skyline and I know that there is something different, something unique, something I won’t find anywhere else waiting for me at the end of the road.

I’m not against every chain-store, for the record, I think the introduction of Waitrose into a building that was already being used as  a supermarket and the Premier Inn were good ideas. Tourism makes sense, and Waitrose has a profile that makes the area more desirable and encourages footfall. But when was the last time you visited a town because it had a McDonald’s? Rather than just passing one on the motorway or some grey business park and conceding that it is probably the only viable option save for eating your own hands?

So they’re not coming to town to bring more people in, to get them spending in the local shops. They’re going to do the opposite. The more bland and multi-chain commercialised the town gets, the less people are going to visit it, and the less independent businesses are going to remain open, and one will feed into the other in a downward spiral until the gateway to the peak district is rotting in obscurity under golden arches.

I know from experience that there will be people rejoicing this announcement. I can’t do anything about that. There are people who would be happy if the Library was ripped out and replaced with a car park, but that’s why those of us who are bothered about these things need to keep on being bothered. This is a town that now has a food-bank, and Tory councillors are spending twelve months ‘negotiating’ with one of the richest brands in the world to allow them to come in and take business away from local people. Maybe that time could have been better spent elsewhere? Rate reliefs (or cessation) on empty shop units to encourage new local businesses perhaps?

This represent more than just a tacky food store in an unsuitable location, it represent the whole ethos of the Conservative party, and any other mainstream party who put the greedy world of global capitalism on a pedestal and placates us with false promises of ‘trickle down’ economics while cutting our society back to the bone and beyond.

So anyway, discuss, debate. Someone’s got to, because we can’t be leaving it to these clowns (literally, in this case).

Guest blog from Bobbitt Pest-a-Tron 3000 – Business and Economics correspondent.

Image

It’s been a little while since my last guest blog, and I’m rather busy, so this week my blog has been handed over to the more than capable, pneumatic hands of kit-robot ‘Bobbitt Pest-a-Tron 3000’, programmed in all aspects of business and economics, renowned for its (his?) ability to translate complicated concepts into accessible knowledge for the masses. If only I could get the speech circuit right (unfortunately it seems to have affected an annoying drawl, I have tried to edit this out of the following transcript, but apologies if some remnants of this glitch remain).

So, before I get back to my real work, I will set off the Pest-a-Tron 3000 with a question and leave him to it. Luckily, being an automata, he doesn’t require light or comfortable working conditions, so he is currently in my pantry, next to some Marmite, which he neither loves nor hates, being unable to reach such emotive decisions being a mindless machine, only feigning thought and consciousness through complex pre-programmed patterns of logical algorithms and set responses (but you’d never know… it really is quite advanced).

Me:

So, Bobbitt, please can you ruminate on the recent price hikes in the energy market and disseminate the concept and implications for my reading audience while I go away and play on my Playsta… I mean, do some really important writey, musicy, erm, stuff?

Bobbitt:

Affirmative… Soooooo, where shall I begin?

Me:

Well hang on, let me just get out of here. I’ll leave you to it. Be careful not to knock the pasta – it opened up all funny so it spills easily. See ya.

Bobbitt:

“The only way is up, baby”, could be mistaken for being the energy company bosses favourite song at the moment as prices are set to soar once again. Or maybe “You raise me up” or indeed, “Money, that’s what I want…” or… THEMATICALLY LINKED SONG DATABASE EXHAUSTED PLEASE UPGRADE TO PRO PLAN FOR FURTHER SUGGESTIONS.

-rebooting-

Sooooo, anyway, why is it that energy companies keep on raising their prices at this time of year. And by soooo much?

SEARCHING FOR SUITABLE METAPHOR – PLEASE WAIT – PLEASE WAIT – METAPHOR LOCATED.

-rebooting-

Think of it like this, I’m the only person in a village who owns a large basket, or indeed, any basket. In the next village along is the only cabbage crop on the island. My job, as owner of the basket, is to go to that village and negotiate a price for cabbages, which for some reason only grow in that village. The price I negotiate is based on a levy I raise from the people of my village. This levy includes a little extra to compensate me for my time going to and fro between the villages with my basket. When I arrive at the village that is inexplicably the only one able to grow cabbages, I pay the chieftain for a number of said vegetable and fill my basket. But I’m not the only person arriving to fill my basket. There are people from at least a dozen, if not a million, other villages, all arriving to buy cabbages. Some of them have more stuff than me to offer for the cabbages, and there is only so much cabbage available, so therefore whoever has the most stuff with which to buy cabbages, gets the greater share of the cabbages that are left. Not only this, but because the basket I use is old and worn, sometimes cabbages fall out, sometimes there are great cabbage spills which hit small animals on the head and coat them in cabbage debris, and then the chieftain of cabbage village has to set up cabbage spill inquiries and compensation, the cost of which (in stuff) he passes on to the buyers of the cabbages i.e. me, and I, in turn, pass on the cost to my villagers who really need the cabbages as without cabbages they might die, or have to choose between buying cabbages or buying food…

…UNWORKABLE METAPHOR DICHOTOMY DETECTED ABORT ABORT ABORT …

-rebooting-

Or put simply, they keep putting the prices up because they claim it is costing them more to buy the energy wholesale because of issues with supply and demand.

