Saturday, 31 December 2016

Here’s a way in 2017 for Jeremy Corbyn to change the way politics is done and also get his own message across direct and unmediated

In 2017, Jeremy Corbyn should appear monthly on a YouTube programme, on which he would meet voters and potential voters one-to-one. Each would have five minutes in conversation with him. The programme would go out live. The people in conversation with Corbyn would not have applied to take part but would have been selected so that between them they constitute a representative sample of the electorate.

Allowing “ordinary people” into the national political debate in this way would administer a much needed shot of adrenalin into the UK’s sickly democracy.

The UK’s national political debate is mostly carried out in the press and on the TV and radio. It is dominated by a select group. Members of this group almost always share all or most of the following characteristics - well-educated, well-off, middle-aged, white, London-based, male. Their agenda reflects their own background and experience and largely ignores much of importance to many others.

The YouTube programme would give a platform to people who are currently excluded from taking part in the national political debate. It would be highly democratic. 

The idea is rooted in the belief that everyone matters in society and that everyone has political concerns (even if sometimes they might not recognise or describe concerns they have about housing or income or jobs or education or health etc as “political”).

One day, hopefully, all political leaders will embrace this democratisation and take part in such a programme. However, it makes sense for Corbyn to lead the way. The mainstream media’s hostility to him is such that, if he relies on it to let people know what he stands for, he is bound to fail. This programme would be another way to circumvent the mainstream media - alongside Corbyn’s use of social media, public meetings etc - and it would reach the all important potential voters who are not already favourably inclined to Corbyn.

Below, I set out details of the proposed programme and the likely risks and benefits to Corbyn in taking part.

Details of the proposed YouTube programme

  • UK would be divided into 12 areas and would be in a different area each month.
  • An independent company would rigorously and transparently select ten people from the area of that month’s programme so that they constitute a representative sample.
  • Criteria used to obtain the representative sample would be published but they are likely to include factors like sex, income, race, age, disability.
  • If someone selected did not wish to take part, someone else fitting the same criteria would be selected.
  • The programme would have no presenter, no audience - just a minimal voice over. Corbyn would have five minutes one-to-one conversation with each of the selected members of the public in turn.
  • The programme would be shown live (with usual short delay). It would be available for viewing at any time afterwards. Edited highlights could be made available.
  • A body independent of the Labour Party would deal with any complaints or other issues.

Risks for Corbyn

The most significant possible risks are 
  • Not enough people watch. 
  • One or more of the members of the public launches a devastating attack on Corbyn, who would be trapped for five minutes and it would all go out live.

Benefits for Corbyn

The risks are worth taking as they are clearly outweighed by the likely benefits. 

The most significant likely benefits are

  • The programme would be expected to attract a good audience due to its mix of real politics with the fascination of reality TV.
  • Corbyn faces furious attacks all the time. On this programme he would have the opportunity to answer back. Even if the person attacking him is unlikely to be convinced, the watching public will see that he is not the caricature that parts of the media have made him out to be. 
  • Corbyn would be able to connect with (and to be seen connecting with) voters throughout the UK. Those watching are likely to be able to identify with “people like them” in conversation with him.
  • The programme should increase political engagement more widely. It would be good for Corbyn and good for UK democracy too.
  • As each member of the public will have five minutes, it will be possible for the discussion to go beyond the superficial and into some depth.
  • Important issues would be raised on the programme which are rarely raised in the media.
  • The programme fits in with Corbyn’s call for a new kind of politics. He would get credit for taking part.
  • Corbyn could challenge Theresa May to subject herself to the same highly democratic scrutiny. Would she dare?

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Lego and Kellogg’s are helping fight the fomenting of hatred in UK & US

“Freedom for the wolves has often meant death to the sheep” - Isaiah Berlin

Something very dark is happening in the US and the UK and elsewhere in the Western democracies. Hatred towards minorities  - Muslims, women, blacks, the disabled, Jews, poor people and more - is becoming more acceptable, more mainstream. 

Some people have brought some light into the darkness. They have found a smart way to help fight the growing fomenting of hatred. They are persuading major advertisers to boycott the media outlets at the forefront of promoting it.

Under pressure from these activists, in the US, Kellogg’s have withdrawn their advertising from the so-called Alt-Right website Breitbart; in the UK, Lego has withdrawn advertising from the Mail.

“Alt-Right” is a term invented during 2016. It is used by a variety of White Supremacist groups. It can be understood as a synonym for neo-fascist. The well-funded Breitbart website has been at the forefront of the Alt-Right movement, which is closely linked to Donald Trump. It’s former CEO, Stephen Bannon, is now Trump’s “senior adviser”.

A campaign group, Stop Funding Hate, has identified three newspapers in the UK which “use fear and division to sell more papers” - the Mail, the Sun and the Express. All three are owned by tax-cheating billionaires: - the Mail by Lord Rothermere; the Sun by Rupert Murdoch and the Express by pornographer Richard Desmond.

As a result of pressure from Stop Funding Hate, Lego has withdrawn its advertising from the Mail.

Stop Funding Hate said in a statement welcoming Lego’s decision, “We are asking brands to listen to their customers when they tell them they want to stop funding hate, and that is what Lego has done. People are becoming more aware that the money they spend could end up supporting publications, whose stories, language or portrayal of certain people fuels division…These headlines harm people.”

Some express unease or even horror that outside bodies are seeking to affect the content of the “free press”. Apart from other powerful considerations, this overlooks how things have been operating up to now. 

In his landmark book Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky shows in detail how advertisers have always exerted a powerful effect over media outlets. 

Last year, Peter Oborne resigned as chief political commentator of the Telegraph in protest at the way that the paper was allowing HSBC - a very significant advertiser - to dictate coverage of its own affairs and even of matters relating to China. 

Hannen Swaffer, who worked in the old Fleet Street for over half a century from 1902 and was one of the best known journalists of his day made this telling observation: - “Freedom of the press…is freedom to print such of the proprietor’s prejudices as the advertisers don’t object to.”

Under attack, Breitbart is acting in the way that the Alt-Right (and Trump himself) invariably respond. They are counter-attacking furiously. Breitbart has declared “#WAR” on Kellogg’s and called for a boycott of its products. It has put out a statement: - “For Kellogg’s to blacklist Breitbart in order to placate left-wing totalitarians is a disgraceful act of cowardice…If you serve Kellogg’s products to your family, you are serving up bigotry at your breakfast table.”  The sheer gall of Breitbart accusing Kellogg’s of bigotry is breath-taking.

Dominic Ponsford, the editor of the Press Gazette in the UK has attacked Stop Funding Hate. He asks, “do we really want advertisers seeking to influence editorial decisions?”

Given Ponsford’s job, it is hard to think he could be ignorant of the longstanding relationship between media and advertisers. His question is highly disingenuous.

Ponsford also asks,“what right do a few thousand people on social media have to dictate the type of coverage read by several million every day?”

Surely, now more than ever - with the increasing threat of toxic divisions being deliberately created in our society - it is absolutely the right of every citizen to seek to curb in any way they can the fomenting of hatred of minorities whatever its source?  

There is a moral imperative to act. It is right and proper for decent people to ask decent brands to stop funding hate.