5 ways to make 2015 less of a dick than its predecessor

As we all wave and turn our backs on the year that was and stare forward into the cold, dead eyes of the year ahead, extending our middle fingers aloft in both directions, it’s quite easy to be daunted. Daunted by how exhausting 2014 was to live through, and daunted by the twelve months ahead of us that holds the promise of more of the same awfulness. 2014 was, let’s face it, a pretty unpleasant time to be a human being. Sure, you might have personally had quite a good year, and good for you if you did, but if you did, you did it against a background of absolute dickishness. A widening chasm between rich and poor, deadly racism, barbaric sexism, transphobia and good old fashioned religious intolerance; with the benefit of hindsight 2014 looks more and more like the year of intolerance.

Wherever you looked in the news over the last twelve months, there was someone being oppressed by someone else. Nothing new there, you might think, and you’d be right, but that doesn't make things any better. Let’s have a whistle-stop tour of the last twelve months, shall we? It’ll be fun!

oh george

The UK coalition government continued the deep cuts to public services, the wealth gap got wider and cuts to disability allowance in particular led to rises suicide and homelessness in the most vulnerable. The rise of UKIP in the media and in the polls was not even remotely hindered by their patently racist narrative and a misogynistic streak a mile wide.

Not that that should be a surprise, given the widespread misogyny and the rise of the so-called Men’s Right’s Activists. These miserable internet-based neckbearded trolls decided to punish any woman who put her head above the parapet by threatening them with rape and murder, because once a girl was mean to them, or something. This started with the pathetic Gamergate ‘scandal’ and escalated until you had the ultimate f-you of hundreds of female celebrities and then thousands of ordinary girls and women having their privacy violently assaulted when their personal photos were hacked out of their phones and posted online, then were slut-shamed by the media while the same neckbeards gleefully chalked it up as a victory for them. image

Then there were events in Ferguson and wider across America, where the racial divide there turned into a gaping chasm. Across the states, black men and women were reminded just how little white America thinks of them after unarmed black men just kept getting gunned down or strangled by over-militarised police forces, and then the media looked down its collective nose at the ensuing protests and backed the police, all to the background of white people being able to walk around armed to the teeth and nobody batting an eyelid. image

Lastly, at the end of the year there was the story of a young transgender teenager in America, Leelah Alcorn, who took her own life in desperation at her own family’s refusal to accept her for who she was. The indignity that followed as her own parents refused to acknowledge the way she died or her orientation in a series of Facebook messages that looked to the outside like the coldest, most uncaring eulogy of all time (even getting the age of their own child wrong) in some ways served as a microcosm of the year. It was a horrible tale of religious intolerance, family neglect and finally tragedy, completely unavoidable if people could be just that bit more accepting of other people’s differences. image

This is hardly a comprehensive list, but I know I have felt increasingly powerless over the last twelve months to the brutality of people, the endless well of human suffering that seems to go on around us. You just can’t turn back the tide, try as you might. Not on your own, at least.

So, as I sit here staring at another year to come, and in the grand tradition of meaningless internet lists, I’ve pulled together a list of five things that we each can do to turn 2015 into the year of tolerance. This should totally work, mainly because they're completely self evident truths you already know. Still, I got you to read this far, didn't I?

1.       Don't vote for ideologically insane right wing lunatics. Russell Brand doesn't think you should vote. He's an idiot. You may have already worked that out though. If you are of the thought that there’s no point in voting, may I just remind you that if everyone in every constituency in the whole country refused to vote except for one wrinkly old Tory, they wouldn’t call the whole thing off, it’d be a Tory landslide. For the last five years we’ve had one of the most ideologically right wing governments this country has ever seen, slashing the welfare state, selling off the NHS, and dumping billions of pounds of public money into the pockets of the already wealthy. If there is a widening gap between the haves and the have nots in this country, it’s down to them. That's why it's never been more important to get into that voting booth. This isn;t me telling you who to vote for, just who not to vote for. Totally different.

