Its been a while since I posted and the truth is it’s because I’ve been looking on in horror at the way our coalition government have set about ripping the spirit out of a country that I have lived in for most of my life. I have been simply unable to find words that dont make me sound like a parody of myself.
Its not enough to stand on the sidelines, pointing and jeering at the idiots in charge anymore. That has become frustrating and pointless. Time to take stock and to act.
The things that make life worth living are many and various, but I’d put people and community pretty close to the top of the list. David Cameron when he came to power talked a lot about something he called the “Big Society”, a vision of compassionate conservatism, a future where society would look after its own, where the benefits of the free market would trickle down to underwrite the costs of keeping things like libraries and schools open and available for all. The vision was that once constraints were removed, the free market would provide for all. Instead, the Big Society has turned out to be a dystopia, a dysfunctional money grabbing power hungry system that discounts society, community, responsibility and personal development in favour of greed, cynicism, non-accountability and blatant dishonesty. Or as the governor of the Bank of England described it: “Fraud”.
There are reasons for this and to my mind, principle amongst those reasons is the concept of “shareholder value”. Good old fashioned capitalism was built upon the belief that you make money by providing something that has a value to society. The free market suggests that value will find it’s own level, subject to market forces. That sounds very convincing, but it hasn’t turned out that way. The fatal flaw in the capitalist ideal is the concept of “shareholder value” its the one thing that drives, remorselessly, a company to make profit, year on year, to grow and grow and grow. Because growth is what drives share prices, which drives profit potential, which is the only known measure of shareholder value. Of course this is nonsense, a child of three could see that this is a pyramid scheme – the logical endpoint is that there can only be one company and that company will have consumed all the others.
The concept of “Growth” is insiduous and perverse. Perverse because it kills innovation, the very thing that provides real value; insiduous because it seems so very attractive. The lifecycle of most companies goes something like this. Somebody invents something, a service or a thing that has a value and can therefore be sold. They start a small company. Before long they realise that in order to meet demand, they have to borrow money to get over what we will call cashflow difficulties. Basically this is what happens when you have to pay your suppliers quicker than your customers are paying you. There is a cost associated with this borrowing and that cost is usually passed on to the customers. If you can keep all the balls in the air at this point then things may go quite well. There will come a point though when you will be advised that by selling shares in your company, you will raise a huge sum of money which will allow you to get to the second stage. The one that kills innovation.
The second stage is all about balancing the books. You are a public company now and your shareholders effectively call the shots. all of your efforts are now directed at cost saving. You might acquire one of your suppliers because that will cut cost out of your bottom line. Standardisation creeps in. Quality is sacrificed for expedience and you decide that this year, perhaps you won’t have a pay rise for your loyal and hard working staff, because that would take value away from the shareholders. If your product and your sanity survive this trip through the looking glass, you may survive this period and move up to level 3. Increase Profit.
The third stage is all about driving more profit. You have a choice. Having squeezed all the margins on your existing product, you can either invent another one or artificially massage the figures by cutting more cost. Since you have been a good and conscientious employer, your workers will have had pay increases and by now they may be beginning to look expendable. After all, you’ve taken most of the complexity out of the manufacturing process, you are more interested in driving profit than innovation, some of these guys are beginning to look expensive. Only the employment laws wont just let you sack them. So you come up with another wheeze. You make the workforce compete against one another and you award the entire bonus pool to the top performers. What could be more logical, the shareholders will love it! Except for the small fact that you’ve done the equivalent of something many of us have dreamed of doing but never dared – driving along a motorway at 70 mph and suddenly slamming the gearbox into reverse. The effect on the company’s internal culture is the same as the effect upon the gearbox of that car. Components that were smoothly meshed together go into competition and finally fracture, spilling oil and shrapnel all over the motorway. This is usually the end of the company in any recognisable form.
