Fighting fun politicians in the age of entertainment news

Yes, this is another “how do we fight back against the politics UKIP/Brexit/Trump” type of article, though I hope a different one to the rest.

I read two articles yesterday, both illuminating, but doubly so when read together. This on the BBC explains a cultural difference between the UK and Germany that may be hobbling diplomatic understanding. British are liable to say “oh no I couldn’t possibly” to mean yes, to which Germans will consider the matter settled at no. Swashbuckling overpromising bluster is far more tolerated in British political culture than in German, which values consistency much more highly and is to our ears extremely dull.

The other was this at the Washington Post expressing bemusement at the “corrupt Clinton” narrative that exists, when “Trump’s history of corruption is mind-boggling.” A list of Trump’s corrupt activities is given. Each has been reported and then we move on. Journalists shrug. The Florida attorney general takes a donation from Trump and drops an investigation into his “university”. Hillary, meanwhile is investigated to within an inch of her life, and even when nothing is found, the investigation is used to support a narrative of guilt.

The thing is that it isn’t news if Trump doesn’t pay his suppliers or employs illegal immigrants at below the minimum wage. It’s exactly what we would expect of him. I’m sure he would say “That’s because I’m smart.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had the sober and sensible political culture of Germany? Yes, but that’s not the point I am going to make.

This looks an awful lot like media bias, and doubtless there is some, but I don’t think that is what is going on here. A pro-Republican biassed media would not have talked Trump up so much in the primaries. The BBC – Farage’s dedicated propaganda channel – is, perversely, staffed by the quintessential liberal metropolitan elite.

No, the problem is that Trump and Farage are good entertainment television and good news copy. They are interesting because they say things that are outrageous. They awake us from our slumber in outrage either with, or in our case, against them.

Being reasonable and rational, and understanding differences, and trying to do the right thing for everybody, particularly the most vulnerable, is dull dull dull dull dull dull dull dull dull dull dull.

There are of course dull reasons too behind the Trump/Farage type of populism – this piece for example is good for understanding pro-Trump culture.

But what creates momentum is newsworthiness is entertainment is saying outrageous things to shake the moral fabric of society. When Trump, in the primaries, had something to say, the news corporations knew, rightly, people would watch, so they reported him, and not the others.

If Trump and Farage were paintings they would be hung in ultra-modern galleries and the decadent elites would go see them to be shocked out of their quotidian stupor.

And art has always rattled the moral fabric, whether for good or ill. It isn’t art if it is only allowed to be good.

So my plea here is not to whine about the shallowness of our political culture or that our news channels are too entertaining. It is for us to be more interesting. Remember Lembit Öpik, with his airline and Segways and asteroids. Sure, it didn’t work out for him in the end, but maybe he was on to something; maybe he was nearly right. You could ridicule Lembit without ridiculing his supporters, that is the difference.

Kinnock’s wit did him no good compared to Blair’s earnestness. Hague’s baseball caps were a disaster. Farage’s beer and fags are a hit. There isn’t a formula here for being interesting. Yet so many of the Liberal Democrats I meet are unique and genuinely fascinating people. The interesting is probably in there already.

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017, is a councillor in Sheffield and is Tuesday editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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  • Richard Underhill 1st Nov '16 - 11:58am
  • I remember that you were a candidate for Police Commissioner in South Yorkshire recently, Joe. Given the Home Secretary ducked the Orgreave issue yesterday, wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to write an article on matters of principle a bit nearer home ?

    I was pleased to see Gregg Mulholland made a brief comment in the Commons just now, but every Liberal ought to be deeply concerned at the activities of the South Yorkshire Police :

    David Conn’s article in the Guardian should be read by everyone who believes in truth and justice.
    “‘Burning injustice’ of Orgreave is left smouldering | David Conn” The Guardian‎ – 19 hours ago.

