Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Coalition context

While many Liberal Democrat supporters are up in arms over the new-born coalition with the Conservatives, it's perhaps worth taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture.

Whilst the idea of the two parties working together is still slightly unbelievable and potentially alarming to the Lib Dem grass roots support, many of whom will have voted Lib Dem in order to keep the Tories out, some context is needed.

Firstly, it's worth remembering that this is the only way, given the currently flawed electoral system that we have in place in this country, that the Liberal Democrats were going to have any form of power in the forseeable future.

Secondly, such a coalition need not mean that the Liberal Democrats bow to the Tories on every issue. Providing they stand up and make their voices heard within the coalition, the effect could instead be that they are capable of muzzling the Tories on their more aggressive policy, whilst still offering the voters aspects of their own manifesto that they campaigned on.

So whilst having Cameron as the leader may not be pleasing to Liberal Democrat voters, in many ways they now have the lesser of two evils. It's the Conservatives in power yes, but tied to a party that will still involve Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, who won't let them run roughshod, and will have the ability to force them into fairly significant concessions.

Thirdly, from a neutral's perspective, this is politically exciting. We are truly entering a new era of politics following this deal, and we will only be able to evaluate the coalition, for better or worse, in the months and years ahead.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Election night BBC TV review

Election night is usually enjoyable television; as the night rolls on and the presenters become more tired, tetchy and unpredictable, it generally has the potential to create moments of unintentionally entertaining action.

The BBC coverage has been criticised in the days following the event, in some cases rightly, but some without justification.

Those who watched would largely agree that the idea of having a party boat on the Thames was very much misguided. Not only did the BBC manage to assemble a group of 'celebrities' and commentators who were very easy to detest (not to mention Andrew Neil) that by 2am most were hoping for a stray torpedo to latch onto the craft, but it added absolutely nothing of substance to the analysis.

Why would we want to hear from Joan Collins about David Cameron making the ideal next 'President' for our country, or a candidate for the most cringe-worthy moment of television for 2010 when Bruce Forsyth, drunk on a cocktail of his own ego and senility, quietened the guests behind him and attempted to engage them in his catch-phrase.

Back in a studio that featured the world's most unnecessarily large desk, David Dimbleby increasingly looked like an elderly man shrinking into the electronic scenery. In fairness however, he did a surprisingly good job in holding the presentation together for what seemed like an eternity, disappearing at 9am for what was presumably a short nap somewhere under that desk.

It boggles the mind that the BBC can somehow still manage to have communication systems with exceptional amounts of lag, so that when Dimbleby addressed presenters outside the realms of the main studio there was often a three or four second delay between question and answer.

This isn't helped when you have Dimbleby and the trigger-happy Jeremy Paxman, who frequently interrupted the silent delays to add additional questions, further complicating the resulting exchanges. Paxman finally exploded out of his patience zone when Lembit Opik lost his seat unexpectedly, leading to the first heated trading of words of the night.

Meanwhile Jeremy Vine's graphics were rendered largely redundant. The whole purpose of utilising graphics should surely be to simplify the results coming in and make the whole process more coherent. Instead, Vine had to explain every aspect of the confusing swirling mess unfolding behind him. It was as if Vine was stuck in some strange parallel universe comprised of terrifying white voids interspersed with flying coloured panels, and a House of Commons filled with computerised twitching MPs.

Back in the studio, Emily Maitlis and Peter Kellner perhaps did the best job of assessing the voting share and swing in each seat, providing some much needed brevity and clarity.

Whilst ITV were apparently quicker in both showing results and the swing in each seat, what I saw of Channel 4's alternative election night was disappointing. It felt as though the tone of the show was misjudged, not offering the expected Mitchell and Brooker led-satire as much as cheap jokes and average comedy shows. Mitchell in particular looked uncomfortable in the environment, short stand-up material broken up by a woman in the audience with a machine-gun laugh.

It would have been more productive to have had a full Channel 4 news produced show, with occasional breaks for Brooker to offer his more visceral take on the developing events.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

When the media indulges in overkill

It was a fascinating week in British politics, because the media started to realise that they no longer had complete control over the electorate.

The papers and television tried in vain to make the public angry about the Prime Minister calling Gillian Duffy a bigot, but the reality was that we could see through their tactics.

The media's problem is that that they are too transparently hypocritical. On the one hand they ask us to be cynical about our politician's actions, and the next minute, as on Wednesday, they ask us to hold them to impossibly high standards.

So whilst the 24-hour news channels and Jeremy Paxman were frothing at the mouth over Gordon Brown's actions, the opinion polls revealed that the majority of people were largely apathetic, or could at least see the humorous side.

In this regard, programmes such as The Thick of It have helped. When we see the ministers desperately struggling to positively spin events in the face of a savage media and impressionable public, it helps humanise their plight. On Wednesday we simply couldn't help but feel some degree of empathy for the Prime Minister.

The fact that Gillian Duffy did indeed sound bigoted when talking about non-descript immigrants 'flooding in' did little to help her cause. When Newsnight went onto the streets of Rochdale (15.53 into the programme) in the aftermath, they found plenty of other people willing to spout similarly prejudicial views.

It would be nice to think that this could mark the point in election campaigns where the media stops deifying the general public, and that we can stop holding ourselves self-righteously as if we are all-knowing on all matters political.

It would also be nice to think that the media in this country might also try and reflect the real opinions of people on the street and not try to set the agenda themselves, as if operating in a vacuum.

Murdoch press
Slightly out of date piece now, but interesting none-the-less. I link it at the risk of looking as if I am covertly campaigning for the Labour party.

Gary Younge
Good article. Go and read.

Thom Yorke
And to keep things unnecessarily varied, a typically powerful song from Thom Yorke.