Spitting Image returns, neutered

The appeal of the original Spitting Image, beyond one-liners and puppets’ appearance, was acerbic satire aimed at authority and at celebrities’ pomposity alongside running jokes and exaggerated observations of personal quirks.  

The UK royal family received plenty of attention at a time of continuous difficulties for its members and the humour aimed at them advanced the acceptability of laughing derisorily at the stupidity of the family’s existence. 

Repeated visual jokes included Norman Tebbit wearing a leather jacket, David Steel depicted as much smaller than David Owen and all of Douglas Hurd’s family looking and sounding exactly like Douglas Hurd.  

Crucially, the show was the first hearing for many viewers of weekly topical jokes.  Competent writers, working close to time for recording a day or so before broadcast, were able to twist a current story for comedic effect or spot an odd characteristic of someone in the news.  In hindsight, they were the meme and gif creators and hashtag originators of their (pre-social media) time, although more sophisticated: short, quick and sharp satirical comments, unfiltered and unashamedly rude. 

Now, editing technology is available to all and worldwide immediate connectability means any satirical observations can trend rapidly.  For example, a simple photo by a Tory MP of his incorrect posh plate of fish and chips encouraged the #6ChipTwat hashtag that can be reactivated at any time to reflect similar reactions to similar events.

Online humour, in response to politicians’ or celebrities’ actions, is usually less accomplished than that of professional comedy writers but its style means the new Spitting Image has lost its uniqueness of presentation, and the immediacy and reach of social media interaction always betters the speed of TV production. 

Other satirical TV shows suffered in comparison with social media wit.  Mock The Week is professional stand-ups’ witty remarks that were already seen elsewhere and The Last Leg, as admittance of no originality, uses the internet as a direct source of material via Widdicombe’s highlights of funny video clips.

Shorn of the exclusivity of its key appeal of three decades ago Spitting Image could have chosen to focus on intelligent writing and well-researched observations for its effect; that is, it could have utilised skills that most online wits eschew.  The Mash Report took that approach and manages to remain relatively fresh, particularly the contributions of the esteemed Rachel Parris.  But, Spitting Image hired Matt Forde as a writer.

Spitting Image will still be mildly amusing but instead of being the trend setter of a certain style of satire and instead of being the first to observe an amusing facet of a famous person’s persona the new series will merely repeat what has already spun around the world on social media.  Undoubtedly, it will be excruciatingly centrist because that appears to be the law for modern British satire on TV. 

And, what about the vegetables?  Oh, they’ll have the same as me.

Related blog: Run-of-the-melts have suffocated satirical comedy

Spitting Image returns, neutered

Keir Starmer: The Bystander’s unvision

Today (September 22nd 2020) Keir Starmer delivered a speech to Labour’s virtual conference ‘Connected’ in Doncaster. 

Supposedly, his speech outlined Labour’s intent if the party were to win the next general election, in 2024, and if Starmer was still the leader.  No-one but political careerists has any interest in an election that is four years away and the odds of Starmer retaining his position as leader until then are infinite.

He stated three proposals for action by the next Labour government 

  • “properly funded universal public services”
  • “investment in skills and a plan, working hand-in-hand with businesses and trade unions, to create high quality jobs”
  • “greener, cleaner society, where every policy is judged not just by how much it costs today but by what it does for the planet tomorrow”

None of the above is problematic but they are the absolute bare minimum that any government should provide.  Public services are, by definition, necessary.  Training and skills are necessary both for workers and for society as a whole.  Impact on the environment and consequences for climate change are necessary factors guiding all infrastructure decisions.

Starmer’s three proposals for a Labour government could have been stated by any other political party.  It would be bizarre if any party in a UK election campaign were to express desires to destroy public services, to deny access to skills training or to deny climate change.  Admittedly, the Tories do possess those desires but choose to lie about their intent; perhaps, Starmer meant Labour’s aim for the minimum is to not be as destructive as the Tories.  It’s a low bar.

Part of his speech concerned formerly traditional Labour seats that switched to Tory in December last year.  Brexit, including Starmer’s mixed messaging and his contradictions of then leader Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal for Brexit, was the key factor in Labour’s losses in those seats.  But, Starmer decided that patriotism and depictions of Corbyn’s perception of it persuaded people to chose the Tories.  Addressing former Labour voters who voted Tory he declared

We’re under new leadership.  We love this country as you do.” 

Starmer has neither the skills nor the compulsion to try to persuade people that extremist free-marketeers and racketeers in the Tories are enemies of working people, and he has nothing to offer the latter other than the basic minimum described above.  Thus, he was reduced to a lazy appeal to the cult of patriotism.  Whenever any politician starts waving a flag around to appease basest instincts it is a crystal clear demonstration that the politician is bereft of ideas, ideology and usefulness.

Starmer revealed his latest three-word slogan: “Opportunity, family and security.”  Those were three eclectic choices to juxtapose.  Starmer discussed nothing that was specific to families.  His inclusion of “family” was just to use a word that people like.  He said he wants Britain to be “a country in which we put family first.”  What does that mean?  Are there governments who hate families?  He said Labour would provide “security for our nation, our families and all of our communities.”  Again, he promised nothing except what would be assumed to be a given.

Adorned with rose-tinted imperialist glasses Starmer exclaimed, presumably with a hundred strong choir belting out all the verses of  ‘Rule Britannia’ in his head,

I can see in my mind’s eye the country I want us to be.  A country which would be an active force for good in the world, once again admired and respected.”

Why does Britain need to be “admired and respected?”  Desperation for admiration and respect is a weird residue of empire.

