Saturday, 22 July 2017
This blog is now taking its annual summer sabbatical. There will still be plenty of content here, mostly in the form of videos and music. The Bible: A Very Grim Fairytale continues every Sunday as usual as do the film reviews on Saturday but the Video Diary is taking a rest until September.
If something big happens, or if politics continues to astonish and confound us by refusing to take a break from intrigue and endless drama then of course it will be reflected here. Otherwise I'm taking a few weeks off. Have a nice summer, or whatever season you are in in your part of the world.
Friday, 21 July 2017
Earlier this week the Prime Minister accused Chauncey of talking the country down. This was fair enough, although this is hardly new in the career of Chauncey. Indeed he has long regarded it as his principled duty to do so. But perhaps she should have said the same of some of the scribblers who have been writing about the Brexit negotiations this week.
Take the now infamous picture above. A lot has been said and written about it as though it is somehow symbolic. Yet all it really symbolises is the classic British inferiority complex. It was a photo opportunity. British officials and David Davis their boss saw no reason to take documents with them to a photo opportunity, indeed given the antics of photographers in Downing Street they were probably wise. The talks didn't really get underway until much later after David Davis had headed home. But this didn't stop anyone finding symbolism and claiming that this proved that Britain is woefully unprepared for the marathon talks ahead.
In fact, as is often the case, we are extremely well prepared and the Commission is wary of us. They are even worried, probably justifiably, that we are spying on them. The British have taken a high powered team to Brussels and are very well briefed. The Commission has made all of the early running on sounding unreasonable, unbending, intransigent and arrogant. We have been polite by comparison, with the possible exception of Boris.
It's still early days of course but there is much to be optimistic about. For a start the Brits are steadfastly refusing to bend on the issue of money and of setting out what we think we should pay. If it is a bill with which we are being presented it seems to be a stretch to ask the payer to set out what it should pay and its reasons for doing so. There is no legal basis to demand any cash at all from us. If Europe thinks otherwise it should justify its demands of us not expect us to make our case. The fact that we may in the past have agreed to pay for various projects and infrastructure - an argument made by the BBC last night - rather misses the point that we made such an agreement as part of the EU. Then we decided to leave instead. Thus any agreements are null and void unless good legal arguments can be made to prove otherwise. If Europe still refuses to budge on this by the end of the summer then perhaps we should walk out in a huff. It's not very British, but it might convey to them we will not be making any compromises on this.
Or on the ECJ. This continues to be something that the EU seems to be sticking to for now at least. Yet what they are demanding is once again wholly unreasonable. Britain is leaving the EU. The EU's argument, such as it is, is that EU citizens who came here to work, did so expecting to be protected by EU law and thus the ECJ should have the final say. This is patent nonsense. EU citizens have been offered the assurance that they will be allowed to stay here. As such they will be protected by British laws. If they really consider that the EU offers such overwhelmingly greater protections for them then they have the right to seek employment opportunities elsewhere. But Britain's legal system is a byword for fairness. There is no need whatever for EU citizens to be fearful should they decide to stay in a country they have made their homes, indeed it is unlikely that many have such fears. This is just EU grandstanding around a non issue.
And that is the greater symbolism of this week, much more than that picture of an empty table in front of British officials. The EU side had their props - they were after all on home turf - but it nicely symbolised their whole stance. It really shouldn't be hard to do a deal with Britain if they genuinely want to do a deal, after all most of what needs to be done is already in place if true goodwill exists. Britain already trades freely with Europe it's just we have exercised our democratic right to leave a club whose goals we do not share. If on the other hand they want to make the process seem as difficult and unwieldy as possible to dissuade any others from taking the same leap then what they are doing makes sense. Ultimately though that is a political choice that will, as usual, have little to do with the best interests of the peoples of Europe and a great deal more to do with the petty concerns of the EU elite and their dreams of ever closer union. They daren't make life too easy for the British for fear of encouraging others to follow our lead. The fact that they are at risk of behaving like the worst kind of autocrats, like China vis a vis Taiwan, is presumably lost on them.
