Politics

Satire, Parliament and Dennis Skinner

Commons

Last week Labour stalwart Dennis Skinner was ejected from the House of Commons for the rest of the Parliamentary day for calling the Prime Minister “Dodgy Dave” during his statement on his father’s off-shore affairs to Parliament. The Speaker, John Bercow, didn’t like it, and Skinner was forced to leave.

Skinner regularly entertains with his witty and acerbic comments, so this wasn’t out of character. In this instance, Skinner had a particular interest in the subject and had confronted Cameron on it previously.

What’s interesting is how the news was later reported beyond the day’s news reports.

On Friday, Have I Got News For You covered it, pointing out that Parliamentary rules prevented them from showing clips on a satirical TV programme. They instead used an “artist’s impression” as shown above.

Now I’ve written about this issue before – here in 2009, and again in 2011.

As the licences to use material from Parliamentary coverage make clear:

no extracts of Parliamentary proceedings may be used in any light entertainment programme or in a programme of political satire;

This is despite some changes in copyright legislation which, to my non lawyer’s eyes, would seem to be at odds with them.

So it was slightly surprising to sit down and watch Monday night’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on Sky Atlantic, originally transmitted by HBO on Sunday evening, and see footage of Commons, lifted from the BBC’s website, and used by Oliver for, well, satirical purposes!

skinner

Of course in the US, they have separate copyright rules and restrictions, and they don’t have to adhere to UK rules. Fair Use probably applies, and so the footage was used. And programmes like this, The Daily Show and many others, regularly use C-SPAN coverage of US government business to illustrate their stories. Only the Supreme Court remains off limits to cameras (Oliver has notably used a “court” of dogs to illustrate exchanges, alongside audio recordings which are allowed).

I was slightly surprised to see that Sky Atlantic didn’t edit that segment before UK broadcast however, since it does seem that they’re in violation of Parliamentary rules. I wouldn’t be surprised if a trimmed down version is used for any rebroadcasts, although at time of writing the full unexpurgated episode is available on Sky Go.

It’s a ridiculous rule of course, and the point is that the footage is widely available.

Last month Rupa Huq MP, sister-in-law to Charlie Brooker, requested that it was lifted, but her request was denied by Chris Grayling MP, leader of the House of Commons.

As Brooker is quoted is the Telegraph as saying, “”Have I Got News For You can’t use clips from the House of Commons, whereas This Week can – with funny music dubbed on top.”

And of course, you can very easily view the footage, including Skinner calling Cameron “Dodgy Dave” on at least two occasions before he was required to leave the Commons by the Speaker for “Disorderly Conduct.” Here it is on the BBC website for example.

I can even go ahead and make an animated GIF of it!

giphy

But for goodness sake, don’t let the footage end up on a satirical television programme in the UK. Whatever would happen then?

Responding to Consultations

If there’s one thing the internet has made easier, it’s responding to consultations. Previously the domain of just the time rich, today it can be much easier. Indeed, only a small amount harder than signing some internet petition.

This week I’ve responded to two consultations on wildly differing topics, and I thought I’d repost what I sent here. Both consultations close tomorrow, so you still have time to send yours in!

Independent Commission on Freedom of Information Call for Evidence

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to you as a citizen who is concerned that the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information might see more restrictions placed on what can

I am especially alarmed when Chris Grayling, leader of the House of Commons, is quoted as saying that the Freedom of Information Acts was being used as a “research tool” to “generate stories” for the media.

Absolutely it is.

These are important stories that should be reported. The list of 103 stories published by the FoI Directory website is an excellent list that proves the point.

To at this point go back on what citizens believe should be in the public domain would be absurd and a travesty. The relatively low cost (in overall budget terms) easily justifies the importance of citizens’ rights to know about our supposedly open government.

I therefore strongly oppose any measures that would see a weakening of the Act, or a reduction in bodies included under it.

Review of Consumer Protection Measures relating to Online Secondary Ticketing Platforms

Dear Sir/Madam

I am writing to you in my personal capacity as a consumer who buys tickets to concerts and events.

While I don’t work in the industry, I have worked in commercial radio, where relationships with promoters to sell concert tickets are a significant part of the business.

