Sunday, 21 February 2016

It's EU Referendum campaign season! *opens wine*

The date is set! June 23! David Cameron had no choice but to fulfil his election promise of an in-out EU referendum. I'm voting to stay in. There! I said it! It's liberating to come out!

Yes! Dave has done a deal in Brussels! Never mind that everyone there wanted to discuss bigger issues, such as the migrant situation, rather than arguing over Britain's welfare provisions. Never mind that Dave has basically made a mountain out of a mere £30 million molehill of benefits for foreigners. It's all about looking like he is doing something that will appeal to the Daily Mail readers. My response to the deal is "meh". My views on the EU remain the same as they were before he went to Brussels, trying not to look like a virgin at an orgy.

Jeremy Corbyn's column on the referendum in the Guardian yesterday was largely sensible but it is the soundbites that ended up on the news that people will notice and these made him sound ungracious and not entirely convinced that we should stay in the EU. Corbyn's Euroscepticism is not exactly a state secret and this is already undermining his credibility in the campaign.

Labour MP for Exeter, Ben Bradshaw, however, did an excellent job on Sky News yesterday responding to Cameron's deal. It was pitch perfect, just the right mix of class and criticism, while still putting forward a clear and positive case for staying in the EU. He came across like a real leader.

The irony of the Vote Leave campaigners accusing anyone of scaremongering is laughable, given that Nigel Farage's entire schtick is based on fear of anything a bit different and a pathetic yearning for good old days that weren't actually that good at all. That'd be Nigel Farage who could actually do some good for Britain by bothering to turn up to debate on behalf of us all and attend votes once in a while as an MEP instead of just making his vague and pointless claim that he is our eyes and ears in Brussels. He is as much on the gravy train as any Eurocrat.

The Vote Leave campaign also has the dubious presence of Michael Gove, who was an utterly appalling Education Secretary. He wrote a 1,500-word diatribe about why he wants to leave the EU, which starts with five excruciating paragraphs about how his standpoint "pains" him, how he hates ever so much to disagree with David Cameron and is now probably worried about awkward dinner parties in years to come.

George Galloway is an awful pig of a man and a rape apologist so he's clearly a boon to the Vote Leave campaign.

Ian Duncan Smith, meanwhile, has imposed awful policy on the disabled people of Britain that is as cruel as it is economically illiterate, so it makes perfect sense that he wet his whistle by claiming we're more vulnerable to terrorism if we stay in the EU. Yeah. Because Daesh cares really deeply about EU membership when choosing its targets. And, in any case, it's not as if this government is in any rush to open the borders to refugees in any great numbers - and that is the group to which IDS was referring in his tantrum on the BBC today. Another case of the Tories trying to out-UKIP UKIP for political gain.

And speaking of political gain, Boris Johnson has only formulated his position on the EU based on what he thinks is best for Boris Johnson. If you have seriously formed your view based on what Boris Johnson says he will do, you are, with all due respect, a fucking idiot. Boris is egomaniacal enough to believe his position will have real sway with the electorate and he has taken an educated gamble by backing Vote Leave.

If Britain votes to leave the EU, that is the end of David Cameron's political career and Boris can stick his irritating head over the parapet as a candidate for the Conservative Party leadership. This is obviously his big dream here. And if we vote to stay, Boris can still claim to speak for large, Eurosceptical swathes of the electorate and he will get a nice job in the cabinet based on the notion that he will win UKIP voters back to the Tories.

Nothing Boris has done today has anything to do with what is good for the country or for wider notions of democracy. Nothing.

And then there are the Eurosceptical voices from the left. One of the main objections to staying in the EU is opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). If passed in its current form, it is a free trade agreement that will open up UK government contracts to the US, not just the UK and EU, as is the case at the moment.

But to vote to leave the EU based on TTIP is to then trust the Conservative government to not just go ahead and sign their own free trade deal with the US, with even less safeguards than TTIP and negotiated without the might of other European nations behind us. Indeed, opposition to TTIP is growing across Europe, with Germany being a strong case in point. France, meanwhile, is making it very clear that they will not support the dispute resolution mechanisms of TTIP as things stand right now.

If TTIP loses the support of the two big economies Germany and France, the whole deal is on very shaky ground.

Like it or not, we have a Conservative government in place here until 2020. Do you seriously think a post-Brexit Conservative government will just forget the whole idea of a free trade agreement with the US or negotiate a deal that is in the interests of the people of Britain? After all, one of the big alleged selling points of Brexit is that the UK will be able to make free trade agreements with gay abandon. Nigel Farage loves to bang on about this with tedious frequency. (Never mind that we already trade with the rest of the world and our pandering to China and Saudi Arabia is truly embarrassing. That is another rant for another time...).

