Saturday, June 28, 2014
Which Website Is Attracting 86.3% of Parliament’s Bandwidth? Or – Showbusiness for Clickbaitors
The air of Westminster is today seething with wi-fi so overheated that some researchers have actually* been microwaved (*not actually. Actually that goes for much of this article). Personality politics is often dismissed as just a beauty contest; now, at last, politicians have a genuine* beauty contest about themselves (*no, seriously, against all reason this bit is completely true). Among usvsth3m’s array of “Fights”, you can now vote for “Which gentleman MP is the sexiest?” Other votes pit songs, films, cities and scary clowns against each other, but I know this one floats your boat (and the Doctor Who choices). Warning: this is a post-watershed blog post. …
The usvsth3m set-up is familiar from the well-known exercise, ‘Which of X and Y is best? There’s only one answer – FIGHT!’ and here people create lists of anything that takes their fancy, from which two items are pitted against each other at random each time you click. This sorts the list by what or who’s won the most head-to-head battles. Simple as that.
Two Lovely Pairs of usvsth3m Votes – and a Poll Where Lib Dems Do Best!
Of the many available, four have caught my eye and my mouse clicks: inevitably, two for politics and two for Doctor Who. The pairs curiously mirror each other. “Which gentleman MP is the sexiest?” offers a choice of 504 men combining in random pairs (if that sort of thing turns you on), so I doubt I’ve chosen between more than a tiny fraction of them, while “Which government minister do you loathe the most?” gives you a choice of 21 Cabinet Ministers, so it’s much easier to ‘collect the set’. Similarly, “What is the best Doctor Who story EVER?” suggests not only that television is the basis of all reality but also that the world will end before August Bank Holiday, but even so provides an eye-blearying array of 241 stories, while “Who’s the best Doctor Who?” offers only 14 versions of the Doctor to choose from, and not even (spoiler) Michael Jayston.
The most confusing to pick from if you have several tabs open and are on a hypnotised clicking spree between multiple pages – I know nothing of this – is the “Which government minister do you loathe the most?” which, as you can spot, is the only one of these four where you want your favoured candidate to score not towards 100% but towards 0%, like an especially pointless round of Pointless. This means it’s very easy to mix up who should be up and who should go down. At the time of writing, Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne are hitting it out as the most unloved (not my picks, but high profile) at around 80% apiece, while Alistair Carmichael rejoices in being the only member of the Cabinet to score under 20%. Hearteningly, every Liberal Democrat scores below 50%, with the winner-by-which-I-mean-loser inevitably Nick Clegg, though still hated in only 45% of battles. So here at last is a poll in which the Lib Dems are doing comparatively well.
The main other conclusion I’ve drawn from this is that Iain Duncan Smith is a low-grade copy of William Hague, but lacking the looks, charm and redeeming social concern, and that Chris Grayling is a low-grade copy of Iain Duncan Smith, but lacking the looks, charm and redeeming social concern.
Favourite Doctors and My 85% Difference From the Average Fan
As for the Doctor Who choices… Well, at the moment I’m quite cheered by the results for favourite Doctor, which are significantly out of line with most polls and rather closer to my own views, though it’s possible this may change when more people vote on it. Not wishing to dwell on the unloved here, I’m delighted to see William Hartnell and Matt Smith currently in second and third place, and Colin and Sylv not inappropriately at numbers six and seven. The best story poll is the one in which I’ve voted least, counter-intuitively, as it’s the only one I could see myself going, ‘No, that’s wrong!’ and getting lost in it for days trying to affect the outcome of something completely meaningless (and even here the pictures matter: screengrabs, book covers, posters, many make the stories involved look much more or less appealing than they ought to be. I don’t think much of The Monster of Peladon, for example, but I have a Pavlovian response to Alpha Centauri, and as for The Smugglers…). At least, right now, my favourite story is doing about 25% better than in last month’s rather wider and more settled Doctor Who Magazine poll, so that’s something. But if I click 120 times, statistically it’s very likely to turn up in there for me to vote for it… No. No.
What I should do, I suppose, is post some of the more entertaining differences between what I think of various Doctor Who stories and how the average fan’s votes turned up in Doctor Who Magazine 474, just now disappearing from the shelves (but I’m sure you can find one, or buy the download). Should I? For the moment I’ll tease by saying that, out of 241 televised stories so far, my biggest differences either way with average fan opinion were one that I would have put 170 places higher – and another that I would have put 205 places lower! And both by the same author. Any guesses?
And Now the Main Attraction – Hot MP Totty
So, “Which gentleman MP is the sexiest?”… A serious project to bring sexual objectification to the attention of our lawmakers? A Parliamentary researcher with particularly varied tastes, or some other steamy clickbaitor? Or just taking the piss?
My own pet theory is that the poll has been created by the Labour Party in order to find an opinion poll that they can win: analysing the vital statistical correlation between the current top entries, the most plausible hypothesis is that all Labour researchers are under orders to vote and vote again for every member of the Shadow Cabinet. The null hypothesis would be that Labour’s Shadow Cabinet genuinely is a beauty contest, but while my tastes tend significantly away from society’s ideals of beauty, I don’t think I can be that out.
I found myself clicking on this quite a bit, though often with the ‘pass’ option, it being weirdly compelling more for my interests in politics than in men. Never have I been invited to pass sexual judgement on people with such a bizarre variety of internal reactions. All right, so some male MPs do indeed look attractive; others I recoiled from on looks alone. But for most of them, things were more complicated (or it would be their politics rather than their looks that made my flesh creep). For a start, I’d often vote for some of those with the most unflattering photos: I tend to look terrible in photos too, but it’d be interesting if someone did a (subjective) statistical analysis to see which MPs had had ‘good’ photos chosen for the site and which were clearly designed to put people off. Or which ones were just a little apart from the norm of Commons, conference or canvassing shots. What to make of the one covered in teddy bears? Did the person who compiled the list and pictures for the site have a particular thing for the sole MP pictured with his top off (and wood in each hand)? What have you got on your head, sir? Does anyone really think that being plastered from head to toe in Labour Party stickers is becoming? And how about the Tory posing by bales of hay, all the better to roll in it?
The disturbing thing about click, click, click is that very soon I stopped thinking about it. From being disturbed at being asked to sexually objectify people I may know, I quickly drifted into particular patterns to click through more quickly. Tending to vote the party line on Liberal Democrat MPs – tending to, with more than a few exceptions for more than a few reasons. Lib Dem readers, you may like to know that at the time of writing Duncan Hames is our highest-placed hottie, so congratulations, Duncan. The MP I’d have had top was disappointingly low (though while you’re down there…).
Or there were the wider political reactions. MPs of other parties that I’d met or heard speak usually got me clicking against them, because they’d moved from potentially off-putting to not on your nelly (with a few exceptions, like the backbencher I remembered as a nice old buffer who liked Doctor Who and might be surprised to get ‘sexy’ clicks as a result). Or the ones I’d never heard of but assumed if they were in the DUP they’d be downright unspeakable. Or the ones that are disgustingly homophobic – should I vote for them and send them a message to say so, in the hope that it would hurt them more than it would me? And of course that select bunch who, whatever their looks, I thought ‘unspeakable fascist’ and would vote against with anyone at all – though special points to the poll’s devisor, who managed to find a picture of Liam Byrne that seems to have captured his inner soul (an impressive feat in itself to find it).
Or there were the ones who were quite attractive and I didn’t know anything especially against them; or the ones who weren’t conventionally attractive but looked like they might be goers – several gentlemen’s eyebrows looked intriguing (as opposed to thinking of some, ‘He’s had lots of affairs – so he’s probably good at it’ or ‘He’s had lots of affairs – but I still wouldn’t touch him with yours’); or, I’m afraid, as my brain stopped processing images at all and I clicked ever more robotically, the names. I am of course in the top 0.1% of the population for being mocked about my name and should know better, but as words swam up before pictures I started thinking of Mr Crabb or Mr Clappison, not in my bed, or Mr Pincher, and with the court case so close, or wondering what filthy practice ‘Prisking’ is, or Mr Woodcock – does he have one? I’m sure the poor MP for Ogmore heard even more ‘jokes’ in the playground than I did. And looking at one of the currently highest-placed Tories, who by the vagaries of the algorithm popped up as a choice several times, I wonder if other people voted as I did for Mr Drax because he sounded like a Bond villain? And is it just me, or does Hugo Swire have the most Tory-MP-sounding name of any Tory MP? But when you start misreading names as ‘Tom Greatsex’ or ‘Michael Lubricant’ it’s just too close to Dilbert’s “You’ve ruined sex for everyone” and time to stop.
On the bright side, this is surely the most memorable tool yet for educating us on what the largely anonymous mass of Parliamentary Members look like – and encouraging us to be kinder to some – so I can recommend it as a valuable service to the public.
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Me Vs Stephen Tall: An Open Letter About (Oh Joy!) The Orange Book
Stephen Tall today celebrates the tenth anniversary of the much-maligned, much-magnified and in my view surprisingly dull Liberal Democrat essay collection The Orange Book with a provocative article: “Why looking back on the 2005 Lib Dem manifesto depresses me. And why The Orange Book means the 2015 manifesto will be better.” So…
Dear Stephen, you’ll be delighted to know that you’ve provoked me into thinking (and so much that it would be overdoing it a bit to submit this as a comment to you). You may be less delighted to read that I didn’t agree with very much you said…
I might summarise your article as saying ‘The Orange Book came up with some new ideas and provoked lasting debate in the Liberal Democrats, while the party’s 2005 Manifesto was largely coasting along on old policies and not very interesting*’. I’d mostly agree with that – which shows the problem with short summaries, as I mostly don’t agree with your article, and where for me you fall down fatally is in basing all your arguments on short or partisan summaries rather than at any stage examining the documents themselves.
*[Though some might ask which of those two is more useful for a political party to campaign on in a General Election.]
It’s terribly tempting to demonstrate that today’s article isn’t up to your usual standards by cutting and pasting your own words: individually, most of the criticisms are defensible. Collectively, it’s shockingly lazy and lacks all credibility except when based on hindsight.
But I’ll provide some of the context you don’t instead.
