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    Spoken Word is a frustrating art form. Its historical roots run deep, but in its present form it fluctuates between being vibrant, engaging and socially active - to pretentious and dull.

    When Gill Scott-Heron wrote "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about a revolution in spoken word. What he was talking about was a civil, social and financial revolution, a revolution where "Women will not care if Dick finally got down with Jane...because Black people will be in the streets looking for a brighter day". Scott-Heron used spoken word to simultaneously critique capitalism, endorse change, and create a wonderful hymn of political and social disenfranchisement.

    Spoken word grew out of a desire to comment on the status quo, using an unconventional free verse style to evoke unconventional thoughts. From ol’ Gil, to Allen Ginsberg, and, arguably, all the way back to Walt Whitman, it was a form that fundamentally didn’t conform in either style or content. An anthem for those who didn’t agree with the norms in their society. An aural/oral middle finger to those in charge.

    It makes sense, then, that spoken word resonates with a young contemporary audiences. The internet has done wonders for the form, allowing the angry, intimate words of the speaker to reverberate out of your laptop as you nod your head emphatically. "Yes!" you say (in your head) "we *should* liberate [insert oppressed group] and not stand any longer for [insert outrageous act]." Often you will share it on your [insert social media forum] and feel just a little bit better about yourself.

    It is usually personal and evocative. Sometimes it’s quite cool. Scroobius Pip, an Essex born hip-hop spoken word artist, seems to have become a necessary part of gaining middle-class hipster accreditation. Scroobius Pip became famous after his collaboration with Dan le Sac on the track "Thou Shalt Always Kill", which is, ironically, a kind of perceptive, cynical deconstruction of what would soon become hipster identity. "Thou shalt not stop liking a band just because they’ve become popular" he articulates, in his low-budget video, "Thou shalt not attend an open mic and leave before it’s done just because you’ve finished your shitty little poem or song you self-righteous prick."

    I deeply wish spoken word culture had listened to Scroobius and Dan. I have attended too many circle-jerk university spoken word nights; winced as my contemporaries ruin their poetry using over-chewed rhetorical flourishes. Pauses. For effect. Clichés, that cause your heart burn with the fire of injustice. A false culture of imagined oppression - a self-obsessed anthem of inflated victimhood.

    Spoken word is an art form that walks a fine line between being compelling and contrived, and more often than not, people don’t fall on the right side. However, no matter how cynical one may become, there are artists that use spoken word to introduce young people to poetry, or promote feminism. The ones who use themselves as a subject only to critique and inspire, not to self-aggrandise. Poems such as Mark Grist’s "I Like a Girl Who Reads" or Kait Rokowski’s "How to Cure a Feminist" are perfect examples of spoken word which doesn’t make me want to bash my head against something heavy. They are funny, genuine and intelligent.

    It’s only those writers who manage to steer away from pointless rhetoric, who don’t hide the flaws of their writing with saccharine phrases, that manage to successfully convey their message. Poetry is an art form on the wane, but the culture of spoken word has reinvigorated it - which is anything but bad. Even if it does mean putting up with a few wankers along the way.


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    Up to now brands have faced great difficulty in reaching customers across devices and mediums - but with the new range of data available, real-time bidding and a programmatic approach, 2014 might be advertising's "big bang" year.

    In my last piece for the NS website, I predicted that the advertising industry was headed for a Big Bang moment. This was a comparison I drew with the financial industry, where, in 1986 almost overnight the bowler hats and handshakes for completing a deal disappeared and were replaced with electronic, screen-based trading. It revolutionised the industry and properly cemented London’s position as a financial powerhouse.

    The reason I think we are heading to this point, and fast, is due to the reams of data that are being produced across the web every single second. Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and personal computers, coupled with the emergence of social networks, sharing platforms and the resilience of email, people are sharing their likes, preferences and opinions more than ever before. The web has always been social. And by this I mean the way in which content is produced, consumed and distributed across the digital world. In granular form this can mean shortened links, using widgets on pages to share information, even sending a good old fashioned email with a link in it. The human behaviour of communications is very much alive and well in the digital age.

    This has created an unprecedented opportunity for marketers, who are now able to take advantage of the amount of data out there to help target consumers and find new customers in a precise and relevant way, at scale. Simply put, there are billions of sharing data points in all forms happening across all digital touchpoints.

    We are however at a stage now where processing this information has to be automated. And this is why we are fast approaching a “programmatic” revolution. Technology, through sophisticated algorithms, is increasingly able to find valuable characteristics, gauge consumer behaviour and target messages with laser focus to the right audiences. It brings a previously unavailable automated intelligence to help brands target quickly enough to hit potential audiences with relevant content in a timely fashion.

    Some may say “isn’t this just real-time bidding?” It’s not. The concept of “real-time bidding” has been in existence for a few years and is simply the methodology behind buying and selling advertising impressions in an open marketplace, much like an auction model. This is where brands are (allegedly) able to buy and sell online display advertising in real-time, one ad at a time and serve them to the public. However, as with most software, your desired outcome is wholly reliant on the information you put in and the way in which you use the data you have. How often have you been served an ad for a train or plane after you have made the journey? Real-time bidding is an important trading component of the marketplace but it is the marketplace as a whole that is becoming programmatic. This enables brands to aggregate, book, analyse and optimise all forms of digital content and media so they can serve targeted offers, messages, and ads across all channels. The ultimate benefit here is that marketers can identify customers in real-time, in the right place, and on the right device, to help retain or win new business.

    It basically means that they are able to connect the dots between their content, their audience and their media buying; to ensure they are genuinely reaching their target audience based on their likes, preferences and behaviours right here, right now. This is a hugely powerful asset for brands.

    Another reason this is going to start to address the challenges we all face is the mobile channel. Mobile advertising has struggled on two levels. Firstly, it has struggled as web advertising did in the early stages and has sadly had to adopt a clusterbomb approach with clients being measured by the number of app downloads that they are able to achieve (akin to how many likes or followers you can get - numbers with no real meaning). It’s expensive and sees little return on investment. Secondly, even though the mobile or smartphone is becoming the prime means through which people communicate today, marketers have struggled to connect with them as they move between smartphone, desktop and tablet. The programmatic marketplace will address both as it brings data and a cross platform approach, thereby enabling brands to target and connect with their next customers using tailored marketing messages. A big drive for this new paradigm will be the ability to combine the analytics of each consumer action and deliver a personalised experience to users, with intelligent software and an increasing use of cookieless targeting technology. It’s the shot in the arm that will ensure mobile continues its aggressive growth.

    Brands are already turning to a programmatic approach and seeing significant returns. However, thanks to the amount of data out there and the need to integrate with mobile, 2014 promises to be the year which all channels reach a “Big Bang” moment - and you don’t want to be the brand that is left behind.

    Rupert Staines is European Managing Director at RadiumOne


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    It’s more a question of going about my everyday life while experiencing something of what it is to be in a man’s skin.

    I’m having a boy night. I am carefully cutting light brunette tufts, trimmed from the bottom of my shoulder length hair, into stubble. I have bound my breasts. In a couple of minutes I apply spirit gum to my face with a cotton bud, and strategically place a pair of socks in the boxers I’ve got on. A year or two of incremental boy nights have taught me never to wear my t-shirt when I’m putting on my beard; the gum is unpredictable and inevitably gets everywhere. When all the stubble is on I wet my hands and rub them hard against my cheeks (in what I suppose is a masculating manner). I slip on a worn a dark t-shirt, low cut boy jeans, and a blue hoodie. After I’ve tucked my hair under a black beanie, and hidden my hands in a pair of black fingerless gloves, the transformation is complete.  In less than 15 minutes all trace of girl has been erased from my gender performance. I look into the mirror and smile like a smug git.

    Soon enough I’m standing at the bar in a pub off New Cavendish Street. The man next to me takes a step back, turns to face me head on, and squints.

    “How did you get your facial hair?”, he spits a bit on my recently stubbled cheeks as the words pop out of his mouth. He is built up like a bad joke, with a pronounced South African accent and dense five o’clock shadow. Clearly the universe has sent me some sort of cliché of alpha masculinity.

    “How did you get your facial hair?”. I resort to the time-tested playground trick of throwing his own question back at him, putting on my best teenage boy pitch as I do.

    “I grew it”

    “I grew it too”. I try to be casual (technically this is true, after all). There’s a pause, in which he gives me a look that hovers somewhere between disgust and curiosity.

    “You’re not fooling anyone… baby”. The man (who I have now nicknamed “wanker” in my head) lowers his voice slightly on that last word, gently touching my right upper arm.

    Later that night in a different pub, in Islington, a friend of a friend repeatedly tries to remove my hat. I shimmy around sofas and chairs, clumsily trying to avoid her, half-heartedly voicing complaints about unwanted physical contact and consent (low pitch completely forgotten at this point - I sound like an indignant mouse cartoon character). Escaping outside for a cigarette, I vaguely explain to the rest of the group that I’m dressed as a boy tonight, will be taking only male gender  pronouns (meaning that I want to be referred to as he, his or him), and that my name is Tommy.

    Why Tommy? The name seemed to encapsulate everything my male persona was when I first chose it; young, playful, harmless, a potential bad boy. At the time I struggled with the idea of taking on a Western name. What with my posh British accent, not to mention broken Arabic, my name is one of the most obviously Lebanese things about me. I couldn’t think of anything Arab that fit me though. I decided to keep my surname, and take my grandfather’s first name as a middle name, by way of compromise – Tommy Nicola Ziadeh.

    Some of the lesbians don’t even bat an eyelid, having met Tommy a few times. To my amusement and delight a straight man, that I’ve just been introduced to, immediately starts broing out with me. Broing out is quite fun. I’m no expert, but as far as I’m aware it involves a great deal of nodding and monosyllabic communication - as well as fist bumping, of course.

    Half way through our chit-chat I realise, to my dismay, that I’ve started to cross my legs in an almost effeminate manner. I quickly try to amend this by easing my knees apart, and leaning over with my elbows on them, in what I perceive to be a typical ‘man pose’.

    “You arsehole. You’re presenting”, one of the lesbians says in a monotone.

    Unsurprisingly we get talking about Drag Kings. These aren’t as well known as their female counterparts, despite having similar theatrical and performance based origins (supposedly going as far back as the 17th century) – girl actors playing boy roles and vice versa. But maybe it’s predictable that female interpretations of masculinity have taken a back seat in terms of cross dressing. The harnessing of femininity by men has historically always taken precedence -  why would drag be any different? In the last six months or so ‘boi nights’ have become more popular on the London scene though. What I do isn’t drag though; there’s no intentional performance aspect to it, and I wouldn’t even think of going up on stage. It’s more a question of going about my everyday life whilst experiencing what it is to be in a man’s skin. For me Tommy is about tapping into my own sense of masculinity; the ‘boy’ part of my gender which exists alongside the ‘girl’ that is expected of me because I was born with female genitalia.

    The same lesbian then cocks her head to one side and asks, with an air of resigned curiosity, “Are you a twink?” (slang for a young slim gay man – Teenage White Into No Kink).

    Am I? Truthfully, I’ve only been to a couple of gay nights dressed like this. I was surprised at how much attention smiling weakly, whilst awkwardly sitting to the side got me from both guys my own age and much older gay men.

    I’ve never kissed anyone as Tommy, though. And were I to enter into a sexual relationship as a boy, yet not as one who is seen as biologically male, it wouldn’t be without an element of risk. In the past two years both Chris Wilson and Gemma Barker faced allegations on two counts; for having sex with underage girls (rightly so), and for gender deception. The latter makes me nervous (obviously I have no intention of  having sex with underage girls, and feel they should be clearly protected under our consent laws). I worry that we have a long way to go before making laws that work in the best interests of the trans* community, as well as those of other vulnerable members of society. Perhaps this is what makes me err on the side of caution.

    Do I get away with it? Well sometimes I don’t, but sometimes I really do. What I struggle with most is deepening my voice; it takes a significant amount of effort. Usually the beginning of conversations are fine, but once I get comfortable I have a tendency to revert to my everyday girl squeak. The hardest things to say, in what I aspiringly refer to as ‘my boy voice’, are “sorry”, “excuse me”, and to ask anyone for help or willingly portray vulnerability.

    The easiest are requests which I’ve learnt, in order to take up space as a man, to make with a certain sense of entitlement. When I order a drink (naturally a pint to go with my general look) I act as if the drink is already coming to me. I’m just instigating the process.

    If I’m Tommy for several days in a row I notice myself becoming mentally and emotionally drained; it can often be exhausting to remember to make every  part of myself what we perceive as ‘man’. Generally when my masculinity affirmed, when I pass as biologically male, it feels good. If I am viewed as trans*, differed or othered in any way, the experience can be alienating.

    When I first started going out in everyday spaces dressed up (or should I say down?) I worried that I was a privileged member of the LGBTQ community taking a selfish and exotifying dip into a more marginalised trans* subculture. But it was a feeling of curiosity that pushed me to find Tommy. When I became aware of trans* culture I realised that dressing as a man was something I could do, and because I could do it I was compelled to. Boying up has opened a door through which I can now queer and rethink my gender, as well as my sexuality.

