Friday, March 28, 2003

Thank God for objectivity.

You'll lose money if you report opposition to the war. That's what media consultants are telling US Radio stations. See, that's why I love the BBC.

A musical aside

I got annoyed when Tony Blair was unfavourably compared to Tammy Wynette the other day, and that, combined with the whole Dixie Chicks saga has made me feel that all the good work of the Lost Highway series is being undone by the easy view of country music as mindless nationalist pap.

So I wanted to mention that I was listening to a UK country music radio station the other night (Yes, I'm a British left winger who like Country music. Want to make something of it?) and heard in fairly quick succession, Phil Och's "I ain't marching any more", A Dixie Chicks song, Shipbuilding (the Elvis Costello version though) and Do Re Mi ( sung by Nancy Griffith, I think). It just made me want to mention that Country music is not an ideology. ("Shipbuilding" and "I'm ain't marching" may not be strictly speaking "country" songs, but from my perspective, they're part of the same tradition, and I don't hear them played anywhere els, so shucks to you, buster)

Any way it reminded me that Shipbuilding was a wonderful song, especially for a North-East lad like myself. So I thought I'd make you read the lyrics.

"It's just a rumour that was spread around town
By the women and children
Soon we'll be shipbuilding

Well I ask you
The boy said 'Dad they're going to take me to task
but I'll be back by Christmas'

It's just a rumour that was spread around town
Somebody said that someone got filled in
For saying that people get killed in
The result of this shipbuilding

With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls

It's just a rumour that was spread around town
A telegram or a picture postcard
Within weeks they'll be re-opening the shipyards
And notifying the next of kin
Once again
It's all we're skilled in
We will be shipbuilding"

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UNDER THE RADAR: Brits out...

The superlative Slugger O'Toole mentions a story I had totally failed to pick up. It's 8 days old now, but still qualifies. British Army levels in Northern Ireland are to be reduced to 5,000. I'm sure it's well knowin in Ireland, but I doubt it got decent play in the rest of the UK (either that or I wasn't reading the papers or watching the news).

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UNDER THE RADAR: Cabinet reshuffle: "After the war"

Again, from the FT- John Reid to be Leader of the House, Peter Hain to be International Development? Not sure it rings true to me. Why brief the sacking of Short as soon as the war finishes if her reason for staying on is to manage reconstruction? Also, if reshuffle is to be after war.. well, couldn't that be quite a long time? Perhaps we should pay attention to when the reshuffle happens, as it might be a reflection of war timing expectations. If it happens while we engage the enemy, will it mean that they expect it to go on for a while longer yet?

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UNDER THE RADAR: Foundation hospitals bill delayed?

The FT reports that the debate over Foundation hospitals had been held up. Significant or simply timetableing? You'd need to know a lot more than I do about the commons timetable than I do to know.

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Peter Cuthbertson kicks me in the teeth.

Peter Cuthbertson, the conservative commentator with whom the UK left wing bloggers most frequently bang heads (In part because of his astonishing workrate, in part because he is, for a left winger, something of an archetypal Tory), decides to expose my crooked and twisted arguments to merciless examination for decay and gingivitis (oh OK, enough of the tired Dentistry metaphors).

I note he doesn't mention the story that kicked off my discussion.Private dentists are ripping off their customers, according to the regulator. Nor has he (or any other conservative Blogger, to be fair) engaged with the other story I filed under the same heading- that State Nurseries are delivering better education than private ones.
I suppoe it would be too much to ask for a response on two stories that undermine the conservatives main policy proposals for domestic issues, a huge increase of the role of the free market in education and health.

Peter asks,"How can the provision of better treatments harm the NHS? By paying for treatment oneself, one leaves tax money that would otherwise have been spent on oneself to be spent on others. By providing healthy competition, the private sector puts pressure on the state sector to deliver to more patients. And by innovation and creativity, the private sector can create new methods to be spread around all other systems of dental care."

My point is indeed that the politically motivated decision to drive the decline of NHS dentistry has led to a situation where the poor have bad teeth and the rich have good, cosmetically aligned teeth. I shall attempt to demonstrate why.

