Monday, 8 June 2009

Depoliticisation of a Nation

The big story this morning is the collapse of Labour, shouts the BBC.


The big news is that after 30 years of a neuterd media, chasing quick profits and cheap headlines, replacing fact with speculation, gossip and innuendo, we have totally unaccountable politicians.

They're not debating the economy, they're not looking at how Europe has, through apathy, shifted to the right in the middle of possibly the worst recession for over 100 years.

Conviction politicians have been replaced by caeer politicians. On both sides of the house, whether they're trust fund kids, or privately educated analysts, researchers, consultants or lawyers, we no longer have people who care. Oh, they care about themselves alright, but they don't care about anyone else.

The rise of 24 hour news has given the opportunity to a bunch of careerists, whether in the media or the House of Commons, to 'create' a profile based on a few soundbites and superficial platitudes.

Whilst the recession deepens, and unemployment continues to rise, we are faced with the crowning glory of the Blair Thatcher Depoliticisation project...a government probably to be elected without policy or conviction, who could well win a landslide without having to offer the people any tangible promise of action.

Work calls, having got that off my chest...hope today is good for you all.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

That was the week that was....views on the last few days

Speculation as news...Statistics as fact

For days and days now we’ve had speculation and innuendo sold to us as news, and it is really beginning to grate. Presenters and newsreaders compliantly accept such speculation as fact, never challenging and never putting an alternative view.
For example, why didn’t Andrew Marr challenge Andrew Neil this morning? Neil clearly rattled through the scenario of resignations and motivations as if he was quoting proven facts when he was clearly only conjecturing. Why didn’t Marr ask for his source, ask him how he KNEW that his version of events was true?

Sad truth is that the division between fact and speculation has been blurred to the point where those who put news together can’t tell the difference, leading to us, the people, being offered conjecture as fact. It wouldn’t be allowed in a court of law, so why should we accept it as print and broadcast news?

Which leads me on to my other current bugbear...the use of statistics and indices as fact? Later on I talk about house price indices, which, suffice to say, I find to be a false and badly misleading indication of the true situation. However, we are given an array on figures, from FTSE 100 to fluctuations of retail activity.

Now, we are in the middle of a recession, certainly the worse for 80 years and possibly the worse for over 120 years (why does no-one talk about the long depression of the late 1800s?) but we are fed a diet of statistics and figures which are intended to take the place of debate and analysis. It is as if a detailed analysis would be beyond the comprehension of mere mortals, but give them a single figure and they understand.

This certainly reached a nadir Tuesday a week ago when the BBC TV Business news presenter said that he had been asked what the FTSE 100 was and he said it was the share price of the UK 100 largest companies!! WRONG!! Nobody challenged him, and no-one asked why this was relevant as a measure of the recession anyway! The FTSE 100 has risen in recent weeks, mainly due to the increase in oil prices, but it is certainly not an indicator of how the recession is effecting the ordinary working man.

The apprentice

When The Apprentice started it was a minority interest programme, a chance for some wannabe entrepreneurs to try and show how they could rise to a series of challenges with the aim of landing a job within a major corporation, from which they could learn from one of the UKs nest known entrepreneurs.

Following a move to prime time a BBC1 slot it has become a Big Brother clone, a kind of ‘I’m a not very successful salesman but I want to be famous so get me in here’ show. Now, the focus is less on how the assembled wannabes can rise to the challenge, and a traditional reality show mix of catchphrases, pantomime villains and not to subtle backstabbing. There’s the bitch, the quiet one, the sultry one, the gobby one, the nice guy, the fanciable guy, the quiet guy, the posh guy etc etc.... and the tension is not created from the challenges but from the personality clashes.

The reason for this is simple...the machinations of big business are not very interesting to the ordinary person, they’re actually quite boring. To gain a prime time audience BBC feels that it has to offer the public the same old reality schtik.
This is anchored by a performance from Alan Sugar which is rooted in the 1980s...a JR Ewing for the noughties, all snarling, self important bullying complete with a ‘not time for losers’ style catchphrase and demeanour.

Whoever wins, they won’t last. No winner ever seems to last in Sugar’s organisation for very long. And no-one who spends their time in a 2009 sales led organisation will recognise any of the contestants, nor any of the boardroom platitudes, as being part of modern day business practice.