Event ticketing is not a simple supply and demand model. Quite often demand vastly exceeds supply and an artist or event can’t simply add additional dates to meet that demand. And it’s important to understand that artists and promoters don’t actually always set ticket prices at levels that simply maximise revenues. But setting those initial prices is something that is up to the promoter/artist. If they want to look like they’re gouging fans, that’s their decision. On the other hand, not all concert/events costs are equal.

In general and simple terms, I’m very much against so-called “secondary ticketing” since it simply breaks the overall model.

In my view, secondary ticketing is simply a legal form of ticket touting.

Many events and concerts have terms and conditions that explicitly don’t allow tickets to be resold, and yet only in very specific circumstances is the law adjusted to reflect this. For some reason, football and the Olympics have ticket reselling banned, but pretty much everything else is legal. Frankly that’s arbitrary and absurd.

As mentioned artists and promoters tend to find a balance between pricing their ticket to allow access to their fans, yet at the same time there is also a view from some in the industry that they’re simply missing out on profits made by touts, groups, and individuals that use secondary ticketing.

Promoter Harvey Goldsmith recently appeared on BBC Radio Four’s Front Row (16 November 2015), and explained that for a recent event he had promoted, he’s made it a condition of sale that the purchaser was limited to the number of tickets purchased, and that photographic ID was used to enter the venue. But this isn’t a sustainable option for many venues. While events regularly claim that they may need proof of purchase, it’s rare that it’s actually carried out. The London 2012 Olympics was a key case in point – with none of the dozen or so events I attended requiring any proof that I was the ticket purchaser. Indeed despite severe warnings to the contrary, I’ve never had to provide such proof, beyond using a credit card to collect tickets at a box office.

I would also be wary of claims made by secondary ticketing firms that a high proportion of their ticket inventories are sold at face value or less. That’s because many events – perhaps most – do not sell out, and promoters are able to use these sites to offload unsold inventory as an event’s date draws closer.

I would want to see a very close analysis of who is selling what tickets to what kinds of events at what prices to draw an accurate picture of what’s going on. Broad overall brush strokes do not help. It would be informative to learn the distribution of customers who carry out repeat transactions. If I sell a pair of tickets once in a year, then I might be a genuine fan offloading my tickets. But larger volumes suggests touting – quite probably on an industrial scale. This review should call in detailed sales data from the major sites.

A Solution

The number of individuals who truly need to resell their tickets is actually marginal. While it’s true that some events sell out months or even a year or more in advance, the proportion of attendees who cannot subsequently attend is a very small proportion of the audience.

The notion that secondary ticketing is for “fan to fan” exchanges is quite simply disingenuous. Simply the fact that tickets are instantly being sold on secondary ticketing sites from the minute that their first on sale is proof of this. Essentially anyone with a credit card and an internet connection can become a tout.

I would propose a system where tickets are resold by the agency that sold them initially, with perhaps a 10% margin for managing the secondary selling.

In the past, if you ended up with theatre tickets you no longer required you simply left them at the box office, and once the house’s own tickets had sold out, the box office would sell the “returns” at a either a small mark-up, or at a small cost to the original purchaser. There was a simple reliable point of purchase for those looking for access to an event at the last minute, and a safe and reliable way for someone to attempt to recover the cost of tickets they could no longer use.

With the advent of the internet, ticketing apps, and print-at-home tickets, this process becomes ever easier to manage, and keeps costs low (whatever the various booking costs charged by these sites to consumers are).

The online agency that initially sold the tickets would handle the reselling, and they would recover additional administration costs and a small profit from the 10% margin.

Ticketing Concerns

I also believe it to be the case that a number of tickets for major promotions go directly to secondary ticket agencies in the first instance. I would hope that this investigation will shed some light on this practice.

This means that those tickets were never marketed at any kind of “face value” even if they appear in the same blocks as other tickets that were available for purchase.

There is very little light being shone on this practice, and it bears investigation, because it shows that not all those tickets that “instantly” show up on secondary sites when

Other Pricing Models

I know that some promoters and venues are using “airline” style pricing with flexible prices dependent upon demand. That’s a choice they can make, and they should be free to do so. Personally, I wouldn’t choose to buy tickets on that model, so good luck to those producers with them. But at least they can manage inventory and maximise profits based on demand if they choose to do so.