The decline in NHS dentistry and increase in treatment by private dentists is not merely an example of the Private sector meeting the markets needs. It represents, for fairly obvious reasons, a diversion of resources from the care for poorer peoples teeth to the more intense care of richer peoples.

Dentistry according to need led to the distribution of limited resources to fix the most important health issues. Rotting teeth were pulled, regular check ups, put in place. It is true that not much attention was paid to cosmetic issues (Hence the comparison between Britain and the US). However, since the Tory reforms if the 1990's there has been a steady reduction in the fees paid to NHS dentists and a steady increase in the private sector. Standards weren't perfect before, but there was a degree of equity in the treatment. However, The Conservative government negotiated a new contract with dentists, which has led to a virtual freeze in standards for NHS dentistry and reduced the fees available for NHS dentistry.

As a result, NHS patients are now less likely to find a dentist, less likely to have a check up, more likely to suffer from dental pain and more likely to have bad teeth overall than their wealthy counterparts. In the poorest areas, after 40 years of steady improvement, levels of oral health are the same as they were fifteen years ago. Not a single advance in heath or hygiene has helped. The rising tide of flouridisation has merely kept standards where they were.

The issue driving this is of course that people in the private sector can afford not only to have their oral health issues addressed, but also to have their oral cosmtic issues addressed. I don't blame them for that, they are behaving as rational consumers in the free market, but anyone who denies the simple truth of this change in resource allocation is either blind or wilfully ignorant. It's not even hard to see. The Cosmetic dentistry business is booming. More Dentists are doing private treatment. Private treatment is far more geared to cosmetic issues (for obvious market driven reasons), less dentists do NHS work, the standard of oral health in the poorest sections of society has stopped improving ofter 40 years. Join the dots.

Now of course, the Conventional private sector respone to this would be that the increase in income from private dentistry would lead to an increase in the numbers of Dentists overall. The changes have been in place for over a decade now. What is happening? There has been an increase in the total number of dentists (apparently driven by movement from Sweden and South Africa, believe it or not!), but the number will start declining soon (The Swedes have changed their rules and the South Africans were a one time bonus- There will be an influx of Eastern Europeans, but after that, a fall), but this increase has clearly not been enough to improve care for the poorest. The reason? Well very obvious really. The extra dentists have all gone to the Private sector. The BDA estimates NHS dentist numbers are down 1,800. Combine this with the increase in hours spent by the remaining dentists on private patients and it doesn't take any kind of intelligence to work out that the overall time spent on NHS patients is declining rapidly.

So, is this non-NHS time being used to improve the health of poorer peoples teeth, with the proviso that they pay for it themselves? Not according to the Audit commission. They say "The spread of private practice is an important issue for the less well off,especially in the south.For the
poorest,who are exempt from NHS charges,the high proportion of private practices reduces their chances of finding free continuing care.For those who are not exempt,
yet not well off,the often substantially higher private charges make affordable continuing care difficult to find"

Their report shows the trend is to more cosmetic treatments, more avoidance of dentistry and less treatment sought and recieved by the poorest. They say surveys report that Adult registration rates with dentists have declined heavily, cosmetic and private treatments (even on the NHS, cosmetic treaments generate more income) are increasing, and a quarter of people report having been told that they will removed from their NHS dentists lists. The comparison with childern, who are exempt from charges is staggering. Children's registration rates are steady. What is happening is that parents who cannot afford treament are making sure their children are registered for the free treatment they are entitled too. In some cases, even the children are being turned away.

Meanwhile, When Peter goes to the Dentist, "I was seen within minutes, but while I waited, I looked around the waiting room and the television caught my eye. It was advertising all the treatments customers could buy, showing rather gratituous but revealing Before and After pictures of various teeth. The contrast between this and an NHS waiting room could not be starker".

Quite so. Cosmetic treatment promoted instead of health. Resource devoted to those who can afford it, not on the basis of need, over crowded NHS dentists services, many missing from Dentistry entirely. It works for Peter though.

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Thursday, March 27, 2003

A failure of the free market 2- a second Under the Radar story

Private Dentists rip you off. Read the cost comparisons between the NHS dentists and private Dentists for the same treatment. The Private sector charges up to 10 times the price for the same treatment. Maybe it all goes on mouthwash flecked with gold for the discerning patient.

