Wednesday, 3 June 2009

What to do with your votes tomorrow? Ask Bill Bailey

European and EU elections tomorrow. All I shall do on this matter is refer you to three tweets from @RealBillBailey earlier today

#1 not keen on the Lab/Con/Lib Dem triumvirate of disappointment? check this out:

#2 or, if voting for any party doesn't appeal, instead of putting an X why not just draw a picture of a lovely horse...

#3 or draw a rabbit claiming mood lighting for it's second burrow

Make sure you follow that link before you start practicing your doodles though, it's a much better idea!

24-hour news streams and constant Twitter updates causing brain overload

Very interesting article in The Telegraph this morning exploring whether exposure to constant information is damadging our intelligent emotional responses, which are linked to a slower moving part of the brain. Do we still have time to consider while processing so much information or does the amount of information we receive help us to perceive more?

Ironically, this got me thinking. Personally I find Twitter and Facebook a very useful way of handling and receiving a lot of information. It would be hard to have a response to something you didn't even know about. On the flipside, the internet allows people to become far more selective over the type of information they choose to receive. This allows us to mine to a deeper level on subjects of interest that may otherwise not be covered in a short news bulletin. It also means, however, that if we like, we can chose not to read about things which upset us.

All the same even when you read a paper or walk down the street you are selecting what you choose to see, hear and read. At least the internet, and blogs in particular, provides us with the space to actively analyse and comment about what we notice. It's worth taking the time to think about though!

Brown's PR nightmare

Interesting article in the FT this morning that highlights how "Mr Brown’s allies admit it is proving impossible to shift the media off a “narrative” that his authority is shot and that Labour is heading for electoral oblivion."

It goes on to say that in light of this media narrative:

"The prime minister’s team is furious yet impotent. They point out that Alistair Darling, chancellor, and Geoff Hoon, the transport secretary, are pilloried in the press for repaying expenses claims but senior Conservatives seem to have escaped lightly. “The media have decided there is a crisis, but David Cameron and half of his front bench have had to pay back expenses – we don’t hear much about that,” said one Labour MP."

So how, as Labour media stratigist, would you deal with this?

Intriguingly the writer of this article also subscribes to this narrative:

"the vultures are circling over Mr Brown’s government. A sense of morbid despair hangs over conversations with Labour MP and ministers, their passion for politics sapped by more than a decade in power and the corrosive effect of the expenses scandal."

It's funny but for some time since Cameron came in and Blair left I've had the feeling that we're at one of those sea change moments in British politics, when the electorate has just had enough of the old and beleives that the answer is to elect in another party. It's a strange experience to see how such consensus gathers and builds in the media, starting in the world of PR and public affairs where agencies have been recruiting Tory favourites with access to Cameron's inner circle for the last few years.

The expenses scandal, however, has blown Cameron's confident Tories just as far off course, and likewise the Lib Dems, paving the way for what many are predicting will be a strong turn out for smaller parties and independents. It remains to be seen whether this sentiment still holds true when Brown finally does allow the election to take place at the very latest date possible. If he is still in the job by then, of course!

It will be interesting to see what Labour does now. They can hardly topple Brown and install a second PM 'without a mandate' in one term. They should have held the election the minute Blair left, but now their best bet must surely be to cling on and hope that Brown's new cabinet can somehow come up with some new ideas that, as Lord Falconer said on Radio 4 this morning, can demonstrate "a change of politics which doesn't require a change of leadership". This will be a very difficult job to communicate given the prevailing media picture of Brown as the bumbling and ineffective captain of an already sinking shop.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The Future of Capitalism?

For those of you wondering where we go now, the FT has started a capitalismblog written by big names in such thinking such as Alan Greenspan and Sir Martin Sorrell. It's interesting to see how these 'great brains' of the economic world are dealing with the fact that, in the words of the Ft itself, their "free-market model that has dominated thinking for 30 years has been discredited".