The market will in the end dictate whether that’s a sustainable business model.

Summary

Put an end to legalised touting through secondary ticketing sites.

If promoters and artists want to earn more money from their events, they should be up front in their pricing mechanisms. And it simply can’t be fair that football has one rule, but every other sport and event has another.

Institute best practices, and allow the resale of tickets only at a modest increased cost over face value via the agency that sold the ticket.

The Power of Newspapers… Or Lack Thereof

It's_The_Sun_Wot_Won_It

After the 1992 election when John Major defeated Neil Kinnock, The Sun published a now famous headline: “It’s The Sun Wot Won It.” I suspect that this is now a standard text that pupils examine in their GCSE Politics courses. Did The Sun really win it? Or were they just reading the runes and backing the winners?

Of course there’s no question. Murdoch has only ever wanted to back a winner. You don’t sell more papers than anybody else by ignoring your readers.

But whatever the extent of The Sun’s impact on that election, more than thirty years ago now, it’s all frankly rather quaint that we’re still talking about the importance of UK newspapers in this election in 2015.

I love newspapers as I’ve often expressed on this website. I still buy an actual paper copy every day. But they’ve long been in decline in their paper format. Here’s a chart I’ve lifted from The Media Briefing (Sadly, ABC figures are not easy to source historically if you’re not a subscriber). It’s a year or so old, but it shows how far we’ve come.

uknewspaper2001-2014

Yes, there is an internet readership for most of these titles, but there’s much less loyalty – search or social media is as likely to drive a reader to your site as any kind of brand loyalty. Do you really think that people who browse the Mail Online’s sidebar of shame at work in their lunch-hour really care what the editorial line of the print paper is?

So I believe that it’s only fair to conclude that with fewer people reading paper copies, they have less influence than ever.

Which I think makes it almost endearing that so many people have such an interest in which way papers suggest we should vote. Newspapers are actually pretty lucky that television and radio are bound by impartiality rules in the UK, unlike the US. With the BBC and ITV playing a straight bat with news, it’s down to newspaper to add opinion, and partisan politics. And to make coverage interesting, broadcasters turn to print to get a sniff of some of that opinion. Hence “Newspaper Reviews” on the news channels. (You never see a newspaper paying as much interest to Panorama or Dispatches.)

The vast majority of our national press is right wing. But then so are their older readers. The young don’t buy newspapers. The best they might do is pick up Metro in the morning. And nobody really cares about Metro’s editorial line.

I rather think we’ve reached a turning point now and that frankly newspapers can say whatever they like – even if in the case of The Independent that seems to go against everything their readers believe. In a double-Lebedev-whammy, the London Evening Standard came out for the Tories today, when in fact they’re likely to lose a decent number of seats in the capital to Labour.

But simply put, newspapers won’t affect the outcome of this election. So stop frothing about it on Twitter. The Sun might be reprinting an old photo of Ed Miliband, but I’m only seeing it because left-leaning people on Twitter are getting angry about it. I care no more than if it had been another Royal baby photo.

There’s a lot of hysteria on front pages at the moment. Yet is there a single buyer of the Daily Mail who’s going to vote Labour? They’re simply preaching to the choir… The Independent notwithstanding.

Why should we care what the papers say any more than what Buzzfeed says? Or Zoella? Or the Lad Bible? Or Mumsnet? Or Digital Spy? Frankly, those people and sites might have more sway were they to express an opinion.

The Day We Phoned Maggie

One of the big stories in the news today is that someone somehow got through to David Cameron on the phone, and pretended to be the head of GCHQ. Cameron says that he realised that it was a hoax fairly quickly and hung up.

I suspect that a lot of people are wondering: “Surely it can’t be that easy to get put through to the Prime Minister can it?”

Well let me take you back a few years. I couldn’t put a firm date on when we did this, but I’d hazard a guess that it was sometime around 1983 or 1984. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and it was a school holiday – perhaps half-term.

My friend Patrick and I were around 13 or 14, and we were a bit bored. We both had ZX Spectrums which ate up a lot of our time. And that also meant we had cassette players which you didn’t have to just use for loading and saving programs. Around at my friend’s house, they were far freer with letting us use the phone; my parents counted the minutes like hawks at home.