This only makes sense in a culture that values profit above all else, and even then it makes very little sense. You have saved very little money and set the workforce against one another. Lasting success is built upon innovation and cooperation in old style capitalism. In the new style we see that success is built upon bean counting – exploitation and greed. We see the results of this in the news most days now. Take G4S the company that have screwed up the security contract for the Olympics – £58m of public money is being paid to this company as a “management” fee. The army and police drafted in to make up the shortfall for this outfits inability to meet their contractual obligations will be paid from the public purse. THe CEO who is widely expected to stand down after the Olymics is set to receive a £20m severance fee. These are big figures. A large part of their problem has been that the people they have employed to work on the project don’t turn up to work. I wonder why? But here’s a clue. To those people who are guaranteed a bonus of £1 for every hour they complete, the prospect of the blundering permatanned oaf at the top taking home £20m must be beyond offensive.
G4S are but one example. We’ve had News International phone tapping, Barclays rigging the LIBOR and HSBC allegedly laundering billions of dollars of drug money in the news just this week. Its making the government’s position on privatisation look like a death wish. I’ve come across a concept called “people per hour” – its about sourcing creatives from the internet. Sounds like a good idea right? Only it indicates just how commoditised our lives have become. And this is part of the whole capitalist vision. We like the idea that we can source say a graphic designer from the web to do the delivery part of our graphic design job. It makes sense in a cost cutting kind of a way. But think of the graphic designer. How does he/she grow the skills they need to progress. How do they make up the shortfall in their income? What differentiates them from a battery chicken? Whatever happened to career progression?
The time has come to act. We need an alternative and we need it fast. I’m too old to be fighting in the streets and its never solved anything anyway, for my part I have made a simple pledge; if I discover unethical dealings on the part of my mortgage provider, my bank or any of my service providers I will move to an ethical provider before they can blink. Its the least I can do. They wont miss me, but they might miss a thousand of me. Its the least you can do.
One of the more interesting follies on display in Westminster these days is the government’s absolute conviction that they are “right”, manifested most vividly in Cameron’s impotent fury at being brought to heel in the Commons by John Bercow. That sense of entitlement is gaining an increasingly brittle tone as they are dragged ever closer to an electoral precipice beyond which there is surely no recovery.
The sheer ‘wrongness’ of this conviction is seen again in Rebekah Brooks asserting her “complete bafflement” as to why she has been charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and in Jeremy Hunt’s shrill insistance that he has behaved with the utmost probity in his handling of the BSkyB takeover. David Cameron meanwhile can be presumed to be sticking both fingers in his ears, rocking back and forth emitting a high pitched keening noise to block out the unwelcome prospect of cross examination by the Leveson Enquiry proving to be inconveniently thorough.
One would almost feel sorry for these wretched idealogues if the policies they were hell bent on introducing weren’t so palpably self serving. Their problem is, that in their mad minds, the cosying up to Murdoch’s News International is just part of “Rolling up our sleeves” and “Getting the job done”. As David Cameron never tires of telling us “I spent many years working in the media” (as some kind of PR stooge for a television company) and here one would have to say that many years working in the media has turned better people than David Cameron into power crazed sociopaths obsessed with the advancement of self.
I digress. The real point here is one that anyone who has had any exposure to corporate politics will recognise. The reality of what has happened in the Murdoch empire. There is enough of a chasm between the world of influence and power represented by the Tories and their media cronies and the world of semantics and law required by the Leveson prosecutors for the phrase “I have no recollection…” to be assumed to be a reasonable defence. In the fifth form this would roughly translate as “…I never!…”.
The fact is that big business is a world of sophistication away from the shopping mall. In this context, Cameron taking a posse of arms dealers with him on his tour of the far east seems entirely natural. The game is about influence and connections, it is no longer about superb products, that’s just the PR machine. Cameron witters about our world class security products (by which he is presumably referring to the instruments of torture that proved such a hit in the middle east) as if they were a gift we are about to bestow on the hapless countries we’ve singled out as “growth markets”.
In Cameron, Osborne and the rest of this bungling crew we have a government so firmly in thrall to the methods and madness of big business that they genuinely can’t see anything wrong. To many of us, the arms trade is tainted, a thing we wish the world could do without. To a businessman it’s just another way of turning a fast buck. Who cares if we’re enabling some tin pot despot, so long as it allows us into the market.
