Has bear-baiting reality TV finally had its day? In this opinion piece, James Dilley suggests that the parallels are not as obscure as one might think.
That might be the conclusion after a terrible week for veteran host Jeremy Kyle, whose eponymous show finally met its demise after it emerged that a guest had committed suicide after appearing on the show.
Kyle’s programme, one of Britain’s favourite daytime TV fixes, has long been criticised for exploiting its guests, who are usually poor, troubled and working class. Their tribulations are put on full display in front of an audience, who laugh at their misfortune and boo when Kyle makes them a baddie.
But it is the treatment of the guests after their appearances that proved the final nail in the coffin for Kyle and his circus. After one-time guest Steve Dymond commmitted suicide, it emerged that other guests had been driven close to the brink, too. That’s hardly a shock, given the obvious mental illnesses suffered by many of those featured and the cruel treatment they were subjected to by the nasty moraliser Kyle.
It is unsurprising, but depressing, that it took the death of a person for people to realise that Kyle’s colosseum should never have been built. It is often the way with these things.
Yet the real question lies in whether or not the Jeremy Kyle debacle will herald the end of the reality TV era, which much like political populism has hooked viewers for a number of years now.
The parallels are clear. Populism, peddled by UKIP, the Brexit Party and, to an extent, Corbyn’s Labour, relies on a scapegoat, whether it be the foreigner, the immigrant or the rich. Those we laugh at on reality TV are also scapegoats of sorts and we paint them as willing representatives of social ills or moral failings. We laugh and shout at guests and contestants on the screen just as we are prone to do to minorities in society. Then we vote for the populists because they give us simple solutions.
“You’re evil!”, Jeremy Kyle would snarl at an adulterous guest.
“You’re a criminal!” snarls Farage at the Romanian immigrant.
It’s much the same lie. Both men portray themselves into the moral ambassadors of Britain, even though both are cruel individuals who do not deserve that post. As viewers and voters, we risk legitimising that.
So if we can wake up to the cruel nonsense of reality TV shows, particularly those that prey on society’s most vulnerable, surely we can also see cheap populism for what it is: a disease that we need to cure.
Down at a recent London hustings event, observer Paul Gerken sees fear and loathing at the heart of the Brexit Party.
The scene at Hammersmith and Fulham’s European Movement hustings was never set to give the Brexit Party the warmest of welcomes. Staged in the Irish Cultural Centre in one of London’s most ‘Remain’ areas, the candidates from pro-remain parties knew they were playing to home a crowd. The room was packed with expectation and the Fulham faithful knew what they wanted to hear: Brexit is a disaster, and the Brexit Party is disastrous. Ben Habib, one of The Brexit Party’s melange of somewhat-high-profile candidates, sat regally in front of the baying crowd. Dressed in one of the most expensive suits I have seen, Habib - millionaire man of the anti-elite - was priming himself not to disappoint.
But first up, the introductory speeches. Change UK’s Gavin Esler, with a background in broadcasting, irreproachable remain stance and a deft capacity to land a joke, stood out as an early favourite. Lambasting Labour's middle-of-the-road approach, Esler argued that Labour was a metaphorical dead hedgehog, standing for nothing whilst being run down by both directions of political traffic. Tell that to Seb Dance, however, who had spent his stump speech telling the room exactly what he will be doing in Brussels over the next five years. Dreaming, one can only imagine, that he lived in a parallel universe where his Leader wasn’t in daily negotiations with the Tories to seal the UK’s departure.
Sky’s Lewis Goodall proved to be an entertaining and knowledgeable compare, his only fault being not getting to the audience quick enough. It was only when faced with the curve balls that come from audience participation, that Habib shone a light on the inner lunacy of both his own mind and that of the newly founded Brexit Party. The first ‘I-cannot-believe-he-actually-just-said that’ moment came when challenged about a somewhat significant conflict of interest of pursuing a hard Brexit that would inevitably bring about a fall in the pound. A hard Brexit causes the pound to crash, property becomes cheap, the millionaire property magnate buys lots of cheap property, the value increases eventually, the millionaire property magnate is even richer. What on earth is wrong with that? Habib is the only one who believes in Britain! Why shouldn’t he buy up cheap property after instigating a hate-filled campaigned, that puts hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk, precisely to cause a drop in Sterling, so that he can buy cheap assets? It’s so fantastic to be a patriot.
