Friday, 16 September 2016

Bake Off Matters

Something happened this week that upset and angered me. The BBC list the rights to show The Great British Bake Off from the end of this current series. The reason? As reported by BBC news, Love Productions, the independent production company that makes the show, along with others, like The Great British Sewing Bee and Benefit Street, asked for at least £25 million per year in fees. The current series cost the BBC £7 million. Channel 4 made a larger bid and won the rights to the show. Subsequently, hosts Mel and Sue resigned. Whether judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood will start on has yet to be determined.

This has been big news in the UK and there are few people who don't already know it. There was much dismay expressed on social media. An immediate backlash commenced, with professional trolls like Julia Hartley-Brewer calling everyone cry babies or something similarly derogatory. Political campaigners were quick to wonder why people were so unhappy about changes to a TV cooking competition when so much if being done to undermine the NHS. Still more pointed to the systematic cuts to the BBC budget imposed by the current government. "Suddenly you're worried now it's affecting a middle class show that you actually like", they spat. When there's so much misery caused by austerity and the worship of money, surely a silly TV show shouldn't matter?

And yet it does matter. And it bothers me greatly. And I'm sure that I'm not alone. I am hugely concerned about the BBC being run down since the conservatives achieved power in 2010. I've lost sleep over the NHS and the cuts affecting the poor and disabled, including those that will affect me. I've spoken up. I've complained. I've joined various forms of protest. I've felt utterly ignored. As we've been forced into brexit and had our public services decimated and sold off with inevitable price rises and deterioration in service I've felt utterly powerless. My health has got steadily worse. One of the things that has helped to distract me from the awfulness had been a cheery TV show about baking. I've looked forward to Bake Off season each year. It has lifted me during a very dark period in our history. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's made living worth while, but it has made life a bit less crappy. And that's important.

What's tragic about this episode is that Bake Off served to take us away from the realities of austerity Britain and yet the very same greed that drove those in government and the finance sector to unleash such misery had done for the show. To hike the price by nearly fourfold is daylight robbery. Clearly Channel 4 was prepared to pay this and we live in a supply and demand world. The problem with going for the money in this way is that the programme has to change for it to move channel. C4 is still a public service broadcaster, for now, although the government intends at least a partial privatisation in the near future. But its model is commercially supported, being paid for by a mixture of adverts and sponsorship. So there would need to be room made for commercial breaks. The short educational documentary parts would most likely face the axe. They aren't hugely popular but I loved them. They give the show a distinctive feel and Mel and Sue present them well.

Love Productions clearly didn't consult their presenters as Mel and Sue expressed shock and dismay in their resignation. Their loss is significant. While some of the spin off versions of the show for comic and sport relief have had different faces fronting them, Mel and Sue really did make Bake Off, even more so than the resident judges. If Berry and Hollywood do jump ship then all that's left is a fairly bland format. In effect, the greed that has come to represent the worst of post crash Britain is what has killed off one of its most popular distractions.

Naturally the channel 4 version will go ahead and who knows? Maybe it will be very watchable. I'm going to find it hard not to think about the naked greed that forced the change though.

Even the Romans weren't so decadent as to allow greed to finish off Bread and Circuses for the masses.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Labour Thoughts

I'm not a Labour member and haven't been since the early 2000s, but I would like us to have an effective opposition. I think the level of infighting hasn't been this bad since the party was formed, but I don't know anything for sure. Here are my very disjointed thoughts about this very sorry mess:

We need a better politics. Clinging to the 2 party FPTP system is doing us no favours.

The media, including that which places itself left of centre has far too much power.

There is a whole lot of stuff going on that we're not privvy to. No story emerging from either faction in the Labour Party rings true. Worryingly, where anything does appear to have the ring of truth I suspect it means it's more likely to have been fabricated.

The dirty tricks that the Labour Party has turned on other parties of the left: Green, SNP, Plaid; it now appears to be turning on itself. It's really not pretty.

There is a narrative emerging of heart vs head. Of principle vs pragmatism. Yet it seems that pragmatism won't extend to meeting principle half way.

For all the talk of a new politics it seems that the Corbyn camp still employs centrist tactics.

Owen Smith was a worse choice than Angela Eagle as a candidate to stand against Corbyn. It is very sad that the Labour party is tainted with misogyny and homophobia. There is no sign of any kind of unity candidate emerging and this is very worrying.

If the Labour Party can't work with itself, it lacks the ability to work with other centre and left leaning parties. Thanks to the developments in Scotland I'm sure this is the only way it will be strong enough to stand against the Tories in a Westminster election.