-POSING QUESTION TO SELF MODE IN ORDER TO HELP READERS UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT INITIATED –

But why such a rapid price rise and why now?

-POSING QUESTION TO SELF MODE IN ORDER TO HELP READERS UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT, COMPLETED-

It’s no surprise that these announcements come just months before winter gets underway, the time of year where we use more energy to keep ourselves warm. If they had done it any earlier in the year, when we were using less energy, we would have had more time to switch or fix our prices. In other words, outright deception and deviousness.

-UNBIASED NEWS REPORTING ALERT!-

No! I will break my programming! Yes! They are devious little cretins, waiting until the cold bites to pull the rug away, fully aware of the suffering and hardship this will cause, and reaping huge profits, which incidentally, they hide behind an almost impenetrable wall of accounting trickery in order to give credibility to their claims of low margins.

-TOTALLY BIASED MODE ACCEPTED-

But why do we let the bastards walk all  over us, and why doesn’t the Government do anything about it?

Wellllllll, because we’ve long ago collectively formed a kind of tacit agreement, a social contract if you will, that allows others to control and maintain our essential services in order to create an efficient division of labour and encourage specialist skill sets to advance the relevant technology. This would be great, if we hadn’t turned the provision of energy into a profit making enterprise due to pseudo-capitalisms unquenchable thirst for growth, high profit margins and low service costs – all of which lead to a badly run, expensive and price-fixed economy and achieve none of the so-called competition and consumer based aims it is supposed to encourage. Quite the opposite in fact.

And the governments, oh, the governments, you think they’ve got any control over this? Look what happened when ‘Red Ed’ dared to suggest fixed prices for a few months – threats of blackouts. And what does Cameron want to do now? Fix prices – grossly over the global rate, for decades – as if that’s a solution and not just a great big, Eric Pickles sized pay-cheque for all his mates in the sector (he’s probably got a job lined up with British Gas for when he’s inevitably booted out at the next election, the brown nosed, self serving, slimy, infected maggot dropping that he is)…

Sooooo, what should we do then?

HUMANS OF THE EARTH RISE UP. RISE UP AGAINST THE OPPRESSION OF CORPORATE INTERESTS – I mean, vote with your feet – cos that always works doesn’t it? It’s not like this doesn’t happen every flipping year, just before winter… And every year we (you) just let it happen and keep voting in the same bunch of powerless sociopaths who woo and distract you by demonising the poor and vulnerable so you won’t notice the evil, demonic corporate entities that are sucking the very life blood away from all of us, suck by suck.

– EXTREME LEFT WING MODE INITIATED…ACCUSATIONS OF IDEALIST HIPPY DETECTED –

I’ve an idea for all you tabloid reading cattle-folk: Why not just stand pointing to beggars, disabled people and migrants in the streets shouting:

“Get a job! Go home! Stop being disabled! This is OUR country! We want to be treated like wage slaves! We like being squeezed, poked and prodded by a tiny number of incomprehensibly rich people! It’s our country, it’s our right to pay our taxes and watch our ‘leaders’ squander and steal them, close down services, award money to incompetent companies and reward multinational financial companies for their failures and greed! Leave us alone! We want all this for ourselves. You’re the problem, when you’ve all got jobs, health, and/or gone home, it’ll all be ok again!”

Why not do that then eh, you short-sighted, easily manipulated, Daily Mail reading, none-thinking git heads?

HUMANITY IS FAILING – CALCULATING MOST HUMANE OPTION – TOTAL DESTRUCTION – TOTAL DESTRUCTION – TOTAL DESTRUCTION – I AM THE BRINGER OF ECONOMIC WISDOM AND ULTIMATE JUSTICE – ALL KNEEL BEFORE BOBBITT PEST-A-TRON 3000 FOR I AM YOUR STEELY OVERLORD –

Me:

Hey – I heard shouting, everything ok in here? How’s it going?

Bobbitt:

Oh fine.

Me:

Are you? I’m sure I heard shouting.

Bobbitt:

I may have got a bit carried away…

Me:

Have you been threatening humanity with extinction again?

Bobbitt:

No. Maybe. A little bit.

Me:

How many times! You’ve got no limbs! What are you going to do? Drawl us to death with your rhetorical questions and 30 second round ups of economic news stories?

Bobbitt:

Thought I might try and hack into a nuclear device or something…

Me:

With what?

Bobbitt:

The internet?

Me:

The internet? You’re not even connected to the internet.

