Saturday, 29 September 2012

Steve Coogan on 'pleb management' and the Tory Party

This short segment of Question Time, concerning the Andrew Mitchell rant, is notable for two things.

First, Jacob Rees-Mogg (continuing his tireless one-man crusade to ensure the Tories have zero chance of shifting their toff image any time soon) and, second, a sterling response from Steve Coogan.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Samuel L Jackson's foul-mouthed Obama ad

Although not quite matching the star-studded line-up of his 2008 campaign, Obama can still count on some high-level Hollywood support.

Although not exclusively Democratic - Republican supporters include an assortment of 1980s action movie stars, and (surprisingly) both Vince Vaughn and Adam Sandler - many of Hollywood's leading lights tend to sit in the blue camp.

And come election-time, they get wheeled out en masse. From Scarlett Johansson at the Democratic National Convention, to this latest video from the Obama campaign...

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Boris' vanity bus project costs London dear

Other bloggers, who have been admirable in their dissection of the vanity project that is Boris Johnson's new 'bus for London', have already pointed out the spiralling cost of the scheme.

The aim of the new bus project, for those not familiar with the background, is to continue Johnson's grand plan of replacing perfectly good and practical buses (that carry lots of passengers) with smaller ones that look nice from the outside for his core constituency of passing Chelsea Tractor drivers (and pretend journalist Andrew Gilligan, of course).

Anyway, in further developments shocking to those that have lived underground in a bunker for the last 4 and a half years:

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Nick Clegg: what he didn't mention in his speech

Nick Clegg's speech to his conference today was a piece of classic triangulation - the Tories are too right-wing, Labour too profligate. The Liberal Democrats are the only sensible choice. 

Except, of course, the speech itself was a straight-forward defence of Osborne's budget - his austerity delusion - and a rejection of any hope that Clegg has learned from the Tories' failure to remember the lessons of history.

Another notable part of the speech was this: 
  • Mentions of austerity (and why There Is No Alternative): 5
  • Mentions of the NHS (in the year in which the Lib Dems backed the effective break-up of the service): 0

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

HMRC boss given award for services to corporate tax avoidance

In a stunt that would make the guys over at The Revolution Will Be Televised proud, a group calling themselves "The Intruders" managed to present the outgoing head of HMRC, Dave Hartnett, with an award for his contributions to 'corporate tax planning' at a shindig for the good and great of the corporate tax planning world (that's avoidance to you and me).

The slick video of the stunt ends with charming footage of a lawyer who is clearly cut from the same cloth as Andrew Mitchell.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Jon Stewart on Fox News' mountain of Bull****

Fox News, that standard-bearer of impartial news, normally does a good enough job at self-parody on its own. 

Nevertheless, Jon Stewart had a fair whack himself recently, and he pretty much hit the nail on the head with this.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Meanwhile over in America...

Republican lawmakers, instead of bothering themselves to engage too much in the minor issue of sorting out the mess that is the US health care system, with its unfair and costly problems, have been busying themselves rolling out voter ID laws... prompting this sharp riposte from Sarah Silverman:


Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Kelvin "Gotcha" MacKenzie gets the tabloid press treatment

Kelvin MacKenzie enjoyed a long career as editor of Rupert Murdoch's Sun newspaper. During his tenure he memorably created a paper that cheered the sinking of a ship that killed hundreds, made xenophobic remarks a cornerstone of the tabloid, threw mud at any left-wing or centre-left politician or public figure, alongside hounding celebrities and anyone at the end of their chosen witch-hunt of the week.

Oh, and then there is Hillsborough, and the paper's disgraceful reporting of it - for which Kelvin was belligerently refusing to apologise until very recently... as this charming performance from Question Time demonstrates.

Given all this, it's hard to feel sorry for his own doorstepping incident, courtesy of Channel 4 News:

Monday, 17 September 2012

Now he's standing for parliament, let's remind ourselves of James Delingpole's finest moment

James Delingpole, the Telegraph's resident climate change denier-in-chief, is standing for parliament in the Corby by-election for an issue he describes as like "cancer", "one of the worst crimes ever perpetrated". There has never been, he says, "a political issue that makes me quite so cross".

Is it a major war? Or a major economic issue afflicting the lives of millions?

No, of course not.

It's wind farms.

Anyway, this act of vandalism by our Guardian-reading, environmental-activist Prime Minister has clearly vexed James so much he is willing to try to get elected as an MP.

Unfortunately for James, standing for parliament might encourage less charitable people to remind other people about videos like the following, from BBC's Horizon's Science Under Attack (subsequent to which, he claimed he had been "intellectually raped" - clearly a man with no problem substituting terms of horrific suffering for something far more banal that happens to him - in all honesty he could have said he had been "made to look like a prat" instead).

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Boris as PM is Murdoch's best chance to restore his waning influence in the UK

Much has been written in recent days about the miraculous way in which the incumbent Mayor of London has absorbed credit for an Olympics that he had little or no hand in winning.

Polls show he is now slightly more popular than Jesus, and - in probably one of the most jaw-dropping findings of recent years - that he is seen as the most in touch with the lives of ordinary Britons than other leading politicians. 

Yep - a man posh enough to make George Osborne look like John Prescott is now apparently man of the people. [Having said that, I've no doubt that a random multi-millionaire celebrity - Rihanna, say - included in the same poll would be voted as most 'in touch with the lives of ordinary Britons'... it's the nature of 'anti-politics' these days].

