Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Shutting down debate

"You're trying to shut down the debate!" is a common slur in modern politics.  It's what you say to someone whom you think has no reasoned response to the points you're trying to make, and just wants to shut you up any way he can.

Just ask the UK Independence Party; they've been saying this for years, to anyone who will listen.  UKIP see themselves as a party of rogue outsiders who are challenging preconceptions and standing up for 'ordinary people' by breaking down the closed ranks of a self-interested, cocktail-sipping metropolitan elite of professional politicians* who have lost touch with the struggles of the working men and women they claim to represent.

UKIP paint themselves as candid tellers of (often unpalatable) home truths - on immigration, housing, and the economy - and, most importantly of all, as the victims of some great conspiracy to try and shut them down.  They believe that the 'mainstream media' (as much a part of the exclusive ruling elite as the politicians) are out to get them for the crime of being straight-talking and appealing to 'ordinary people'.

But the only people who are really trying to 'shut down the debate' are UKIP themselves; anyone who has the temerity to disagree with their flagrantly populist agenda (as the inestimable Janan Ganesh does with his customary elegance in Monday's Financial Times) is dismissed as 'out-of-touch'.  If you criticise UKIP's arguments, that can't be because you've spotted a flaw in their reasoning, or even because you simply disagree with their stance - that must be because you are an establishment stooge who is frightened of UKIP's rising popularity.  In the UKIP world view, there are no differing opinions; UKIP is the way, the truth and the light, and anyone espousing an alternative point-of-view is part of some great and sinister cover-up orchestrated by a self-serving political elite who are desperate to keep UKIP at bay.

By perpetuating the fallacy that 'they' (the other political parties) are 'all the same', and that UKIP are the only party standing up for 'real people' and their 'real concerns', UKIP are able to disseminate their message of prejudice and fear in mainstream politics like never before.  Many commentators were keen to point out the similarities between UKIP's new election campaign posters (which, if not explicitly racist, at the very least prey on an ugly and divisive collectivism which stems from a primal fear of anything and anyone 'different' or 'unknown') and similar campaign material previously distributed by the far-right British National Party.  But the difference is that the BNP have tended to be seen for what they really are by the great British public (as Dan Hodges points out in The Telegraph), while UKIP have built their façade of being a 'straight-talking party saying what the majority of people really think' by railing against a perceived 'LibLabCon consensus' and cashing in on the genuine frustration which many people feel with politicians in the wake of expenses scandals and sex cover-ups.

Whether UKIP really do represent the views of 'most ordinary people' will become clear at next year's general election; if they are as in-step with public opinion as they claim, their share of the popular vote will surely reflect this.  But whatever their showing at the election is like, UKIP must at some point come to realise that politics isn't always going to be as easy as saying whatever you like, and brushing your critics aside every time just by denouncing them as tools of a conspiracy designed to keep you in your place.  Eventually, UKIP will have to defend their policies on merit alone, and not by simply shutting down the debate and discrediting anyone who attempts to criticise them as 'out-of-touch'.

* UKIP are immensely fond of criticising 'professional politicians' - but what's the alternative?  Amateur politicians?!  Yeah, they sound competent…

#Newark - what a Farage-o!

I am left somewhat bemused by the media reaction to the news that UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage will not stand in the forthcoming parliamentary by-election in the Nottinghamshire constituency of Newark.

Always keen to jump on a Farage story, the country's political press went into a frenzy several days back over  whether the UKIP leader (currently a Member of the European Parliament) would stand in the by-election.  Having decided not to stand (rather sensibly, I think - as does Isabel Hardman in The Spectator), Farage now finds himself the subject of media taunts and jibes from politicians of other parties that he has 'bottled it'.

Well, how terribly 'playschool' that all is.  Encapsulating everything that's wrong about Britain's culture of "yah, boo!" politics, this is the equivalent of the rest of the school egging on one kid in the playground to eat worms and dirt.  That kid knows its a bad idea to eat the worms - and so do the kids gleefully trying to push him into it - but in the playground, the threat of being called 'chicken', and jeered at for being afraid, is a powerful thing indeed.

