Monday, 22 March 2010

Is Nick Clegg the new Barack Obama?


The first time I heard of the Liberal Democrats was during the run up to the ’97 election. There were those big posters of the party leaders in the Tube stations and I remember asking my mum who they were. She told seven-year-old me about John Major and Tony Blair (he was the "good guy" back then), but when I asked her about Paddy Ashdown in the middle she said: “They're the Liberal Democrats, no one really votes for them.”

And she was right. Despite having Paddy's face splashed all over the Underground, the Lib Dems got only 16.8% of the vote in that election. The following year I would leave the country for a decade and return assuming the “middle of the road” party was just as insignificant as it had been before. Yet in the intervening years, the Lib Dems had raised their votes to 18.2% and then to 22%. If the figure rises exponentially we are looking at the very least at a hung parliament this May.

But does this mean that the Nick Clegg actually has a chance at being Prime Minister? There is certainly a lot of hype surrounding the possibility. With recent announcements that he will take part in the UK’s first televised “prime ministerial” debates, it’s not hard to make a case for a Lib Dem vote no longer being a wasted one.

Re-winding couple of years to the US primaries I can remember the “is it really possible?” excitement that fueled every political discussion in the world. If I had had a say, I would have voted for Hillary Clinton as leader of the Democrats. Not because I like her policies, her hair, her husband or the thought of an ex-president’s wife being the new Mrs President. But because I thought that America was not ready for Barack Obama, and that by nominating him, I would have been giving the Republicans the election.

I have learned my lesson. And I like to think that so has the rest of the electorate. In Nick Clegg’s party conference speech last week he consistently hammered “change” and “yes we can”; told sweet little anecdotes about his children; and attempted a slightly higher than average number of jokes. Is this Obama all over again?

The parallels are undeniable: young, arguably na├»ve promises of “new politics”, Clegg's tax reform to Obama's health reform, the impassioned speeches about a new political system... But is the UK ready to do away with the old and in with the slightly younger and better looking?

Today Obama's emblematic health reform bill was passed by the US House of Representatives, making medical coverage available to 32 million Americans in a drastic shake-up of the system which previously denied health care to those who couldn't afford it. This landmark event seemed almost as unlikely two years ago as the US people voting in a black president.

But will Nick Clegg's tax reform have quite the same emotional impact? He is definitely trying to make it his trademark and he's doing it very well. He's taken “change” and made it “work for you”. As far as I'm concerned this is a great campaign, albeit an unoriginal one. He is articulate, honest, enthusiastic and fresh-faced, and the people like him.

There is no denying that the British public is as disenchanted with politics as it is disengaged, yet it seems like there has never been a better time for the Lib Dems. While Labour is busy slating Cameron and the Tories are busy slating Brown, I'd say to them both: “Look out Old Politics. There's a new kid in town.”

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

And I thought the BBC couldn't get it wrong again...


Anyone that knows me will know that I go through phases of spending a lot of time in the kitchen. Unfortunately, not many of my culinary experiments are hugely successful, but I enjoy myself tremendously. I also end up feeding a lot of local homeless people on my cakes which have either risen too much, or not enough, or are too sweet, or to salty, or I've just got bored of the recipe while I was making it and have no desire to eat the result.

However, for the last month or so I have drastically reduced the time I spend in an apron. This is because my housemate decided to take his radio, which has always lived in the kitchen, back up to his bedroom, leaving me immersed in the cold and lonely sound of the extractor fan.

And what was it that I had on in the background? Well there was BBC Radio 4 quite often and the occasional bout of Gay Rabbit Station, which was kind of fun. But mainly it was BBC 6 Music. Not from any great loyalty to the station or because I consciously thought it was the best, but it is very listenable, it has an interesting variety of music and it makes your ears prick up every so often.

The news that my favoured radio station faced closure left me rather disconcerted as I walked to the train station this morning, especially as it came with the unpleasant news that the BBC plans to slash its online budget by 25 percent.

I have to say that the thought of “quality over quantity“ does appeal to me. In fact, if I were asked my opinion I might suggest cutting out BBC 3 altogether and allocating the funds to making BBC 4 available during daytime hours. But cutting 6 Music and the relatively innocuous Asian Network seems like a preposterous plan that will do nothing more than shift the public outrage from one aspect of BBC incompetence to another.

I am a fierce defender of the BBC. I believe it is a journalistic treasure and I only wish more countries would adopt the same government-funded model. I bear no resentment at paying my license fee and I even actively defended the exorbitant salaries that employees were getting paid – possibly to the detriment of my future credibility. However, ever the most unwavering of loyalties can be challenged and I cannot see a way around saying that this is simply a step too far.

Within months of a general election, the idea reeks of political interests and barely hidden commercial appeasement. In one fell swoop the BBC has short-sightedly cut out a huge demographic of consumers, obviously deciding that it is not necessary to cater for the very people they aimed to reach eight years ago when 6 Music was launched, along with other digital and online incentives which have subsequently been adopted by practically every private broadcasting company in the country.

Luckily as of yet nothing is set in stone, and I think we have the power to change the outcome. By all means, join facebook groups, email the BBC (trust.enquiries@bbc.co.uk), march outside the headquarters if you have to. But please show them that we do care, we do matter, we do vote and it would be a huge mistake for the BBC to underestimate us.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Food for journalistic thought

Last Thursday I blustered my way from my warm and cosy room in Brighton to the windy, rainy streets of London for the Future of News Meetup Group which my dad was very amused to hear took place in a pub in New Oxford Street.

Not knowing exactly what to expect but hoping for at the very least some intelligent conversation I was pleasantly surprised. The strange mishmash of people – from students to lecturers and retired columnists – made for a refreshing feeling of acceptance that took a while for me to pinpoint. There is something extremely rewarding about finding a large group of people with ideas and opinions on the subjects that you practically live and breathe.

Bizarre characters were what I was hoping for and I was not disappointed. There was a beer-enthusiast and radio journalist who told us about his trip around the world, an audio-tech guy in jeans and a T-shirt who runs the most successful forum in his field, a Canadian girl with a surprising interest in Starbucks and myself, among others.

The meeting – or perhaps the wine – also had the pleasant side-effect of causing me to spend the whole train journey home talking about the evolution of news and the possibilities for print journalists in the current situation. Needless to say I didn’t see the light and answer all the industry’s questions but I was extremely satisfied and probably smiling like a lunatic when I got home that night.

I recently read a book called One Day by David Nichols (£2.99 with the Times one Wednesday – some good cross-promotion going on there, but I’ll leave that subject for another day), in which one of the main characters expresses his disgust at the late-80s student culture of sympathising with every cause, having an opinion on every issue, needing to change the world, to be an activist, to fight for what you believe... Somewhere along the line the Dexter Mayhews of the real – as opposed to fictional – world found perfection in the form of a generation in which no one cares about anything much more than what they are having for breakfast tomorrow.

I don’t expect Che Guevara T-shirts or campus marches against every war, but some sort of passion for what we are studying should be an underlying common ground, shouldn’t it? It is quite sad that in order to feel like I can comfortably talk about journalism without being considered pompous or precocious I have to go to a meeting full of middle-aged men.

Moving on from my digression into bitter student mode, I have to applaud the event as a relaxed, interesting and free platform for anyone interested in journalism and news. Bring your opinions, your enthusiasm and your knowledge and I can assure you, it will not disappoint.

http://www.meetup.com/Future-of-news/ Future of News Meetup Group
http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23fong Future of News Twitter page
http://apps.facebook.com/meetups/smallbiz/2605/ Future of News Facebook page