Starmer is determined to be The Bystander.  He is pathologically fearful of presenting anything that resembles vision.  He is an opponent of focussed ideology.  His words are a parody of a vacuous orator. 

Under his leadership Labour is not “in opposition.”

Related blogs
Keir Starmer: The Bystander
Bridget Phillipson explained Labour’s anti-politics

Keir Starmer: The Bystander’s unvision

Bridget Phillipson explained Labour’s anti-politics

In a speech to right-wing entryists Labour To Win on 13th September Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the treasury Bridget Phillipson delivered a short précis of Labour’s strategy in opposition.  

The single component of her exposition of the party’s strategy was Labour should listen to the public.  Phillipson’s opinion of the public was not complimentary; she assumed glibly that people are ignorant – they don’t follow the news much and they don’t have time to follow the detail of policies that don’t affect them” – and she suggested to her audience that the public should be patronised – we need to listen, learn and use their language.”

If the shadow front bench think the public lack knowledge of cause and effect or of how governments, the capitalist system and the economy works then they could try to help to inform the public but Phillipson said such a strategy is wrong. 

For example, she wants the public to be ignorant of the causes of hardship.

When people complain about local services being terrible, and we nod and talk about the impact of austerity, we cannot be surprised that they don’t think we see things as they do.”

The austerity programme of successive Tory governments was (and is) an ideological policy and part of an ongoing plan to migrate wealth from the poorest to the richest.  Regurgitated New Labour is not opposed to that Tory policy and so it prefers the public to be uninformed of the policy’s intent and consequences while faux sympathetic ears listen to accounts of the devastation of lives and livelihoods.

Phillipson’s suggestion that people don’t understand the causes of problems, such as austerity, was countered by her request that “we [Labour] need to be alive to the concerns people have about tax and the economy.”

Phillipson’s listening strategy was presented as if contrary to strategies of Labour when Corbyn was leader.  She claimed Labour’s election failure was due to not winning arguments on issues that Corbyn focussed on.  Despite thorough costing of Labour’s manifesto’s spending plans Phillipson said Labour was perceived as a tax and spend party.  That perception was created by politicians and client journalists who were opposed to Corbyn’s politics and it was supported by opponents of Corbyn in Labour. 

Starmer, Phillipson and their colleagues were and are opposed to action that redistributes wealth and income in favour of the majority of people.

We cannot be thought of as a party whose reaction to every problem is that the answer is more spending.  It’s a habit we got into, and it’s a habit we need to break.”

Other options to  a”habit” of more spending, such as collecting tax from extremely wealthy tax avoiders, cannot be conceived by front bench members of post-Corbyn Labour.

There was an interesting synergy between Phillipson’s strategy of listening to the public to decide on policy and Tim Davie’s outline of a new strategy at the BBC that he presented in an introductory speech to staff a few days after his tenure as Director-General began.

DAVIE: “Across the UK, across all political views, across all of society, and across all age groups, people must feel their BBC is here for them, not for us.  So I want a radical shift in our focus from the internal to the external, to focus on those we serve: the public.”

PHILLIPSON: “Our language and our framing must reflect the world as our electors see it, not as how we might discuss it at a general committee.”

Davie and Phillipson share a philosophy that includes preservation of the status quo coupled with rejection of ideology and critical analysis.  Both proposed the tactic (to fulfill that philosophy) of pretending to listen to the public (and, thus, blaming the public) in order to justify a political stance of complicity.  

Everyone who observed the bystanding of Keir Starmer will not be surprised by the emptiness displayed in Phillipson’s elucidation of Labour’s intention of avoidance of action.  Anti-politics is the new centrist fad.  Stand by, deceptively idly, while Tories wreck; no intervention means full agreement. 

Phillipson is aware that Starmer’s performances at Prime Minister’s Questions are his only visible successful tactic whereat his coherent and famously “forensic” questions contrast with Johnson’s lies, waffle and noises.  She said one of the “principle challenges” facing Labour is that “[we must] reach those voters who do not watch Prime Minister’s Questions and ensure that they see the contrast that we all see between Keir [Starmer] and [Boris] Johnson.”  That is all Starmer offers.

We have a Labour party that is anti-politics and anti-opposition.  It is dormant and its sleepiness is its strategy.

Related blogs
Keir Starmer: The Bystander
Labour To Win
Tim Davie’s introductory speech to BBC staff

Bridget Phillipson explained Labour’s anti-politics

Priti Patel, police and Extinction Rebellion

Protests, demonstrations and pickets are allowed in the UK only if they have little or no effect.  If they are effective then police shut them down using both lawful and unlawful tactics and politicians change the law to counter their success. 

In their campaigns for tough action to tackle climate change Extinction Rebellion and associated activists help to increase public support for demands for anti-climate change policies by governments.  The possibility of strong government policies to protect the environment horrifies the world’s biggest exploiters of people and resources.  These exploiters, and their financial partners, investors, shareholders and creditors, are employers of the Tories.

Extinction Rebellion’s law-breaking includes obstructing the highway and mild criminal damage, the latter often via the use of paint.  It is not an existential threat to civil society.  It is not ISIS or the IRA, and it is not well-funded organised far-right thuggery and violence.  However, it is a threat to some very wealthy corporations and their campadres in banking; therefore, the Tories choose to react to Extinction Rebellion as if the fabric of civilisation is teetering on the edge of an abyss of anarchy.