My Own Biases and My Review of The Orange Book
I’ll start with a little about my own biases. I read both The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism and Freedom, Fairness, Trust: The Liberal Democrat 2005 General Election Manifesto when they were new; I’ve not read either in any detail for a few years. In my much more active and much less ill past, I spent a few years as a ferocious critic of the Lib Dem policymaking process, getting more amendments passed by Conference than anyone save the party’s Federal Policy Committee… Then spent about a dozen years as a directly elected member of the party’s Federal Policy Committee, including some as its Vice-Chair, trying to write my amendments in at source rather than from the outside, and including work on three General Election Manifestos, of which the 2005 one was the last and in my view the least interesting (or most honed, for campaigning purposes).
One of my first substantial articles I wrote on starting this blog in early 2006 was what I think of as an even-handed review of The Orange Book (your mileage may vary). You can read it here in full, but here’s another partisan précis. I didn’t see it as anything like the coherent package it would suit its admirers and detractors to be; I thought its timing was a deliberate and cynical attempt to advance its authors rather than to advance its ideas; I praised David Laws much more than some of its contributors; I thought some chapters dull, silly or disturbingly authoritarian, but most in the Lib Dem mainstream; and I thought two chapters were absolutely crucial. One of them was by David Laws, defining Liberalism, which I said was well worth a read, mostly interesting, and wholeheartedly Liberal – with some significant caveats. The other was by Paul Marshall, who in your article comes across as your main source for framing both documents, and his introductory chapter was one of the most leaden failures in any book on Liberalism I’ve ever read.
In The Orange Book’s defence, the authors did at least get their fingers out and try to come up with some big ideas – and whether it’s truth or legend, they did win a reputation for setting off debate. That’s no mean feat, though I criticised crucial writers for “leaving [their] philosophical innovation stalled somewhere around 1908”. To be fair, although poor health gets in the way, it is also true that I’ve not only failed to launch the big idea for the party I keep meaning to, but that its philosophical innovation arguably hails from 1859. So the most remarkable thing about The Orange Book is that they did it, and then managed to get lasting attention for it.
Either way, when it comes to The Orange Book: Rewriting History, I was around for that history and require more than Paul Marshall’s highly spun hindsight as the sum total of evidence.
The Orange Book, the 2005 Manifesto and the Context
Stephen, you quote glowingly a speech by Paul Marshall long after the fact in which he puts down the 2005 Manifesto and praises his alternative by highly selective presentations of each. Let me provide a little more revealing context.
I called The Orange Book an alternative manifesto because in its timing and in its introduction (to say nothing of the editors’ spin all over the press) that is precisely how it was promoted. So it’s not unreasonable to make some direct comparisons. Way back when I reviewed The Orange Book myself, I said that Paul Marshall’s introduction was the weakest single chapter: a dully written and incoherent attempt to make an alternative manifesto of a series of disparate essays (to the obvious embarrassment of some of its authors), Mr Marshall showed more effectively than any other Lib Dem just how difficult it is to write a manifesto, because his attempt at one was so pitiful.
Not only was The Orange Book a shambles as an alternative manifesto, it was utterly useless in every regard (save to our enemies) as any basis for the actual manifesto. It was published to coincide with the party’s own pre-manifesto that was the culmination of two years’ consultation. I mean, how much “foresight” was that? Any ideas in The Orange Book, good or bad, could only be portrayed as ‘splits’ and completely useless as contributions. Imagine what the current manifesto co-ordinator – David Laws, I think his name is – would say if you were to publish an alternative manifesto in Autumn this year when his own carefully negotiated version had already been printed and circulated to every Conference representative? Had The Orange Book been published either a year earlier or a year later, it would have been timed to make a genuine contribution to ideas and been the target of far less opprobrium. In context, deliberately timed to get attention rather than to advance its ideas, it wasn’t taking part in a debate. It was merely willy-waving.
Then there’s the Manifesto itself. I’m sure you’ve read both the 2005 Manifesto and The Orange Book, but your article gives the impression that you’re taking Paul Marshall’s skimpy press releases as the entire basis of your critique of one and praise for the other. Well, I’ve said what I thought of Mr Marshall’s introduction to The Orange Book: now for the Manifesto, which I also read in full (many times, back then, as I was one of the many with a hand in writing it). Was it unambitious? Yes, in some places it was. There was a drive to cut down the length and the promises of 2001 and 1997, each of which I thought were more interesting manifestos, and I was exasperated at how hard I had to fight to get even a tiny box about our ideals into it, but as for “unrealistically high spending commitments”?
It turned out some of them were, in hindsight. In context, they weren’t. Like the 2001 and 1997 manifestos, they were based on months of hard arguing and hard costings to cut down our promises to what we could afford – as our (and the IFS’) understanding of the general economic framework went at the time. No other party bothered. It turned out that the general economic framework of the time was a bloated absurdity that vanished in a puff of debt, but no-one knew that yet. Let me turn back to sage, prophet and incredibly boring wordsmith Paul Marshall: hilarious that he now attacks that manifesto for “unrealistically high spending commitments” when his own alternative manifesto took exactly the same general economic framework as truth (just swapping what turned out to be “unrealistic” tax cuts for the spending, all based on an understanding of wealth we didn’t have).
One of my key criticisms of The Orange Book – unlike Mr Marshall’s conveniently partial claims today, from before the financial crash – was in its flagship approach to financial markets, one of the less convincing arguments written by David Laws. I wrote:
“He mentions opposition to monopoly and 1930s market failure, but that brief aside merely draws attention to this as his biggest blind spot. While many Liberal policies over the years have been directed against private monopoly, he fails to address other monopolies than state ones, or what to do in the event of other market failure – as well as raising the question, if he admits the market failed in 1930s (and that’s the only point at which he’s prepared to admit any such thing), does he have any alternative answer to such catastrophic failures or would he just have shut his eyes and hoped it would go away?”Which, though ‘I told you so’ is never very appealing, is why The Orange Book had no predictions and no solutions when a massive market failure inevitably came along all over again.
Neither did the 2005 Manifesto, you might rightly point out (though you didn’t, merely implying by elision that it lacked the foresight that The Orange Book had, and which I’ve just noted that it didn’t). What the Manifesto did have was a lot more than the ten points you published as if they were the Manifesto in its entirety. I’ve read through your article twice and I still can’t believe you’re writing as if that’s all there was, and certainly as if it was all you’d read. That’s bizarre, because you link to the whole thing, which sets out the costings right at the front and then has 38 more pages than the one you present as if it was the whole thing.
What Was the Point of the Ten-Point Plan?
Ironically, after a two-year consultation process in which the Manifesto was written between the Leader’s team, the Federal Policy Committee and the Parliamentary Spokespeople, the ten-point list was presented at the last minute by the Campaigns Department as a fait accompli, and none of the people who’d written the full Manifesto liked it. It was literally given to the FPC at the final meeting (again, after two years) to sign off the final draft of the Manifesto, and when FPC members started to move amendments – this one’s not a priority, this one doesn’t get across what the policy means, this one’s actively misleading, and so forth – we were told that we couldn’t change a single word because the posters had already been printed. So rather than a representative summary, even, of a far longer document, this list was something cobbled together in haste by the Campaigns Department without consultation because for the first time in any election the party literally had more money than it knew what to do with, as a very large donation (best not to say whose, in retrospect) had come in long after the local spending caps had come into force and so the only thing left to spend it on was posters.
I didn’t think they were very good, but whether they were or they weren’t, Stephen, what they certainly were not was the full Manifesto.
So that’s the context of the time. If you want to make up your own mind, the 2005 Liberal Democrat General Election Manifesto is here, The Orange Book is… Hey, where are all these libertarian pirates putting bootleg pdfs of it online? Well, I bought and read a copy, anyway, and you can still buy it at full price long past its sell-by date and bore yourself silly typing out long chunks to support your case. Just don’t make up your own mind on the basis of toytown spin and abuse from either side.
The Orange Book – The Legacy?
I wasn’t at Centre Forum’s meeting this week to – what? Celebrate? Commemorate? Build on? Bury? – The Orange Book, but I’d be fascinated to hear what people had to say, and to what extent that was based on the book itself, or merely on the legend. Stephen, you seem to be firmly a champion of the legend, and so your most interesting paragraph is your last, despite its assertions not being based on anything in the rest of your text:
“The Orange Book helped wake up the party, stimulating a much better quality of debate across the spectrum of views. Without The Orange Book, it’s doubtful we’d have the Social Liberal Forum. Without SLF, Liberal Reform wouldn’t exist. I like dialectic in political debate and the challenge and counter-challenge which often (not always, but often) ratchets up standards. Certainly it gives me confidence that our 2015 manifesto will be a marked improvement on its 2005 version.”I’m not convinced that it did. If anything, the self-indulgent timing of The Orange Book’s publication harmed its case and set back debate in the party. Most of it wasn’t of very good quality anyway. But I’m prepared to go along with your conclusion that it helped factionalise the Liberal Democrats into opposing teams shouting vituperate caricatures of each other – which is, obviously, always a sign of “a much better quality of debate”. Personally, I find both the self-identified “Orange Bookers” and the self-identified “Social Liberal Forum” and others depressing, lazy and unambitious for Liberalism – as well as each far smaller within the party than their self-importance would suggest. I agree that dialectic, debate and challenge and counter-challenge can ratchet up standards, but if carried out mostly by organised factions it can also lead to groupthink, entrenched positions and a lazy, never-ending exchange of misrepresentation instead of a thousand positive ideas blooming.
So here’s my own caricature: rather than arguments about the basis of Liberalism, what we all stand for and how we can inspire more people with it, much internal debate has become a values-free mud-fight about short-term economics, where one side is mean (but against debt) and the other generous (except to future generations), both say they are the only true Liberals while saying little recognisably Liberal, and neither has much to say that appeals to me.
Once again, my favourite contribution to Mark Pack’s “What do the Liberal Democrats Believe?” is on the basic conviction that unites social and economic Liberals:
“All POWER (be it government, business or other people) can both PROTECT and THREATEN LIBERTY.Stephen, what would you say that unifies rather than divides, and yet remains interesting? That’s the sort of inspiration I hope for from the 2015 Manifesto.
“Economic and Social Liberals put different emphasis on the BEST DEFENCES and the BIGGEST BULLIES.”