So we had a heady mix of time, a cassette player and microphone, and free access to the phone. Who could we call?

We decided to call Maggie herself.

I can’t say that we had anything specific to say to her. Yes, the Falklands were over, no the miners’ strike probably wasn’t. But aside from having previously lived next door to a Conservative councillor, I can’t say that I was especially politically aware at that age.

How would you start if you wanted to phone the PM? Well today it might involve a bit of searching on the internet. But in those days it made sense to call Directory Enquiries. Which is what we did.

There then followed a series of calls as different people either gave us different numbers or occasionally transferred us.

I think we started with a generic Houses of Parliament number that Directory Enquiries had furnished us with. Then we moved onto a Commons specific number. Then we got put through to an internal switchboard, until we got the news that Mrs Thatcher was not in Parliament that day. Had we tried Downing Street?

Another number was given out, and before long we had got through to her office.

I don’t recall at any point, anyone asking us what we wanted her for. Just helpful people giving us helpful information. In truth, we had no idea what we’d say if we got hold of her. Patrick was doing the talking, and his tone of voice was quite authoritative. He spoke “the Queen’s English.”

Finally we got through to someone who left us on hold as he went to find her! A few moments passed.

Alas, she wasn’t available. Sorry.

And that was it. So near, and yet, so far.

Now in truth, someone might have caught onto us in the end, and humoured us by putting us on hold before politely getting rid of us. But at the time, it felt very real, and at the time, we were pretty certain that some Private Secretary had gone to look (we watched Yes Minister). What was very apparent was that if you spoke with enough conviction, people didn’t ask questions.

I think that remains true.

We played quite a few prank calls at the time, usually recording them (Though I don’t believe a tapes of any of these, including the Maggie call exist now). We pretended to be DJs on air with Capital Radio, phoning a woman at random and saying that she was live on air and had won a competition. We tried to recruit a plumber we found in the Yellow Pages into MI5 – plumbers were useful for gaining entry to plant bugs of course! We phoned a zip company telling them we had an emergency: one of their zips had got “caught” in the flies of our jeans and we needed emergency help to free it up.

But it was the Maggie calls that were the most memorable.

Election Fundraising

democrats

Last week Jon Stewart did a very good piece on the emails that the Democratic campaign has been sending out ahead of the upcoming mid-term elections.

(Theoretically you can see the video here. Except that in the UK, you can’t. It suggests you go to Comedy Central’s UK site, but that only has some extended interviews, and little in the way of the political pieces.)

Anyway, that’s all very well. What bearing does that have on a Brit like me, not living in the country and not having a vote?

Well for some unknown reason, I’ve ended up on the mailing list of the “Ready for Hillary” PAC. Now I’m sure that I could have taken myself off this list if I’d used the unsubscribe button. But I thought – why not get an idea of how this all works and what gets sent through? So I’ve been quietly ignoring and “archiving” their emails for months. I’ve ignored all the hullabaloo surrounding a not-very-good book. I don’t want to pay thousands of dollars to go to a meal with her. I don’t want to sign her birthday card. In general, I’m a disinterested observer.

But while we wait to see if Hillary actually runs (OK, wait to see when she runs), my email address must have been shared with others in the Democratic campaigning world. Because I’ve been getting an awful lot of emails about an election that I don’t get a vote in, and taking place in a country I don’t live in.

In this instance it’s the “House Majority” PAC or Political Action Committee. And in a relatively short time, they’ve been sending a lot of emails over a relatively short period of time. This is what Stewart was talking about.

Since 28 September, so about three weeks ago, when I think the emails the started, I’ve had close to 60 messages. That obviously means plenty more than one a day – more like two a day. Then last week it was:

Oct 13 – 2
Oct 14 – 4
Oct 15 – 6
Oct 16 – 7

I think there was some kind of cut-off around then for fundraising. But 7 emails on the same subject in one day?