  • How about an article that doesn’t lump Trump and leaving the EU together. Coz they are not the same thing and America is really nothing like Britain The thing about Donald Trump is that he is a very American sort of figure and actually fits a very American tendency to elect Celebrities, Clint Eastwood, Jesse Ventura, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sonny Bono. Interestingly also mostly Republicans. Nigel Farage is not really the same thing at all. at a pinch maybe you could say he was vaguely similar to Ross Perot.

    As for the Germany thing and Britain in Europe. Has anyone else noticed that Countries with a strong Catholic history tend to support the EU, whilst in Britain the countries with a much smaller catholic influence voted Leave.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Nov '16 - 3:48pm

    I’ve got an exciting campaign the Lib Dems could run, but I’m not sure if the party could pull it off at this moment. It would be about patriotic liberalism. The benefit of this campaign would be that it would create a debate on what is patriotism and what is liberalism and people get protective about these things so plenty will probably get involved.

    It wouldn’t be a nasty campaign calling people unpatriotic, just emphasising a patriotic form of liberalism rather than an overly internationalist one. It would have to reach out to brexit voters and remainers alike.

  • Ref Orgreave…..Any enquiry would involve Mrs. Thatcher’s involvement….

    After death Margaret Thatcher has become ‘canonised’ by the Tory party…Her memory is sacred and her role in the miner’s strike, Savile’s knighthood and the Falkland’s fiasco will all remain hidden at least until my generation are long dead…

  • Matt (Bristol) 1st Nov '16 - 5:19pm

    But Joe, Martin, never forget we have benefitted from this ‘entertainment politics’ ourselves in the past – Charles Kennedy being the main case in point, never mind Opik…

    Glenn – “As for the Germany thing and Britain in Europe. Has anyone else noticed that Countries with a strong Catholic history tend to support the EU, whilst in Britain the countries with a much smaller catholic influence voted Leave.” That is such a broad-strokes generalisation founded on wonky logic it’s insane… The Reformation contributed to England’s wary culture and occasional paranoia with regard to the continental nations, true, but drawing straight lines between that and Brexit is reductionist to a fault.

    Your lazy logic doesn’t take account of Scotland, Northern Ireland, nations within the UK with complex religious histories of their own.

    Each country in Europe is unique. Each decision to enter or leave the EU is unique. The UK is absolutely not – despite much fantasisation – uniquely unique. Neither is it homogenous, or completely resolved on what happens now.

    Brexit isn’t about the historic or cultural or religious uniqueness or destiny of the UK, it’s about a series of errors made mainly in this country since World War 2.

    The last one of which was Cameron’s decision to have a referendum entirely for reasons of internal party management.

    A key part of the referendum error was further, that he had spent the immediately previous period of government alienating and taking power and quality of life from several groups of people who, whilst largely irrelevant to his party’s success in a constituency-by-constituency General Election on FPTP (which he made the great error of arrogantly broadcasting both overtly and covertly in any of several ways), could be mobilised against him and whatever he was proposing in a every-vote-counts situation, by a group of people who were in many cases already too close to him and his own planning to be outflanked by his own strategies.

  • Fair enough you don’t agree,
    But central point is Britain has nothing to with America, British people are nothing like Americans and British politics is nothing like American politics. You might as well pick a figure from Pakistan or Peru or any random natation and compare them to Farage or Trump. To me it’s just a pointless stretch. The only reason I said Ross Perot at all is because he at least , like Farage, was not from inside the dominant two party system and was essentially unheard of until he stood. Trump has been a celeb for decades and is running as the Republican candidate. Also every Republican presidential candidate is greeted with liberal/left hysteria and is said to be more dangerous/right wing than the next.

  • Was not the court jester a man, and a fool, that the king tolerated because he gave an entertaining and informative ‘truth to power’, that he [the king], could not get from his sycophant hangers on.? The real skill of the jester of course, was his intelligence to say just enough of what needed to be said, whilst keeping his head from the king’s axe-man.