But we will get our deal because standard EU divisions will in time reassert themselves and we will make a success of Brexit because we will be able to govern ourselves again and be more responsive democratic and flexible. Britain was always semi-detached from Europe. Now we are just making that official. In time our leaving will be seen as the right decision for all concerned and cooperation, even if it cannot be agreed initially, will slowly evolve as time goes on. In the meantime stand by for many more months of threats and bombast and depictions of doom and gloom. There will be many more stories about how the French and Germans are intent on destroying the City of London and poaching away our best companies, stories that ignore the fact that the French and Germans were trying to do this before we voted to leave too.
Thursday, 20 July 2017
So I'm confused. If the top paid employees of the BBC had been more evenly distributed between men and women would that have made it all okay? If the top paid DJ had been Zoe Ball rather than Chris Evans would that have been less embarrassing for the corporation? Is Laura Kuenssberg spitting blood because she came back to the Beeb from ITN and undersold herself?
The BBC's excuse for all of those frankly ludicrous salaries is that this is driven by the market. This is demonstrably absurd. The BBC is by far the biggest broadcasting organisation in the country and in certain key markets is the only game in town. And yet it is paying eye watering sums to presenters despite the fact that there is no real competition for the talent it is employing. Everyone was expecting the top paid presenter to be Graham Norton. And that would be more defensible because there is more of a market for his services. But instead it is Chris Evans who is paid £2.2 million to be a DJ on the only national radio station for which he could work. Would Evans really leave Radio 2 if his salary were cut in half and then in half again? What about the other ludicrously overpaid Radio 2 presenters like Steve Wright, who essentially spends most of his programme reading out the news? Or Jeremy Vine. What other station could he work for?
You can make a case for Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly's vast remuneration as they are presenting a massive hit show and would be in demand were they to leave. You can't however make a case for Gary Lineker's silly salary; he could easily be replaced by any number of perfectly acceptable presenters at much lower cost. People after all watch for the football not to hear his midland tones and perfect pecs when he loses a bet. And how is Alan Shearer worth his mega salary? His fellow pundits don't make the list despite many of them being better at the job and more charismatic.
And go down that list and you see other examples of BBC managers who clearly don't understand how markets work. In order for them to use the defence of them needing to pay the market rate there needs to be a market in operation. There isn't. Are there really commercial rivals vying for the signatures of Jason Mohammad and Mark Chapman? They are good and professional presenters but worth a quarter of a million quid a piece? How are they worth so much more than the excellent Emily Maitlis who isn't even on the list meaning she earns less than £150k? And what alternative employment is Radio 4's Eddie Mair going to find to justify his being paid £300,000? Eyebrows have been raised too about Stephen Nolan's £450,000 a year. Who? Nolan works for late night Radio 5 Live and for BBC Northern Ireland. Perhaps he was part of the deal with the DUP.
John Humphries opined yesterday that it seems odd that he needs to justify his salary by means of showing that he could get more money elsewhere, although at least he was honest enough to admit that he loves his job and loves working for the BBC and so would not seek more money elsewhere anyway. But he misses the point of how salaries are set. That is how the BBC justifies them. It is nonsense. Many of us have loved working for the BBC down the years and did so for normal salaries grounded in reality. Humphries is good at his job and his salary was artificially boosted by offering him a quiz show so as to make him look more value for money. But he isn't value for money. He has a great job doing something he loves doing. He shouldn't be on minimum wage but it's hard to see why he should be paid 4 times more than the politicians he gives a daily grilling to.
This is a clear case of BBC management failing once again to manage. The vast majority of BBC staff earn salaries that are good if not spectacular but who have the satisfaction of working for an organisation they are proud of. These are not big stars we are talking about here, they are mostly presenters and newsreaders handed extraordinary sums for no obvious reason other than the BBC's usual poor financial control and willingness to lavish our money on things it doesn't really need. Huw Edwards has managed to persuade managers that he is worth half a million quid when he has no obvious alternative employer and certainly nothing like the same opportunity to present such a wide range of programming for so large an audience.
Then there are the mega salaries of various interchangeable soap opera actors or the astonishing fact that the BBC is paying Derek Thompson, who has been playing Charlie in Casualty badly for the last 30 years in its execrable soap Casualty. The BBC has no business making so much of this bilge at all. That it is paying actors with the range of Thompson an arm and a leg just adds insult to the kind of injury they so poorly depict in their dramas.