On the whole they're not overly repentant, but it is interesing to see how such thought is developping (or perhaps more accurately, not developping) and it provides an interesting counter balance to new ideas emerging from other quarters.

I can also reccomend Paul Kennedy's hyposthesis as to what the 'four great economists' Robert Heilbroner, Karl Marx, Joseph Schumpeter and John Maynard Keynes would be making of all this (to be taken with a pinch of salt and a good prior knowledge/ quick wikki of each of these charachters).

These, as the saying goes, are interesting times...

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Does it matter who makes art?

Does it matter who has made a piece of art? Should an artwork be judged purely on it's aesthetic merits or does it matter who the person behind the picture is? Such questions have vexed the artworld for years with vast sums of money often changing hands for art reputed to be by a famous artist which later turns out to be a forgery. This conundrum is made all the more interesting when morals are mixed with our aesthetical value judgements as has recently been highlighted by the story below.

Every time I've been into the Royal Festival Hall lately I've been showing people this amazing paper sculpture. It's an entire orchestra of 3" men and women performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony - the sheet music of which they are made. It stands on the plinth which has a small plaque explaining that the work was done by a guest of Her Majesty who committed a serious offence.

A message from the artist states: “Without this opportunity to show our art, many of us would have no incentive, we would stay locked in ourselves as much as the walls that hold us.”

It's often struck me how creativity such as this can overcome our preconceptions and influence our judgement of character. How could someone that can produce something as beautiful as this be a bad person?

But how would you feel if they were a child sex murderer who raped and killed two schoolgirls, and is using his artistic talent and achievements in an attempt to win immediate release from a life sentence he received in 1988? Not only that but he's going to profit from the sale of his work to the RFH where it is admired on public display?

Well according to The Times yesterday, that's exactly what has happened with the fittingly named Colin Pitchfork revealed as the artist. What do you think now? Apparently the RFH didn't know before they bought the work for £600. Does this change anything though? Can creative talent be a signal of rehabilitation? And what about the families of the victims?

In this instance I feel that Mr Pitchfork has every right to have his work remain on display - it has been selected on the merits of the craft alone and is a beautiful object. Whether he should be let out any earlier though is a much more complex issue.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

G20 - end of day 1

Well it's all turned out rather predictable on the G20 front. First of all everyone panicked and businesses took precautions - it's a shame that as with anything it is the small businesses that will lose out most.

Most of the day appears to have gone peacefully, barring a few idiots smashing a RBS branch while kettled in by The Bank of England (the RBS knew they had it coming).. oh and the police doing their usual tactics of pushing people around in order to maintain control, thus sparking 'scuffles' which have left injured on both sides. I can sympathise with both - it can't be a lot of fun feeling outnumbered on the police frontline, but then it's not a lot of fun to be beaten with truncheons either.

The media coverage has been interesting and varied. Comment pages in London papers have been full of people annoyed at the inconvenience caused and idiots who have a tendency to go on about 'unwashed hippies' and 'unemployed layabouts' and obviously haven't read any of the in depth coverage that has taken place. On the other side of the coin many demonstrators have voiced some articulate explanations, although I'm sure not all who are out have a complex understanding of the reasons why they have lost their jobs or homes.

Stupid comment award goes to Daniel Finkenstein in The Times today for his failure to understand what many see as the problem with consumerism and corporate culture and instead tried to simplfy the issue as 'shopping.'

The same paper also wins my coverage of the morning award, not only with an excellent essay in response to a previous similarly stupid comment but also a hilarious eye spy game for all those in the city - 10 points for a banker or protester in disguise! There have also been some hilarious photos of afore said disguises.

On the photo front, The Guardian has some great shots of the more confrontational side of things:
and also have very good coverage on the ground:

Don't forget to check Indymedia London for the latest:

I'll leave you with this quote - my thoughts are with all at the Climate Camp kettle right now...

From indymedia:
19:15 - Climate Camp: Police have attacked on the South Side of the camp, indiscriminately beating people who are holding their hands up. Police claim it is to contain the camp as many parts of the city are out of control.

