Wednesday, 28 April 2010

"Gordon's 'Bigot' Gaff" or "Labour Leader In Being Human Shocker"

Somewhere, deep in the bowls of Gordon Brown (try not to think too hard about that image) there is a little bit of him which says "I wish I'd said that to her face".

How many times have you put down the receiver after a cheery conversation with someone and then leaned forward and shouted "TWAT!" at the phone? I'm willing to bet it's in the dozens if not the hundreds. We all have to be polite to appalling people on occasion because we're obliged to by our position. Cast your mind back to the last family wedding you went to.

Gordon's little slip-up is the equivalent of running into the toilet at the reception and saying "If Angela mentions that mutant child of hers one more time I'm going to find 'Sadie-poo' and wring her bloody neck!" only to find Angela's husband is having a shit in one of the cubicles.

That's what we're looking at here.

Quite a few of us, I'd bet, would have liked to have seen him front-up to the the old biddy. When dotty, self opinionated old women come up to me in the street complaining about immigrants, I tend to tell them the truth, which is that immigrants will stop being a problem when they and their entire generation of change-hating, reactionary throwbacks do the decent thing and die.

I bet she's the kind of woman who constantly mutters "It wasn't like this in my day" and "You can't understand what they're singing any more". You know the ones; When they sleep they don't snore, they tut. People who live for the noise made by air rushing over half-closed false teeth. People who've given up saying "Happy Christmas" because they can get more whinge-mileage out of pretending it's been banned by the council while simultaneously complaining all the shops have been selling advent calendars since mothers day.

The comment most likely to have provoked Mr Brown's opinion is her assertion that her home town was becoming like "a third world country". This shows her to be not just a bigot with no sense of perspective but also spectacularly short sighted. Of course it's like a third world country. It's Rochdale. The third world offers a marginally more attractive prospect as a holiday destination, largely because at least Somalia has the benefit of sunshine and indoor plumbing.

If Gordon Brown had kicked a puppy or shouted "One-Nil" at a blind kid while pointing at his right eye I could understand it.

Instead, this mildly irritated grumble is being held up as a show of Brown's legendary temper and his contempt for people with differing views. If that's him losing his rag then frankly he's got the patience of a saint. Faced with some of the arse-hats he has to deal with on a daily basis I'm surprised he hasn't been reduced already to a screaming, tourettic dervish, thrashing about on the steps of Downing Street screaming obscenities at passing civil servants.

Doubtless the other parties will have a field day over this one, taking the opportunity to get away from all that boring policy and concentrate on good old fashioned character assassination. I'm willing to bet all of the people who've been calling for politicians to be "Honest with us" will be there at their side with burning torches. This is why politicians don't say what they think. If they did the party political broadcast would say the following: "What you know about global economics and population dynamics can be written in magic marker on the back of the average sized grain of rice, so why don't you shut up and go back to complaining about seeing a nipple on Britain's Got Talent?".

Thought for the day:

Kipling wrote:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.

It's already a verse which could have penned for Gordon but I'd like to offer the following lines by way of a topical update:

If you can keep it to yourself and get back to the Jag,
Without calling her a racist old witch to her face,
Yours is the Election and everything that goes with it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Silence for so long and when I do blog ... it's about Basildon.

Basildon council has erected a sign costing £90k which looks a bit like the one which looms over Hollywood.

"So what?" I hear you cry. As one commentator helpfully pointed out "It's not the angel of the north is it?". Well spotted Einstein.

What interests me about the story is the reaction, and what it says about our beleaguered democracy.

Bear with me, try not to yawn, I'll explain.

The story provoked the usual tooth-sucking tabloid furore with a healthy dose of predictable head shaking at a bonkers council out of touch with the public.

The Daily Mail, with it's usual rigour (or should that be rigor?) quoted the leader of the council. It was councillor type stuff, not really defending the spend or explaining where the cash came from. Now I'm a stickler for attribution when it comes to quotes so I went digging a bit. It is a quote but the dry bluster isn't a response to the Mail's precision questioning. It's from the council's press release. The Mail never spoke to him you see. It printed the quote as a response though and seems to have made it's mind up. You'd expect nothing less from The Mail. The slightly snide tone at the prospect of Basildon, of all places, doing a spot of re-branding. It's what makes The Mail the paper it is.

