Category Archives: Bit of politics

‘Newspapers are doomed’ forecast of the day

From a media expert:

The future of national newspapers is in doubt [...]: the purveying of ‘news’ (which is only one of a newspaper’s functions) is in several respects more interesting, more immediate and more dramatic on-screen. The greater part of all newspapers is given over to advertising [...] which keeps them alive, and to features of comment, information and entertainment which might just as well be found in magazines.

If national newspapers succumb [...] it may be a serious, even a tragic loss; but it is probable that local newspapers will continue to lead a healthy, useful and profitable existence for many years to come [...]

The astute reader will have guessed the prediction is from Some Time Ago.

It’s actually from the excellent, late Ruari McLean‘s Thames & Hudson Manual of Typography, published in 1980.

On the local press, he basically wins the prediction – it thrived, more profitably than the national press, right up to the point where localised Internet small ads nicked its main revenue stream. Expecting a 63-year-old print media expert writing in 1980 to predict Craigslist, Match.com, Monster and eBay would be a bit unreasonable.

But it’s interesting that someone so close to the trade (he was lead designer around this time for both the Observer and the Economist) called the outlook for national dailies so wrongly. While 2008 and 2009 weren’t great years for the print press, there’ll be a large selection of printed national papers on offer for many years to come, and the intervening 28 years were all ones that featured a thriving, albeit flawed, national daily print culture.

The rest of the book is also interesting. Obviously, in its own right, because of its excellent examples and advice on how to lay out words (of whatever sort), and descriptions of current and historical printing methods.

But also, because it was published by a near-retirement designer right in the middle of the time when hot metal typesetting was being replaced with computer-based phototypesetting, and before the advent of desktop publishing, it’s a strange mixture of things which are still absolutely relevant and things which are absolutely obsolete (my favourite example of the latter is the advice for every jobbing designer to buy a telex machine to allow instant written communication with clients).

This may be partly why Mr McLean got the national newspaper story so wrong.

In 1980, the newspaper industry was still based on hot metal typesetting, despite it being the most obvious example of a business that would’ve benefited from instant computer-based phototypesetting and offset litho printing, because of the utterly malign influence of the print unions [*]. Magazines, meanwhile, were printed in sensible places using modern technology.

It was only Rupert Murdoch’s willingness to fight a sustained battle to avoid printing his papers using Victorian technology that broke the influence of the print unions. This allowed the other papers to move over to computer-based offset litho, and hence the colour-based, photo-based, rapid-layout format we see them in today.

Without a proprietor who was pretty much an evil bastard willing to lose far more money than he had to gain to prove a point, the UK national newspaper industry would have ended up stuck on black and white Linotype letterpress at an insane cost right up until it died. At which point, Mr McLean’s thesis would’ve been proven.

Update: the Guardian’s Peter Robins comments. Well worth a read.

[*] I suspect this is one of the reasons the press in the UK trends right-wing, despite being made up largely of natural liberal-y media folk. At the time today’s editors were junior reporters, the print unions lived up to absolutely every change-and-efficiency-hating, restrictive-practices-loving, company-bankrupting, general-utter-bastard stereotype of 1970s and early 1980s trade unionism.

Tories stitch up Lib Dems on civil liberties

Sunny at LC reckons he has a copy of the Libservative agreement.

Libertarians, of both left-and right- varieties, have been getting super-excited on Twitter about section 10, which is dedicated to reversing ZaNuLieBore’s Evil Police State, freeing the dissidents from the gulags, etc:

A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill.
The scrapping of ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database.
Outlawing the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.
The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.
Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.
The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.
The restoration of rights to non-violent protest.
The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech.
Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.
Further regulation of CCTV.
Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.
A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

What does this mean in real life?

Well, a bit of cash saved. The ID database was never going anywhere (come on, NPFIT is much simpler and failed), and its cancellation is solely bad news for IT consultancies and good news for the Treasury/taxpayer. Something which doesn’t and can’t exist doesn’t threaten civil liberties.

But that’s the only real pledge to do anything substantive (apart from allowing parental opt-out when schools try and use fingerprint authentication for IT access purposes, which is frankly bizarre – if a kid’s laptop is fingerprint-activated rather than password activated, then so bloody what?) – and the only reason the Tories moved towards outright opposition to the ID database in the election run-up is because they’d worked out that it would have been an epic failure. It wouldn’t have happened under Labour either (their manifesto carefully left the possibility of delaying or cancelling the database intact), although more money would likely have been wasted first.

