Tag Archives: BBC

ten minutes hate

Seems perfectly made for a job at the Treasury, doesn't she?

ten minutes hate, the absolutely amazingly well-written and thought provoking website you are currently reading, famously takes its name in part from Nineteen Eighty Four.  However, there is another use of the term ‘ten minutes hate’ and that is to describe the final run-up to any hard-fought election.  It is meant to be the time when the gloves come off, the punches aren’t pulled before, inevitably, one of the challengers smacks the canvas.  [That’s enough terrible boxing metaphors, thanks, Smith – Ed]

However it seems that the UK election, which everyone surely knows is now taking place this May, is going to build up not so much to a ten minute hate as to a ten week stupidity.  Increasingly vacuous, lacking in concrete proposals and with politicians of all stripes outdoing each other to deny courses of action which we all know they won’t be able to avoid taking once elected, whether because circumstances or natural inclinations will force their hands.

And, just when you thought the political discourse in this country would struggle to get any more vacuous, up popped noted number-wrangler Carol Vorderman, to display about as much sense as she did in those adverts encouraging you to take out loans against your home.  In shrill tones that brought Sarah Palin to the memory of more than one viewer commenting on Twitter, she played to the gallery, dismissed other panelists who disagreed with her and – perhaps most surprisingly given her television experience – seemed to be reading from prepared notes.

So, is she a British version of Palin’s ‘soccermom’?  Judge for yourself, here.

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The worst cut is the deepest

Septic Isle has a really good post over here, mentioning that:

cynics are suggesting that it’s chosen 6 Music and Asian Network specifically because it knows that they have such a dedicated following that the uproar at their disappearance will ensure the BBC Trust intervenes

which has helped me immensely in saving time I would otherwise have spent wondering what it was that smelt so fishy to me about the BBC’s decision.  It simply can’t be a coincidence, can it?  That the BBC, looking at rapidly sinking budgets and wondering what to jettison, decided to plump for two stations that have no direct equivalent in commercial radio, but that do possess passionate and vocal listeners, happy to use all the social media at their well-connected fingertips to reverse the decision.  Were they concerned that if they picked BBC Three (annual cost: £115m) there wouldn’t be enough Snog, Marry, Avoid fans to mount a proper campaign?

I know that I will be accused of displaying far too much cynicism but, having seen public sector managers in action previously in my career, I know the way the game is played.  Often it will be the well-loved but non-statutory services which are the first to go, rather than the inefficient or easy savings, as the mandarins hope that enough of a stink is caused to send the wannabe-cutters running for the hills, leaving budgets intact.

With our economy so much in the hole, we can’t afford to duck these issues anymore.  We need to know our politicians and public servants are capable of keeping the things we need and trimming the wasteful or unneccessary.  What should be most concerning about the BBC’s planned cuts is not the loss of 6 Music and the Asian Network, since if there really is this much demand for their service then a commercial provider would be mad not to set up something similar if they go, but what it portends for public services in a cuts-laden future.

If I am right, we can expect to see many more A & E closures while the tackling of taxi budgets is allowed to drift.
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Lark Pies to Cranchesterford

It has almost become a new blood sport to bait the BBC for its perceived failings. Left and right, Christian and atheist, lovers of Terry Wogan and those of Chris Evans, it seems hardly anyone is content with the organisation we were once happy to call ‘Auntie’.

And ten minutes hate is no different. Except that, being particularly sensitive to historical revisionism, I count expunging the records of some of this country’s most radical writers to be amongst the Beeb’s greatest misdeeds. Half-comatose on the sofa this Yuletide, unable to muster even the energy required to battle with an Aged Relative for the remote control, it was my misfortune to watch some truly insipid programming. My disappointment was made much the greater because of a betrayal of works which should leap as boldly from the screen as they did from the page before they had the choice meats of their stories reduced to a spam sandwich of an adaptation.

"Miss Matty, I'd like time off on Sundays and the right to vote, ta very much." "The impudence! I'll have you shot!"