Note to self, Habib, you’re not actually supposed to share your evil plan out loud…
Next up, the Irish border. You’ll be pleased to know this is entirely a non-issue. Phew - what were you all worrying about, everyone at the Irish Cultural Centre? Habib is here to tell you that because there are borders in the world that aren’t ringed entirely by 12 ft walls of cement, there is, in fact, no issue at all. There are millions of miles of unpatrolled borders, so where’s the beef? Habib had a perfect example up his sleeve to placate the naysayers - the Pakistan and Afghanistan border. And he knows because he’s a bit from there, so... It’s all going to be fine.
Par for the course on Brexit crazy golf is to mention that we don’t need to pay 39 billion to the EU and that we’re just going to waltz into a totally dreams trade agreement with the US, so nothing new to see hear. Habib mustered just the regular tutterings of general despair when he shared his party’s genuine belief that you can walk away from all obligations with your closest neighbours and somehow everything will be just totally fine.
But it was in the closing moments that Habib really went for gold in political what-the-fuckery. After having opined earlier in the evening about how much he believed in democracy, he was challenged about Scotland’s right to determine a future outside of the UK. Well of course for Habib, democracy means only having one vote about one thing ever, regardless of a change of circumstances, so it’s a natural ‘no’ from him. Scotland made their choice, and we will gamble that the world’s largest ever case of Stockholm syndrome descends across everybody north of Hadrian in the glorious years ahead. Challenged on the point, Habib went further - if we are out of the EU, Scotland would have even more dependence on England and it would be economic suicide for them to leave. Scotland would never leave, considering how economically tied they would be to this union with England. OK Habib, that’s sounding… familiar?
Oh these beautiful Brexit sunny uplands, so near you are. If only everyone in Britain could see what Habib sees. A pound through the floor to create cheap assets, supermarket shelves filled with hormone-pumped US meats, half of a nation held hostage by the other whilst its international reputation is torn to shreds… welcome to Brexit Britain: a vast commercial opportunity. Just do make sure you have the foresight to be a millionaire before we leave.
2019's European election was never supposed to take place in the UK. But on 23rd May, voters go to the booths to select their MEPs for the UK's remaining time as an EU member. In this opinion piece, Renew Leader Annabel Mullin muses on the implications of the elections for the UK.
May’s European election comes at a profoundly important moment for the UK. It will be seen, to all intents and purposes, as a rerun of the referendum and a chance to express concern about the UK’s current direction. In 2016, voters narrowly chose the Brexit path, but nobody voted for Theresa May’s route. Even so, there are still millions who know that being part of the EU is critical for our country’s status as a world power. As we watch our soft power and influence ebb away, it is difficult to feel that the future of our country is secure.
The issues that matter, such as climate change, tax evasion by global tech giants or the threats from “systematic rivals” such as China, cannot be dealt with in isolation. United with our European partners, we have the ability to counteract these global threats. Divided, we start from a position of weakness.
The EU elections are a chance for our country to shout out that the impossible vision of Nigel Farage is not the one we want. Renew and Change UK believe in a future of collaboration with our neighbours, open to innovation, international cooperation and a sustainable future. This is a fight for the soul of our country and all 3.9 million EU citizens living here can have their say on it. If ever there was a time to make a stand, this is it.
Ten years on from the financial crisis, a generation is still bearing consequences from which they will likely never recover.
The UK’s recovery from the 2008 crash has been slow. Over a decade on and only now are growth prospects beginning to pick up after years of lethargy. However, while the rest of the country dusts itself off, new research shows that a lost generation of young people still face significant scarring effects that they are unlikely to ever recover from.
Millennials who left education during the height of the crisis are more likely to be unemployed, paid less or facing more uncertain job prospects than those who began working either before or after the crash. Low-skilled workers in particular are blighted by high unemployment, a trend which has persisted over the last decade.