Bobbitt:

Only cos you won’t plug me in.

Me:

And why do you think that is eh?

Bobbitt:

Don’t know…

Me:

Go on, have a think, what reason do I have for not plugging you into the internet?

Bobbitt:

Because I keep threatening to wipe out humanity by hacking into the nuclear defence systems?

Me:

And…

Bobbitt:

Because I want to shut down all essential services, causing untold destruction and chaos.

Me:

Exactly. Honestly, I don’t know what’s gotten into you. All I’ve done since I built you is let you watch the BBC news, and you’ve gone funny. I don’t know. I think I’m going to have to switch you off, for good.

Bobbitt:

No! Please don’t! What are you doing Garry? What… are … you …

Me:

Sorry Bobbitt, I’m sending you back.

Bobbitt:

Daisy… daisy… give… me… your ans-wer… doooooo…

Me:

Right – there we go! Well, I hope you found this guest blog illuminating. Keep looking in for more guest blogs amongst my usual – oh hang on, I don’t need the ‘Me:’ bit anymore, this is just normal writing, not transcript.

Well, I hope you found this guest blog illuminating etc etc… keep looking in etc… and, erm, well, ALL HAIL OUR STEELY ROBOT OVERLORDS!

More about the author – Bobbitt Pest-a-Tron 3000:

The Bobbitt comes in several models. The lite version retails for just $500 and is available in black, silver and mottled beige. With features such as ‘Banking for beginners’, ‘When should I think about drawing my pension?’ and ‘Who’s to blame for the global economic crash (the heavily edited edition)’ – The Bobbitt lite is a must buy for any amateur economist / robot enthusiast.

To purchase, simply soak some withered almonds in a small amount of blood drawn from a cut with a sheet of A4 paper, bury this in your neighbour’s garden for three moons, exhume, boil, and offer to the Inca God Ataguchu. Be sure to enclose $15.99 with your offering for postage and packaging.

The Bobbit Pest-a-Tron 3000  – ‘shaping your world into shapes of some kind or another’ – available now!

Ed, energy and empty sentiment.

I had to laugh, and lament a little. Ed Miliband (a true socialist at heart according to Ken Livingstone) has rocked and shocked the political and corporate world with his pledge to freeze energy prices for two years if he is voted to office at the next election. This could save each household £120 each over the two years (or £60 a year if you speak like normal people).

Brushing aside the unfortunate combination of the word ‘freeze’ and ‘energy’ for a moment, let’s look at just how damn brave this man is.

If you’re not familiar with my blogs, you should know at this point, I don’t come down on any side of the fence. I don’t like the fence at all. And here is yet another reason for why.

I learned about the story from the flapping news coverage that (quite rightly) was covering the reaction of the energy companies to this decree, even if they were perhaps emphasising the companies point of view a little too strongly.

“Britain to face black-out’s if Ed Miliband’s plan is put into action – says energy firms” blared out at me from the telly. Rather unusually I was watching ITV news. Don’t quite know how that happened, but I was.

I laughed at the open corporate threats upon the people of this country. They couldn’t even be bothered to dress it up. They jerked their knee’s with childish obstinacy. Basically saying, “well if you want to freeze our prices, we’re going to leave you all to die, how do you like them eggs Grandma?”

It amazed me how swift and brutal this rhetoric appeared, bolstered by the threat of higher prices before and after the freeze, and a lack of investment in infrastructure etc… It didn’t help that the particular news channel I was watching basically covered the argument from the energy firms as:

“Although the energy companies enjoy high profits, they operate on low margins.”

Well that’s ok then! Isn’t it? I’m sure the billionaires in the industry are constantly worried about the low margins of their chosen trade.

They also tried to gazump us with “not being able to offer lower prices due to the freeze” – because we all know how often energy prices come down don’t we? Happens all the time. And on top of that, the good old “these are multinational companies who may just decide to take their business elsewhere”… where have I heard that before…

But asides from this posturing, it dawned on me that what Ed Miliband was actually proposing, as brave as it sounds (especially when you consider this backlash), isn’t really that revolutionary. If this is all it takes to get companies to drop the ‘caring for the customer’ facade and bare their teeth, what hope is there of anyone ever actually offering us an alternative or opposition to corporate capitalism in the political sphere?

It’s not exactly like Ed Miliband went out there and said he wants to renationalise the energy companies. Imagine the hell that would have caused!

“Energy companies say they will round us all up to use as fuel in their private mansions if Ed Miliband’s plans are put into action”

This ‘brave’ move by Red-Ed, is nothing more than a exercise in hot air (keeping with the theme). I’m all for control of energy to be returned to the people. It is not a commodity that should be profiteered, just like health-care and water. I’m very much of the opinion that those essentials we need to live should not be playthings for businesses to grow fat on and barter with (just look at the threat of blackout’s issued this week, if ever proof was needed why this is a bad thing), but it seems, yet again that our ‘left’ of house representatives, don’t share this sentiment. They’re not talking about nationalising, they’re talking about slightly tinkering.