At first glance, Cranford and Lark Rise to Candleford would not, I am sure, strike you as being hot-beds of radical thought. In fact, I am certain that you saw them in the schedules and thought ‘oh no, another bloody historical drama of no significance to me in my 21st century battle to keep the wolf from the door, the central heating bills paid and the snow from blocking the driveway’. But you would be wrong, dear reader, you would be very wrong.

The writer of Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell, was no romance writer. She counted amongst her friends some of the most important thinkers of her day and was herself no slouch in the brains department. Her books were not set in some sleepy, picturesque hamlet but in the North West of England, at that time the crucible of the Industrial Revolution, home to ‘dark, satanic mills’ and the people who manned the machinery within them. She was no passive observer of the rich-poor divide but passionate in her support for education and other means to bridge that gap and outspoken in her fears for the future if it was not reduced.

John Barton, trade unionist and Chartist father of Mary, is a typical Gaskell character; mourning his wife and son he first forbids his daughter from working in a factory and is eventually reduced to extreme action by the poverty and inequality surrounding him. Barbara Cartland territory, it ain’t. Instead her tales are firmly rooted in the city where troops once fired on peaceful protesters, where a local girl founded the first Suffragette society and where conditions prompted two Germans to write books that would change the course of history.

Because, before it gave us evil football franchises and the near-nightly hysteria of Corrie:

Manchester changed the world’s politics: from vegetarianism to feminism to trade unionism to communism, every upstart notion that ever got ideas above its station… was fostered brawling in Manchester’s streets, mills, pubs, churches and debating halls

That eulogy from ‘Pies and Prejudice’, Stuart Maconie’s excellent tribute to all things Northern.

Admittedly, Cranford is set a little distance away from the belch and smoke of the factories and mills, but not too far: it is based on Knutsford in Cheshire, where Gaskell grew up. Cranford is an adept skewering of the attitudes of those who are not as close to the top of society as they would like to be and just a few slips or financial missteps away from the bottom. The ladies of Cranford would sooner die than admit to poverty and work hard at maintaining their values of ‘elegant economy’. However, to think of them as the idle rich would be a mistake. The mills of ‘Drumble’, the Manchester stand-in, loom on the horizon ‘distant but only twenty miles on a railroad’.

By contrast, although Flora Thompson, writer of Lark Rise to Candleford, did set her stories in a sleepy, picturesque hamlet, she was no writer of cosy, bucolic romances either. Writing from a perspective of 40 years after the events she was recording allowed her tales to demonstrate the seismic changes to a rural life previously anchored by the same seasonal events throughout generations. Mechanisation, better communication and urban expansion were to alter the countryside of Thompson’s childhood beyond the imagining of most of its inhabitants.

These changes were faithfully recorded and the stories shaped by Thompson’s background because, unlike many of the rural chroniclers, she was a member of the working class. Her father was a labourer in possession of thwarted dreams of becoming a sculptor and an interest in radical politics which occasionally made him unpopular with the neighbours. Some of her first stories and poems were printed in the socialist Daily Citizen. Instead of going off into service like so many of her peers, she began working for the local postmistress, a career woman with some daring ideas by the standards of the time, who would lend the young Flora ‘On the Origin of Species’ by that other higher thinker, Darwin.

For the characters of these two unconventional writers to be reduced to bonnets, forelock-tugging and ‘yes ma’am’-ing for a sleepy, Sunday audience is a travesty. The firebrands on the page are now simple creatures, homespun and happy with their allotted status in life. Perhaps the powers-that-be are hoping that a little of it will rub off on any potential modern day troublemakers? The nineteenth century saw a deluge of ideas in politics, science and literature alongside improvements in education, health and living standards. Ordinary people fought for, and gained, lasting social reforms that we enjoy the benefit of today, perhaps less valued as we don’t recall the manner of their winning. It is a shame and we are left all the poorer for this two dimensional view of life in that vibrant and radical time.

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Fighting fire with fire

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that police acted in self-defence in Genoa but the family of killed protestor Carlo Giuliani have been awarded damages because of the Italian state’s failure to hold a proper inquiry into the planning and management of the police operation at the summit, the BBC reports today.