Have you ever been to a supermarket when you're a bit strapped for cash and bought the Bulgarian Merlot because it's £3.19? Ever felt slightly embarrassed because there's a guy standing a few feet away looking at the eye level shelf where the wine is all £10 a bottle and upwards. He is The Daily Mail. He'll look at you, judge you, and feel better about it.

If I can squeeze another analogy out of this already tortured metaphor then Basildon made the mistake of buying the Bulgarian Merlot and serving it to The Mail at a dinner party. (The Mail treated it like 'come dine with me' and had a conversation in the taxi on the way home about *those hideous curtains*. At some point he will have said 'gauche' without really knowing what it meant.)

The mail's not the only one sticking the boot in. Someone's started a Facebook page entitled "I LOL'd at Basildon's new sign". It is, as Facebook groups so often are, a crushing vortex of negativity and bad grammar.

One contributor posted;

"Local council obviously has too much spare cash floating around 90K is an extream (sic) when people are out of work and only get £64 a week !!! What a joke."

Now, I'll be generous and ignore the spelling mistake and multiple exclamations. There's another error which really worries me; She doesn't know the difference between central and local government. She hasn't a clue.

Local government don't do benefits. The leader of the council could paint his bum blue and jump off the public gallery of parliament and it wouldn't increase JSA payments by a penny. Neither Facebook nor the Daily Mail are going to tell her. They're not going to say, "don't worry love, it's not coming from your council tax". Neither are they going to tell her about the other £310 grand Basildon's got to improve street lighting and tidy up the main route in to the town.

She'll rumble on with her unfocused and terrifyingly arbitrary rage until next month (and here's the really worrying thing) when she gets to vote. Twice. Once for the council, and once for the government.

Her opinions will most likely be based on what she reads in the paper and what her friends say on Facebook, and neither of those are journalism.

Journalism is about truth (Stop sniggering at the back). It's about informing people about what's going on in the world. When I train journalists I tell them their job is to be the eyes and ears of people who are too busy living their lives. It's a sacred trust. It's what journalism does. I go to council meetings so you don't have to. That's the job of the press.

What we now have isn't a press though, it's a mangle, compressing everything down to a banal chant of "hell in a hand basket" where detail is irrelevant.

Life, the world, politics, economics are all freakishly complicated you see. For instance, the money that pays for the Basildon sign is central government tax money, so it comes from everyone with a job or who buys anything, theoretically more from people who earn and buy more, less from the rest. The Government gives the money to an agency to spend on stuff to achieve what the government wants, which is to see the south east get more business. Then a group makes up some targets for how to spend it and tells councils the cash is there. They then apply for it and a man in the agency, who's never met Gordon Brown or the leader of Basildon Council decides they can have it and gives them a cheque. No government minister ever said "Here's 9 billion quid ... see if you can tart up Basildon's welcome sign." but you'll never read that in the paper. Too complicated you see. Not punchy enough. Not what the punters want to read. You're also unlikely to read "Government earmarks 9 billion for south east regeneration". Not enough to lampoon there.

Here are two more nuggets of information our Facebook correspondent will never get to hear;

The money for the sign is coming from the Thames Gateway Fund, a pot of 9 billion pounds to boost business in the south east. That makes the £90k 0.000001 percent of the fund. The rest is going to build affordable housing and encourage investment to create new jobs. Not a penny came from the council tax in Basildon.

The Basildon cash is being paid to a local firm to make the sign. I don't know whether it's created any jobs because no-one bothered to speak to the company in any of the reports I read but I suspect the order was welcome.

So there you have it. My rant. About Basildon. You don't care about Basildon, I don't care about Basildon, neither of us care about the woman on Facebook. Neither does the Daily Mail. She's stupid, we're clever, she doesn't matter, it's all meaningless right?

Right. Go to bed, go to work, do what you do. It doesn't matter.

One more thing before I go though. In every general election since 1972 the party that won in Basildon was in Government the next day.