Friday, 29 January 2016

Why An Opinion Is Not A Lie

Graham Spiers will never need me to defend him. He's proven very capable in that regard. Nevertheless, its important for fans of all clubs or even anyone who cares about freedom of speech, to voice support. 

Spiers cannot be regarded as any kind of extremist, or "bampot". Clearly a writer of uncommon ability, with an able analytical mind, and obvious human decency, he’s been measure and reason personified when people of my temperament felt a more robust approach was necessary on many issues.

So, the witch-hunt against him recently has been disturbing to witness. I’m not certain Mr Spiers and I would agree on very much, except that we’d agree that any suggestion that he is a liar is frankly bizarre. In my opinion, there is no possibility the man lied.

It’s almost an Orwellian scenario, where someone forms an opinion based on conversations had, and then having that opinion called a lie. Expressing an opinion is not the same thing as telling a lie. The avalanche of angst directed against Spiers for having the temerity to express an opinion, widely shared, that Rangers could do more to confront the bigotry witnessed by all, for instance, at the recent Rangers-Hibs game, was undeserved. Its worth noting the track record of accuracy or otherwise among many of his current detractors.

The Rangers have made considerable progress over the last 15 years or so (testified by the fact that The Billy Boys was not heard at Ibrox anywhere near as was previously the case. A lot of Rangers work against bigotry is under the radar. Sometimes that is the best way to get results, as one Rangers fan said to me this week.

But sometimes the need for such work and the challenges involved should be highlighted. That’s in effect all Mr Spiers was doing. The campaign against him seems to be led by people who claim to represent ALL Rangers fans. They may represent the most vocal. But that’s not necessarily the same thing.

The charge of ‘liar’ put to Spiers also pertains to his assertion that a director of The Rangers believed The Billy Boys was a great song. There are many interpretations that could be made here. For instance, the director in question may have defended this by saying the tune was catchy but the words are vile. It may be that in the storm that followed these comments someone feared that the nuance may have been lost and it was therefore easier to deny ever saying that. There’s more possibility of that in my mind than Spiers ever telling a lie.

Why has Mr Spiers not named the director, his source for the story? I do not know any journalist who would betray a source. Whatever short term gain might be made would be to the detriment of the journalist’s reputation and ability to gain and maintain the confidence of any sources in the future. I think that would be pretty obvious.

There’s been much support for Mr Spiers. But there should have been a whole lot more. The silence has been deafening from some quarters. Now, there is such a valid democratic tool as People Power. That’s valid. Pressure can be put on public figures and organisations by financial pressure etc. But like all tools, it needs wielded carefully, sensitively and only with good reason. Without these elements, People Power is reduced to a mob. The fear of the mob is prevalent among working journalists, and with good reason. When an opinion and the desire to protect a source becomes reasons to be hounded out of making a living then we are indeed in a Joe McCarthy wet dream.

One wonders if half of the the powerful energy against anyone pointing out the need to tackle bigotry had been directed to … err … tackling bigotry, then this whole issue might be a thing of the past. 

Monday, 11 January 2016

Corbyn Versus the Cosy Elites

Watching or reading UK media you'd have thought the Cabinet re-shuffle was an evil device invented by Jeremy Corbyn. You'd also be forgiven for thinking Corbyn was the only party leader who wanted a cabinet of people willing to accept cabinet responsibility. There was nothing like this level of biased and even factually incorrect reporting when Cameron was reshuffling his cabinets.

There is nothing new about internal opponents of a party leader using resignations in order to maximise the damage to said leader. It is how politics work.

However, unique elements here include the hand in glove coalition of Labour malcontents and the media. Sure the media wants stories. And internal divisions in any party create stories. Nothing sinister about that. But what is concerning is that the media, in is hunger for stories, is helping to create these stories rather than just reporting them. It helps them that the Labour Party members refusing to accept the decision of the Labour membership to elect Corbyn and the media share a naturally anti-Corbyn agenda.