From Guardian:
Rebecca Pearse, of the Legal Observer Collective, who said they worked with police to provide a witness of events, said that until the police moved in "it had been all sunshine, smiles, cake , food and drums. Then it just escalated."

Ho hum

Monday, 23 March 2009

Police brewing trouble ahead of G20

In the lead up to the G20 summit of 'world leaders' in London next week, two news stories, linked by a MET Police statement, are of particular interest.

First of all, on Thursday last week the Economist Intelligence Unit, a sister think-tank to the Economist magazine, released a register of "Where the risk is greatest that economic distress will foment social unrest". "So far only two elected governments, in Iceland and Latvia, have been ousted after popular protests", the report states, but be warned, "More regime changes, possibly less peaceful ones, may follow as economic conditions worsen". Britain apparently stands at moderate risk.

Then on Saturday, The Times newspaper reported that that "Scotland Yard have issued a stark warning of violent disorder in the City of London on the eve of the G20 summit, with the police stretched to their limit in the middle of an extraordinary week of public protest". Using words such as 'militants', 'hardcore' and a repetition of 'violence' (as well as pictures like the one below), the article and statement stand to justify the deployment of "2,500 uniformed police, many equipped with riot gear" to deal with "1,000 anti-capitalist demonstrators." Oh.. and it's going to cost £10m to 'protect' the Bank of England. The article ends with a para about the Economist report "Britain is not immune to the danger of serious social unrest and public disorder as a result of the economic crisis."

Whether you have read Naomi Klein's 'The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism' or not, you should be wondering at this point what the terrorism laws and police are being used to protect from the protesters: the UK people, or the symbols of a flawed system of free market liberalism which now risks global of public rejection? You should also be paying close attention to the language used to justify any police action, from either the police themselves, the media or those sympathetic to the concerns of the city. In this respect a quick comparison is helpful...

This all has echoes of the Climate Camp I attended in 2007 where at least 1,800 officers in riot gear were drafted in to deal with an almost entirely peaceful protest by around 1,000 unarmed people. It cost £7m to protect BAA's headquarters. The police were unnecessarily violent and used new anti-terror laws to intimidate peaceful protesters in a manner more familiar with Guantanamo guards than your local booby on the beat. The papers largely carried false reports of protester violence, fed to lazy journalists who weren't on the ground by the police. Predictably the Daily Mail blamed the protesters for the exorbitant cost, not the police.

After the Kingsnorth Climate Camp in 2008, Green party candidate Caroline Lucas wrote: "It's hard to see the police approach to this year's climate camp as anything other than a bid to provoke breaches of the peace." I would argue that the provocative police strategy of deploying fully armed riot police and hyping up the risk of 'clashes' in the newspapers ahead of the G20 is nothing short of the same.

It is with some interest then, that I read today's article in The Guardian about the joint Commons Committee on human rights who have published a 70-page report, after almost a year's inquiry, to say that "it [is] concerned by evidence of the use of the powers [by the police], under legislation including the Terrorism Act, against peaceful protesters".

The report says: "Whilst we recognise police officers should not be placed at risk of serious injury, the deployment of riot police can unnecessarily raise the temperature at protests." It adds that the experience of protests in Northern Ireland showed the use of riot police was unnecessary. Lawyers say the report also raises fundamental questions about the general approach of the authorities towards protest.

The report has probably not come in time to prevent the heavy handed policing already planned for next week, but don't let all this put you off. If you believe in a different way of doing things, if you want a new green deal, if you think the recession is an opportunity to 'put people first', don't let them scare you into not using your voice. Exercise your right to protest.

The Guardian have produced a summary of next week's G20 protest events. If you don't want to be clobbered round the head or penned into a circle of riot police for 8 hours, the TUC rally is the safe bet. After the event, be sure to check whether you are reading the police version of events or an actual eyewitness accounts. I strongly suggest you keep an eye on Indymedia for the latter.