It's not often you see my favourite UK left of centre blog, Harry's Place, put up posts praising the Tories, but here's David T positively gushing over the newly established anti-BNP site established by Tim Montgomerie's ConservativeHome group and allies.
Much as I would love to see this campaign succeed, and much as I admire the fact that people like Tim Montgomerie have been able to galvanise Tories & others to support this campaign, I think the first video is pretty dismal.
It offers an image of a sweet-looking Afro-Caribbean boy to counter the BNP's propaganda that our troubles are caused by supposedly unlimited immigration and their taking of our resources by people who shouldn't have the right to them. Behind the BNP's racist message is also the conviction that shadowy and corrupt Hidden Hands (yes, that's Jews like me) are behind all of this.
I don't think this approach is going to persuade a single potential BNP voter to cast their vote differently.
For a start, it insults the intelligence of the target audience, something I'd have thought media-savvy people like Tim Montgomerie are intensely aware of.
Non racist potential BNP protest voters are perfectly aware that there are very likeable people amongst the ethnic groups that are its targets. Doesn't stop them from voting for the BNP as a protest against the perceived corruption of mainstream parliamentarians, or as a protest against particular forms of maximalist minority group critiques of mainstream society (as promoted by the Hizb and the Saviour Sect).
Back in the days preceding the Nazi success in the German elections, the angry non-fascists who voted for them in 1933 mostly knew quite a few cuddly Jewish children, or dedicated Jewish doctors and the like. Some of them had close Jewish friends. All this didn't prevent them from voting against the existing traditional parties, because they thought drastic action was needed, and they didn't see anything wrong with being against Jews as a whole whilst simultaneously being very fond of the odd Jew.
Many otherwise sane and reasonable Palestinians voted for the atrocious Hamas and their exterminationist propaganda as a protest against the corruption of Fatah. They were perfectly well aware of what Hamas stood for, and they supported the two state solution, but their anger with Fatah overcame their real political convictions, because they felt they had to "do something" and bring the corruption to an end.
Non-racists who consider voting for BNP as a protest also know that if they send a few BNP MEPs to the EU Parliament and elect a few BNP councils, they will never have the power to affect the actual lives and conditions of ethnic minorities in this country. So they feel they can safely use the BNP to register a protest, or, as with non-ideology driven Palestinian Hamas voters, to take action against corruption whilst forgetting all about the baggage that comes with the protest party.
So what sort of video message might help persuade decent, ordinary people not to cast a protest vote for the BNP? Maybe something that recognises the justice of widespread public anger-- and then puts across the message that the answer to corruption isn't to cast a vote for racism, anymore than a vote for out-and-out terrorism was the answer to Fatah's corruption.
Maybe it should be a "your vote matters" video. Maybe it should show what happens to countries and peoples who cast despair votes for totalitarian and racist parties, and then contrast that with countries where the electorate took some action that voted the corrupt out (Japan?).
A video which put across the message "when you want to stop corruption, don't vote for violent criminals" would enlighten the many potential voters who don't know about the BNP's track record of convictions for appalling offences.
Most of all, all of us who are committed to the mainstream left and right parties need to put all the pressure we can on our party leaderships to come to terms with what we the people feel, and make really radical moves now that will begin to shift the public's perceptions.
Sadly, there's too much evidence that Brown and his circle, even the ministers who despair of him, are virtually incapable of radically changing their direction and stopping the corruption--and its leaders in the form of the guardians of the parliamentary expenses system right now.
Cameron made something of a move, and it has had an impact, but it's nothing like enough. Listening to Hague on BBC R4 Today programme, it's clear that the Tory hierarchy still haven't got it. He's just pushing the latest Tory line of chipping away at the bits that suit them (like the communication allowance) whilst claiming the public don't really care about the Speaker and the corrupt Parliamentary apparatus that enabled the MPs and the Lords build up their sense of entitlement to be above the laws that the rest of us live by, and line their pockets accordingly, whilst chorusing "it's all within the rules".
If you don't want people to vote BNP:
Ensure that the Speaker of Parliament resigns immediately by organizing a whipped vote of no confidence.
Sack all the members of the Parliamentary Privileges Committee and the senior staff of the Fees Office.
Only MPs with impeccable expenses claims records to sit on the Committee in future.
All MPs to place itemised expenses claims on their web sites every three months.
All claims going back to 2005 to be scrutinised by senior HM Revenue & Customs to check that they meet the test of "wholly, necessarily and exclusively" for use in their job as MPs. Claims that don't meet the test to be paid back in full and with penalty fines and interest.
Commit to prosecuting all MPs who knowingly made false claims or submitted improper accounting.
Commit to reducing the number of MPs by half in time for the next election. If practically impossible for boundary commission reasons, commit to having a second election as soon as possible after 2010 to elect the lower number of MPs
All sitting MPs to face reselection meetings with their constituency parties within the next two weeks (ie ahead of the June elections)
Legislation to be passed immediately to enable peers who breach laws on corruption to be stripped of their titles and rights to sit in the House of Lords.
