Wednesday, 16 April 2014

0 Should the State Promote Positive Liberty?



Bit of a serious article today about the promotion of positive liberty. I put my political thinker hat on here but feel free to correct me in the comments if none of this makes sense!


The concept of liberty is one of the most contested in politics, with several political philosophers expressing different views about what it is, and how or if one can promote it. I believe that it is very difficult for a state to promote liberty and in particular positive liberty. I don’t agree that positive liberty is even the best form of liberty for a state to “promote”, as it seems to me that the harder the state might try to promote this liberty the more they will encroach on it, as defined by other philosophers.

Positive liberty, for me, is an inherently flawed concept. It is described by Isaiah Berlin as simply “the wish on the part of the individual to be his own master”.  In this way Berlin argues that man could learn to consent to coercion and limitations to his freedom, as it would be accepted that these were only put in place for his own benefit, Berlin expresses this as “coercing others for their own sake”.

When positive liberty is compared to its counter-part, negative liberty, which promotes unlimited freedom for the individual, I believe that it becomes a far more desirable concept. This is because in many ways positive liberty seeks to improve an individual. Berlin argues that positive freedom allows an individual to come to terms with their “higher nature” rather than fall back into a Hobbesian “state of nature”.  The idea of achieving a “higher nature” is an attractive concept for the state to promote as it encourages people to ignore “irrational impulse” and the “pursuit of immediate pleasures” and focus instead on reason. A modern day example of this might be speed limits. The individuals desire is to drive always at 60 miles an hour, but through positive liberty he accepts it’s for his own good to drive slower in some areas, and this can only be seen as a good thing.  For this reason it can be argued that the state should promote positive liberty, if only as opposed to negative liberty.

However this argument can be undermined by the belief that positive liberty relies heavily on the existence of a form of negative liberty. In order to be able to promote positive liberty a state must first and possibly more importantly protect aspects of negative liberty. The argument that positive liberty is at least a better alternative to negative liberty becomes defunct, as you cannot have one form of either without both being in existence. Moreover the state is unable to promote positive liberty without harming negative liberty and this contradiction undermines the concept of the state encouraging freedom.
This is a problem that the philosopher Gerald MacCallum sought a solution to. He created a third definition of liberty, which was effectively a combination of positive and negative liberty.  He argued that ‘freedom is…always of something, from something, to do, not do, become, or not become something.’ The need for this new ‘triadic’ interpretation stems from the belief that Berlin’s concepts of liberty should be disregarded as being an over simple dissection of what is a very complex concept.

I think it is right to question whether even if a state wanted to “promote” positive liberty, it is actually possible to do so. Berlin’s positive liberty in its most advanced form lead to the individual achieving a form of “self realization” in which he is able to fulfil his own potential and find his “true self”. I would argue that this form of liberty cannot be promoted but instead has to come from within. The entire idea of this kind of liberty relies therefore on an optimistic if not idealistic view of human nature in which the individual is always seeking to do what is “right”.

This view of human nature is in complete contrast to the views of other important liberal thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes and Machiavelli, who have a different view of human behaviour. Hobbes views the individual as far more self-centred and materialistic being and describes people as being in a constant “war of everyone against everyone”. Machiavelli constantly mocked the humanist approach to society whilst questioning citizen’s loyalty and honesty. He deemed “all men are bad and that they will use their malignity of mind every time they have the opportunity”. If you adopt these two views of human nature then positive liberty can never truly be promoted. In a society based on these standpoints man will always seek to do what is best for himself and, using my previous example, drive at 60 miles an hour. Therefore where positive liberty is about the collective, thinkers such as Hobbes believe that liberty can only ever be used selfishly where freedom is purely “the liberty each man hath to use his own power, as he will himself, for the preservation of his own nature; that is to say, of his own life.”

The fact that people’s views of human nature differ is an argument in favour for the state not to promote positive liberty.  Even if you disagree with the views of the thinkers such as Machiavelli and Hobbes, positive liberty relies too heavily on an optimistic standpoint that requires the participation of all of society. I feel the idea that a state could promote this form of liberty in society is far too idealistic as there will always be those who think about freedom selfishly. Furthermore if a state does try too hard to promote this form of liberty they could end up destroying liberties altogether.

The most damaging argument against the promotion of positive liberty comes in fact from Isaiah Berlin himself.  Immediately after defining positive liberty Berlin warns of a “monstrous impersonation” in which the interests of the state become the interests of the individual rather than the other way around. C.S Lewis summarised this by saying; “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive”. This is a disturbing effect of positive freedom, and one that I believe was very prevalent during Tony Blair’s 10 year period in office. Between 1997 and 2007 New Labour introduced 3,000 new laws, more than a 1,000 of which carried jail terms. This is twice the rate of any previous administration and is a very local example of how positive liberty can in practice be its own greatest adversary.

