Sunday, 16 February 2020

BBC hard to defend

Whilst the BBC is indeed a "hugely important cultural institution", it, as your editorial stated, is "far from perfect" (The BBC is a force for good. We must keep it that way, 09.02.20). "Not doing well enough on diversity", and lack of transparency about "the way it deals with complaints" are the failings mentioned, but, sadly, there are many more, and all of them should have been dealt with years ago.
     Funded by licence fees, the ever profligate BBC has brought criticism on itself with over-generous payments to presenters, pundits and managers, and a pay policy with massive gender gaps. A recent rugby international had no less than nine people paid to comment on it, whilst another three were doing the same on the BBC`s 5 Live.
      Then there is the worrying tendency to be involved with tax avoidance issues, which the Observer brought to the nation`s attention back in 2012 ( BBC told by MPs to make presenters pay fair share of tax, 05.10.12), and which still sees high-profile stars  being paid through outside companies. The preference of the public, especially young people, for output on demand rather than multiple channels has been obvious for many years, and moves now  to take on this challenge are another case of "too little, too late"!
       The most immediate threat is, of course, political, but had successive directors-general of the BBC been alert enough to see the danger coming, and taken the necessary action to stop critics deriding it as the British Boys` Club, more of the public would be jumping to its defence.

Friday, 14 February 2020

PMQs a waste of time

Rafael Behr rightly states that Johnson is getting away "with abstract verbiage and theatrical bombast", but placing the blame at Labour`s door is clearly ridiculous (Only rebel Tory MPs can restore sovereignty to parliament now, 05/02/20). There is, indeed, a "real flaw in the structures of democratic accountability", but strangely, Behr fails to mention it. For a prime minister as keen to avoid press and media scrutiny as Johnson, the current format of PMQs is a godsend. With a Speaker keen to admonish MPs for questions which are too long, and risk the session exceeding thirty minutes, but quite content for the prime minister to avoid answers, attack the opposition, and utilise the opportunity for yet more Cummings-inspired soundbites, it serves no purpose whatsoever in a parliamentary democracy.
  Perhaps Labour MPs should emulate the action of Democrats  in the States and walk out in protest as soon as the first Opposition question is treated with Johnson`s usual disdain, and given no answer. If no such drastic action is taken, they will remain pawns in Johnson`s "winging-it" game!

New chancellor`s myopia

Labour has rightly warned that Tory plans for ten free ports amount to nothing "more than levelling up for the super-rich to hoard assets and avoid taxes" (Star, 11/02/20). Liz Truss might think that it represents "taking back control of our trade policy", but as she and fellow cabinet ministers Raab and Patel think British workers "among the biggest idlers in the world", something they co-wrote in Britannia Unchained back in 2012, her opinions are not to be taken seriously. 
    Neither, for that matter, are the views of the chief secretary to the Treasury, Rishi Sunak. It was he who claimed that as free ports are not allowed in the EU, Brexit enabled the UK "to unleash this potential in our  ports". Unfortunately for him, on the same day the European Commission announced that the EU`s free ports, all 82 of them, were "aiding the financing of terrorism, money-laundering and crime"! Since January 10th, authorities across the EU have been urged to take extra measures to identify suspicious activities at the ports as a result of the "high incidence of corruption, tax evasion and criminal activity"!
      How anyone can take seriously any promises made by Johnson and his cronies in government is beyond me. Does anyone really believe that if these free ports are set up in the UK, standards on "security, safety, workers` rights and the environment" will not be compromised? They conned the electorate and they will continue the con-trick of pretending to support one nation Conservatism, and to help the left behind. The forthcoming budget will no doubt reduce some pension tax relief for the wealthy which will make the headlines in the media, but the government will still be selling shares in RBS at knockdown prices to appease their friends in the City, and still be doing nothing to prevent billions being lost every year to tax avoiders!.