     


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    Being a person of faith requires an understanding of not just religious values but an understanding of history.

    Who’d have guessed that 2013 would be the year in which Aaron Sorkin would come to the rescue of Islam? To clarify: the creator of The West Wing hasn’t converted and become a Muslim. He probably doesn’t have a clue how significant his (inadvertent) contribution has been to the struggle against Islamophobia – and that, too, in the mother of parliaments.

    Let me explain. In a debate in the House of Lords on 19 November, the former leader of Ukip Lord Pearson asked why the Prime Minister had refused to blame Islam for acts of terrorism. Doing his best impression of Darth Vader, Pearson said, “I fear the dark side is moving strongly within Islam,” and cited various blood-curdling verses from the Quran.

    The government’s response to his hate-mongering comments came from Baroness Warsi, the Muslim Tory peer and minister for faith and communities. Warsi decided to address Pearson’s bigotry by quoting from a West Wing episode from 2000.

    In the show, President Jed Bartlet takes on a Christian evangelical radio presenter who had called homosexuality an “abomination”. “I don’t say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr President. The Bible does,” she replies, citing Leviticus 18:22. To which Bartlet responds:

    “I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7 . . . What would a good price for her be? . . . My chief of staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or is it OK to call the police? . . . Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads? Think about those questions, would you?”

    It was the perfect riposte from Warsi, who went on to point out to Pearson that “texts from the Old Testament” can also “easily be manipulated to cause mischief”. Being a person of faith, she added, requires understanding of not just the values but “the context in which that faith was formed. To be an adherent, one must also be a historian.”

    Rigid, context-free literalism is the bane of every religion, not just of Islam. Consider for a moment the growing numbers of evangelical Christians who reject evolution on the basis of Adam and Eve or claim the earth is 6,000, rather than 4.54 billion, years old, simply because the Old Testament says so. Or Orthodox Jews who treat the Torah as a property deed for the West Bank. How about those Hindus who fall back on the Vedic texts to justify the caste system?

    As the historian Karen Armstrong and countless other scholars of religion have argued, every major faith has been plagued by the distorting and reactionary effects of literalism, puritanism and fundamentalism at some stage in recent history. Still, it would be disingenuous of me to deny that, these days, Muslims are more prone to literalist interpretations of their holy scripture than most other believers; to views that are dogmatic, belli­gerent and blind to nuance. Such Muslims, I hasten to add, are still in the minority but the religious establishments in countries such as Pakistan, Iran and in particular Saudi Arabia – which has pumped millions (billions?) of dollars into exporting its ultra-austere Wahhabi brand of Islam – haven’t helped.

    However, a Muslim-majority nation such as Saudi Arabia, doesn’t represent the majority of Muslims – contrary to a bizarre claim made by the National Secular Society’s Anne Marie Waters in a debate on Islam at the Oxford Union that I spoke at in May.

    As I explained to Waters in Oxford, both the Islamophobes and the Islamists are guilty of a literal reading of the Quran. Violent extremists such as Osama Bin Laden take the same line as “new atheists” and far-right bigots; that is, both sides believe there is only a single, monolithic Islam that embraces violence, despotism and gender inequality. Stuck in the middle of these two extremes are most of the world’s Muslims, who, according to polling by the Pew Research Centre, want to keep their heads down, have quiet lives and look after their kids.

    Most Muslims I know believe that the Quran is the literal, unchanged, divine word of God but don’t believe that mere mortals have the God-given right to apply their own absolute, final say on the meaning of Quranic verses. Throughout Islamic history, interpretations (tafsir) have differed from scholar to scholar and this intra-Islamic pluralism and diversity of thought should be celebrated, not condemned or ignored.

    Our very human, fallible and non-divine ability to interpret the Quran is “both a blessing and a burden”, Khaled Abou El Fadl, the liberal Muslim scholar and law professor at the University of California, wrote in a remarkable essay in the Boston Review in December 2001.

    “It is a blessing,” he noted, “because it provides us with the flexibility to adapt texts to changing circumstances. It is a burden because the reader must take responsibility for the normative values he or she brings to the text.”

    Abou El Fadl provocatively concludes: “The meaning of the text is often only as moral as its reader. If the reader is intolerant, hateful, or oppressive, so will be the interpretation of the text.”

    Or, in other words, don’t judge the Quran or, indeed, Islam on the basis of a tiny minority of hate-filled Muslims who project their own intolerance on to the Quran.

    Oh, and listen to Aaron Sorkin. 

    Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the political director of the Huffington Post UK, where this column is crossposted


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    WHO's response to Syria's polio outbreak, and its close relationship with the Syrian government, have been called into question.

    A New York Times report has highlighted the failures that contributed to Syria’s polio outbreak, and suggested that “the United Nations itself has aggravated the situation”. The authors, Adam P Coutts, a researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Fouad M Fouad, a Syrian doctor, suggested that the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) close links with the Syrian government could have contributed to its failure to vaccinate children in the Deir al-Zour area – where cases of polio were detected last year. WHO is housed in the Syrian health ministry building, and some of its staff members are ex-government.

    The New York Times reports that WHO argued that Deir al-Zour was not included in their 2012 vaccination campaign because “the majority of its residents have relocated to other areas of the country”, but says there is no evidence that this is true. In fact, the UN World Food Programme continued delivering food aid to Deir al-Zour until 2013.

    Once polio had broken out, WHO was also slow to respond. The authors found it took three months for the first cases of polio to be confirmed after they were detected in July 2013. It then took several weeks for a vaccination programme to begin. These delays increase the risk of polio spreading, particularly as it’s not clear how the vaccination programme will cover the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

    There is no doubt that the WHO is operating under extremely challenging circumstances. It is trying to implement an immunisation programme in an active warzone, and among refugees spread over vast distances. It is easy to see why it is struggling to contain polio. Like most UN agencies, WHO is often accused of being an unwieldy bureaucracy that can be slow to react, so this isn’t unique to Syria.

    But then, this is also not the first time in recent memory that the UN has been accused of contributing to a public health scandal. If you haven’t read this report on how the UN inadvertently caused a cholera epidemic in Haiti and then covered it up, you should. It’s little wonder WHO and other UN agencies’ credibility is in question.

    The incident also exposes shortcomings in how UN agencies operate. The UN’s humanitarian and development organisations work in partnership with their host countries and in wealthier developing countries they will be part or fully funded by their host government. There are strong arguments for working in this way: the long-term aim is to strengthen government departments so that with time they no longer need the UN’s expertise. UN agencies don’t want to impose their decisions and values on the countries they work in; instead they want governments to fully embrace goals like reducing maternal mortality or increasing school enrolment or protecting national heritage sites. In some countries, UN agencies are able to operate where other NGOs can’t, precisely because of this close partnership. But there are downsides.

    For 18 months from 2008, I worked for the United Nations Development Programme in Libya. The vast majority of UNDP Libya’s funding came from the Libyan government, then headed by the country’s longstanding dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. UNDP Libya did it’s best to promote ideas like better women’s rights, improved environmental protection and poverty reduction in Libya, but it couldn’t ever do anything the government didn’t agree too. The Libyan government didn’t agree to much. At times, UNDP Libya tried too hard to ingratiate itself with its government funders: it appointed Aisha Gaddafi, Gaddafi’s daughter, as a local UN Goodwill Ambassador, for instance.

    In countries like pre-revolutionary Libya, the UN has to strike a difficult political balance. In Syria, this balance is even harder to maintain. It’s no surprise that WHO in Syria would come under considerable pressure from the Syrian government, and that the Syrian government could easily limit what WHO is able to do in the country. It is also likely that WHO’s close relationship with the government is the reason it’s still able to operate in Syria - and ordinary Syrians would be much worse off without any WHO presence in the country. But in excluding Deir al-Zour from its vaccination programme, WHO has made a tragic misjudgement.


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    While the more established parties, such as the Front National and the Sweden Democrats, look set to enjoy the next year, others are likely to remain firmly on the fringe.

    Thirty years ago in February, a relatively unknown French politician by the name of Jean-Marie Le Pen was invited onto a popular television programme named The Hour of Truth. The event, which introduced Le Pen’s beliefs to French voters, became a pivotal moment in the history of his party, the Front National. Shortly afterwards it took 2.2 million votes at the 1984 European elections and over the next three decades became a major political force.
     
    Three decades on from Le Pen's debut, Europe is braced for the next set of EU elections, which many are predicting will hand fresh gains to the far-right. This includes Marine Le Pen (Jean-Marie’s daughter) who recently finished first in a poll of how the French intend to vote at the elections in May. Alongside unemployment, austerity and rising inequality, today’s far-right is also likely to benefit from a collapse of public trust in established politics. Consider this: since the crisis the percentage of voters across Europe who trust the EU has fallen from almost 60% to barely 30%. And as I write this today, only one in four say they trust their national leaders. In short, it could be argued that Europe's far-right has never had it so good.
     
    So what do the next 12 months hold for the far-right? Attention will understandably focus on the European elections which are an 'easy hit' for populist outsiders. As academics have shown, unlike national contests they tend to be characterised by low turnout, indifference among voters and stronger protest sentiment against national politicians, all of which fuels the far-right. While headlines will most likely focus on the new alliance between Le Pen and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, 2013 also saw the return of the Austrian Freedom Party, formerly led by (the now deceased) Jörg Haider. The party recovered from a downturn to win 20% of the national vote and 40 seats in parliament, a reversal of fortunes that was especially striking in Haider’s old stronghold of Carinthia, where its vote jumped from 7% to 17%.
     
    But such gains should also be set alongside cases of failure. The far-right has prospered amidst crisis in countries like Austria, France and the Netherlands but has stalled or fallen back in places like Belgium, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain. The top of the German far-right is in disarray following the resignation of one of its leaders. Despite record youth unemployment, the far-right in Spain is insignificant outside of a few local areas, while the collapse of the British National Party amidst recession and austerity, and then the English Defence League, underscores the point that the far-right’s fortunes do not depend simply on the presence of a crisis. 
     
    In fact, evidence-based predictions of what will happen over the next 12 months paint a very different picture from the conventional wisdom that tells us the far-right is running riot across the continent. Based on results at the most recent election, the academic Cas Mudde estimates that only 12 of 28 states in the EU will see far-right parties enter the European Parliament. It is estimated they will take around 34 seats –or between 4% and 6.5% of all seats. Even if we add on all the other non-far-right but still anti-EU populist parties –like the True Finns in Finland, the Alternative for Germany, the UK Independence Party and even Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement in Italy- we are still left with a highly diverse collection of parties that are unlikely to win more than 15-20% of all seats, and even less likely to build a cohesive force. A record result, notes Mudde, but hardly a serious hindrance.
     
    In many respects, the more interesting predictions concern elections away from the EU. The next year will see important local elections in France, where Marine Le Pen hopes to win "hundreds, maybe a thousand" local seats. Her party's grassroots machine has an impressive track record, having won a local by-election in October that saw her candidate take 53% of the vote. Le Pen’s 'detox strategy' is increasing her party’s appeal within French society, and the local elections are the next step in building a major breakthrough. There are also local elections in the Netherlands, where 2013 saw Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom recover from a difficult start to emerge as the most popular. Nationally, Wilders and the PVV are currently predicted to win more national seats than any other party, and are also set for a strong 2014.
     
    Three other contests should also be watched closely. First, around the same time as the European elections are local elections in Greece across over 300 municipalities as well as a highly symbolic Mayoral election in Athens that Golden Dawn plans to contest. In 2013, support for the neo-Nazi party peaked at an average of over 12% in the polls (although some put this higher). While support then slumped following the murder of an anti-fascist rapper, it later rebounded. In December 2013, Golden Dawn averaged 11% in the polls - 4 points higher than their result in the 2012 national election. Some Greeks have simply not been put off by public sympathies for Nazism, involvement with murder and the beating of migrants. Assuming this support holds steady, and Golden Dawn is not forcibly disbanded by the state, then in 2014 Europe faces the very real prospect of Golden Dawn representatives in the European Parliament, local councils and enjoying a strong result in Athens.
     
    Second, a national election in Hungary scheduled for the spring is likely to see a decent result for the virulently anti-Roma and anti-Semitic Jobbik movement, which has links to the BNP. Jobbik entered the Hungarian parliament for the first time in 2010 after receiving over 800,000 votes, or over 16% of the national vote. While support then dropped, Jobbik has continued to average around 13% among decided voters (although a large number of Hungarians remain undecided). There is little reason why this movement that is closely linked to paramilitary groups will not entrench its position as a significant force in Hungarian politics, and retain or increase its three seats in the European Parliament. Then, in September, a national election in Sweden will see the Sweden Democrats -a party rooted in neo-Nazism - attempt to build on its result in 2010 when it attracted 5.7% of the vote and entered parliament for the first time with 20 seats. The most recent polls put them on around 10% and predict 30 seats.
     