On something of a tangent, One of the most interesting articles I read in the New Statesman was about the impact of the decline of NHS dentistry on British teeth. I know for Americans, British dentistry is something of a joke, not being as focused on cosmetics as the US industry, (The basic attitude in UK dentistry was, we'll fix your teeth on the NHS, if you want them straight, you pay. As a result, few people really were interested in purely cosmtic treatment). The point is that the actual health of British people's teeth is now a clear indicator of class. Rich people have good teeth. Poor people (and their children) have bad teeth. This is a direct impact of the quiet introduction of the private sector into British Dentistry.

The really sad thing is that this trend wil very shortly become a sign of social snobbery. Soon the wealthy will look at the poor and notice how terrible their teeth are. They will mention it in newspaper articles and shudder inwardly when the poor talk. It will be used as yet another social divide, like Glaswegian accents, or cheap clothes, being seen as a sign of stupidity and a lack of sophistication- a legitimate target for snobbery, a sign of poor taste.

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A failure of the free market- an Under the radar story

Private nurseries are less successful than State nurseries at educating children.

Shall we use this as an argument for the abolition of the free market?

Now, I suspect (but don't know) that actually, the question is likely to be one where the wildly varying standards that the fairly free market in private nurseries allows is not suited for it's societal purpose. On the other hand, the more regimented (you must have a teacher with X qualification, You must follow X curriculum) approach of the state is relatively effective. This might be an argument for greater regulation as much as for the State alone,but it's certainly an interesting question for libertarians to address.

(If I was wearing my Labour party member's hat, I'd bang on about how much Labour has increased nursery provision for children. But That would be partisan,,,)

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It's not easy being a reporter in wartime

An interesting and thoughful piece on why reporters are not pleasing everyone in this war in the Times. It's especially interesting on the role of the "embedded" reporters. I've noticed that they tend to be not the big names, but hadn't wondered why.

As an aside, It's right to say that it is far too early for any non-expert to reach any kind of view on how the war is going. I mean, Day 8, However, on the media front, yesterday's outrageous bias feels like today's prescience. Scepticism about uncorrobarated reports from embedded reporters seems to be a sensible rule so far in this war, especially if, as it seems, they are less experienced than many war reporters. This isn't because they're biassed, but I can imagine if you speed past a town in an advanced unit, I can imagine how you might give the impression that the town had been "taken"

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Strippers of the world unite...

You have nothing to lose but your revealing outergarments. Wonderful little story about unionising Strippers in the Telegraph that is almost certainly a puff for the GMB rather than a serious initiative, but deserves a mention nonetheless. Good for the GMB!

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Wednesday, March 26, 2003

I had a go at Polly Toynbee last week.. but this is a wonderful article.

The plight of the low paid is one of those political issues that it very hard to draw attention to. Polly Toynbee makes the effort to write a wonderful article on a neglected topic of political discourse. She's dead right about the vital nature of the issue. You may not agree that raising the minimum wage is the best route to improve the life of these people, but I defy you not to see why it is imperative that their lives be made better.

"the contract workers spoke quietly, stumbling and apologetic as they described their frustration at bad equipment, broken cookers, lack of wheelchairs, no proper cleaning tools, unable to do their job as well they wanted. It was not just bad pay and conditions, but indignation at disrespect, excluded from the hospital teams where they worked. One woman ended up choking out, "They treat us like pigs!" Some worked double shifts with 80-hour weeks in several jobs to make ends meet. A porter told of the four different pay rates among his colleagues all doing the same job, their pay depending randomly on which contractor had employed them. These lowest paid workers get none of the London weighting which compensates valued teachers, police or nurses for the high cost of living. "

PS Some of Ms. Toynbee's social commentary reminds me of Nick Davies's Dark Heart, which I advise you all to pop over to Amazon and buy right now. (there's a handy ad just to your right!) Dark Heart is a superb book and well worth a few pounds of anybody's money. Peter Cuthbertson in particular should read it, as it might give him another perspective to the unpleasant experience he had in Darlo town centre the other day.