    Maybe ‘truth to power’ has to be entertaining, as the most useful, non-violent way to make necessary changes. It seems that things begin to get difficult, when ‘power’, refuses to listen, and is no longer amused by ‘truth’.?

  • @ expats ” the miner’s strike, Savile’s knighthood and the Falkland’s fiasco will all remain hidden at least until my generation are long dead…”

    Well, I for one, have got firm plans to outlive this Tory Government, Expats, and I hope you have too. As for Joe, a bit of ferreting around in the files will do his credibility no end of good.

  • Jayne Mansfield 1st Nov '16 - 8:40pm

    @ Expats @ David Raw,

    Hang on in there. Please.

  • Glen,

    Quite simply your wrong. We can see a rise in voters revolts through out the West. Trump and Brexit are prime examples, but they are just the most extreme or is that successful. We have seen the rise of popular protest parties Five Star Movement in Italy, Podemos in Spain, The Pirate Party in Iceland; you could even claim the Front National, UKIP and Alternative for Germany are part of the same wave. Although there politics may differ and even there aims they all ride the same meme; we have been betrayed by our politicians and our institutions and only we can make our (insert country of choice) great again and free us from the people who have betrayed us.

    Of cause when they get into power they tend to fail badly and be much the same or worse than the people they replaced, but its a successful strategy, I think an ancient Greek philosopher may have hit on the problem we have and name it demagoguing.

  • Dear kind Jayne. How nice of you.

    Yes, I have every intention of being a thoroughly radical nuisance and outliving this appalling Tory government……………. and of stopping any more Lib Dem Coalition nonsense with them in the future.

    PS As for Trump he is a thoroughly nasty piece of work (as was the subject of that famous interview by Eddie Mair.) Oddly enough, so was said ex-Mayor’s hero – WSC.

  • One of the few pleasures of the last few months has been the implosion of UKIP…………..

    …….. and as for Farage, he has had more second comings than the original J.C.

  • As a member of the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, and a resident of South Yorkshire the important thing for me is that somebody else should pay for it.

    Perhaps you should approach the NUM…

    But until a strong case can be built to justify why the general public (not living in South Yorkshire) should pick up the tab, I see no reason why those, not living in South Yorkshire should cover the costs of such an enquiry. Also if “SYP is already due to be bankrupted by the cost of other legacy issues.”, perhaps SYP should pick up the tab… As this would provide an opportunity to disband SYP and for it’s duties to be taken over by other police forces…

    But if you insist on having an enquiry, perhaps the LibDems should also be pushing for an enquiry into the political use of the police by the government in the suppression of protesters at Newbury, Greenham Common, Twyford Down, etc.

  • Richard Underhill 1st Nov '16 - 9:59pm

    “the Falkland’s fiasco will all remain hidden”: the resignation of the Foreign Secretary, an hereditary peer, and his junior ministers lanced the boil and saved the PM’s position.
    The memoirs of her predecessor and former sailor Jim Callaghan show that he managed to find enough money to fund the one ship that was deterring aggression in the area. The Tories cut the budget and the Argentine junta decided that the UK no longer wanted to defend the Falklands.
    The PM personally took the decision to send a taskforce, while her Defence Secretary publicly said there was no air cover. He later said on the Today Programme that she was “impressed by men in uniform”.
    At a televised lunch at Buckingham Palace with President Reagan as guest the Monarch made her views known. The PM’s face went into her soup bowl, empty at the time.
    I recall a death toll of UK forces of 275, over 700 Argentinians.
    A British ship flying the skull and crossbones entered a British port, HMS Conqueror. The PM was correct to say that the Belgrano was a weapons platform, although sailing away from the Falklands when sunk by, the submarine.
    Working on a British ship in a British harbour my cousin contacted a highly contagious South American disease and died.
    The PM authorised the building of an airport in the Falklands. deterrence would have been much cheaper.
    The junta was replaced by a democratic government, welcomed by the UK PM “despite our differences.”

  • “As a member of the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, and a resident of South Yorkshire the important thing for me is that somebody else should pay for it.”