As for the Radio 2 salaries, well they are out of control and should be curtailed with urgency. Why any of them should be getting paid so much more than the likes of Simon Mayo and Ken Bruce is hard to fathom. Radio 2 has long pursued a policy of employing big star presenters and is clearly paying accordingly. But has it stopped to ask if it could get away with paying less? How is Chris Evans worth so much more than his colleagues. Answer: he isn't and could easily be replaced with little or no consequence for the audience. Not that this would happen. Evans loves his gig. He has nowhere else to go.
All of this does however hand an excellent response to ministers currently negotiating with the EU. When the results of their travails are revealed in the coming months and they are taken to task by the BBC about them they have a perfect response. Given what you were prepared to pay Chris Evans, Gary Lineker and Jason Mohammad, it's probably fortunate the BBC was not negotiating for the country.
Here's a tip for managers the next time contracts are negotiated. Just say no. Then see what happens. I think we can all guess that the outcome will not be a mass exodus to ITV, Channel 4, Capital Radio and LBC.
Wednesday, 19 July 2017
Last week, embracing her inner Gordon Brown, Theresa didn't turn up for PMQs as she had an appointment with the King of Spain instead, although why Ashley Giles deserves such preferential treatment is unknown. Chauncey, being the exemplar of the new politics, took the opportunity to spend more time with his manhole covers and recently neglected allotment too.
And this week will be the last session before the summer recess, or febrile leadership talk season as it has become known in recent years. This year, for the second year in succession, the Tories are engaging in this sport. Labour have decided against, not because they don't want to, but because if they do the Momentum hordes will briefly stop daubing swastikas on Tory posters and turn their attentions on them instead. This is, after all, the age of kinder and nicer politics. Just ask the people of Grenfell Tower who would like to know who the raving loons speaking on their behalf are and who asked them to put their oar in.
The Cabinet is currently engaged in the kind of backbiting open warfare that Labour until recently made its speciality. On a range of issues, but mostly Philip Hammond, austerity, public sector pay, Philip Hammond, Brexit and Philip Hammond there is no real consensus. Since government is supposed to proceed by consensus they came up with the cunning ruse of leaking what Phil said before consensus was reached. Brilliant!
Theresa is being urged to clamp down on this idiocy. Or to stand down. Or to step up. Or to bang heads together. Or to blow her own brains out. Or something like that. There is no consensus. One possible avenue for her to go with her head held high was lost at the weekend when the BBC named a female Doctor Who. Sadly Jodie Whittaker got the gig rather than the woman presiding over the gig economy. Still, at least it didn't go to George Osborne.
Nothing is certain in politics these days of course, but it seems unlikely now that Theresa will be removed from power over the summer, something that was once talked about as inevitable. Unless of course she does a Diane Abbott and blames ill health for her inability to carry on. She could then demand a job in the Cabinet as her price, like those tennis players who feigned injury only to turn up for the doubles the following day. Diane Abbott also has diabetes, albeit the sort you get from eating too many pies. Think about it Prime Minister. Or consider it on this year's walking holiday.
And of course Labour has rowed back on its tuition fees and student debt promises. These weren't promises apparently, they were aspirations. Labour also aspires to one day have a coherent policy on Europe, in the meantime it has a policy to waffle endlessly until interviewers give up. If they are from the BBC they probably have other financial matters on their minds.
This week Chauncey was in full sanctimonious mode again on the issue of public sector pay and the current travails of the Cabinet. They are bickering he said, seemingly forgetting the last couple of years in his own party. Labour too are bickering, they are just putting on a more united front in public. Sarah Champion was on the BBC talking to Andrew Neil: paid half of what Huw Edwards is paid. She made various contradictory assertions vis a vis student tuition fees but essentially admitted that the Labour leader lied about 'dealing' with student debt. They can't. It's impossible as many of us pointed out. This looked like a brilliant ruse at the election. Now interviewers, even those paid as little as Andrew Neil, are on the case.