Are the alternatives on offer perfect? No, of course not. Some of them are comically inept, some are untrustworthy, others woefully undersized. But are they better than Cameron and Osborne and their desire to shrink state spending to pre-war levels? Of course they are. We have a general election this year, and the best thing we can do to help the worst off in our society is make sure those bastards don’t get back in.

2.       Seriously, don't vote for ideologically insane right wing lunatics. If you read the above and it made you think about voting for Farage and his merry band of hatred, then stop. Read it again. Yes, a strong UKIP turnout might be one of the easiest ways to unseat the Tories, but that’s like fighting a cold with a shotgun to the face. UKIP’s message is one entirely based on hatred. Hatred of change, hatred of the other, hatred of women. Look at the picture below, it’s a direct comparison of UKIP strength and actual immigration. image Clearly, UKIP have no foothold in the areas where immigration actually impacts because people in those areas know it’s not a problem. Everyone is just folk. UKIP focus on the areas where there is no immigration, where they can scare the shit out of the white middle classes that the immigrants are coming, and they’re coming to take your pretty house and turn it into a Bulgarian brothel.

These people are absolute poison, and the only way that the media will stop bleating on about them is if nobody actually turns up to vote for them on election day. If you think I’m wrong then ask yourself, when was the last time you saw Nick Griffin’s demented face on your television screen?

3.       Stand up against intolerance. The chances are that most of us never really come across major racism or sexual intolerance on a day to day basis, unless we’re out for a walk on the internet. But we do come across it. It might be a ladish comment by someone at work, or a catcall on the street, or even a teen on the bus calling their friend a 'mong'.

My main aim this year is to start calling it out, rather than tutting inwardly and moving on. A lot of people don’t realise their behaviour is unacceptable until they are told it is. That’s how we’ve moved away from monkey chants at football grounds and open homophobia, because it gradually dawned on people that these were not acceptable ways to treat others. So this year, whenever I feel I can, I’m going to call out things. As someone who hates confrontation this is quite hard for me, but if I want to make a more tolerant world around me that’s what I have to do.

4.       Support where you can. The best thing about the internet is how easy it is for us to give back. In the wake of Ferguson there was countless ways spread online to help people. There are charities everywhere to help people who are worse off than you, and if you can spare the money, you can help. Sometimes these smaller charities can do so much more with a £5 donation, be they a rape crisis centre, a rights advocacy group, transgender support group or any one of a thousand other things out there. Don’t just tut at the coverage and move on. Get involved, as much as you can. Set aside ten quid a month and donate it to whatever you think best. Do what you can.

5.       Don’t be a dick. I’m guessing I’m not really talking to many of my readers here, but just on the off chance this has made it into the Gamergate headquarters, here's a message for you misogynistic trolls… Don’t be a dick. Seriously. If you’re the sort of person who responds to women online who you disagree with with belittling humour, crude threats or worse then just… don’t. Don’t be that guy. (Yes, you’re probably a guy. Deal with it. If you’re offended by me saying you’re probably a guy, stop. Are you a guy? See, I was right!)

Take off the fedora and step away from the neckbeard, because you are really becoming quite an unpleasant person, and nobody else thinks you are cool. That rape joke you just made wasn’t funny, and if you seriously feel the need to interject that ‘not all men’ or ‘it’s about ethics in games journalism’ then seriously, don’t. You’re a douche. You’re the guy at the party nobody wants to talk to. Get it?

So there we have it. My list of five things we can all do to make the world a better place. Let’s check back in twelve months time to see if it worked.

No point in complaining

I have received a response from the BBC to my complaint. Before I opened it I thought ‘ooh, that’s prompt,’ but having read it I can see why that is; because it’s basically a copy and paste job that doesn’t actually answer my complaint in any way. Here’s my original complaint:

I am writing to complain that your coverage of UKIP is entirely unbalanced, and driven entirely by a narrative that you wish to push, rather than by the facts. UKIP are not as yet a political party with any sway, and certainly with no more influence than the Green Party, yet you cover them with the same zeal and fervour that you do the main three parties, whilst ignoring the other smaller parties.