Yours always in hope, despite curmudgeonliness
Monday, June 16, 2014
Liberal Mondays 8: Doctor Who – The Green Death #LibDemValues
This week’s inspiring thought in my occasional series of Liberal moments is close to my heart: it is, of course, from Doctor Who. A confrontation between the Doctor and a much more dictatorial egomaniac, it’s taken from Episode Five of The Green Death, first broadcast forty-one years ago today. From the same story that featured Jeremy Thorpe as Prime Minister, this pits a monopolistic megacorporation, totalitarianism and pollution against the Doctor’s freedom, ecology and individualism. The argument crystallises in one especially memorable exchange that says benevolent authoritarianism is not enough if it means absolute ignorance and conformity. It’s about freedom:
“Doctor, believe me, we wish you no harm…”This 1973 story was co-written by Robert Sloman and then-producer Barry Letts, who it appears was rather pro-Liberal. The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) had spent a few years exiled to Earth in the near future, and was still popping back on occasion to help out his friends at UNIT; The Green Death has one of the slyer little suggestions about their stories being set a few years later than broadcast, as the phone is at one point handed to a Prime Minister called “Jeremy”. Unfortunately, the striking Liberal revival in the following year’s elections didn’t quite carry him that far, and the 1975-but-set-in-1980 story which suggested Mrs Thatcher as PM was altogether more on the button. Since then, actual Liberal politicians have mostly just had backward references, such as Mr Asquith springing one of the Doctor’s companions from Holloway or Mr Lloyd George drinking the Doctor under the table. A Liberal worldsview, on the other hand, has always been part of Doctor Who’s RNA. I argued that most comprehensively in my “How Doctor Who Made Me A Liberal”, but it’s summed up with particular clarity here.
“Ah, don’t worry, my dear feller. I’m having a whale of a time.”
“In the end, we all want the same thing; an ordered society, with everyone happy, well-fed…”
“Global Chemicals taking all the profits…”
“What’s best for Global Chemicals is best for the world – is best for you!”
“Such as a little touch of brain-washing.”
“Freedom from fear, freedom from pain…”
“Freedom from freedom!”
The Doctor’s been captured and is being interrogated by the managing director of Global Chemicals, himself only a cog in the company machine (and that taken to extremes). For greater efficiency, productivity and profit, the company’s BOSS has decided to take over the world. Just as its workforce are brainwashed into servitude, a signal will be transmitted from the sinister multinational’s subsidiaries all across the world to bring the entire human race under its control in a literal ‘command economy’. So far, so familiar. But as you’ll have seen from the key quotation above, this particular mind-control story has thought about its message and argues it in unambiguously Liberal terms.
All Power Is Dangerous – Especially If It’s ‘For Your Own Good’
My favourite contribution to Mark Pack’s “What do the Liberal Democrats Believe?” is on the basic conviction that unites social and economic Liberals:
“All POWER (be it government, business or other people) can both PROTECT and THREATEN LIBERTY.The Green Death’s Liberal analysis is dead-on that same line. It chooses as its main target a monopolistic mega-corporation – but it’s just as applicable to totalitarian government that would exert the same degree of power over individuals. Indeed, part of its point is that any body that exerts total power can be exactly as dangerous and as illiberal as any other. When the Doctor carelessly resists the brainwashing, the political applicability comes as thick and fast as Global Chemicals’ poisonous pollution. First, the machine grumbles that:
“Economic and Social Liberals put different emphasis on the BEST DEFENCES and the BIGGEST BULLIES.”
“The subject is not responding to therapy.”“Therapy” is exactly the “pretty euphemism” for what political opponents in the Eastern Bloc of the time were often subjected to – and this story would have exactly the same philosophical underpinning were the villains, say, Evil Space Communists with the same plan. No doubt many of those who praise The Green Death for being ‘left-wing’ because it’s ‘anti-big business’ would have criticised it as ‘right-wing propaganda’ had the allegory apparently pointed against big government instead, but that’s missing the point: it’s not a left-wing or right-wing critique of the ‘wrong’ sort of big power, but a Liberal critique of any sort of Big Power.
The crux of the argument above isn’t simply that ‘turning the entire human race into zombies is bad’, though. I’ll admit that even most of my political opponents would agree that’s a bit much. It’s that what Global Chemicals wants to impose is in many ways tempting. It’s simply taking to a sci-fi extreme the ‘perfectly reasonable’ exercise of power to ‘help’, and that’s an argument that this scene ruthlessly exposes and explodes:
“You’re not trying to tell me this is all for my own good?”Which, of course, is exactly the point. Pay attention to the characters and their motivations, and no-one here is simply perfect or simply evil: the Doctor’s attitudes aren’t always appealing, with his own insufferable prejudices showing through, and the villains are at times endearing and well-meaning. From their point of view, it is all ‘for people’s own good’. Which is one of the political phrases that always sets alarm bells ringing for me, along with “we all want the same thing”. Who could object to an end to pain and hunger? To universal happiness? Well, what if my idea of happiness is different to yours? Liberals don’t say ‘We know best’, because everyone’s best is different.
This goes right back to my first Liberal Monday choice, when I observed how over the course of a century the most-quoted Liberal creed had thankfully moved from utilitarianism to Mill-and-Taylor-flavoured social Liberalism. I said there that utilitarianism and utopia had a superficial attraction, but gave me the creeps. Here’s the difference in a nutshell: today’s Liberals prize freedom from conformity for every individual to live their own life; Global Chemicals offers a perfect utilitarian future of absolute happiness, absolute equality and absolute mindlessness, forever. Even Liberals need to guard against the price some would too eagerly pay ‘for your own good’.
I was only a year old forty-one years ago, but as a boy the novelisation of this story was one of my favourites, and one of the books I credit with making me a green Liberal. And yet this most cuttingly Liberal of all scenes, as blatantly applicable to big states as big business, wasn’t even in the book. I didn’t see it until repeats nearly twenty years later, when it instantly struck an unforgettable chord with me. So why wasn’t it in the book? Well, the story was novelised by Malcolm Hulke, one of Target’s most talented writers, the one most likely to chop out scenes from the script and add his own that fleshed out the characters – so that’s probably it – but also the range’s card-carrying Communist Party member, so it’s just possible that like me he saw the Doctor objecting to an utopian regime promising freedom from material want at the price of “Freedom from freedom” for exactly what it was…
Or you may simply remember this as The One With The Maggots.
Labels: Books, Doctor Who, Environment, Ideas, Jon Pertwee, Liberal Mondays, Liberalism, The Golden Dozen, The Green Death, Utilitarianism, Utopia, What the Lib Dems Stand For, Why Is Doctor Who Brilliant?
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Shoot! It’s the Nutribullet!
One of the risks of turning on the telly before 9am is being assailed by relentlessly cheery, cheesy teleshopping adverts. I caught one this morning, the TV still being tuned to the Horror Channel from last night’s Doctor Who (if you’ve not been watching their terrific selection, start today: they’ve got three showings of The Deadly Assassin, simply the best story in the series’ history), but before my dulled not-a-morning-person reflexes could switch over, I was captivated. Or, more accurately, laughing like a hyena. A new food blender for dieters? Yeuch. But wait! It has two unique selling points.
A great big blending machine for grinding unappetising veg and seeds to a pulp to make your own still more unappetising ‘health food drink’. Dull. Disgusting. How can we sell this?
Brilliant Idea One!
Make the transparent shield slightly more curved than usual (though not actually pointy) and call it the Nutribullet!
Frankly, I don’t know why they didn’t go the whole macho hog and make it the Nutribullet 5000.
But wait! That’s not all (as other good telesales pap says)!
This has conquered the idea of a food mixer not being cool to have on your shelf, they think. Why, it’s almost like having a bazooka in your kitchen, and who wouldn’t want that?
They then come up with the acronym “SBBAF!” to suggest what to put in it, which sounds like a vaguely pornographic sound effect but is in fact a list of ingredients that makes my stomach heave just looking at them, so I’m not going to type them all. But imagine if you will that you’ve conquered the urge to projectile vomit at the assembly stage and have thrashed some poor vegetable matter into pulp.
It’s still vile, undrinkable pulp that no-one on Earth wants to touch. So how can they make people want to drink it?
Brilliant Idea Two!
Here is the genius part.
Obviously, the exterminated vegetables would too thick a paste to swallow, so the key is that you add water as you blast them beyond death and they come out as a drink-like slurry in their own built-in mug (mug being an appropriate word). Then, presumably, you could hold your nose and think of England. Except...
“Simply add water – or your liquid of choice – and watch how the power of the Nutribullet breaks everything down!”And then:
“Just add ice and you’ll also be able to make quick, delicious icy Summer drinks.”It’s not just a diet: it’s a mixer.
Pass me a litre of gin and put two small berries in the grinder (because grinder is an anagram of “Derr! Gin!”). Cheers – I’m ready for another Nutribullet breakdown!
Sunday, June 01, 2014
The Best of My Election Tweets
A micro-guide to the parties! What UKIP and Lib Dems do when they lose! When Lib Dems can expect to get over 50% in the Euros! What I thought of the BBC election coverage! And a cheery song! All this and more in short form from before, after and during the May elections. Most of us had a pretty rough time; everyone has their own worst story to tell, but I’d rather not think about my being ill, with Richard away, Elections of Doom looming, and bereavement. Instead, some of my coping mechanism: posting on Twitter like there’s no tomorrow.
- Parties in full: UKIP hate everyone; Con fear everyone; #LibDems love everyone; Labour too scared you’ll hate them to say (but hate Con!)
- Positive reasons to vote #LibDems: my own personal story of Why I’m a Lib Dem http://bit.ly/LDValues5 #LibDemValues
- Best of luck to all #LibDems standing tomorrow. Even if polls right & we’re ****ed, better to go down standing up for beliefs than Lab’s "__"
- An MEP says what she’s actually done in EU! It’ll never catch on. @catherinemep Vote #LibDems to keep up action pic.twitter.com/mkAydrpQNM
- Hate Europe, immigrants, gays? UKIP. Pro-modern UK & EU? Vote #LibDems. Want UKIP-lite? Tory. Can’t decide if racism’s good or bad? Labour.