And Chauncey continued his strange sub Dickensian tales of the misery that a pay cap has inflicted on the country. Quite how this can be the case is puzzling. He gave as an example the starting salaries of various public sector workers like nurses and police officers. In so doing he probably gave a boost to recruitment efforts. Apparently playing doctors, nurses and cops nets you a starting salary a starting salary of £23k. Kerching. Across the country people will have been wondering what the hell all the fuss is about. Starting on 20 grand plus? When you are still learning? With better pensions, maternity and paternity rights, annual leave and general working conditions? Sounds great. It's nearly as lucrative as reading an autocue for the BBC. Quite how such salaries lead to the kind of misery and food banks depicted by Chauncey is a mystery. Could it be that nurses are as useless at managing their money as Labour governments?
What Labour also never mention is that public sector workers get automatic annual increments to their pay regardless of performance. They are called pay bands. Nurses and teachers also move around within the NHS or education system and increase their salaries accordingly. Pay freezes are only part of the story. In the NHS in particular, nurses frequently set aside their devotion to the service by doubling their pay by going and working for agencies and thus fleecing the good old NHS of much needed funds.
It would be churlish however not to admit that, though much of what he says is inaccurate and dishonest Chauncey has got much better at saying it. His confidence is there for all to see. It's the same old impecunious drivel about spending money we don't have and throwing it at any and all problems and hoping that solves them. As usual Labour make the mess, Tories are left to clear it up and then get blamed for being hard hearted. It's part of the cycle of politics. It would be dreary and depressing under normal circumstances, but with Chauncey in charge and a possibility to take charge of the whole country it is alarming because he would be so much worse and more vindictive. Imagine the devastation he could wreak on the country as we leave the EU. He doesn't even understand what the Single Market and customs union are.
The PM has to a large extent got her mojo back. She is never particularly good at these sessions but she was good enough to hold her own against a Labour leader who remains better than expected but still not very good. Maybe Labour could put that on a poster.
Presumably the PM will still be the PM when we meet again on 6th September. But you never know. Today's performance certainly won't have done her any harm.
Tuesday, 18 July 2017
From Thursday Parliament rises for the recess and we all get a chance for a breather and to take stock. For many, this blog included, it cannot come soon enough.
They say however that, though MPs are certainly looking forward to the break and ministers too, it will only take a few days before they get back to what they have lately been so good at - making Labour look coherent and electable. Let us implore them then to think twice before leaking, before backbiting, before briefing against colleagues. And if they do, well Theresa May should sack one or two of them and make examples of them.And yes that includes Boris and David Davis or their 'friends'.
Yes it is true for now that the possibility of a Labour government has receded. But that doesn't mean Tories can relax and recede into the same complacency that got us into this mess. Labour have not made themselves look electable. They are as divided, confused, dishonest and plain nasty as they were before and during the election campaign. Conservatives are somehow contriving to make a Labour Party led by a Marxist, terrorist supporting, Britain hating, nuclear disarming, impecunious fantasist who lied and lied again during the election campaign, not least on the issue of Student tuition fees and loans, look electable. That is not the achievement of Labour. It is the achievement of the hopeless Conservative Party.
I come back to what I wrote several weeks ago not long after the election in which I called on Theresa May to go. I stand by every word. Because this cannot go on. Remember how the Tories drifted listlessly during the 92-97 parliament until they were finally despatched from power? Well the same could be happening again now, except this time it would be power being handed to a Labour Party run not by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown but by Chauncey, Diane Abbott and John McDonnell. Imagine what they could do with the country in possession of a big majority. Will the last person to leave the country turn the lights out?
Theresa May has to go. She has to go because she has no authority and because her Cabinet is behaving like a kindergarten run riot with a hand painting set and a box full of whoopee cushions. They need to get together, be brought together if necessary, heads banged and decisions reached. Things are not so bad yet that we must be spared a leadership election, although that would be preferable. If we must have one then we must have one. But wouldn't it be nice if the party could show some maturity and agree a replacement for Mrs May and then get on with governing in the national interest. The national interest is to deliver Brexit as painlessly as possible, to do so with a minimum of civil war and then to get on with the remarkably easy task of forensically exposing the weaknesses and idiocies of every policy position of Chauncey's Labour Party. Why not start with asking him to explain the difference between the Single Market and the customs union. Sit back. Buy popcorn. Feast on the waffle and that soft voice he employs when he is trying to disguise his mounting panic.