The others are all weasel words that commit to nothing. No data stored “without good reason” means “unless we say so” – the previous government would say “to stop terrorists, pirates and paedophiles” is a good reason for all the retention they mandated. Any agreement that contains such a vague get-out clause is an agreement that means nothing at all.

Similarly, “extension of the scope of the FoIA” is great. But without any concrete details of how it’ll be extended, and with the Tories (who’ve historically opposed FoI far more even than Labour) running the show, it’s hardly likely to mean much.

You can run through the same process for all the others. They can all be implemented in a way that changes precisely nothing from how things are done now, and that’s precisely how they will be implemented.

But the most disturbing thing in section 10 is actually something that it doesn’t say.

The greatest victory for civil liberties over the last 25 years or so – the Human Rights Act – isn’t even mentioned, whereas a Great Repeal Bill is mentioned. Given historic Tory opposition to the HRA, does this make anyone else bloody nervous….?

Well, I called that one wrong

I’ve got my reaction up on LC. In short, Nick Clegg has destroyed the Liberal Democrat party because he wants to be a minister.

The country benefits in the short term, very very slightly – the Libservative government will be slightly less socially nasty than a Tory plus Ulsterite minority government – but it’s still basically going to implement Tory policies.

In exchange for which, the Lib Dems have, as far as I can see, been wiped out – they will lose so much left-wing support next time round that they’ll be reduced back to mid-20th-century levels of vote share, and they aren’t even likely to get the changes in the electoral system that would make that worthwhile (unless the Tories have pledged to support a “Yes” vote in the Alternative Vote referendum, in which case I’m pleasantly shocked and retract some of my scorn).

So I guess it’s time for UK lefties to rejoin Labour, and try and ensure the candidates who’ll win the seats next time where left-wing voters previously supported the Liberal Democrats are left-liberals rather than Blairites…

Charlotte Gore is absolutely wrong

Nominal Liberal Democrat Charlotte Gore, who oddly seems to spend more time hating the Labour Party than actually supporting the Liberal Democrats, has a very odd post-election post.

She thinks that if the LDs were to prop up a Labour administration in exchange for the introduction of proportional representation (which is required – if you don’t think the difference between votes and seats here is grossly, rankly unfair, you’re either blindly partisan or insane), then the resulting knock in support for propping up the reviled Labour government would kill the LDs forever.

To paraphrase Blackadder, there’s only one problem with this analysis: it’s bollocks. Let’s assume that Labour are so reviled that anyone who supports them will be tainted with hate. Which is rubbish – whilst some right-wing people, some of whom pretend to be liberals, hate Labour, most people don’t) – but let’s assume it anyway.

In that context, backing Labour in exchange for a definitive deal on PR might cost the LDs half their votes next time round. But the LDs only won eight percent of the seats this time round, on 22i%-ish of the vote. Winning 11% of the votes and seats next time would be an improvement – and any prospective Gordo-taint wouldn’t last forever.

Is there anything wrong with my analysis above? Seriously?

Update for Brits who’re just waking up

Overall, we know about as much about what’s going on as when as we did when I woke up eight hours ago.

Things we do know: the Lib Dems got screwed, probably by the sustained 2-week barrage of media lies about them.

Troll-like ex-home secretary Charles Clarke lost his seat, which is delightful.

Pro-science campaigner and all-round good egg Evan Harris lost his seat, which is a terrible shame (bad work, Oxford people).

And although the Tories have cleaned up in the Home Counties and the Midlands, Labour have mostly held London.

The Tories are trying to subvert the constitutional convention that the sitting PM has the first right to try and form a parliament. This makes them scumbags, and the complete and utter opposite of anything that might be described as ‘conservative’.

Finally, the appalling Hazel Blears kept her seat in Salford (where they weigh the Labour vote) albeit with a 10% swing to the Lib Dems, so I don’t have to drink a bottle of Scotch and streak through Sydney. Which is probably just as well.

(more, less coherent analysis at Johnb78).

Update: excellently, we have our first Green MP, Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavillion. Revoltingly, Zac Goldsmith has won Richmond Park. If your feelings towards Zac Goldsmith include anything other than disgust and hatred, there is something wrong with you.