It could be argued however that positive liberty is only a danger to freedom, as Berlin describes it, in its most extreme form. Yet I disagree with this as I think that if you compare just the simple concept of positive liberty with liberty as defined by other philosophers, it does not only contrast with their definition but also would, for them, not be liberty at all.
The best example is John Stuart Mill who created a framework in which he believed authority could be exercised. For him you are free until you directly infringe on another persons interests for him, “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” Where his theories differed most obviously from positive liberty is that he adamantly rejected paternalism arguing that people should not be protected against themselves. This is entirely at odds with the promotion of positive liberty where laws such as the smoking ban in 2007 are based on an almost entirely paternalistic argument.

Positive liberty I believe would be very hard, if not impossible to actually promote and would thus distract the state from other, more important duties. If a state, despite these arguments, did try to promote positive liberty, even in a moderate way, it would still infringe on freedom as defined by other thinkers. More dangerous than this is if positive freedom is promoted and used as a constant justification for legislation.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

0 Best Films Made in March

Credit 'Alberto Perea' Gopdfather

The BAFTAs are over, the Oscars are all but decided, surely nobody would bring out a film in March? You couldn’t be more wrong, here’s a list of great movies its about time you rediscovered, and guess what they all came out in that boring, film-less month of March. Enjoy!

March 15th, 1972- The Godfather

The Godfather has topped endless best film lists and remains one of the highest grossing pictures of all time. This film just refuses to get dated and it’s one that I’m more then happy to watch again and again. Better still whenever this snowstorm happens that we’re promised open up the DVDs and watch the whole lot back to back. It’s the ultimate move duvet experience (is that even a thing?).

March 27th 1987- Withnail and I
Screen shot 2014-03-06 at 18.48.11
Still the best thing Richard grant has ever done, Withnail and I is the sort of film that spawns endless ‘quote-offs’. The film follows two eccentric, out of work, actors off on a mini break to the Lake District. It’s very funny but also quite dark as….wait why I am bothering with this you’ve surely seen it before? I think you should all just go and watch it again.
March 6th 1998- The Big Lebowski
Screen shot 2014-03-06 at 18.45.28
Directed by the Coen Brothers I’m not gonna bother with a plot summary for this one because, to be honest, it’s very random. That said it’s an ideal choice for one of those dark and depressing March evenings. Funnily enough it didn’t get that much praise in the press when it originally came out in March 98 but it built itself a cult following over time, and surely deserves its place on this prestigious, if slightly strange, film list.
March 31st 1999- The Original Matrix
Screen shot 2014-03-06 at 18.46.47
I put the word original in the title here so as not to accidently recommend the sequels, of which it has become almost obligatory to slag off when talking about The (original) Matrix. I still remember first watching this film and being completely blown away by all the effects. What’s great is that they still look convincing to our 2014 eyes, so you can watch it again without feeling like you’re watching something that was made on Windows 97.
March 19th 2004- Eternal Sunshine of Spotless Mind
Screen shot 2014-03-06 at 18.47.22
This film doesn’t get as much credit as I think it deserves. It’s one of the few films where I actually enjoy Jim Carey’s performance and it’s both quite funny and very sad in equal measures. It was pretty big when it came out but again it’s sort of built up a cult following since then. I won’t be surprised if you haven’t seen it, but even if you have, the DVD’s probably dirt cheap, join the cult.
So you may have noticed I haven't been posting on here. That is because I have been appointed the new Film Editor of About Time Magazine. Take a look here: About Time. If you want to write about film then email me at cass@abouttimemagazine.co.uk.

The BAFTAs are over, the Oscars are all but decided, surely nobody would bring out a film in March? You couldn’t be more wrong, here’s a list of great movies its about time you rediscovered, and guess what they all came out in that boring, film-less month of March. Enjoy!
March 15th, 1972- The Godfather
Credit 'Alberto Perea' Gopdfather
The Godfather has topped endless best film lists and remains one of the highest grossing pictures of all time. This film just refuses to get dated and it’s one that I’m more then happy to watch again and again. Better still whenever this snowstorm happens that we’re promised open up the DVDs and watch the whole lot back to back. It’s the ultimate move duvet experience (is that even a thing?).
March 27th 1987- Withnail and I
Screen shot 2014-03-06 at 18.48.11
Still the best thing Richard grant has ever done, Withnail and I is the sort of film that spawns endless ‘quote-offs’. The film follows two eccentric, out of work, actors off on a mini break to the Lake District. It’s very funny but also quite dark as….wait why I am bothering with this you’ve surely seen it before? I think you should all just go and watch it again.

March 6th 1998- The Big Lebowski
Directed by the Coen Brothers I’m not gonna bother with a plot summary for this one because, to be honest, it’s very random. That said it’s an ideal choice for one of those dark and depressing March evenings. Funnily enough it didn’t get that much praise in the press when it originally came out in March 98 but it built itself a cult following over time, and surely deserves its place on this prestigious, if slightly strange, film list.