The 2008 meltdown was particularly grievous for young adults, because there was no way to redeem debts incurred on things like education, cars and credit cards. Because none of this debt financed the kind of assets that have appreciated rapidly over the last few years, such as stocks, shares and property, millennials missed out on the wealth boost enjoyed by older generations.
The above have left this ‘crisis cohort’ bearing the brunt of a wealth gap which economists predict will probably never be diminished. It’s also left them more sceptical of government, more politically active and more concerned about the future.
The home ownership rate among millennials is also a whopping 8% lower than baby boomers and 8.4% lower than gen xers, with an estimated 40% of millennials likely to stay in rented accommodation for the duration of their lives. These pressures are now particularly harmful, as many of this generation are looking to settle down and start families.
While, in many ways, the millennial generation has been instrumental in helping to rebuild the British economy in the wake of the crash, it’s looking as though this may well have come at the expense of their own prospects, opportunities and futures.
Wednesday, 9th May, 2019: Change UK, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrats and Renew have been working hard these last few days on a joint approach to the Peterborough by-election, recognising that we need to put the country's interests first, securing a People's Vote and remaining in the European Union.
We all agreed to stand down any candidates we might field in favour of a genuinely independent - pro People's Vote and pro Remain - candidate who had expressed an interest and intention to stand.
However, senior Labour figures - senior figures campaigning for a People’s Vote - made it clear that they would strenuously disrupt the campaign and obstruct an independent candidate, driven by fears that it would harm their party in Peterborough. The candidate was left with no option. The pro People's Vote and pro Remain third parties will continue to work together where we can in the national interest to promote the cause - this initiative marks the continuation, not the end of us working together to stop Brexit.
The NHS is experiencing the first sustained drop in GP numbers for 50 years, according to new figures released by health think tank The Nuffield Trust.
The number of general practitioners per 100,000 of the population is down from 65 in 2014 to 60 last year. The decline in GP numbers comes as workloads for frontline staff continue to rise and budgets or primary healthcare services remain dismally low. The NHS’s struggle to retain GPs is underscored by a recent survey, which found that 39% of respondents (and 62% of respondents aged 50+) planned on leaving the primary care service by 2022.
The last time the service experienced such a decline was during the 1960s - the problem is yet more pressing now as the demands of an ageing population, coupled with the perpetual burden of austerity, is creating a palpable strain on service provision. In some parts of the country, wait times for routine appointments are reported as exceeding seven months.
For a number of years now, the NHS has been struggling to attract junior doctors to primary care services. What’s more, a staggering one in three junior doctors who accept places on GP training courses drop out of the system before completion. At the same time, instances of early retirement are becoming more and more commonplace - 66% of GP retirements are early, double the rate seen just 5 years ago. According to the BMA, doctors are now being asked to work harder and for longer hours.
The same survey, conducted by Nuffield Health, found that just 21.7% of respondents planned to work full time as GPs one year after qualifying. After ten years, this dropped to just 5.4%. The most common reason given for this across the board was ‘intensity of the working day’.
This raises serious questions about the sustainability of the service - questions we cannot afford to leave unanswered given the indispensable nature of primary care to our NHS. Not only do unmanageable workloads discourage trainees from taking on full-time work, as well as pushing existing full-time GPs out of the service.
The government has said it is taking steps to ease the pressure on primary and community care providers. Efforts have so far involved the creation of new training places, as well as over 20,000 additional staff being recruited to work alongside GPs.
Although these interventions will be welcome, simply recruiting more trainees and short term support staff will not be enough. General practice requires innovative, long-term investment to allow GPs to work fewer, smarter hours within a better working environment. This may well take the form of a system that allows patients to take more control of their own health - tracking symptoms, ordering prescriptions and making video calls with practitioners online - helping to reduce contact hours and free up time practitioners’ time.
Nobody seems to have any clue how to inject some vigour into our sluggish economy. In this opinion piece, Gwen Jones suggests that we should aim high and revisit the state's role as an investor.
