Another disappointment

Life is, of course, full of disappointments – well unless you are seriously committed to your pessimism (and perhaps even then).  To try and keep the length of this post somewhat manageable, I shall restrict myself to those occasions where I have been overlooked and where so many others have not.

For example, despite the huge turnover in personnel over the years, I have yet to be offered a position in the Sugababes.  I even have quite a decent singing voice and some training in how to use it to advantage.  As a bass, I feel my voice would chime nicely with the apparent desire for low frequency music among today’s youth.  Perhaps the other “babes” were worried I would show up the paucity of their own vocal delivery?  Or is this yet another example of the sex discrimination which remains rife in the UK?

Similarly, my name has yet to be linked with the position of England manager – an increasingly unusual boast on a planet of a mere 7 billion souls.  I’ll admit my footballing skills are a little rusty and even in my pomp these skills could at best be described as poor.  I will also admit to a shaky grasp of the rules of the game – but this seems pretty key for management today.  I can say that I have represented my school in the white heat of competition as a cornerstone of the defence – though, if pushed, will admit this was against a village primary school team so poor they would struggle to get past England on penalties and so team selection was drawn from a rather wider pool than would have been considered for more formidable opposition.  Talking of the soi-disant beautiful game, whilst at primary school I attended football practise every Tuesday for many years.  I think this goes to prove that while “practise” may make many things, it did not in my case make “perfect” (or even mediocre).

But, enough of reminiscence.  This morning I wandered out to exercise my franchise (and get my hair cut).  This gave me the opportunity to pick both a local councillor and an MEP (and so covering the full range of political representation).  For the council, I had a choice of five hopefuls – all representing political parties I had at least encountered in my life to date.  For the European option, I was given a telephone directory’s worth of names from a truly enormous range of political entities, many completely new to science (and, indeed, me).  Some of these were clearly aiming to split the xenophobic/racist vote – others were a complete mystery with their names and slogans giving no clue at all as to their political aims.  Clearly, at least one party (I think one of the more xenophobic) had taken its political strategy from the Yellow Pages and had appended the prefix “An” to the party name so that it would appear first and appeal to those too lazy (or tired) to scroll through the several pages of parties which appeared on the voting slip.  I was disappointed to discover that my own name was nowhere to be seen on this great roll of candidates – did I miss the memo?  I must be almost the only resident of Southampton not standing for a chance to enjoy a share of the monetary gravy doled out to MEPs.  Perhaps, the 60 or so followers of this blog mean that I am too well known to be an MEP – a role for which total anonymity appears de rigeur with one, very dishonourable exception who has had so much of the oxygen of publicity that he must surely soon be taken from us in the highest temperature example of spontaneous human combustion ever recorded.

Still, after a couple of hours of speed-reading I had made my way through my options and picked a poor unfortunate to represent my interests on the European stage (actually, I rather like Brussels – a city easily reached by rail and which offers good food and beer on arrival, what more could one ask for?).  My civic responsibilities cleared for another day, I returned home exhausted for lunch.

Notes on (many) a scandal

Scandals do seem terribly important in the world – without them the media would have to fall back on celebrity trivia, the voluminous output of the world’s PR machine and speculation for even more of their “news” content than is already the case

The media have themselves been rather mired in scandal of late which has allowed politicians, an unsavoury group that the fourth estate is supposed to keep in check, to gain the upper hand.  I’m not sure this is terribly healthy in a democracy – I was under the impression that a free press was quite an important element of maintaining a nominally free society. I’m not at all clear what this new Royal Charter is supposed to achieve – other than as a piece of political mis-direction – as all the recent press naughtiness it is supposed to prevent already seems to be covered by existing (if unenforced) laws.  Perhaps the money and time might have been better invested in improving enforcement of existing statutes rather than creating new ones not to enforce.

The press and politicos regularly come very low in measures of public trust – probably somewhere around the estate agent and second-hand car salesman of popular stereotype.  Rather than doing anything which might improve their standing, their main response seems to be to try and degrade public faith in much more popular and better trusted organisations (I’m sure attacks on Judi Dench and Stephen Fry can’t be far off).  I guess this is on the same principle that if you want to appear thinner, rather than losing weight you could save yourself effort by just hanging around with much fatter people.

Frequent targets for such attempts at public degradation would seem to be the Police, the BBC, the NHS and schools.  All have the major disadvantage that they are large, highly visible organisations heavily beholden to government (so are limited in how much they can fight back) and which have been used as political footballs for a very long time.  Being large organisations they make mistakes, sometimes terrible mistakes, as all large organisations do – but rarely receive huge bailouts using public funds in response as, to take but one example, the banks did in the not so distant past.  In common with most large organisations, they are all pretty dreadful at dealing with mistakes after they have been discovered – we don’t have to look far to see large private corporations with very well-funded PR departments making similar or worse messes.  I will, however, admit to frank amazement at how few corporate sex scandals dating back to the 1970s or 80s have yet surfaced which would suggest that some damage limitation is working very effectively (or is it just the lack of a celebrity angle preventing traction in the media?).

Many of the errors made by the public entities I have mentioned relate to, or are exacerbated by, the organisation tending to close ranks to protect apparent (or, indeed, actual) wrong doers.  Given the record of almost continuous attacks by both government and the press on these organisations for at least the 30 years when I have been (in age terms at least) an adult, this tendency to defensiveness is not so very surprising.  I have lost count of the number of major revolutions our schools and hospitals have been subjected to over the last couple of decades – any country or company treated this way would have been utterly destroyed by such treatment, but somehow education and the NHS struggle on surprisingly well.

Clearly, large publicly funded organisation require oversight – and this is, I believe, a role our elected representatives are supposed to fulfil.  However, this role seems rather incompatible with a number of other interactions between the overseers and the overseen:

  • the tendency of our representatives to use them as guinea pigs for any pet theory being hatched in the fevered mind of a cabinet minister (or his – or very rarely her – inconceivably highly-paid and unelected “advisers”);
  • their convenient status as a diversion from inconvenient political realities when the “bread-and-circuses” of celebrity tittle-tattle seems in danger of failing to placate the plebeian hordes; and
  • their role as a convenient source of savings or spending (delete as appropriate) to attract the floating voter in a very small number of marginal constituencies to allow our representatives to return to the Westminster gravy train.

Perhaps we need an apolitical elected body for such oversight, which might also be able to train its gimlet stare on the politically elected and the press?  The omens are not good, recent(ish) elections for the rather nebulous role of police commissioner were fully hijacked by the existing political lobbies and largely ignored by a disenchanted electorate.  How does one make electing an auditor seem worthwhile whilst keeping those already in power (or with hopes of quickly returning thereto) well away from it?  (Audit is always a tough sell, the role being likened to those that go around after a battle to stab the wounded).  Clearly we do not want to end up with the US system which, on recent showing, seems even worse than our own.  I’m open to ideas – or failing that, does anyone have Mary Warnock’s contact details?  She has a good track record in tackling very thorny issues as I was recently reminded by Lisa Jardine on A Point of View (discussing, as it transpires, an important issue unable to gain any attention from a scandal and celebrity-obsessed press).