Similarly, to vote for Brexit because you hate David Cameron is pathetic, small-minded and intellectually bankrupt. I am no fan of David Cameron but I am not basing my EU referendum vote on this any more than I'd base my vote on what Boris Johnson says. As I just said, we have a Conservative government in place here until 2020. Yes, sure, Cameron will go if we leave the EU but there won't be a change in government. It'll be Prime Minister Johnson, May or Osborne. Yeah, voting to leave the EU really showed those Tories!

And then there is the wild card of Scotland. If the SNP can convince its voters to stay in, that is one huge voting bloc right there. Regardless of what Nicola Sturgeon's motives might be for staying in the EU, it was pretty clear during the Scottish independence referendum that many pro-independence voters were also convinced that an independent Scotland would easily waltz into the EU, a process that can take years. The SNP could skewer the Vote Leave campaign as effectively as it skewered Scottish Labour in last year's general election.

Honestly, on one hand, I say roll on, June 23, because Peak Idiocy cannot be too far away with this campaign. On the other hand, I say it's not enough time for people to get to grips with the issues surrounding such a huge decision.

Personally, I believe we are better off having a seat at the top table of such a huge trading bloc. Even if we leave, decisions will be made without us that will still affect us because we are part of the world. We can't just stop the world and get off, as much as tiny-minded isolationists want for that to happen. We are part of Europe and part of the world.

I believe we get more out of the EU than we put in. I know it can be cumbersome and overly bureaucratic but it needs to be reformed with the UK involved rather than watching from across the channel. Freedom of movement works both ways, which UKIP fans seem to forget. The implications for British expats across Europe will be enormous, the irony of UKIP having branches in Spain notwithstanding. There are medical research projects that UK universities will no longer be a part of, there will be EU funding for roads, for the arts, for infrastructure and so on that will be no more.

I do not want to see Britain become an insular little island, closed off to so many opportunities that we currently enjoy as part of the EU. It is because I love both Britain and Europe that I will vote to stay.

Photo by George Hodan

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Douchebags dancing on the grave of the Independent

It was announced this week that the Independent will shut down its print edition next month and be the first daily newspaper in the UK to be 100% online.

Inevitably, there were cloth-eared dullards who celebrated this downsizing of the Indy's operations because it was all a bit too lefty for their liking. Yeah, because the newspaper landscape in Britain is currently dominated by extreme left-wing journalism and opinion pieces...

Up to 100 jobs are under threat. Again, assorted buffoons will be delighted at the prospect of journalists being out of work. Amol Rajan has been placed in the unenviable position as editor of the Indy of having to defend the move to 100% online and put a positive spin on it all in TV interviews.

But dancing on the grave of unemployed journalists and a defunct newspaper is a dick move. And I say this in regard to the demise of the printed Independent and the News of the World, even though these newspapers ended in very different circumstances.

Obviously, as a journalist myself I get no joy out of seeing fellow journalists lose their jobs, whether I liked the paper or not. Obviously, anything that makes the market harder for both staff jobs and freelance work potentially has an impact on me and my husband, who is also a journalist. That is my vested interest declared.

But on a wider level, when we end up with a smaller media, with a smaller number of journalists reporting the news, with a tighter circle of opinion columnists, with fewer sources of information, everyone loses. We lose diversity, we lose journalism that tells stories from multiple angles, from angles that might not have occurred to many, we have media outlets running on the smell of an oily rag, we have editors having to determine which story gets the airplay and which one doesn't, because of a lack of staff and resources.

And we are all to blame for this sorry state of affairs. All of us, myself included.

I am not about to declare myself Saint Georgia of the Printed Page. While my day job involves editing a magazine for the African market, where print is still king, as a consumer of media, I get vast swathes of my information online now. Sure, I pick up a copy of Metro to read on my commute to work and pick up a copy of the Evening Standard for the ride home, and both newspapers are important in the media landscape, but it'd be daft to get all my information from just those two sources. I am not Sarah Palin. I can actually name multiple newspapers.

The Metro and the Evening Standard rely on advertising sales rather than copy sales and that presents its own editorial challenges for the editorial teams.

And I have fallen out of the habit of buying newspapers, as I suspect many of us have. I fondly remember a time, more than a decade ago, when I shared a house with my best friend in Sydney. Every Sunday, we'd buy both Sunday papers, divvy them up into the sections and line them up on the living room floor. I liked to start with the hard news, business and sport and then read the lighter sections, and my friend preferred to start with the lighter stuff and finish with the news. It was a magnificent system whereby we'd wile away the afternoon, each of us starting at one end of the line of sections, passing each other somewhere in the middle, and finishing at the other end.

The last time I bought a newspaper, it was the i, the Independent's condensed baby brother newspaper. I had an hour to kill between appointments at my local hospital and I fancied reading something that wouldn't make me want to punch a wall and would fit nicely in my handbag, because I was getting the bus home. That was almost two months ago. The paper cost me all of 20p. Twenty of my British pence has been my sole contribution to this country's newspaper industry this year.