March 31st 1999- The Original Matrix
Screen shot 2014-03-06 at 18.46.47
I put the word original in the title here so as not to accidently recommend the sequels, of which it has become almost obligatory to slag off when talking about The (original) Matrix. I still remember first watching this film and being completely blown away by all the effects. What’s great is that they still look convincing to our 2014 eyes, so you can watch it again without feeling like you’re watching something that was made on Windows 97.
March 19th 2004- Eternal Sunshine of Spotless Mind
Screen shot 2014-03-06 at 18.47.22
This film doesn’t get as much credit as I think it deserves. It’s one of the few films where I actually enjoy Jim Carey’s performance and it’s both quite funny and very sad in equal measures. It was pretty big when it came out but again it’s sort of built up a cult following since then. I won’t be surprised if you haven’t seen it, but even if you have, the DVD’s probably dirt cheap, join the cult.

Monday, 10 March 2014

0 About Time Magazine




I am very excited to announce that I have been appointed the Film Editor of About Time Magazine which launches today. A joint venture by Angelica Malin, one of the UK’s Top 10 Young Bloggers of the Year 2013, and Marc Boyan, CEO of Miroma Ventures, the company that have supported SBTV, Pinterest and Who What Wear, the magazine will set a new tone for approaching the concept of time.

This means I will no longer be posting so frequently on this site but will continue to add articles I have written for About Time after they appear. This blog has really grown in the past two years and Im very grateful to people who have read, shared and commented on articles. 

If you're interested in film and would like to write for About Time then please email me at cass@abouttimemagazine.co.uk

Thanks,

Cass

Monday, 17 February 2014

0 The 5 Best Documentaries You Haven't Seen



It's great to see that documentaries are slowly becoming more and more popular. They even have their own category now at the Oscars. The only problem is that most people only ever watch mainstream docs, the Michael Moore's, Man on Wire, Project Nim etc etc. I guess the problem is that the lesser known but equally brilliant ones are difficult to find. If only someone curated a list on their obscure blog...the wait is over:

1. My Kid Could Paint That.

This is a brilliant doc, totally absorbing. It's in the same style as other, more well known factual films like 'The Imposter' in that it's full of twists and turns and you never know quite what to think. The film follows the story of the 'young prodigy' artist Marla Olmstead whose work is launched into artistic fame when her art is noticed by local dealers etc. Her art keeps rising and rising in value until questions begin to be asked about its authenticity. The clever thing about this film is that it becomes as much about the making of the film as it does about the subject matter. Art can be boring, this film isn't. 


2. Mitt

This came out quite recently and completely passed me by (and probably most of you guys too)..it's a Netflix film, so that is probably why. Anyway anyone who is remotely interested in politics and in particular U.S politics should watch this. Amazingly the director, Greg Whiteley, had access to Mitt Romney over a period of six years and he shows us for the first time what it's like to be running in big political campaigns in the USA. The only worrying aspect is that access may have come at the expense of neutrality as Mitt certainly comes over as an awfully nice guy. That said, the film is amazingly personal and deeply revealing. 

                                  Trailer Link

3. Big Brother Watching Me: Citizen Ai Wei Wei

I knew about Ai Wei Wei before I watched this film, 1 hour and 12 minutes later I was obsessed with him (to the point that I even tried to buy one of his turbine hall seeds). This documentary shows Ai Wei Wei for what he is, a crazy, fearless, random, GENIUS. The timing is perfect as it begins the moment he is released from Chinese prison. Whereas most journalists are stuck just shouting questions at him on the streets, this documentary crew follow him into his home where we see the effect captivity has had on him (he is even more mad). For me this man is one of the most important in China and therefore by association so is this film. What's more it's still on IPlayer so you can watch it in the UK for free. Good old BBC.

                                 IPlayer Link

4. Deliver Us From Evil

With Mea Maxima Culpa coming a close second this is easily the most shocking and disturbing documentary I have seen on the subject of abuse within the Catholic Church. The completely outrageous thing about this film is that it's subject, potentially one of the most evil men I've ever seen, is one of the main contributors. The fact that he agreed to be on this film seriously enhances its impact with his cold words juxtaposing the raw emotion that his victims are feeling. This is certainly one of those documentaries that makes you really angry, and would turn anyone, however religious against the Catholic Church. I think it's such an important film so sit down and take note.

                                   Trailer Link

5. The September Issue

So I thought I would balance out the last one with something a little lighter. I'm not that interested in fashion but this documentary is fascinating from a journalism point of view. With unique access it follows the making of Vogue's September 2007 issue, with all the office politics and preparation that goes into making the edition. By no means is this the best documentary on this list but it's very watchable and provides an interesting REAL insight into the fashion business.