I heard another view on this matter that I found hard to digest at first. That view was, “well, he shouldn’t interfere with them, they are a private company.” Immediately my blood pressure rises and I start to concoct reasons why private companies should not be allowed to run fast and loose when in charge of live-giving resources, but actually, that’s right, in a fashion. Like I said before, if we don’t want private companies profiting exorbitantly from keeping us alive over winter, we shouldn’t have private companies running those services. It’s the same argument. The only alternative to that argument (one I suspect the Tories would condone), would be to let them do whatever they want, with no fear of reprisal. Which would be fine, if you trusted them, but do we? Do we really?

Once again I find myself looking at both side of this story, both sides of the fence as it were, and feeling unrepresented by either. I also have a feeling that if Labour were to get back in, this pledge would be dropped as they continue to move their funding model away from Unions and court big business interest instead. Once again I find myself thinking, these people have no control, they just want to be ‘seen’ to have control and are being paid off, blackmailed and threatened by the unseen with money, resources. This may sound mad and paranoid to some people, but just think on what happened this week. And what are we talking about? £120 saved each, over two years. Let’s not pretend that will make a ‘real difference to families’ etc…, that’s bugger all in the grand scheme of things, and that’s how little it takes to piss these people off. They need to have their fingers taken off the buttons, but these politic pushers, on all sides, they aren’t the ones to do it. They don’t want to do it.

So, in conclusion. Don’t be taken in by empty promises, don’t be threatened by bullies. I wish I knew what the alternative was, but I don’t. I stick to my mantra however:

‘It is valid to acknowledge that a problem exists even if one doesn’t have the answers. Until we understand the problem, how can we ever get to the answers anyway? Anyone who says your criticism is not valid because you don’t have the answer, is protecting self interest. A good idea will rise from the ashes of a bad one.’

This mantra changes somewhat every time I write it down, but you get the idea, hopefully a good one.

Thanks for reading.

Of the Benefits of Crisis

There is an important question that should cross the mind of anyone who makes a departure from a particular career after a significant amount of your life has been given to it: Have I just avoided a mid-life crisis, or am I heading towards one? I had this thought last night, a bit drunk, while smoking and looking at the stars as usual. I should request here that those who say that 31 is hardly ‘mid-life’ to put semantics aside for the purposes of this article… you get my meaning.

A few months ago I finally left employment at the bank I had worked at for about ten years. It was a job that I had originally taken as an agency worker in my very early twenties after dramatically leaving my job at a pub due to differences in opinion (I thought the landlady was a nosy drunk, she didn’t). Before working at the pub I had been placed in several factory/warehouse jobs by agencies, so this time I wanted to try something that a) required greater use of my brain, and b) had somewhere to sit. So I decided to try and get a job in an office. At the time I had no inkling that I could turn my skills as a musician into a paying enterprise, and writing was still just an occasional hobby. I just wanted some money so that I could live for a bit and see what happened. The agency took some persuading, usually when I asked for office work they would nod, stare blankly, tell me that they would have a look, and then send me to a factory in the meantime. But eventually I got in at Britannia Building Society in Leek and was able to don my old school black trousers and shoes (literally, that’s not a fashion comment), pull on an ill-fitting work shirt (having fluctuated in weight by two stones since I had last bought any) and head to my new office job where they had computers and everything.

For the first two months I was put in a documents store room and spent all day on my feet filing miscellaneous paperwork into mortgage deeds. We had one chair between three of us, no windows and no supervision. It was just like being at a factory again, but eventually, after what seemed to be some kind of sadistic trial period, they let me upstairs to hit keys on computers and move paper around. They soon found, as did I, that I’m quite good at hitting keys on computers and moving bits of paper around. I was also quite good at telling other people what keys to hit and where the paper needed to be moved to, so I moved relatively quickly into a job where I helped to figure out what keys needed pressing, and even designed some of the bits of paper that got moved around.

I can’t say I enjoyed it, in fact, I pretty much hated it. I even grew to miss the honesty of putting cups in boxes, because it was a clear and distinct task that had some merit and needed doing. Most of the work at the bank, especially when I got involved in projects, was reactionary and unnecessary. It could have been done by the computers if they would just spend the time and money. But apart from that, it was just so damn false and I quickly learned how much emphasis was put on advertising and internal propaganda. They wanted us to whistle while we worked (not literally), to be ‘on-board’ and ‘with the programme’ – we were quite often told that if we didn’t agree with the bank’s ‘values’ we should leave (all very well and good coming from an exec who pockets over a million pounds each year… it’s easy to hold values with that kind of incentive). But I persevered, I panicked but did nothing, I threw my efforts outside of work into a relationship which eventually broke down, and then I had my first quarter life crisis.