Current Tory Home Secretary knows who pays the Tories and, so, she expressed her determination to attack Extinction Rebellion in a speech at Police Superintendents’ Association conference on September 8th (2020).  Her aim was to coalesce the government’s and the police’s agendas against Extinction Rebellion; Patel forgot that the police are not supposed to act with political intent.  

The pertinent section of the speech is quoted below.  Patel made no attempt to adhere to balanced analysis or facts.  Her descriptions of the activists and their actions were melodramatic and stupid.  Her intent was to rabble-rouse her audience of senior police officers.  She wanted to implant in the minds of the police, and the public, the depiction of the entirety of Extinction Rebellion as a criminal organisation.

Extinction Rebellion is a loosely organised political movement.  By classifying it as a criminal organisation Patel gave the police permission and instruction to harass anyone suspected of supporting it regardless of any acts committed. 

The Tories intend to change the law to solidify their attitude to Extinction Rebellion.  Patel’s speech was part of the PR to promote support for such a law change.

Priti Patel’s comments on Extinction Rebellion in her speech to Association of Police Superintendents:

Now it is said that where there is no law there is no freedom, and that law and order is the cornerstone of our free society.  And without it we have nothing.  But events of the last week have exposed another emerging threat – the so-called eco-crusaders turned criminals.  Attempting to thwart the media’s right to publish without fear nor favour.  And a shameful attack on our way of life, our economy, and the livelihoods of the hardworking majority.  I refuse point plank to allow that kind of anarchy on our streets.  And I’m right behind you as you bring the full might of the law down upon that selfish minority.  The very criminals who disrupt our free society must be stopped.  And together we must all stand firm against the guerrilla tactics of Extinction Rebellion.  And that means adapting to the threat that they pose and ensuring that justice is served.”

Transcript of full speechPriti Patel

Recommended reading
Stuart Spray for Byline Times
NetPol: Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights

Related blogs
Metropolitan Police and Extinction Rebellion
Priti Patel: A typical corrupt freelance Tory or May’s Patsy?

Priti Patel, police and Extinction Rebellion

Tory algorithm for house building planning applications

Corrupt Tory Housing Secretary Robert Jenwick intends to use an algorithm to decide where planning applications for house building should be successful.

Exact details of the proposed algorithm are unknown but a simplified version of it is likely to resemble the flow chart below.

As the diagram shows, when considering the merits of a planning application for new houses, votes for the Tories are a priority as is the handover of public money to Tory donors, both developers and landowners; most Tory-supporting landowners are registered in British tax havens.

Affordable homes are not desired by the Tories or by their donors.

Recommended reading
Robert Jenwick and Richard Desmond
RIBA criticism of Jenwick

Tory algorithm for house building planning applications

Keir Starmer: The Bystander

Of those still in parliament after December 2019 none of Jeremy Corbyn’s loudest critics chose to be nominated in the party’s leadership election earlier this year.  Streeting, Kinnock, Hodge, Jarvis, Coyle, Phillips, Perkins, Kyle, Benn, Eagle, Creasy, McGovern and others opted out of an examination by MPs, CLPs, unions and party members.  Laziness, cowardice and diametric opportunism motivated their absences.  Diametric opportunism is a strategy whereby an opportunistic event occurs that requires avoidance.  The aforementioned disruptors took the opportunity to avoid five years as leader of the opposition.

Obvious from the outset, the leadership campaign became a binary choice between Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey.  Enough Corbyn supporters, disillusioned by the extent of the general election defeat, chose to create a scenario in their heads whereby a “unity” candidate would be preferable to a successor to Corbyn.  That creation was more than a political error; it was a failure of cognizance: It was (perhaps subconsciously) a retreat from the effort of continuing a difficult battle by inventing a palatable alternative that didn’t exist.  It was a comfort-blanket decision but the blanket dissolved when touched.  Keir Starmer was elected leader of Labour.

Starmer perfected the art of saying nothing and doing nothing.  His artistry includes being quotable when he said nothing and prompting the willingness of observers and commentators to opine on his plans and policy when none were present.  He is an anti-chameleon: He is absent but, for some reason, many people think he is there.  

His strategy is hollowness of his philosophy.  He chooses to present Labour as an antidote to chaos, indecision and carelessness of the Tory government.  This presentation means he and his colleagues must avoid grand policy proposals and cohesive opinions. 

Boris Johnson is an easy target for Starmer’s famed “forensic” questioning.  At a recent Prime Minister’s Questions Starmer asked Johnson repeatedly to admit his failures and mistakes followed by Johnson’s predictable evasion; the Starmer fan club danced joyfully in appreciation of their leader’s success but no victory occurred because Johnson’s waffles, dodges and lies didn’t harm him and, so, the exchange was pointless and fruitless.

Starmer’s speeches and statements are excruciatingly circumspect.  On September 1st (2020) he released a statement ahead of the reopening of state schools in England.

For millions of families across England, this week will be a mixture of excitement and anxiety.  Excitement for children who will be back in the classroom for the first time in months.  But anxiety for teachers and parents about a year ahead that is full of uncertainty.  I want to pay tribute to the extraordinary dedication of our teachers and school staff who have worked tirelessly over the summer to make sure schools can reopen safely.  Labour want and expect children to be back at school.  Every day that schools were closed was a day of opportunity, learning and support lost.  This situation was worsened by the exams fiasco and the Government’s chaotic approach to education.  We cannot keep repeating those same mistakes.  Young people’s futures cannot be held back by the Conservatives’ incompetence.  That is why the Education Secretary must come to Parliament to tell us how he will protect our children’s futures.  He needs to explain how he will make up for the damage already done, bring pupils up to speed and mitigate against the ongoing risk from the pandemic.”