It is a curious decision, to say the least.  Most of the law of self defence hinges on what can be considered reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances. The BBC repeats the police line that Mr Giuliani was attempting to throw a fire extinguisher at the vehicle when he was shot in the face by armed police.  If you were to shoot a burglar in the face as he attempted to throw something at you, you might find the law less understanding than it was in this case.  Activists present in Genoa published their own record of the incident which they say casts doubt on this interpretation of events (warning: sensitive viewers may not wish to view all of the photographs on this site).  Depending on your perspective, you might argue that he was holding the extinguisher to cover his face rather than to throw it.  Perhaps the police officer had a foam allergy.

0720shot03

What is clear is that on both sides, the atmosphere was highly charged in Genoa.  Writer Paul Kingsnorth, interviewed about the demonstrations said,

I’ve never before seen the level of police violence I saw in Genoa, and I’ve seen quite a lot

Police agents infiltrated the ranks of demonstrators, other ‘so-called activists’ were seen trashing, burning and looting property.  He also noted,

there was an enormous level of violence on both sides

and what this lead to was an incredibly disproportionate response:

Genoa became a one day police state. The state took draconian actions to protect itself. It suspended the Schengen agreement (on open borders in Europe). It built massive fences around the central ‘red zone’. It had armed anti-terrorist groups everywhere.

Consider what this actually meant. Here are the leaders of the world, the eight supposed leading democracies having to resort to military measures to protect themselves against half a million of their own people. You can see that something is wrong here, and it’s not enough to talk about violent activists. It is clear that there is a great gap between the leaders and the led, and that’s something that radicalised a lot of people – including me.

This same attitude was in evidence at the London G20 protests earlier this year, in which another man was killed.  In the days before, both sides were feeling the tension, with reports circulating of explosives being seized and the police responding with a breezy ‘we’re up for it!’  It was akin to watching gangs of football hooligans, also now back in the news again.  No longer content to allow a fracas to occur naturally, today they prefer to arrange these things on the internet or by text message: ‘CU on Threadneedle ST, there’s gonna b bloodshed.’  And lo and behold, there was.

So there should be little surprise that half of the people interviewed by YouGov for Christian Aid believe that the police are too heavy handed, or that just under a fifth of respondents have been put off protesting by police tactics.  No one should be surprised, but there should be a sense of disquiet.  Lawful protest about issues that matter to us is a cornerstone of the democracy we are trying to export around the world but one that is increasingly being stifled at home.

Climate change, illegal wars, banker bonuses, global poverty and other significant issues tend to be obscured at the ballot box but brought into sharp relief when a huge groups of people get together to shout about it.  Yet from Wat Tyler to Peterloo to more recent times, the powers that be have reacted to us flexing our democratic muscles with violence.

It is perhaps understandable that the forces of law and order reserve their harshest ire for protests by anarchists, missing the original translation from the Greek and focussing on the perceived chaos and disorder instead.  Or perhaps understandable: as one correct translation is ‘without government’, government forces are unlikely to stand by while you try to will them out of existence.

The roots of the word ‘anarchy’ are an archos, no leaders, which is not really about the kind of chaos that most people imagine when anarchy is mentioned.  I think anarchy is about taking personal responsibility for yourself.  I believe that fascism is about abandoning your personal responsibility to the group or to society.

You say, ‘In unity there is strength,’ which inevitably will become, ‘in uniformity there is strength.’  It’s better if all those sticks are the same size and length, because then they’ll make a tidier bundle, which consequently leads to the kind of fascism we had in the ‘30s and ‘40s.

-Alan Moore (Watchmen, V For Vendetta, From Hell)

So the police today are nervous because another protest is to take place and they have not been advised of the location.  The protestors are nervous because they are not up for intimidation tactics like having their details taken illegally and kettling.  This writer is hoping that both sides can calm the frayed nerves and take responsibility for their actions so that no other names are added to that litany that includes Carlo Giuliani and Ian Tomlinson.


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