I certainly wouldn't frame myself as a UKIP supporter - but I don't think I am being unreasonable to expect our politicians and journalists to be a little more grown-up than this.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Celebrities and their opinions

The latest YouTube video to be 'Shared' over and over on my Facebook timeline is entitled Patrick Stewart Gives Passionate Response To Question About Domestic Abuse.  The world of social media, of course, has unanimously adjudged this to be a Good Thing™.

While I don't doubt that Patrick Stewart has some very interesting things to say on this topic, I am often left feeling slightly uneasy when celebrities get themselves involved in good causes with which they have a personal connection.  That they are well-intentioned is not in question - but when it comes to a topic of such importance and significance as domestic abuse, surely objective, rational thought is desirable, rather than a hotheaded emotional response?

There will be those who look at any celebrity involvement in a cause like this as a positive thing, because it helps to raise awareness (the favourite hobby of people who want to feel they are doing good).  However, I do wonder why, as a society, we give such credence to celebrity opinions in general.

The world is not exactly short of Blog posts and newspaper articles by actors and authors, poets and popstars, each a household name (like 'Slopbucket'), and each keen to get on his favourite political hobby-horse and trumpet his own opinions, knowing that people will listen because he is famous.  (Neither, as it happens, is there any shortage of bitter, ranty Blog posts by complete nonentities complaining that the world is not exactly how they'd like it to be - but spare me the smug comments pointing out this irony.)

I guess I'm just puzzled as to why a celebrity's opinion, even in a field which is nothing to do with what that person is known for, seems to carry so much more weight than the opinions of an 'ordinary' person.  Just because someone has had some modest success as a singer, that doesn't suddenly make them an expert on (for example) social housing issues - and if they have some personal connection to the issue of social housing, that still doesn't mean that what they have to say is worth anything, it just makes it more likely that they'll use their public platform with even more zealous fervour, and expect to have people take notice of them.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Go on, spoil yourself

Spoiler alert!  That abomination won't actually make your
nasty little Vauxhall Nova go any quicker.

The author Stephen King has got himself in trouble on Twitter a few times for posting 'spoilers' relating to hit television programmes - most recently, the sensationally popular Game Of Thrones.

As an avid Formula 1 fan who can't afford the special Sky F1 channel (and who's often working when races are broadcast anyway), I know all too well the dangers associated with going on the internet when everyone else has already seen something that you're still waiting to watch.  But if there's one thing more irritating than people posting spoilers online, that's people moaning about other people posting spoilers online.

Like it or not, Stephen King (or anyone else) can write whatever he likes on his Twitter account.  If you don't want to read it, don't follow him.  Or, better yet, don't go on Twitter at all until after you've been able to see whatever it is everyone's talking about that you haven't seen yet.

I've been doing this for years.  My general rule is: no social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.), emails, TV or radio from ten minutes before the formation lap until after I've been able to watch the race myself.  That may seem like an awful lot of hassle - but when something's important to you, you're willing to put yourself out to make sure you can enjoy it to the full.

Which is exactly the issue I have with people whining about spoilers - it isn't anyone else's responsibility to make sure you're able to enjoy your favourite programmes on television.  If you don't want to find out the score of a football match, or what happens in your favourite drama, or who wins the Grand Prix, it's up to you to avoid finding out in whatever way you see fit - go to whatever lengths you deem appropriate, but don't expect others to restrain themselves on your behalf.

In short, if you know there are going to be things on the internet which you don't want to read, stay off the internet; don't go on the internet anyway, and then complain that other people are talking about things you'd rather they weren't talking about.  If you don't want to see spoilers, it's no one's job but your own to make that dream a reality.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Never say 'die'

For Norwich City fans, today's 1-0 defeat by fellow Premier League strugglers Fulham was a huge disappointment.  Billed as a 'must-win' game - as classic 'relegation six-pointer' - it was believed that whoever lost this match would be in serious trouble.

Serious trouble, yes.  But not certain relegation.  The Norwich City FC Facebook page has quickly filled up with comments saying "well, that's that, then - we're definitely going down now!"  I don't know how anyone can be so sure.

