Tag Archives: general election

BBC bias and repetition and repetition and repetition

I don’t think the BBC is deliberately biased. I think it’s often daft, over-cautious, suckered, pressured, or naïve. Some of this is a result of the Hutton Inquiry, which resulted in several high-ranking BBC defenestrations and a collective case of the jitters which has yet to fully dissipate. Some is the infinite badgering of the Murdochs and Desmonds and Dacres and their broods, the right-wing tabloids.

I’m a huge fan of the BBC. Look, here’s me saying so in a piece I recorded for the BBC Newswatch programme on 3rd February (full programme, might not be visible in your country, or mine if it evaporates due to expiry, policy change or acts of Trump). Or here’s the full piece I recorded:


Where I struggle is with things like this image. I first saw it last night and it’s just been replaced as I’ve been writing this post, which means it was the main image on the BBC News front page for around twelve hours.

This image repeats the Tory’s election slogan three times.

Is this proof of bias? No.

Is it stupid/naïve? Yes. Oh, so very much yes.

I have to assume that some editorial process took place to select this image from the semi-infinite number available. I have to assume it wasn’t simply dropped in by a passing Tory. I have faith that the editorial process is designed to take the independence and impartiality of the BBC into account, because I believe most if not all BBC employees feel strongly about those factors.

I suppose I should explain why I think it’s inappropriate. It’s because of the repetition. It’s because of the repetition. It’s because of the repetition.

Here’s a quote from the US Office of Strategic Services, describing the profile of a certain moustachioed wartime loon:

His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it (source)

I’m not saying ZOMG TORIES ARE HITLER!!1! VOTE THERESA FOR A STRONG AND STABLE REICH or anything like that. I’ll leave it up to you to compare Hitler’s primary rules to how modern politics is conducted. But look at that last point. “If you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”

Ooh, look, I’ve repeated it. No, that doesn’t make it a lie, that’s wonky logic. It means it reinforces the idea in your mind.

The principle of repetition can’t make us believe things we know to be false. No amount of repetition of “CATS ARE JUST SARCASTIC DOGS” convinces us. But “strong and stable” isn’t provable and it’s talking about the unknowable future anyway, so this caveat doesn’t apply here.

Here’s a better exploration of the ideas from – ahem – the BBC.

Why was this image selected and used for so long? Perhaps someone thought they were using it ironically to mock the constant repetition. Perhaps someone didn’t see the repetition. Perhaps someone didn’t care. Perhaps someone didn’t know about the underlying psychology at work.

But the psychology is at work, whether anyone knew it or not.

And it’s important to recognise that most of the population are barely aware of politics even now, in the most politically bonkers period in my life. Some people are not even aware there’s a general election on (most likely including the current resident of the White House).

These people see newspaper front pages and headlines about politics: and often no more than that, as they skip to another story. They might see BBC News website front pages, as they scroll down to the weather or the sport or the twelve surprising facts about earthquakes. And before they turn or scroll the page they see the repetition in the image: strong, stable, strong, stable, strong, stable.

It reinforces the idea in their minds.

The Tory party knows this. This is why Tories repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. They don’t care if they’re mocked by people on Twitter, or if the HIGNFY audience laughs at it, or if a random builder shouts out “Oi oi, I’ll give you strong and stable” at a passing candidate (well, it might happen). That shows their plan is working. Their long-term economic plan – oh, no, that was used at the last election two years ago. You still remember it? Well, fancy that.

How’s that plan working out for you?

(In 2010, the Tory plan was to balance the budget by 2015. In 2017, the Tory plan is to balance the budget by 2025.)

Repeating a political party slogan helps that party, whether you intend it as mockery or satire or not. (I’ve thought about removing the S-words from this post for exactly this reason.)

It is not the job of the BBC, or any reputable media organisation, to help a political party of any hue by repeating their slogans for them: especially not on the front page of their news website, multiple times in a single photo.

I don’t believe the BBC is deliberately biased. Here, I think someone’s been stupid or naïve. However, it is surely not possible that nobody in the BBC understands the psychology of repetition. Where are they? What are they doing? Why aren’t they trying to counter it?


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There’s an election in four months


There’s an election in four months.

Those are the only words you need to remember. Whenever a politician drivels before an invited audience of heart-eyed acolytes or assembly line workers glazing over on company time for half an hour, just remember: there’s an election in four months (or three, or two, or one…).