- A “No” to Labour, then RT @ThePoke Unintentionally brilliant Polling Station of the day #Elections2014 pic.twitter.com/texs1cn1Hv
- Vote #LibDems to be IN Europe for a stronger economy and fairer society. UKIP would knacker economy & want an unfair fantasy 1950s.
- UKIP in their own words http://bit.ly/1mY9qpB For a party that likes 21stC Britain as it actually is & isn’t afraid of others vote #LibDems
- Farage backs Putin over Royals. He’s not really got the hang of this ‘nationalism’ stuff, has he? Just a bully and suckup to bigger bully.
- BTW, my choice between Putin, Farage, Prince Charles? None of the above, thanks, I’m a Liberal Democrat & they’re all neither.
- Rarely say this, but well done @ITV for showing #HotFuzz, a topical cautionary tale of what happens when UKIP comes to power in your town!
- One hour left to vote. Use it. Mine’s for #LibDems both for practical action pic.twitter.com/mkAydrpQNM & for principle http://bit.ly/LDValues4
- Yay! Richard’s home. This means 1/Kissing 2/ Voting 3/ Eating. Go and 2 before 10pm! You have all night to 1 and 3.
- It’s just not proper BBC election night any more without starting with the theme from Hordes of the Things. #EP2014 #Vote2014
- Jeremy Vine says voting system too complex to explain. Is BBC lobotomised? Sack this moron and do your job, BBC. #EP2014 #Vote2014
- BBC news coverage sunk to ‘We pretend everything’s too difficult then say, oh, goodness, why are people disengaged?’ Do your job, BBC!
- Arrogant Tory Phil Hammond: ‘People just lend their votes to UKIP.’ People only EVER lend their votes to ANY party! They’re never ‘yours’!
- Hopeful news! #LibDems almost certain to make MEP gains in 2019! #100YearsOfLosingAndLiberalsStillNeverSayDie
- The first Euro-elections the #LibDems stood in, we got just 4% of the vote. At this rate, we’ll be over 50% by 2389! A triumph ;)
- If UKIP loses: execute traitor voters! http://bit.ly/1pfKYBy (genuine!) #LibDems lose: oh well, we’ll give you another leaflet next month.
- Labour post-election: ‘Oh no! UKIP!’ Labour pre-election: scared to debate UKIP / says UKIP not racist / panders to anti-immigration
- Cllrs elected last week: #LibDems 427, UKIP only 163. UKIP now 162, as had to expel one in under a week. Below 100 Kippers by next election?
- I’ve been singing a song this afternoon with a discreetly modified chorus. http://bit.ly/FuckUKIP
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Eileen B. White, 1912-2014
Today should have been my Grandma’s one-hundred-and-second birthday. Sadly, instead today is her funeral. I can’t be in New Hampshire for the ceremony, so I’m remembering her here.
I had the great privilege of knowing two of my grandparents well into my life, my Dad’s dad Walter and my Mum’s mum Eileen White. Both had long, active and determined lives. Both were fiercely independent. Grandad was fit and active until shortly before his death aged 95, back in 2006. Grandma was the same for around a hundred years, and only started to fade in the last couple. I remember Mum telling me she’d had an operation a couple of years ago after which, when the hospital insisted she stay a few nights to see that she was all right, she immediately booked herself out and walked home.
Grandma was widowed when my Mum was just a girl, so I never met my maternal Grandfather (my Nana, Dad’s mum, died when I was a teenager). She did marry again, and I did know him for a while as Grandpa, though he’s been gone quite a while too. She lived in many different States of the USA, but for the last couple of decades had settled in Concord, New Hampshire, and I suspect the Granite State’s motto “Live Free Or Die” is one she’d have identified with, at least if endorsing someone else’s motto didn’t compromise her stern independence (only once, I think, did Mum tease out of her how she voted: after gently probing several times to see if she was backing President Obama in 2008, Mum carelessly tossed out, “So you’ll be voting for Vice-President Palin, then?” which gained the response, “Do you think I’m a complete fool?”). She was a formidable lady.
I wish I’d seen more of her, and been in touch more often. Some of my favourite memories of her are from the Nineties – my twenties, her eighties – when she was able to come over here and I had one of only two trips so far over there. In 1998, I was in the USA on business of a kind for three weeks and travelled up to New Hampshire to see her on one of my two days off, where we got on very well and had a rather lovely day together. That’s when, discussing politics, she told me the story that I’ve most often told on here from her, most recently in telling My Political Story – Why I Am A Liberal Democrat. I remember her nodding and telling me that she could see I’d be political when I was aged four and strutting about naked on a beach and told a big boy off for kicking down another boy’s sandcastle. She was probably right.
My absolute favourite moment was in 1996, when I got my Mum into trouble. Sorry, Mum. I’d been pretty much out to the world since I was seventeen, badges and everything, with only a handful of notable exceptions. One was Grandma. Mum had prevailed upon me not to tell her, because she was old and we didn’t see her often and she didn’t know how she’d react. So when she came over sometime in the mid-Nineties, I saw her a couple of times but never quite found the moment or the courage to talk to her properly. And I regretted it. So, eventually, I composed a long letter that walked on eggshells, knowing she’d probably be upset and wanted both to reassure her and to be honest with her, because by then I’d been with Richard for a couple of years and I knew I always would be, and I didn’t want to shut her out. So I sent the letter, and waited on tenterhooks.
A week later, the phone rang. I think it was the only time Grandma ever rang me rather than writing. And in fact she rang me twice in quick succession. The first call was more abrupt and to the point. It went something like this.
“Why are you so upset?” she asked.I think that’s about as far as I got in that conversation before there was a determined
“Well… I’m not,” I replied, taken aback. “But I thought you would be. I’m completely fine about being gay.”
“And why would that be?”
“Well… Mum thought…”
“Right! I’ll ring again in a minute.”One what I understand was a curt mother-daughter bollocking later, she rang me again, and we had a long and charming conversation in which she was all sweetness and light. That is, after the first explanatory explosion:
“Does my family think I’m wrapped up in cotton wool? I’ve known for years!”So remember that when ignorant people insult all over-seventies by trying to tell that you they’re bigots who know nothing.
I loved her for all that I didn’t see her much, and I’m deeply sad that I won’t be able to see her again. Five months from today, Richard and I plan to be in the States on our honeymoon, and I wish I could do as we’d planned and visit Grandma with my wonderful husband. But it’s not to be.
Mum and Dad travelled over far more often. For the last few years, they’ve always gone to the States and been with Grandma on her birthday. This time, they’d barely landed in New York, planning to travel up to New Hampshire the following week, when they heard that Grandma had had what seemed to be a minor heart attack and was in hospital. They went straight up there and found her suddenly very frail in the hospital, and were with her for about two hours before she just slipped away.
For complicated reasons, I’ve not been able to speak to them and have had a chain of emails, but I know they’re having a very rough time and my heart goes out to them.
Monday, May 26, 2014
Doctor Who 50 Great Scenes – 33: City of Death
Tonight I bring cheer with, unusually, a great Doctor Who scene that isn’t all death and disaster – counting down more of my Fifty with a dash of romance. And what better time for it? Today is exactly five months until Richard and I marry (and since I posted number 34, Britain’s first same-sex weddings have been celebrated and we’ve received our first invite to another couple’s. Hurrah!). Not only that, but yesterday’s Towel Day commemorated Douglas Adams, while Saturday would have been the birthday of Graham Williams, the two principal writers of this glamorous and many-authored Tom Baker story… If you thought Number 34 was a bit Douglas Adams-y, today’s is properly so, and it’s much happier than the end of the world. More the other end.
“It has a bouquet…”
City of Death is a mostly remarkable Doctor Who story. It’s regularly voted among the best in all the series’ fifty years; it got the series’ highest ever ratings (though, to be fair, with no Internet and, thanks to a lengthy ITV strike, only BBC2 and the radio for competition); even more remarkably, it manages to unite many fans who scorn 1979’s other Doctor Who stories in agreement that this is ‘the good one’ (personally, I love some of the others too). But perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is how it was made at all – a glimpse of alchemy. Brilliant writer David Fisher wrote the first draft, then couldn’t do the rewrites… So the series’ Lead Writer Douglas Adams (yes, that Douglas Adams) and Producer Graham Williams rewrote it from top to bottom in a weekend and a few flashes of genius, before actors like Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and the fabulous Julian Glover rewrote more of it as they went along. Though it’s only Mr Adams, Mr Williams and Mr Fisher who are usually understood to form the BBC compound entity “David Agnew” credited on screen. And part of the new script was to swap the original 1920s setting for – mostly – 1979, which sounds less interesting, but not when Production Manager John Nathan-Turner had worked out in another flash of genius, this time with the accounts, that they could shoot it in contemporary proper Paris as cheaply as in a studio’s fake Monte Carlo of fifty years earlier. It was the first time the series had ever filmed outside the UK. And then there’s an intricate story that would today be called “timey-wimey,” but thankfully wasn’t in 1979, some outstandingly witty scenes and cameos from the likes of Eleanor Bron and John Cleese.
So I’m mildly unusual in finding it a bit of a mixed bag in parts, but thinking the bit that’s absolutely, blissfully perfect is the first five minutes. Because that’s the part before the important bits like the plot and the monster and most of the funny lines get going, and which quite a few fans who otherwise love the story say should have been cut because it’s just aimless faffing about*. Personally, I’m very drawn to aimless faffing about.