Opposition to the reopening of state schools, from parents and from teachers’ unions, was informed by statistics of current Covid-19 infections and by scientific analysis and facts.  Observational knowledge of the Tories’ incompetence and ideological lack of care enhanced the worries that parents and teachers had.  But, Starmer “wants and expects children to be back at school.”  He provided no justification – scientific or ideological – for his demand and he had no contact with teachers’ union representatives.  He sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey as Labour’s education shadow minister because she opposed reopening of schools.

Other than a demand for schools to reopen, Starmer’s statement was condescending and vacuous.  He was supposedly writing about the health (and mortality) of millions of children, their parents and their teachers but he wanted to sound so undemonstrative that he might as well have been discussing what colour to paint a school’s corridors.

In the statement Starmer criticised the Tories’ “chaos,” “mistakes” and “incompetence” rather than disagreeing with Tory policy.  He asked corrupt Gavin Williamson to provide assurances that the latter will do the job an Education Secretary is supposed to do but Starmer knew there was no point to that request to Williamson.  

Starmer’s art of saying nothing should have its own room in the Cameron Gallery Of Guff. 

The Bystander
Two ongoing unusual processes are dominating life and politics in Britain.

Brexit will become more chaotic and destructive.  Johnson and his gang are determined to avoid applying any dampeners on the descent into mayhem because mayhem and disaster will provide a ginormous payday for gamblers and racketeers for whom the Tories work. 

Covid-19 is likely to reaffirm its fatal effects before any vaccine can be developed; Tories’ actions will hasten a second wave of infections.  The only policy of the government since the disease arrived is the issuing of gifts of billions of pounds to made-up businesses for alleged support in tackling Covid-19; all such concocted businesses have direct links to Tory MPs or to donors to the Tory party.

Tories’ reckless approach to both Brexit and Covid-19 allows Starmer to stand by stoically with a gently-wagging finger accompanied occasionally by the mildest of rebukes.  Starmer knows he cannot affect the Tories’ behaviour – they are utterly immoral and indifferent to consequences – and he doesn’t want to attempt to stop them.    

Starmer cultivates his image, and his legacy, to be a calm but displeased forensic critic, an observer of ineptitude and ungovernance.  Due to the impossibility of the Tories to do anything other than fail in how they deal with Brexit and Covid-19, Starmer’s self-assigned role is easy.  He does not need to provide a thorough alternative plan, there is no necessity for him to take any risks with what he says, and he does not need to provide evidence of how sensible or competent he is.  He can just stand by and that fits entirely the image he desires: The Bystander.

The Bystander never commits himself, he never exposes himself, he never offers himself as a catalyst to a debate; he observes, he comments, he makes requests he knows will be ignored; he doesn’t oppose; he is a mild critic.

The Bystander waits.  Oppositional but entwined consequences of Covid-19 – illness and death versus collapsing economy – are rampaging in front of him, climate change is escalating and assisted by reckless governments, public services are being stripped ready for a Brexit to suit disaster capitalists, the government is determined to have the sharpest cliff-fall no deal Brexit, and The Bystander waits.

Starmer’s creation of himself as The Bystander is a policy decision driven by

  • Fear of being seen to be radical
  • Fear of Labour being committed to anything it cannot maintain until the next election
  • Lack of any cohesive alternative policies to the government’s 
  • Obedience to the same corporate masters who direct the Tories
  • Indifference to the devastation caused by Brexit, by Covid-19 and by Tory economic policies

Starmer wants to attain the accolade of The Bystander.  He is willing, although unlikely to be able, to stand by for four more years.  He is playing the long game but he is also making sure that any radicalism and desire for fundamental change encouraged by his predecessor is snuffed out and suffocated.

The Bystander is the enemy of opposition.  He is worse than useless.  He is entirely complicit.

Recommended reading
Rachael Cousins
Rachael Cousins et al
Matt Kennard for The Gray Zone

Keir Starmer: The Bystander

Tim Davie’s introductory speech to BBC staff

On Thursday (September 3rd 2020) new Director-General Tom Davie published a speech for BBC staff to explain his aims and objectives.

As expected, most of his commencement address was pseudo-motivational guff but within the waffle were a few important points that indicated Davie’s commitment to continuing the errors made by his immediate predecessor Tony Hall.

Free-to-air versus commercial arm
Davie admitted there will be severe cuts to budgets.

We are going to look in all areas and identify how we can have more impact by making less.  I want us to consider what we would do if we could only make 80% of our current hours.  What would we stop?  To be very clear, this is not about cuts to save money, it is about re-allocating funds to where they generate most value.”

He claimed budget changes will be re-allocation of funds but admitted later that the “commercial Studios business” is the model for “other areas of the BBC.”

Our commercial Studios business is investing in new jobs.  Looking to the future, and at the success of initiatives like Britbox in the US, there are big opportunities to develop direct-to-consumer services in news, video and audio across the globe.  We need to keep building major partnerships with the likes of FX, Discovery, ITV and Tencent, so we grow as a global provider of services and premium content.  Also, we should be open to consider what other areas of the BBC could benefit from a Studios model.”

That is, he said funds will re-allocated – 20% cuts – from free-to-air BBC to the commercial arm.

Davie inherited a BBC that does not understand what balance and impartiality are for a broadcaster and he asserted his intention to persist with that ignorance.

He required “research” to “show that too many perceive [the BBC] to be shaped by a particular perspective” but, bizarrely, Davie chose to assume that the “particular perspective” was BBC’s staff’s perspective.