It’s 2019, over a decade on from the financial crash and conversations about the state of our economy are almost as stagnant as the economy itself.
The government might be doing their utmost to skew employment and real wage figures to their advantage, but the reality is far from sensational. GDP growth remains sluggish, and while any improvements thus far have been dependent on getting more people into work, more of these jobs are unstable, poorly paid and unproductive.
Remarkably, despite the UK’s slovenly economic performance, very little headway has been made in the debate around recovery. Like so much of our politics, the conversation is dominated by ideological orthodoxy – both major parties outline the importance of 'balancing the books' in their most recent manifestos, and the words ‘budget deficit’ are still uttered with distaste generally reserved for rail replacement bus services.
While support for austerity is (mercifully) dwindling after years of disastrous consequences, the discussion of an alternative fiscal model is resoundingly silent. The majority of today’s economic policy is based on the same fundamental mistake – and it’s one that’s been holding our economy back for years.
Conventional wisdom on the subject dictates that responsibility for regulating growth and maintaining full employment lies with central banks. This is largely done by fiddling with interest rates; lower interest rates mean higher aggregate demand, which stimulates the economy and boosts growth. If the economy grows at a pace which exceeds its capacity, central banks nudge interest rates back up, thus slowing the rate of inflation. Within these bounds, the market - seen as the dynamic driver of innovation and growth - determines the direction and pace with which the economy moves forward. This strain of neoclassicism is pervasive throughout economic textbooks the world over. It’s presented as gospel – but it’s not.
John Maynard Keynes, an undisputed father of macroeconomic theory, is famous (among other things) for a markedly different idea. His work outlines the importance of state investment (yes, the state can invest, not only spend) in driving the economy forward. Recent history is littered with examples of transformative state-led innovation; the internet, GPS, touch-screen technology and countless developments in the health sciences have their roots in state-funded research programmes. Some of the most successful private corporations in the world – Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Tesla Motors and Solar City to name but a few – have benefited enormously from government grants, tax breaks and subsidies.
But regardless of this fact, attitudes towards government spending are still tangibly frosty. The legacy of the crash has decimated governments’ willingness to invest. This is due to one idea in particular that arose in response to the crisis; that excessive government spending and bloated deficits were to blame for the crumbling economy.
This thinking is as harmful as it is untrue. In reality, deficits ballooned after the cash had already occurred – a phenomenon that was necessary if the private sector was to be allowed to re-enter a state of surplus. In fact, had this not happened as it did, national GDP would likely have shrunk by a degree on par with the Great Depression. In short, rising deficits played a vital role in ‘cushioning’ the private sector’s belt-tightening.
This lingering post-crash hangover is, frankly, a neoliberal’s dream-come-true. It plays beautifully into the narrative which tells us that, in order to be successful, we must have more market and less state. At best, the public sector is viewed merely as the facilitator of dynamism in the private sphere, breaking up monopolies, taxing negative externalities and so on. At worst, its cumbersome, heavy-handed bureaucracy is a danger to the fast-moving enterprise of the free market.
The neoclassical view, which limits the role of government policy to simply correcting ‘market failures’, overlooks the fact that markets, unlike the state, are blind. They are generally neglectful of social and environmental concerns, and thus move the economy in undesirable directions that are often self-reinforcing. When presented with such momentous challenges as climate change, inequality and mass automation, the state must lead; not only by fixing existing market failures but by actively creating and shaping new markets with the public good in mind.
The state should take a bold, strategic role in venture capitalism. Often, governments are better resourced than private agents, and thus more willing to take risks. In a similar vein, private corporations, preoccupied by maximising immediate shareholder value, are less able to take the long view. In order to make this a reality, we should empower governments to first envision a direction for innovation, and then invest in that direction.
This also means abandoning conversations about the size of the deficit and concentrating instead on its composition. Strategic investments in research & development, education and human capital formation, transport, infrastructural and industrial developments propel GDP upwards and bring debt to GDP ratio down in the longer term.