Trailer Link


Friday, 14 February 2014

0 Should Media Ownership (and Murdoch) be limited in the U.K?



This is a long piece (to read over the weekend) about media ownership in the U.K. I have tried to make it quite balanced and present both sides of the debate. A have used a fair few articles so included a Bibliography at the bottom. Any responses please comment below.

From owning a half share in two Adelaide Newspapers, Rupert Murdoch has gone on to create a global media empire.  His company is not only the largest newspaper publisher in Britain, but internationally it also owns one hundred and three television stations, sixteen film companies, nineteen newspapers as well as multiple websites and publishing arms. There’s a constant debate over whether this influence is bad for the countries in which he operates. I will access both the positives and negative aspects of large-scale media empires to help judge the necessity of placing limits on the level of media ownership.

Limiting the size of an individual’s empire would be fair when the influence they have on the British media agenda is unfair. Rupert Murdoch has openly admitted to being a radical conservative and when asked in a magazine interview in 1986 to what extent he influenced the editorial posture of his papers, he replied, “Considerably, the buck stops on my desk. My editors have input, but I make final decisions".[i]

In Britain this influence was no more obvious then in the debate over the Iraq War. Rupert Murdoch was clear in stating that George Bush was acting “morally” and “correctly” over Iraq and that going to war would reap benefits from reduced oil prices. It therefore came as no surprise when The Sun, Times and Sunday Times in Britain all backed the war. This was an international trend, intervention was backed by his US papers and all five of the largest Murdoch papers in the main Australian cities, despite 76% of Australians opposing intervention without full international backing.[ii]
Andrew Neil[iii], who worked as an Editor under Murdoch describes clearly the process. It starts with “increased emphasis on editorial opinion” which allows for the  “appointment of reporters and editors who more closely hew to the Journal's (and therefore Murdoch's) op-ed worldview”.

Accounts like these and many others have lead Murdoch to be criticised for using his media companies as a huge personal pressure group. In Australia, Murdoch’s views on intervention were just the start. There he owns the only national paper, 70% of the capital city papers as well as Sky and others. This has lead to a situation where war, jingoism and a whitewashing of Australia’s colonial past are promoted in all of Murdoch’s outlets or what John Pilger[iv] calls a ‘murdochracy’.  On this evidence, the case for limiting Murdoch’s empire seems unarguable.

However, you could argue that the fact that one man owns so many news outlets is also quite beneficial. With so many outlets it is extremely difficult for each one to be controlled whilst they are all funded by him. If limits were put on media ownership, Britain’s new media industry would consist of smaller, brighter and more independent papers but they would be more reliant on advertisers.

Already many papers in Britain need advertisers with the revenue from ads in nationals estimated to be worth £1.09bn[v]. If market ownership was limited then this revenue would become even more important to publishers. In America, where commercials provide 82% of newspaper revenue, advertisers are blamed for killing off a consumer driven market and undermining buyer power.

The power of advertising money leads to accusations that papers seek to attract richer readers to their papers by including more elitist content[vi]. Janine Jackson of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a news media watchdog group, told the American Free Press that 60% of journalists surveyed by FAIR had admitted that advertisers “try to change stories”[vii]. Only this month, respected journalist Dick Metcalf had his column removed from Guns and Ammo magazine after he wrote a piece titled “Let’s Talk Limits,” which debated gun laws. The publishers, InterMedia Outdoors, were forced to take action when two major gun manufacturers said “in no uncertain terms” that they would no longer do business with the company if he continued to work there[viii].  Murdoch’s papers have to worry less about losing big business backers; Murdoch continues to fund the Times despite the fact that it currently looses around one million pounds a week, a statistic that many other owners wouldn’t put up with[ix].

The question specifically asks if entrepreneurs should suffer for their successes. History tells us they shouldn’t. In America, the papers of the pre-1830 period cost about six cents each. This was nearly 10% of a workers daily income. However thanks to investment from individual owners new steam powered cylinder presses were created so that papers could be produced cheaply and thus read by more people[x].

The British Government has a history of trying to place limits on publishers. Their stamp duty rises, which were aimed specifically at radicals like William Cobbett lead to the consumption of British Newspapers to remain stationary for twenty years from 1815 to 1830. It was thanks to media entrepreneurs who refused to pay the tax for their publications that the duty was scrapped and papers became cheaper[xi]. The current government is already passing legislation that binds the press uncomfortably close to politics. It would be a mistake to allow the government of the time the power to choose who can and can’t own Britain’s media.