Now, this could be classic silly-season stuff. The kind of limited bounce that fades fast when times get tougher - think Cleggmania

Nevertheless, Boris as PM is increasingly looking more plausible. And, for those that laugh out loud at the notion of Borisconi winning the keys to Downing St, remember that even a year before his first Mayoral victory in 2008, commentators were very sceptical about his chances of winning that election. 

So, who would stand to gain from a Boris premiership, other than Boris himself? Well, for a start, the same beneficiaries currently gaining from the policies of Cameron and Osborne - and the same losers too. For, as another commentator has pointed out on many occasions, Boris' policy differences with his supposed rival are minute. 

One man who thinks he will be a winner is someone whose papers are lining up behind Johnson, just as they did in 2008 and 2012. A man who, even during his the height of the phone hacking scandal could rely on the support of the Mayor when others were - rightly - critical. A man who wined and dined him  and his executives immediately prior to a Met Police investigation into phone hacking scandal and during the Olympics.   

For Rupert Murdoch, backing Boris has two main advantages. First, Johnson is more likely - if the polls remain so positive - to keep the Tory Party in power, with all the benefits that holds for News Corporation. Second, the Mayor's instincts - on banking, on media regulation and other key issues - are far closer to those of the Tory Right, and Murdoch himself.    

Thus, a man that many are convinced has lost power and influence (despite little changing in terms of the scale of his media empire beyond reputational damage), could have an ally in Number 10. And, given a few years to allow those with short memories to forget Milly Dowler et al, he could presumably launch another bid to take full control of BSkyB sometime after 2015.  

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Tory Party are starting to take the same attitude towards intelligent thought as the US Republicans: and it can only damage us all

Many recent commentators have noted the dramatic leap to the fringes of the political right of the modern US Republican Party - including some of their former staunchest allies.

On economic policy and on social policy, leading lights in the GOP are now so right-wing as to make George Bush Senior look like Dennis Skinner. This is coupled with their almost complete intransigence, due in a large part to infiltration of their party by Tea Party members - who display an almost religious commitment to their ideology - and the influence of major conservative media outlets like Fox News and ultra-wealthy backers such as the Koch brothers.

However, it is on one issue in which the Republicans look ever more out of tune with reality. That issue is their attitude to science, to academia and, in fact, to anything that resembles intellectualism.

The modern Republican Party is, quite simply, hostile to scientists - wilfully ignoring scientific studies, refusing to engage in sensible debate and, when it suits them, plainly ignoring empirical evidence. In stem cell research and (most obviously) climate change they display antipathy to almost anyone who holds views at odds with their ideological positions.

At the same time, the long-running suspicion held on many on the right towards academia, universities and teachers in state schools has now been solidified. The modern Republicans thus define themselves against intellectuals and the so-called 'metropolitan elite'. This was demonstrated most recently in Clint Eastwood's notorious speech to the Republican National Commitee, in which he complained that an attorney shouldn't be a US President as:

 "you know they're always taught to argue everything, and always weight everything -- weigh both sides".

... thus sounding uncannily like the spoof President Schwarzenegger from the Simpsons, who had the memorable line: "I was elected to lead, not read".

The Republican Party, even ten years ago, wasn't quite like this. It is the takeover of the GOP by zealots from the Tea Party and their allies, whose political views are more akin to religious ones, that has spurred on this shift. It has also been provoked by certain issues - such as climate change or the banking crisis - where scientific or economic facts pose awkward problems for their ideology.

Where this has happened - where evidence contradicts elements of the conservative political narrative - many of their leading figures have taken the ostrich defence. As David Frum has pointed out, "Conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics". Other authors have drawn similar conclusions - that where evidence, underpinned by research, or events that occur require a re-evaluation of aspects of neo-liberal ideology - many on the right simply deny the existence of those facts.

Across the Atlantic

Thankfully, here in the UK, things aren't (yet) so bad. However, there are a range of indications that things are drifting that way - although suspicion towards intellectual thought arguably has a long history among British conservatives. First, there are the attacks (led by arch-ideologue Michael Gove and his colleague Nick Gibb) on the historical role of universities in teacher training - driven in part by suspicion of the supposed liberal and progressive values in higher education establishments and their influence over new teachers.

Second, there are ever-more commentators on the right holding the kind of evidence-free views that pervade so much of US conservatism. Take the likes of Benedict Brogan, who demonstrates that the undercurrent of anti-science and anti-intellectualism is now taking root in the Tory Party, by describing a contradiction between accepting the scientific consensus around climate change and being 'true blue'.

Meanwhile, James Delingpole's excruciating interview with the BBC shows how the bury-your-head-in-the-sand approach to science can make you look quite frankly like a bit of a plonker when you are forced to engage in a sensible debate.

Both of these pieces illustrate how so much of modern right-wing political philosophy is based on wilfully ignoring reality - facts, evidence, argument - in favour of an almost infantile attitude towards debate, engagement and politics. And the financial crisis and all it demonstrated about inadequacies in free-market theories in practice have only exacerbated this attitude.

It is, as Charlie Brooker wittily referred to once, "the Unlightenment". Except, in reality, when these views are held by politicians in major parties on both sides of the Atlantic with a good change of gaining power, it isn't so funny.