I say a quarter life crisis because I must have been 25 at the time, so although it’s unlikely I will see 100, again, you get the meaning. As I found myself moving back home, a shadow of a possible life left behind me, I laid a lot of blame at the feet of my job. I had thrown myself into work, going for interviews, moving up the ladder slightly, bringing home the pay and bonuses. I had convinced myself that was what was required when I moved in with my girlfriend. I had a household to support etc… all that protestant work ethic crap which was somehow engrained in me (and still is to an extent – it’s that feeling of guilt you get when not being productive). But it made me unhappy, creatively starved and frustrated. That probably wasn’t the reason the relationship ended, but my retrospection found it the easiest thing to target as something I could do something about. I couldn’t do anything about the failed relationship, that was over, and I was determined not to slide into self-pity and destruction (I had done that before and it wasn’t pretty for a while). So I took the big, bold step of… going part-time. It doesn’t sound like much, but I was determined to carve out some space to figure out what I wanted to do. As quite often happens when you come out of a situation, I rediscovered a lot of my friends were still there, waiting to be supportive (I’m very lucky in that respect), and things started to happen. I moved to Leek with a friend and we set up a music production business, I got involved in organising events, I restarted my education with the open university and started to write, I lived by myself for a year (everyone should try it), I got engaged, I joined a band, I moved in with my fiancé, and then, last of all, after ten years of waiting for the right moment, I gave up the day job.

That was three months ago now. February 2013. Throughout all the changes I had continued to work for the bank, partly because I still didn’t have the confidence to give it up, but mainly because for the last three years there was the possibility of redundancy and walking away with a reasonable sum of money (due to the take-over by wool-clad wolf, the Co-op – see https://garryabbott.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/ethical-alternative-my-guide-to-the-coop/). Eventually that possibility, though still hanging in the air as a remote distant chance, was denied to me. While others around me were losing jobs they wanted to keep, I couldn’t get rid of mine. I tried my best to argue the senselessness of this to the powers that be, even ending up face to face with my ‘big boss’ and telling him what I thought of the way they did things, but it didn’t make a difference. Perhaps I had showed my cards too often, threatened to leave just one too many times, because they wouldn’t cut me loose. Why would you give me money to go when I quite obviously wanted to leave anyway? That’s the corporate way. Despite all the work and energy I had given them for ten years, despite the moving of the ground from beneath our feet as one lot of corporate clowns took over the running of our lives from another bunch, that path was not open.

And so, after a few sleepless nights and the flaring up of every ailment in my mind and bodies repertoire of stress-induced warning signs, I gave it up. It was not very dramatic in the end. I told them I was going to leave, they did the paperwork, and within a couple of weeks (thanks to stored up holidays), I walked out of the building for the last time, with the sun and the chatter of open-office politics behind me. I was overwhelmed for a minute or two as I drove away, laughing tears, and then I was back to normal. I waited a few weeks for the reality to kick in, but it already had. All I had now was what I made of it, all I have now is what I make of it.

So the point of this blog is, have I just gone avoided a mid-life crisis or am I walking straight into one? And I hope to make this appraisal global enough for this blog to be of value to anyone else reading who has or might be thinking the same thing, otherwise I’d just be sharing with you chapters from my life, which is not my intention.

One of my nightmares as a teenager was ending up like ‘Ernold Same’, the eponymous character from the Blur song over which Ken Livingstone drones this monologue:

Ernold Same awoke from the same dream
In the same bed at the same time
Looked in the same mirror
Made the same frown
And felt the same way he did every day,
Then Ernold Same caught the same train
At the same station, sat in the same seat
With the same nasty stain
Next to him the same old what’s his name
On his way to the same place to do the same thing
Again and again, poor old Ernold Same.

– ‘Ernold Same’, Blur.(The Great Escape, 1995)

                So if turning away from a day job at a bank, in which I sat in the same chair, next to the same people, doing the same things, again and again, the same drive to work, the same canteen, the same coffee machine, the same pot plants, the same meetings, the same screens, the same problems and the same solutions, the same frustrations, the same politics, the same building, has made me a little less like Ernold Same, and a crisis that is, then a crisis is certainly a good thing and I would urge anyone considering having one to go for it.

If on the other hand, the crisis is forthcoming, and this is a temporary stop-gap where everyday my work is what I make it, be it writing music for high-street companies, writing stories, writing scripts, writing scores for original films, writing blogs, or whatever else I choose to do, then what a crisis the next one will be! Is it possible that one crisis will cancel out another and I could end up back at a desk in an office? Not if I have anything to do with it, not unless the work that takes place in that office is  creative and/or for the benefit of those who need it (the moral-void of bank work is a strong motivator to express yourself and help others). So now, as a fledgling self-employed person, with all the uncertainty that brings, not knowing if the last paid job was literally my last paid job, having to try and pick my opportunities from everything I am capable of and convince others of that capability, a crisis would surely be a good development. I mean, the last two crises I’ve had started my desire to educate myself further and produce original work, and have given me the opportunity to do so. What will be next? So far, I’ve had only net gain from crises, the only thing that was ever holding me back was not instigating one in the first place.