If you work here, nothing should be more exciting than exploring different views, seeking evidence with curiosity and creatively presenting testimony.  Making use of our own experiences but not driven by our personal agendas.”

There are two problems with Davie’s reduction of perceived bias at the BBC into an issue about employees’ own outlooks.

  1. He erased any concept of there being establishment bias ingrained within the BBC’s ethos
  2. He asked that all BBC staff become stenographers and parrots

Davie expressed his desire to neuter all political opinions at the BBC.  His preferred agenda for BBC news was “free from political bias, guided by the pursuit of truth, not a particular agenda.” 

All major issues that affect people’s lives are political issues and their causes and solutions are political.  Any opinion that is totally free from political bias on an issue that affects people’s lives is a worthless opinion.  To claim “pursuit of truth” was separate from any political philosophy or analysis was to severely restrict the capacity to find any truth, and to do that was a political decision.  Davie’s desire for an apolitical agenda was an extremely political demand.  

Echoing Tony Hall’s hapless comments in his final ‘Annual Plan’ report for the BBC in March this year, Davie confused impartiality with acceptance of all views. 

We need to explore new ways of delivering impartiality, seeking a wider spectrum of views, pushing out beyond traditional political delineations and finding new voices from across the nation.”

What political opinions are they beyond “traditional political delineations?”  Davie doesn’t want political opinions because he doesn’t want useful opinions and he doesn’t want thorough analysis and solutions to problems.  He wants chatter.

Davie discussed “value” a lot.  The word appeared nineteen times in his speech.  He meant “value” in three different ways.

  • Basic value for money – the cost of the licence fee
  • Value of the BBC as an enhancement of people’s lives
  • General values in a civilised society

The second definition is the interesting one.  Its use depicted the BBC as pastoral care-giver to the public, in Britain and around the world.

How much value [are we] delivering to each member of the public?”
We are creating work of outstanding public value across the globe.”
We must grow that value.  That is our simple mission.”
Ensuring everything we do is [] in line with public service values.”
Far from eroding our value, surely the BBC online offers a big opportunity for us to connect deeper with audiences, helping them to find more, get information faster, and interact with us.”
Create a customer experience that delivers maximum value.”
Those are our four priorities as we seek to bring more value to all.”
I love our values but they mean nothing if they do not result in the right behaviour.”
We are only as good as the value we deliver our audiences, our customers.”

Admittedly, some of the examples above blurred the divide between the philosophical definition of “value” and the monetary definition.  It was not clear sometimes which meaning Davie used; the overlap between the two exposed his market-driven morality.

Whether blurred or not, copious use of the pastoral meaning of “value” by Davie was an odd strategy to use to describe the relationship between a broadcaster and its viewers and listeners.  Most people perceive broadcasters as suppliers of information and of entertainment.  Davie’s pompous insistence on delivering value revealed his detachment from the public and his grandiose perception of the BBC as elevated above them.

Social media and independent media
Davie offset his claim that the BBC is trusted worldwide with a disdainful reference to social media and independent media.   

In the age of fake news, social media campaigns, echo chambers of opinion, and noisy partisan media outlets, this, surely, is our time.”

He demanded staff be neutered online regarding any political comment as part of his aim that the BBC must be utterly apolitical. 

If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media then you should not be working at the BBC.”

Davie’s peremptory attitude toward independent media and public campaigns coupled with his supercilious praise of BBC’s renown was an expression of a deep-rooted establishment philosophy that belied claims throughout the speech of wanting “to focus on those we serve: the public.”

Posh kids at the BBC
Poor recruitment at the BBC, whereby skill and talent were considered secondary to which school an applicant attended, led to a woefully disproportionate ratio of privately-educated staff. 

Davie appeared to be aware of a disconnect between staff and the majority of the public but he chose not to mention the substance of that difference.

[We should not just] surround ourselves with people like us.”

Across the UK, across all political views, across all of society, and across all age groups, people must feel their BBC is here for them, not for us.”

He accepted there may need to be changes to recruitment practices but avoided suggesting a specific change of ignoring an applicant’s alma mater.

We must move away from any sense of a ‘BBC type’, and not hire in our own image.”

Bland gibberish
Davie’s reputation preceded him: A conservative and a marketing expert.  The bulk of his speech was meaningless tripe about listening to the public while belittling the public’s voices on social media and in independent media.  He opposed BBC staff saying anything other than reporting what others said thus facilitating free rein for politicians and professional talking heads to spout lies with the merest of responses from interviewer or panel chair.  He advocated vox pops for the public and platforms for the professional opinionators.

Davie’s redistribution of funds will travel from free-to-air to BBC’s commercial entities.  He did not attempt to alleviate concerns about his record at the BBC that had included trying to cancel 6music.

Davie will restrict the BBC as a tactic of differentiating it from other broadcasters and media outlets.  

Recommended reading
Mark Doran on Tim Davie

Related blogs
Tim Davie
BBC news is clueless about balance
Posh kids at the BBC

Tim Davie’s introductory speech to BBC staff


Free speech is classified as a human right, the right to speak or write an opinion without obstruction from people acting outside the law or from the law itself.  Access to free speech is defined and enshrined in laws and constitutions of many countries and in international conventions to which governments have obligated themselves.  The right to free speech is, of course, manipulated as a political tool by governments, both by those who are opposed to free speech and by those who present themselves as choosing to allow it. 