Any major party that committed to that could face down challenges from the BNP and other fringe parties.
Anything else is tokenism and papering over the cracks. And it won't wash with the electorate. Those who are minded to vote BNP will still do so.
Poisonous stuff, says Norm. He can't see how any educated man comes to be able to speak as Rose does, blaming Israel and the Jews who support Israel for the existence of anti-semitism.
Personally, I've never had any difficulty in seeing how educated people, even professors, are able to speak as Rose does. It's been something of an old established art form, developed by stellar intellectuals from Voltaire, through a very large proportion of the professoriate of Wilhelmine and Weimar Germany to the equally large number of academics who stand alongside Steven Rose to this day in calling for an academic boycott of all Israeli universities.
No surprise there, then. What is worthy of the note is the way the Today Programme excelled even its already dubious record in framing its presentation of this key Parliamentary report. That was presented this morning through the perspectives and analysis of two ferociously anti-Israel activists who have a track record of blaming Jews for anti-semitism and accusing them of crying anti-semitism as a diversion from criticism of Israel.
The Today Programme's first discussion of the report was presented through a debate between Ian Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader and a member of the Parliamentary All Party Committee, and Inayat Bunglawala, leading member of the Muslim Council of Britain. Inayat Bunglawala has a track record of saying things which indicates that he sees "the Zionist lobby" as a conspiratorial power out to use accusations of anti-semitism as a diversionary tactic.
So that debate shifted away from being an explanation for listeners of what the PAPC report actually had to say about anti-semitism to being a discussion whether the Muslim Council of Britain was right or wrong to refuse to participate in UK Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations.
Then, right at the end of the programme, Professor Steven Rose was presented as the leader in a discussion, not of the report, but of whether Israeli actions are responsible for anti-semitism. Rose was invited to make a lead contribution, which he duly and totally predictably used as a platform to deliver a tirade that anti-semitism is indeed on the increase in Britain today, but that it is caused by Israel. Not just Israel's actions in the Lebanon war, or in the conflict with the Palestinians, but seemingly Israel's very existence, for most of Rose's tirade was a series of claims that Israel is racist, an apartheid state, etc. Professor Shalom Lappin was called on to respond, but I think he made a mistake in buying into the debate on Rose's terms rather than drawing attention to what the Today Programme had done in setting up such a debate in the first place. The usually faultlessly articulate Lappin seemed to me to be driven onto the back foot of stating that, yes, Israeli universities are open to Arabs, Druse, Muslims and Jews.
Where was the discussion of what the report actually had to say?
I find it very difficult to imagine the Today Programme choosing to present any Parliamentary report on Islamophobia and attacks on Muslims by inviting Irshad Manji and Nonie Darwish to lead the commentary.
Let alone having one or other of them argue that Islamic leaders and regimes are responsible for racist attacks on Muslims in Britain.
Over the weekend, I had the good fortune to be staying with some very generous and hospitable people. They were religious Jews living on a West Bank settlement. Other than that, they were not much different from many other people, except for one thing. They belong to an extraordinary society called the Society for Creative Anachronism. They devote all the available spare time they have to re-enacting mediaeval events, but it seems the real object of their pursuit is not some perfectionist re-enactment of this tournament or that battle. It's really all about taking on fantasy identities and dressing up in what they call "garb".
Looking at the outcome of the Today Programme's Who Runs Britain poll, I get the sense that the people who voted in the poll are maybe also into some sort of version of fantasy funland. Can we call it the Land of Creative Anachronism? Because according to this poll, it seems that more people think the head of Tesco's really runs Britain than think that Tony Blair does.
And more people think that the search engine Google really runs Britain than think that Gordon Brown does so. And even though my answer to both of those candidates is really "none of the above", as I pointed out in an earlier post, nobody seems to have offered any evidence that Google runs anything.
Quite a lot of votes, it seems, for democratic-sounding choices like "the British people" and "Parliament". I wasn't able to get a sound link from where I was, so I haven't yet heard the discussion. But there's no shortage of evidence that policies supported by "the people", such as hanging for murders, are rejected by both Parliament and successive governments. And the role of Parliament is an interesting one, for it seems that Parliamentary pressure leads to government legislation being truncated or watered down. But running the country?
Not surprisingly, the poll probably reflects the Today programme's audience.
Like I suggested, the Land of Creative Anachronism.
It was frustrating listening to the sound clip of the nominations, because it was completely unclear to me how their selection was arrived at, and what the actual strengths and ranges of the nominations were. It was quite bizarre looking at the actual list of ten nominations, and trying to decide how these had been arrived at. For example, how could anyone in possession of their sanity seriously believe that Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the civil liberties pressure group Liberty runs Britain? After all, if she did, we would certainly not be on our way to having identity cards, and I very much doubt Blair would still be Prime Minister.