And then there are the subject lines. Full of gloom and despair:

“I am worried Adam”
“good news and bad news…”
“it gets worse…”
“we weren’t expecting this”
“utterly crushed”
“even more of a shock”
“no easy way to say it”
“..not in a good place”
“our kitchen sink is next?”
“we are still grinding away”

Well I suppose that last one was vaguely encouraging. But otherwise, those are a selection of subjects (with punctuation intact) in chronological order. Given the overall nihilistic tone of this campaign, I don’t think I could summon up the will to “Chip in $25” after that lot.

I know the Tories and Labour have all been hiring their American election campaign managers and strategists. Top tip: don’t go all gloom and doom on us.

Update: I’ve received another THREE emails between first writing this piece earlier this evening, and hitting publish just now. I’m also slightly concerned that 38 Degrees are using the “Did you see this email…” format that sees multiple emails being sent with the same subject line.

Polling and the Scottish Referendum

Fort William-73

What an interesting few weeks it has been for poll-watching. I say that from my London perspective. Obviously north of the border, this is a debate that has been running for years now, and us southerners have only really woken up to it recently.

In particular, we woke up to it following a Sunday Times poll a few weeks ago that suggested that the Yes camp might actually win – and Scotland leave the Union.

However, in terms of the science of polling, there are some fascinating pieces being written about the difficulties faced by polling companies in this referendum. They would seem to boil down to the following:

– Nobody has polled a referendum like this before, making it really hard
– The potential “shy Noes”
– An actual result ~50% has the biggest margin of error possible

Let’s go through those one by one.

Polling companies tend to rely very heavily on previous voter behaviour to predict what is going to happen. They can try to weight for actual behaviour last time when trying to predict what will happen this time. They know which groups are likely to vote (the elderly) and which aren’t (the young). And they’ve got solutions in place for issues that they’ve encountered before.

For example on last week’s More or Less on Radio 4, the example was given of Conservative voters in the 90s. People were a bit nervous about admitting that they would vote Conservative – even to pollsters. Polling organisations have to take account of that.

But when you have no historical data to work from, and when so many new registrations have been made, leading to what will surely be a record turnout, you really don’t know for certain what’s going to happen.

The “shy Noes” are a good example of this. There’s a view that the noisy and vociferous “Yes” campaign has caused those who are voting “No” to keep shut up – some even claim to be scared of admitting in public that they’re a “No.” Not living in Scotland (although I did for year in the early 90s), it’s hard to know what the truth is. I do know that when I watched the BBC debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling, it felt like Salmond won as much for the much louder cheering he got from the audience. It’s not at all surprising that “Yes” can be made to feel much more positive than “No.”

Statistically, if the true result is somewhere in the region of 50% behaving one way, the margin of error is worse than if the results was say 10% or 90%. With a result down the middle, you get a bigger margin of error, or you need a significantly bigger sample to mitigate against this. Even if polling organisations do the latter, there’s no guarantee that they’ll not end up wrong though because of the first two issues I’ve raised.

There are some worthwhile pieces of reading from Anthony Wells of YouGov and Ben Page of Ipsos MORI that get into this in a bit more detail.

Also of interest is the fact that Betfair is paying out for “No” ahead of the vote. Bookies are rarely wrong.

My own personal belief is that, despite that polling scares, the “No” vote will get it. I think the margin will be bigger than the currently reported 4% in the polls, as I think the “shy Noes” are a real thing. Added to which older “No” voters are more likely to get to Polling Stations that younger “Yes” voters and actually cast their votes. Indeed I wouldn’t be surprised if the margin was as big as 8-10%.

You can give me a large slice of humble pie to eat on Friday morning if I’m wrong.

As for which way Scots should vote? Well my grandfather was Scottish, and thus I could represent Scotland in many sports (were I good enough); I’ve been on holiday there many times; I’ve lived there for a time; and my name is Scottish – affiliated with the McDonald Clan, you can find a Ben Bowie near the southern edge of Loch Lomond. I love Scotland. But for the life of me, I can’t see that a “Yes” vote would be anything other than disastrous for the people. The oil reserves are a big unknown – improved extraction techniques not withstanding. Salmond still hasn’t given a satisfactory answer as to how he could use the pound (and he won’t be using the Euro). Prices will have to rise – it’s the cost of doing cross-border business. And I can’t see any way now that Scotland won’t get devomax. So in many respects it’s a win for Scotland anyway. The complaints of about lack of representation in Westminster are no worse than much of northern England. Getting into the EU isn’t a given (Spain won’t be in a rush to let Scotland in for example).

