Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Shin Lam's Sit-In

I appreciate the tension and preparation, I appreciate the frustration and seeming unfairness when losing, I appreciate the anger involved and hurt. But this was not the way to deal with it. Accept the decision, move on, and be more determined to win next time. Because Shin Lam can win next time!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympic Tickets Still On Sale

To me this is the one downside on what has otherwise been a cracking time. The opening ceremony was far better than the good evening I was anticipating, the UK has already been collecting medals, there seems to be hardly any travel chaos in London, we have much to be content with. I think the UK has seen a confidence and a happiness in that confidence which transcends politics in a way we have not seen for a long time

Thursday, July 26, 2012

RIP Mary Tamm

A shock after the recent deaths of Nicholas Courtney, Elisabeth Sladen, and Caroline John. It's sometimes a cliche to call someone talented, intelligent, and beautiful, but Mary Tamm was all three and clearly made her mark on the series and as an actress in general. A sad loss

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Coulson and Brooks to face charges!

Not surprising and not much more to add to this, other than justice should be done and that may this help draw some line across the disgusting abuses and practices we have seen from the gutter press over the years

Interview With Douglas Carswell MP

Last week I interviewed Douglas Carswell MP on the issue of Europe, at Portcullis House. It turned out to be one of those interviews that went better than expected and ended up as more of a conversation. Below is a transcript of some of that interview

PAUL BURGIN: I am with Douglas Carswell MP, to talk about Europe. You've got a proposition for the European issue which you have just mentioned to me

DOUGLAS CARSWELL: I think we should withdraw from the European Union, and I think our European membership is a disaster and pressure is obviously growing for a Referendum, but what I want to do is to get people, right across the political spectrum, to start to think about how we could extricate ourselves from the European Union. I believe it will be simple to do, but not easy, and so I brought forward a Private Members Bill to overturn the European Communities Act and I hope off of that , that it will provoke people to actually think seriously  about what sort of country we could be if we were outside the EU


PAUL BURGIN: Do you have an alternative view in place of that? Would we go it alone, or would you like us to sign up to something else?

DOUGLAS CARSWELL: I would personally like us to have good relations with Europe, because even though Europe's not growing and even though Europe's got generational economic problems that are going to be with Europe for all of our lifetime and probably all of our children's lifetime. I still think, you know, it's important, we want to be good neighbours, we want to have, I think, arrangements in place for free movement of goods, free movement of services, free movement of people. But the key is that if we are part of something, anything European it should not be exclusive, it should not prevent our ability to strike other arrangements with the rest of the World, so for me the key test is to make sure we can make our own trade arrangements with Australia, Mexico, Brazil. In India and Turkey they are really disappointed because economic growth is down to 5 and 6% a year. That's where the growth is outside Europe. I think we need to be in a similar relationship to Europe that Switzerland has, where it's in effect able to trade freely, but it's not bound by exclusive ties to a stagnating continent.

PAUL BURGIN: That answered one of my other questions actually. There have been other people who have put forward visions of a change in Europe, Lord Owen put forward a two-tier plan for Europe, have you heard of some of these other ideas?

DOUGLAS CARSWELL: I have, I think the real problem with Europe is  that a tiny elite are trying to organise Europe by grand design and I don't think it really matters so much what that grand design is, the danger is they are trying to organise it by grand design. So whether you have a one-tier Europe, a two-tier Europe, a veritable geometry Europe, a blah-blah Europe, it's trying to organise the affairs of millions of Europeans by grand design and it doesn't work. When we see the failure of the European monetary project, the Euro, it is the failure of the currency by grand design. We have got to get away from this idea of believing that society should be organised from the top down. Whatever the vision is, whether it is one-tier, two-tier, quick trying to organise free people, let them organise themselves

PAUL BURGIN: So if this came to a Referendum, which I imagine something like this would, what would you envisage being on the question? Would it be a straightforward question?

DOUGLAS CARSWELL: First of all it would have to be acceptable to the Electoral Commission and quite rightly so. The Electoral Commission would want to make sure that politicians like me couldn't fix itand would want to make sure that it's fair and there would have to be a binary choice, and I think  it would have to be pretty straightforward like; "Do you think the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union? Yes or No?"  The political establishment is terrified of this and they will try all sorts of tricks. They will decieve people with talk about renegotiation , the Third Way, but come on, every British Prime Minister since we went in has told us that we are going to change the club rules, they never did.

PAUL BURGIN: How do you see us culturally in Europe? I was asked a no of questions to ask you, one of them was "Should European language, education, be compulsory?" which to me is a bit of a strange question but we are different from Continental Europe aren't we in many ways?