Where was your coverage of the Green Party conference? I don’t recall it getting mentioned in any of your TV or radio bulletins, and yet the UKIP party conference led the news reports. At the time of the conferences, the Greens were the only party of the two with a sitting MP, so why the publicity of one over the other?

Your organisation’s desire to have a political narrative that will engage viewers, readers and listeners with a ‘juicy story’ is having a huge impact on the political landscape, and quite contrary to the BBC’s principles of impartiality. Please can you address this and redress the coverage shown to this party and give it the status commensurate with its actual position in the political landscape.

Here’s the BBC’s response:

Dear Mr Stephenson

Thank you for contacting us about the proposed format for the 2015 General Election debates. We have received a wide range of feedback from supporters of different political parties across the UK. In order to use our TV licence fee resources efficiently, this response aims to answer the key concerns, but we apologise in advance if it doesn’t address your specific points in the manner you would prefer.

The BBC is working with other broadcasters to try and make election debates happen in 2015 and we believe we have set out a fair and realistic formula. Twenty two million people saw some of the debates in 2010. They were very successful in engaging the electorate, especially first time voters and the broadcasters would like them to happen again at next year’s general election. We are also putting forward our own proposals for other debates across the UK.

Ensuring impartiality during an election campaign is a priority and judgements about debates, and other programmes, are taken on the basis of objective editorial assessments of a number of factors, including the levels of past and current electoral support for each party.

Although UKIP did not win a seat in the 2010 general election, they polled more than three times as many votes as the Green Party, which did win a seat. In the 2014 European elections, UKIP topped the poll, beating all the Westminster parties in terms of seats (24) and share of the vote (more than 27% - up more than 10% on 2009).

The Greens won three seats in the European election, with just under 8% of the vote (a small drop since 2009). UKIP have also performed strongly in local government elections in England for the past two years and have more councillors than the Greens. Before their victory in Clacton, UKIP had come second in every Westminster by-election for the last two years – the Greens’ best performance was around 4%.

We also take account of opinion polls, when there is a robust and consistent trend: UKIP have been regularly polling in the mid-teens for more than two years, well ahead, for instance, of the Liberal Democrats and around 10 percentage points ahead of the Greens.

In Scotland, the BBC is proposing a debate, in peak time on BBC One, involving the leaders of the SNP, Scottish Labour, the Scottish Conservative and Scottish Liberal Democrat parties. We are proposing a similar format of debate on BBC One from Wales, involving the leaders of Plaid Cymru, Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP. We have written to the parties to begin discussions about our proposals and we will ensure impartiality during the Election in Scotland and Wales. Full details of our content will be released over the coming months once they are finalised.

We hope this goes some way in addressing your concerns, thanks again for taking the time to contact us. Kind Regards BBC Complaints

So, I wrote a complaint about news coverage of UKIP and got a pro-forma response about the debates. Nice to see it was taken so seriously. Quite aside from the facts quoted within their response being somewhat selective in their use in order to justify their narrative, I still maintain that UKIP’s polling position is inflated largely off the back of the huge boost in coverage, which makes their justifications a bit chicken and egg. That was the point I was trying to make in my original complaint.

Which they ignored.

There’s nothing in their email either about going back to them to give feedback to their response, so if I want to challenge it I’d have to send another complaint, referencing the first one.

Or, I could just bitch about it on the internet. Yeah, I’ll just do that.

Here comes the complainer

I wrote a complaint to the BBC today, which was a first for me. I love the BBC. I’ve always been part of the minority who feel the license fee represents great value for money, that the positive impact they have on the country as a whole is worth the cost. I’m not naïve enough to believe everything they do is farting sunshine and rainbows, but they’re actually that rare example of a British institution that I’m proud of. Which has made the way they’ve fallen so desperately in love with the narrative of the UKIP surge so thoroughly depressing. I get that it’s a story, but leading into the next general election we have a dangerously right wing lunatic fringe being actively championed and promoted through the national mainstream press. It’s bewildering and infuriating, so I thought I’d throw my tuppence into the ring. The BBC are not the only culprits, not by any means (I note it's ITV who have invited Farage to fart his half baked opinions into their cameras alongside the traditional three leaders and haven't invited SNP or the Greens) but they are the one I help to fund.