The thrilling blue swirl of the time tunnel – still the greatest title sequence ever made – parts on an eerie, barren landscape that looks thoroughly alien, as does the spider-like spacecraft squatting over the rocks. It’s an impressive piece of modelwork, aided by echoing music from regular composer Dudley Simpson and a sweeping camera pan across the plain to make it look enormous. And the alien voices within the ship are arguing with each other – the pilot protesting as the crew insist he take off on warp thrust, despite the dangers. Marvellously, it references Star Wars in their telling him “You are our only hope,” as he’s closer to a frog than a beautiful princess. To thunderous chords, the ship lifts slowly into an appropriately Turner-ish red and black-clouded sky… Only to crumple in on itself, shimmer and explode, the crew’s pleas echoing in desperation. You’d think that in today’s Doctor Who this would be made as a pre-titles sequence, but it’s all the better not for being so because of the fascinating non-sequitur that follows instead. The falling sparks of the explosion fade into blossoms, and again the camera moves left to right, echoing the extended pan and giving the world that came first an equivalence with modern Paris as the Eiffel Tower comes into view behind the flowers, the panning shot across the rock to the latticework gantry spaceship the natural precursor to that across the blossom to the latticework gantry tower. It’s a brilliant directorial choice, not least because, like the script and the French filming, it was something that wasn’t the original plan and was an inspired late improvisation: the director went for the blossoms instead when the special lens brought to zoom out from the top of the Tower didn’t fit the cameras. What director Michael Hayes came up with on the fly is the perfect bridge between two very different visual and storytelling styles, and the perfect opening to one of Doctor Who’s most cinematic sequences.
So, leaving you in anticipation for what happened to the alien pilot (and indeed plot), the story proper instead opens with the Doctor (Tom Baker) and his companion Romana (Lalla Ward) swanning about at the top of la Tour Eiffel being frightfully laid back and witty as they just enjoy themselves.
“It’s the only place in the Universe where one can relax entirely.”Tom is charming and worldly, Lalla superior but utterly charming with it, and eager to see the wonders of Earth. The two actors have marvellous chemistry in this story above all stories, and it’s no surprise that off-screen they were soon to marry and almost sooner to divorce. While in some of their stories they can barely bring themselves to look at each other, here they’re evidently having a wonderful time on every level, diegetic, extra-diegetic and extra-curricular. How natural they look is another part of the serendipity that makes so much of City of Death come together so well.
“Mmmm. That bouquet.”
“What Paris has… It has a – an ethos… A life. It has—”
“…A spirit all of its own. Like a wine, it has—”
“…It has a bouquet, yes. Like a good wine – you have to choose one of the vintage years, of course.”
“What year is this?”
“Ah well, yeah. Well, it’s 1979, actually. More of a table wine, shall we say. Ha!”
There’s a building fanfare of music, and then they’re off! The thrilling, intimate cinematography of the side of the train rushing towards us on the platform, then the Doctor and Romana simply joyous beaming at each other and the Paris Metro, planning dinner, dashing across the road by Notre-Dame hand in hand, all to what could be a career-best score for Dudley Simpson, a gorgeous, playful theme that chimes perfectly with the bouquet. It’s sheer happiness, the closest the series comes to a musical, and I’m always astounded when other fans say it’s padding and want to get on with the plot instead. It’s art.
Then there are two last pieces of serendipity, of alchemy, as they run past a poster for an exhibition on “3 Millions d’Années d’Aventure Humaine”, and the camera at last springs away from them to the threatening wooden carving of a gorgon-like snakes-headed grotesque… But that would be the plot, so it’s time to stop.
*Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood’s impressive and opinionated About Time 4, for example, starts an otherwise complementary review by complaining “the first episode features five whole minutes of the Doctor and Romana jogging through Parisian streets… Often regarded as the only major flaws in this story, and certainly the only bits that video viewers regularly fast-forward through…” Whereas I frequently put the first five minutes on to cheer myself up, and leave it at that. Maybe they’re just not music lovers, for all that they claim to sing along “Running through Paris” to the tune.
Bonus Great Doctor Who Quotations – The Androids of Tara
Tripping back a year to 1978, another gorgeous holiday of a story from a complete David Fisher script, this time on the Ruritanian planet of Tara and in the middle of the quest for The Key To Time. It’s enormous fun, especially where the dashingly dastardly Count Grendel of Gracht (Peter Jeffrey) is involved. It is, though, something of a cautionary tale about marriage, as the Doctor’s companion Romana (in her first body, Mary Tamm) discovers in Part Two when the Count shows her his dungeon – in it, her exact double…
“Is it an android?”In Part Three, Romana is confronted with another double (she’s missed one more in between). This one’s technically less royal and more, well, technical. To the Count’s moustache-twirling satisfaction, she’s been built to assassinate the Doctor (Tom Baker)…
“Good heavens, no, my dear. That’s the Princess Strella. First Lady of Tara, a descendant of the Royal House, Mistress of the domains of Thorvald, Mortgarde and Freya. In fact, Tara’s most eligible spinster! Shortly to become – in rapid succession – my fiancée, my bride, and then… Deceased. Yes – it will be a tragic accident. A flower blighted in its prime. And naturally, as her husband, I shall claim her estates and her position as second in line to the throne, as provided for under Taran law.”
“I see. But since you’ve already got a Princess, what do you need me for?”
“Well, the Princess does not entirely agree with my plan.”
“I can’t say I’m wildly surprised.”
“You see before you the complete killing machine – as beautiful as you, and as deadly as the plague. If only she were real, I’d marry her.”And in Part Four, the still-scheming Count, that well-known champion of widows and orphans, welcomes the Head of the Church of Tara to the charms of Castle Gracht for two weddings and a funeral…
“You deserve each other.”
“Ah, Archimandrite! Welcome.”
“What is so urgent that I must leave my duties and hurry here like this?”
“I am sorry, Archimandrite, but there is a ceremony you must perform.”
“Here? What ceremony?”
“Your own chaplain could have done that.”
“Not this marriage.”
“Why? Who is to be married? And to whom?”
“The King – to the Princess Strella.”
“The King? Here?”
“He has placed himself under my protection, your Eminence. Sadly, I have to tell you – he is sick. In fact, he is very near to death.”
“Oh, dear, dear, dear. He did not look well at the coronation. Not himself at all.”
“No… No, I did note that, Archimandrite.”
“But near to death, you say?”
“Indeed he is. It would be as well if you stayed here. I fear he will be in need of the funeral rites very soon after the wedding.”
“Oh, how sad.”
“Mmm, yes. And after the funeral rites, there will be a second wedding for you to perform.”
“A second wedding? May I ask whose that will be?”
“My own. I shall be marrying the poor King’s widow.”
Bonus Great Doctor Who Quotation – The Curse of Fenric
If that’s not warning enough about the dangers of dalliance, let’s turn to what’s possibly my beloved’s favourite story, and one of mine, too. It was 1989 for most of us, 1943 in the story, and half-way into Part Two (or 40 minutes into the story, if you’re watching the movie-length DVD Special Edition). While the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) investigates vampires rising from the waters off the North-Eastern coast, stony pillar of the church Miss Hardaker has other reasons for taking against the local beauty spot. She doesn’t mince her words when she finds her two teenage East End evacuee lodgers have been swimming at Maidens’ Point…
“Nothing for you but pitiless damnation for the rest of your lives! Think on it!”Romantic.
Miss Hardaker was played by the marvellous Janet Henfrey, who returns to Doctor Who later this year. Richard and I met her in 2009 and, rather than the usual ‘Best wishes’ signed by an actor, we persuaded her to give us a different benediction on our The Curse of Fenric DVD.
Thanks to the Internet (though I’ve lost track of where, so contact me if it was you and you’d like it removed), I was also able to proffer this motivational poster to lovely The Curse of Fenric author Ian Briggs after he talked about some of the underlying themes in his story and the inspiration of Alan Turing. He laughed.
Bonus Not Necessarily Great Doctor Who Quotation – The Armageddon Factor
It’s another Doctor Who story from 1979, and another opening scene from Part One. This one’s not quite so celebrated as City of Death, and you’ll have to watch it to put it into context (though I’d watch the other five stories of The Key To Time series first), but I couldn’t resist. Miss Hardaker would be appalled.
“Men out there – young men – are dying for it!”
Bonus Great Doctor Who Quotation – Rose
And finally… From one of the most uplifting of all Doctor Who stories, the great return nine years ago, not the opening moments but the close. Rose has saved the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and the world from the Nestene Consciousness, and he in turn has rescued her from its exploding lair. After that brief trip in the TARDIS, the Doctor and Russell T Davies offer her and us more – to come with him, anywhere in the Universe. That’s one option: reckless, hopeful, open-minded. The narrow, sour, closed-minded alternative is put by her unhelpful boyfriend Mickey, who despite also having been rescued by the Doctor gives him a mouthful of xenophobic abuse as “an alien – a thing.” It’s a clear choice… And for a moment, Rose hesitates. Mickey pulls her to him, holding her back, taking her for granted, and she says no. The TARDIS dematerialises.
Rose, left on the street, just stares into the suddenly empty night as the wind of the TARDIS’ passing whips her hair. If she could have that choice again… And, suddenly, the TARDIS blazes back into reality, the Doctor stepping out to deliver the best pick-up line in history:
“By the way, did I mention – it also travels in time?”Choose your own life, and run into the future.
Next Time… The scariest place for anyone
Wednesday, April 02, 2014
10 Things Nigel Farage Hates #NickVNigel
With less than an hour to go before the second debate between Euro-realist Nick Clegg and Europhobe Nigel Farage, people all over Britain are asking: what’s on the other side? But some are also asking, will Mr Farage succeed this week in his attempt to make his face go not just pale, red and purple but the full red, white and blue he was aiming for? Will he be wrapped in a Russian flag as part of a new Putin-funded UKIP war chest? And will he find the same ten things – or more – to hate as last week?
Do you remember he had a little list, if you were watching or listening this time last Wednesday?
1 – Europe
2 – Immigrants
In his opening statement, Mr Farage attacked the EU mainly because – 485 million people had the right to come over here, and that terrified him!
Even though it’s not true, because there is no “open door” right.
Even though that counts everyone born and bred in Britain, because Mr Farage is actually terrified of the sixty-odd million of us who aren’t him.
Even though that includes every child in the EU, suggesting that as well as all the safety and unfair dismissal and environmental and all the other common regulations that Mr Farage said in passing he hates, he’d get rid of all the child labour laws too and get over the problem of lost British jobs by making us the world’s magnet for underage wage slaves. Result!
3 – Immigrants
In his answer to the third question, Mr Farage again raised the spectre of millions of British people staying in Britain, and millions of European babies coming over to steal the jobs he wants to inflict on British babies.
And he defended the UKIP leaflets that said that 29 million people were poised to invade from Romania and Bulgaria, even though that’s actually more Romanians and Bulgarians than there are.