    Overall, then, Europe’s far-right will remain very much in the news throughout 2014. But it is also important to recognise that while some of the more established movements look set to enjoy the next year, others are likely to remain firmly on the fringe – and despite the crisis. If the last few years have taught us anything about this toxic force in European politics, it is that while economic hardship may help certain parties at certain points, it is by no means the full story as to why some on the far-right are on their way to the mainstream while others have been left on the margins. 
     
    Matthew Goodwin is Associate Professor at the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham, and Associate Fellow at Chatham House. He tweets @GoodwinMJ

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    There is no prospect of David Cameron taking up Liam Fox's suggestion of cutting spending on the health service.

    Liam Fox's call for the ring-fence around NHS spending to be removed is one that is likely to attract much sympathy from Conservative activists. There is a common view that the health service, one of just two departments (the other being International Department) to have had its budget protected in real-terms, has been unfairly shielded from austerity, with even some on the left (among them Vince Cable) calling for cuts. 

    In reality, the reverse is the case. Owing to the above-average rate of health inflation (most notably the cost of new drugs and medical equipment), the NHS requires real-terms rises just to stand still. As a recent Social Market Foundation paper noted, "A ‘flat real’ settlement for the NHS is mot what it sounds like since it is defined with reference to an irrelevant price index. To keep up with rising input costs, growing demand, and the public’s expectations for an adequate healthcare system, growth in spending on health has historically outstripped GDP growth." 

    By historic standards, the NHS is undergoing austerity. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4%, but over the current Spending Review it will rise by an average of just 0.5%. As a result, in the words of the SMF, there has been "an effective cut of £16bn from the health budget in terms of what patients expect the NHS to deliver". Should the NHS receive flat real settlements for the three years from 2015-16 (as seems probable), this cut will increase to £34bn or 23%.

    If they wish to avoid a significant fall in the quality and quantity of services, this government and future ones are left with three choices: to raise taxes, to cut spending elsewhere, or to impose patient charges. Fox argues that "we’ve tested to destruction the idea that simply throwing lots more money at the health service will make it better", but this ignores the significant improvements that health researchers found to have taken place under Labour (with patient satisfaction rising to a record high as a result). 

    If that is reason enough for the Tories to avoid cutting NHS spending, it would also be terrible politics. As a ComRes/ITV News poll found last year, health is the most popular spending area among voters. Just 5% of voters believe the NHS budget should be reduced and 71% believe it should be increased. There is no prospect of Cameron and Osborne handing Labour a pre-election gift by pledging to cut spending.

    Incidentally, it's worth correcting the myth, encouraged by Cameron, that Labour would have cut the NHS had it won the last election. In fact, in 2010, then-health secretary Andy Burnham pledged to protect spending, the difference being that the Tories promised to increase it. Burnham helpfully clarified this in an interview with the NS in 2010. 

    Why shouldn't NHS spending be ring-fenced?

    The ring-fence is what we proposed at the election and, in many ways, it is what I'm still arguing for, which is protection in real terms. Before the election, Labour calculated that if you gave the NHS protection in real terms -- so frozen in inflation -- it would allow you, on the other hand, to give schools inflation in real terms and give police inflation in real terms. Those are the three key services. The health service does not exist in isolation. By taking a more balanced approach to public spending, you can protect the three key services.

    So your argument is that ring-fencing it in isolation makes it nonsense?

    They're not ring-fencing it. They're increasing it. They're doing two things: they're accelerating the reduction in public spending, which I wouldn't have done, and they are also going to increase the NHS within that. So they went through the whole election campaign boasting that they were going to spend more than me and they're still doing it. Cameron's been saying it every week in the Commons: "Oh, the shadow health secretary wants to spend less on health than us."

    As for what Labour's stance will be in 2015, Miliband all but confirmed in an interview with the BBC last year that he would not cut the NHS. He told Nick Robinson: "We're not going to be cutting the health service, I'm very clear about that. We will always be protecting the health service and will always make it a priority."

    It's worth remembering that when Ed Balls announced his "zero-based" spending review (one that examines every item of spending), he signalled that health would be a candidate for a "pre-election spending commitment". Expect the Tories to adopt much the same approach. 


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    Thatcher and Botha met at the height of the apartheid government in 1984 - a crucial breach in South Africa's international isolation. But papers released under the 30 year rule reveal that Thatcher did not waver from her opposition to Botha’s racial policies.

    In June 1984 Margaret Thatcher received South Africa’s P W Botha at Chequers – the first British Prime Minister to receive a South African leader since 1961. She did so in the face of fierce opposition from the anti-apartheid movement and some of Britain’s key friends in Africa, including Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda. But – as papers released under the 30 year rule reveal – Mrs Thatcher did not waver from her opposition to Botha’s racial policies and gave him little to take back to South Africa. Despite this, the visit, which was part of a nine-nation European tour, marked something of a high-watermark for the apartheid government; a breach in the international isolation in which they found themselves.

    Thatcher was warned she would have a tough guest when she entertained the South African leader at Chequers on 2 June. The Foreign Office briefing described Pieter Willem Botha as “a hard, dour and belligerent professional Afrikaner politician”. Prime Minister since 1978, he had “only just avoided being detained as a Nazi sympathiser” during the Second World War and was a man with “a reputation for a quick temper, and intolerance of criticism”.

    The visit had been won through brute force: South Africa was fighting across southern Africa. A year earlier Thatcher's special adviser on foreign policy, Sir Anthony Parsons, had told her in a top secret memo that South Africa was engaged in what he called “destabilisation of neighbouring African countries”.

    From Zambia to Lesotho Pretoria’s troops had attacked ANC bases, training camps and supporters. Its soldiers were fighting Angolan government forces backed by the Cubans and Soviets.

    The Zambian President, Kenneth Kaunda, sent Thatcher a personal message just prior to the Botha visit, asking her not to receive the South African Prime Minister. Kaunda argued that while he and Mozambique’s Samora Machel had been forced to meet the South Africans, the British were not facing the same onslaught. “President Machel and I had no choice but to meet Mr. Botha in order to lessen the pressure on us,” he wrote.

    These regional conflicts were central to the Thatcher-Botha discussions, but they are the not the most revealing element in the papers. Both leaders focused on the ongoing struggle for influence being waged in London by the ANC and the South African embassy. In the briefing notes Thatcher received from the Foreign Office, the section on ANC operations in London were heavily underlined in red and black ink.  “Neutralisation of ANC key target of South African foreign policy,” she was told. “ANC office in London said by South African Government to be nerve centre of terrorist activities.”

    This was a key issue raised by Botha in the 40-minute tête-à-tête held at Chequers without officials being present. “Mr Botha asked that the ANC office in London should be closed,” reveals the note written after the meeting. “The Prime Minister said that we could not do this under our law, and there was no evidence that the office personnel had been guilty of illegal activities.” 

    Thatcher’s stand was based on her Foreign Office briefing. “A thorough examination of all available information has revealed no evidence to support allegations of unlawful activity by ANC members here, including the linking of the London ANC office with active terrorism. Its main function remains what it has always been; publicity and propaganda.” As it happens the briefing was not absolutely accurate. We now know that from as early as the late 1960s the ANC tested out some of its bucket bombs, designed to spread leaflets in South Africa, on Hampstead Heath.

    The papers reveal one small, but important change in British thinking. This was over Joe Slovo, the ANC and South African Communist Party leader, who had a home in Camden. The Foreign Office described him as being “top of the South African hit list.” Slovo was “. . .reputed to have been the mastermind behind ANC sabotage and to be a KGB officer.” Slovo had indefinite leave to remain in Britain although he seldom actually lived here. He held Home Office travel documents. “FCO has asked the Home Office to review these facilities critically.” This remark was underlined twice and highlighted in the margin by Thatcher.

    But Thatcher had another issue up her sleeve. If Botha pressed her about the ANC, she had extensive evidence of attacks organised by the South African Embassy against ANC and SWAPO’s offices in London. The British had uncovered just what Stefanus Botha, the Embassy’s First Secretary, had been up to. “We have evidence of involvement by him and other intelligence officers in the break-in at AAM (Anti-Apartheid Movement) offices in May 1983,”  said the Foreign Office. Another letter – also from the Foreign Office – concludes that there was “incontrovertible evidence” that another member of the Embassy staff, Warrant Officer Klue, broke into SWAPO and ANC offices. He was withdrawn from London following British pressure.

    The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission later confirmed the accuracy of these accounts, although they went much further, describing the bombing of the Anti-Apartheid offices in London on 14 March 1982.

    The plastic explosive for the bomb was smuggled into London in a diplomatic bag and those involved in the operation were decorated with the Police Star for Excellent Service. The operation was given the go ahead by the Minister of Law and Order, Louis le Grange, in reprisal for the involvement of British subjects in the ANC rocket attack on the Voortrekkerhoogte military base near Pretoria in 1981.

    The Botha visit of 1984 satisfied all sides. Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, a founder of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, sent Mrs Thatcher a fulsome handwritten thank you letter, praising her stand. The Foreign Office was able to report after the visit that Botha had been “delighted with the courtesy and respect with which he was everywhere received, even though European leaders where careful to maintain a certain reserve in their public welcoming.” Botha and his colleagues had won a small reprieve and a sense that they could still get a sympathetic hearing from western allies. At the same time they were left with no illusion about the need to end racial discrimination. In reality the trip did not halt the rising growing tide of international opposition to apartheid; rather it underlined for South Africa’s white rulers the need to bring about the changes that would finally see Nelson Mandela walk free less than six years later.

     


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    The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

    1. On one thing about the NHS, Jeremy Hunt is right (Guardian)

    The health secretary isn't meddling, says Steve Richards. He must be accountable to the taxpayers who fund the NHS.

    2. It is high time we raised interest rates and returned to normality (Daily Telegraph)

    Persisting with this monetary stimulus will delay recovery and sow seeds of future crises, argues Jeremy Warner.

    3. Little England should prepare a big welcome (Times)

    We need immigrants and most see themselves as British, writes Philip Collins. So what happens if Britain gets broken up?

    4. If you want to curb immigration, pay workers a living wage (Guardian)

    Cheapskate employers are importing what too often looks like serf-labour instead of hiring ethically at home, says Polly Toynbee.

    5. Call out the troops to deal with McCluskey and Co? Not any more (Independent)

    We now know that through the summer of 1984, the government was not as confident as it pretended to be that the strike would fail, writes Andy McSmith. 

    6. Europe must rebuild faith in democracy (Financial Times)

    Voters are frustrated that they exert less influence than ever over elites, writes Tony Barber.

    7. Richard Haass’s talks will not have failed if Britain accepts it must now get real on Northern Ireland (Independent)

    The Good Friday Agreement was not a prelude to greater integration, writes Mary Dejevsky.

    8. The young people failed by society's tyranny of the norm (Guardian)

    In schools and wider society we still fear, mock and segregate young people who, like my brother, have learning disabilities, says Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett. 

    9. A year in a word: Abenomics (Financial Times)

    The premise of Shinzo Abe’s economic plan is that 15 years of deflation have sapped Japan’s 'animal spirits', writes David Pilling. 

    10. Furious rail commuters are switching their targets (Times)

    Anger is moving from companies to politicians, says Gaby Hinsliff. 


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    The looming funding crisis means that a third of GPs now support patient charges, with the number only likely to increase.

    During last week's debate over the introduction of new NHS charges for migrants, few noted one salient point: that the introduction of payments for some patients (and the creation of an accompanying infrastructure) makes the eventual introduction of payments for all patients more likely. Just a few days on, that issue has risen again after a poll of 800 GPs found that 32% support charging patients for A&E visits in order to reduce unnecessary attendances. The public would be required to pay £5-£10 each time they use the service and would have the money refunded if their condition was shown to need attention. One doctor says: "Charging even a nominal fee of about £10 for each ­­attendance will probably cut the attendances by half", while another comments: "If patients had to pay a £5 charge to attend A&E – that could be refunded for appropriate attendances – they would be more inclined to take their coughs to the pharmacist where they belong."

    Both the government and Labour have given the idea short shrift today. The Department of Health said that "charging patients goes against the founding ­principles of the NHS" and shadow public health minister Luciana Berger said: "Forcing patients to pay at the door of A&E is not the way to end David Cameron's crisis. Under this government, it's become harder to get a GP appointment after Ministers took away the support for evening and weekend opening in 2010. They must help patients see their family doctor and stop the closure of NHS Walk-in Centres to reduce the pressure on A&E. A staggering number of GPs can see that Jeremy Hunt's plan to keep older patients away from A&E will have little effect. He and David Cameron must bring forward realistic plans to tackle the crisis they've caused."

    The proposal is also opposed by the Royal College of GPs, the British Medical Association and the Patients Association. The RCGP’s Dr Helen ­Stokes-Lampard said: "It would put us on the ­slippery slope to the Americanisation of ­care, where only those who can afford it get it." But for several reasons, the debate over NHS charges is unlikely to end here.

    At present, despite the common view that it has been shielded from austerity (expressed by Liam Fox yesterday), the NHS is experiencing the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4%, but over the current Spending Review it will rise by an average of just 0.5%. As a result, in the words of a recent Social Market Foundation paper, there has been "an effective cut of £16bn from the health budget in terms of what patients expect the NHS to deliver". Should the NHS receive flat real settlements for the three years from 2015-16 (as seems probable), this cut will increase to £34bn or 23%.