Yesterday renowned cryptographer David Cameron said there should be no “means of communication” which “we cannot read”. This has been interpreted by technically literate commentators, mostly through the medium of boggle-eyed laughter, as expressing a desire to ban encryption or enforce the addition of backdoors. I’ve seen many, many tweets setting out the stupidity of such a move, and I have no desire or need to rehash them here.

Because the only thing you need to know is: there’s an election in four months.

Cameron is talking about monitoring the internet because there is an election in four months. He wants people to vote for him. He understands — better, sadly, than those tweeting about protocols and key escrow and men-in-the-middle and laptops left in taxis — that none of all that matters. He’s not talking to that audience, the tiny audience that groks the detail and the implications. He’s talking to the other 99%, who saw the attacks in Paris last week and think (thanks to Be Vigilant And Report Darkies posters) that we’re next.

Let’s imagine Cameron is elected in May with a majority. What would he actually do? We have no idea. There’s no manifesto yet, and manifestos can’t be trusted anyway. On past experience — we have almost five years of it now — his words don’t much match his deeds. I expect there’d be a series of meetings, possibly involving token techies invited as a sop to industry, and the End Terrorism Forever Bill 2017 (probably) that would emerge would contain no clauses capable of achieving any such thing.

There’s an election in four months. That’s all Cameron is worried about.

The opposition parties (I include the Lib Dems in that category for election purposes) have the same phrase in their heads. If they want to oppose Cameron on this issue — and I’m not entirely sure the Labour party does, for fear of being labelled soft on terrorism — then there is absolutely no point in talking technology. That’s preaching to the choir.

To oppose this policy they need to do two things: pursue, with great vigour and purpose, the support of younger people (beneficial side-effect: these are least likely to be slack-jawed kippers); and tell them in specific terms which apps and services Cameron thinks they shouldn’t be permitted to use without being snooped on.

Snapchat, WhatsApp, iMessage, FaceTime, Yik Yak, Rooms, Skype, etc, etc — and also Facebook and Twitter and plain old email, of course, but with less emphasis since younger people don’t use those so much. Ignore the likes of HTTPS, Tor, and all that: too confusing for the audience you’re trying to reach.

Keep it simple. Non-technical. Personal.

Avoid greyfaces and clumping hooves of rhetoric: all an utter turn-off for the audience. Don’t make it an official party video at all. You want Cassetteboy, not Saatchi, and if you don’t know who Cassetteboy is, fire yourself.

Here’s an idea off the top of my head: take one (or more) of those ubiquitous thirty-second promo videos from an app vendor’s website — you know the ones, with the indie guitar solos and the Californian hipster voiceovers — and every time a toothy blond communicates with another toothy blond, intercut video of Cameron sitting at a computer screen.

It doesn’t matter that it’s inaccurate or simplistic: so is what he’s claiming to propose.

There’s an election in four months.


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Avaragado’s 2015 predictions

And here they are: a list of things almost certainly not going to happen in 2015. Feel free to pop down the betting shop as soon as it opens to chuck your savings at the opposite of everything below. Don’t forget to return this time next year to gloat with your millions.


  1. There is more than one UK general election.
  2. After one of the general elections, speaker John Bercow is deposed.
  3. The royal child-beast is of the girl persuasion, and called Elizabeth.
  4. Hillary Clinton confirms she will run for US President.
  5. Kim Jong Un is deposed as leader of North Korea.
  6. The record for the highest temperature in the UK is broken.


  1. Sepp Blatter is not re-elected as president of FIFA.
  2. Chelsea win the English Premier League.
  3. Australia retain the Ashes.
  4. Germany win the women’s football World Cup in Canada.
  5. Oxford wins the University Boat Race, again.
  6. Cyprus comes top of the medal table in the keenly anticipated Games of the Small States of Europe in Reykjavik.

Science and technology

  1. Apple releases a MacBook Air with a retina display.
  2. The Dawn spacecraft discovers ice volcanoes on the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres.
  3. The probe Philae on the surface of comet 67P emerges from hibernation sufficiently to send useful scientific data.
  4. Microsoft buys Fitbit.
  5. Dick Costolo leaves his position as CEO of Twitter.
  6. YouTube users upload over 500 hours of video per minute on average.


  1. Best Actor Oscar: Michael Keaton, Birdman.
  2. Best Actress Oscar: Julianne Moore, Still Alice.
  3. Best Picture Oscar: Birdman.
  4. Best Director Oscar: Richard Linklater, Boyhood.
  5. Best Visual Effects Oscar: Interstellar.
  6. The BBC says BBC 4 will follow BBC 3 and move online.