Unfortunately despite the stability he brings, Murdoch has changed, not only public policy but also the nature of reporting itself. This is most egregious in the way he fashioned his first British publication, the News of the World. After a long battle to buy the paper, he was quick to install his own brand of controversial journalism. He paid £21,000 for a revamped version of Christine Keeler’s Profumo memoirs. This, along with what the press council described as an unethical exploitation of sex, lead to Murdoch being criticised for his methods on all sides[xii]. His obsession with the salacious eventually lead to the downfall of the paper as Murdoch’s journalists went to ever more extreme methods to expose the very personal to the public. Even so, to suggest that Murdoch is wholly responsible for dumbing-down the British press is unfair. Journalism in Britain was changing back in the 1890s when owners like Alfred Hamsworth (Daily Mail) began using shorter paragraphs with more simple sentences to create the country’s first ‘tabloids’[xiii]. Murdoch is following a historically successful principle that sex and simplicity sells.

To set limits on Rupert Murdoch’s industry is to presume that he can influence the public very easily. In fact it could the very opposite, it may be the case that the public will always form their own opinion, stronger then whatever they hear or read in the media. This is reinforced by the fact that trust in the media is at an all time low, just 30% of members of the general public and 33% of the “informed public” trust the media[xiv]. Murdoch can print want he wants in his papers, but the public may no longer be listening.

With his record of intervention in international politics and war, a Murdoch without limits is certainly a frightening prospect. In this way there’s no doubt that restrictions should be set to do everything possible to stop Murdoch replicating his Australian media empire in Britain. However any sort of Government interference with the media markets should be met with an equal amount of suspicion. A decision regarding media ownership levels is a choice between allowing Murdoch, or the Government, greater control over Britain’s media. This choice, unfortunately, will be based on whichever is the lesser of two evils.







[i] Parenti, M., 1993, The Politics of News Media. 2nd ed. New York: St Martin’s Press, p.36.

[ii] Greenslade, R., 2003, Their master's voice, Guardian Online, Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2003/feb/17/mondaymediasection.iraq, Accessed 4th January.

[iii] Neil, A., 2007, Lessons from a Former Murdoch Man, Upstart Business Journal, Online, Available at: http://upstart.bizjournals.com/views/columns/2007/07/30/Andrew-Neil-on-Murdoch.html?page=all, Accessed 6th January.

[iv] Pilger, J., 2010, Welcome to the first murdochracy, New Statesman Online, Available at: http://www.newstatesman.com/international-politics/2010/03/pilger-australia-murdoch-media, Accessed 5th January

[v] Sweney, M., 2013. UK newspaper advertising facing bleak forecast for 2013, Guardian Online, Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2012/dec/11/uk-newspaper-advertising-bleak-forecast-2013, Accessed 6th January.

[vi] Herman, E. & Chomsky, N., 2002. Manufacturing Consent. The Political Economy of the Mass Media. 2nd ed. New York: Pantheon Books, p.14.

[vii] Prestage, J,, 2002. Mainstream Journalism: Shredding The First Amendment. Online. Available at: http://www.globalissues.org/article/385/shredding-the-first-amendment, Accessed 10th January.

[viii] Somaiya, R., 2013, Banished for Questioning the Gospel of Guns, New York Times Online, Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/business/media/banished-for-questioning-the-gospel-of-guns.html?_r=0, Accessed 12th January.

[ix] Sabbagh, D., 2012, News Corp's publishing arm to focus on losses at Times and Sunday Times, Guardian Online, Avaiable at: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2012/dec/07/news-corp-slashing-losses-times, Accessed 6th January.

[x] Forester, J, M. 1987. Critical Theory and Public Life. USA: Alpine Press, p.24.

[xi] Bloy, Dr. M., 2013, The campaign for a free Press, History Home, Online at: http://www.historyhome.co.uk/peel/social/unstamp.htm, Accessed 6th January.

[xii] Greenslade, R., 2004, Press Gang: How Newspapers Make Profits From Propaganda, London: Pan, pp213-14.

[xiii] Sparks, C., Tulloch, J., 2000. Tabloid Tales: Global Debates over Media Standards, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, p.121.

[xiv] Turvill, W., 2013, Only 30 per cent of Britons trust the 'media' in the wake of Leveson, Press Gazette Online, Available at: http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/media-distrusted-30-cent-britons-wake-leveson, Accessed 7th January.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

0 The Backbencher: Interview




Here is an interview I did recently with the Founder and Editor of "The Backbencher". You can find his site here.


As a bit of a political fanatic, “The Backbencher” is a website I’ve had my eye on for a while. It has seemingly come from nowhere, and has slowly being making a name for itself as a political website with a bit of an edge. Today it has 1.7 million readers and is starting to find ground amongst a busy market. For a University project, I thought it would be a great opportunity to try and speak to the backbencher himself.