    It’s called economic liberalism…………. which is a posh way of passing the buck, not taking responsibility but leaving it to ‘market forces’………

  • Frankie.
    I don’t think I’m wrong at all. I think you are. For a start Trump isn’t the leader of a anew protest party. He is the leader of a very old and very established mainstream one. In fact a lot of what he says is very Reagan-like and a lot of the commentary about him is actually very similar. The difference is that he won’t win.
    I think the EU vote was about the EU. I think that one of the reason the liberal/Left toyed with and rejected a referendum was because the EU, only formed in 1993 and only really committed to in the 2000s, was not popular enough to guarantee a win. But of course the Remain camp have to pretend the vote was about everything other than the EU because it’s just easier than admitting the dream is dead. It’s like when anything dies or goes out of fashion. Lot’s of denial, lots of accusations, lots of raging against the unenlightened, etc.
    As for the protest party stuff. If people liked what they were being offered they wouldn’t protest, would they! These things don’t spring out of the ether.

  • Jayne Mansfield 1st Nov ’16 – 8:40pm
    @ Expats @ David Raw,…Hang on in there. Please….

    I’ll try; but as Mrs Thatcher’s papers will remain secret for 75 years I may have to defer to the ‘grim reaper’….

    Richard Underhill …You probably know it but Jim Callaghan not only funded the ‘Endurance’ but sent a ‘secret’ taskforce, in1978, to deter an Argentinian invasion…”Operation Journeyman”…The secrecy ensured the Argentinians were not humiliated into launching an invasion and no lives were lost….

  • We are seeing the rise of the antipoltician, they promise the earth and fail to deliver. Trump is the classic example of this, why is he popular, why did he defeat the likes of Bush and Cruz because he isn’t a poltician. Why are people flocking to demogues and how can mainstream parties stop this, perhaps by looking after the little man and woman.

  • Frankie,
    I think Trump beat the other Republicans because the party is in flux with the gradual retreat of the religious right and because they could not dent Obama in the last election. I don’t buy into the anti politics stuff at all. Cruz was if anything worse and Bush, aside from being a little too liberal for the current GOP, would have made it seem like they were electing candidates from a family Dynasty of not terribly well liked or successful presidents. To me Trump is the product of a party in crisis. He was able to capitalise on the directionless running about in a Republican organisation that was doing a pretty good impression of a headless chicken.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd Nov '16 - 1:04am

    Joe ,

    as often, thank you for this , excellent links , and article . I am increasingly keen to see Hillary Clinton elected, her Florida speech today superb !


    You really are wrong , as someone who married a wife of American origin , I believed , before I met her twenty plus years ago in my early post student years , and every day since , we have so much in common with the US ! We as Liberals even more than most . Their whole country is founded on liberal constitutional principles. Their culture is as connected to ours as is possible , while in diversity we differ and share. The fact that you do probably know so much of their politics , or programmes, media or music , shows it . Their history is bound up with ours , their language ours . Where and when we differ , we do so , and strongly , as friends. Their systems are better and worse than ours . But , unless you are Italian or Pakistani or Dutch origin , or from a number of other countries, you cannot tell me you know as much about those countries. That is a shame , but it does not mean we decry the friend , better to make newer or much closer ones too, wherever we find them . We need to show just how we do share much , for progressive liberal , democratic America , is alive and well and kicking !

  • @ Lorenzo Cherin
    “progressive liberal , democratic America , is alive and well and kicking !”

    The USA is a liberal democracy. Being a liberal democracy does not mean it is a liberal country.

    I think the USA was a liberal country under President Franklin D Roosevelt, but it does not appear very liberal today, or maybe it is a vocal minority that leads me to see the USA as anti-liberal and no longer “progressive”.