If the British people were running Britain, then we would probably still have capital punishment, and we would now have the more draconian anti-terrorist legislation that was voted down by the combined opposition of the House of Commons and the House of Lords earlier this year.
Then of course, there's Terry Leahy, chief executive of Tesco's. Ummm. If he were running Britain, how come Tesco's got over-ruled on its attempt to buy up the Safeways supermarket chain, that ultimately went to the Leeds-based Morrison's chain? And how exactly does Terry Leahy influence the running of Britain's nuclear deterrent, of MI6, of anti-terrorist operations? And how exactly did Tesco's influence the setting up of the Hutton inquiry, or the most recent judiciary appointments?
My favourite for absurd suggestions is that Google runs Britain (though actually I have to confess that I think it might be a more likely contender than Shami Chakraborti). This seems to me to confuse a particular tool (with a particularly interesting and complex ability to influence the choice of information sources) with the much more complex question of executive power in a modern nation state. Again, we only have to ask ourselves how exactly Google can be proved to have influenced British decision making about the EU constitution, involvement in the Euro or the use of identity cards to see how ludicrous this suggestion is. I would welcome any evidence from anyone that Google has influenced any government policy making anywhere.
Which leaves us with some more obviously usual suspects. I've already touched on the Today Programme's anti Rupert Murdoch agenda here. And I also featured Amanda Platell delivering a crushing rebuttal of the argument that he runs Britain by her references to the myriad policies that Rupert Murdoch has obviously not been able to get the British government to accept.
Then we have Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the EU Commission. That's the supposedly all powerful superstate which somehow seems to have been unable to persuade the UK either to sign up to the proposed EU Constitution or the Euro. Clearly obvious that he runs Britain, isn't it?
Which leaves Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Sir Gus O'Donnell, head of the Cabinet Office and the Civil Service. Well, if Gordon Brown hasn't so far been able to persuade Tony Blair to resign and let him take over the post of Prime Minister, which he so obviously longs for, how can he be running Britain. And unless we argue that Tony Blair is his catspaw, it's rather difficult to see how Brown has been driving the new agenda on schools, the particular Blairist agenda on modernization and the diminshed role of the unions which his own speeches do not entirely chime in with... Or is it all just a clever Brownist ploy to throw us off the scent?
Sir Gus O'Donnell is an interesting candidate, for indeed the setter and keeper of Cabinet agendas and the meetings of the Permanent Secretaries who run the ministries holds a powerful position. Does he run Britain? It's hard to argue that any one individual does. For even if his writ controlled every single government ministry, it would hardly account for the decisions being made by City institutions, major corporations and even the supermarkets. After all, we still remember Black Wednesday, some thirteen years ago, when the international money markets, and the City dealers, ran the UK treasury into the ground and forced a retreat from the then European Exchange Rate Mechanism. Sir Gus O'Donnell is indeed in charge of the administration of the government machine, and has a mighty influence through that on British policy making. But of course Britain regularly has to make major shifts and changes which have been imposed by majority votes in the EU Council, or by the actions of world oil markets, or even international non-governmental organizations, such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades, or the European Court of Human Rights.
Tony Blair? It's doubtful if he actually presides over as many direct decisions affecting the running of Britain as Sir Gus O'Donnell does. On the other hand, he does lead the political direction of the country, from which Sir Gus takes his cue. He presides over the Cabinet and seems to have done so with some success, seeing off or isolating supposedly powerful and brilliant would be adversaries like the late Robin Cook. His imminent or actual decline and fall from power is forever being announced by the BBC or so many of the experts it likes to invite onto the Today Programme, like Linda Colley, whose views on this score I highlighted here.
My daughter has often felt pessimistic about the political choices she's been presented with in the two years since she's had the right to vote. Though I'm pleased to say that she did force herself to vote at the last election. She usually mutters none of the above when asked what her choice of political party would be from those on her voting list.
I have a similar feeling about the Today Who Runs Britain poll. Because I don't think any one person or even any one government control centre runs a complex nation state with an international currency and trading role, and immensely complex patterns of international political and business alliances. However, if a gun were held to my head, I would vote for Tony Blair, because he has so manifestly been decisive in holding and setting directions against apparently overwhelming opposition both from his own party and from traditional power bases.
The weird thing is that in saying this, it seems I find myself in agreement with George Galloway, who was selected by the Today Programme to give his view (and why is this MP for a party with one seat in the House of Commons so regularly selected to air his off the wall opinions on the Today Programme?).
Let's see how the punters vote. I'll be blogging on that on 2nd January.
Well, Tim Ireland and I did, on the Today programme broadcast of Thursday 22nd December. You can link to the Listen Again page here. Our interview clip is at 8:55. That should be up till Thursday 29th.
I'm also experimentally putting up a download link Download today5_bloggers_20051222.ram . Let me know if it works. If you can listen to the Listen Again links, you should be able to download and listen to the clip on your own machine, and it won't go away after Thursday.