    If they wish to avoid a significant fall in the quality of the health service, this government and future ones are left with three choices: to raise taxes (my preference), to cut spending elsewhere, or to impose patient charges. With all parties, and the Tories in particular, keen to avoid any major tax rises, and other services already enduring unsustainable cuts, the option of charges is likely to attract the support of an increasing proportion of doctors and Conservative MPs.

    If this seems heretical, it's worth remembering that our "free" health service hasn't been truly free since Labour chancellor Hugh Gaitskell introduced prescription charges for glasses and dentures in his 1951 Budget (although they have since been abolished in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Morally speaking, there is no difference between these fees and co-payments.

    There is also growing public recognition that a high-quality NHS will need to be paid for. A recent Ipsos MORI poll for The King's Fund found that there is support for introducing charges for treatments that are not perceived as "clinically necessary" (such as cosmetic surgery and elective caesarean sections), for people thought to "misuse services" (e.g. missing appointments or arriving drunk at A&E), for patients requiring treatment as a result of "lifestyle choices" (e.g. smoking and obesity) and for 'top-ups' to non-clinical aspects of care (e.g. private rooms and other 'hotel' services). 

    For now, the Tories insist that they will not go down this road. After Malcolm Grant, the chair of the NHS Commissioning Board warned last year that the next government would have to consider introducing "new charging systems" unless "the economy has picked up sufficiently", Jeremy Hunt told MPs: "Professor Malcolm Grant did not say that. What he actually said was that if the NHS considered charging, he would oppose it. I agree with him; I would oppose it, too." But just as pensioner benefits, once considered untouchable, are now being targeted by all parties for cuts, it should not be assumed that a "free NHS" will survive the age of austerity. 


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    Ten years after Phil Thornton's insightful cult book Casuals, Martin Cloake discusses with him how the state of football's counter-culture has changed.

    Phil Thornton’s book Casuals is an insightful cult classic. Easily lost in the midst of waves of football counterculture tales – and fairy tales – that clogged up the sports section shelves when the book trade discovered there was money in selling vicarious thrills to wannabe geezers, Casuals was something apart. It was about a culture created independently and spontaneously, frequently ignored and misunderstood by media style gurus, but which drew on working class traditions of street nous and sharp dressing that date back to Victorian days and mixed with the music and hedonism and wanting to belong that go along with youth cults.

    In the 10 years since the book first appeared, casual culture has been annexed by the mainstream, another instant lifestyle available to buy. At the same time, a new generation of football fans is drawing on the casual attitude as part of a reaction to a perceived effort to take the soul out of the experience of watching football. On the tenth anniversary of its publication, the book itself was updated with new contributions from the likes of Kevin Sampson, Jay Montessori and Terry Farley looking at how the scene has evolved. I caught up with Thornton while researching an article on football’s culture wars forThin White Line magazine and asked him for his thoughts on current events.

    What’s your reading of the current developments in fan culture? How do they fit it with the historical line that you traced through Casuals?

    The Nineties witnessed a real sea change in the way fans were treated. Post-Hillsborough and the Taylor Report the stadiums were transformed, not only the all-seater requirements but new stadiums built away from the old terraced estates and the advent of the Premiership totally transformed "home" supporting. The old casual firms felt alienated in their own grounds due to the influx of new fans and "shirters". You look at any game now and it's a sea of replica kits – that's something that never happened in any era before the Nineties. The whole fashion element of the fanbase has almost disappeared and the hardcore are now the away fans who always make more noise because they're grouped together.

    It's only really for big cup games and the odd important European match that you get anything like the old atmospheres inside British grounds. Something as seemingly trivial as standing which really took off at Old Trafford in the 90s at European games was treated with fatwas from the clubs at first, but now I think they recognise that generating an atmosphere inside a ground can only be achieved with fans standing.

    Obviously at Liverpool there's still some opposition because of what happened at Hillsborough but even at Anfield the standing led to perhaps the best atmosphere there – against Chelsea in the Champions League game – since the days of St Etienne.

    "Safe standing" and "singing areas" seem almost laughable terms to those of us brought up in the rough and tumble of the Seventies and Eighties but the culture must change unless we want these soulless, sterile stadiums to continue pushing away vocal fans.

    Is it possible for an independent fan culture to develop now, or has the whole thing already been co-opted?

    As a trade union activist for 20 years, I’ve seen how the bosses co-opt militants by a combination of flattery and bribery. I was always against the likes of Manchester United's Shareholders United campaign as it fed into this myth that you could play the club and the big shareholders at their own game. You can't, it's a rigged game and whether Magnier and McManus, or the Glazers have a genuine interest in football is irrelevant, they have a big chunk of dough to put down and it doesn't matter how they raised it. That's capitalism!

    I think the clubs only get truly worried by direct action which is why I supported the ultra-style tactics of the Manchester Education Committee who took the fight to the Coolmore Mafia but were essentially being used as tools by Alex Ferguson to shore up his own position inside the club. Everyone gets used in the end.

    Fan groups such as Spirit Of Shankly do a great job of representing fans’ concerns and issues but they have no real power to influence club policy. Matchgoing fans play an ever decreasing role in any club's bottom line and you can see how the likes of J W Henry and the Glazers can't wait till the boring season is over and they can get on with the real business of far east tours and boosting revenue with huge sponsorship deals. As long as the TV money keeps rolling in then there's no real incentive to actually win competitions any more.

    We've had the hooliporn industry – there are a plethora of books and label shops and companies pushing a look – and ideas of class identity have changed along with the economics of the game and the demographic of the crowd. How does all this affect terrace culture?

    Hooliporn! I like that. I suppose I'm partly responsible for this myself with Casuals although I still think that it's a book far more about working class culture in general than the aggro at matches. There has obviously been a lot of sentimental nostalgia by those of us who grew up on the terraces during the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties as "our" culture ended and we looked back on the good old bad old days.

    Most of the stuff that's come out since has been wildly exaggerated and some of it is laughable. I liked Martin King's Hoolifan and Mickey Francis's Guvnors– two of the first hooligan memoirs – but they started a trend for anyone who'd ever had a fight to launch their own tedious account. For the younger kids, films such as Green Street, The Football Factory and The Firm have presented the past as a sea of Tacchini and Stanley knives with mass brawls on wasteground leading to hundreds of injuries. It was never like that of course but, then again, The Gangs Of New York was stylised and exaggerated.

    I think the younger kids coming through now feel as if they've missed out on this golden era and are now trying to recreate it but the whole culture has changed so much in the past 30 years that it feels almost like karaoke posturing.

    Where do you see currents such as STAND, supporter unions, Trusts and organisations such as Supporters Direct fitting in to all this? Does terrace culture have to be anti-establishment to be real, or have we changed the game more than we thought?

    I organised a debate for a Liverpool literary festival, Writing On The Wall, last May entitled "Against Modern Football? Clubs, commerce and community". We had Man City fan and Guardian writer David Conn, Liverpool fan and Daily Mirror columnist Brian Reade and singer and Liverpool fan Peter Hooton all talking very passionately about the need for fans to reclaim the game from the corporations.

    The Stand Against Modern Football movement has gone global or pan-European at least and I think there's definitely a growing resistance movement brewing as more and more fans become disillusioned with how the game is run but we're still dealing with the likes of the FA, UEFA and FIFA. These are administrative monoliths filled with incompetents and corrupt egotists. It makes me laugh when you get someone like Brian Barwick who talked a good game about working class fans and then appointed Prince William as the FA's president based on an alleged allegiance to Aston Villa and er, the fact that he's an aristocrat who they can pimp out to win juicy contracts, which is essentially the role of the royal family, to ho for big business. I don't need Prince fucking William telling me not to be racist when his family enriched themselves from raping Africa and India. 

    Will Greg Dyke really change anything? Will Platini or Blatter? These are careerists on massive salaries and perks and they pimp the game to any despot or torturer who pays the most. Blatter is obviously a monster and we all know it but there's too much money in the industry – and it is an industry not a game or a sport – for anyone to rock the boat. Now the Russians are involved and Gazprom sponsor the Champions League, the circle from old industrialists in nineteenth century England starting clubs through to spivs controlling the game in the post war years to the oligarchs running the show is complete. It's a gangster's game and always has been.

    What's your take on English and Scottish fans drawing on European Ultra traditions and activities?

    It's all playacting really. I'm not a fan of these massive flags and mosaics myself. I think they smack of the circus. I yearn for the days of surreal, abusive flags and chants. The thing with the ultras in Italy and other countries is that the clubs support them, the clubs sponsor away travel and allow them to control their own gates whereas Celtic's Green Brigade get arrested in dawn raids by the bizzies. That's the difference, right there.

    People can say the class system has gone till they’re out of breath but the ruling class in this country treat the working class with utter contempt and hatred. We experienced that in football grounds and that eventually resulted in the Hillsborough cover up. The FA, supposedly socialist councils, the police, the coroners, the BBC, the papers, the Government, they ALL conspired to blame Liverpool fans for the death of 96 innocent people who simply wanted to watch a football game. That's the price we pay in the country for the class system and its not simply Bolshevik hyperbole, it's real and it happened and now we're finding out just how deep this hatred ran. 

    In Casuals one of the fans you interviewed, Gareth Veck, said: “Casual culture sounds great, the nice trainers and all that, but it had this very dark side to it that people want to forget about now.” The issue of violence is always used as a warning whenever people develop an independent attitude. What's your take on where violence fits in and whether we've let ourselves be defined by it too much, or flirted with it too much?

    Gareth's a very insightful lad and I think what he was trying to say was that there WAS violence, a lot of violence associated with casuals or their forebears in the Sixties and Seventies because that was absolutely central to working class male culture, especially in England which is tribal and concentrated in many towns and cities within a close proximity. But this became fetishised in a way, it became almost a pose, you wear a Mille Miglia jacket and a pair of Adidas Stockholms and an Aquascutum scarf wrapped round your face and you BECOME a hoolie. You buy the T-shirt and you watch Awaydays and try to live a lifestyle that was never like that in the first place. I loved Kev Sampson's Awaydays book but no film could ever recapture those early scally days of 79 and translate it to an audience not yet born when ‘plum mushies’ were all the rage. It wasn't nice, it was brutal and often terrifying going to games in those days and kids need to recognise that.

    What can you see happening in the next 10 years?

    I think the top 20 or so clubs in Europe will consolidate their power over TV rights and have even more sway in the running of the game, and some of this may be beneficial as they will hold the likes of Blatter to account. As an internationalist, I predicted the end of international football years ago, not through any political movement but because the clubs won't pay £28m for a player only to lose him in a European Championship or World Cup match, never mind a friendly. Why would they? It's happening already with insurance clauses and managers not releasing players and players themselves withdrawing or retiring from international games. 

    I can’t wait til a young player does it, not one at the end of their career. It may never happen as there aren't many political players out there although a few are keen on presenting themselves as such. It's difficult because we need another Paolo Sollier not another "red" Gary Neville. 

    The new edition of Casuals is available from Milo books, priced £7.99

     


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    One country saved its Jews. Were they just better people? Countrymen, a new book by Bo Lidegaard, seeks to explain how a small country tried to fight back.

    This article first appeared on newrepublic.com

    This magnificent book states its central argument in its title. Danish Jews survived Hitler’s rule in World War II, when other European Jews did not, because Danes regarded their Jewish neighbors as countrymen. There was no “us” and “them”; there was just us.

    When, in October 1943, the Gestapo came to round up the 7,500 Jews of Copenhagen, the Danish police did not help them to smash down the doors. The churches read letters of protest to their congregations. Neighbors helped families to flee to villages on the Baltic coast, where local people gave them shelter in churches, basements, and holiday houses and local fishermen loaded up their boats and landed them safely in neutral Sweden. Bo Lidegaard, the editor of the leading Danish newspaper Politiken, has retold this story using astonishingly vivid unpublished material from families who escaped, and the testimony of contemporary eyewitnesses, senior Danish leaders (including the king himself), and even the Germans who ordered the roundups. The result is an intensely human account of one episode in the persecution of European Jews that ended in survival.

    The story may have ended well, but it is a complex tale. The central ambiguity is that the Germans warned the Jews and let most of them escape. Lidegaard claims this was because the Danes refused to help the Germans, but the causation might also have worked in the other direction. It was when the Danes realised that the Germans were letting some Jews go that they found the courage to help the rest of their Jewish community escape. Countrymen is a fascinating study in the ambiguity of virtue.

    The Danes knew long before the war that their army could not resist a German invasion. Instead of overtly criticising Hitler, the Social Democratic governments of the 1930s sought to inoculate their populations against the racist ideology next door. It was in those ominous years that the shared identity of all Danes as democratic citizens was drummed into the political culture, just in time to render most Danes deeply resistant to the Nazi claim that there existed a “Jewish problem” in Denmark. Lidegaard’s central insight is that human solidarity in crisis depended on the prior consolidation of a decent politics, on the creation of a shared political imagination. Some Danes did harbor anti-Semitic feelings, but even they understood the Jews to be members of a political community, and so any attack on them was an attack on the Danish nation as such.