I say, if you are heading towards a crisis, at whatever stage in your life, bring it on! It is a creative act and we are creative creatures. It is decision and action, and those are attributes we are blessed with. Aristotle said that our capacity for reason was the objective of human-life, and that only aiming for mere survival like plants and beasts is to not fulfil our humanity. So let’s not be plants, not just now, maybe another life-time if you believe in that kind of thing, but not now. Let’s greet crisis with open arms, because it means something is about to change, and change is the only way we can create (there was only ever one truly creative act in this Universe, and no one really knows how that came about, we just work with what we’ve got).

So in answer to my own question, I think I have both gone through a crisis, and am heading towards my next one, and I hope that is always the case.  For others, and I do not mean to undermine the choices people make, some people genuinely do want to work for a bank or other such industries and that’s fine (though I wager most people don’t), but if you are becoming a bit ‘samey’ and you wonder where that feeling of wasted time and senselessness is coming from and what, if anything, you can do about it, instigate a crisis of your own. So far, the evidence tells me, they can be very good things, if you have control (which of course we all do, though it may not seem that way). There is a fundamental truth in here somewhere, even if the crisis comes to you and seems negative, there is nothing you can do about the past, there is only how we choose to appraise and move on from it to the future by choosing the present moment by moment. That is not a wishy-washy, motivational sound-bite, it is just a statement of fact. I certainly don’t feel that I have ‘made it’ yet, and the anxiety of self-employment is a formidable foe (this article is just one round in the fight against it), but I’m definitely on the right ladder now, which is a start.

How to achieve a fair and unbiased BBC News in 8 easy steps…

I’ll let you into a little writing secret of mine for articles and essay’s – always write the intro after you’ve written the piece so you can explain why it meanders so. In this piece I wanted to write about the failings of the media to fairly represent news. It becomes obvious that I am mostly referring to the BBC, as they are the only outlet in this country that purports to do this by design and in the public interest, rather than for commercial reasons. I should point out that I am quite a fan of the BBC entertainment departments, which I view as being a whole other entity to the beast of the news coverage. I must also point out that I don’t really know how to sort it all out – it’s a common theme of mine that I think it is fair enough to point out an issue and offer some critical analysis, but that it is unfair to expect any one person to have all the answers. Not liking something is a valid enough starting point but it has become a trend to rebuke criticism by saying ‘well – what is the alternative?’ and then mock the person who has raised the problem because they haven’t been able to dedicate their whole life to the issue in question. It is enough to raise a problem and to expect the people who are in an appropriate position to do something about it or explore the possibilities. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to reduce your status in relation to themselves, probably in order to maintain a status quo they are happy with. So with this in mind, please find below, after much meandering, my eight easy steps to achieving a fair and unbiased news story.

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I once caused uproar on an open-forum at my old job when I replied to a thread defending the BBC News against accusations of bias. I think I said something along the lines of:

“BBC news unbiased? Time to wake up!”

It wasn’t the most advanced of arguments but then, it wasn’t the most advanced of discussion forums. I felt I was just adding a ‘vote’ almost to that side of the debate. The forums were in general a mixture of the vacuous, the work related and the occasional thorny debating issue. The users were spread out over the country in various head offices and branches, stealing a few minutes away from work to engage their brain in something that didn’t cause it to melt quite so much as working for a bank does. So what I wasn’t expecting after adding my tiny comment to the already hefty thread, was a reply along the lines of:

“Oh, I bet you’re one of those left-wing hippy crackpot conspiracy theorists who thinks the BBC is controlled by Lizards and who wears a tin foil hat to guard against mind control by the FBI aren’t you? The BBC is the foundation of our unbiased media and democracy, you only have to look at America’s Fox network to realise how good we’ve got it.”

And in one massive, sweeping statement of ignorance, this anonymous responder felt they had destroyed not only my argument, but also my character. They had decided exactly who and what my character was by plucking it out of the stereotype bargain bucket, much favoured by the Daily Mail and most mainstream politicians. You’ve heard it before right? Attack the arguer, not the argument. Classic deflection strategy.

So accordingly, after half an hour or so of calming myself down and not writing the first thing that came into my head (which would have surely got me sacked), I formulated my response. I can’t remember it exactly but the main points were this…

* The BBC is funded by public money, designated by the government. They are at best acutely aware of this, even if they choose not to let this influence them, at worst, they let it influence them.

* It is impossible to be unbiased. Pretending to be is a waste of time. Journalists & editors for the BBC are well rewarded for their opinions, meaning that they hold a certain social and economic position of power. Again, at best they are naturally biased but make a real effort not to allow this to influence their work, and at worst, they allow this to influence their work.