At 25, Alex MacDonald is almost the same age as me, and is currently a student up in Scotland. Amazingly, he tells me, he only started the site a year ago, with the all too familiar motivation of frustration with his University newspaper. Alex was so annoyed with a typo on the front page that he started his website the very next day. This wasn’t actually the first time he’d tried to launch a politics site. His first, followed in the mould of “Total Politics” and tried to remain impartial. It was Alex’s first failure and it was at the front of his mind when he set out to create “The Backbencher”.  What started out as just a small personal site, soon grew and began taking pieces from impressive contributors.

He describes his new site as “libertarian, but really borderline anarchist”. The way he sees it, there was one final gap in the market for a site that was truly radical, vehemently pro-business and unafraid to be very, very controversial. It was controversy that got things started, the young editor can barely contain his glee when he tells me that his first article to garner a ton of hits was a list of “three things you didn’t want to know about Mandela”. Where other writers like Paul Stains and Iain Dale have all the political connections, Alex argues it’s his original columns and content that sets his site apart.
Now in it’s third year, investors are regularly approaching “The Backbencher”. Investment would allow for the hiring of writers to boost the site’s output. Alex knows there’s no money to be made but he’s also well aware of the power that comes with having an influential online political voice. Furthermore he’s been working freelance at the Telegraph after he wrote to their Editor complaining about errors they had made in a story about his website. Being a (very) part-time blogger myself, I ask Alex for some advice. His immediate response is to choose a niche subject and a great brand. Promoting that brand means using new forms of social media and ensuring that content is original and of course, controversial. In a market that is already filled with big brands like “The Spectator” and “New Statesman” on both sides of the political compass, it’s without doubt that, for Alex, in order to be successful you have to first dare to be different. 

Monday, 10 February 2014

0 How the Lib Dems Should Fight the Next Election.


I thought it would be an interesting idea to try and put myself in the shoes (or sandals) of a lib dem advisor ahead of the next General Election. What follows is not espeically my views, but more what I imagine a pre-election brief might look like. If you ask most people, they'd probably say there's no hope. But if they follow some of these tactics, there may be a chance for them yet...

Background: 

With the election approaching fast (7th May 2015) the party is in the unprecedented position of fighting from the position of the incumbent government, having been a part of a coalition. It is thus more important then ever to have a clear and distinctive strategy. The issue revolves around people’s perception of our role in Government. A YouGov poll (29/11/13) told us that people are no longer sure what we stand for anymore. When asked which party policy "chops and changes” to the point where you no longer know what they believe in, the Liberal Democrats came top with twenty-six percent (compared with Lab25 and Cons22). This poll makes it clear that we need to approach the election with a very clear policy message. Furthermore we must show the public how we have been consistent in government by both fighting for our own policies (as promised in our manifesto) and also acting as a constant check on a potentially brutal Conservative Government. 

The problem facing the Liberal Democrat Party: 

Our perception problem is going to be antagonised by the election tactics of the Labour and Conservative parties. Labour will attempt to attack the party for being in government with the Conservatives. This has consistently been the position of Ed Miliband who in a Times interview in March this year said he would find it “very difficult to work in a future Labour government with somebody who has taken the opposite position in a Tory government”. 

Meanwhile the Conservatives will try and take credit for any economic recovery. This is an important factor as this election will be won and lost on arguments over the economy. The latest IPSOS-MORI poll (September 2013) that looked at which party people believe would best run the economy put the Liberal Democrats last on just five percent, compared with thirty-eight percent for our coalition partners. We need to fight hard at the next election to change this figure and take back some of the credit from the Conservatives for Britain’s economic recovery. 

To battle these problems, we propose a simple four point solution that should be considered when shaping our campaign in 2015. 

1. We need to work hard to highlight positive Lib Dem policies that we have implemented and which wouldn't have happened without the Liberal Democrats in Gov. The Liberal Democrats have managed to introduce several social policies, which may not have been implemented under a Conservative only government. Examples of these include free school meals for six and seven year olds as well as the extending of free childcare to 130,000 of the most disadvantaged two-year-olds, starting from September 2013. The economy is key. By a margin of two to one people expect the economy would get worse if Labour won the next election. Our campaign needs to point to individual economic policies that were in or manifesto and that have been implemented with a positive effect. For example raising the personal allowance from £6,475 to £10,000 a policy that only we fought for at the last election and which has taken half a million people out of tax altogether. 

2. We must point out where we have lessened or blocked further cuts/ bad policies from coalition partners. We must remind voters that without a Liberal Democrat influence the cuts to public spending would have been faster and deeper. Before the 2010 election, the Conservatives promised an instant cut of twelve billion in Government funding across departments. Had the Liberal Democrats not joined in coalition these cuts could have stifled our economy and prevented the growth we see today. Other examples where the party successfully blocked the Conservatives are in their attempt to change the election boundaries for their own political gain, plans to raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1m and the attempted revival of O-levels. At conference you argued that the Liberal Democrats had blocked no less then sixteen policies and we need to lay these out and highlight them as proof of our effective opposition to our Conservative coalition partners. 