The electability of Corbyn is a red herring. It is personality politics played in a party that no longer understands what its identity is. What does Labour stand for now?

Labour is not electable under the current system. It doesn't matter who heads it and how centrist it tries to be. It needs a strong identity based upon values, backed by policies that are easy to understand, wherever on the political spectrum it eventually places itself.

While it is unelectable it still needs to function as an opposition. It is failing in this task.

This is all very, very depressing and it has given the establishment a free ride at a time when it needed rigorous scrutiny. There is no sign of this changing in the foreseeable future.

It's a worrying and serious situation, yet I can't see that there is anything that I, or pretty much anyone else outside the party machinery can do about it.

I have a horrible feeling that this has been orchestrated by some clever corrupt individuals. Yet I suspect many of the players who have been abused for their views are genuinely trying to do their best.

I have never felt so much despair for the political future of this country.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Taking back control?

It is not a good time to be a believer in social justice and progressive politics. The EU referendum delivered a result based on more than Gregg's entire output of porkie pies, many of which have proven themselves within hours, but we're still told to respect the verdict of the people. I respect the result of an advisory referendum where many of the participants were decidedly ill advised, but I don't think it's a great basis for policy decisions that will last generations.

Things change, sometimes at a rapid pace and democracy is meant to be able to accommodate such changes. Many of the Remain campaigns dire warnings of economic pain have proved themselves and that itself ought to be enough to give Leave voters pause for thought. Widespread reports of people who already express buyers remorse provides anecdotal evidence that were the referendum to be repeated right now, the result might be quite, quite different.

In the space of a week things have moved on significantly. The PM resigned. There is a field of deeply uninspiring candidates to replace him from the point of view of anyone interested in social policy. There's been a spate of racist hate crime that's seen a five fold increase in reports to police. Just when we needed a strong opposition voice, the rug was pulled from under Corbyn. Perhaps there was a worry that he might prove effective in the wake of a damaged Tory party? Instead, Labour has committed political Hari Kari and will probably not be an effective force for years, if ever again.

Natalie Bennett, outgoing Green Party Leader has reissued the party's invitation to other progressive parties to form an alliance against the conservatives and UKIP. In the absence of proportional representation this would seem to be the best chance of getting the voices of social change heard, especially if the possibility of an early general election becomes reality. It's only if the Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid, Greens and Labour come together to prevent a split vote in many constituencies that we could really get a representative number of MPs elected. Many of these parties have already signalled some degree of cooperation towards getting PR, but there's one notable absence: Labour. While some in the party are enthused by proportional voting, many, especially in its centralised power base, are not. Labour has also campaigned vociferously against other left of centre parties, often using phrases like "no better than the Tories", even when, like in Brighton, budget cuts forced upon a minority administration, were, in fact due to Labour's lack of cooperation.

So Labour remains a fly in the ointment of a progressive coalition. It still tends to regard itself as big enough to stand on its own, even though this now flies in the face of the evidence. It also has a notoriously slow party machinery that makes change very hard to effect. The smaller parties are more nimble, more comfortable with their members' participation and able to adapt much more quickly. It means that, even if many Labour members support the idea of a broad coalition of left of centre parties, it could take until well after the next election to agree it.

So, what can we do, if the largest left leaning party won't or can't cooperate? Well, to borrow a phrase from the awful Leave campaign, I suggest we Take Back Control. Instead of lobbying the chaotic and unwilling control centre of the Labour Party, I suggest we target local constituency parties instead. Reports that many constituency parties are unhappy with their MP's conduct during the attempted coup against Corbyn, rather suggests that they might be amenable to some informal talks.

It's down to the constituency party to select or deselect candidates for election. In most cases they have either duly accepted the central party's preferred candidate or merely rubber stamped the selection of a sitting MP. But they can, and sometimes do, select their own candidate. They can also opt to not select a candidate for election. This would send a very strong message to the central party.

If local parties of Lib Dems, Green, SNP and Plaid were to arrange informal cross party meetings, perhaps they could persuade constituency Labour parties to listen or even attend? If these parties could come to agreement on who selects a candidate to stand and, crucially who does not, you have the makings of an informal electoral pact. Should there not be time to agree a broader policy at party conferences, this might be the most productive way forward. It involves working at grass roots, it empowers local activists and, if applied widely enough, it could effectively provide strong opposition to the emerging neocon agenda.

There are powerful interests that would like our politics to be a spectator sport. Let's not give them their wishes.