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Barbara Amiel on the BBC

Well, another voice has been raised in the anti-beeb Chorus, Barbara Amiel, wife of the Proprietor of the Daily Telegraph and frequent contributor to, you guessed it, the Daily Telegraph op-ed page, has once again rolled a grenade into the BBC’s tent.

Incidentally, Ms Amiel is not only the nth anti-BBC voice of the war, she is also one of the top names in the trend that’s sweeping journalism. Low talent Op Ed Nepotism. (Coren’s V &G, Stothard, A. This means you.)

What is Ms Amiel concerned with? She believes that the BBC is biased against Israel. Or perhaps she believes that the BBC is objective, but that the objectivity is, to borrow a phrase, objectively- pro tyrant. Clear? Let me quote.

“In any independent broadcasting unit, the parti pris attitude of the BBC Arabic Service could be declared openly. But its mandate and guidelines do not allow this. They must give partiality the false gloss of objectivity.”

Or alternatively

“This raises a further difficulty. To be impartial between the Ba'athist dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the Wahhabi theocracy of Saudi Arabia and the Islamist terror of the late, unlamented Taliban on one hand and Israel, the single functioning democracy of the Middle East and the West on the other is in the same ballpark as being impartial between any of the totalitarian systems of the 20th century and liberal democracy.”

I’m not sure which Ms Amiel believes, that the BBC is partial, but on the wrong side, or trying to be impartial (which is also wrong), but one thing is clear the BBC is wrong.

I humbly disagree.

In the words of Ms Amiel herself:

“The Arab world is not alone in thinking that any commentary that supports its partisan point of view is impartial, while any commentary that actually is impartial is biased against it. But while the Arab world is not alone in this, it is one of the leaders of the school that regards its own propaganda as balanced and any criticism as an example of prejudice”

I couldn’t put it better myself. I would say that Ms Amiel and much of the blogosphere are surely the other leaders. (and again, she seems confused about whether impartiality is either possible or desirable).

The job of the BBC is to report what is going on. That means sometimes - shudder - giving time to people who might be evil. The BBC was one of the news organisations that reported the genocide of the Kosovars and the Bosnians. It also, correctly, reported that the bombing of Serbia was shoring up support for the regime. It also took the briefings of the of the Taliban foreign minister, sitting, with the rest, in that garden in Islamabad.

Why do some react so terribly to the same balance now? Is our case so weak that we must become hysterical against any airtime given to our critics, however ludicrous and wild-eyed they seem. (Personally, I would bet money that every appearance of Saddam’s henchmen on our television’s reinforces the public view that this is a dangerous despotic regime).

Ms Amiel explicitly compares the dictatorial regimes of the Mid East with those of Communism. Fair enough, I don’t dissent from that view. However, what would her proscription there have been? That every report from the Soviet Union be prefaced with the words: “This report is brought to you by a reporter operating within a totalitarian society that has murdered millions of it’s own people. The leaders are implicated in the murder of thousands, whose dissidents are murdered and shot and whose economic performance is based on a lie”

That would have been true and right. But would anyone who did not already believe that the Soviet Union was evil have paid any attention to the report that followed? I doubt it. I think they would have seen it as one sided propaganda.

Why would they be so foolish? Because once you abandon objectivity everything that is produced is suspect. The problem is that if you want to convince, you cannot just tell people one side of the story. You have to show that of both sides, one is more in accordance with reality. To do that, you need to give both sides a fair hearing, no matter how unpleasant they are. Those who interview his spokespeople and counterpose that with reality better make the point that Saddam’s regime is evil than those who throw accusations at him.

The second reason that this would have been a bad idea is that objectivity is like virginity. Once you lose it, you can’t get it back. If you didn’t give Stalin objective reporting, then why give independence leaders objective reporting? or the Viet Cong? or indeed any movement editors or producers dislike? The justification of partiality is that these people don’t deserve fair treatment. But who decides the virtuous and the unclean? Can they be trusted?

That way Pravda lies.

What disturbs me about the “no-to –objectivity “ movement that flows through Ms Amiel’s piece and through many blogs is how it seems to be a cry to be spoonfed with opinions that agree with the readers prejudice.