The Today Programme's theme on its Who Runs Britain? poll on Tuesday 20th December was history. Yes, I know. One can't really say that history runs anything, let alone a major nation state. But I think they intended to get at the issue of whether we are bound, or ruled, by our history.
Perhaps that was apposite on a day where Tony Blair, up against some hostility in the European Parliament, faced down the very anti-European UKIP MEPs with this stinger:
Turning in particular on the group's leader Nigel Farage, he branded him a reactionary. "You sit with our country's flag, but you do not represent our country's interest," he declared.
"This is the year 2005 not 1945. We are not fighting each other any more".
In the sense that it's ever necessary to say things like this, then I suppose one could say that the running of Britain needs eternally to be justified by references to what are perceived of as key moments in history...maybe. But then surely the champion at this was Margaret Thatcher. She managed to keep referring to the glories of Britain's role and making Britain great again, while signing up to ever increasing transfers of decision making to the European Union.
Antony Seldon, a biographer of both Blair and Major, one of the two selected experts to make the case for or against history running Britain, came across as a Hegelian idealist of the first order. Ideas rule everything, he said. Unfortunately, he had little to offer in the way of proof of this sweeping statement, though he did argue that the influence of World War I and World War II continue to impact comprehensively on Britain. And the Tony Blair exchange seems to underpin that. But like so many of the contributors in this series, Seldon never tried to disprove or even balance his own theory. Like, sure, the idea of the Germans as a "traditional" enemy dies hard, as Blair's speech shows. But actually, we have more trade with Germany, more integration of businesses and ownership than we could ever have dreamed of either at the start of the twentieth century, or at any period till the UK joined the EU in 1972.
And however responsive the British public appears to be to Sun anti-German headlines when it comes to football matches, it doesn't prevent them buying German cars, kitchen machinery and beer in enormous quantities. And as far as I can see, British workers who work for German-owned companies seem to be perfectly happy with their lot. The fact that both Rolls-Royce and Bentley, two supremely iconic British marques, are now German-owned, which in 1945 would have seemed utterly horrific and unthinkable, goes unremarked.
The more interesting contributor for me, though was Linda Colley.
The significance of Captives is the contribution it has made to the continuing historians' critique of British imperialism in the period she deals with. The originality of her approach is that she based her study on an analysis of captivity narratives, that is, accounts by British soldiers and others, including women, of long periods lived whilst held as prisoners of the peoples the British supposedly ruled, such as rebel regimes of the Indian subcontinent. These narratives include accounts of quite horrendous brutalization, including repeated rape, forced cohabitation and a range of spine-chilling indignities. They also show that many of the captives responded by embracing the religions and the cultures of those who made them captive. It seems it was the soldiers who made the strongest effort to resist, by maintaining some rituals they regarded as British, however long the period of their captivity. Now, all this suggests to me that the Stockholm syndrome, in which captors come to identify with those who capture and abuse them, is a very long established phenomenon.
But Linda Colley's stated purpose for her much-acclaimed study is altogether grander and arguably more politically-motivated than the voyeurism and schadenfreude my account suggests.
I wanted to write about the British Empire, but not in the usual way. The standard narrative of the empire involves Brits going abroad, taking various countries captive, invading them, and being dominant until they are forced out. I wanted to alter that picture. Britain was a small country with a limited army, its forces stretched very thin over the world as its empire grew bigger and bigger. Between 1600 and 1850 tens of thousands of Britons were taken captive by foreigners. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise: if you intrude violently into another person’s territory, captive-taking is one of the results. I thought that by exploring what happened to these people I could construct a rather more nuanced picture of what the empire was like, and I could show the weakness and vulnerability of the British, not just the strength and aggression. I looked at cases of captivity in the Mediterranean and North Africa, in India, in Afghanistan, and in North America. I also wanted to revise standard imperial history in another way. Histories of the British Empire have generally focused on elite groups--"generals, politicians, the major merchants and investors, and so forth. The big people. In fact, the majority of the people involved in making the empire were poor whites, and their experiences have hardly been written about. I also showed that a surprising number of these individuals were not involuntary captives. Some crossed over to the other side deliberately. A lot of the people I was writing about had been driven into the army or navy against their will. Many decided after being captured that their new circumstances were an improvement over the old. There were Brits who joined Native American communities in North America. In North Africa quite a few British captives converted to Islam and some married local women. There were British soldiers in India who ended up serving Indian princes. These kinds of stories had tended to be brushed under the carpet when the empire was still in existence--"this wasn’t the sort of thing you wanted in the history books.