The Cameron family fortune was made by exploiting loopholes in the tax laws to establish some of the first offshore funds, siphoning millions out of the UK economy in order to maximise the returns for the very wealthy. It’s in his DNA. George Osborne inherited his multi million pound fortune on his 21st birthday. This government don’t know any other way to do things, pursuit of the pound without any guiding principles turns ugly very quickly. Meanwhile, big business does what it always has done, weave webs of influence into which these hapless inheritants have willingly hurled themselves. We can revile Murdoch and his ilk, but we can’t blame them for behaving like businessmen. As somebody astutely observed, in business, when you push on an open door, you generally go in. The blame then rests squarely on the shoulders of the politicians that have embraced this poisonous ideology.
Cameron is a wannabe Tony Blair, but what differentiates these Tories from the Blair government they would so dearly like to emulate is that Blair, for all his many faults was driven by a vision that was about more than the mere accumulation of wealth. The New Labour project was a revolution in society and politics, a revolution that delivered on many of its promises to the electorate and crucially, got re-elected with crushing majorities, time and time again. And ironically, a generation grew up for better or worse, in a climate of unprecedented wealth and enjoyed what now look suspiciously like the best years of their lives under that Labour government. I say ironically, because the generation that will grow up underneath these Tories should we be so ignorant as to reelect them, will experience nothing of the kind.
The Tories’ worst crime is that of arrogance. Against a government as unpopular as Gordon Brown’s they could not muster a majority. The smoking gun, if there is one, lies in the fact that chief spin doctor and News International shareholder Andy Coulson was able to work without high level security clearance in a job where he had access to material that any fool can see should be classed as confidential. If rumour is correct, Cameron’s main concern in the hiring of Coulson was that he sign an agreement not to write a memoir about “the Cameron Years”. It seems as though Cameron was so convinced of his entitlement to power that when he finally got it, he acted as though he thought none of the checks and balances applied to him. He saw no reason not to socialise with the Wades and the Murdochs, because their interests he naively assumed were his interests and therefore the country’s interests. It may very well be that there was no secret contract, but for a PR man, Cameron is exceptionally naive – in these days of the internet and wall to wall news, we see the whole story unfold and as the saying goes, if it looks like a crock and smells like a crock then it very probably is a crock.
A couple of points worth mentioning. 38 Degrees are in no way connected to the Labour Party. This is a line that has been trotted out before by Tory MP’s. One wonders if it is just laziness or a dismal attempt to undermine the credibility of an organisation that simply provides a vehicle for coordinated protest.
The assertion that Labour never revealed the risk register is barely worthy of the playground. It would be unusual to reveal the risk register if nobody asked to see it. The difference in this case is that people did ask to see it. In fact a legal ruling was made declaring it to be in the public interest to see it. A ruling the Tories ignored.
The declaration that Mike will stand up for what he believes in is interesting. Mike Weatherly was elected fairly, as the MP for Hove. At the time, the Tories were making several promises they have since broken. Amongst these promises was the claim that “The NHS is safe in our hands” and “There will be no top down reorganisation of the NHS under this government”. Presumably Mike was enthusiastically supporting these pledges at the time? Call me naive, but if an elected member of parliament chooses to ignore the the protests of his constituents, on the basis that he knows best, then I for one, would want to see a much better rationale than the one provided by Mike Weatherly here.
Unions? Pressure Groups? Utter nonsense. Mike, there are reds under the bed.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote to my local Member of Parliament Mike Weatherley, Tory MP for Hove & Portslade, to enquire which way he had voted on the National Health reforms. It was a serious question, I want to know what my member of parliament is doing for his money and I wanted to remind him that his constituants care.
I didn’t expect an immediate response, but the automated message I did receive should have alerted me to the fact that customer service is very definitely not a priority for this Tory MP.
“Thank you very much for your email. Please be assured that I have received your message safely and will endeavour to respond within 14 days.