DOUGLAS CARSWELL: Well clearly we are an extra European culture by which I mean, we are obviously European in origin, but we are an offshoot, and we are extra European in the sense that in the 1600s we began to interact with and establish ties and links with the Globe and in fact as a country we have been at our best when we have done that. We've been at our worst when we've been narrowly focused and inward looking and tied our future to that of Belgium. We are an extra European country, I think probably in many ways a bit like Turkey. Turkey is European in many ways, but it's got a beyond European horizon and I think our horizon should be beyond Europe. I once saw a map of the World which was done to represent the amount of telephone calls made in Britain on Christmas Day and India and Australia and Canada were huge. There's not a lot of streets in this country that doesn't have families in that has ties to India, or Australia, or Canada, or America. But culturally do we phone Belgium on Dec 25th? Some of us do but not many

At this point I assumed the interview was at an end and thanked Douglas for his time, and then, with the conversation still being recorded:

DOUGLAS CARSWELL: Actually, here's an interesting thought!

PAUL BURGIN: Yes!

DOUGLAS CARSWELL: How European is the European project? By that I mean is not the secret of Europe's success, the continent that dominated the World economically, militarily, culturally, politically, for 3-400 years, is not the secret of Europe's success not lie in the fact that unlike China, the Chinese Empire, or the Mogol Empire, or the Ottomans, Europe alone never had a centralised political authority that was able to stifle and stagnate Europe. If you brought the printing press to Europe, you could never allow one Prince to forbid the publication of documents that they didn't approve of, that's exactly what happened in China. Innovation could seep from one Principality to the next. When some mad explorer called Columbus had this crackpot idea about sailing across the Atlantic to discover India, he was turned down by the King of Portugal, he could go to another European state. This idea of Europe being a mosaic of different  autonomous entities, this to me explains Europe's success and even within European political units, the decentralisation of power not just across Europe but within units, is it a coincidence that Venice, a city state, used to be a great power because power is dispersed, there was a great council there was never a hereditary monarchy! The Dutch Republic, is it a coincidence that the power  of the Dutch Republic was disseminated amongst autonomous regions and that the states general always had power over taxation? In England, is it a coincidence that England rose to primacy after the Civil War? Might it not be the case that the secret of Europe's success is the dispersal of power and could it perhaps be that since 1978 China's discovered this trick about decentralising control over economic and political control! America's obviously discovered this trick of dispersal of power, could India be discovering it? Could it be that Europe is actually forgetting this great lesson about the dispersal of power and is stagnating at this precise moment while the rest of the World is discovering it?

PAUL BURGIN: Well that could lead to another question actually. One of the things that comes across why some Pro Europeans are so Pro European is they tend to see it as a United States of Europe would work as a bulwark against the US. It's almost like they want their own sphere.. they see Europe as dominating..

DOUGLAS CARSWELL: That's Euro Imperialism isn't it!

PAUL BURGIN: It is!

DOUGLAS CARSWELL: Euro Imperialism I don't like it, I don't like it, I always been for Gladstone not Disraeli. I think this idea that we must unite in order to get one over our rivals, it's actually quite ugly when you think about it. If the raison d'etre of European integration is to stick one to the Yankee, then we're no better than tin pot Latin American dictators. I don't think that's really how we should arrange the political architecture. I think the European project is  profoundly un-European, I think that it will fall apart, I think "So what will  happen next!". Well lets go back to free movement of goods, services, people, and not have political centralisation, instead of a single market meaning conformity within a common set of rule. Let's go back to having a single market based on the idea that, if your willing, I'm willing to find a buyer, you can sell your product across any territory and unfortunately the Europe we've got is.. If I was on the Left I would despair at the Europhillia of the Left, I mean so much of what happens in Brussels is based on big corporate interests using the power of the Brussels machine for commercial bondage, it is a corporatist racket. You see riots on the streets of Athens and you see ordinary people in Portugal and Spain and elsewhere being stuffed and their prosperity being sacrificed so that bankers don't face losses, I mean hang on, when is the Left going to wake up and realise that actually the narrative they've been pushing for a generation is actually accurate

PAUL BURGIN: You don't see it as a coincidence than that Europhillias in British politics tend to be on the Right of the Labour Party and the Left of the Conservative Party

DOUGLAS CARSWELL: Someone once said that if you're on the Right of the Labour Party, you're the Left of the Conservative Party, you're the middle of the road, well hedgehogs get squashed there it's not a good place to be. I think the real problem actually for Britain's European policy is less what Party politicians think, the real problem is actually being their policies being made by the establishment and the management, people like Kim Darroch, John Cunliffe. Who voted for these people? Who ever heard of these people outside Westminster and yet these are the people who make the deals on our behalf. That's the real problem, I get very frustrated listening to politicians blame Brussels for the relationship with Europe. The people responsible for the dreadful deals we negotiate with Europe are the officials we appoint to negotiate on our behalf. Until we rein them in and control them we are never going to get anywhere, but it's too late for that there needs to be a Referendum

PAUL BURGIN: I remember one of the political books I read, Tony Benn's Diaries and he mentioned when he was Energy Secretary in '77 when the UK led the Council of Ministers and he felt almost like a glorified civil servant

DOUGLAS CARSWELL: It's interesting you've said that, someone who's very different from Tony Benn, Alan Clark in his diaries, I think in 1985, he talks about how he turned up at the meeting in Brussels and he said (they) had done the deal and he was there to read the speech

The interview lapsing into brief conversation I thanked Douglas Carswell and got a lovely coffee from his Research Assistant. Few interviews I have done end up feeling like a conversation and very enjoyable at that, this was one of them

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Anti Women Bishops Campaign Should Stop and Think!