  • Lorenzo.
    Again I don’t think I am wrong. I think people just grow up thinking America is more like Britain than it is because of pop culture. But really America’s history and social influences are very different to Britain’s or England’s. I’m not criticising America. Great place. Visit it a lot. Why assume that if some says somewhere is different or the people are different that this is a criticism? Viva la difference. The point I’m making is that American politics is shaped by very different pulls and forces than the ones shaping Britain and thus trying to link them on anything but the most superficial level is just silly. Frankly, I don’t even think Scottish politics is the same or even that similar to English politics !

  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd Nov '16 - 3:34am

    Michael BG
    I understand what you say , but liberalism is there , google, Democratic Freedom Caucus, Liberal party of New York, American Liberal Review, Being Liberal Facebook, Liberal America, Green Liberal Democrats facebook, lots there !


    I did not take it as criticism , more as a shame to separate friends, understand your comments , more now , thanks

  • Glen,
    It wasn’t just Trump who emptimised the antipoltician, so did Sanders, people are angry across the Western world and unless politicians get it they will be endlessly surprised as their favourites and favoured policies are rejected. Quite often they’ll be rejected just because they represent the status quo not because they are bad, that goes for both the people and the policies. Its the plague on your house syndrome.

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Nov '16 - 8:06am

    Having just spent nearly a month in the mid-west, I must emphasise that an awful lot of the support for Trump is powered by exactly the same emotions as powered UKIP/Brexit. America IS still 52 states, not one. More than half the people living there either never leave or rarely leave their home state. Each state has its own laws, legislators, Senate, Supreme Court. They consider ‘Washington’ as alien to their own life as some people in the UK do about ‘Brussels’. When the country is on the economic slide (as both UK/Europe and US are/have been, long term) it is just too easy to blame ‘Washingon/Brussels for everything. And opportunist ‘politicians’ like Trump and Farage/Nuttall do.

  • @ Lozenzo Cherin

    The existence of a fringe Liberal Party in New York that has declined greatly since 1980 does not a liberal society make. What we need is to define what we mean by a liberal country rather than a liberal democracy. There is socially liberal (California might be an example, percentage of population who welcome same sex marriage might be a test). There is economically liberal (full employment, no time limits or conditions to social security, free health care, reductions in inequalities might be tests). For a country to be a liberal society there would need to be majority support (demand for) for all of these things. Both the USA and the UK fail this test.

  • Tony Dawson,

    As do the SNP who blame Wasteminster; I think we are starting to see a pattern here, lets just blame someone, anyone for our issues and once they are gone everything will be fine; if only life was that simple, still saves thinking I suppose.

  • Frankie,
    Political concerns shift. This does not mean that people have become “anti politics”. They have simply become dissatisfied with the current stance of their political representatives.
    What part of the Midwest did you visit? Detroit and Chicago are in The Midwest. Obama is basically from the Midwest.
    I voted Leave. I don’t blame the EU for every problem in Britain or even most or for that matter that many of Britain’s problems. I do find it sort of interesting that you seem to think dissatisfaction with an institution that is only 23 years old and involves nations with different languages, tensions, separate histories ect is comparable to regional US politics. To me the anti Washington thing is more like arguments about whether London is too dominant or whether we should have a monarchy or how to repeal the house of lords. If you ask most US citizens they will not talk about the Americas as if Argentina has anything to do the USA . Personally I do not see any reason to believe that British people should feel linked to German, French, Italian, Greek or Polish society or politics when the differences are at least as big those between Argentina and the US.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd Nov '16 - 11:44pm

    Michael BG

    Well put , I did not say America or Britain are Liberal either of them , as a society , I said Liberal America is alive and well and kicking , the several , not one , examples , given in my comments show it , as does the presence of our party here . One of my main concerns and commitments is to promote the view that Liberalism is in action every day in a free society , and a liberal democracy , however flawed the blueprint or actuality.

  • I think the reason why Germans value consistency to paraphrase Terry Pratchett is because “Most of the inhabitants have lived there during times of considerable excitement and have sworn might oaths it won’t happen again”; of cause it will as memory fades and then we enter the school of experience and as Franklin said

    “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.”

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