Nadine Dorries, Question Time and how panel shows have failed us all

When I was a mere whippersnapper, full to the brim with wide eyed optimism and imbued with a credulous acceptance of pretty much anything exhibiting even the slightest veneer of authority, the television seemed like an infallible source of information. Scepticism be damned, if you shoved a besuited quack onto my screen, peddling the notion that eating Ryveta can instantly cure pneumonia my naive, young mind would have probably bought into it. I mean who cares if his doctorate is written in crayon? He’s on TV, he must know what he’s talking about, right?

Fortunately, during my haphazard stumble towards adulthood, a modicum of wisdom was gained along the way. No longer was I immediately duped by each and every absurd proposition that came into my field of view. Not to say that I’d become impervious to the occasionally tantalising whiff of fanciful bullshit, but I’d at least developed the sufficient mental faculties required to sniff out most purveyors of fantasy, whenever they emerged to flog their fictitious wares.

And it’s fair to say that the current climate has set my bullshit detector into overdrive.

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David Blunkett here, demonstrating the appropriate facial response for whenever Nadine Dorries attempts to formulate an argument.

The word “balance” often comes to the forefront when dealing with the discussion show format; the idea that all sides of the argument must have a voice in order to provide rounded analysis of the topic at hand. This is a concept I don’t necessarily disagree with in principle, being in theory a somewhat virtuous attempt to ensure that the observer doesn’t unwittingly find themselves locked in an echo chamber which is heavily slanted towards one intellectual conclusion.

However there comes a point when you have to take a step back and ask: are attempts at balance, especially when combined with the fast paced, cacophony of incoherent bellowing that discussion shows almost inevitably descend towards, only serving to leave the watching public further confused and ultimately misinformed?

I’d argue yes – specifically the point where you’re in a situation where the likes of the eternally ignorant Nadine Dorries filibuster their way to the final word on a matter they demonstrably have no real understanding of as the programme shifts gear entirely – sometimes even cutting to the end credits.

When viewed from the top down in the most basic terms, you can make an albeit simplistic case for Dorries and her ilk to be featured on such panels. Her views, however detached from any form of recognisable reality they may be, are in keeping with the opinions of a certain demographic and, irrespective of how terrifying a prospect it may be, she is, in fact, an elected MP. When examined from that standpoint, it matters little that she knows about as much regarding matters on which she opines as your average chipmunk does about chaos theory. Sure, her contribution will almost never yield anything even vaguely resembling a valid point and instead remain limited to a derisive sneer whenever her argument is torn to pieces but alas – flimsy or otherwise, there is at least some small form of justification for her being there.

Contrary to what appears to be the prevailing mood of the day, I’m not especially keen on the practice of arbitrary deplatforming and the field of discussion being limited. Of course there are caveats to this, as there has to be should we ever wish to achieve a functional and progressive society, but essentially I’m of the mind that concepts and proposals should be put forward and it’s then down to the open market place of ideas to determine their veracity. A viewpoint not entirely without its pitfalls, but it strikes me as the most intellectually honest on offer.

So if balance, flawed as it can often be, isn’t the main crux of the issue then what is?

To answer that, just take a look at an episode of Question Time. Literally any episode within the last three years would do.

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“If you’re looking for a serious discussion rife with insight and coherent debate, the door’s over there.”

The format of the show is simple – gather together an assortment of politicians, journalists and pundits from as many sides of the political spectrum as the seating plan allows, and put them of the mercy of an audience sourced from the local area. Naturally the balance element is often called into question, with featured British MEPs being exclusively of the eurosceptic variety along with Nigel Farage appearing almost as often as recently departed host David Dimbleby, but these are quibbles for another time; for it’s the format of the show where the real issues lie.

Ostensibly a show in which the issues of the day are dissected and rigorously debated by panel and audience alike, in practice the intended premise rapidly dies on its arse – giving way to a circus of unintelligible squabbling punctuated by vacuous posturing, almost goading the audience into delivering the desired applause.

Applause levels of course, apparently supersede the validity of the point being made as if the whole debacle was merely a piece of theatre. Almost as if this was exactly what the producers were going for – and the panel are only too happy to oblige; cramming their rhetoric with cheer bait slogans and quasi dictatorial finger pointing so it can be spliced up and uploaded to their Twitter timeline with any rebuttal curiously omitted.

While reasonable, considered discussion is at times attempted, it again finds itself hopelessly constrained by the format with a combination of both the baying crowd and four other panellists vying for attention rendering the entire endeavour almost pointless. The loudest voice often prevails, the filibuster being just one of the many tactics the regular panellists have learned to employ alongside equally spineless bids to get their most contentious points in right as the debate is drawing to a close offering no chance of rebuttal. Captivating viewing perhaps, but next to worthless should the viewer wish to gain any real insight as to the matters being discussed.

So what’s the solution? Debate shows being watered down to the point where it’s a moderated discussion between a select few people with a team of fact checkers present to weed out the untruths?