For instance many senior personnel in the UK media establishment, such as Head of BBC News, James Harding, BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg and Andrew Neil etc. have distinctly conservative with a small ‘c’ attitudes. This is typical of any establishment. It’s how it maintains its, well, establishment. It’s a state of mind it shares with the Labour Party establishment – and of course the Conservative Party establishment. This creates both a conscious and unconscious “acceptable range” of debate. Alex Salmond referenced this when he called the BBC “unconsciously biased”. Anyone presenting ideas outside this ever-narrowing acceptable range of debate is, sadly, unlikely to be treated with the same respect and objectivity reserved for those within the cosy framework of “approved” debate.

We have the clearly staged drip drip drip of Labour Party resignations, planned by the remnants of the defeated and nationally discredited Iraq war-apologists of the Labour right, slavishly reported by their establishment pals in the media. Doubtless, those who are resigning have been promised career uplifts in any new regime. Doubtless, those not offered anything are pinning their colours to the anti-Corbyn party in the hope the new regime, if the coup is successful, will reward them. Nothing new here. Politics since the Stone Age has worked like this. But please, don’t pretend that this is free, fair or democratic. Call it what it is. Small-minded self-interested political pawns being bribed to gnaw away at the wood of the ship in the hope that when it sinks they can scuttle onto the new ship.

Prepare for disingenuous statements from these people, saying that they like Jeremy but they don’t believe he is electable. Really? There’s really no market in the current British political landscape for an anti-austerity anti-war, anti-trident political message? Facts confront this. The SNP electorally annihilated the post-Blair/Brown Labour Party because Labour shilly-shallied about austerity, was pro-Trident, and was seen to be allied with the Tories at every turn.

Then, hundreds of 1000s of political voters, alienated by Labour being pulled to the right, returned to the party both during and after the election of Corbyn. Are we in Labour really to be expected to only vote for Murdoch-approvable candidates? Is that what passes for “electorally viable”?

The establishment, which includes many on the Labour right, seem to want a Soviet-style system, whereby you can stand as a candidate as long as you don’t want to change the system. The so-called centre of the Tory party, the Lib Dems and the right of the Labour party seem to have created a Soviet-style consensus. Consensus is good. It’s desirable. But the consensus of the people at large is at variance of the consensus of the elite. Always has been and always will be. The ‘threat’ of Corbyn is that he’s actually representing the people’s consensus, not lobby groups, not vested interests and not media barons.

There is an obvious desire among the electorate for an end to the massive fraud of austerity, the waste of Trident, the butchering of civilians in oil-related wars and the immunity of those who caused the financial collapse. That desire should be being tapped into by the people’s natural representatives, The Labour Party. By trying to win Murdoch et al, Labour lost Scotland, a whole country! Did that make electoral sense? Well, it did if your goal was to wreck the Labour Party. Sadly there are those unrepentant Blairites who would not mourn the death of Labour because if they can’t control it, the party has no value to them.

So you have the media banding around terms designed to label anyone out with this cosiness as “extremist”, or otherwise unattractive terms like “Hard Left”. Words like “Hard” jar with most people when compared to something comforting like “moderate” or “centrist” or “soft”. So, who decrees which label gets applied? Why, the self-proclaimed “centrists” of course.

We recently had the Kafkaesque scenario where “Moderates” were all for bombing a country without regard to the danger this put innocent women and children in, and the “extremists” were those opposing the inevitable massacres of civilians, no matter how “smart” our bombs were.  In fact, not only were those opposed to war described as “extreme”, “cowards”, “terrorist sympathisers”, but also described by the Orwellian-sounding phrase, “toxic pacifists”.

If the UK media and establishment had any intention of living up to its proclaimed ideals of objectivity, reasoned debate, respect for opposing views, respect for democratic will of an organisation’s members, then ours would be a genuinely democratic country. However, the desire of both the political and media establishments (who are intrinsically linked by friendships, family, educational background, familiarity and proximity) is to discredit anyone wanting actual change, anyone who might threaten their cosiness. And we are left wondering what a genuinely free, fair and democratic society might look like.