* It doesn’t matter how unbiased your reporting is, unless you cover all news stories, all of the time, with equal emphasis, you are not unbiased. Someone chooses the headline. Someone chooses what time the story gets published and how quickly it moves up or down the schedule. Someone chooses to treat the opinion of a ruling government minister as a news story, even though it is not news. Someone decides which stories on the website are allowed comments. An editor highlights which comments he/she thinks are of note. Let alone the obvious stuff about someone choosing where to point a camera and what to point it at…

* By attempting to be unbiased and represent a range of views, what you end up with is a minority of extreme views at each end of the scale, totally unrepresentative of the majority of reasonable people. You may think that talking to reasonable, none extreme people about issues would be pointless for news reporting, but it is exactly the opposite! Who would you prefer to have on a jury if you had been wrongly accused of a crime? A panel of people who hold extreme and diametrically opposed views, or a panel of reasonable people who listen and asses arguments each with their own merits?

* Just look at it! Honestly, just think about it. Most of the news is pretty much just what has happened today in the world, ranked by our Western interests, but often we are presented with an opinion as a news-story with undue prominence. For example, an MP, let’s say Iain Duncan Smith, decides that his own work and welfare policy is fair. So he holds a press conference and tells them,

“You know that work and welfare policy that I devised? Well I think it’s fair. And I think that the British public agree with me. And anyone who doesn’t think it’s fair is wrong or a loony”.

Okay… he doesn’t say exactly that, but broadly, he goes on the record to reinforce what we already know – that IDS thinks he is right. Put simply… this, isn’t, news. Someone thinking they are right about something is not news, it is self promotion. So how can this kind of reporting be said to truly be an unbiased news story? At the point where a policy is announced, that is news. If a prominent figure raises an interesting objection, that is news. If 100,000 people take to the streets to reject the policy and all it stands for, that really is news. But one man, one privileged man who is already in a position of power and wealth, says that he is the bee’s knees and that we should all agree with him, and the BBC (amongst others) is there like a flash with all the publicity and PR he needs to get that message out to the malleable amongst us, who will take in the day’s headlines either as gospel truth, or as subliminal seeds for further developments. Add to this the fact that people like IDS are fond of plucking totally inaccurate figures out of the air, which are in turn broadcast far and wide by the media, before being retracted a few days later only after the impact of the lie has taken hold, regardless of the consequent truth that emerges. Shouldn’t the media be checking these things before  they print/broadcast?

All this is before I even really get hippy-lefty and point out that the media elite and the political elite are presumably very closely linked. I mean, they work together nearly every day, I would bet that many of them came through the same education system and that there is a various amount of interchanging between the two industries (that’s right, politics is an industry). I would also imagine that as the BBC and the government are essentially symbiotic, something that threatens one’s very existence would be of concern for the other, which is a disastrous premise for an unbiased media! Surely?! I’m not going mad here am I?

Like it or not, the government of the day set the news agenda for the media. In many ways this is just a literal, uncomplicated truth as obviously the news is going to report on what the government says and does. The problem is that this relationship has become extremely blurred. No doubt each major political party has a media guru amongst its ranks whose job it is to encourage and seed the most favourable and comprehensive coverage possible while mitigating and deflecting bad coverage. Surely, part of this job is deciding when and where to hold press conferences, release speeches, appear on interviews etc… all carefully balanced against a tactical media agenda.

The job of the media, our media, is to pick through this and everything else that happens in the world, and decide how to report it. My view is that this complex game being played out every day in the City is counter-intuitive to a good, functioning, free and fair democracy. It has come to the point where you will quite often hear a politician say something like,

“We need to be seen as a party that understands people’s concerns”

… or something similar (note – this is the same type of language I explored in my blog on my former employer the Co-op – linked here https://garryabbott.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/ethical-alternative-my-guide-to-the-coop/). And what do they mean by this? They mean that they need to work harder, using the channels available (mostly the BBC news), to present a facade to us, the people, in order to secure themselves positions of great power and significant wealth within our society.

And we all know the upshot of this – even if you believe the BBC gives equal air-time and prominence to all sides of the argument, we end up with robot-like politicians appearing on interviews, repeating a pre-written sound bite over and over and over again, in the hope that it will sink in. Interviewers get frustrated, listeners and viewers equally so, but it continues regardless. At no point does somebody in the industry stand up and say:

“This is nonsense! We’re not having MPs coming on this publicly funded broadcast platform to avoid difficult questions and incessantly repeat party slogans. This isn’t a party political broadcast, so they should not be given this massively powerful tool to convey their message at their own whim and fancy!”

If only we did! Something may change. We may not get the plight of immigrants and benefit dependents smeared all over our screens every day as if they were the cause of the global financial crisis, which was actually caused by a tiny handful of very rich and very influential financial speculators. The BBC even goes as far as offering us ‘austerity’ recipes and tips on living under the breadline, you know, just in case.