Once I’d written it, I realised that the most it’ll achieve is to bore some intern at the complaints office for the minute it’ll take them to read it, so I might as well repeat it here, so it can bore you too. So here it is:

*Straightens tie and adopts Points of View voice*

Dear BBC (I didn’t write that, but it looks better on here)

I am writing to complain that your coverage of UKIP is entirely unbalanced, and driven entirely by a narrative that you wish to push, rather than by the facts. UKIP are not as yet a political party with any sway, and certainly with no more influence than the Green Party, yet you cover them with the same zeal and fervour that you do the main three parties, whilst ignoring the other smaller parties.

Where was your coverage of the Green Party conference? I don't recall it getting mentioned in any of your TV or radio bulletins, and yet the UKIP party conference led the news reports. At the time of the conferences, the Greens were the only party of the two with a sitting MP, so why the publicity of one over the other?

Your organisation's desire to have a political narrative that will engage viewers, readers and listeners with a 'juicy story' is having a huge impact on the political landscape, and quite contrary to the BBC's principles of impartiality. Please can you address this and redress the coverage shown to this party and give it the status commensurate with its actual position in the political landscape.

*Shuffles paper*

So there you go. Doubt it’ll have any impact but worth a shot.

If you’d like to do the same, you can do so here.

Inactions have consequences

What a wanker Tomorrow is European Election day here in the UK (and also some local elections but alas, not for me). Now, I bloody love election day. I love voting. I love politics so much I did a degree in it, and somehow my affection for the subject even managed to survive studying it. Unfortunately for me I live in the single most apathetic political system in the world, with a populace even more apathetic than that. It's a real bummer.

If you are sitting there thinking ‘hang on Paul, you’re going to have to provide some serious demonstrable evidence to back up that wild claim’ then I hear you, and here it is:

UKIP are likely to win the European Elections tomorrow.

See what I mean? We’re screwed.

I'm not, in case you are interested, about to lay out the case for why you shouldn't vote UKIP. If you are really interested, you can find that out for yourself. It shouldn't be hard, they're fucking lunatics.

UKIP, in case you are reading this in another country, wouldn't like you. They are a buffoon led shower of shit of a political party who believe in banning immigrants, the gays, the European Parliament and basically anything that doesn't conform to their utterly warped nostalgia for a Britain that never even existed in the first place. Or to put it another way, imagine an ideologically fascist party led by Basil Fawlty.

How on earth did we get to this point? How does this once reasonably sane nation stand 24 hours away from letting these cretins anywhere close to elected office? Well the first thing they seem to have going for them is the aforementioned terrifying clown of UK politics, Nigel Farage. He’s a cretinous buffoon, but an affable one, and no matter how many clangers he drops personally about not wanting to live next to a Bulgarian, or how many utterly insane people staff the fringes of his party, his clownish antics and man-of-the-people shtick have made him incredibly popular with two very important groups of people.

Firstly, he’s loved by the right wing leaning anti European section of the populace, of whom there are a great deal. They love to bleat on about nasty immigration and the nasty European Union without bothering to actually learn anything about either of them. Taxi drivers and people who read the Daily Mail essentially, but who (correctly) think the Tories are a bunch of stuck up toffs who don’t speak to their issues.

Secondly, the media. They luuuuurve Nigel. Especially the telly news. Turn on your television tonight and if you flick around the channels for more than a few minutes you'll see his grinning, gurning face staring back at you. Why, you might ask, does our notoriously left wing media luuurve nasty Nigel so? Because they love a narrative, and they love characters. Nigel and his buoyant UKIP lunatics are giving them the former by coming out of left field and doing well in the polls, and they have plenty of the latter with a party basically stacked full of Tim Nice But Dim types who are utterly incapable of getting through an interview without putting their feet in their mouths and farting.