3. Point out flaws in policies of Ed Miliband on Labour. Throughout our time in government the leader of the opposition has been highly critical without offering very many alternative policies. We have made difficult decisions in the public interest, resulting in an economic recovery. Meanwhile they have talked down the economy and have been proven wrong in key areas such as their predictions for unemployment and growth. Early policies we should seek to opposed are their implausible promise of an energy price freeze as well as their lack of clarity over the exact nature of the cuts they would have to make in government. As a leader YouGov polling (02/12/13) shows you score the highest of the leaders for being "honest" and "in touch with ordinary people". This can be pronounced throughout the campaign by making it clear that you fought for ordinary people as a minority coalition partner whilst Ed Miliband simply opposed from the sidelines. 

4. Layout some of the key changes we would fight for if we win more seats/a majority. The media is portraying the party as being potential coalition partners to whichever side wins in 2015 (if we do not win ourselves). Therefore we need to make clear to the people the policies we would fight for if we were to join in another coalition. The public were put off by the behind-doors dealings after the last election and so we must outline in our manifesto several deal-breakers of any future coalition. Although it is currently too early to announce these, popular policy announcements could include a total shake up of the UK banking system as well as doing more (in terms of taxation) to help the least well off in society.

Just some thoughts really, what do you think they should do? Comment below.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

0 Wolf of Wall Street: Review





If you don't like reading film reviews with a plot synopsis followed by an inevitable attempt at an original analysis, I will make this really easy for you. Go and see this film. Damn it, I'm even going to post a link at the bottom of this review right now so you can buy tickets to your local Odeon, Vue whatever. I'm in America where it has just been released, but don't worry Brits, you don't have to wait long- the film is released 17th Jan in the UK. To be honest you can just skip the rest of this post and book your ticket to go and see it as it really is one of the best films I have seen in 2013 and probably it will be better then anything I see in 2014 too.

Right so if that gushing opening paragraph wasn't enough for you, I guess I have a couple more paragraphs to persuade you a little further. Im going to cover the synopsis bit quickly. The film is (amazingly) based on the true story of Jordan Belfort. He starts out as a young man working in a bank firm but quickly builds up to a wealthy stockbroker who sets up his own firm and begins living the high life, with plenty of sex, drugs and flaunting of banking regulations. As he makes more and more money, his life begins to spiral out of control.

The plot makes it sound all a bit financial. Don't worry, there's probably about ten minutes in total of financial technicalities. The rest of it, is an absolutely unrelenting roller coaster journey through the extraordinary life of this extremely sinful young millionaire. Every scene, from the first to the last, is an intense and graphic portrayal of a life on Wall Street. The detail is incredible and the story is so outrageous that when I was asked, half way through, if it was based on a true story, I snorted 'of course not'. 

A word on the acting. This is by far the best performance Leonardo DiCaprio has ever given. It's a shame he's up against Nelson Mandela, as any other year this would be a shoe-in for an Oscar. DiCaprio goes through the whole range- he's motivational, he's mad, he's smart, drugged up, depressed, delirious. He is totally absorbing throughout the film and seeing as he's in pretty much every scene, there's no doubt he takes a big chunk of the credit for it's excellence. That said, there's not one actor who stands out as giving a less than brilliant performance. Jonah Hill in particular is a revelation combing his work in serious and comedic drama to etch out a perfect supporting performance. 

Martin Scorsese, you are well and truly cemented in my mind as a genius director. The depth and detail in this film is unprecedented. Every chaotic image is so carefully captured, that you become completely absorbed in the world in which the story takes place. The scenes that happen in the firm, are like nothing I have seen before and remind me almost of the first time I watched the thousands of Orcs lining up for an epic battle in Peter Jackson's first Lord of the Rings. Scorsese pulls no punches, I was shocked, surprised and amused in equal measures and he finds (in my opinion) a great balance in the film both portraying the mad lives of these young millionaires whilst also mocking the whole chauvinist, capitalist culture at the same time.

Maybe it's because it was Christmas, but I could barely sleep after this, my mind processing all the various elements. If you want to start this year right, you'll take my advice and book tickets as soon as you possibly can. Then you'll probably understand why this review was quite so insanely gushing. 


Monday, 2 December 2013

0 Cinema Revolution


I go to the cinema a lot, at least once a week, and I just can't help but notice that a majority of cinemas in London are run down, depressing, lifeless buildings that are desperately in need of a bit (or a lot) of care. Cinema is as popular as ever, this helpful graph from Economics Help (original article) shows how attendance has been growing steadily since the 1980s.