I read Ms Amiel and Andrew Sullivan and Peter Cuthbertson and the Times (and nowadays, Paul Routledge) and I watch the BBC and Newsnight and listen to Today, not because I agree with them. I don’t expect to.

I read and watch and listen because their perspective might add something to mine, their partiality or objectivity challenges my assumptions and makes me see things anew, make me change my arguments or put them to the test. Why, given this rich freedom to be challenge do so many seem to want to retreat into a comfortable world where those who you agree with are always right and everyone else is an idiot or a criminal? It’s not only a little pathetic, it’s a recipe for bad judgement.

One of the reasons the British army was defeated on several occasions by African armies was because they began to believe their own propaganda about the savages. They didn’t deign to listen to annoying voices or try to be objective. Our modern writers and thinkers should be wary of making the same mistake.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have never been an employee or interviewee of the BBC. I have however been involved in campaigns that have both been boosted and shafted by BBC reporters.

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What's happening under the radar?

Given the war is drowning out any political news from your radar screen, I propose setting up an new service, the under the radar service. Little stories that would be bigger stories but for the war.

Under the Radar Watch No 1: Union election "see how left I am" competition. You can't win a union election by saying how moderate and sensible you are, runs the wisdom. Nope, you've got to swing to the left. This is because union activist are more left wing than Labour party members and ordinary members are less likely to vote. Second, There is a follow the leader effect. All the candidates saw what has happened in unions like PCS, Amicus-AEEU, RMT and so on. So they're not likely to run to the right after those results. So the centrists swing to the left, the left swing lefter and the far left complain about opportunists. In a way, the best comparison is the Democratic promary system, where the mantra appears to be, run to the left to please the base.

There are General Secretary elections this year in the T&G and GMB, and each candidate will be trying to shaw clear red water between themselves and the lickspittle fellow traveller position of their rivals. As you can see bfrom this briefing from candidate Tony Woodley here. He says, for example: “This Government is as unpopular as it can be with traditional Labour supporters. They have lost the support and the confidence of working people.”

But hold on, isn't this the same man of whom it was said:

"But he has taken chances by selling to workers so many unpopular management deals that some feared it would jeopardise his career. Some call it risky; others use the word visionary. Woodley calls it leadership. His style is blunt, often acerbic, always focused.

Industry expert Professor Garel Rhys of Cardiff University Business School said: 'He has built a good reputation as a bit of a firebrand into that of an individual who recognises that the only people who can guarantee a job are the motorists who buy cars."

See, it's politics, isn't it? Woodley faces Jack Dromey in the election and has the handy fact that Dromey was an early radical and is now the husband of Harriet Harman. His narrative runs the wrong way for this race, and he is desperately tying to reverse.

(The same thing is happening in the GMB election of course, with Paul Kenney of London and Kevin Curran of the North-East racing each other to the left... but in this case, both of them have reputations for reasonableness generally, and I've heard some Labour party people say that who-ever wins the GMB election will be an improvement on John Edmonds, who has well and truly taken an outside pissing in approach to the government.)

Spo why aren't the Government panicking over these hard left new radicals tearing up the union movement? In part, I susppect it's for the reasons stated above. They must understand the olitical realities of the union elections and respect them.
Also, there's a ballast issue. Because the leaders of the bigger unions have real influence (in a way the FBU for example, don't.) there is more of an incentive to be boadly co-operative. Neither Woodley nor Kenney, Nor Curran or dromey are going to need to make their reputation in the same way Gilchrist or scargill tried to do. They will automatically be listened to on their key issues, and that leads to greater incentive to give a little back.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Robinson not a proper Charlie

Former Treasury Minister, Former Chief Exec of Jaguar, Former loaner of money to Mr P. Mandelson and current owner of Tribune, Geoffrey Robinson, will not face charges over the mysterious white substance found near his person during a police enquiry into erratic driving. Police have confirmed that the white powder was cocaine, but couldn't be sure that the cocaine fairy hadn't scattered it on the floor of the Police van while Mr Robinson was sitting there.

It is not yet clear whether Mr Robinson will still face charges over failing to provide a breath test and driving without insurance.