4 – British Industry
In his answer to the seventh question, Mr Farage said that actually we would have more negotiating clout on our own than as part of the world’s most powerful trading bloc, because they need us more than we need them – they make things that people want to buy, so they need us to buy them, whereas nobody wants to buy our stuff because it’s shit. Of course they’ll accept any terms we want, because we’re so rubbish that we can only be passive consumers!
“We sell a million cars a year to the European Union, but they sell us 1.8 million cars a year of much higher quality… The German car market needs the British far more.”
5 – Human Rights and Everything About Britain Since the Thirteenth Century
In his eleventh answer, the most recent human rights legislation Mr Farage was prepared to accept was the Magna Carta – in the Thirteenth Century. Just so you got the point, he talked about “Common Law for 800 years” and “forget all these human rights”.
He said that all the politicians – especially, we have to conclude, Winston Churchill, who ordered the British lawyers to draw up the European Convention on Human Rights, and who signed us up to it – should be saying “I am very sorry”.
6 – The European Arrest Warrant
Mr Farage went on to say in his desperate dogma that he was 100% against the European Arrest Warrant.
He’d rather every type of criminal went free than ever pool our law-enforcing resources with the hated Europe.
7 – British Tourists
Mr Farage went on to say in his desperate dogma that he was 100% against British tourists locked up in EU countries getting the right to legal and translation help.
He’d rather every innocent Briton was banged up – by going to Europe, they’re damned anyway, aren’t they? – than ever make sure everyone has the same basic legal rights across the hated Europe.
“I’ve been in the European Parliament for 15 years and I have never once voted”As Mr Farage admitted, he has one of the worst voting records of any elected European politician. He’s taken more than £2 million of our money in those 15 years, but he never turns up.
8 – Happy Gays
In his twelfth answer, Mr Farage was given the opportunity to clear up his position on same-sex marriage. Did he think it brought about floods and the end of civilisation, as UKIP spokespeople have said? Did he still oppose it tooth and nail, as he did when it was being voted on? Was he now in favour of it, as his spokesperson said last week and then hurried said, ‘Kidding!’?
Mr Farage said that he was absolutely dead against Richard and me getting married on our twentieth anniversary this year – perhaps he’s frightened that because we want to get married once, and he’s been married twice to show how much he believes in it, there may be a finite number of marriages to be had and he might not be entitled to a third one.
Well, he didn’t mention Richard and me by name, but it’s hard not to take it personally.
So was he against, dead against, against for fear of the gaypocalypse, or in favour for another two minutes before changing his mind again?
Mr Farage said that even the years of negotiations that would involve leaving the EU wouldn’t be enough – no, we’d have to leave Winston Churchill’s European Court of Human Rights, too, “then we’d look at it again.”
‘Leave the EU and all our international agreements – or your marriage gets it!’
‘I want to roll back all our freedoms to the Thirteenth Century and “forget all these human rights” and then, all you gay and lesbian and bisexual people, you can trust me with your interests even though I won’t commit…’
Thanks, Mr Farage, but
Nick Clegg, by contrast, the first Leader who supported equal marriage from the first party that supported equal marriage, doesn’t have the same maniac anti-EU dogma or closet homophobia about two people who love each other, so simply said:
“It’s just unalloyed great news that love and marriage will be recognised, a great step forward.”And got the biggest cheer of the night.
9 – To Be Honest I Don’t Want To Sully A Headline With This One
In his thirteenth answer, Mr Farage attacked everyone who wasn’t “Anglo-Saxon” for not believing in the rule of (Thirteenth Century Barons’) law, and sneered by name at everyone from the “south of Europe” and “Mediterranean” people who never follow the rules.
Well, no wonder the racist gobshite boasted this week that he’s taken all the BNP’s votes. I wonder how that could be?
10 – Immigrants
In his summing-up at the end, Mr Farage spent his entire time on a completely new subject – immigrants.
In case you missed it.
485 million potential child labourers, including British ones, to threaten our British child labour! Many of them poor people (who he also hates)!
Again. In case you missed it.
He also mentioned immigration briefly in several other answers, but I’ve only mentioned the major ones.
It’s pretty clear that the other thing Mr Farage hates is Number 11 – FACTS.
But Mr Farage doesn’t hate everything.
Not Vladimir Putin. Ukraine provoked him by liking the EU.
‘WTF, Ukraine? I hate the EU! You provoke me too! How dare you like the EU? I’d have declared war on you too. Vlad, Vlad, you’re my best mate, you are…’
Monday, March 31, 2014
Liberal Mondays 7: Roy Jenkins #LibDemValues
Scottish Liberal Andrew Page has doubly inspired me to return to my occasional series of Liberal Mondays quotations. Last week he wrote a post championing a very different political ideology* to my own Liberalism, but with a great line from Roy Jenkins, one of his political heroes, whose inspiring call for individual freedom is worth sharing:
“Let us be on the side of those who want people to be free to live their own lives, to make their own mistakes, and on the side of experiment and brightness... of fuller lives and greater freedom.”
Andrew also interviewed me amongst others at last year’s Liberal Democrat Conference in Glasgow. You can see here Andrew’s choice of Lib Dem “Conference People” and our array of thoughtful and positive (well, all but one of us, anyway) answers to his questions about the Lib Dems and the LiberaTory Coalition. I would have blogged about it before, but, er, it just so happens that he published his video the week after I stopped blogging for six months. None of our lines are as memorable as Roy’s, though.
*Andrew wrote that Roy “was not directly referring to the question of Scotland’s political future,” which did make me laugh. I suspect based on nothing but Roy’s entire political career that this is indeed not whistling Dixie, but what do I know? The nearest I ever got to meeting the Lord Jenkins was when he walked off the stage after my first ever Conference speech, so he may well not have agreed with me either.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Nick V Nigel V Batman… V Photoshop?
How are you with Photoshop, flags and Batman?
Last night’s LBC debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage saw one of the most telling clashes about crime. Nick said we were better off IN to fight crime and get better justice. Nigel said he was so hell-bent against any form of European co-operation that he’d rather see cross-border criminals go free on killing sprees and British tourists locked up without help.
So where is the Photoshopped poster of Nick Clegg as Batman (in half-EU stars, half-Union Jack Batsuit) vs Nigel Farage, the Joker, saying ‘Together, We Fight Crime’? Your turn! Can you take this opportunity to turn them into a colourful graphic before next week’s rematch?
The Lib Dems have turned part of Nick’s attack into a poster, but a ridiculous picture is worth a thousand words. And I should know – I like a thousand words.
Here’s the Cast of Characters I’m Looking For
Nick Clegg IS Batman
In half-EU stars, half-Union Jack Batsuit, with ears (armoured nipples optional), and dynamic pro-European Arrest Warrant slogan, ‘Together, We Fight Crime!’
He won’t thank you, but I will.
Nigel Farage IS the Joker
UKIP’s colours already run to the purple suit, so that’s most of the work done already. Just change the sickly green highlights to sickly yellow, and you’re away. With an exaggerated downturned grimace of hatred for immigrants instead of a grin!
Yes, I know that the real Mr Farage’s face goes frothing-mad beetroot rather than deathly pale, but no fictional character could be as ludicrous as the real thing.
And if you’re up to a few minor supporting characters, even though they were too scared to appear in the story and bottled it…
David Cameron IS Two-Face
Hinting at ‘OUT’ to his Conservative Party members, reassuring he’s ‘IN’ to the public at large!
Ed Miliband IS the Riddler
What will his policy be? Search for Labour’s deviously concealed and indecipherable off-the-record briefing clues to see if you can work it out!
Riddle me this: is Mr Miliband already regretting running away from the debate and leaving the leadership of the whole progressive side of British politics to Nick Clegg because Ed was terrified of losing the racist vote? This morning’s off-the-record Riddler clue says that next year, anyway, he’d be happy to debate Nigel Farage as well as Nick Clegg, and accuses Two-Face of being cowardly. Which makes cowardly Mr Miliband pretty two-faced himself.
But riddle me that: if all the other three Leaders are willing to debate each other before the 2015 General Election, and Mr Cameron tries to run away, will that any longer be enough to stop the debates happening? As of this week, the broadcasters – LBC, Sky and BBC all helping stage the two European debates – have accepted the precedent that if a Party Leader, even the Prime Minister, is invited to a debate but too frit to show up, they can go ahead anyway and just leave him looking like the cowardly bottler he is.
So if Mr Cameron thinks he’s got a veto on the Leaders’ Debates… Toss a coin. (Two-)Heads, it’s an empty chair for the frit PM.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Putting #WhyIAmIN Into What the Lib Dems Stand For 2014.07 #LibDemValues
Tomorrow, Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg puts the positive case for being in the European Union, in the first of two debates with UKIP Leader Nigel Farage putting the negative case for Little-Englanderism (the other two ‘Leaders’ can’t decide, so they’ve bottled it). That makes two headlines for What the Lib Dems Stand For: “Stronger Economy, Fairer Society” and “IN Europe, IN Work”. So how do those two fit together? Here’s my go at something slightly more than a slogan, but still punchy. If you like it, please borrow it to stick on a leaflet or add to a speech. If you don’t, please send me something better!
- The Liberal Democrats stand for freedom for every individual – freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity.
- To make that freedom real needs both fairness and economic responsibility: an economy that works, that encourages enterprise, and where everyone pays their fair share.
- So freedom from poverty requires responsible spending, not debt, built on fairer taxes where lower earners pay less tax and the wealthiest pay more; being in Europe to be in work, to fight crime and tackle climate change; and building green jobs for the future.
- Freedom from ignorance needs better education and training, so people have the opportunity to realise their potential.
- And freedom from conformity, supported by freedom from poverty and ignorance, means everyone should have the liberty to live their lives as they choose – without harming others; with equality before the law; with a better say, because no government always knows best.
- These values are why Liberal Democrats are working for a greener, stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.
Last year I wrote a series of articles on What the Lib Dems Stand For, looking for something to fit in a box on a leaflet or in a minute’s speech – something to enthuse and inspire Lib Dem believers, something to attract and persuade potential supporters, something that’s more than a slogan or a soundbite but short enough to get in one go.