    The nation in question was imagined in civic terms rather than ethnic terms. What mattered was a shared commitment to democracy and law, not a common race or religion. We can see this in the fact that Danish citizens did not defend several hundred communists who were interned and deported by the Danish government for denouncing the Danish monarchy and supporting the Hitler-Stalin pact. The Danes did nothing to defend their own communists, but they did stand up for the Jews.

    The Danish response to the Nazis illuminates a crucial fact about the Holocaust: the Germans did not always force the issue of extermination where they faced determined resistance from occupied populations. In Bulgaria, as Tzvetan Todorov has shown in his aptly titled book The Fragility of Goodness, the Jews were saved because the king of Bulgaria, the Orthodox Church, and a few key Bulgarian politicians refused to assist the German occupiers. Why did a similar civic sense of solidarity not take root in other countries? In Holland, why did 80 percent of Dutch Jews perish? And what about France: why did liberty, equality, and fraternity not apply to the citizens driven from their homes by French police and sent to deportation and death? These questions become harder to answer in the light of the Danish and Bulgarian counterexamples. One possible explanation is that the German occupation’s presence in Denmark was lighter than in either France or Holland. The Danes, like the Bulgarians, kept their king and maintained their own government throughout the occupation. Self-government gave them a capacity to defend Jews that was never possible in the occupied zones of France or Holland.

    Both the Danish king and the Danish government decided that their best hope of maintaining Denmark’s sovereignty lay in cooperating but not collaborating with the German occupiers. This “cooperation” profited some Danes but shamed many others. The Danish population harbored ancestral hostility to the Germans, and the occupation reinforced these feelings. The Germans, for their part, put up with this frigid relationship: they needed Danish food, and Danish cooperation freed up German military resources for battle on the Eastern Front, and the Nazis wanted to be liked. They wanted their “cooperative” relationship with Denmark to serve as a model for a future European community under Hitler’s domination.

    From very early on in this ambiguous relationship, the Danes, from the king on down, made it clear that harming the Jews would bring cooperation to an end and force the Germans to occupy the country altogether. The king famously told his prime minister, in private, that if the Germans forced the Danish Jews to wear a yellow star, then he would wear one too. Word of the royal position went public and even led to a myth that the king had actually ridden through the streets of Copenhagen on horseback wearing a yellow star on his uniform. The king never did wear a star. He didn’t have to wear one, because, thanks to his opposition, the Germans never imposed such a regulation in Denmark.

    When, in late summer in 1943, the order came down from Eichmann to the local German authorities in Copenhagen that they had to rid the city of its Jews, these authorities faced a dilemma. They knew that the Danish politicians, police, and media – that Danish society as a whole – would resist and that, once the cooperation of the Danes had been lost, the Germans would have to run the country themselves. The Germans in Copenhagen were also beginning to have second thoughts about the war itself. By then the German armies had been defeated at Stalingrad. While the Gestapo in Poland and Eastern Europe faced the prospect of defeat by accelerating the infernal rhythm of extermination in the death camps, the Gestapo in Denmark began to look for a way out. The local Gauleiter, a conniving opportunist named Werner Best, did launch the roundup of the Jews, but only after letting the Jewish community find out in advance what was coming, giving them time to escape. He did get his hands on some people in an old-age home and dispatch them to Theresienstadt, but all but 1 percent of the Jewish community escaped his clutches. It is an astonishing number.When Adolf Eichmann came to Copenhagen in 1943 to find out why so many Jews had escaped, he did not cashier the local Gestapo. Instead he backed down and called off the deportations of Danes who were half-Jewish or married to Jews. Lidegaard’s explanation for Eichmann’s volte face is simply that the institutions of Danish society all refused to go along. And without their cooperation, a Final Solution in Denmark became impossible. Totalitarianism, not to mention ethnic cleansing and ethnic extermination, always requires a great deal of collaboration.

    When they got wind of German plans in September 1943, the Danish government resigned, and no politician agreed to serve in a collaborationist government with the Germans thereafter. After the roundups of Jews were announced, leading Danish politicians of different parties issued a joint statement declaring, “The Danish Jews are an integral part of the people, and therefore all the people are deeply affected by the measures taken, which are seen as a violation of the Danish sense of justice.” This is the political culture of “countrymen” with which Lidegaard explains the extraordinary determination – and success – of the Danes in protecting their Jewish population.

    Such general support across Danish society seems to have empowered the Jews of Copenhagen. When the Gestapo came to search the Jewish community’s offices in September 1943, the community treasurer, Axel Hertz, did not hesitate to ask the intruders, “By what right do you come here?” The German in charge replied, quite candidly: “By the right of the stronger.” And Hertz retorted: “That is no good right.” Jews in Denmark behaved like rights-bearers, not like victims in search of compassion. And they were not wrong: their feeling of membership in the Danish polity had a basis in its political culture.

    When the Germans arrived to begin the deportations, Jews had already been warned – in their synagogues – and they simply vanished into the countryside, heading for the coast to seek a crossing to neutral Sweden. There was little or no Jewish communal organization and no Danish underground to help them. What ensued was a chaotic family-by-family flight, made possible simply because ordinary members of Danish society feigned ignorance when Germans questioned them, while sheltering families in seaside villages, hotels, and country cottages. Danish police on the coast warned hiding families when the Gestapo came to call, and signaled all-clear so that boats bearing Danish Jews could slip away to Sweden. The fishermen who took the Danish Jews across the Baltic demanded huge sums for the crossing, but managed to get their frightened fellow citizens to safety. When the Gestapo did seize Jewish families hiding in the church of the small fishing village of Gilleleje, the people were so outraged that they banded together to assist others to flee. One villager even confronted the local Gestapo officer, shining a flashlight in his face and exclaiming: “The poor Jews!” When the German replied, “It is written in the Bible that this shall be their fate,” the villager unforgettably replied: “But it is not written that it has to happen in Gilleleje.”

    Why did the Danes behave so differently from most other societies and populations in occupied Europe? For a start, they were the only nation where escape to a safe neutral country lay across a narrow strait of water. Moreover, they were not subject to exterminatory pressure themselves. They were not directly occupied, and their leadership structures from the monarch down to the local mayors were not ripped apart. The newspapers in Copenhagen were free enough to report the deportations and thus to assist any Jews still not in the know to flee. The relatively free circulation of information also made it impossible for non-Jewish Danes to claim, as so many Germans did, that “of this we had no knowledge.”

    Most of all, Denmark was a small, homogeneous society, with a stable democracy, a monarchy that commanded respect, and a shared national hostility to the Germans. Denmark offers some confirmation of Rousseau’s observation that virtue is most easily fostered in small republics.

    Lidegaard is an excellent guide to this story when he sticks close to Danish realities. When he ventures further and asks bigger questions, he goes astray. At the end of his book he asks: “Are human beings fundamentally good but weak? Or are we brutal by nature, checked and controlled only by civilisation?” He wants the Danish story to answer such questions, but it cannot bear such weight. There simply are no general answers to the question of why humans behave as they do in times of extremity. What Lidegaard’s story really demonstrates is that history and context are all. Denmark was Denmark: that is all one can truthfully say.

    Lidegaard makes the argument, in his conclusion, that had resistance been as strong elsewhere in Europe as it was in Denmark, the Nazis might never have been able to drive the Final Solution to its conclusion. He writes:

    Hatred of the different was not some primordial force that was unleashed. Rather, it was a political convenience that could be used as needed, and in most occupied territories the Nazis followed their interests in pursuing this with disastrous consequences. But without a sounding board the strategy did not work. It could be countered by simple means – even by a country that was defenseless and occupied – by the persistent national rejection of the assumption that there was a “Jewish problem.”

    This strikes me as only half-right. Anti-Semitism was indeed not “a primordial force” that the Nazis simply tapped into wherever they conquered. Jews met different fates in each country the Nazis occupied – or at least the rates of destruction and escape varied. But it does not follow that what the Danes did other peoples could have also done. The Germans faced resistance of varying degrees of ferocity in every country that they occupied in Europe. Where they possessed the military and police power to do so, they crushed that resistance with unbridled cruelty. Where, as in Denmark, they attempted a strategy of indirect rule, they had to live with the consequences: a populace that could not be terrorised into doing their bidding, and could therefore be counted on to react when fellow citizens were arrested and carried away.

    One uncomfortable possibility that Lidegaard does not explore is that the Nazis sought a strategy of indirect rule precisely because they saw the Danes as fellow Aryans, potential allies in an Aryan Europe. This would explain why the Nazis were so comfortable in Copenhagen and so shaken by Danish resistance. The Poles they could dismiss as Untermenschen, and the French as ancient enemies; but to be resisted by supposed Aryans was perversely disarming. Why else would a ferocious bureaucrat such as Eichmann melt before Danish objections to the arrest of Jews married to Danes? One paradoxical possibility is that the Nazis bowed to Danish protests because their delusional racial anthropology led them to view the Danes as members of their own family. To their eternal credit, the Danes exploited this imagined family resemblance to defy an act of infamy.

    Countrymen is a story about a little country that did the right thing for complicated reasons, and got away with it for equally complicated reasons. It is a story that reinforces an old truth: solidarity and decency depend on a dense tissue of connection among people, on long-formed habits of the heart, on resilient cultures of common citizenship, and on leaders who marshal these virtues by their example. In Denmark, this dense tissue bound human beings together and indirect rule made it impossible for the Germans to rip it apart. Elsewhere in Europe, by contrast, it was destroyed in stages, first by ghettoising and isolating the Jewish people and then by insulating bystanders from the full horror of Nazi intentions. Once Jews had been stripped of citizenship, property, rights, and social existence—once they could appeal only to the common humanity of persecutors and bystanders alike – it was too late.

    There is a sobering message in Lidegaard’s tale for the human rights era that came after these abominations. If a people come to rely for their protection on human rights alone, on the mutual recognition of common humanity, they are already in serious danger. The Danish story seems to tell us that it is not the universal human chain that binds peoples together in extremity, but more local and granular ties: the particular consciousness of time, place, and heritage that led a Danish villager to stand up to the Gestapo and say no, it will not happen here, not in our village. This extraordinary story of one small country has resonance beyond its Danish context. Countrymen should be read by anyone seeking to understand what precise set of shared social and political understandings can make possible, in times of terrible darkness, acts of civil courage and uncommon decency. 

    Michael Ignatieff teaches at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto

    This article first appeared on newrepublic.com

     


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    The online retailer has reshaped bookselling since it entered the trade in 1995. But Amazon’s aggressive and “anti-competitive” tactics, especially for selling ebooks, are raising hackles in an industry under stress. What is the future of the book business?

    Photo: Ralph D Fresco / Reuters

    I have a confession. I like buying books online. From Amazon. Such an admission may seem unremarkable, indeed banal, to many book buyers, but offering it in the presence of book industry folk would be the equivalent of informing New Statesman readers that one admires Donald Rumsfeld or Rupert Murdoch. One cannot exaggerate the fear and loathing that Amazon inspires among publishers and rival booksellers. “I hate them,” one publisher who deals with Amazon regularly told me the other day, and many others have offered similar views – off the record, of course.

    The story of contemporary publishing is largely that of what Amazon has done to it and of what it threatens – in publishers’ and booksellers’ nightmares – to do. It is the story of a huge contrast between the perceptions of readers, authors and Wall Street, and those of publishers and booksellers.

    At first, in the 1990s, Amazon seemed cool – no doubt it still does to a good many people. There was romance in the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, typing a business plan while his wife drove him in a Chevy from Texas to Seattle, and in his setting up a web retailer in a garage where the computers were powered by extension leads from the house. He was a geeky guy, with a weird, explosive, humourless laugh, but nevertheless came across as more personable than most executives.

    In the book world, which Bezos had selected as the ideal entry point for his planned giant operation, Amazon’s cool image lasted only until the first of his company executives took the floor at an industry conference and spouted what was to become a familiar litany of unilluminating corporate jargon. Amazon, we realised, was remote and secretive. In a friendly industry, it had no interest in being collegiate. It played hardball. Fail to grant it the discounts it wanted, and it launched a battery of unpleasant correctives, chillingly outlined in Brad Stone’s recent book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon (Bantam Press). And, as we also learned, it was a tax avoider. (Amazon.co.uk accounts for its sales in Luxembourg.)

    Worse, it appears to have ravaged the industry’s ecosystem. Because Bezos has so successfully trained investors to wait for returns, he has been able to offer loss-leading discounts beyond the scope of companies with the conventional imperatives of making profits. When Amazon arrived in the UK in October 1998, the leading specialist booksellers included the newly merged Waterstone’s (as it was then known) and Dillons (with 500 branches), Borders and Books Etc, Hammicks, James Thin and Ottakar’s. Now the only one left is Waterstones, with fewer than 300 branches – and recently it laid off 200 of its managers. There were 1,535 independent bookshops in the UK in 2008 and now there are 1,028. The rate of attrition in the United States has been similar.