I can also be contacted by post and telephone…”
Anyway, he has taken the trouble to add me to his mailing list so that I can now report on his activities in some detail.
In a week which has been dominated by concerns about the National Health and the Governments relationship with News International, Mike Weatherley was having none of it. His communique has the chirpy upbeat style of a practised comedian – no glass half empty here.
1. He has “welcomed” a grant to the South Downs. I’m guessing this means he didn’t instigate it but would like to be associated with it…
2. He has “popped in” to the Little Fish Market and bought some fish for the weekend. He heartily recommends we do likewise.
3. He has chaired a debate on live music in Parliament. Not sure if this was a scheduled debate or an informal one in the members bar, but good work Mike!
4. He has “welcomed” the eviction of the St. Paul’s protesters. See point 1.
5. He has “hosted” a parliamentary dinner to discuss…wait for it…live music and in particular how the music industry can strengthen its stranglehold, sorry, maintain a competitive advantage in these straitened times.
6. He has “spoken out” against the huge public subsidy of trade union officials within Sussex Police. Figures released by Sussex Police, following a Freedom of Information request, show that the annual cost to the taxpayer of trade union officials in Sussex Police was £183,099.75 in 2009/2010 and £162,926.42 in 2010/2011.
It doesn’t amount to a whole lot of what I would recognise as “work”. All this “speaking out” and “welcoming” must be awfully wearing though and one wonders what the hapless owners of the Little Fish Market did in a previous life.
Setting sarcasm aside for a moment, one point Mike raises about the cost to the taxpayer of trade union officials is worth examining. This is a popular Tory mantra in their ceaseless mission to prevent “business” from being hamstrung by things like “fair pay” and “holidays”.
Let’s assume that a fulltime Trades Union official is paid £40,000 a year. It’s a guess, but probably not that far off the mark. That’s four whole Trades Union officers to represent the entirety of the Sussex Police. By contrast Mike Weatherley is paid £65,738 by the taxpayer to represent erm Hove. I wonder if the Trades Union Officers spend as much time debating live music or even “welcoming” grants to the South Downs. Add to this the fact that the police are not yet a privately run business and you have to wonder what on earth Mike has been smoking.
Superficially, this is about Silicon Valley disrupting the media industry. We’ve seen the effect of downloads on the music industry and the Film and Television industries don’t want any repeat of that scenario thank you very much!
The case of the start up band who have to pay for their rehearsal space, pay to print up CDs and Publicity material, hoping to make at least some money back through sales, only to have their hopes dashed by cynical downloaders purloining their content for free is also well heard. I am a photographer and have found my photographs on Google, adorning sites I’ve never heard of. A magazine recently offered me the princely sum of £2 for one picture – an improvement on last year when two magazines with high street distribution deals printed photographs of mine for no fee! At first glance, this embattled artist is tempted to agree that SOPA is not a bad thing.
But of course embattled artists are not the only losers, and if any government is passing legislation solely to protect the rights of struggling artists, frankly I’ll eat my hat. There are other players with much more to lose, and this is why there is such a fuss about SOPA.
This debate is about control. Control over the internet. Or to put it crudely, delivery of the internet into the hands of the vested interests providing content through established channels like print, film and CD.
Link sharing sites such as Reddit, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Digg etc will under the proposed acts be liable for prosecution if they are found to be distributing links to unoriginal material. In effect, this makes them vulnerable to frivolous litigation like never before. Big companies have deep pockets and will have no qualms about bankrupting the pretenders to their throne by forcing lawsuits to be defended.
The sponsorship of government advising think tanks by corporate interests has also been well documented as has the use of lobbyists by various industries to influence government thinking. The extent to which News International influenced successive elections in the UK can only be guessed at, but it is well documented that Rebekah Wade was a regular guest at the homes and offices of successive prime ministers. No coincidence when the Murdoch owned Sun, News of the World and Times all backed the same horse.