Semi-informed Northern Ireland poli-blogging

It’s lovely to see Peter Robinson, the head of Northern Ireland’s DUP (the Paisley-ite, hardline Unionist party), losing his Belfast East seat to non-sectarian Alliance candidate Naomi Long. Anything which makes NI less sectarian-driven has to be a good thing…

The thing which makes it even funnier, by which I mean “if I was properly awake I’d literally be rolling on the floor with laughter”, is that insane ultra-Unionist blogger David Vance (of A Tangled Web and Biased BBC ‘fame’) won 1856 votes, presumably from people who felt that Mr Robinson didn’t hate the Micks enough. Ms Long’s majority over Mr Robinson was only 1533.

In other words, by attracting crazy sectarian bigots with his crazy sectarian bigotry, David Vance has actually made Northern Ireland a less crazy, sectarian and bigoted place. Hahahahaha!

Apart from more pies and shorter hours

I’ve been challenged to state what policy goals I’d actually favour:

* Unlimited migration of people with A-level equivalent qualifications, or any non-academic skills in demand (defined as “more than no job adverts specify this, and it can be quantified”) in the country of relevance.
* Equal tax on all “getting more assets”, whether house, work, parental snuffing it, or whatever, with an exemption for “appreciation in price of a house you haven’t yet sold”. With a gbp10,000 per year minimum limit before you pay any at all.
* Annual 10% cut in NHS budget, applying NICE’s calculations to treatment rather than just drugs. “You’re going to die in six months no matter what we do? Well, here’s a kilo of prescription heroin, enjoy it whenever you prefer, but don’t bother us at the hospital again.”
* Legalisation and taxation of all drugs.
* Massive relaxation of “IP” law, based on the fact that the entire concept of intellectual property is insane made-up nonsense. All copyrights and patents will last for 20 years maximum, to be granted only if the applicant can demonstrate to the government’s satisfaction that this special favour will do good for society at large.

Any more for any more?

A working class hero is nothing to pretend to be

Paul McCartney was always my favourite Beatle. Not only because of his superior songs, although Jet is better than any of John Lennon’s solo output. But also because he never followed the absurd craze amongst arty types of “pretending not to be middle-class” (this is a middle-class home, whatever Mr Lennon’s pretensions).

Today, I’ve been mostly riled by Internet-ists playing the “prolier than thou” game. A Twitterist entitled @MediaActivist believes that capitalism is evil and should be abolished, not regulated. He also believes that he doesn’t have enough to eat. The latter isn’t just lies, it’s offensive, mad, patronising lies. Thanks to the combination of capitalism and socialism that has prevailed in the UK over the last 100 years, everyone has enough to eat. Anyone who says otherwise on the Internet is talking shit [*].

I very much like Laurie Penny‘s writing, but it often falls into the same trap. Ms Penny is poor because she’s chosen to be: she has a degree from a respectable university, and hence could easily, were she into such things, get a horrible job as an accountant, IT project manager, recruitment consultant, or similar. The reason she’s got no cash is because she’s – completely reasonably, because working as a junior accountant, project manager or recruiter is horrible – decided to live in a rats-and-roaches share-house whilst making it in the media. I did the same thing 10 years ago; sadly, the lure of “no rats and no overdrafts” seduced me to the dark side.

People sometimes slate writers like Ms Penny for their privileged background. They should be boiled in oil. The point isn’t the background, and if you judge anyone by their background then you’re a worthless prick. The point is that, if you’ve got half a brain and the right to reside in a developed country, you are unspeakably and amazingly economically privileged, whether your dad was the Duke of Canterbury or a tramp.

If you’re capable of participating coherently in a debate about poverty, whilst having the unqualified right to reside in a developed country, then you’re not poor, even if your income’s a fiver a year. The only people who are really poor in the UK are the people who aren’t capable of participating in such a debate. We need to do more for those people at the margins of society, but that has absolutely cock-all to do with how the majority of people who’re basically middle-class [**] live.

Relatedly, this is you, me, and everyone else reading this post:

Unrelatedly, give money to these people. Also, whenever the UK next has a government, write to your MP and point out that it’s a revolting, unspeakable state of affairs that over a million British citizens don’t have abortion rights, purely because we’ve left the lunatic theocrats on both sides of lunatic theocracy to it rather than saying “no, fuck off, this isn’t a game, be sensible”.

[*] the only UK citizens who don’t have adequate food, heating, healthcare, etc are people who are too challenged by whatever disabilities they suffer from to claim the benefits that otherwise mean that all UK citizens have adequate food, heating, healthcare, etc. And someone who’s a coherent Twitter activist does not fit into that bracket. Many non-citizens are screwed, and I don’t believe they should be, but that’s a separate point and it’s to do with racism rather than capitalism versus socialism.

