Failure of leadership at the BBC

I love the BBC. It’s a vital institution: not just a beloved entertainer, but one of our stalwart defences against the hegemony of the media barons. Being publicly funded, it holds a unique moral high ground, from where it should be able to resist the corrupting influence of money and hold to account those who haven’t – such as the once august Telegraph, which is apparently rotten to the core. So it was heart-breaking to read Nick Cohen’s report on how the organisation has forced out the whistleblowers who broke the Jimmy Saville story, and promoted the managers who tried to cover it up.

The BBC’s enemies – that is, every private media company – will no doubt use this as ammunition in their ongoing campaign to destroy the world’s greatest public broadcaster. Yet the problem here is not one of public funding or structure, but of private sector ethos. The BBC has become infected with the same malaise as the rest of the economy: a parasitic class of executives with soaring, apparently uncapped remuneration, but no evidence of any real leadership worth paying for.

The BBC needs less private sector thinking, not more. The actions of its whitewashing managers give the lie to the idea that you have to pay the “market rate” of hundreds of thousands of pounds to get “great leadership”. All you get is a clique of overpaid climbers whose main effort is to protect their own positions and obscene salaries.

You could pull any random Army officers out of Staff College and put them in charge of the BBC – or the Telegraph, HSBC, or any other organisation – and you’d get better, more principled leadership than from any of these self-serving shits, for little more than £50,000 per annum.

Black and white thinking is wrong, whichever way round you do it

The revelation that the Bush-era US was a rogue state responsible for systematic torture and other human rights abuses is as outrageous as it is unsurprising. For the world-weary and cynical like myself, it’s depressingly predictable that the only person currently in prison in connection with the CIA’s torture programme is John Kiriakou, the whistleblower who uncovered it. The US and its allies, including the UK, have a long history of committing monstrous acts against their own citizens and those of other states worldwide, and there is no indication that this is likely to change any time soon.

But while all reasonable and decent people should be appalled at the actions of Western governments, there are some who go too far, losing all perspective and pursuing their hatred of the West to illogical extremes. Here’s a typically nutty example I encountered recently:

Anyone who believes the ISIS beheadings are real are deluded beyond belief. Watch the videos with a critical eye and then watch a real beheading. The west creates Muslims as enemy’s to push their agenda. Pure and simple. It is so they can attack poor brown people and take their natural resources like oil etc. Google the difference between say Afghanistan before American intervention and after. America and Britain are the real terrorists whose politicians earn more from war than peace.
It’s not the people who need to give more but politicians and bankers who need to fuck off.

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Why Labour is in crisis: the disastrous 1997 election

The worst thing to happen to the Labour party in the last 30 years was its landslide victory at the 1997 general election.

Ed Miliband: a vacuum of leadership (Wikimedia Commons)

Labour is currently undergoing an ideological crisis, similar to the one the Conservative party went through between its overwhelming defeat in 1997, and the election of David Cameron as leader at the end of 2005. It has no idea what it stands for or how to persuade people to vote for it. It is haemorrhaging its core working class voters to apathy, UKIP or worse. Its leader, Ed Miliband, is a catastrophe: vilified as a union puppet by right-wing commentators, but simultaneously, completely incapable of speaking for working people or earning their trust and confidence. The fact that Labour sympathisers now wistfully imagine how much better things would have been if David Miliband had won the leadership – even though the criticisms of Ed (out-of-touch, middle-class, London, Oxbridge, career politician / policy wonk with unfortunate ties to the Blair/Brown years) apply equally well to David – shows how poor and uninspiring the potential Labour leadership pool is.

The existential plight Labour now finds itself in is a direct result of its long period of electoral failure in the ’80s, followed by its resurgence under Tony Blair in the ’90s. Continue reading

Anita Sarkeesian and video game misogyny

Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist writer and critic, and creator of the video blog Feminist Frequency. Her videos have included the series Tropes vs. Women, and since 2012, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. In response to this latter series in particular, she has been the target of a campaign of misogynist abuse and harassment, including death threats, hacking attempts, release of personal information, and the disruption of speaking events by bomb threats.

I decided to watch some of the videos to see what all the fuss was about. I started with Damsel in Distress from the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series (parts 1, 2 and 3 here). In this episode, Sarkeesian describes the history of the “damsel in distress” trope in video games, from Donkey Kong to the present day, examines the more violent and disturbing variations of it which have become common in recent years, and considers examples of games which lampshade or subvert the trope.

Anita Sarkeesian presents “Ms Male Character” in the series Tropes vs Women in Video Games

Sarkeesian’s arguments are intelligent, solid and well-researched, her presentation is slick and engaging, and she comes across as sincere and passionate (though in a restrained and cogent way). The videos are both entertaining and though-provoking. In short, they’re excellent. If you’re the sort of person who can get lost in TV Tropes for hours (unsurprising revelation: I am), you’ll thoroughly enjoy them.