I know all the arguments about this not being the time for a change and that the country would not wait while the Tories choose a new leader. Well the country should have thought of that before it voted for Chauncey in such large numbers - some of them even did so more than once by the sound of it. Such enthusiasm. But the fact is that Theresa May was a terrible mistake. I am as guilty of it as anyone else. Now that mistake needs to be urgently corrected. I am open minded about who should replace her. David Davis would be fine. As would Boris. Those are the only two realistic candidates for now. So make your choices and get on with it. Do it this summer. Forget personal ambition, forget silly antagonisms. Choose a leader and get behind him. This time it will be a him. We cannot afford another month of this.
Monday, 17 July 2017
So they've done it. They've actually done it. The next Dr Who is going to be a woman. Now this has been one of those slow burners that has been coming for years. They have been softening us up for this moment for several series and even since a couple of doctors ago. There were those early hints that Time Lords can change sex when they change bodies. Then there was Missy. I must admit that Missy removed any doubts that I may once have had. Then this last series there have been so many oblique references and jokes to sex and gender that all doubt was removed. This was clearly a done deal.
And so yesterday the BBC revealed that Jodie Whittaker is to be the 13th Tardis traveller. I didn't see that coming admittedly, but I knew it would be a woman for all of the reasons stated above.
And it's obvious with the benefit of hindsight. Chris Chibnall, the new show runner, has worked with Jodie before in Broadchurch in which she was terrific. She is a great actor, great looking and still young and fit enough to do the more physical side of the role. She is also good at light comedy, something essential if Doctor Who is to return to its best.
Yes, inevitably, there has been a mixed reaction. Some are pleased at this leap. Others furious.
I am open minded. I do understand some people's irritation even if I don't understand naked anger and hostility. You could see it as yet more political correctness. But this is a sci-fi show. So why not? And surely we should at least give it a chance. The next series won't be on until next year and nothing has even been shot so far other than the initial scenes as number 12 transforms into number 13.
If I have major reservations it is about Chris Chibnall and not the new Doctor. He is clearly a great and talented writer but can he pull off series after series of Doctor Who? Will he be able to reinvent it, bring in other top writing talent to supplement him and take it back to its glory days of high audiences and better stories?
Looking at it that way a new female doctor may help mightn't she. She will change the aesthetic and the feel of the show. She is younger and will change the dynamics of the role and the way she interacts with others. There will also be opportunity for lots of new jokes. Either way haters of the internet shut up and stop being so vile. A fictional television character with two hearts who time travels in a blue box and is 1000 years old has now become a woman. Are we really saying that this is implausible?
Sunday, 16 July 2017
So in the previous chapter the people doubted God and he very nearly killed the lot of them. Fortunately Moses stepped in and talked him out of it. Now God uses this as an excuse for yet more demands for sacrifices.
The people, following the terrible sin of doubting God, were wandering around in the wilderness as a punishment. While they were doing this God took the opportunity to demand some more animal sacrifices from them.
Essentially this was just another form of taxation. God got all specific. He wanted, or at least his ever hungry priests wanted, a tenth of all of the food that the people ate. Oh and wine too. They needed something to wash all of the food, sorry, sacrifices down. This whole chapter sounds like a menu. I won't bother you with the details. Suffice to say that offerings of lots of dead animals and bread were required.
Interestingly God said it was possible to commit a sin even if you don't know you are committing a sin. Break God's rules and strict liability was demanded. Oh and a sacrifice to atone for it.
If a stranger stayed with them then that was okay with God. But he had better make offerings too. This is odd of course because in previous chapters God had said that strangers were forbidden. Not if they came bearing gifts it would seem.
Breaking the rules deliberately and not caring meant that the sinner was cast out.
And then, almost by design, as they were wandering around in the desert, they came across a man who was gathering sticks. But, shock horror, it was the Sabbath. As a side note how did they come across a stranger if they themselves were not wandering and thus working on the Sabbath? But never mind. Anyway, they took this terrible sinner into custody and asked Moses what should be done with him. Sure enough God wanted him killed. And so he was stoned to death.
Then God told Moses that the people must decorate their clothes with a snazzy blue fringe around the hem. This was to serve as a reminder to keep God's rules.