What the fuck is going on with global warming!?

Melanie Phillips isn’t the only blogger championing the “media cools for global warming” meme, but I find her so engrossingly unpleasant I couldn’t help tuning in.

Regardless of how personally repugnant I find Mrs. Phillips, by the time I dropped into her twisted corner of the internet, I had seen enough similarly worded articles to convince me to take the argument semi-seriously. Of course, this didn’t for one second encourage me to believe the mad woman. It just meant I had to do some additional research…

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Style slashed as Tories cut more political waste; follows substance as Cameron wages war on rhetorical inefficiency

Here’s an interesting, if partial, view of the Tory party from an American politics student: The Tories a joke in Washington.

As successful as David Cameron’s been at making the right noises (or lack of the wrong ones) to win over much of the domestic media and readers thereof, he strikes me as a political lightweight on an international level.

Regardless, the Tory war to win over the hearts and mindlessness of the public continues with all the subtlety of Manatee gang rape. With the shepherd on his side, Cameron proceeded to woo the sheep, publishing his 10 key pledges in The Sun on Friday.

For what purports to be the 10 most important policy areas Cameron has under his well-tailored sleeve, they are depressingly uninspiring, weakly phrased and a bizarre mix of piddling specifics (see no. 5: introduce a free sports and entertainment Tickets for Troops programme) and vague platitudes (no 7: we will get to grips with national debt and public spending).

The Financial Times dissects (demolishes?) Cameron’s 10-point plan and come to similar conclusions. By my count: two of the ten are already taking place under Labour, three raise too many questions, another three are token gestures* and only two are considered new and worthwhile.

For the record, the two pledges the FT are most favourable towards are #5, a new Military Covenant with the troops, and #7, tackling the national debt. I’ll point out that Cameron does not mention a ‘new’ Military Covenant but simply pledges to honour the current one (who wouldn’t?) and that “getting to grips” with debt and spending is something any serious political party would be expected to do.

Nobody can deny the power of style over substance (of which popular love songs are the best testament; this morning I had the misfortune of listening to Maroon 5’s She Will be Loved, which, while clearly encouraging guys to prey on vulnerable teenage girls, will still be dedicated to Becky on every Late Night Love radio show…). Unfortunately, this list fails even to possess style. Annoyingly, I doubt that’ll matter.

The most frustrating point, in its sheer tenacity, is #3 which continues the Tories’ four-year mission to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. Despairingly jingoistic and fundamentally stupid, I simply can not see why anybody could possibly care about this issue. What is it about the present Human Rights Act that rankles? The right to life? Prohibition of torture? Right to respect for private and family life? Despite Cameron announcing his intent to overturn this fifty-year-old convention way back in 2006 (did people even Tweet back then!?), a search on both the Conservative party website and the wider infowebs did not produce even a draft alternative**. At best the elusive Tory Bill of Rights is nothing more than populist pageantry; at worst, it’s a plot to enshrine Conservative (big ‘C’) values into British law.

Most likely they haven’t given enough thought about it either way.

And that seems to be the best summation of Tory policy. These are worrying times for Labour supporters and Tory distrusters. The Gordon Brown narrative is so deeply embedded in the national thought-hole, I think spectators (i.e. voters) would feel cheated if this play didn’t have the obvious cinematic ending – what this means for the country is, as always, second to how good a story it makes.

*My favourite of these is #8, promising to “restore discipline to schools by giving heads the final say on exclusions”. As the FT point out: “Out of 8,130 children excluded last year, only in 60 cases was a head’s exclusion overturned on appeal”. That’s only 0.7% of cases!

**If anyone does find this slippery sucker, let me know.

Beyond mere lies and distortion: the British Press

There’s nothing lazier in journalism than reporting on ‘perception’. This is, of course, generally unqualified with no attempt to separate reality from belief. Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about Truth here. My issue is with the media’s predilection for reportage too inane to be muddied by controversy about Truthiness. Once upon a time it might’ve been worth arguing for factuality in the press. That’s proven to be a pipe dream. Editorial bias is unavoidable and spin, presumably, makes the articles more fun to write. My particular gripe is with the media’s shaky grasp of what’s happening in the real world, what’s happening in the fictional world of their imagination and how the two interact to produce articles so devoid of substance (yet so malign in effect) it makes me eager for the uncomplicated entertainment of sheer lies.

So, a lesson in reality…

Reality 101: A table

To you and me, the table I’m currently resting my feet on is real. It’s there, it’s solid. It’s a goddamn table regardless of who’s looking at it.

To a particular school of philosophers, the reality of the table (if it even exists), depends wholly on the perspective of the observer.

To the journalist, it’s a bit more complicated and borrows from both the above. The reality of the table in question is, in the first place, irrelevant. What’s important is if somebody believes that the table exists, or even recognises the possibility of belief in a table existing somewhere. When the perception of the table (or potential perception of the table) is reported on, its reality becomes self-evident and incontrovertible.

A case study of this in practice is the report showing a rising fear of crime (this was a while back). The finding was presented as a damning indictment of the police and government – despite the fact that actual crime was falling. So, does the perception of crime, in a way, have as much impact as the tangibility of crime? The answer, of course, is no. Not unless you’re a newspaper. Reporting of unreality leads to a false perception of reality which leads to stories like this perpetuating the fiction that there is a problem when there isn’t. All the while, the media maintain their external, purely observational and interpretive relationship with the real world by not mentioning that this proves how much the press, not the government, has failed by not letting their readers know what is actually happening in the country.

That would be the naturally inferred story behind the story, after all. “British public misled by media to fear non-existent crimes”. I can’t see that headline appearing in the pages of the Daily Mail somehow. With obvious self-congratulatory exceptions, the media can be notoriously (and wilfully) ignorant of it’s own effect on public thinking. After months of mercilessly tearing Gordon Brown to pieces at every opportunity, the papers innocently report that voters have lost faith in the Prime Minister. While failing to communicate Labour’s policies and principles to voters who might quite like to know what the residing party stand for, Fleet Street ingenuously tell us the government have a problem getting their message across.

Recent reporting of politics in this country has been about as useless as it’s ever been. The media is, for the vast majority of people, the only connection we have to what’s going on in and around Whitehall and an insight into the important decisions that have a considerable impact on our lives. When I read reports about more and more people becoming disinterested in politics, or look at so-called analysis about voters feeling disengaged enough to elect the far-right BNP, or when I see comments from people whose only reasons for wanting to vote Tory are vague claims that “Brown just isn’t up to the job” and “this country’s worse than ever”, I just want to stick my face through my monitor and bite at the jugular of the editors who are arrogantly pissing around with the future of this country.

All the above are symptoms of a media culture that considers itself above and beyond the petty concerns we call real life and that is blissfully ignorant of the negative consequences its fictitious narratives bring.