[**] spurious ‘75%’ stat removed. I’m willing to defend the proposition that on any sensible indicator, 50%+ of British people can be described as ‘middle-class’.

Back with a vengeance

Good news, everybody. I’m online, with a real Internet connection and not a telephone, which has been my sole means of Twitter and email for the last week aside from taking my laptop to cafés and pubs [*]. Thanks, Telstra and iiNet, for only taking a month to sort it out.

I’ve also begun writing a report on an exciting (for people who like boring things) topic which requires copious quantities of online research, so I’m expecting to be spending more time both working, and engaging in social media [**]. My liver is particularly delighted at this news.

While I’ve been offline, I’ve missed the emergence of the Lib Dems as a serious political force, the Tory press getting so riled by said emergence that they’ve pulled out the kind of hate campaign normally reserved for children who’ve done something bad, and – most excitingly – the potential collapse of Rupert Murdoch’s influence over UK politics. Meanwhile over here, Murdoch’s rugby club has just collapsed amid a cheating scandal; I wouldn’t want to be the old man’s PA today…

Back on the Liberals, my favourite backlash piece is from the US’s so-far-right-it’s-almost-fallen-off-the-stage National Review. It lists “Five Reasons Why American Conservatives Need To Worry About Nick Clegg”:

1) Clegg’s outlook is anti-American.
2) Clegg is not an Atlanticist.
3) Clegg does not believe in a nuclear deterrent.
4) Clegg is a fervent supranationalist.
5) Clegg harbors strong anti-Israeli views.

Now, bearing in mind that NRO is trying to smear Clegg by putting the worst possible slant on everything he’s ever said, don’t most of these still sound like points that would be good things in a UK leader? (well, 2-5 at least. Not so much 1, which NRO made up because they don’t understand the difference between not always mindlessly backing the US and being anti-American.)

We’ll stop blindly following US foreign policy; we’ll stop wasting billions on something that is of absolutely no possible military benefit to the UK under any circumstances; we’ll work more closely with foreigners; and we’ll stop backing a murderous apartheid regime. I reckon the majority of Brits of all political hues would sign up for 2, 3 and 5. Not so much 4, but that primarily reflects the odd lies that most people now believe about the EU. Indeed, it’d be interesting to write a post from an Old Tory perspective emphasising how Clegg’s approach fits with their preferred way of doing things (you’d need to gloss over Europe quite heavily, of course).

Interesting times. I’m almost sad to be out of the UK for this election, which definitely isn’t something I’d have expected around January time…

[*] which it’s enjoyed, I think, although it hasn’t touched the beers I bought it, and still doesn’t show any signs of wanting to sleep with me.

[**] It’s an irregular verb: “he pisses about on the Internet; you’re a blogger; I engage in social media.”

Why pointless parliaments don’t and shouldn’t exist

Something which surprised me when I first researched moving to Sydney was that the city (in the sense of “wide urban area”) has no governing authority: the CBD and some of the inner suburbs are called the City of Sydney, but the vast majority of the city (including places that are only 10 minutes’ walk from the city centre) is made up of independent boroughs.

This felt familiar: it was also the case in London for 15 years, following Mrs Thatcher’s bizarre ideological crusade against local government, cities, any kind of planning of anything and the poor. And the resulting lack of focus on anything was pretty disastrous for London’s development over that time – hence why we now have a Mayor and an Assembly with control over major strategic issues affecting London’s development.

However, in Sydney, there’s never been much real pressure to do the same – because there’s already an authority that’s well qualified to do the job.

Greater Sydney has a population of 4.5m people, and so it makes up two-thirds of the population of the state of New South Wales. The NSW government and civil service are based in Sydney, and – because it accounts for most of NSW’s people, economy, media, culture, and events good and evil – devote a large majority of their time and budget to Sydney’s governance.

In other words, while the system governing Sydney is a little odd, probably wouldn’t be one that you’d choose if you were starting from scratch, and means that the metropolis is administered at a different level of authority to all the other cities in NSW, the net result is something that works, doesn’t pointlessly duplicate layers of effort, and is pretty much fair to everyone involved.

Sydneysiders, being a laid-back and sensible bunch of people, are happy with this state of affairs, and don’t kick up a fuss about people who live in Wagga Wagga getting to vote for the state government even though they don’t live in the city.

The comparison with the un-laid-back, un-sensible types who devote their time to campaigning for an English parliament despite England making up 84% of the UK’s population, is noticeable.