And in the end, it is all about economics.

When print sales started to decline and newspapers wised up to the fact that they needed to go online, the conundrum of how to make money out of the internet affected every outlet. Some newspapers are trying paywalls for all their online content, some are offering a limited number of free articles before you have to put your hand in your pocket, and some are hoping that advertising revenue will be enough to fund the operation while keeping the web content free to access.

It is particularly pathetic when someone uses the comments section of an online article to complain about the advertising. It takes all my self-control not to reply to their comment by saying: "THE ADVERTISEMENTS ARE THERE SO YOU DON'T HAVE TO PAY FOR ONLINE CONTENT AND SO THAT THE JOURNALISTS WHO WRITE THE ARTICLES ACTUALLY GET PAID, YOU INTELLECTUALLY MILD COCKWOMBLE!".

I have no time for fools who refuse to understand that someone has to be paid for writing and researching material for the internet. We journalists generally love our jobs and couldn't imagine doing anything else for a living but, just like everyone else, we have bills to pay. Doing something for the sheer love is only an option for the independently wealthy. And do you want a media where only the fabulously wealthy can afford to work in it?

So, we as media consumers, need to take responsibility. If we want good quality journalism but don't want to pay for it, we have to accept that the media outlets will need to find other ways to pay their staff and keep the office lights on, even if that means you have to sit through a 30-second advertisement or having to close an annoying pop-up. That really is the ultimate first world pain.

If you don't like ads with your news, you'll have to pay for your news.

Few of us are prepared to go back to the pre-internet days. After all, it is now so much easier not only to read an article but to share it as well. A few clicks and you can post a story on your Facebook page, tweet it, or email it to your entire address book. Gone are the days when my mother would cut out a newspaper article and post it to me. These days, she will email me the link. It is so much easier and more efficient to share an article online than it is to call everyone you know and tell them to go out and buy a newspaper and turn to a certain page.

This is how we get our information now. And nobody wants to give that up. But before you get excited about unemployed journalists or whine about advertising or paywalls, at least try to understand the simple economics.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Random rants from a busy Rant Mistress...

I've started a new job, I've been in and out of the country, I'll be out of the country and back again soon, I've been busy, I've neglected to rant. Here, in no particular order, are some random thoughts that I have not gotten around to committing to paper, or indeed the internet.

- Frankly, if the junior doctors' strike was only about pay, so fucking what? I want to live in a country that respects doctors enough to pay them properly. The race-to-the-bottom nonsense of wanting everyone to live in penury is pathetic.

- Richard Dawkins' absurd (and now deleted) tweet saying Queen Rania of Jordan is a good Muslim, showing off her lovely hair, is merely another tragic example of the fetishising of said queen. Sure, she is an attractive, articulate woman with good hair. But, thanks to her position of privilege, she has the luxury of being outspoken in a way that many in her country, particularly journalists do not.

- I don't think Jeremy Corbyn will ever win a general election.

- Trying to get people to understand that PFI and the cost of administering the marketised NHS are the two main cost pressures is bloody exhausting.

- The world will need fossil fuels for a while longer. If you own anything made of plastic or a T-shirt that is not 100% cotton, or you'd prefer to abseil using nylon ropes instead of hemp ropes, then you are using petrochemicals. Sorry.

- Stop asking stupid questions of women over 35 who do not have any children. If she wants to discuss the reasons behind her child-free life in detail, regardless of whether she is childless through choice or circumstance, she will volunteer the information. If not, butt out of her uterus.

- The Revenant is a completely overrated film.

- It is tiresome and ridiculous that the Zika virus outbreak is once again dragging non-scientific anti-vaxx arguments out of the woodwork yet again. Give it a rest. Learn some science. You are embarrassing yourselves.

- Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States of America.

- The UK will vote to stay in the EU - and I suspect the vote won't be as close as people think it will be.

- If you seriously think the homeopathy-mad, failed marmalade mogul, Jeremy Hunt, is a good Health Secretary, you are deluded and I am not sure I can help you.

- Does anyone find Keith Lemon funny?

- It was really moving to see the Stade de France full of spectators watching the France vs Italy Six Nations match yesterday.

- David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are all pathetic negotiators and I refuse to take any of them seriously.

- It is time for long-standing refugee camps in the Middle East to be turned into proper towns with proper schools, hospitals and economic activity, such as businesses and industry.

- Deutschland 83 is excellent television and should cure people of Ostalgie, even if it is a fictitious account. If not, read Stasiland by Anna Funder instead. Romanticising East Germany is ridiculous and makes elements of the left look completely stupid.

Photography by Kim Rempel