The appointment of Murdoch fan Jeremy Hunt to the Ministry of Culture and the subsequent proposal to allow Murdoch’s bid for BSkyB to be waved through could be interpreted as payback for the press support for the Tories before the election. It was only stopped by furious protests from the public and one newspaper’s, The Guardian, tireless quest to expose the illegal activities taking place in the News of the World under the auspices of …Rebekah Wade. Nobody should remain in any doubt that corporate interests influence and in some cases dictate government policy.
SOPA and its little brother PIPA are merely the instruments by which the corporate interests that control the old media, hope to wrest control of the new media away from Silicon Valley. It should be resisted at all costs, not because we prefer anarchy, but because democracy is founded on freedom of choice and if there is no freedom of information then there is no freedom of choice. I don’t mind sacrificing a few photographs to uphold that principle.
originally published at Electrical Image 18.1.12
Interesting exchange on Twitter with Edmond Terakopian this morning about the Leveson inquiry and its refusal to engage with the British Press Photographer’s Association. Edmond feels very strongly that the inquiry should engage, I’m not so convinced that the issue that is important to the BPPA is central to the business of the inquiry.
Firstly, I absolutely agree with Edmond and the BPPA that a distinction has to be made between the honest professional news photographer and the opportunistic, semi-legal paparazzi. This is a question of preserving the integrity of a profession. A profession which is under threat in the public perception from the amount of negative coverage attracted by the activities of the paparazzi. News photography is a serious profession and like any other serious profession, the consideration of ethics is a fundamental part of the practice. Many of the great photographs of our time have been taken by news photographers. Not so many by the paparazzi.
Paparazzi are rarely illegal. There are ethical questions around privacy and confusingly, the letter of the law differs depending what country you happen to be in. The hounding of reluctant participants is abhorrent, however we should not forget that many celebrities, including some members of the royal family, actively collude with the press in order to maximise their exposure. There is an argument that says that the only way to stop the paparazzi is for people to stop buying the magazines that feature their work. Interestingly enough there are signs that the public’s appetite for photographs of so called celebrities on the wane. Big Brother’s ratings were a shadow of their former glory, I hear that the circulation of Hello is down on last year.
I do believe that the Leveson inquiry is doing an excellent job of unmasking the culture of illegality that apparently pervades the tabloid press. There are powerful corporate interests with very clever lawyers and a lot of money at stake here. The inquiry cannot afford to lose focus for a second. It is here that my thinking diverges from Edmond’s. I believe the vested interests behind the tabloids would welcome the inclusion of the BPPA in the inquiry because it would shift the focus onto an issue which is non-threatening to them.
Although the testimony of Hugh Grant, Sienna Miller and the McCanns has been highly critical of and raised serious concerns about the antics of the paparazzi, I see this as being of secondary focus to the main job of the inquiry which is surely to establish whether or not there is a culture of illegality in the tabloid press. I believe that the issue of recognition for a serious profession can be given the attention it merits only after the layers of obfuscation put up by the executives and lawyers of News International have been stripped away (for example, James Murdoch’s ludicrous assertion when faced with the irrefutable fact of an email advising him of concerns about the practice of hacking – that he didn’t read it because it was on a Blackberry, at the weekend.)
The confusion in the public mind between professional and paparazzi is doing serious damage to the profession, of that there is no doubt. Some members of the public are also policemen and security guards who may choose to treat a serious professional (or even a serious amateur) like a paparazzi for example. however, I’m concerned that while the attention of the inquiry is focused on the machinations of the business that supports that profession, there is a risk that the inclusion of testimony from the BPPA may distract from the central purpose of the inquiry and that would only help let the perpetrators of these activities and their employers off the hook. My hope is that the Leveson inquiry will call the BPPA in due course. I believe, notwithstanding the concerns I have set out here, that the BPPA’s voice should be heard and in Edward Terakopian they have a practitioner of sufficient stature and influence to ensure that that voice will be heard.
Reference: Edmond Terakopian – http://photothisandthat.co.uk/2011/12/14/leveson-inquiry-says-no-to-the-bppa/
Originally posted on Electrical Image by Chris Wright