Oddly enough I find Alex Salmond the weakest part of the “Yes” campaign. Beyond his lack of a cogently-argued economic policies, his brown-nosing of Rupert Murdoch is worse than anything Tony Blair did. And his obsequiousness towards Donald Trump, as highlighted in Anthony Baxter’s excellent You’ve Been Trumped (and apparently, in his follow up that I’ve yet to see – A Dangerous Game) did not endear me to the man. I’m told that in Scotland, the “Yes” campaign is more than just about Salmond. But you wouldn’t know that from afar.

Interestingly, the Scottish Sun has failed to come out for the “Yes” camp as many had been suspecting. But as much as anything, this will be a commercial decision made by Murdoch, much as he’d like to give Westminster a bloody nose after the whole phone hacking fallout. It’s never so much “The Sun Wot Won It” as “The Sun backs the winner.” This time around they don’t know who the winner will be. And backing the wrong horse could endanger sales.

I think one of the toughest things after this campaign, is the Scottish people reconciling their futures with one another. Whichever way the vote goes tomorrow, half the people are going to be disappointed – bitterly disappointed in many cases. That’s going to take more getting over than a general election, where you always know that within 4-5 years, you’ll get another chance.

Finally, if you’ve not seen John Oliver on this, then he’s very much worth a watch. And they’ve un-geoblocked this segment for us Brits especially!

(Just nobody point this out to them. I can trust you on that can’t I? Mum’s the word.)

Capital

Somehow this seems a little ironic.

I saw this copy of the economics book du jour in WH Smith of all places. Somehow the sticker and the book’s subject matter seemed incongruous.

That said – don’t knock the half-price offer. I note that Amazon isn’t discounting it at all which is significant since the cover price is £29.95.

space4cycling

space4cycling-3
Earlier this evening, while the House of Commons debated the Get Britain Cycling report, the LCC organised a massive cycle ride around the Houses of Parliament. The demonstration of something like 5000 cyclists was to make the case for road planning and traffic infrastructure to properly take cyclists into account. This certainly hasn’t happened to date.
Here’s a video I shot of the evening, including some lovely views of thousands of cyclists crossing Westminster Bridge into the bright sunlight.

Space For Cycling from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

(And yes – it does seem like someone “abandoned” their Bentley in the middle of the street towards the end of the ride)
And here are a few more photos from the evening.
space4cycling-2
space4cycling-1
Some more here.

State Intimidation

I’m thoroughly sickened to learn of the intimidatory behaviour that representative of the UK have made against the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald in holding his partner for 9 hours for questioning under Section of the Terrorism Act. He’s not suspected of terrorism, and therefore it’s entirely intimidatory.
Is this the kind of thing that a democratic country does?
Were it the friend or relative of, say, a Chinese dissident, I wouldn’t be surprised. But is this what we do in the UK?
It’s sickening.
I’ve written to my MP. Feel free to do the same.
Dear Nick de Bois,
I am thoroughly dismayed to read this morning that the UK Authorities have held the partner of a journalist under Section 7 of the Terrorism Act, seemingly to simply intimidate the journalist involved. What seems clear is that the man involved was in no way suspected of being a terrorist himself, suggesting misuse of the law.
This is simply outrageous, and an appalling thing for a democratic country to be doing.
This is the behaviour of a totalitarian regime – something we wouldn’t be surprised to learn that China was doing. When allied with some of the surveillance techniques that are being applied to our every day communications, this seems directly at odds with the libertarianism that the Conservative party claims to stand for.
Just to be very clear. I will NOT be voting in future for any representative of a Government that sanctions this kind of intimidatory behaviour.
I’m loathed to draw analogies with recent history in other parts of Europe, but you can’t help but think of Europe of the thirties.
I demand a full inquiry into how this bullying behaviour was sanctioned. I don’t care how embarrassing the revelations that the Edward Snowden leaks are to the UK or US Governments. I think he’s done us a great service in a time when secret laws, and secret rules seem to prevail.
I look forward to your response.
Yours sincerely,
Adam Bowie