If you read reviews and discussions of Captives, you will be struck by the meticulousness of the research behind it, and the sheer range and scope of the literature she studied. But Colley doesn't limit herself to her field of historical expertise. She regularly writes mainstream press articles on current politics. And what's so striking about these articles is the way she makes the crudest analogies between some of her meticulously researched studies and contemporary events, for which she offers only cherry-picked crude analogies without any consideration of counter-evidence. For example, she represents the USA as self-evidently an imperial and imperialist power. And she did so in this article in The Guardian on 17th December, just days before her Who Rules Britain broadcast. Here's one of her more eyebrow-raising statements:
The US has no conventional colonies and may be in trouble in Iraq. But it retains military and naval bases in some 130 countries, and consequently the potential for influence over and intervention in them; and it possesses - as every mighty empire has done - a network ofsupportive and tractable client states, including, arguably, Britain.
And here's her similarly crude view of the situation of Tony Blair, written for The Guardian in 2003, where she argues
For Blair, the past is irrelevant, because this is a new world facing entirely new dangers. Globalization and WMD mean, in his view, that all freedom-loving peoples must necessarily unite under American leadership to defeat the “virus” of terrorism. Individuals at home, and foreign countries such as France, which analyze the world and its dangers differently, are briskly dismissed as anti-American. Yet it could simply be that their understanding of the past — and consequently of the present — is rather better than his.
Globalization is not remotely new; it has been occurring, at differing rates and with differing degrees of scale, for centuries. But in the past, as now, it has not always produced a community of interests. To employ this phenomenon as a reason for freezing Britain into the role of battered Boy Wonder to America’s global Batman is therefore distinctly questionable. Much of the British public’s alienation, not just from Blair, but from politicians in general, stems from a sense that, as one man put it to me: “We’ve been sold.” There is deep resentment that politicians have proceeded so far with the European Union without consulting the public. And there is anger that so much British policy — as over Iraq - seems to be determined in Washington, and not always for obvious national interests.
This failure to carry the people along is in part due to Labour (and Conservative) politicians’ arrogant and self-serving notion that voters don’t care about foreign affairs. But the more fundamental reason, once again, is structural and historical. Over the past century, Britain has moved from being a “disguised republic”, as Walter Bagehot called it, to having a barely disguised and insufficiently provided-for presidency. Many of Blair’s current problems are due to the fact that he is much more than a prime minister, without being an acknowledged, full-blown president.
At one level, this means that he can disregard large sections of Parliament and the public and embark upon a deeply controversial war, and that, unlike the Americans, we lack the means to interrogate him and call him to account. But the insufficient transformation process from prime ministership to presidency also means that Blair is desperately overstretched and unable to govern as well as he might. His ravaged face, as well as his uncertain record of reform in his second term, makes this point. Were he to have a proper vice president, and the massed ranks of expert advisers a president can command, Blair might be more able to make the trains run on time at home, and perhaps be less inclined to embark on messianic adventures abroad.
However satisfying it may be to some to shower criticism on him, we badly need a deeper, longer view.
Clearly, the "we" she declares herself to be part of here isn't the Historical Association or the assembled academics of her university. Maybe she imagines herself to be speaking for the British people. That's the same people who elected Tony Blair, albeit with a reduced majority, for an fourth term as Prime Minister, unprecedented for any Labour administration. Or maybe the "we" she speaks for is the comfortable liberal left anti-Blair, anti-Iraq war consensus which stretches all the way from the Guardian to the Independent to ... the Today programme and the rest of the BBC news media.
So with this track record, it was hardly surprising that the Today programme chose her to be one of their experts. And, not surprisingly, she delivered the goods with her unevidenced but quick passing references to supposed reason for supporting the US as
giving us a vicarious imperial role that we've lost for ourselves.... There is an American empire and we ride on it.
And of course, she vigorously disagreed with Tony Blair's speech to the US congress which had stated that our historical past was no longer a determinant of our present. Because that was in the context of a discussion of the Iraq War. It was clear that her intention was to show that not only was Britain involved in the Iraq war for reasons of vicarious imperialism, but that Tony Blair denies what she chooses to present as the historical truths behind it.
She also discussed her view, currently argued in the Fabian review, that we should be representing black people on English banknotes, because since the eighteenth century, we have arguably had the largest black community in Europe. This might be a quite reasonable view if the intention of representing images on our banknotes was to reflect the make up of the UK population at any one time, or even over historical time. In which case, we might be looking at what her classification of "black" involves. Does it mean people of African and Afro-Caribbean origin? Does that include people from north Africa who might describe themselves as Arabs? People from the Indian subcontinent? South-East Asia? Do they all see themselves as being of this one category of "black", rather than members of the nations and cultures they use to describe themselves? These issues seemed not to trouble Professor Colley, the meticulous historical researcher.
But our banknotes in any case commemorate people who have made great contributions to the UK and the wider world. And it's difficult to see why she should privilege the group "black people" (undefined) over other major groups who have also great contributions to the wider world. We don't, for example, currently have a single Welsh person on our banknotes. Yet it's arguable that David Lloyd George or Dylan Thomas have made as great contributions as Elizabeth Fry or Edward Elgar, who do feature on our current banknotes.