The concept of access to free speech is misunderstood purposefully by some politically motivated activists.  Free speech, as a right, does not include insistence that anyone listens.  The right to be heard is not the right to be listened to.  Walking away, switching off the radio, blocking on twitter or sticking fingers in ears while singing “la la la” are acts that do not attack the right to free speech.  Free speech does not preclude a response; there exists an concomitant right to respond although, equally, that response does not have to be listened to.

Free speech is, or should be, regulated by basic civilised behaviour.  The right to free speech does not include the right to utter threats of or encouragement of violence, streams of abuse, blatant lies or statements expressing or informed by prejudices against groups of people.  

In the UK, restrictions on free speech exist but the suppression of free speech is entirely divorced from how it is depicted by bloviating right-wing grifters who claim, from regular slots on national radio, in columns in national newspapers, on blue tick twitter accounts or on national TV news programmes, that their views are being suppressed, silenced, censored and cancelled.  Their protestations are, indubitably, fallacious and a tactic of their grift but also a tool to lever more airtime, column inches and platforms.  Desired platforms include unfettered access to educational premises to present speeches and seminars and partake in debates. 

To acquire their desired platforms right-wing activists issue threats of law changes and legal action to coerce places of education into forcing specific views upon their students and staff.  Former Universities Minister Jo Johnson created Office For Students (OfS) as a government quango to pressurise universities into providing public space for extreme and absurd philosophies and rhetoric, and he added a threat of a law change that would allow fines to be imposed on non-compliant universities.  Such a law has yet to be created.  Johnson’s first choice to be the face of OfS, the perennially disgraced Toby Young (who was swiftly jettisoned after complaints from everyone), created The Free Speech Union (FSU) that will focus on civil claims against universities and other public institutions that resist pressure to yes-platform perpetrators of extremism and nonsense.

Both OfS and FSU seek to impose upon an audience.  They want to force people to listen.  They aim to use the law to prohibit people from not listening.  They were created to counter the reluctance to yes-platform far-right speakers, peddlers of disinformation and time-wasters.  OfS and FSU, and all their ilk, abuse the concept of free speech.

Evolution and dismemberment of language, of the meanings of words, are features of political discourse.  Social media hastens the (de-)evolution process.  A complaint made predominantly by right-wing screaming heads is they object to being “cancelled” when their opinions receive due response.

cancelled adj. Subjected to sustained and erudite criticism that obliterates a political view, normally applied to far-right screaming heads after their vacuous arguments were destroyed

The complainants also object to being ignored. 

Their access to free speech is not cancelled by retorts nor by indifference to their opinions.  Their new definition of “cancelled” and accompanying invention of “cancel culture” aim to stop evisceration of their polemics and to denigrate informed critics.

cancel culture n. Deceptive phrase used by far-right screaming heads to describe obliteration of their political views conducted by opponents with greater knowledge, more adept deductive reasoning and fuller consistency

Complainants against the evil intent of “cancel culture” choose to ignore the screeching contradiction of them bellowing their support for free speech while denying a response to what they say. 

Evgeny Lebedev, son of former KGB spy and Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev and recent recipient of a peerage as a thank you for his newspapers’ assistance for the Tories in general election campaigns, claimed in Lebedev in Mail he accepted a peerage because he places “real value” on “freedom of speech and freedom of expression.”  Unfamiliar with the skill of subtlety, Lebedev juxtaposed his self-aggrandisement about free speech with a verbally violent reaction to the free speech of critics.

A new wave of McCarthyism has emerged, with trials by the social media mob followed by denouncements and confessions, which resemble the 1930s Stalinist show trials.”

He added a second contradiction via a pseudo-emotional plea to the Guardian to stop mentioning that he was born in Russia – “if you replace the word ‘Russian’ in these articles with the word ‘Jew’, I hope you will see my point.”  That is, he wanted to cancel the Guardian’s comments.  (Earlier in the article Lebedev boasted that he felt “great pride in becoming the first Russian peer.”)  His pompous whinges praised free speech but opposed criticism of it.  He objected to attempts to shut down opinions but pleaded with a newspaper to modify its language.

Tory MP Joy Morrissey issued a (probably non-factual) statement bemoaning how conservative school pupils’ political opinions were cancelled.

Yesterday, three young constituents told me they can no longer express their political views to teachers and have to hide their conservative opinion at school.”

The “three young constituents,” if they existed, would be dissuaded from expressing a political view to a teacher only if what they said was offensive or else wholly out of context of a lesson in progress.  Without doubt, hiding “their conservative opinion at school” meant not being able to say something deliberately provocative and disruptive without retorts.  Morrissey would like to cancel the right of people to respond to the alleged “three young constituents.”

Writers, academics and professional commentators signed an open letter for Harper’s Magazine – A Letter on Justice and Open Debate – intended (though not presented as such) as justification to restrict the force and effect of radical revolutionary political developments.

Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands, [] wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society.  But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity.”

As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second.”

The letter’s support for dampening effects on political change was presented as an emotional diatribe against cancel culture. 

The free exchange of [] ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.  [There is] an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.”

Absent from the letter’s complaint about “constricted exchange of ideas” was acknowledgement that most ideas expressed by professional opinionators are the hundreth repetition of an easily debunked pile of tripe that had been eviscerated many times previously and, thus, another simple analytical destruction of it is a waste of time and energy.  

The “vogue for public shaming and ostracism” is an acceptable and necessary strategy to deal with the worst professional trolls and screaming heads.  A rabid, ranting, rabble-rousing ejaculator of bile, hatred, prejudices and fabrication deserves no respect for her- or himself or for the views expressed.