Well, yes quite frankly – but don’t expect it to happen. It’s not theatre. It’s not “box office”. It won’t get the punters talking, shouting cries of agreement or consternation into the void. They might even turn off – and no TV producer would want that.

So the next time Nigel Farage or some other disreputable fruit loop appears on your screen, having slithered into the BBC studio under the guise of a debate participant, just remember why they’re there. A chance to preach to the confirmation bias of the choir while proselytising upon a platform that will allow them to do so relatively unhindered.

Yet we watch on; transfixed upon the spectacle and gaining nothing in the way of knowledge as to the matter being discussed.

Though we’ll be sure to tune in next time of course, somehow perplexed as to why the debate has remained in a state of paralysis since the day it began.

 

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Believe in Britain? I’m not sure I can.

“Believe in Britain.” Now there’s a phase you’ll have heard a lot these past few years – specifically as a tiresome mantra forever echoing through the ripples of political discourse, all the while shamelessly masquerading as a valid argument.

You’d think that such vacuous drivel wouldn’t have much in the way of life expectancy when it comes to surviving in the harsh environment of rigorous debate, immediately withering into the intellectual void from whence it came upon detecting the faintest whiff of a cogent argument but alas – a logical and rational time this is not; rigorous debate having long since given way to cheap point scoring and meaningless sloganeering.

Still as pitiful a point it may be, it does seem to be an oddly persuasive smear against anyone who doesn’t buy into it – as though the mere suggestion that Britain can’t sustain itself on fervent patriotism and perceived glory alone is tantamount to treason.

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A prerequisite of “Believing in Britain” appears to be deluding yourself to the point whereby you consider one of the most disastrously inept ministers of all time as “brilliant”.

However, putting aside for one moment that it’s an entirely cretinous argument to make in response to legitimate concerns, is there really anything to base it upon to begin with? Is the Britain of today really able to justify such blind faith proclaiming undoubted brilliance?

Well, no – but before I’m burnt at the stake for being a traitor surreptitiously attempting to undermine British democracy with a Soros funded lack of faith in the intangible, let’s actually take a look at the situation we’re in.

Brexit was always heralded as an opportunity to take back control, making our own decision on laws most wouldn’t be able to name and strike billion dollar international trade deals over a spot of afternoon tea. Though snark aside, the “control” aspect was never anything more than a tantalising hook for the electorate to sink their teeth into, before realising all too late that there wasn’t anything for them to bite off – having been sold the very same parliamentary sovereignty we already had.

In any event, post referendum a further emphasis was heaped upon Parliament. With the eyes of a sceptical world fixed firmly upon them, the boasts of the campaign trail had to suddenly yield fruit. So just how did the government, democratically elected by the populace, fare in their two year audition to showcase British brilliance?

As it turns out – miserably.

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If you ever wondered as to why May was so desperate to force through her Brexit without Parliament’s approval, well – there you go.

Yet was any of this really surprising? A divided nation inevitably gives way to a divided Parliament – and when you add into the mix that they’re attempting to deliver a poorly thought out fantasy which has more interpretations than the ending of Inception, the befuddled paralysis we’re left with was always the inescapable outcome.

Sure you can buy into the Farage stained conspiracies of establishment sabotage if you’re that way inclined; you can even somewhat more credibly point to a cabinet so starved of talent and intuition that they’re still employing a Transport Secretary who’s unable to organise a traffic jam, but all of this is merely window dressing ultimately obscuring your view from the fatal problem – Britain has found itself hopelessly lost, crawling ever deeper down a Brexit rabbit hole while its hubris has entirely discounted the idea that perhaps they should turn back.

While there is a certain irony that a nation desperate to regain a perceived sense of control has now resigned itself to remain stubbornly locked on course to an outcome which will cut off its global standing at the knees, the real point of interest comes by way of comparison with the other side – namely the European Union.

“Globalism” and the apparently radical notion of tight knit cooperation with other countries may have been significantly tainted by the relentless propaganda machine of  hardcore nationalists, but during the eternal dysfunction of Britain’s pitiful attempts at negotiation with the EU, the benefits of a resolute political union of 27 countries working towards a common goal has proved to be a dominant hand which a deluge of haphazard posturing was simply unable to overcome.

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If you thought Boris Johnson was a bit of a tit, wait until you get a load of pseudo Boris.

There’s no denying that Britain is a country steeped in history, rich in innovation and military conquest. The British Empire spanned the globe which seems an unfathomable achievement for a comparatively tiny island – but none of that helps us now. The world in which this was achieved no longer exists outside of a Nigel Farage wet dream. It’s true that Britain has been a big player in recent decades, currently boasting one of the largest economies in the world – yet the former Sick Man of Europe didn’t achieve this by throwing up the barricades. Unhindered access to the largest trading block on the planet became a fundamental cornerstone of our prosperity, deluding ourselves otherwise is a denial of the very history we eagerly seek to hold aloft.