Charles Krauthammer invented the term "Bush derangement syndrome" as an elegant and amusing way to describe the process whereby left wing critics of the US president seem to dig themselves into ludicrously paranoid explanations of the reason for US involvement in the Iraq war, based around the supposed madness/idiocy/in thrallness of Bush to this, that or the other conspiracy.
Listening to the Today programme's Who Runs Britain slots almost every day this week, I've detected a similar Iraq Derangement Syndrome. The scientists on Thursday 22nd managed to steer clear of it. But almost every other day, whatever the supposed locus of Who Runs Britain, up popped the Iraq War, as the key example to prove that we are not governed rationally or in our own real interests, but by other interests and forces who take control of us, whether that's Rupert Murdoch, or the simultaneously supposedly mentally-challenged but somehow all-powerful George Bush, or the various hidden hands thought to be manipulating him.
Something else struck me about the accounts of Linda Colley's work that I've been reading. Implicit in her research is a critique of the weakness and vulnerability of British rule and British imperialism. But paired with that is something that seems curiously like admiration for or perhaps lack of condemnation for the whole process of captive-taking and forced conversion. Or at the very least, detached acceptance of it. Now I am not an adherent of the critique of naive admiration of militant Islamism that has become labelled as "dhimmitude". But it does seem to me that Colley's work provides easy ideological justification of the they-had-it-coming kind for captive-taking and hostage-holding, even she does explicitly condemn what she acknowledges to be the "horrible ways" of Al-Qaeda.
All this reminds me once again that, however eminent academics may be in their own field of expertise, once they speak about fields in which they are not expert researchers, their analysis is no better than that of anyone else.
Yesterday was meant to be the day we Today Programme bloggers got to broadcast live as part of the Who Runs Britain? poll series it's been running at the end of each day.
Let's just say, shall we, that this has proved to be a series still in a stage of fluidity and development. Probably happens to every programme, but we rarely realise it.
So we knew before we got whisked off to the studio this morning that we weren't going to live broadcast after all. They were going to record the interview and use it at some time unspecified between now and the final day on Friday. Will they broadcast it in the end? Maybe, if some big news story doesn't sweep everything else out of the way before it.
Visiting the BBC Television Centre, which I've often driven by in my car, was curiously like my last visit to the Department for Education and Science.
There's this colossal building with a reception area which is a mixture of charm and pretentiousness. I mean, how about calling the reception area of this massive production bureaucracy by this name?
Yup, those are some tasteful and understated Christmas lights. That should comfort all those who feel that the BBC is at the heart of a conspiracy to stamp out the core Christian identity of the UK. But maybe it's just a bit of subversive initiative by the floor staff who haven't bothered to get it checked out with their equality officers?
The amusing thing was that this "Stage Door" affectation seemed to be unknown to the conscientious Today Programme staffer whose job it was to meet me and take me up to the studio. My mobile phone rang as I sat by the Stage Door notice. It was the staffer. We had this hilarious conversation, in which, in response to her asking where I was, I said that I was sitting in front of the Stage Door notice in the front reception area of the building. What Stage Door? she said. Can you describe where you are? So I described the foyer and what was in it, and I explained that it was where all the BBC cars stopped and deposited their visitors. This didn't immediately do the trick. Are you inside or outside, she asked? Good question.
So when I got to the hospitality area (practically all the food had gone), there was Tim Ireland. Oliver Kamm wasn't able to make the date they'd fixed, anyway. The best bit of waiting was Tim showing me his favourite Daily Mail type headline of the day. Only I can't remember if it was really the Daily Express or the Daily Mail. Vintage examples of the populist media agenda scare themes (gays! gay marriages! asylum seekers! bogus asylum seekers! gay bogus asylum seekers flood the country and destroy marriage!)
I love it. Maybe I should look more carefully at those squeegee screen cleaners who still hang around waiting to pounce on cars stopping for the lights to change at Bounds Green on the North Circ. Will they all start signing up for fake gay partnership ceremonies? And why would they choose those rather than fake marriages?
So when we got round to the interview, it was all very civilised. We were interviewed by Caroline Quinn, one of the Today programme anchor staff. What kept coming across was how conservative the Today programme's audience is, given the reputation it has for being radical and setting a well left of centre agenda. They describe their audience as being great letter writers of what sounds like rather a pedantic type. They complain about the programme's encouragement of listeners to visit their web site.
But they're easy to send up. They're actually fairly typical, particularly of our middle class intelligentsia of a certain age. Last time I was at the DfES, the most energetic and outward looking of the HMIs said to me, why on earth would you want to keep a blog? I got to share a three hour train journey a couple of months back with a very lively young high-flying DfES head of department, responsible for developing policy in a cutting edge sector of the ministry, with a big stake in promoting the use of information technology in schools. She knew about blogs, but had never visited one, and didn't know what what they could be used for. Well it was a three hour train journey....