I opened it up into a meme, and many other Lib Dems took part as well – you can find the links to where I’ve published theirs, too, below. That’s still open: if you can do better, whether saying ‘Change this little bit because…’ or suggesting your own from scratch, I want to hear from you, too (my email link’s on the sidebar. I’d like to hear if you make use of mine, too).
Especially now we’re sharing power, it’s important to assert our values. I wanted to answer: What makes us different, and makes us stay? How is that reflected in our priorities in Coalition Government? How does that pick out the central message of the Preamble to our Constitution? How does that expand on the party’s ‘core message’ slogan of “Stronger Economy, Fairer Society”? And how can we best express it in language that feels natural to us and anyone listening to us? All the while making a positive case for us, not just ‘…But the others are worse’? I’ve tried to do all that together. Does it work for you?
Last year I tried to combine everything at once, with the added challenge to make it short and to make it make sense, rather than just being a storm of buzzword-salad. It works pretty well for me telling the story of how the three big freedoms of our Preamble fit together with fairness, but even then I knew it had to leave some things out, and the biggest one I couldn’t seem to fit in was internationalism. And what’s our big theme for this year’s European Elections? Who could have guessed?
My main change today is… Adding more words. Compared to last year’s, below, it’s up 16, taking it further from my target of 150 to fit in a medium-sized box on a leaflet or just one minute in a speech. What do you think of “being in Europe to be in work, to fight crime and tackle climate change”? Does it work? Does it fit? Is it too specific compared to the more values-based rest of the text? I based it on our three main campaigning messages about Europe, because I couldn’t find a way of getting the ‘drawbridge down’ sort of values behind them to work in just a few words. Can you?
And yes, now it makes the “Freedom from ignorance” bit look a bit short, but I’m not adding even more. Though if you don’t like semi-colons and want to break it up a bit more to make it easier to read, the pedant in me doesn’t like it, but you can use full stops instead to make the “Freedom from poverty” and “Freedom from conformity” bullets punchier.
The ‘What the Liberal Democrats Stand For Challenge’ So Far
This aims to be something short and simple that Lib Dems members can look at and think, ‘Yes, that’s some of why we bother’, and that other people can look at and think, ‘Oh, that’s what the Lib Dems are for, and I like it’. Feel free to borrow it for a box on your Focus leaflets, to be part of your speeches, for your members’ newsletters, your Pizza’N’Politics evenings – wherever it’ll do some good. And here’s what I’ve done with it so far, including many other Lib Dems’ own versions…
Happy 25th Birthday, Liberal Democrats – and What the Lib Dems Stand For 2013.1
Why we should sum up What the Lib Dems Stand For, and how it’s developed over the years.
What the Lib Dems Stand For 2013.2 – a Challenge and a Meme #LibDemValues
Setting out my ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ based on the Preamble, practice and core messaging, and challenging other Lib Dems to come up with their own.
The Liberal Democrat What Do We Stand For Challenge 2013.3 – Eight Answers (so far) #LibDemValues
After receiving the first set of responses, rounding up eight different Liberal Democrats’ versions of what we stand for – so far…
The Liberal Democrat What Do We Stand For Challenge 2013.4 – What It’s All About #LibDemValues
Inviting people to use my short declaration of ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ and explaining what each bit of it means.
What the Lib Dems Stand For 2013.5 – Why I Am A Liberal Democrat #LibDemValues
This one’s very different – longer and more personal: how did I get here? Why did I become a Lib Dem in the first place? And why do I stay?
The Liberal Democrat What Do We Stand For Challenge 2013.6 – Another Eight Answers #LibDemValues
Another eight different Liberal Democrats’ versions of what we stand for in the second set of responses people sent in.
Last year’s slightly shorter version:
The Liberal Democrats stand for freedom for every individual – freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity.
To make that freedom real needs both fairness and economic responsibility: an economy that works, that encourages enterprise, and where everyone pays their fair share.
So freedom from poverty requires responsible spending, not debt, built on fairer taxes where lower earners pay less tax and the wealthiest pay more, and building green jobs for the future.
Freedom from ignorance needs better education and training, so people have the opportunity to realise their potential.
And freedom from conformity, supported by freedom from poverty and ignorance, means everyone should have the liberty to live their lives as they choose – without harming others; with equality before the law; with a better say, because no government always knows best.
That’s why Liberal Democrats are working for a stronger, greener economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.
Once again, there will be more.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Doctor Who 50 Great Scenes – 34: The Ark – The Plague (and The Ends of the Earth)
Remember the fiftieth birthday of Doctor Who late last year? Of course you do! I had been counting down towards the great event with my choice of Fifty great scenes… Then, let’s say, things went mildly awry. But I still have Fifty marvellous moments to champion, and Doctor Who goes on too. Tonight, I bring a great cliffhanger and a massive spoiler (so get your The Ark DVD now) as I go back to the youngest-oldest Doctor (William Hartnell), and forward to – well, failing to write a blog isn’t the end of the world, you know. But this is…
“The last moment has come.”
Hello again, possibly extinct regular reader! I hope you’ve been hibernating for the Winter, or perhaps in suspended animation. I won’t go into it all, but – short version – Richard is lovely, and most of the rest of life hasn’t been. It is, chasteningly, six months ago today that I last wrote anything on this blog (an article that, in retrospect ironically, was titled “Speeches I Didn’t Make”), and seven months yesterday since I posted Number 35 in my exciting Doctor Who Fifty countdown. A happier anniversary is that tonight is the 48th anniversary of (mild spoiler) The Return, the third episode of Doctor Who serial The Ark and the one that goes on to explain just what the security kitchen was going on at the end of the brilliant cliffhanger I’m about to celebrate. This much-delayed blog post is also, it turns out, my 700th on Love and Liberty, and 700 is a significant number in this particular plot. It’s time for the excitement, the adventure and the really wild spoilers, and, I mean, you may think it’s a long time down the blog since I published, but that’s just peanuts to this Ark in space…
Back in March 1966 – or forward at least* ten million years from another point of view – the Doctor (William Hartnell) and his friends Steven ‘Space Pilot of the Future’ Taylor and Dodo ‘Aptly Named Walking Extinction Event’ Chaplet materialise on a huge space Ark carrying some of the last of humanity and their
Naturally, the Doctor and his friends are the ones who treat the Monoids as people, while some of the Ark humans explode with xenophobic panic against our heroes, merely because Dodo infects them all with her antediluvian cold and threatens to wipe out what’s left of humanity (and, you know, Monoidony, nothing to see there). With, inexplicably, no telephone sanitisers to hand, it’s left to the Doctor to find a cure while the Ark sails from the Earth and the torches start burning.
Doctor Who – The Ark is a strange beast. It’s brilliantly structured, and has an epic sci-fi feel to it rare in the series’ early years (with impressive visuals for the time, too)… But the ambition doesn’t extend to creating much in the way of characters, and the second half trails off into B-Movie shonkiness. It also inspired a fabulous YouTube video to “Get Back!” which has sadly long since been double-copyright-bombed off the Internet, but if any readers happened to take an illicit copy…? But I’m looking for what’s most brilliant about the story and that, unusually, comes exactly in the middle. It’s something that Doctor Who was able to do to viewers in the 1960s and, if you don’t read the Internet too much, today – when stories aren’t given a simple title and an episode number, but an individual title each week that might leave you guessing how long each particular plot will run. This third season of Doctor Who had already had a story that consisted of just one episode and another that lasted for twelve, so when in the last few minutes of the second episode the cure is found, the moral expounded and the Earth de-rounded, there was no reason not to think that the TARDIS would be off to a completely different adventure the following week after this fortnight’s sci-fi parable.
But the TARDIS crew, and the viewer, were back on the Ark after the Hartnell era’s second and most inspired false ending.
The TARDIS materialises and Dodo, her undeterred eagerness to explore nothing to be sneezed at, rushes off to see the new sights. To everyone’s surprise, they’re more like the old sights. The TARDIS hasn’t moved at all – an important and popular fact that is wrong in all important respects – but the Ark’s vast indoor jungle is suddenly looking rather overgrown (and, still more disturbingly, no longer seems to host elephants). The Doctor explores rather gingerly, noting:
“Well, that’s strange. Something must have gone wrong. It appears we’ve landed back in the same place.”Dodo, on the other hand, bursts into the huge control area, expecting to see their friends and previous persecutors, but is puzzled by the apparent lack of humans as well as elephants, assuming “They can’t be far away” because “We’ve only been gone a few seconds.” Steven, taking his cue from the Doctor and more used to time travel, wonders just how long their “few seconds” may have been for the Ark.
If you’re familiar with Shelley’s poem Ozymandias and the statue which inspired it, I like to credit The Ark with inspiration rather than coincidence in throwing that idea into reverse just as it throws the TARDIS far forward in time. While most humans and Monoids are to sleep through the Ark’s seven-hundred-year voyage, the great ship’s dedicated guardians set themselves a task to mark the journey: that while generations lived and died in space to build humanity’s future (oh, and the Monoids’, nothing to see), they would build a vast statue, an embodiment of humanity’s greatness that would at last be completed for the Ark’s arrival. When we saw the Ark setting out from Earth, only the mighty feet were complete.
Unlike Ozymandias, the feet are a sign of hope and promise; the reversal and despair of the mighty only comes when the statue reaches its height.
Dodo sees, towering above the Ark’s deserted centre…
“Doctor – Steven – look! …The statue. They’ve finished the statue.”The camera follows Dodo’s gaze up the chiselled muscles of the nearly-nude figure that holds a new world in its hand in a thrilling exploitation shot… To the great Monoid’s head at the top.
*The Doctor, told this is the Fifty-Seventh Segment of Time by the Arkists’ reckoning, and told that two particular historical events took place in the First by the same reckoning, instantly calculates that (providing the Segments are of equal duration) “We must have jumped at least ten million years” from the TARDIS’ previous landing in the 1960s. Mathematically inclined readers will note that given this minimal information, it is possible to deduce a minimum period of time but not a maximum one, and that this is exactly what the Doctor does. This may prove handy, in a different segment of time.