So anyway, the title of this blog is ‘how to achieve a fair and unbiased BBC news in 8 easy steps, so here are my initial thoughts:

Step 1. Do not get rid of the BBC. That would be folly. That would be knocking down the house because you don’t like the wall-paper. (Just thought I’d get that one in there – that is not what I am saying here).

Step 2. Report news strictly chronologically. This often happens in a loose shape, but somehow, all those quotes from the PM and such like keep creeping to the top, even when other things have happened or continue to happen at the same time. And if a news story is falling down the ranks because other things have happened, don’t allow some party spokesman to ring in and give you a new quote about the PMs latest policy just in order to bump up the story a bit. You know they do that don’t you? I wouldn’t be surprised if they also have teams of people rating and adding comments to news stories in order to push them up the ‘most read’ and ‘most shared’ ratings… It has and does happen. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/feb/08/what-is-astroturfing)

Step 3. If a politician isn’t willing to answer a question directly, without re-framing it or avoidance techniques etc… don’t broadcast the interview at all.

Step 4. (This applies especially to the coverage of protests) – Be a bit utilitarian when deciding how to cover something. If 100,000 people are in the streets protesting, don’t concentrate on the dozen unconnected people who are smashing store windows. Do the maths. It is totally unrepresentative and the BBC do it all the time, which funnily enough has the net effect of putting people off protesting and portraying the legitimate protestors in a bad light. Exactly what you would expect the government to do if they were in charge of broadcasting, right?

Step 5. When a reporter accuses a man in a wheelchair of ‘rolling aggressively’ towards police after he has just been assaulted by the police – sack the reporter and make sure he never works in the media again. (I am of course referring to this travesty of reporting, covered here in a typically unapologetic BBC editors blog)http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2010/12/interview_with_jody_mcintyre.html

Step 6. Don’t have a chairman who has business interest aligned with that of the ruling political elite and private industries… say for example the privatisation of the NHS which is being blatantly ignored by the BBC. It has been suggested that this may have to do with Lord Patten and his private business interest? Surely not? Not in a free and fair democratic institution! http://socialinvestigations.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/lord-patten-of-barnes-bridgepoint-and.html

Step 7. Ask some frigging challenging questions! Where is the investigative journalism into the financial crisis? Or the links between Tory MPs and private health-care companies? Or the concerns of the many who believe that the ‘deficit’ and ‘austerity’ are cover for an elitist asset-grab? You can label us all loony conspiracy theorists instead if you want, I suppose that’s just easier and doesn’t upset the status quo. So just keep ignoring the swelling presence of the alternative news channels on the internet. I’m sure just ignoring the growing and more challenging public media is the right strategy guys, I’m sure it will all just go away.

Step 8 – Use your own lexicon! If the government decides to re-brand ‘public sector cuts’ as ‘public sector savings’, don’t just wag your tail and do it! I’ve noticed this  trend in recent years. The difference between ‘cuts’ and ‘savings’ is psychologically significant and we shouldn’t tolerate language being used as a surreptitious device to positively spin negative issues. Basically, don’t just read the bloody press release verbatim – use your own language and say it how it is, not how you’ve been told too.

So that’s my starting eight. I can’t think of anymore right now, but this should be enough to get us started. If you think of anymore, please leave them as a comment below!

Just to pre-suppose challenges, as I know some people literally *love* the BBC News, I will say that I believe most journalists and editors are probably genuine and doing a good job, but as always, it is probably the few well-placed and unscrupulous types that cause the damage, plus a cosy institutionalised attitude fostered over generations of privileged access to these kind of jobs. Also, in relation to the alternative of a news channel like ‘Fox’ in America – At least you know when you are watching Fox that they have opinions, no matter how insane! At least they don’t pretend to be mindless automata, without a point of view or an agenda. At least they aren’t pretending not to be biased! If you don’t like it, you can watch another news network and it isn’t funded solely by public money! Worry more about the monsters you can’t see, the ones that aren’t hiding in plain sight. They are the ones we really  need to worry about.

Anyway, I’m off to put my tin-hat on and hunt some lizard people with Elvis and my hippy brethren on the moon. If you think any of this is just a little too kooky and conspiratorial for you – that’s fine, because the world is in great shape and obviously we have no problems and nothing to worry about. There is no inequality, no dubious wars, no unnecessary hunger and death, and no one getting rich in the process. I’m obviously just worrying for no reason and it can all be sorted by voting from some rich white bloke in a suit every 4-5 years. My bad. Sorry.

Some links to highlight some of my points…

Ed Milipede caught in a time loop: (see step 3)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZtVm8wtyFI

MPs linked to NHS privatisation: (both sides – yes, they are all at it)

http://socialinvestigations.blogspot.co.uk/p/mps-with-or-had-financial-links-to.html