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Cameron and the EU bill: very clever or very stupid?

So the EU has presented the UK with an additional bill of £1.7 billion, and David Cameron is kicking off and saying we’re not going to pay.

My first reaction was ultra-cynical. The Conservatives are faced with the threat of another by-election against UKIP in a couple of weeks. Perhaps the whole thing had been orchestrated in cahoots with the EU as an elaborate charade. Here’s how it works in Cameron’s favour: the EU pretends to be owed £1.7bn, Cameron makes a big stand and refuses to pay, the EU backs down from its fictitious demand and Cameron struts around like he’s proved he can defeat them. Wobbly Eurosceptic voters decide he’s the real anti-EU statesman and stick with the Tories instead of haemorrhaging to UKIP.

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Scottish independence: a possible silver lining

There’s been some silly speculation recently about how the flag of the United Kingdom would change in the case of a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum on Thursday. One suggestion printed in a number of newspapers was this monstrosity:

The yellow and black parts are taken from the flag of Saint David, patron saint of Wales (which isn’t currently represented on the Union flag, being a subordinate principality of England, not a constituent nation of the Union).

Now, obviously this is never going to happen. It would require a) Scotland to vote Yes, b) the remainder of the United Kingdom to choose to change its flag, which isn’t necessary, and c) for us to choose this ugly variation. Of those conditionals, the first is the only one which seems within the bounds of plausibility.

But if they were all to come true, and we ended up with this hideous flag, at least there’d be one silver lining…

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Rachel Reeves and the end of policy

In the 1960s, Harvard sociologist Daniel Bell declared the ‘end of ideology’. The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had been a time of big, competing ideas about how to organise human society, but these were exhausted; centrist free-market democracy had won.

The concept took a few decades to come to fruition. The world was still divided by the Cold War, a real and dangerous instantiation of competing ideologies. Even within UK politics, ideology was still alive in the 1980s, when Thatcherite free-market economics faced off against a diverse but identifiable left wing, comprising a mixture of militant Trotskyists, restless unions and mainstream social democrats.

In the 1990s, Bell’s prediction was proven correct by global events, with the USSR swept away and replaced by free market democracy. It was further vindicated within British politics later in the decade, with Tony Blair’s reform of the Labour party. By dropping Clause IV from the party’s constitution, its commitment to an ideology of nationalisation was removed, and the party was rebranded as ‘New Labour’, a centrist free-market party occupying roughly the same political territory as moderate Conservatives.

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The revolution is coming

There was a bit of a buzz about six months ago around Russell Brand and his political views. A lot of the attention centred around his interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, although a clearer statement of his ideas was to be found in his article for the New Statesman.

At the time, I found the rants well-written, well-expressed, interesting and entertaining. I was glad that someone was making these arguments in mainstream media: there is such an ideological vacuum in current politics that having a genuinely passionate, radical speaker, in a primetime slot, was quite refreshing, even if it was Russell Brand.

It’s difficult to disagree with his criticism of the current, broken system, of the apathetic failure of politicians to make real changes, of their protection of corporate interests over the rights and welfare of most people. But I was more sceptical about his closing statements:

“There’s going to be a revolution. It’s totally going to happen. I ain’t got a flicker of doubt.”

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Indian general election 2014

The 2014 Indian general election is currently under way. With over 800 million people eligible to vote, it’s a long and complicated process: polls are being held on different dates across the 543 parliamentary constituencies, over the course of five weeks. The first were held a week ago, on 7 April, while the last won’t be until 12 May, with the final result due to be announced on 16 May.

With that ongoing, I thought I’d record my observations from travelling around the country at the end of last year.

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How to predict a policy failure

As soon as the Coalition Government started cutting the flood defence budget in 2010, it was as predictable as the water cycle what would happen next: within no more than a few years and probably within the lifetime of the government which made the cuts, there would be heavy rainfall, resulting in massive floods, and a backtrack on the cuts – emergency spending if not a change to the planned budget – either way, a tacit admission of failure.

This sort of thing seems crashingly inevitable to me. There’s an obvious trajectory, of reduced budgets, reduced regulation or reduced oversight, followed by conspicuous calamity, followed by attempts to mop up the mess which generally involve reimplementing whatever system had originally been in place to prevent the calamity.

I’m not here to congratulate myself on uselessly predicting the flooding crisis (also, because I never went on record predicting it, so there’s no proof I ever did). I want to teach you how to predict similar balls-ups in the future, because the depressing thing is, it’s not that difficult.

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