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Politics seems to be unimportant at the moment..

So perhaps that's why we still don't have a Leader of the House of Commons (8 days and counting). I think this must be some kind of record. Why can this be? After all, how much time does it take to appoint a cabinet minister? Well, the obvious answer is that the person who will get the job is wrapped up in the War effort and so can't be spared right now (Which is also why we don't have an Ambassador to Washington right now). . Which to me, points to Hilary Armstrong (Chief Whip) or Adam Ingram (Minister of State ot Defence). I suspect, sneakily, that it might be Ingram, who has been number 2 at Northern Ireland and the MoD, and is supposed to have a good relationship with other MP's. Or Perhaps Hilary is to go to Leader and Adam Ingram gets the back seat role of Chief Whip for which his backroom lole in NI and MoD might seem to suit him.

Pure speculation, with no evidence or inside to support it.

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Monday, March 24, 2003

OK, I've got an RSS thingy, (I think)

Look, I don't know what it is, but people have asked me to put it on. So on the column to your right, I think you can now find an RSS thing (under the imaginatively titled RSS thingy). Or maybe it's called XML. I dunno.

Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn't. Frankly, I wouldn't know the difference. Let me know. and let me know what it's for, because despite manful efforts from others, I don't understand it at all.

British Spin. You Demand, I Provide.

Thanks to Gary Murphy for his help in telling me about this, and Lance Knobel for telling me I should do it.

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Quit whining abut the BBC

It's clearly fashion of the day to blast the BBC. Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, Instapundit Lileks, Iain Murray.. it's enough to make you believe in a vast right wing conspiracy!

I mean come on. Forget 60 years of relentlessly clear reporting. Forget the fact that the BBC has never been a simple propaganda tool for the British government, instead aspiring to be something more complex and more ambitious, a reporting of objectivity and fairness of the world around it. BBC reporters dare to be rude to Generals, they question whether things are going well, they curl their lips, they sneer, they pronounce words diferently to Americans, They.. *shudder* give air time to the Iraqi's.

I don't hold a massive torch for the BBC. I've got mad at BBC reporters plenty of times when I think they've been rude and unfair to a point of vew I believe in. I've also seen lots of people I disagree with do exactly the same. That's broad balance.

However, If good reporting is the kind of questioning that US reporters seem to give Bush. I'm a banana. The purpose of reporters is not to lob up soft ones for the masterful politicians to knock out of the ground. it's to ask tough questions, to challenge presumptions, to probe, to push boundaries. What the Warbloggers seem dislike is good journalism, rather than the breathless repeating of lines to take.

America and the UK are invading a foriegn country. You seriously expect the BBC not to report the official Iraqi reaction in depth? Every report I've seen has prefaced this with the note that the reports are limited. There have been many reports on the BBC about Iraqi's welcoming troops. There are rightly also reports about Iraqi's returning fire and holding up movement of coalition troops.

The US and UK briefing on the war have clearly been seen to be.. well lets be kind and say, running ahead of events. You expect reporters not to note this? You expect them not to counsel caution about the discovery of Chemical Weapons plants? When we were told by CNN three days ago that Basra had fallen? Come on. That's crazy. At least if they are to be at all objective.

There is strong resistence to the US and UK advance in some areas. This should be ignored? That's self censorship.

The propaganda war is an important factor of this war. The US showed as much by briefing so strongly on the possibility of the death of Saddam Hussein. So BBC reporters should not mention propaganda impications of military developments? That's asking them to ignore the obvious.

Ask yourself this question. Despite the BBC's terrible bias, the image of America abroad was incredibly strong 18 months ago. Has the BBC (and their cowardly media allies) become so much more anti-American to drive this? Or just maybe, is the BBC World service reflecting a scepticism about US motives that is shared by virtually every nation outside the USA and asking the questions those people want to see asked?

You want global support? Then quit whining when people ask unpleasant questions, answer them and try and work out why they seem legitimate.

And by the way, if having people captured is a Public relations success as James Lileks seems to believe, Then imagine how great the reaction must be in Baghdad with all their POW's giving themselves up. That's why they're covering the Iraqi POWs in Alliance hands on Baghdad 24 hour news.