There’s nothing wrong with appreciating Britain’s history, nor is there with feeling a vicarious sense of pride from the triumph of our ancestors – but to use the accomplishments of generations of which very few remain as an infallible, all encompassing counter argument and expect it to hold weight irrespective of the astonishing incompetence of those currently steering our destiny is a fool’s errand, granting our wretched leaders an undeserved safety net from accountability.

Having pride in your nation is one thing, but willingly allowing it to manifest as arrogance, flipping the bird to our friends and colleagues as we plummet into the abyss, is to pour scorn upon decades of cooperation and unity that granted our little island its lofty stature on the global stage.

Cooperation is to be cherished, not sneered at. After all, as those who feverishly cite our historical achievements should well know, we wouldn’t have won the war without it.

 

 

Reasons to be Fearful 2019 or How We Learnt Nothing and are Completely Doomed

There’s always a curious mood lingering in the air around the dawn of a new year. As if all it takes to wash away the malignant stench of a period drenched with unbridled misery is a simple switch in the number appearing atop your calendar. Irrational it may be, but many of us can’t help but feel our spirits enhanced by an apparently inexplicable hint of optimism as the clock finally ticks past the last few moments of December.

Obviously that’s bollocks. Real life just doesn’t work that way and every little morsel of hope you had for a brighter future was the result of intoxication. Nothing has changed, the Christmas merriment is now firmly consigned to the past and you’re about to embark on the most potently agonising hangover you’ve ever experienced.

Though in truth, the country has been mired in the bleary eyed aftermath of a seismic, referendum induced stupor ever since June 24th 2016. There’s been proclamations of progress, with dubious insistence of a renewed national unity being spewed out at regular intervals in a not at all transparent bid to dupe us into thinking we’ve crawled our way back onto the wagon, but reality has a tendency to stay so far away from the government’s narrative it’s on the other side of the galaxy. We’re not back on the wagon -we haven’t even managed to wrench our head from the vomit encrusted toilet bowl.

Which is precisely why Theresa May and her ever dwindling cluster of hapless stooges are doing absolutely anything they can to direct your attention elsewhere.

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If you were to take a peek behind Mr Javid, you’d spy a failing government dying on its arse.

However we’ve come to expect such cowardice from the incumbent administration by now. It’s a move straight out of the crumbling government playbook – you can oversee the most wretched omnishambles imaginable but, if you can convince the bemused populace that a mysterious yet remarkably convenient bogeyman is lurking in the shadows cultivating unimaginable strife, they’ll be far too sidetracked to notice until it’s too late.

The problem with this being not just that it’s successful, but that that it doesn’t even seem to matter. Accountability is dead, murdered in its sleep by apathetic acceptance.

Take this pitiful nugget of astonishing deceit for instance:

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I mean just look at it. What can you really say? You’d think that in the wake of the referendum we’d be less accepting of obvious falsehoods, treating their proponents with suitable disdain and ensuring that they’re unceremoniously held to account as their smears against reality are eviscerated right in front of their eyes.

Of course apparently outmoded concepts such as ensuring that public officials are held to a higher standards of ethics than a gaudy drivel infused gossip mag, within which well known human beings are ruthlessly investigated for the temerity to possess excess cellulite, is little more than an idealist’s naive fantasy. Sure there’ll be howls of consternation on social media, and perhaps even smatterings of it in the press – but nothing tangible will happen. Iain Duncan Smith will continue as normal, lining his pockets with his taxpayer funded salary and churning out whatever line gets Iain Duncan Smith ahead in the game, with any relation to the truth being pure coincidence and, most likely, completely accidental.

The people who find themselves out of work and at the job centre however? Well, they’re not so lucky. But fortunately for Iain they’ll have no real means of recourse, existing in his realm as little more than a mere faceless statistic which can be explained away in a handy soundbite or the laziest sophistry imaginable. Out of sight, out of mind right?

That’s ultimately the underlying tragedy of modern Britain – that we’ve been so beaten into submission by conniving and disreputable politicians it’s become the norm. The declaration that a politician has deceived the public they claim to serve generally isn’t delivered with any degree of justified disgust, rather a wry smile and and a thousand yard stare – gazing off into the distance as if scanning the horizon for the faintest glimmer of logic required to make sense of our predicament.

So here we are – locked in a seemingly eternal purgatory awaiting our fate. Brexit isn’t just round the corner anymore, it’s haphazardly attempting to pull up on our driveway having smashed through the picket fence like that drunken uncle you hope sleeps through every Christmas. Will it be the sunlit uplands promised by Andrea Leadsom? The wondrous utopia exclusively featuring nothing but considerable upsides championed by David Davis?

Of course not, but that won’t stop them from attempting to sell you such a delusion; right up until the point where their safety net of plausible deniability finally gives way. Yet what will you do about it? What recourse will you really have? Are you happy with your taxes funding the cynicism of these charlatans and their ill advised capers?

I don’t imagine you are, but if there’s to be anything even vaguely resembling a positive change upon these shores holding such chancers to their words has got to be the first step.

Sleepwalking through mire just isn’t an option anymore – not when the edge of the abyss lies but a few steps ahead.