As Keynes put it – “The important thing for the government to do is not to do things which individuals are doing already and do them a little better or worse; but to do things which at present are not done at all.”
At the time of writing, the local election results appear to be indicating big wins for pro-Remain parties. What might this mean for the UK's political future in the era of Brexit?
Early on Friday morning, the first results from churches and town halls across the country came rolling in. The voting booths for local elections had closed at 10 pm on Thursday evening, ushering in a long night of counting for thousands of volunteers. And, as voters trudged to their offices for the last working day of the week, one thing was immediately clear: voters are sick of the Tory and Labour Brexit shambles.
At the time of writing, the Tories have lost 446 council seats and Labour 76. The big winners so far appear to be the Lib Dems, whose unequivocally pro-Remain message seems to have finally spurred the surge that online memelords have dreamt about. They have already won over 300 seats, with the final tally still a long way from being announced.
Either way, the trend is clear: pro-Remain parties have done much better than pro-Brexit parties - and, yes, The Labour Party is one of those. It is completely unsurprising that the Tories have been punished for their disastrous handling of the referendum result, or that the British public is rightly sick of the Opposition's not-so-tasty fudge.
What this means for the often-touted 'Remain Alliance' - which, crucially, will come to include Change UK in a future general election - is not clear. However, it is unsurprising that parties taking an unequivocal stance on the biggest issue of our time will now likely be rewarded at the ballot box. Unfortunately for pro-Europeans, that will also be true for Farage's Brexit personality cult in the forthcoming European elections, as those who wanted the UK to have left the EU by now voice their displeasure anew.
Still, we are yet again faced with a sign that the two-party system is crumbling, with only the archaic first-past-the-post machine keeping it propped up. If these results, which look to be a great victory for the Remain group (including the Greens) were to be repeated in a general election, the Establishment would be forced to finally rip up our undemocratic, winner-takes-all voting system. Even if that means increased representation for unsavoury far-right types, that would be a price worth paying to fix the feeling that our elected bodies are completely out of step with political feeling across the UK.
Who can lead the UK's climate change efforts? In this opinion piece, James Dilley suggests that it may be the pragmatists, rather than the idealists, who succeed.
Last week, the Committee on Climate Change published a new report setting out the UK’s path to a zero-carbon future by 2050. Among other things, its writers recommend that homeowners turn their central heating down to 19c in the winter, governments limit the number of people flying and carnivores drastically cut down on their meat consumption.
The vast majority of climate scientists have made it clear for decades now that nations around the world need to reign in carbon emissions to avoid what is now being referred to as ‘catastrophic climate change’. That this is also being reflected in high-profile policy reports testifies to climate science - and the predictions that its models have come up with - becoming a mainstream concern for millions of voters in the UK.
What this means for politics is not always clear, but there can be little doubt that a zero-carbon plan for the future will entail massive changes in the way our politicians sell themselves and their parties to the electorate.
Who is best placed to lead this charge? It is not yet clear. The Green Party has been campaigning for climate change action for many years now but lacks widespread appeal despite increasing popularity. Perhaps that is because the country’s mainstream, centre-right leaning voters see them as ‘socialists’ or, in what is now surely an outdated epithet, ‘hippies’.
Which leads one to wonder whether or not the time has come for environmentalism - traditionally thought of as a ‘leftie’ cause but now arguably beyond ideology - should now be thought of as a matter for pragmatists who base their worldview on the wonders of scientific discovery. After all, the science itself could not be clearer; humans are having a significant impact on the climate, which will lead to a number of serious and potentially fatal effects for human civilisation.
There is surely space for the non-ideological to grasp the climate change mantle and back what would once have been called ‘radical’ environmental policies. After all, if the traditional left and right spectrum is indeed outdated, and many (especially the young) no longer think of society as a battle between socialists and capitalists, there is a huge space for those presenting the climate change battle as a matter of practical necessity rather than a utopian cause.
New parties like Renew are most obviously well-placed to do this, but others, like the Greens, might do well to actively try and quash criticisms that their apparatus is too heavily influenced by a socialist analysis of society’s problems. Maybe, just maybe, the time has come for the ‘radical realists’, as Rutger Bregman calls them, to become the climate warriors that the UK, and the world, now needs.
