Thursday, March 25, 2010

No shortcuts to success

Last month Boyd Black, the secretary of the Labour Party here in Northern Ireland, wrote a well intentioned piece for the Newsletter in which he called on Lady Sylvia Hermon to run on a Labour ticket in the North Down constituency in this year's forthcoming general election in order to help "kick-start non-sectarian politics in Northern Ireland." At the time I suggested a bit of caution, questioning Lady Hermon's social democratic credentials and viewing her as "less of a socialist and more a disaffected unionist." I still stand by that assertion. Ken Reid's latest observations on relations between Lady Sylvia and the Democratic Unionist MPs at Westminster only add more weight to my belief that this woman should not be allowed anywhere near the attempt to build a genuinely anti-sectarian and left of centre political force in Northern Ireland. On his blog at the UTV website he writes:

It was noticeable, the cordial relationship between the DUP MPs and the sole remaining Ulster Unionist MP at Westminster on Monday night. They were singing off the same sheet in supporting the transfer of policing and justice powers from London to Stormont... Sitting close to Peter Robinson, Jeffrey Donaldson and Ian Paisley, her determination was clear. My DUP sources say the working relationship with Lady Hermon has developed closely. There would be no problem in supporting and helping her campaign. All will be revealed shortly.

While I doubt the good Lady is on the verge of flinging off a membership application form to DUP HQ, I nevertheless cannot see how anyone with close relations to Paisley, Robinson and Donaldson and who would be willing to accept the assistance of the Democratic Unionists in their election campaign could in any manner be considered Labour material. I also have a feeling that, even if it had have been possible to do so, Lady Hermon would not have taken up the offer of standing for the party in North Down. That is not the point though. Northern Irish socialists and social democrats have been voiceless for decades. The existence of the Labour Party in the province today gives us at least a glimmer of hope that that anomaly may finally be brought to an end. Now is not the time to attempt to take shortcuts by recruiting any unionist or nationalist MP, MLA or councillor that feels disgruntled with their party's leadership. That said, if an elected representative from the unionist or nationalist community has become disillusioned with their brand of politics and wants to embrace democratic socialism then they are by all means welcome to join our camp. I see no evidence that Lady Sylvia Hermon has made such a conversion.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A tune for Paddy's Day

Riots. Car accidents. Fights. Arrests. Even a bomb once. March 17th has just never been a great date for me. This year I'm going to avoid the inevitable anti-climax and spend the day indoors watching telly, listening to the radio, reading and doing anything that doesn't involve leaving the house. As the entire country will be plunged into an unbearable sea of paddywhackery for the next fifteen hours, here's a decent Irish tune to protect your ears against the barrage of shite about to hit us. From the county Down, Two Door Cinema Club. New album just out:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

Don't mention the revolution

Reading today's Guardian report on the continuing green-and-gold protests against the Glazer family at Old Trafford is a bit like reading about the reaction of the leaders of east European Stalinist countries in the 1980s to dissident movements like Solidarność. Man U players have been ordered not to discuss it. A member of the audience on an MUTV chat show was ejected after being identified as a supporter of the campaign. Press conferences featuring Alex Ferguson have been edited so as to remove all mention of the campaign when broadcast on MUTV. An Old Trafford steward with two decades services was fired for returning an anti-Glazer banner to its owner. The campaign against the current club owners also has the support of Manchester United legends of the calibre of David Beckham and Eric Cantona and at least one member of the present team, Patrice Evra. All of this makes me enjoy even more the fact that the club's official TV station refuses to as much as acknowledge the existence of the protests absolutely everyone in the country is talking about. Clearly this station is being run by the same people who were putting out documentaries about collective farming on GDR telly on the night people were taking sledgehammers to the Berlin Wall.

My advice to the Glazers? Go. Now. While you can. The world can do without a Mancunian Ceausescu.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Let's talk about 6

I defend the BBC on a lot of matters on this blog. I defended them during the ridiculous tabloid-fuelled hysteria surrounding the Ross/Brand affair a while back. I defended them over their decision to include only the leaders of the big three political parties in the forthcoming live TV debate before the general election. And although I would never attempt to justify something as absurd as Alan Hansen's Liverpool-London taxi journeys, I have to admit that when it comes to the issue of staff expenses I simply could never find myself working up the forced enthusiasm that Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells and pals possess in order to protest about these things. In other words, it would take a lot to make me write something here that would be overtly critical of Auntie. I cannot, however, defend them when it comes to the proposal made last week to close BBC 6 Music, the national DAB station launched a mere eight years ago.

I have been a regular listener to the station since I bought my first digital radio in 2005. Before its arrival, music radio and I had never been good mates. Even when I was younger I preferred to stick to the speech-based stuff on Radio 4 and Radio 5 live and pursue my musical interests away from the patronising drone of overexcited DJs, overhyped bands, predictable playlists and awful jingles. Radio Ulster's excellent and still running Across the Line show was a notable exception. It had a laid back feel, an atmosphere that felt like you were listening to Mike Edgar and a few of his mates playing records in their living room rather than a programme which had been meticulously planned out well beforehand, packed full of scripted 'banter' and the music selected on nothing but the basis of high street sales. Much of the music played was from local artists. In a lot of cases the local artists were utterly rubbish, but that didn't matter. In a way that was the beauty. It was different. It was fresh. It was, in the real sense of the term, alternative - and this in an era when a group of five Mancunians obsessed with looking and sounding like the Beatles was what passed for 'alternative'. For an ATL junkie, BBC 6 Music was like a gift from the gods. It would be a pity if it were to be lost for good.

