Monday 27 July 2009

Slow going

It's been pretty slow here, I'm afraid. There are two basic, and possibly related reasons for this. The first is that as a new dad I find spending time with a drooling, incoherent poo-machine is both a higher priority and more fun than blogging*. The second is that there's not much going on in politics that seems worth talking about. Or rather, what people are talking about doesn't seem worth it.

Oh, there are big issues at stake. Huge issues. But (for example) the whole painful issue of the economy, the pace of recovery, bank supervision and the tackling of government debt seems to boil down to the Tories saying "we'll make big cuts, but don't worry, not in anything lovely" and Labour saying "Tory cuts, Tory cuts, fear them, fear them". Whoop-de-do. What am I meant to do with that? What's anyone supposed to do?

Well, the obvious answer is that they're meant to either run fleeing from the Tories crudely-wielded axe or cast a last, scornful glare over their shoulder at Brown as they side with the men on a mission. Stretching my optimism to breaking point, I'm kind of hoping that's not what's happening. Ignoring the many, many confounding factors for a fallacious minute, Labour's vote loss in Norwich North showed that simply shouting about cuts isn't enough to get out their vote. Meanwhile, the Tories limited gain in vote share suggests that they aren't firmly established as the natural party of government just yet.

The big question about the next election isn't "Who?" it's "How much?" Thinking back to the 1997 landslide, we had a nation fed up with a discredited, sleaze-bespattered government. So far, so tediously obvious historic parallel. We also had a reformed opposition led by a charismatic, media-savvy reformer. But I think that parallel is tenuous: New Labour had publicly fought some fairly major internal battles in a way that Cameron has not; more importantly there were some fairly clearly articulated policies as well. The "5 pledges" card may have been a gimmick - but what would today's Tory version look like?

The Conservatives' ability to articulate what they're actually going to do in government is going to make the difference between a victory and landslide. Similarly, Labour's ability to properly criticise the Tories will make the difference between a loss and a pasting. More importantly, either of these approaches will make the prospect of following the news something other than aggravatingly depressing.

*See? There's a perfectly good "drooling, incoherent poo machine"/bloggertarian/the other one's a baby gag there, but I just can't be arsed.

Monday 13 July 2009

Out of the mouth of babes

The financial district is (apparently) abuzz over a new report by Morgan Stanley Research into teens' online and media habits. The penetrating insights in this short document have rocked the world of media/business analysis to its very core:

[The] report was “one of the clearest and most thought-provoking insights we have seen — so we published it,” Edward Hill-Wood, executive director of Morgan Stanley’s European media team, was quoted as saying in articles in The Guardian and The Financial Times.
He wasn’t alone in thinking so: Mr. Hill-Wood said the research note generated five to six times the amount of interest of the team’s average note, with dozens of fund managers and a few chief executives requesting a copy.

So who is the genius behind this meisterwerk? Which freethinker shook off the hidebound shackles of recieved wisdom to deliver the definitive guide to teens' media preferences? Step forward Matthew Robson, a summer intern aged 15!, to give us the inside dope. So what were the big insights that had, until now, eluded the finest minds of the City? Brace yourselves:

Most teenagers watch television, but usually there are points in the year where they watch more than average. This is due to programs coming on in seasons, so they will watch a particular show at a certain time for a number of weeks (as long as it lasts) but then they may watch no television for weeks after the program has ended.

Teenagers listen to a lot of music, mostly whilst doing something else (like travelling or using a computer). This makes it hard to get an idea of the proportion of their time that is spent listening to music.

On the other hand, teenagers do not use twitter. Most have signed up to the service, but then just leave it as they release that they are not going to update it (mostly because texting twitter uses up credit, and they would rather text friends with that credit). In addition, they realise that no one is viewing their profile, so their ‘tweets’ are pointless.

Many teenagers use YouTube to watch videos...

How teenagers play their music while on the go varies, and usually dependent on wealth –with teenagers from higher income families using iPods and those from lower income families using mobile phones. Some teenagers use both to listen to music, and there are always exceptions to the rule.

I'm prepared to believe that this story is a trifle overhyped, and in particular that the CEOs of major media conglomerates are not, in fact, falling over themselves for a copy. But Morgan Stanley did see fit to publish this, and to publicly state that they've rarely seen clearer or more thought-provoking insight. If this is true - if they were genuinely taken aback to find that teens watch TV when the shows they want to watch are on, but don't when they aren't - then whoever is paying their salaries needs to seriously rethink their value to the company.

Friday 10 July 2009

What you won't read in the Times

Once again, the gaping moral void at the heart of Britain's democratic institutions has been laid bare. Our self-appointed moral guardians have, yet again, been caught out breaking the rules for their own profit. Despite all their fine words and lofty claims to serve the public, they have, blinded by greed, forsaken their moral responsibilities in pursuit of naked self-interest.

We all know how this story unfolds: the progressive drip-feeding of relevations, the shift from thin-lipped denial to red-faced excuse, the scapegoats, the forced apologies, the promises to reform and self-regulate. How long before we hear the same sad chorus again: "the problem was the system", "I believed it to be within the rules", "the proper authorities approved it so I felt it must be alright", "it was part of the culture"? How long before we see junior or unpopular figures publicly fired while the charmed inner circle merely apologises?

Now, more than ever, such false contrition will not be nearly good enough. A scandal such as this demands the resignation of senior leadership figures, if only to demonstrate that lessons have been learned. Moreover, the era of self-regulation must surely be over. The time has come for root-and-branch reform of an outdated system; the era of the gentleman's club is over. Our democratic process demands a new, independent and effective watchdog which can exert genuine control over those who would abuse their power.

Monday 6 July 2009

One of the finest minds of his generation

It's been quiet here, I'm afraid - partly because I've been on holiday, partly because I don't care about Michael Jackson. By way of dipping my toe back in the water, here is AC Grayling demonstrating the importance of being prepared to admit that your initial assumptions may be faulty:

"I recently retraced on foot a famous journey that William Hazlitt made from Shropshire to Somerset to visit Wordsworth and Coleridge. I spent two weeks slogging through nettle beds before I realised the bastard had taken the coach."