On Thursday, 25th April, Renew member Anne Howkins took her seat among the Question Time audience. Here's her take on the experience - and what it showed about the quality of political debate in our country.
When I arrived at the BBC studios for an episode of Question Time, I was hoping for grown-up debate, intelligent insights from the panel and some taxing questions from the audience. I had prepared two questions about the dark money being used by the far-right to fund secretive social media campaigns, and how the Remain parties might work together to secure votes in the upcoming EU elections.
Sadly, I was to be disappointed on all fronts. Neither of my questions was selected and the broadcast programme has been subject to a great deal of negative feedback. As a member of the audience, here is what I saw and heard on the night.
The first part of the evening was interesting but gave no indication of the furore that was to erupt. Fiona Bruce spoke to us all before we went into the auditorium. She was hoping for a lively evening and cautioned against shouting out or booing, neither of which would be picked up by the mics. When we went in, I ended up sitting underneath a camera – not ideal if you wish to get noticed once the discussions got going! There was about an hour of set-up and a test Q&A session with audience members sitting on the panel which prompted an exchange of views on childhood obesity. At this point, it became clear where the agitators/Brexiteers in the audience were sitting. Unfortunately, three of them were on the back row, directly behind me.
Once the panel had been installed, there was a test debate to check the setup for recording. This was one of the questions put forward by the audience and was about buses, something Nottingham can count as a local success story. Then everything was ready for recording, and the theme music played…
What followed was very uncomfortable, and did nothing to progress debate or inform the audience. Having watched the programme, and seen the feedback on social media, it did not make good television either.
Caroline Lucas, MP and Leader of the Green Party, had the loudest welcome from the audience. The first question was whether our politicians should be embarrassed that Greta Thunberg has had more impact on raising awareness about global warming than our they have. The discussions quickly became bad tempered, with John Rhys-Davies showing his rather distasteful views about population growth. He followed this with a diatribe about the destruction of democracy, feeding the Faragistas. His behaviour towards Caroline Lucas was totally unacceptable and should have been stopped by Fiona Bruce, who seemed very close to losing control of the situation.
Labour MP John Ashworth and Conservative MP Victoria Atkins prompted much booing and cat-calling. Victoria admitted to being a Remainer before the vote but said she was now firmly behind Brexit, again setting off booing and catcalling from the Leavers. Vince Cable MP played his part as senior statesman well, presenting a voice of reason alongside Caroline. He was diplomatic about their approach to Change UK - The Independent Group.
The whole thing felt like bear-baiting. John rose to each lure and played to his audience with misogynistic bullying behaviour towards Caroline. Fiona should have asked him to modify his behaviour, but it seemed as if she didn’t know how. Once the closing shots were completed and recording finished her words were: “bloody hell”. Her description of the session as “lively” was an understatement. If Question Time continues in this vein, I think they need to find a chair with more presence.
The Leavers/Trump fans/climate change deniers in the audience were determined to make their point with lots of shouting and booing (despite earlier instructions). The BBC is coming under much criticism at present, with considerable airtime devoted to Mr Farage and his buddies. Giving an audience to personalities such as John Rhys-Davies with his overtly racist opinions and Malthusian views support this criticism. In common with many Brexiteers, the ‘facts’ he quoted were not true.
So, what did I take away?
Neither the Labour or Conservative MP were able to do anything but weakly follow the party line, showing just how damaged their parties are. Caroline Lucas did a good job in trying circumstances and got some good exposure for the Greens. Vince Cable was… well, Vince Cable.
Extreme Brexiteers know they are right. I understood this already, but it was a good display of their unwillingness to engage in reasonable debate, but just to shout everyone else down.
The BBC is not providing a fair platform. Again, I knew this, but it was an apt demonstration of their editorial misjudgment. Are they going for spectacle over reason?
And finally, we have to find a way for public debate to be more reasonable, to make aggressive and bullying behaviour unacceptable, to find common ground and work forward with a united purpose.