Nigel Farage has been on BBC’s Question Time fourteen times since 2009, more than any other politician from any party, despite the fact that he leads a party with not one single elected member of parliament, which places them behind the actual fourth party in the UK, the Greens, who have one.

In the lead up to the election the whole tone of the coverage across all different types of media is based around how much of an upset we are on course to receive and the dynamic change to the political status quo, courtesy of our good friend Nigel. He was on the news again tonight. In a piece about Prince Charles' off air comments about Putin being 'a bit Hitlery', BBC News got reaction to the mumbled Royal political faux pas from the David Cameron 2000 Bot, Nick Clegg the turncoat and the one from Labour whose name is too dull to type. Then, at the end, Nigel Farage. Nobody bothered to ask Nathalie Bennett from the Green Party, or Nick Griffin (thank fuck) or indeed any of the other myriad small parties.  But Nigel gets a voice, for no visible reason.

The media sniff blood, an upset for the government, and the possible eradication of the Liberal Democrats. They finally have a story to make stuffy old politics exciting again, and they are pushing their narrative as hard as they can.

But this is a self fulfilling prophecy. The more coverage he and his merry band of nutters receive, the more normalised they become. People will be going out to vote for them tomorrow in their droves, because they’ve bought into their media driven narrative about sticking it to the political establishment and because they’ve got some half baked anti-immigration sentiment rattling around their heads. The endless promotion of this tiny party has made them suddenly more than a protest vote. He must be worth taking seriously, he's always on the news, after all.

Now, you might think that it’s only the European election, so who gives a shit? Surely registering a protest against the Tory led back of shitehawks we have in government is quite funny, right? Well here to me is the scary thing about tomorrow if UKIP win; It validates their agenda.

Not only that, it does so exactly one year before the General Election next year. You might think that UKIP winning a low turnout protest vote in a (supposedly) meaningless European Election is going to have a negligible effect on the General Election, but what we see tomorrow could shape the entire political agenda of this country for the next parliament.

If UKIP win tomorrow, or even get a good showing, then suddenly the Tories are going to be looking at their right flank running up to the general. They don’t want to be in a position next year where they are forming a coalition government again, they want to win it outright. In order to do that they cannot be leaching support from the Daily Mail reading right wing working class, which is the ground where UKIP is gaining ground on them.

They will look to Labour, utterly ramshackle and ineffectual under the stewardship of Ed Millibot and decide the more pressing concern is to shore up their own base. In order to do this they will turn the full weight of their government voice toward satisfying the ‘concerns’ of the UKIP deserters. This means every initiative, every proposal, the whole election machine of the Tories will lurch to the right.

How will Labour react to this? Well, being the directionless buffoons they are, they won’t look at the abandoned centre ground with delight and leap onto it, they’ll blindly follow the Tories to the right, because that’s what they do. For the last four years all we’ve seen from this opposition is them fumbling about to defend their record and playing blind catch up, so why would the next year be any different?

So all of a sudden, we head into a general election with the assembled might of the two biggest parties both scrambling to woo over the stereotypical UKIP voter, talking about immigration and Europe non stop, because that’s what they assume most people actually care about (and they may even be right, even more depressingly) with nobody speaking up for the left wing, aside from the broken lying Lib Dems and the Greens, who seem unable to get any media platform, despite their polls showing a trebling of support in recent years. Sorry, you need a narrative.

Then there's the immediate consequence to our standing in Europe. Give them control of the UK voting block in the European Parliament and they can claim to be the voice of the British people. How terrifying a prospect is that?

So if you are thinking of not voting tomorrow, please think about what the consequences of that are. If you're not sure who to vote for, look online, read their manifestos, or visit the BBC Vote 2014 website. It may seem a trivial thing, to vote for a parliament that seems so utterly removed from our lives, but it is incredibly important. We need to stop this narrative in its tracks.