2012 which isn't featured on the graph above was an especially good year. British cinema goers bought 173m film tickets and spent £1.17bn on admissions, according to the Cinema Exhibitors’ Association (CEA). This represents a four per cent rise from the previous year. Those of you living in London may have also noticed that the increase in attendance has coincided with a steep increase in the price of a ticket. What's more is that cinemas have been able to cash in by introducing a two-tier system on seats, charging for online bookings, charging extra for plastic 3D glasses that barely stay together for the duration of the film and of course by pushing the boundaries of believability when it comes to the price of popcorn. The graph below shows the rise of ticket prices in the UK on average:


Now you may notice that this graph only goes to just above the six pound mark. As I recently discovered on a trip to Odeon West End to see 'Gravity' (in 3D uh oh) tickets can now cost upwards of £15. In fact this is a great example. When you're paying £15 you might expect a little more then an over-crowded lobby, with one ticket machine and a carpet that has probably not been hoovered since the hoover was invented. The UK cinema market is run by three major UK companies, Cineworld, Odeon and Vue. In total, they are benefitting from 70% of the total market box office receipts and they own 60% of screens. These companies need to invest in the future of cinema. If cinemas become places where people no longer want to go and spend time then they will quickly loose ground to services offering films quicker and quicker after release, beamed directly into people's comfortable lounges. After all people don't want to go on dates that involve sitting on a sticky chair, shivering whilst sipping on a six pound slushed sugar water. 

It can be done. Michael Moore set up the most amazing Cinema in Michigan, America, run by volunteers, you can see brand new films for just $8. And look at how amazing it looks, going there would truly be an experience in itself.


Okay so i'm not expecting all Odeons to look like this, but with Cinema visiting on the rise in the UK I implore the big companies to use this momentum to start a mini-revolution. They need to update their buildings, screening rooms and lobbies. This could help the cinema to once again become the centre point of the area. Seeing a film is about the whole experience, a great film needs a great atmosphere and improving UK cinemas will result in a rise in film-going and hopefully as a consequence a fall in piracy. If you need an example of the sort of change I'm talking about, just go to the new cinemas at the Barbican. It's the sort of place you want to go, even if there's nothing showing. The big brands should follow suit and guarantee the future of UK cinemas for years to come.

Any comments please add below. 

Friday, 29 November 2013

0 The Royal Family: Behind Closed Doors.



I recently went to a lecture given by Heather Brooke (the unsung hero of the expenses scandal) all about freedom of information, how to use it, when to use it and who to use it on. One of the main lessons that came out of this lecture is that this 'free' information is actually hidden behind walls of bureaucracy, intricate laws and painfully time consuming processes. However what was even more startling was some of the establishments contained in the list of "no go" areas. 

 To cut a long story short, I'm talking about the Royal Family. Yes, Britain's favourite upper-class family was allowed (by the Government) to remain completely exempt from FOI. As it says on their own website: "The Royal Household is not a public authority within the meaning of the FOI Acts, and is therefore exempt from their provisions." By what definition could the Royal Family not be a public authority? They get money from the public, they 'rule over' the public, if it wasn't for the public they'd just be a an out-of-touch family with a giant council tax bill. Of course, criticising the Royal Family is massively unpopular, but they shouldn't be allowed to act like a public body when it suits them and a private family when it doesn't. 

 So what justification do they give for closing their gates to freedom of information? A spokesman for Buckingham Palace quoted in the Independent in 2011 argued that the "Freedom of Information Act had failed to protect the constitutional position of the monarch and the heir to the throne." Basically they feel that a major part of the Royal Family's job is to listen to and advise the government and by extension the future King/Queen, to do this requires total confidentiality. So in other words the two bodies that rule over the United Kingdom, and who draw their power from the people, should be allowed to discuss how to rule those people behind closed (locked and sound-proofed) doors. The argument just doesn't stand up. Furthermore, this aspect of the monarchy's role is a very small part of what they do (which if absolutely necessary could be ring fenced), everything else should be out in the open. 

 Now if this didn't go far enough, there's a whole extra part to this story. In 2011 the coalition sneaked through some extra changes within a document of plans ironically labelled "opening up public bodies to public scrutiny". These new additions to the FOI act reversed any slow creep towards increased transparency to England's most private public family. Now not only is the family covered but also lobbying and correspondence from junior staff working for the royals is also protected. This means whole new swaves of communication and costs can be hidden from the people paying for them. And there have been examples of expenses being exposed. Take the exposure of an attempt to use a state funds earmarked to tackle poverty to heat the over-sized rooms of Buckingham Palace. As of 2011, attempts like these will go unchecked and dangerously un-noticed. 

 I'm not having a go at the Royal Family themselves, they do a lot for the image and atmosphere in Britain. I just wish they'd grow up, move with the times and accept that being open about what they do and what they spend on a day to day basis would not be the end of the world. They should open up their perfectly polished doors, and let the likes of Heather Brooke take a look around. 

Any comments please post below.
 

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