And that all reminds me of my experiences of the seventies, when I was the only academic I knew at my university who had a colour television. But almost all the working class people I knew had them. The same thing happened when video cassette recorders came out. Then when DVD players came out. And then with DVD recorders. I still find that huge numbers of schools don't have DVD players or recorders. And my feeling is that far more working class people have big plasma TV screens than middle class intellectuals, even when the latter have the salaries to afford them.
Not that I think that blogging is more popular with working class than middle class people. Most of the bloggers I know of are in their mid twenties to late thirties; they're university educated, more often than not from elite schools and universities, and they're often in media related jobs, sometimes working in sectors that didn't exist ten years ago. I know personally of only one blogger of around my age; the legendary Norm. The women involved in blogging I know of are mostly younger than the men, and there are far fewer of them.
Most of the people who are my friends have no interest at all in blogging. Which has its advantages. They're not particularly interested in looking over my shoulder to see if I write about them. When I do mention my blog, they listen very politely and express goodwill, in much the same way they might do if I started talking about a collection of cheese labels.
Ten years ago, I knew very few academics and trainers who worked as independent consultants. My own university seemed to be eternally unchangeable, and took about three years to make the simplest decision. One day I visited a little enclave on the campus which was hired out by a consulting outsourcing company which was involved in taking on contracts to inspect schools. It was something I was interested in. There were three large rooms, two men who were running the company and about six secretaries. One of the men talked affably about the various contracts they were running, and the work they were doing. At that time, they were holding contracts for something like seventy percent of the inspections in primary and secondary schools. Then they were running the careers advice service for several counties, having won the contracts off the local authority providers who had thought of them as their eternal right. And they were running virtually entire education services for various small ex UK colonies in south east Asia.
The man told me the company was only a few years old, but their annual turnover was fifty million pounds a year. I knew that the turnover of the entire university, with its Royal Charter, its thousands of staff, sprawling buildings and eternal shortages, was forty eight million pounds a year. That revelation made me determined to change the way I worked, and to get out of being a member of an institution that saw itself as having an eternally unassailable place in the world.
I had something like those feelings yesterday when I contemplated the huge size of the BBC complex, the vast hordes of staff, the mega-budget sustained by the compulsory tax of the UK licence fee of £126 per household. All of which is running six or eight TV channels and seven or eight national radio services. But it's as big as the DfES which is responsible for thirty thousand schools, the colleges and the universities. Any private TV or radio production company you come across is small and lean.
Blogging is only just on the BBC's horizon. It is something they are quite interested in and ask questions about. They have a pretend version of it on their web sites. Meanwhile, there's this astonishing world wide exchanging and networking going on, high profile journalists, would be and published writers and people who sit up in the early hours in their pyjamas, taking apart the day's news stories. I draw my own conclusions.
And I'll say more about the interview when they broadcast it. Or if they don't, I'll write about it by the weekend.
If the press were that powerful ...We would have got out of Europe. Ken Livingstone would not have been Mayor, Peter Mandelson would not have got one of the plum jobs in Europe and Liam Fox would be leader of the Tory Party.
That was said by Amada Platell, and it was easily the most cogent and sensible thing anyone had to say on Tuesday's BBC Radio 4's Today programme Who Runs Britain broadcast, which I posted on here and here.
However, once past that, the panel of experts, Greg Dyke, Piers Morgan and Amanda Platell did resort to selecting evidence to confirm their prejudices instead of trying to disprove them as she had done.
Because yes, the discussion did take on pretty uncritically the idea of Rupert Murdoch dominating the agenda of Tony Blair. Piers Morgan laboriously dragged out the number of meetings he knew Tony Blair had had with the editor of the Sun. Contrary evidence such as Amanda Platell had quoted above was not considered.
Oh, and it became clear that every one of these experts opposed the Iraq war and regarded Gilligan's exposure and sacking as "a disgrace".
Good morning, Today programme readers. This is my first experience of blogging away from home. And the Today programme Who Runs Britain web site is quite an appealing alternative soapbox.
I've decided to start as I mean to go on. That's by being subversive.
I'm not going to wait for the panel before I do this morning's blog. Instead, I'm going to stick my neck out, and have some guesses about who and what I think they might suggest when they're asked to discuss if either the media or someone in it runs Britain.
Then, I'm going to see if the helpful and long-suffering tech staff of the Today programme will bear with me and allow me to put up a supplementary or update page later on today, when I've had more time to think through what the panel actually says.
In any case, I'm going to put updates and another commentary on my own blog, Adloyada, so you can follow up my commentary there if you're minded to.
Does the media or someone in it run Britain? I'd need some convincing that it does. I think a much more interesting question is how it gets to shape debates. If you want to look at that in the context of the Today programme, then you can't do better than to look at who gets invited to do on air discussions.
The people invited for today's Who Runs Britain? panel have impeccable media qualifications. Greg Dyke, no less than the former Director-General of the BBC. Piers Morgan, former editor of the Daily Mirror. Amanda Platell, best known as the former Press Secretary to William Hague at the time of the 2001 election.