Letter on Javid`s budget

There undoubtedly will be a one-off gesture towards one nation Conservatism in the forthcoming budget, possibly reducing pensions tax relief or "entrepreneurs" relief, or even both, but the idea that Tories are "for the left behind", and will use tax reforms to "spend in the new Tory seats of the north" is unlikely (The Tories say they are for the left behind: we`ll soon see, 11/02/20). Johnson and Cummings will want to display both their control over the party, and loyalty to new Tory voters, especially in the first budget of a five year parliament, but as Toynbee says, "Treasury orthodoxy will prevail" in the long-term. Believing what Tory ministers say, especially pre-election, is not always wise; indeed, even after the election, as is shown by Rishi Sunak `s comment about the EU not allowing free ports on the same day 82 of them in the EU were condemned by Brussels for aiding "the financing of terrorism, money laundering and crime (EU cracks down on free ports for role in corruption and crime, 11/02/20).
     What Toynbee omits to mention is the likelihood of Javid announcing in the budget the sale of the remaining 62% of shares in RBS, widely predicted to be back to making billions. What better way to appease wealthy dissenters in the City than selling them shares in financial institutions at bargain-basement prices? Such mis-selling, after all, is not new to the chancellor, having been on the board of Deutsche Bank in the run-up to the 2008-9 financial crash, the bank which was fined $7.2bn by the US Department of Justice for having "contributed directly to an international financial crisis"!

Monday, 10 February 2020

The arrogance of Cummings

Like, I suspect, the majority of Guardian readers, I began reading Stefan Collini`s article with interest, soon resorted to scanning, and gave up after reading four lines from the "representative example" of Cummings`s "forays into the world of ideas" (Inside the mind of Dominic Cummings, 06/02/20). It`s clearly not only his dress sense, in Zoe Williams's words, "cold-climate skater chic", which demonstrates his extreme arrogance!

 Now, at least, we know why his advice to Gove led to the most obviously unnecessary examination and assessment reforms, why the Leave campaign was based on lies and disingenuity, and why, with his belief that politics is "still conducted with the morality and language of the simple primitive hunter-gatherer tribe", he relies, Goebbels-like, on the repetition of three or four word catchphrases to get his message across and into mainstream consciousness. How could we plebs be expected to understand it otherwise?

Sunday, 9 February 2020

"Horrible Histories" far from "drivel"!

Quite frankly, when I was teaching secondary school history, I would have loved to have been able to utilise clips from the BBC`s Horrible Histories series to enliven my lessons and increase pupil interest (Andrew Neil attacks "anti-British drivel" of BBC`s Horrible Histories, 02.02.20). What on earth does Neil find offensive? Is it not a good idea to get away from manipulated history, and teach children that so many so-called "British things" come from areas colonised by Britain. The song Neil heard included the lines: "Your empire`s built on fighting wars", and "most British things are frankly stolen". Playing this at the start of a lesson would provide an excellent introduction to an evidence-based analysis.
 Failing to teach the truth about Britain`s far from "glorious" past has been an important contributing factor in seeing the UK as somehow exceptional, able to survive in "splendid isolation" as the myth about Britain`s pre-WWI position mistakenly informs us. Perhaps Neil wants to believe that Britain really was "alone" in 1940, that British imperialism existed only to spread "civilisation", and that atrocities were only committed by our enemies, but such colonial amnesia has to stop. The 2013 legal case brought by thousands of Kenyans against the British government for various acts of imperial barbarism after the Mau Mau rising, opened many eyes, but not Neil`s, it seems. What does he think is the reason the thirty year rule has been ignored so often by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that there now exists an archive containing 1.2 million files, going back to the end of the Crimean war, hidden from historians?
   How much longer will the policy of externalising everything of the past which does not glorify our history, and show the country and its politicians in a favourable light, continue? When history is manipulated like this in other countries, we call it "brain-washing"!

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Lineker and the BBC

Being paid £1.75m for part-time work at the BBC whilst earning shedloads more for advertising crisps and presenting a few programmes at BT Sport, Gary Lineker is probably not best placed to voice opinions about the "broadcaster`s fundamental problem" (Lineker: make BBC licence fee voluntary, 28/01/20). In fact, with the BBC preparing to announce cuts "to reduce costs by millions of pounds", it is being given a wonderful opportunity to prove the worth of its justification for paying such huge salaries (BBC cuts; Newsnight and World at One among targets, 25/01/20). If some presenters are to be "asked to work across programmes and channels", others will inevitably find themselves surplus to requirements, so it will be interesting to see if they are indeed snapped up by rival broadcasters. The claim that such "talent" had to be paid salaries ten times or more the national average for fear of defections to the likes of commercial radio, Sky and ITV can now be put to the test (BBC is paying too much for talent it can afford to lose, 24/07/17). 

           Indeed, free transfers would in many cases prove most welcome, creating job opportunities for young presenters with gender-equal starting salaries of a mere £100,00!