Frankly, When I watch Fox and CNN and (to a lesser extent Sky), I'm shocked at how.. gullible they sound. Every uncorrobrated report is carried as if fact, and then completely rowed back from a few hours later without any sense of shame. Call it the Florida syndrome. I'd be surprised if anyone outside the US regards them as a reliable and objective media source.

I don't hold with a lot of factors of 24 hour news. it tends to demand the quickest image, not the most reliable one. It leads to an over preponderance of talking heads, not sober reflective analysis and evidence. But that's the nature of the medium. I say Kudos to the BBC for exhibiting scepticism and attempting to provide balanced reporting. I might not like it, but it's not the purpose if news to stroke my prejudices (Blogs do that very well, thank you very much!)

Oh,. and Sky are now reporting that there is NO Chemical Weapons facility.. So the BBC were right on that one then.

I can't help but think that the reason this reaction to the BBC is a factor, not of the bias of the BBC, but of a percieved stutter in the progress of the campaign. I don't regard the BBC as out of line on this, and many other Media representatives in the UK are saying the same (Sky news included). The BBC are just a convenient whipping boy. It's all a bit pathetic really, because even if there is a stutter it's day 5 for chrissakes, You're bound to get slowing up. If you're truly confident, don't be so prickly.

(oh and by the way, the BBC question to Franks just now was "can you tell us more about operations in the rest of Iraq" What treasonous sedition.)

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A choice? No a chance for a Europe tranformed

Two very contrasting but oddly re-inforcing peices on Europe and the UK today, which cause me to expand further on my musing about how to sell Europe to the British, an argument that says the tactic of saying how much we "need Europe" is doomed to fail

First Bruce Anderson in the Independent. He argues that the war has holed the EU badly, that the in respose the Franc-German alliance is devisng ways to deal with perfidious albion (and presumably the perfidious Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Eastern Europeans also). He makes the interesting point that the US is unlikely to let the EU into any Israel/Palestinian peace process, but would have to let the UK in and concludes that the UK is faced with a tough choice between a europe that will require a lot of compromise to accept the UK with open arms (again with the Europe=France/Germany..)

David Frum, the former Bush speech writer, makes the case for the UK siding with the US from the White House side (and in doing so, beefs up Andersons point that "Bush cannot understand why Blair might prefer the EU to the special relationship"). He makes a strong case for the British interest in being the ally of the USA in a new, globalised coalition of the willing style NATO. "America craves partners - and of all potential partners, Britain is both the most capable and the most reliable. This is not empire; this is that "role" that Dean Acheson long ago urged Britain to find".

Personally, I accept the diagnosis of Frum and Anderson but reject the prescription. Britain has a historic opportunity, but it is not to intergrate further to the unpapatable Franco-German vision of the EU, nor to become the American Lieutenant (or deputy Sheriff- at least we pronounce that the same!) It is instead, to transform the EU, to end the dominance of the Franco-German leadership and turn it, with the help of the Spanish, Italians, Eastern Europoeans into a true Union of Nations. This requires not the traditional balking at constant French intiatives, but the aggressive promotion of an alternative vision. Looser union, freer global trade, reform of CAP, limited powers for the EU but those powers more effectively used. All these points and others could be turned into a new manifesto for Europe that might just trump the communitaire vision of the French.

The choice may be the current EU or the US. The opportunity is a transformed, British EU.. and now, thanks to the leadership of Tony Blair, who has for the first time directly and unambiguously challenged France and Germany and had an alternative, not just a No, it is even possible to see the alliances that could deliver it.

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Gosh, Yasmin Alihibai Brown is really angry

This is less an article than a transcribed rant. It starts off with some stuff about a cinema ticket with dollars on and then goes off from there. I don't quite understand why she's upset about America telling Turkey not to invade Iraq though. I mean, I think that's the best thing america could do. However, that's probably symptomatic af the logical confusion that lies at the heart of all emotional, furious reaction. As such, no point in taking down the arguments, they are less significant than the sound and the fury itself.