    The digital reading revolution, which Amazon kick-started by introducing the Kindle, has accelerated this process. Ebooks now account for a third of fiction sales in the UK, and by the end of 2014 the proportion will go up to half. These sales have mostly left terrestrial bookshops and gone to Amazon, whose Kindle has become the generic term for all e-reading devices. Furthermore, customers who have migrated to Amazon to buy ebooks there have bought more print books on the site, too. Amazon has at least 90 per cent of ebook sales in the UK. Overall, its UK book sales are worth roughly the same as the value of sales through all terrestrial bookshops put together.

    Booksellers are crying foul. Tim Godfray, the chief executive of the Booksellers Association, has called for the Office of Fair Trading to re-examine Amazon’s dominance of the ebook market. Quoted in the Bookseller, he argued: “Booksellers are finding it impossible to compete against such a huge player that has such a stranglehold on the book market . . . Consumers are being left with a reduced choice of book suppliers and communities are losing their bookshops.”

    To adapt the words of the sports commentator Chick Hearn, Godfray has two chances of getting what he wants: slim and none, and slim just left the building. It left when regulatory authorities on both sides of the Atlantic ruled against leading publishers in disputes over pricing policies that they had adopted, seemingly in an effort to curb Amazon’s discounting, following the opening of Apple’s iBookstore. All the evidence we have is that the authorities look benevolently on Amazon and its aggressive competitiveness over prices, and treat with hostility most attempts to blunt the retailer’s edge.

    Digital publishing threatens to undermine their power. The first sign of danger, or confirmation of it, came when Amazon promoted its new Kindle device by pricing New York Times bestsellers at $9.99 – less, in most cases, than it was paying the publishers for each sale. Sure, Amazon was taking the hit; but what if it gained the power in the future to get publishers to lower their wholesale prices? At the same time, Amazon introduced Kindle Direct Publishing, encouraging many thousands of aspiring authors, by no means all of them talentless, to self-publish their work. Many did so at very low prices and some, trying to build an audience, gave their ebooks away.

    It was horribly apparent to publishers that readers expected ebooks to be cheap. When the US publisher of a novel by Ken Follett tried to give the ebook roughly the same price as the hardback, readers bombarded Amazon with one-star reviews. Ebooks cost nothing to print and distribute, readers reckoned. Publishers would reply that most of their other costs remained the same, and that they had many additional costs, too: digitisation in various formats, software and hardware updates, constant monitoring of the internet for copyright infringements. Plus, they were still bringing out print editions. But this argument has not found a sympathetic audience.

    The arrival of Apple as a seller of ebooks, following the launch of the iPad, seemed to offer a chance of alleviating the problem. Under the “wholesale model” by which publishers sold to Amazon, the US publisher of a potential New York Times bestseller put a price on the ebook of $25, sold it to Amazon for $12.50, and allowed Amazon to sell it for whatever price it liked.

    However, Apple had sold everything on iTunes through an “agency model”: the manufacturer set the price, from which Apple took a 30 per cent cut. So now the publisher could ensure that the book sold at, say, $14.99, from which Apple took 30 per cent. Yes, the publisher, and the author – whom we shall discuss later – earned less (the publisher got $10.50), but it was worth taking the hit in order to preserve the perceived value of ebooks. Otherwise, Amazon would keep slashing prices until there was no publishing industry left. Publishers negotiated agency deals with Apple, and then some of them went to Amazon and insisted that Amazon switch to the agency model, too.

    These deals looked highly suspicious to the US department of justice, which in 2012 sued five of the six biggest publishers in the country for collusion. The European Commission, too, investigated agency pricing in the European Economic Area. Offices were raided and computers seized. Unfortunately, the late Apple boss Steve Jobs aided the regulators’ case, telling his biographer Walter Isaacson in an unguarded moment: “We told the publishers, ‘We’ll go to the agency model, where you set the price, and we get our 30 per cent, and yes, the customer pays a little more, but that’s what you want anyway . . .’ They went to Amazon and said, ‘You’re going to sign an agency contract or we’re not going to give you the books.’”

    This did not look good. In both the UK and the US, the big publishers – while furiously denying that they had done anything wrong – nevertheless reached settlements with the authorities, agreeing to renegotiate contracts; in the US, publishers have paid more than $160m (£98m) to consumers to make up for the higher prices charged while agency deals were in place. But Apple fought on, and lost. Passing judgment in July, Judge Denise Cote of the federal district court in Manhattan was scathing: “With Apple’s active encouragement and assistance, the Publisher Defendants agreed to work together to eliminate retail price competition and raise ebook prices, and again with Apple’s knowing and active participation, they brought their scheme to fruition . . . Through their conspiracy they forced Amazon (and other resellers) to relinquish retail pricing authority and then they raised retail ebook prices. Those higher prices were not the result of regular market forces but of a scheme in which Apple was a full participant.” Apple has lodged an appeal, bringing to mind again the phrase concerning slim and none.

    Amazon, above the fray, was the victor in these cases, though in negotiating new contracts with publishers it does find itself landed with some restrictions on its ability to discount. While governments may amend the rules that allow Amazon to pay only minimal corporation tax, no authority is going to curb competitive aggression. The authorities are unconcerned about what share Amazon takes of the book market, provided book buyers continue to have choices. Those choices include bookstores at Apple and Google, which are unlikely to persuade anyone that they require protection from a predatory rival.

    Of course, Tim Godfray was talking about protection not for the likes of Apple and Google, but for businesses that may achieve not even a six-figure turnover in a year. Independent bookshops were struggling before Amazon came along, however, in part because of their inability to compete with chains such as Waterstones, and in part because of trends – superstores, rates and rents, parking restrictions, and so on – which have been hostile to so many high-street businesses, and which prompted the government to call in the retail expert Mary Portas to see if she could conceive a plan to revitalise them. Chain booksellers were growing, but largely by opening branches and merging with each other. It was a bubble, and Amazon’s market share was still relatively modest when Waterstones and the book/stationery/enter­tainment retailer WHSmith became the only chains left standing.

    The best bookshops have found ways to remain attractive. They stage readings and festivals. They incorporate coffee shops. They recommend distinctive titles that you don’t see on the front tables at Waterstones or Smith’s, or on the Amazon home page. Mr B’s in Bath offers “reading spas”: one-on-one chats in its “bibliotherapy room”. It has also commissioned bespoke editions of books. Daunt Books has its own small publishing operation, which has brought back into print the kinds of literature that a chain of shops in well-heeled areas of London can sell. In September, the Booksellers Association launched an initiative called Books Are My Bag, which consists of only a slogan and a supply of canvas bags, but which the BA hopes will gain enough currency – as “Go to work on an egg” once did – to promote the joys of browsing and buying in real bookshops.

    That Amazon has taken business away from these shops – well, that’s competition, and, as we’ve seen, we are going to have to live with it. The other day, I decided I wanted to read John Mullan’s What Matters in Jane Austen?. I looked on Amazon and I looked on the rival ebookseller Kobo; Amazon’s price was £4.63 and Kobo’s was £7.07. I bought the Amazon Kindle edition, with a single click; when I switched on my tablet, my book was there. My nearest bookshop, a Waterstones, is a 20-minute bus ride away, and it is not always guaranteed to have the book I want. If it does, it may be selling it at the recommended retail price – £8.99, in this case.

    Price and convenience point me towards Amazon. I enjoy reading ebooks, and if the print equivalents are bulky and have small type, I prefer to read them on a lightweight device with adjustable fonts. I love browsing in bookshops, but I love browsing online, too, and get a small thrill every time I make an order that enables an instant download or a posted parcel. Furthermore, Amazon’s service is superb. Its website is the best, its Kindle Paperwhite is by reputation the best e-reading device of its kind, and its prices are usually the lowest.

    My point is that this is what the overwhelming majority of Amazon’s customers feel about the company. Yes, we disapprove of its tax avoidance, but we have learned that every multinational will behave in this way, given the opportunity. It is for governments to sort out. But giving publishers a hard time? Why should we care about that? And if we felt that Amazon did not deserve to take business from the terrestrial bookshops, we would click on those Buy buttons less frequently.

    The consolidation of power in retailing is in part responsible for a consolidation of power in publishing. Penguin and Random House confirmed their merger this summer, creating the largest publisher in the world; industry insiders expect there to be further mergers at the top – Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins are names that are often put together. Penguin Random House, which is home to a significant number of the most celebrated authors in the English language, has clawed back some of the negotiating power that Amazon had assumed. The company also believes that, thanks to “efficiencies” (cost-cutting) in its merged operations, it will have more resources to put into the acquisition and promotion of books and into “discoverability”, a buzzword that has become an obsession as book buyers have moved online. How do you ensure that people see your books? Publishers are desperate to be the facilitators of this process. They do not want Amazon to control it.

    In addition to the power of Amazon, they have three significant fears. The first is piracy. Once, pirating a book involved printing it. Now, all you have to do is copy a computer file and you have an edition that is no different from the authorised version. The pirates have created jobs in the book industry: the leading publishers employ people whose sole responsibility is to trawl the internet searching for illegal editions. Fear of piracy is responsible for digital rights management, the annoying code that prevents you from reading an Amazon ebook, say, on anything other than a Kindle-enabled device. It also lies behind publishers’ wariness about allowing their ebooks to be lent through libraries.

    The new wave of digital entrepreneurs is, on the whole, sceptical about copyright, in a bedrock of industries ranging from publishing to football (think of the importance to football of TV and image rights income). Google, which no government can ignore, scanned millions of in-copyright books without bothering to ask the rights-holders’ permission. The British government is planning to introduce copyright exceptions following a 2012 report into intellectual property by a panel under the leadership of Professor Ian Hargreaves; its draft proposals have alarmed bodies including the Society of Authors and the Publishers Association. “Fair dealing”, which Google cites in its defence, may be fair to the people who want to use the material, but is less fair to those who created it.

    However, publishers could relax a little. People want to get things for free or cheaply, but they are also happy to pay what they see as fair prices. Getting most of my books free when I was young did not dissuade me from becoming a book buyer, and listening to pirated music did not prevent my purchasing records. My daughters, who no doubt consume illegally shared material, spend fortunes through iTunes. When I began reporting on the book industry, Delia Smith featured in ubiquitous ads for book clubs that were offering her Complete Cookery Course for a nugatory sum. Yet the same book, at full price, appeared in the bestseller list week after week. Free or cheap does not necessarily undermine paid-for. Imagining an ideal world in which every consumer would pay a recommended price for every cultural item is futile.

    The second significant fear, though, is the lowering of the recommended prices that consumers are prepared to pay. The average price paid for an ebook in the UK is about £3. The average price paid for a bestselling paperback novel is about £4.20, and the average price paid for a bestselling hardback novel is about £11. As ebooks take a larger share of the market, will publishers suffer a decline in revenues, and will they find, as booksellers did in the 1990s, that the only way they can grow is through mergers? Penguin Random may be an early symptom of such a trend.

    The third fear is of becoming irrelevant. The rise of the publishing conglomerates has not been as hostile to independent houses as many had feared, partly because distribution has become more egalitarian (smaller houses have more chance of getting their authors discovered now, through Amazon and other sites, than when their only way of selling was by begging booksellers’ support) and partly because there are so many successful titles that the conglomerates miss or never see. But all publishers must be aware that authors have what appears to be the increasingly viable choice of self-publishing. Since internet distribution has vastly reduced the cost and difficulty of getting a manuscript into book form, self-publishing has lost its reputation as exclusively the last resort of the hopeless and deluded. Every week, it seems, one reads a story of an unknown author who has sold tens of thousands of copies of his or her self-published books, particularly through Amazon. Amanda Hocking, an author of paranormal romances, earned $2.5m from Amazon sales in under two years; even more famously, E L James first published online the story that became the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.

    Publishers hope that the self-publishing world can become a training ground for writers, and last year Penguin’s parent company bought Author Solutions, the world’s largest self-publishing service (which at that point had a mixed reputation). Hocking and James went on to sign conventional publishing deals. Yet some self-publishers have not, while others have signed print book deals but retained their ebook rights. Few authors can have failed to notice that self-publishing offers higher royalties. Kindle Direct Publishing can pay up to 70 per cent of the returns from sales, and offers at least 35 per cent. Until recently, publishers were distributing to authors just 15 per cent of the returns; only under pressure, and not universally, have they raised these royalty rates to 25 per cent.

    While publishers may have good arguments to explain why their royalties should remain at this level, they have not succeeded in making their case to authors and agents. At present, most authors crave the imprimatur, the editorial expertise, the marketing and the distribution that established imprints can provide. But publishers’ claims that they “add value” to the publishing process – value that self-publishing services cannot replicate – are not as incontrovertible as they once seemed.

    In the ways described, the disruption that Amazon has caused the book industry has been welcome for readers and authors. Culturally, the picture is more confused. Some authors who might never have seen their books in print a few years ago have thrived through self-publishing, but others – who enjoyed a brief period when advances rose, as the big publishers grew bigger and the book chains expanded – are in trouble. They can no longer afford to spend a year or longer writing books, because no one will pay them to do so. Fashions are changing quickly, and many authors who were under contract a few years ago can no longer get their manuscripts accepted.