Balanced? Yes, in theory. The Daily Mirror is a left-leaning paper, and Morgan certainly ran it that way. Amanda Platell declared an unswerving loyalty to the Conservative Party.
But these folk maybe have much more in common than that.
I'd say they have a common anti-Blair agenda. And in the case of Dyke and Morgan, that's fuelled by a quite ferocious venom that follows their both having lost their jobs as a result of very high profile errors they made in pursuit of their opposition to the Iraq War.
Dyke famously lost his job after the Hutton enquiry had found that he failed to carry out his duty to check the veracity of Andrew Gilligan's notorious account on the Today programme of his meeting with Dr David Kelly. That had been a moment when it looked for as if it might be possible that a report on the Today programme might bring down the premiership of Tony Blair. Dyke has never accepted Hutton. He even claimed that Gilligan's faked story was "essentially true".Since his resignation, he's become increasingly lurid in his claims:
In July 2004 Dyke was awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Sunderland and Middlesex University. In his acceptance speech for the latter, he attacked the government over its stance on the Iraq war heavily, and maintained that the Andrew Gilligan story was essentially true, the story government dossier was sexed up and that the government staged a "witch hunt" to deflect from the real issues surrounding the Iraq war.
On May 22005 the former Labour supporter Dyke went public at a Liberal Democrat press conference and said that "Democracy was under threat if Labour was elected for a third term".
Morgan is no stranger to controversy. The ferocity of the Daily Mirror's opposition to the Iraq war under his editorship was legendary. But it all came to grief when he published what turned out to be hoax pictures of British soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners, and subsequently had to resign. Like Dyke, he resorts to saying the pictures were "essentially true"
..I don't know the facts about these pictures, but they do seem to illustrate a wider truth about British troops abusing Iraqi prisoners....
I think Gilligan was right. It was an absolute farce that the people who have lost their jobs over Iraq are me, Andrew Gilligan, Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke. If it is MI5 that is behind it they should all get promotions and pay rises. They can't find weapons of mass destruction, but, by God, they can get media people out of their jobs.
Amanda Platell is a journalist with much lighter agendas. Since she stopped being Hague's Press Secretary, she has written columns in the Evening Standard and the New Statesman, often involving minor scandals. But she's currently fronting a joint Channel 4 show with... Piers Morgan.
So, I'd say, a common anti-Blair agenda. A common anti-Iraq war agenda.
It makes me think that one or other of them might centre their discussion on media figures they don't like. And although he's actually pro-Blair, I'd say they might try picking on Rupert Murdoch as a supposed media figure who runs Britain. Because their argument might well be that Murdoch actually controls Blair's agenda.
There are plenty of slightly nutty conspiracy-minded web sites like the one I've just linked to which claim that Murdoch controls the US, the oil market, and just about every area of policy you can think of. I found an even nuttier viciously anti-semitic one that claims that Murdoch is actually Jewish, and his whole empire is run by Jews, who anyway control all of the world's media. Both types of claim are based on the same bullshit approach. You just list companies that Murdoch owns (like the controls-the-US) or names of Jews you can find in those companies. Voila! There's no more to be said.
You never of course look at contrary evidence. Or even consider that owning a clutch of companies in different sectors might not mean you're running them to pursue a single political agenda. Like Murdoch also owns the Times Educational Supplement, which is rabidly against the Blairite education policies which the rest of his stable tends to favour.
Well, maybe our panel today won't even mention Rupert Murdoch, let alone claim he runs Britain by running Tony Blair, who supposedly shapes his policies to fit the editorial preferences of the Sun, which is Murdoch's flagship UK paper.
We'll see. And I'll be the first person to admit I was wrong if they don't.
Watch this space. I'll be back later to update when I've heard the panel discussion and had time to reflect on it.
Hmmm. It's just after 8:00am on Monday morning. I've been up for a couple of hours, looking to see how the Today programme team will set up its experiment in incorporating blogging into its web pages.
That's linked to the Who Runs Britain? poll which I posted about yesterday.
Yes, there's a dedicated web page. But oh dear. You probably can't see it clearly enough in this screen grab, but to the right, just under a side bar which offers "Related Links", there's just a repeated column of the word "link". Yep, they've committed the web design crime of putting up an unfinished page.
C'mon BBC. C'mon Today programme. Surely you can do better than this. Why link people to an uncompleted page?
To be fair, they don't intend to run the poll slot till 8:30am.
But they already had a trail item on well before 8:00am. It was Andrew Marr, nominating Sir Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, and the most senior UK civil servant. Well, not a bad choice as a key power figure who most people know nothing about. It would accord with the view that whoever runs the machinery of government runs the country.
Wikipedia's entry which I linked him to will have given you far more than Andrew Marr's half serious, half tongue in cheek nomination. Typical of that was his characterization of him as the "Caliph of Continuity".
It'll be interesting to see what happens once they run the panel discussion at 8:30.
Verdict so far: could do a lot better. Needs work.