Celebrity deathwatch

  1. Dodgy FIFA boss before the other dodgy FIFA boss, João Havelange (98)
  2. Avenger before the other Avengers, actor Patrick Macnee (92)
  3. Dracula, Scaramanga, Saruman, Dooku, actor Christopher Lee (92)
  4. I’ve met him you know, comics elder Stan Lee (92)
  5. President Bush before the other President Bush, George HW Bush (90)
  6. Spock before the other Spock, actor Leonard Nimoy (82)
  7. Run out, umpire Dickie Bird (81)
  8. War criminal, ex-veep Dick Cheney (73)
  9. Floating like an ex-butterfly, stinging like an ex-bee, boxer Muhammad Ali (72)

Happy New Year!

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Vote Brand

“If voting changed anything, they’d abolish it.”

“No matter who you vote for, the government gets in.”

These are age-old gags: clichés, even. And they pretty well summarise Russell Brand’s point, I think: there’s no point in voting if your vote doesn’t matter. Either this shower or that shower gets in, give or take a third-party drizzle. Initial excitement and hope gives way to reality. They all court Murdoch and the right-wing press (Leveson hasn’t changed the landscape significantly). They all kowtow to demands of big business ( “…or we’ll move our company elsewhere” — corporate blackmail, or what nobody ever seems to call “economic terrorism” for some reason, is endemic).

Brand’s decision not to vote is his choice. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but neither do I agree with mandatory voting. Many people make the same choice — turnout at elections is low, even for general elections — and the difference with Brand is that he has a voice. He articulates, compellingly, at length, on TV and in newspapers, the reasons he doesn’t vote, and thousands of people watching and reading nod in agreement. Various media types and entrenched politicians hold up distracting shiny things — no, he doesn’t offer any true solutions, yes, he’s a sexist, no, there is unlikely to be a full-on, tanks-out revolution — but the fact is: in the substance of his comments about politics, disregarding his choice of whether to vote or not, Brand is right.

Which makes him a dangerous subversive who must be stopped.

He’s an easy target: his history, his reputation, his appearance, his money, even his articulacy. The qualities that give him the platform to speak are used to attack him for speaking. Of course, the correct way to obtain a platform is to be a member of the establishment, or a hereditary politician. The platform daddy built is the platform of choice for all right-thinking persons.

Brand says: “The only reason to vote is if the vote represents power or change”. I’m sure it’s a view shared by many, and it’s a legitimate view. If he feels the only choices available in his constituency all lead to the same result, he has the right not to vote. I’m not entirely convinced by the critic’s standard response: “If he doesn’t vote then he has no right to complain”. The disenfranchised are still citizens, aren’t they? The views of sixteen and seventeen-year-olds — who can marry, go to war, drive, etc — still matter, don’t they? Members of the House of Lords can’t vote for MPs but they seem able to do some quite significant complaining. Just as I pay taxes that go to services I won’t use, for the good of society as a whole — child benefit, for example — I believe those affected by government, whether they vote or not, are entitled to voice their opinion.

The right-wing papers certainly make their opinions known, and they’re generally owned by foreigners like Murdoch, or patriotic Brits like Viscount Rothermere who reside in France for tax purposes and pay no tax in this country. They would seem to me to be more legitimate targets than Russell Brand.

But anyway: I can think of three easy ways to make voting represent power or change, in a way that might make Russell Brand and those others who currently withhold their vote change their minds. (Because that’s what we should be doing rather than criticising them for not voting for people they don’t want to vote for.)

1. Legitimacy threshold

If no candidate in an election receives the votes of more than 50% (or some other threshold of legitimacy) of the entire electorate — not the voters who turned out — then the election is invalid and rerun with new candidates.

Potentially expensive and never-ending, and the constituency is unrepresented in parliament while this happens. But it’ll concentrate the minds of the candidates on the issues in that constituency, over and above national issues.

2. None of the above

Add ‘None of the above’ to the ballot paper. If that pseudo-candidate wins, the election is invalid and rerun with new candidates (and ‘None of the above’ again).

A less extreme version of (1). This gives current non-voters a great incentive to vote if none of the candidates appeals.

3. Proportional representation

Yeah, well, the public were offered this option but turned it down thanks to a concerted campaign by the vested interests, the establishment — and a shambolic one by its supporters.

And what happened with option (3) is why we’ll never see options (1) or (2) enacted. Because if voting changed anything, they’d abolish it.

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