The effect of cancelling on some professionals included, according to the letter, “editors fired for running controversial pieces and the heads of organizations ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes.”  Without doubt, “controversial” and “clumsy” were euphemisms for racist, antisemitic, homophobic or misogynistic.

The letter’s assertion that “the restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation” was correct as an isolated statement but the people who are the alleged victims of cancel culture discussed in the letter are not “those who lack power,” and people without power are the targets of those whose free speech was defended in it.  The letter was not an argument against cancel culture; it was defence of the right of professional and state voices to spout purposefully inaccurate provocative comments as part of their grifts and it was an argument to prevent their targets being able to respond how they wish. 

Recommended reading on Harper’s Magazine letter
In ‘Cancel Culture’ Is How the Powerful Play Victim Jessica Valenti showed how some of the examples of cancel culture that Harper’s letter referred to were valid objections to appalling behaviour and she observed that some of the signatories were keen practitioners of cancelling others for political reasons. 

She concluded

The only speech these powerful people seem to care about is their own: They want to be able to say whatever they want without consequence and to paint themselves as the victims even as they wield more institutional and systemic power than anyone criticizing them.  Facing consequences for what you say and do is not a free speech violation.  And there’s nothing new or brave about signing a letter that characterizes criticism of the powerful as dangerous.”

In Harper’s letter on free speech annotated Mic Wright explained that the letter’s purpose was to ask for restrictions on access to free speech for the non-powerful in order to protect the right of the powerful to proceed without censure, criticism or retort.

This all reads like people who don’t like getting shouted at when other people, with smaller platforms, do not appreciate the things they write or broadcast.”

It seems to me that the key vector of intolerance is newspaper columnists and established writers honking on that they are censored, usually in a national newspaper or august magazine like Harper’s.”

This is a cry by people with the platform and money to say awful things, a wail that they might have to answer for things they say rather than simply blast them into the world before reviewing the devastation.”

He pointed out that challenges to powerful voices are heard more often than they used to be and the powerful don’t like that: “We do not live in an age of censorship.  We live in an age of abundant speech.  It’s simply that people now get challenged more frequently and loudly when they say awful things.”

In Dorset Eye on Harper’s letter the author noted the hypocrisy and alterior motive of many of the signatories.

The reality is that many of those who signed are utter hypocrites, who have shown precisely zero commitment to free speech, either in their words or in their deeds.  Further, the intent of many them in signing the letter is the very reverse of their professed goal: they want to stifle free speech, not protect it.”

The truth is that many of those who signed the letter are defending not free speech but their right to continue dominating the public square – and their right to do so without being held accountable.”

The author noted how access to social media for the public reduced advantages for the powerful and the professional in political discourse.

They [right-wing and centre] care about protecting free speech only in so far as it allows them to continue dominating the public space with their views – something they were only too used to until a few years ago, before social media started to level the playing field a little.”

In those days [pre-social media] only those who held approved opinions were ever given a media platform from which to present those opinions.  That was the real cancel culture.”

The key point in the Dorset Eye blog was that all of the bleating about cancel culture from established voices was an attempt to silence dissenting radical views: “Attacks on the new ‘cancel culture’ are simply another front in the establishment’s efforts to limit speech by the left.”

Billy Bragg’s analysis of cancel culture in ‘Cancel culture’ doesn’t stifle debate, but it does challenge the old order noted that “the main thrust of their [Harper’s letter’s signatories] argument was a howl of anguish from a group that has suddenly found its views no longer treated with reverence.”

He gave a superb précis of signatories’ intent and their fears when faced with the success of grassroots organisation and solidarity.

Many of those who attached their names to the letter are longstanding cultural arbiters, who, in the past, would only have had to fear the disapproval of their peers. Social media has burst their bubble and they now find that anyone with a Twitter account can challenge their opinions. The letter was their demand for a safe space.”

The ability of middle-aged gatekeepers to control the agenda has been usurped by a new generation of activists who can spread information through their own networks, allowing them to challenge narratives promoted by the status quo.  The great progressive movements of the 21st century have sprung from these networks: Black Lives Matter; #MeToo; Extinction Rebellion.  What they have in common is a demand for accountability.”

Bragg said “a demand for accountability” was a response to the “mutation” of liberty, and access to free speech, into “impunity.”  Many of the signatories and supporters of Harper’s letter are defenders of the impunity of authority rather than the liberty of people.

In The ‘cancel culture’ war is really about old elites losing power in the social media age Nesrine Malik said, in reference to Harper’s letter and to other complaints about cancel culture,

what is really unfolding here is a cohort of established influencers grappling with the fact they are losing control over how their work is received.  Something old, constantly threatened and triggered by something new.”

Among the alleged cancellers are also those who, until recently, had no means of chiming into conversations about their own fates, and still don’t have the platforms or access to shape such conversations.  It is natural that they find a collective activist home on the internet.”

The usefulness of social media as a tool of political expression, organisation and solidarity was bound to cause discomfort for the powerful.  On “liberal panic” about how “new forces [social media, independent media, populist politics] are just the latest way political narratives are being wrested away from traditional actors” Malik observed that “narcissism” and “parochialism” of liberals leads them to “conclude [wrongly] that the main problem is an assault on free expression by a very particular angry mob of a certain political persuasion” and “it merely serves to expose the self-absorption of parts of the intellectual elite.”

The five writers quoted above recognised the intrinsic con of Harper’s letter.  The protestations in it against cancel culture were calculated misdirection and a reversal of reality.  Its real intent was to stifle radicalism and to protect the powerful and their opinions and ideology from criticism.