One thing than really gets my goat though. I really can't stand this traducing of Tammy Wynette. OK she wrote Stand by your man. But she had Four husbands. Four. and lots of affairs. So if you're going to compare Tony Blair's unwavering loyalty to anyone, better not be Tammy Wynette.

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I (little hearty shaped thing) The New York Times

Hello, Americans. Actully, probably not, as it's what, 7am over there. Just wanted to suggest that if you want a balanced, fair and judicious summary of the political position in the UK and the British attitude to Bush, read this article by Warren Hoge in the NY Times. No complaining about bias from this blogger.

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Sunday, March 23, 2003

If you want closer integration with Europe, stop saying Britain is insignificant

Richard Overy has an article in the Independent today in which he attacks Tony Blair for dividing Birtain from Europe, along the same lines of Polly Toynbee on Friday. In the course of the piece, he describes Tony Blair as "the leader of a medium-sized European state". The general thrust of the article is that Britain cannot function without Europe, so any policy that divides us from France and Germany is foolish and error strewn. This mistake, says Professor Overy, is symptomatic of a post-war British foriegn policy that has constantly balked at the European embrace and this will lead to disaster and must be overturned.

This is a typical argument from the Pro-European lobby. I've lost count of the times I've read articles by pro-Europeans than in effect make the argument that Britain needs to join the Euro/Integrate further/compromise on CAP because we need Europe to shore up our position as a delining imperial power/small state off the coast of Europe/economy dependent on Europe/society with apalling public services. We hear it even more now on the subject of foriegn policy and war.

These arguments may well be true. That doesn't matter. What matters is that it is a terrible way to persuade those unsure about greater participation.

These arguments reflect the backwash of the decline in the UK's fortune in the immediate postwar world. But that trope is ended. The British, by and large, are proud of their achievements. Rightly or wrongly, we see a strong economy, low unemployment, low interest rates, a confident nation abroad and a wealthier society at home.The Post war generation struggling with decline has been replaced by a post Beatles generation more confident culturally and in ourselves.

Rightly or wrongly, Many Britons look across the channel and see unemployment, stagnating economies, yes, better public services, but at a price they do not wish to pay. They see a greyer continent. This might not apply to Public sector professionals. It might might not apply to University professors and those who share that point of view. For them, The better working conditions may be a thing to be envied. But from a Private sector point of view, It certainly applied in my old company. We didn't like our American colleagues much, but we hated the limits of our European subisdiaries. We thought they were incompetent, 2nd rate and treading water. And I certainly don't know many people who want to take a lot from European popular culture (except for the Ibiza kids of course).

Further, Many Britons don't even look across the channel at all. Britons self-identify as Europeans less than any other EU member. Culturally you need only to look at the TV schedules to see where our cultural comparators are (and it is a two way process- Pop Idol, Who wants to be a millionaire, Ali G and The office go one way, Blind Date, Friends, Buffy and The West Wing go the other. The only major European import? Big Brother). For many of us, it is not that we feel inferior to Europe, it is that Europe barely exists as a political/social force.

Now, It is one thing to tell people they should join Europe to rescue the country from disaster when the evidence of decline is all around them, as it was in the Seventies. It is quite another when they generally regard things as going pretty well. In response, some Pro-Europeans rhetoric has become more heated. You might not realise how bad a mess you're in, they seem to say, but the apocolypse will come if you don't heed us.

I venture to suggest that this strategy is flawed as a persuasive tool.

Kurt Hahn, the German educator and founder of Gordounstoun once said "There are three ways of trying to win the young..... You can preach at them; that is a hook without a worm. You can say "you must volunteer." That is the devil. And you can tell them, "you are needed" that hardly ever fails."

At the moment, the Pro-European campaign is preaching and hectoring to the British people. To succeed it needs to try and attract them. Ask why Europe needs the UK, ask what we can do for Europe as full partners, what we can add to Europe and gain in turn. This will appeal to a more confident Britian, a Britain not mired in the sclerosis of post-war decline.

If you want the unsure to vote yes to the Euro, draw us a vision of a powerful, leading Britain delivering Europe from artery choking lethargy and leading a new Europe into a brighter future. It might be a exaggeration, but it'd be a damnedably attractive one.

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