    It is a harsh world, but whether it is barbaric, as some disillusioned authors believe, is debatable. Pitifully low sales of literary fiction are not a new phenomenon: George Orwell’s early novels sold only a few hundred copies each. When one reads of the long exile from print of Barbara Pym in the 1960s and 1970s after Tom Maschler at Jonathan Cape had decided that her novels were hopelessly old-fashioned, one recognises a story with contemporary resonances. It is very hard to determine whether an industry that produces more than 100,000 titles a year is lowering its standards. Regular reading of the literary pages, and scanning of book-prize shortlists, suggests that there remains plenty of quality about. I once heard someone say that Paul McCartney, an acquaintance of his, was “as nice as you’d expect him to be”. Amazon is certainly no nicer than you would expect a Wall Street-quoted giant with a market capitalisation of $135bn to be. But I don’t feel guilty about being its customer.

    Nicholas Clee, a former editor of the Bookseller magazine, is the joint editor of BookBrunch, a book industry news service


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    On 25 December 1977, 28.5 million people are alleged to have arranged themselves in front of a television to watch The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show on BBC1 – and this was the least Christmassy show in the schedules, with barely a smidgen of tinsel in sight.


    Illustration: Laura Carlin

    When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, kitsch Christmas television seemed as timeless a tradition as wassailing. But it appears I was part of the first generation to be so blessed. Browsing the TV listings for Christmas 1963, 50 years ago, I am amazed how unfestive they look. Beside a few staples such as Billy Smart’s Circus and Christmas Night With the Stars, there are run-of-the-mill episodes of Z Cars, University Challenge and Emergency – Ward 10. On Christmas Eve, ITV did not bother to start broadcasting until mid-afternoon, and by Boxing Day the schedules were almost back to normal.

    Then, in 1969, a miraculous birth brought joy to the world: the first Christmas double issues of the Radio Times and the TV Times. Their separate covers – for the Radio Times a tasteful montage of ribbons, wintry scenes and carol singers, for the TV Times Des O’Connor in a Santa hat – seemed to encapsulate the cultural differences between the BBC and ITV. But they each inaugurated an era of three-channel colour TV, in which every sitcom or quiz show would have its own Christmas special and the cathode-ray tube would fizz with fake snow and winter woollies for a fortnight.

    The moment from this era that has entered folk memory is 8.55pm on the evening of 25 December 1977, when 28.5 million people are alleged to have arranged themselves in front of a television to watch The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show on BBC1 – and this even though theirs was always the least Christmassy show in the schedules, with barely a smidgen of tinsel in sight. What no one remembers now is that ITV’s Christmas programming in 1977 was so unappetising that, when the schedules had been announced a few weeks earlier, several advertising agencies complained that they would have no audience for their commercials. On Christmas night, the channel showed Sale of the Century, Stars on Christmas Day (a special edition of Stars on Sunday with ITV personalities singing carols) and the film Young Winston. To have detained half the nation for an hour and ten minutes with the comedy double act on the other side was perhaps not such a historic achievement.

    It was, in fact, a recurring motif throughout the 1970s that Morecambe and Wise’s Christmas show was not as good as last year’s. The 1977 edition was not one of their best. Starting with a lame skit on “Starkers and Krutch”, it finished not with that triumphant “There Is Nothing Like a Dame” number from South Pacific, but an oddly flat scene with Elton John playing piano in an empty studio while Eric and Ernie, dressed in drag as cleaners, looked on. Les Dawson, interviewed by the Daily Express a few days later, felt that “the ending didn’t quite come off”. The DJ John Peel found them “extravagantly unfunny” and thought “their best work in several years was the current television commercial for Texaco”.

    Yet even if Morecambe and Wise were never as funny as we remember them being, it is touching to learn how much neurotic care went into their Christmas shows. It took their writer, Eddie Braben, five weeks to craft each one, working 16-hour days including weekends, driving himself close to a breakdown. Eric Morecambe was such a perfectionist that, when he watched the show with his family on Christmas night, he would cough strategically to distract relations from any slight fluffs left in the edit.

    It is customary to mourn the lost capacity of TV to create these shared moments that seem to matter so much to both performer and audience. The announcement of the BBC’s Christmas schedules this year produced the usual complaints about its falling back on tired formats such as Open All Hours and Strictly Come Dancing. But as the recent Channel 4 series Gogglebox suggests, many viewers turn on the set in search of familiar rituals they can enjoy together. Despite all those predictions at the start of the digital era about the imminent demise of “linear viewing”, we are not all deserting the living-room television to watch Netflix on our iPads.

    The media historians Daniel Dayan and Elihu Katz once compared the mass viewing of television to the Seder, the Jewish ritual marking the start of Passover. Jews celebrate the Seder in their own home with their extended family, and yet these millions of synchronised, home-bound microevents assume the existence of a symbolic centre, a sense that the Jewish diaspora is celebrating together at the same time. Dayan and Katz saw television, at its great collective moments, as a similar kind of “festive viewing”, a powerful social chemistry bonding society.

    You might think this too heavy a responsibility for the Christmas Day edition of Mrs Brown’s Boys to bear. But TV’s defining quality remains that it can be viewed by lots of people simultaneously. And because it is an undemanding form of togetherness that asks little of those who sign up to it, other than that they all watch Doctor Who or Downton Abbey, it can create a sense of commonality among people who have little else in common.

    This attachment to the communal nature of watching TV has survived a post-Thatcherite market logic that prefers to see us as individual, rational consumers. In fact, I have a vision of the diasporic television community of 50 years from now, assembled in living rooms from Lerwick to St Helier, sitting in front of their 3-D, voice-controlled, paper-thin TVs. Everyone is flicking through the Christmas edition of the Radio Times, with its time-honoured small display ads for walk-in baths and garden sheds at the back, looking for something familiar to watch.

    Joe Moran is the author of “Armchair Nation: an Intimate History of Britain in Front of the TV” (Profile Books, £16.99)


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    BNP leader confirms bankruptcy but will not be barred from standing for re-election as an MEP.

    After rumours this morning (prompted by a report on the site of far-right splinter group The British Democratic Party) that Nick Griffin had been declared bankrupt, here's the official record confirming that this is the case. 

    Griffin is not, contrary to some reports, automatically barred from standing for re-election as an MEP in May's European elections (see page five of the Electoral Commission's guidance for candidates). On Twitter, he confirmed that he would be the BNP's lead candidate in the north west, adding: "I am now turning the experience to the benefit of hard-up constituents by producing a booklet on dealing with debt. No surrender!"

    Fortunately, based on the BNP's recent electoral performance, the voters are likely to remove him in any case. 


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    The Education Secretary has attacked "Left-wing academics" and Blackadder for suggesting that the First World War was nothing but a "misbegotten shambles".

    Teachers' favourite Michael Gove today struck out against the "left-wing myths" surrounding the First World War. In a comment piece written for the Daily Mail, Gove champions the renaissance of history in Coalition Britain. At last, he cries, good historians have begun to tell the truth about this patriotic nation's glorious past. Despite the efforts of bad historians - namely one Cambridge Don, Richard J Evans - who insist on exploring the many reasons why the war happened, and even suggesting, Thatcher forgive us, that it ought never to have happened at all.

    "The First World War may have been a uniquely horrific war," he wrote, "but it was also plainly a just war."

    Television, it seems, is also to blame:

    Our understanding of the war has been overlaid by misunderstandings, and misrepresentations which reflect an, at best, ambiguous attitude to this country  and, at worst, an unhappy compulsion on the part of some to denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage.

    The conflict has, for many, been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh! What a Lovely War, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder, as a misbegotten shambles – a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite. Even to this day there are Left-wing academics all too happy to feed those myths.

    He added that these arguments were "more reflective of the attitude of an undergraduate cynic playing to the gallery in a Cambridge Footlights revue ... than a sober academic contributing to a proper historical debate." A proper historical debate, of course, being one that champions the actions of the British elite, while smudging over their misdemeanours.

    "The past has never had a better future," the Education Secretary writes at the start of his piece. So long as proud men and women are happy to die for their country - or at least are believed once to have been - we have nothing to fear. Next time the Mole takes a holiday in France, he'll be sure to look at all the shattered bones deep in the wet earth by the Somme, and think of Mr Gove.

    In the interest of BBC-like impartiality, here's a few things Professor Evans has had to say about the Education Secretary in the past.


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    Obesity rates triple in developing countries. A report by the Overseas Development Institute has found that one in three adults globally is obese.

    Around a third of the world’s adults are obese, and since 1980 the number of obese people in developing countries has more than tripled, from 250m to 904m, according to a report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). The implication of this is clear: obesity is not only a public health problem for rich countries.

    Over the past thirty years, wealthier individuals in low-income countries have been eating more, leading more sedentary lifestyles, and consuming a diet richer in meat, fat and sugar than ever before.  The proportion of overweight and obese people in North Africa, the Middle East and Latin America is now about the same as in Europe and North America. This places hundreds of thousands of people in these regions at heightened risk of heart disease and diabetes, many of whom will not have access to adequate medical care and advice. According to the World Health Organisation, for instance, 80 per cent of diabetes deaths occur in low to middle income countries, and by 2030 diabetes is projected to be the seventh leading cause of death worldwide.

    Meanwhile, the World Food Programme estimates that 784m go hungry, and the ODI reports that a third of infants worldwide are stunted due to malnutrition. Just as obesity isn't a rich world problem, nor is hunger confined to low-income countries: according to Oxfam, around half a million people in the UK are dependent on food banks. There is more than enough food being produced to feed everyone sufficiently (in 2009 the equivalent of 2830 calories per person per day, according to ODI) – the problem is how food is being distributed and consumed. Obesity and hunger are interlinked: the more meat people consume, the harder it is to feed an expanding population.

    The ODI suggests the time has come for stronger policymaking to educate people on nutrition, and influence their food choices. More needs to be done too, to tackle hunger: by combating poverty and improving food supply chains. Government interference in personal choices is never popular, particularly not when it comes to our dinner plates – but it’s hard to see what else can prevent an unprecedented public health crisis.

     


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    The real anchormen were unifying and informative voices in strange times: the Walter Cronkites and Edward R Murrows in American broadcasting.


    Edward R Murrow in 1954. Photo: Time & Life Pictures / Getty. 

    It remains – 50 years after the event – one of the most replayed moments in American television news. Early afternoon, 22 November 1963: a popular, dreary CBS soap opera, As the World Turns, was being broadcast from New York to millions of housebound “home­makers” (to use a particularly grim expression of the era) across the country. Suddenly, the domestic scene being played out was interrupted by the sight of America’s favourite uncle, Walter Cronkite, filling the screen.

    Cronkite had a face like Mount Rushmore and exuded homey gravitas – a man who was equally at ease at a White House state dinner or drinking coffee at a truck stop with a Wyoming rancher. He looked more than solemn but was maintaining his anchorman’s sangfroid. An unconfirmed report had just come in from Dallas, Texas, stating that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been shot. For the next few minutes, all was confusion – it was the low-tech days of television news and CBS didn’t have a crew, as yet, at Parkland Memorial Hospital, where the president had been rushed. Then there were unconfirmed reports that a priest had administered the last rites to Kennedy.

    Cronkite took off his big, heavy, black spectacles (the sort of glasses you’d expect to see on a cost accountant). Then, in a voice that was modulated and reserved, he told the nation: “From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official: President Kennedy died at 1pm, Central Standard Time, 2pm Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.”

    What happened next – and it only lasted ten seconds or so – became iconic. Having announced the president’s death, Cronkite put his glasses back on, only to take them off again, struggling to contain his emotions. But he didn’t break down. Had he done so, he would have violated the stoical “voice of the nation” code. He understood that he needed to hold it together for the country.

    If Cronkite had lost it at that horrific moment – the assassination of the prince of our new American Camelot – it would have caused panic. The television news anchorman was, until recently, regarded as a repository of calm in moments of national exigency. He was the one who told the American people, “We can get through this together.” He spoke wisely, without the political agendas and baggage of the president.

    Although most countries have their own celebrated newsreaders and commentators, in the US, the anchorman has traditionally been regarded as a sort of village explainer, rising above the machinistic fray, providing clarity, reassurance and wisdom. Long before the arrival of television, Americans always responded favourably to those who ministered to the national psyche. As befits a country that began as a religious experiment – and which, despite the church/state separation embodied in the Constitution, harbours a curious belief that we are God’s preferred nation – the most revered American presidents (Lincoln, Roosevelt, even Washington) are seen as father figures who embodied those virtues that we like to think define the soul of the nation: independence, integrity, moral rectitude. (In reality, despite our talk of family and community, the US still largely operates according to the rules of social Darwinism.)