Two reasons seem to have been put forward to justify the closure decision, neither or which is all that convincing. Reason one is cash related. Closing 6 Music would, we are told, save money. Well, yes it would but the truth is that it wouldn't save all that much. Nine million quid to be exact. Yes, that might be a lot of dosh to you or I but in today's media world it is a drop in the ocean. Let us not forget that the BBC paid out something in the region of eighteen million pounds to secure the services of the likeable but overrated Jonathan Ross. When you look at it like that 6 Music suddenly seems like bloody good value. It remains to be seen just what sort of long term positive financial impact the demise of this tiny station would have.

The second big reason given for the closure proposal is that 6 Music does not attract a large enough audience. The fact that some of the organisation's top brass are actually putting this forward as a valid reason to shut down an entire station shows just how little they care these days about the whole ethos of public service broadcasting. When it was launched 6 Music was not aiming to attract millions of listeners. It was always going to be a niche station with a small but dedicated following. It exists to fill a gap, provide a service. One of the benefits of the BBC's unique position in this country is that it doesn't - or to be more accurate, shouldn't - have to put ratings figures as its top priority. The station's 695,000 listeners are listening to a service, not a commercial enterprise. The fact is that if it goes there will be no one else there to fill the gap. As Chris Addison eloquently put it in the Guardian: "6 Music serves a minority interest, does it? Then it's heartland BBC. Leave it a-fucking-lone."

With all the faults that the BBC undoubtedly has it is absolutely absurd that it has responded by attempting to abolish the one thing that has not caused it any grief in the course of the past decade. When was the last time you read a conservative tabloid complaining about BBC 6 Music? In fact, when was the last time BBC 6 Music caused any sort of controversy whatsoever? By and large this station has behaved itself, got on with the task of playing good music and done so on a relatively modest budget. The more you think about it the more stupid the closure plan appears.

At the present time it's not entirely clear when the station will shut for good. According to the Director General of the Corporation it will be no earlier than 2011. Enough time to save it perhaps? Possibly. The level of anger that has greeted the plan is certainly considerable enough – 8,000 complaints and rising according to the Beeb. Like most Irish people, if I get a bad meal at a pub or a restaurant I'll moan about it to my girlfriend and then tell the waiter or waitress that it was lovely when they come to collect my plate, yet even I have lodged an official complaint about last week's proposals. So, you too should do what you can. Phone the Beeb. Email them. Write them a letter. Join the Save BBC 6 Music group on Facebook. Write something about it on Twitter. Anything. Better still, if you haven't listened to anything on the station before start doing so now. 6 Music is a small but important part of the BBC and one that sums up exactly what public service broadcasting is all about. Its time for us all to do our bit in the coming months to prevent its destruction.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Anger in Llareggub

So, Plaid Cymru has ditched its official support for the BBC as part of the unified Celtic strop it and their SNP allies have been throwing over the past few days in relation to their exclusion from the forthcoming televised leadership debates ahead of the British general election. Good for them. The fools. It seems strange to me that the Welsh nationalists are now prepared to lend their support to the destruction of one of Britain's last remaining internationally renowned institutions over the single issue of their leader not being permitted to take part in what is, to be brutally honest, a pointless spectacle aimed at people who are so stupid they have never heard of Prime Ministers Questions. Then again, I never could get inside the minds of parochial idiots in Northern Ireland so my failure to penetrate their Welsh counterparts shouldn't come as a shock.

My own view is that the Beeb have called this one right. The live broadcast in question will be going out right across the United Kingdom. Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems contest the battle for seats from Land's End right up to John O'Groats. These UK-wide/London-based (delete according to constitutional stance) parties attracted around 90% of the vote at the last general election in 2005. Of the remaining one-tenth of voters, the United Kingdom Independence Party took almost 3%, a figure which was increased even more in last year's European elections. UKIP will also be standing candidates right across the country so I suppose if anyone has a right to moan about being frozen out of this TV debate its Farage and co. To me though it seems natural enough that it will be the leaders of the big three involved in this debate.

The good news is that the oppressed licence fee payers from the Celtic fringe will be able to watch Ieuan Wyn Jones, Alex Salmond and the leaders of the political parties in my own neck of the woods in live televised debates prior to the big election. Where? On the BBC no less. You see, for matters unique to the nations/regions (delete according to constitutional stance) the British Broadcasting Corporation runs what I suppose one could call devolved broadcasting entities known as BBC Cymru Wales, BBC Scotland and BBC Northern Ireland. And since Plaid, the Scots Nats and the Northern Irish parties will only be fighting for seats in these specific areas of the United Kingdom it seems to me to be less to do with Londoncentricity and more to do with commonsense that their participation in any leaders debate would be carried on the airwaves from the Beeb's outposts in Cardiff, Glasgow and Belfast rather than from TVC in Wood Lane. If, however, you are living in Folkestone or Plymouth and you are absolutely dying to hear what we Paddies, Taffs and Jocks are up to I am sure you will be able to find a repeat of our regional televised battles on BBC Parliament.

The irony of all of this is that a party that wants London to have less to do with Wales is up in arms over not being invited to London. It is also odd that they have decided to withdraw their support for an organisation which has had a generally decent record when it comes to Wales and Welsh affairs. BBC telly in Wales has numerous Welsh and Welsh language programmes. The Corporation also run two radio stations there, one in English and one in Welsh. Add to that the fact that large network productions like Crimewatch, Casualty, Doctor Who, Torchwood and Life on Mars are all shot in the Welsh capital and one gets the impression that the reaction of Plaid Cymru this weekend might just be slightly out of proportion.

But then what else would one expect from Plaid Cymru except Cardiffcentricity. Huh. Typical.