Support for the intent, both stated and undeclared intent of the letter was supplied eagerly by the usual grifters.  In Cohen on Harper’s letter Nick Cohen battled “leftist authoritarianism.”

Their [letter’s signatories] point was that many live in fear of campaigns to destroy them if they don’t mouth the right opinions.” 

As the Dorset Eye blog, Nesrine Malik and Billy Bragg showed (above) the powerful’s dominance of visible political views diminished due to the use of social media by the public; Cohen pitied the victims of that welcome realignment.

He said, correctly, that “people without access to lawyers and influential friends suffer the most [from cancellation].”  However, such people are not those whom Cohen defended regarding Harper’s letter.   People without lawyers, influential friends and money are the people who use social media and public organisation to battle against people and institutions who do have those tools.  Cancelling cancellation, which was the aim of the letter and was Cohen’s stance, suits the wealthiest and the most well-connected.

Dramatic complaints about cancel culture are one tactic in the industry of protection of political perspectives that support the status quo of elitist capitalism.  In the world of social media – one of the battlegrounds between impunity and cancellation – this tactic is ultimately unsuccessful because that arena is not controlled by an elite.  The latter bleat about online mobs when they mean informed, knowledgeable and lucid arguments from a large number of people.  In an emotional treatise in 2018 centrist influencer Rafael Behr despaired at “twitter poison” and was distraught because “twitter appears to give broadly equal value to every tweet.”

Censorship of social media
Loss of control of prevailing narrative is a constant fear for political and media establishment.  Complaints about cancel culture are part of a campaign of censorship and the main target is social media.  This campaign never declares itself honestly.  It describes its objectives as a reaction to something distinct from the ability of people to organise and communicate effectively and independently.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick blamed social media as the primary cause of violent crime and radicalisation toward terrorism.

There’s definitely something about the impact of social media in terms of people being able to go from slightly angry with each other to ‘fight’ very quickly.  [Social media] makes it harder for people to cool down.  I’m sure it does rev people up.”

GCHQ Director Jeremy Fleming used the threat of terrorism as justification for suppression of online activism.  At CyberUK18 convention in 2018 he claimed “hostile states, terrorists and criminals are emboldened and assisted by technology” and “you only have to examine the investment some states are making in the development and use of cyber tools to disrupt, steal, and intimidate.”

To counter the online activities of Fleming’s “hostile states” GCHQ “has pioneered the development and use of offensive cyber techniques.  And by that I mean taking action online that has direct real world impact.  We may look to deny service, disrupt a specific on-line activity, deter an individual or a group, or perhaps even destroy equipment and networks.”

He admitted “disruption” by GCHQ as described above was already happening but he was delighted that law was strengthened “last year with the passing of the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA).”  IPA legalised surveillance of the public’s online activities and communications and allowed hacking of devices.  As Phoebe Braithwaite noted in Waking up to the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act,an effective propaganda campaign painted the IP Bill as counter-terrorism legislation, when in fact only 1% of interceptions in 2015 under its predecessor RIPA were used for counter-terrorism.”  The real intent of IPA is to harass political activists as a means of stifling their activities and deterring them from organisation.

As chair of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport parliamentary committee Tory MP Damien Collins created The Declaration, signed by a handful of governments of other countries, to assist governments with the “protection of representative democracy in regard to the internet.”

According to Collins “the democratic world order is suffering a crisis of trust from the growth of disinformation [online]” and his solution is

to create a system of global internet governance that can serve to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of generations to come, based on established codes of conduct for agencies working for nation states.”

Although presented as a liberal defence of democracy, The Declaration was a clear statement of intent to quell online activism.

In late 2017 Tory lord Paul Bew published Intimidation in Public Life report commissioned by Theresa May.  He claimed intimidation of members of parliament and other political figures had increased due to social media and he concluded that new laws were needed to combat it.

The rise of social media has been the most significant factor accelerating the prevalence of intimidatory behaviour in recent years.”

A new electoral offence of intimidating Parliamentary candidates and party campaigners during an election should be considered.”

His report over-stated and misconstrued “abuse of politicians,” it focussed on social media while absolving mainstream media, and it failed to address the abject dishonesty and conmanship of politicians. 

Bew’s proposals for changes to the law included removal of the right to vote.

Electoral law can overlap with and complement the criminal law, such that offences with criminal sanctions can also involve sanctions under electoral law.  These sanctions are specific to the election process, such as being barred from voting for a certain period, or removal from the electoral register.”

Changes to the law have yet to be made (August 2020).

Real cancellation
Continuous exponential increase of the success of online organisation and dissemination of information and analysis is the reason why defenders of established power seek new methods of control of social media and, to justify that control, new methods of misrepresentation of social media activity.

Real cancellation is enacted by governments, police, courts and employers and, in the form of omission, by TV, radio and newspapers.

Real cancellation is libel law; defamation of character legal action; reputation management; police misuse of bail conditions against uncharged activists and police misuse of Public Order Act; persecution of whistle-blowers; injunctions to prevent newspapers reporting facts; restricted access for independent journalists to politicians’ press briefings; closed court proceedings.  Extreme cancellation of political actions includes indefinite detention without charge – Julian Assange, and execution – Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Politician Salma Yaqoob summed up the reality of what cancellation doesn’t and does mean in a response to Murdoch hack Janice Turner’s evocation of George Orwell’s fictional society.

Why do these highly paid journalists who boom their opinions via columns in national papers claim they are being silenced??  Mate, it’s people like Assange who dare speak truth to power who are being silenced.  As are Kashmiris & Palestinians – literally & virtually being erased.”