Football is inherently unpredictable.  How anyone can say with such cocksure arrogance that relegation is a certainty for Norwich now is beyond me.  After all, while the result at Fulham today doesn't exactly help matters, as things stand we're still not in the Relegation Zone even now.

Plenty of supporters are pointing to 'the Run-In', and the fact that Norwich's last four games are against four of the so-called 'big teams'; many people believe that, although Norwich are currently 17th, Fulham (and maybe even Cardiff, too) can catch us because their final four games are that bit easier.

Even though this ignores the fact that there are no 'easy games' in the Premier League, I am again at a loss to understand how these people can be so certain.  The prevailing attitude seems to be that the possibility of Norwich taking any points at all from their last four fixtures is so unlikely as to be discounted entirely - but the fact is, nothing is impossible, and stranger things have happened in football, over the years.  After all, few people would've given Norwich a hope of beating Spurs earlier this season, or holding Manchester City to a very creditable draw after having been hammered 7-0 the first time around.

Yes, staying is going to be difficult for Norwich, and there is no doubt that the task which now faces us is enormous - but there are so many factors involved in this equation, no one can really know for definite what will happen.  To act as though relegation is already a mathematical certainty is as foolish as to act as if survival is a certainty - and that sort of negativity and despair does nobody any favours.

If the manager, one of his staff, or any of the players came out after today's match and publicly stated that we hadn't got a hope they would be absolutely crucified by the media and the fans - and rightly so!  They would be expected to keep fighting right to the very end, giving everything they have for the club and its supporters.  So why do some people think it is OK for us, as fans, just to give up on our season with four games still left to play?

Let's not be under any delusions as to how tough the remainder of this season will be.  But we can still beat the drop, and there is still everything left to play for - so let's get behind the manager and the team, and give it everything we've got for these last four games!

Ignore my stupid Profile Picture - the points are still valid...!

Thursday, 3 April 2014


"They should refund the fans after that!"  No, they shouldn't.

I don't know how many times I've heard that said, now.  Disgruntled football fans, unhappy with their team's performance, annoyed at having spent their money to go to the games, and buy tickets, demanding that the club and/or the players reimburse them.  However, it baffles me why fans think they are entitled to this - I just don't see the logic to it!

You're not paying your money for the match result.  You pay to go to the game, and support your team - even if they lose, you've still done that.  To demand a refund after a negative result implies that you were expecting a positive one; that's not how sport is supposed to work.

They whole point of a sporting event (like a football match) is that it's competitive - both teams are trying to win, and those watching the game don't know what the result will be until the very end.  It's the very fact that you don't know who will win, and that there are high points and low points, thrills and disappointments, which makes supporting a football team so exciting and addictive.

Yes, everyone is gutted when a team underperforms, or don't get the result they need - but to start demanding your money back afterwards just seems (to me, at least) slightly petulant.  If you want guaranteed entertainment every time, try buying tickets to a West End show instead.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Stop getting shirty

The storm in a teacup over the new Nike England shirt for the World Cup in Rio this year rumbles on, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.  Despite his admission that it is "clearly not" the rôle of government to set the price of football shirts, Prime Minister David Cameron has been unable to resist wading in, in that intensely patronising way politicians have when it comes to sticking their oar into any and all issues in the public consciousness.

Yes, £90 for a football shirt is somewhat on the pricey side - and, yes, some fans won't be able to afford that.  Then again, some people can't afford a Range Rover; other people can't afford a loaf of bread.  Whoever you are, there will always be some things that are out of your price range.

It's worth remembering that the 'market value' of any product or service is simply what people are prepared to pay for it.  If you think £90 is too much to pay for a football shirt, don't buy one.  If enough people feel they are not prepared to - or are unable to - spend that amount of money on one shirt, sales figures will be low, and those in charge of setting the prices will realise they have made a mistake (and will probably drop the prices as a result).

I shan't be buying the new England shirt.  But neither do I want condescending politicians to swoop in and 'save' the poor little consumer - who, after all, has the ultimate power not to spend.