House prices

So the obsession with house prices and house price surveys continues. It always seems very straightforward to me - a house is ‘worth’ what someone else is willing to pay to buy it. In well over 90% of cases this means that it is worth how much a bank is willing to LEND someone in order to buy it. Now I won’t start banging on about free market asset bubbles fuelled by unsustainable lending, suffice to point out that the banks are no longer in a position to lend the kind of amounts needed to sustain high house prices, and won’t before for a long time.

This should be common sense to business commentators, but it isn’t. Hence this week’s Nationwide house price survey, which showed a rise in property prices over the last month, generated much triumphalist coverage in the print and broadcast media.

It’s nonsense, of course. The Land Registry survey, which is the only real indicator of what prices are actually being achieved, will show another drop, and will probably continue to show overall monthly drops for a year or so yet.

I don’t really get the BBC – they talk up the Nationwide survey, making it a major feature of their news and business coverage, as if this somehow signifies an end to all the recession gloom, yet one click on their website will lead you to a page explaining why you should treat these surveys with caution, especially those conducted by Nationwide and Halifax.

Why not just report the truth.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Susan Boyle and how long does fame last in the Digital World

Andy Warhol reckoned that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. How long do you reckon they’ll have in the digital age? 5 minutes? 1 minute??

Thinking about SuBo (you didn’t think she’d be Susan Boyle for long, did you?) it could be that her 5 minutes are over.

Lest we forget, we are talking about a participant in a TV talent show. Not sure who originally put her up to it, but the combination of her age, looks and learning difficulties somehow surprised people in this glossy, celebrity oriented world. The shock was that she COULD sing, as if looks were somehow an integral feature for an angelic singing voice.

So shocking was this that over 1 million people looked it up on YouTube.
Now the tabloid press don’t really get YouTube...they somehow think that 1 million hits make you a millionaire, or means that you’ve got millions of fans. A lot of clips on YouTube get a lot of hits, without leading to fame and fortune for the people involved.

However after weeks of building speculation, the last 7 days have told us the truth. Attempts to master a second song for the semi finals were not that successful, although tabloid inspired frenzy carried her through. For the final she was allowed to sing the same song as in the first round, giving the impression that maybe this is the only song that she can sing.

The big story in town this week was whether she could keep her sanity. Psychologists who dared voice concern on 24 hour news were branded ‘idiots’ by Piers Morgan (quite what his qualification for judging psychologists is I’m not sure) who assured us that she was doing fine.

Her failure to win was met with headlines speculating how much she could earn - £6 million, £8 million, and boasts that she could be made the biggest star in the world.
Not bad for someone who only seems to be able to master one song, and who was allowed to sing the same song again because it was felt that learning another one would be too stressful.

Now away from tabloid speculation and back to make sums of money that large she’s going to have to sell in excess of 10 million albums and tour arenas – how?? Does anyone stop to ask how she is going to be able to do this? Are we now so minor celebrity obsessed that we believe that a few front page headlines make you a multi-millionaire?

With new reports of a stay in the Priory it seems that we have gone from rising star to fallen angel in a few days, without the need for anything as trivial as making records or setting up tours.

Maybe in our post-recession world speculating how much money you could make will replace actually earning it?

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Barca expose the Manchester United myth

The media would have you believe that Manchester United sweep all before them. Unstoppable, a runaway train that no mere mortals can stop.

Well, last night they were made to look very ordinary by a talented football side.

United's record against the top teams this season is actually not very good.

Premiership - 5 points from 6 games against the other 3 top sides.

FA Cup - semi-final defeat by Everton.

League Cup - a win, yes. But on penalties against a team who, at the time, were in the bottom half of the premiership. And that was after losing a semi-final first leg against a Championship side.

Champions League - ah, the big myth. Group stage...well if you have seen a weaker group (er, Aalborg??) in Champions League history then I'd like to see it. Quarter-Final - weakest team of the last 8, who could easily have put the game beyond doubt in the first leg. Semi-Final - weakest team of the last 4, and a second leg victory built on a slip by a rookie defender and an (admittedly excellent) free kick given for a foul that never was.

Now don't get me wrong, United are a very good side. 1 down against, say, Wigan then there'll fight their way back. But 1 down against Barca, or Liverpool - they look decidedly ordinary.

A good team, yes. Worthy Premiership champions...probably - I'm no Liverpool fan but I think that they lost it rather than United winning it.

But Greatest Team Ever (copyright Sky Sports) - not by a long way.