    The very silly and sharp 2004 comedy Anchorman (whose long-awaited sequel has recently been released) brought us into a 1970s world of bad clothes and outrageous sexism. With the whiff of the second city/second rate, the film followed the exploits of Ron Burgundy (played by a hirsute Will Ferrell) – a San Diego television newsreader who is the embodiment of premier cru naffness.


    Stay classy: the news team in Anchorman

    These days, anchormen (and anchorwomen) can be easily mocked for their square-jawed, button-down rigidity (Brian Williams of NBC News), their ideological inanities (Bill O’Reilly, who works for that Pravda of the Republican Party, Fox News), or their all-American wholesomeness (Katie Couric of CBS News, who was that network’s anchor from 2006-2011 and showed her journalistic teeth with a series of interviews with Sarah Palin that was a disaster for the McCain/Palin presidential ticket). In a country where cable TV has been a part of the culture for over 25 years and with the internet now making that one-time staple of national life – the evening news – increasingly irrelevant, the role of the anchor is on the wane.

    Yet it is worth remembering how crucial the anchorman was for the first 50 years of American television broadcasting – and also what a canny and essential role he could play in redirecting the national debate. Back in the early years of television, there were three national stations (all still extant today): NBC, ABC and CBS. When it came to the news, CBS was long considered the standard-bearer of televised journalistic integrity, thanks to the 19-year tenure of Walter Cronkite.

    Before him, there was Edward R Murrow, an old-school, heavy-smoking journalist who used this new medium as a visual form of investigative mud-raking. To understand the anchorman’s power in the nascent days of television, just consider Murrow’s broadcast in March 1954, at the height of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunt. Only half-looking at the camera (in the days before the teleprompter, the newsreader had to keep glancing downwards), Murrow almost single-handedly instigated the rapid political demise of that “reds under the bed” opportunist, who had destroyed so many lives, with one of the most fiercely eloquent castigations ever delivered against a politician:

    We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason . . . The actions of the junior senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is it? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it – and rather successfully. Cassius was right. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

    Then Murrow signed off with his trademark line: “Good night and good luck.”

    Can you imagine an anchorman today getting away with quoting Shakespeare and not being labelled an eastern elitist by the Sarah Palins of the world? Yet Murrow was not the last US anchorman to use his position to speak out against wrong-headedness or malfeasance in the body politic. Walker Cronkite raised public doubts about the wisdom of Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam strategy in a broadcast that helped shift opinion away from the escalation of that desperate misadventure. Having visited Vietnam, he made the following declaration on his news broadcast on 27 February 1968:

    To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion . . . It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honourable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and did the best they could.

    Similarly, the beginning of the end of the Nixon administration started when John Chancellor of NBC News delivered this measured broadside against the president during the Watergate crisis, on the evening that Nixon perpetrated the “saturday night massacre” in October 1973. Chancellor’s broadcast ended with this coup de grâce: “In my career as a correspondent, I never thought I’d be reporting these things.”

    Nixon left office less than a year later. Chancellor’s firm, modulated tone of righteous indignation augmented the seismic public shift against the president that resulted in his resignation in August 1974.

    The news anchor, with his paternal gravitas, was almost always a man. The first Anchorman film charts what happens when a woman anchor is introduced to the San Diego station dominated by the alpha male Ron Burgundy. The result – shock, disgust, fear and then all-out attack – is a fairly accurate reflection of what happened in 1976, when Barbara Walters became the first female anchor on a network evening news show, co-hosting with Harry Reasoner, at ABC. Reasoner reportedly dismissed Walters’s appointment as a stunt and threatened to quit. He did little to hide his discomfort on air: “Reasoner . . . seems as comfortable on camera with Walters as a governor under indictment,” the New Republic observed. It was another 30 years before one of the big three networks could boast a solo female evening news anchor, when Katie Couric started at CBS in 2006.

    Major corporations began to buy up the big networks in the Reaganite 1980s. And with the arrival of Murdoch’s Fox News in 1996, the US was introduced to a newfangled form of television news that – though proclaiming itself as “fair and balanced” – was unapologetically ideological.

    Still, the old-school anchorman, as represented by the last three upholders of this patriarchal role – Peter Jennings of ABC, Dan Rather of CBS and Tom Brokaw of NBC – played crucial calming roles during the terrorist atrocity that was 9/11. All three men had been seasoned reporters (covering world events and wars and working as foreign bureau chiefs) before being given the big job talking to the nation as the face of the nightly news.

    Brokaw has now retired. Jennings died of lung cancer. And Rather’s career hit a serious skid courtesy of George W Bush, after he raised questions about a dossier purportedly written by the president’s former commanding officer about Bush’s time in the Texas Air National Guard. (The documents were later alleged to be forgeries, though in an interview after he left CBS News, Rather insisted otherwise, noting: “Nobody has proved that they were fraudulent, much less a forgery . . . The truth of this story stands up to this day.”)

    The big three networks still try to promote their new anchors as the people you trust for the news. And every local affiliate has its own anchors, looking grave as they report a five-car pile-up on the interstate or smiling broadly when announcing that a high school cheerleading squad has been picked to perform at some big American football match. Fox News’s anchors continue to espouse the rightwards march of the Republican Party. Over on MSNBC, American progressives now have – in anchors such as Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow – intelligent liberal voices in the midst of the cultural wars that have so shaped and divided American life since the 1960s.

    In an age of Twitter and 24-hour digital news, we need more than ever a voice of informed reason to steer us through the chaos of national and global events. But, presumably in an effort to maintain ratings, the evening news is so often laden down with soft-focus “human interest” stories that the anchorman’s role has been denuded. Who now can tend to America’s psyche? We long for a Walter Cronkite or Edward Murrow – but we’re left with Ron Burgundy.

    Douglas Kennedy’s latest novel is “Five Days” (Hutchinson, £9.99)


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    Once your audience are also your investors, can you ever do anything innovative or surprising?

    The trailer for the Veronica Mars film has been released, and it’s alarming.

    The trailer is mostly exposition, with the occasional snappy one-liner thrown in, and is exactly what you would expect – this looks just like the hit TV series, but in movie-trailer form. And that’s what worries me.

    Nine months ago, the Veronica Mars movie caused an internet sensation when its Kickstarter broke all kinds of records and raised $5.7m, almost three times its initial target. “Marshmallows” – the name by which Veronica Mars fans refer to themselves – rallied in their thousands, with the final number of backers exceeding 90,000. Its fans gave a cancelled TV show a second lease of life on the big screen, and the cast and writers another chance at doing something great with well-loved characters. What could be better, or more heartwarming?

    But crowdfunding is a two-way street, and a rush of goodwill can just as quickly transform into torrents of abuse, as Kickstarter-veteran Amanda Palmer famously discovered. Your fans give you money directly, but you are also directly beholden to them, locked into an artist-audience relationship unlike anything that has existed before.

    This is why the Veronica Mars trailer worries me. Admittedly the trailer is only a brief glimpse, but it looks an awful lot like series creator Rob Thomas has made precisely the film that his fans/investors would want – a longer version of a Veronica Mars episode with as many of the original cast as he could assemble and plenty of wink-wink references to previous in jokes. When the people who have paid for the film are also your audience, you lose the latitude to innovate and surprise. Two roles that used to be distinct – investor and consumer – are now one, and as such the way the filmmakers can work is altered and limited, if they are to avoid a fan backlash and get funded a second time.

    As Archie Bland has suggested in reference to Sherlock and Doctor Who, the “tyranny of the super fan” is materially altering the way popular series are made:

    It didn’t used to be this way. But as franchises proliferate, the creators have discovered their devoted fans are so expert – and so bankable – that the concerns of the casual viewer can be dispensed with altogether. Indeed, there is a variety of fandom that spits on this complaint, and on any sort of criticism at all. The mark of a devotee is uncritical studiousness, and a moralistic pleasure in the idea that the joy to be derived from a story is in direct correlation to the work you are willing to put in.

    There are other potential problems too. As Bim Adewunmi noted for the NS last year, ideas which don’t have a large fandom and thus a ready-made audience are likely to struggle in this new system:

    Will this method work for unknown, unbeloved new ideas struggling to stand out in the Hollywood landscape? Put it this way - would you lay down £25 if you read the synopsis for recent Hollywood megahit Argo on a Kickstarter page? I loved Argo, but I can't honestly say that I would have.

    Does it matter, though, if television and films become more and more insular, as long as their particular audiences are enjoying them? On the evidence so far, it does: it's hard to see how catering only to preferences of devoted fans is going to result in a better story.

     


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    Past trends suggest the Tories should overtake Labour, but history is a less helpful guide to this election than any other.

    After the Tories ended 2013 trailing Labour in the polls for the fourth Christmas in a row, former Downing Street strategist Andrew Cooper (the founder of Populus) his attempted to raise his party's spirits by posting a series of electoral stats that appear to suggest Miliband is destined for defeat in 2015. They are: 

    All of these are true and reason to be sceptical of predictions of Labour victory, but none of them suggest defeat for Miliband's party is inevitable, or even that a Tory victory is more likely than a Labour one. 

    Labour hasn't polled over 50% under Miliband (its highest rating to date is 46%, achieved in a MORI poll in November 2012) but in what looks increasingly like a four-party system, with UKIP consistently polling around 12%, this matters less than Cooper suggests. In a divided system, dramatically changed from the days when the Tories and Labour won 97% of the vote between them (as in 1951), parties no longer need a high share of the vote to win. When Tony Blair won a third term in 2005 he did so with just 35% of the vote, the lowest share of any winning party in British electoral history. With the boundaries unchanged, Labour could conceivably win a majority with as little as 34%. (Pollsters have also adjusted their methods to take account of "shy Tories", which had previously inflated Labour's vote).

    To this, Cooper's riposte is that the UKIP surge will prove transitory. "UKIP got 17% in 2009 Euro elections & 3% in GE the following year, 16% in 04 Euros & 2% in GE the next year," he tweeted. But while UKIP is unlikely to poll above 10%, it will almost certainly improve on its 2010 performance and poll well above 5%, enough to inflict significant damage on the Tories. 

    For similar reasons, while Labour's vote share is likely to decline before May 2015 (it currently averages 38%), this does not represent a barrier to victory. One key point in the party's favour is the unusually low level of switching between the two main parties (just 5% of 2010 Conservative voters currently back Labour), with most of the increase in its support due to Lib Dem defectors. This means that falling support for Labour doesn't automatically translate into rising support for the Tories. 

    The exodus of voters from Clegg's party (what I call Labour's "firewall") is the main reason why, despite suffering its second worst defeat since 1918 at the last election, Labour has now led in the polls for more than three years. Significantly, as Lord Ashcroft's recent study of 2010 Lib Dem supporters noted, they are less likely to return to the fold than other voters. Ashcroft observed that "those who have moved to Labour are the most likely to say they are sure how they will vote (78%). This compares to just over a two thirds of those who say they would vote Conservative (69%), just under two thirds of those who say they would vote UKIP (62%) and less than half of those who would vote Green (42%)."

    If this patten is repeated at the general election, the Tories stand to lose dozens of seats - there are 37 Conservative-Labour marginals where the third place Lib Dem vote is more than twice the margin of victory. As Lib Dem MP Nick Harvey recently remarked, "The collapse of the Lib Dem vote with most going to the Labour party means that the Tories have probably lost two dozen seats before they even get out of bed."

    While existing Lib Dem MPs, many of whom enjoy large local followings, are likely to benefit from an incumbency effect, it is the Tories, not Labour, who will suffer as a result; Cameron's party is in second place in 38 of the Lib Dems' 57 seats. But analyses like Cooper's rarely take any of this into account. 

    While Miliband's ratings are below the level normally associated with victory (MORI's most recent poll gave him a net rating of -23 and he trailed Cameron by 15 points as preferred Prime Minister in the most recent YouGov survey), we are in the historically unprecedented situation of all of the main party leaders suffering negative ratings (Cameron is on -13 and Clegg on -29). In this "plague on all your houses" state, leader ratings may be a less reliable guide to voting intention than in the past (and recall that Thatcher and Heath won despite the superior ratings of Callaghan and Wilson). Miliband's ratings might be lower than those of William Hague, but unlike Hague his party has led in the polls for more than three years (Hague's Tories led only during the fuel protests). 

    Cooper's error is to assume that history is a reliable guide to the outcome of the next election. That the reverse is true was demonstrated by Oxford psephologist Stephen Fisher's recent calculation that, based on past trends, the Tories have a 57% chance of winning a majority and an 88% chance of being the largest party, a prediction that even the most optimistic Conservative would regard as far-fetched. 

    The "iron laws" cited by Cooper are superficially impressive but consider those that have been broken in recent history. Before 2005, no Labour leader had ever won three consecutive elections, and no party had ever won with 35% of the vote. Before 1979, no woman had ever become Prime Minister. Iron laws are only true until they aren't. By May 2015, we could easily be writing that "Labour has become the first opposition to win without at least being once over 50% in the polls" and that "Ed Miliband has become prime minister with the lowest personal ratings of any opposition leader", or, alternatively, that "David Cameron has become the first prime minister to serve a full term and increase his party's share of the vote since 1900". The only iron rule of the next election is that there aren't any. 


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