Astute readers may have deduced that in the last few weeks I’ve been assisted in my faint desire to make life more helpful and intelligible by watching and listening to at least five different variations of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy, some of them even legal. This is not the story of that book, or even of the mind behind it and his contributions to Doctor Who. However, you may also be aware that Douglas Adams began with the idea of a series of quite different stories, all of which would end with the destruction of the Earth. Doctor Who has had much the same idea, with the exception that all of its many versions of the ends of the Earth can, if you squint generously, be said to agree with each other (just don’t get started on Atlantis). In this spirit, rather than just one bonus quotation below, I’ve picked out a selection that all more or less relate to the destruction of our small, blue-green world, though not necessarily all to the same destruction. There’s one related event that I’ve omitted, not because I can’t find a gorgeous line about it but because – in a more minor failure of forward planning than the general one of being a year late – I’ve already used it as a bonus quotation for a completely different one of the Fifty. Arguably, the title of the Doctor Who story involved may maintain some mystery about the planet and its fate (Richard isn’t entirely convinced, if you scroll down to his “… In A Hurry”), so I shan’t spoil it for you here, instead inviting you to click this link and read the Bonus Great Doctor Who Quotation only if you feel yourself thoroughly prepared. This story may safely be made the subject of suspense, since it is of no significance whatsoever.
Bonus Great Doctor Who Quotation – Frontios
Early in Part One, the Doctor (Peter Davison) has decided to sort out the TARDIS. His priorities and efficiency in doing so are uncannily similar to when I aim to tidy our flat, and for the TARDIS, too, things are going to get far more untidy before long. His friends – well, it’s 1984 (or ten million / five billion and forty, etc), so perhaps I should call them ‘his bitching contestants’ – Tegan (Australian) and Turlough (alien, and therefore British but a bit fey) just think he’s gone completely hatstand. On the sunny side, at least I don’t drive; here, the driverless TARDIS has drifted above the planet Frontios, where the forecast is less sunny than cloudy with a hint of meteorites. Turlough and Tegan try to bring this to the Doctor’s attention, though their main interest remains in sniping at each other. She’s louder, but he’s more cutting. And he can read…
“Doctor? Something’s happening to the controls.”Tegan wants to visit – “Laws of Time,” the Doctor weasels, and changes the subject to wanting a pair. That’s not unusual for this Doctor. Guess where they end up? Only to find that this group of fleeing humans are, if anything, even more useless than the first lot, with a total, brilliant ship in a worse state than the TARDIS – for a while….
“TIME PARAMETERS EXCEEDED”
“Ah. We must be on the outer limits. TARDIS has drifted too far into the future. We’ll just, ah, slip into hover mode for a while.”
“We’re in the Veruna System… Wherever that is.”
“I had no idea we were so far out. Veruna! That’s irony for you.”
“Veruna is where one of the last surviving groups of Mankind took shelter when the great – ah – yes. Well, I suppose you’ve got all that to look forward to, haven’t you?”
“When the great what, Doctor?”
[Sheepishly] “Well, all civilisations have their ups and downs.”
“Fleeing from the imminence of a catastrophic collision with the Sun, a group of refugees from the doomed planet Earth—”
“Yes, that’s enough, Turlough.”
Bonus Great Doctor Who Quotation – The End of the World
The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) takes Rose – and most of the audience – on her first trip in the TARDIS to the far future… An elegant, spacious chamber; a huge, shuttered window; a mystery. Momentarily. What a magnificent vista for a pre-credits teaser: the shutters retreat to reveal the wide Earth below and, looming beyond, the swollen Sun…
“You lot… You spend all your time thinking about dying. Like you’re going to get killed by eggs, or beef, or global warming, or asteroids. But you never take time to imagine the impossible. That maybe you survive. This is the year Five Point Five Slash Apple Slash Twenty Six, five billion years in your future. And this is the day… Hold on. [Glances at watch to time the Sun’s sudden blazing red] This is the day the Sun expands.Like The Ark, this story has multiple perspectives on time. It’s set at the same moment as the mid-point of the earlier story (of course it is); it was, mind-expandingly, the future, not just on screen but conceptually for its promise of a whole new Doctor Who; it loved and learned from the past (not least The Ark, The Ark In Space and Douglas Adams); and today it seems so dizzyingly long ago. Back in the olden days of nine years ago or five billion years in the future, in the dawn of Russell T Davies when actions had consequences and stories had endings, I loved it for its perfect collision of soaring optimism with sobering wisdom:
“Welcome to the end of the world.”
“Everything has its time, and everything dies.”
Incidentally, I saw the ‘film poster’ above years ago online, as you do, and thought it rather lovely. I’ve not been able to find the site since, though, so if you happen to know who created it, could you drop me a line in order that I can say ‘Thank you’ and they can say either ‘You’re welcome’ or ‘Take it down, impudent worm’?
Bonus Great Doctor Who Quotation – The Ark In Space
In early 1975 (or, again, the far future, but not quite as far as the others), Tom Baker had just started to be the Doctor, and I’d just started to watch Doctor Who. This was the second story for both of us, and it scared me so terribly that I had recurring nightmares of it for years afterwards. It was marvellous. But there’s a famously hopeful moment amid the horror, and ironically it comes just as we realise that the Earth has been scoured of all life…
The Doctor (Tom Baker) and his friends Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan spend the first episode alone (save something lurking, green and horrible), exploring an apparently deserted space station that still manages to suffocate, shoot at or freeze-dry them in turn. Some chambers hold records of Earth; others, its unliving animal life; then, to a swirl of sober, eerie music, the Doctor and Harry find themselves amid cold towers of cold people, each in their own compartment. While Harry faffs about, humansplaining about massive mortuaries, the Doctor realises that the station and the ‘bodies’ are waiting until the Earth can live once again:
“Homo sapiens… What an inventive, invincible species… It’s only a few million years since they’ve crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenceless bipeds. They’ve survived flood, famine and plague. They’ve survived cosmic wars and holocausts, and now here they are amongst the stars, waiting to begin a new life, ready to out-sit eternity. They’re indomitable. Indomitable!”Tom Baker’s speech near the end of Part One is utterly magnificent – both script and performance – establishing him as the Doctor even more than the manic energy of his first story. And in a story all about humanity, the Doctor reasserts an alien point of view which like so much of this story echoes across future series.
Bonus Great Doctor Who Quotation – The Sontaran Experiment
In this short but smart sequel to The Ark In Space that swaps claustrophobia for agoraphobia, the Doctor (Tom Baker) and his friends beam down to Earth to see if it’s ready for the return of humanity yet. Good news: it is. Bad news: others found it first. There’s going to be a sinister alien, whose species I shall keep secret for the moment (what’s that? Oh, damn!), but first we meet some other humans. Not the clinical, compartmentalised people of the previous story who slept in the sure and certain hope of resurrection and the even surer certainty of superiority, but a rougher, tougher breed who weren’t among the Chosen and had to work for it, viewing the Earth their distant ancestors fled not as their manifest destiny but a useless and long-junked irrelevance. They’ve only been lured here to become prey, so, just for a change, they don’t trust the Doctor…
“I’m sorry to keep contradicting you, but there is a transmat beam from Space Station Nerva.”Shhh. He mentioned Atlantis once, but I think he got away with it.
“Space Station Nerva.”
“Is he crazy?”
“You don’t expect us to believe that.”
“Nerva – transmat beam – Earth. It’s as simple as that. Why don’t you believe me?”
“Because Nerva doesn’t exist, that’s why. There’s no such place.”
“Fascinating. You don’t believe it exists, yet you’ve obviously heard of it…?”
“Everybody’s heard of the lost colony.”
“Lost colony? Ahhh. You mean it’s become a legend, like lost Atlantis?”
“Lost Atlantis. It’s a legendary city… A go— Never mind. This is extremely interesting. Are you going to cut me loose?”
And in sharp contrast with the Doctor’s previous rhapsody, they’re not impressed. The budget didn’t stretch to a statue, but Ozymandias is back in spirit:
“Listen. If you are one of the Old People, we’re not taking orders from your lot. While you were dozing away, our people kept going – and they made it. We’ve got bases all across the galaxy now. You’ve done nothing for ten thousand years while we made an Empire! You understand? …We’re not taking any of that ‘Mother Earth’ rubbish!”
Surprising Bonus Great Doctor Who Quotation – Doctor Who and the Silurians
After The Sontaran Experiment’s cold-water-in-the-face upending of The Ark In Space’s assumptions and the Doctor’s paean to its self-important survivors or even the importance of Earth itself, and going back right to the realisation that perhaps the Monoids might have something to say rather than just seeing everything from humanity’s perspective, I thought it appropriate to finish after the world ended and nobody noticed. Well, nobody you know, anyway. In 1970, or probably about 1976, or the 1980s, or – look, sometimes it’s easier to agree that ten million is the same as five billion – the Earth’s original owners woke up, and they weren’t happy. The different perspective of the Silurians / Homo Reptilia / Earth Reptiles / Indigenous Terrans is a three-eyed rather than a one-eyed one, but in this story the series had come on a long way in the four TV years since 1966. Going into sleep for millions of years, only to find the end of their world hadn’t quite wiped out all the little mammals, this was a story where the ‘aliens’ had as much of a claim to ‘our’ world as we did. But while the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) could see both sides by Episode Four, try telling that to either people…
“I spoke to it. And it understood me.”
“What was it like?”
“Reptilian. Biped. A completely alien species.”
“And it didn’t attack you?”
“Liz, these creatures aren’t just animals. They’re an alien life form, as intelligent as we are.”
“Why – why didn’t you tell the Brigadier?”
“Why? Because I want to find out more about these creatures; they’re not necessarily hostile.”
“Doctor, it attacked me.”
“Yes… But only to escape – it didn’t kill you. It didn’t attack me when I was in Quinn’s cottage. Well, don’t you see? They only attack for survival. Well, human beings behave in very much the same way.”
Next Time… The Next Time is out of joint – this one might have been ‘I had a little drink seven hundred years ago…’ – so while in the past I’ve offered a not terribly cryptic clue each time about what each time I was confident would be a planned, specific entry at the same time next week, I’m aware that this has been both a different Number 34 to that hinted at last August and that had I written it the next week it would have been, well, last August. So in the light of my impressive record so far, I will make no rash commitments. But if I do get to Number 33, and I do feel that you might need something cheerier after multiple and among them possibly even final apocalypses, it could be:
Next Time… Daylight! Music! Romance!