Agree with Gillan Scott here, but there is more to it than this! 1) Why tolerate women priests and not women Bishops? 2) If women are not to speak in church, why can they prophesy, as mentioned in the Bible, and surely that leaves this open to interpretation? 3) Who was the first human being to proclaim the risen Lord? I am concerned that the anti-Women Bishop campaigners are not just being theologically inconsistent, but that they have put themselves down a blind alley and that at a time of greater issues, not least relative western values and an economic crisis, there are more important things to worry about! Christ said "Feed my sheep!" isn't that more important?

Cable On a Political Boost High!

And given this morning's news about the arrest of a Sun Journalist, Cable has reason to feel on a high! That said, given the ongoing changes in the present political climate I suspect there will be a time before long when no politician worth their salt will want to be near News International! Vince Cable seems to know that and I wouldn't exclude the idea that he may be the next Lib Dem leader, if for a short time, after 2015

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Interview With Gary Streeter MP

On Monday I spoke with Gary Streeter MP, the Chairman of Christians in Parliament, about the organisation and it's aims. I first of all asked what it was about, to which his reply was that it was an all-Party Parliamentary Group that met for fellowship, prayer, and Bible study! The sheer presence of the organisation is to be a good witness. Some MP's receive letters from Christians, or those who claim to be, with aggressive  and critical attacks, which as Gary says, is a "Very bad witness!" and whilst it's important to pray for them, it is also important for Christians to try and be positive at all times.
He also notes there is less ideological differences between MP's compared to the 1980s, there is more cross party consensus, in spite of the seeming growing aggression of the weekly Prime Ministers Questions which he describes as "Theatre". It isn't reflective, he says, and Westminster behind the scenes is "more grown up"
Some have concerns and issues to which they think Chirstians in Parliament might provide hard and fast theological answers. Not so, Christians in Parliament has "No policy" and "a whole plethora of views" , the aims of Christians in Parliament is to grow, to be "more organised, reaching out to Christians, supporting one another"
That may be simplistic, but Gary may well have a point. When it goes to brass tacks the Gospel is about the Love of Christ for mankind and how he showed that love, and any decent Christian organisation in valuable places must do well not to put obstacles in people's path

How To Win a Referendum

Here, the BBC have some practical advice, if a bit dispiriting (especially if, like me you voted Yes To AV and happy to read the Guardian and have a high regard for the various celebrities involved in the Yes To AV campaign), but useful and it shows that the momentum and times and feelgood factor count for a great deal

When The Off Switch Is Pulled At Concerts!

I was a bit surprised that the off-switch was pulled considering who was on stage, but I can see how the residents may feel and how frustrated Bruce Springsteen may feel. What amuses me though is how various pundits give their opinions based on their music bias, so if it was a classical concert performing Mozart, or as James Palumbo suggests, "an illegal dubstep rave" that would have been okay. Some call it musical preferences enjoyed by all, I call it hypocrisy. Either performing music late at night in Hyde Park (over alloted time) is wrong or it isn't!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Interview With Danny Webster (Parliamentary Officer of the Evangelical Alliance)

On Monday July 2nd, I interviewed Danny Webster of the Evangelical Alliance, at Portcullis House in Westminster. Here is a main transcript of that interview!

PAUL BURGIN: ...We are here to discuss the role of Christians in the Media. Mainly in light of the Leveson Inquiry, and Hackgate and everything around that, and it (the interview) has a fairly broad remit and we will see where we go. So just generally first of all to kick off, what current affairs/political issues affect Christians in your experience as a Parliamentary Officer?

DANNY WEBSTER: We did some research last year and we asked about 1200 people what they got in touch with their MP's about and it was a huge variety of things. There were a lot of issues that were local, that weren't religious issues as such. They were issues about their community, things that they were concerned about, and there were issues that were more Christian. A lot of people were writing to their MP's about persecution of Christians overseas. There were concerns about issues of abortion, the survey was done before the crown consultation around marriage so I suspect it would be different now... The thing that really struck us were the massive range of issues, it wasn't a narrow range of issues, and most of the time when Christians wrote to their MP's they didn't write as Christians, they wrote as members of their constituency, they wrote as people who are caring about their communities and I think that's one of the challenges, that Christians are only seen as caring about issues when they speak as Christians; "I am a Christian, I care about this!" well actually a lot of Christians, they care about a lot of things and that may be because of their Christian faith, because of some particular issues that interest them! So it's very broad

PAUL BURGIN: Do you, would you say that Leveson is an issue, has it come up in the last year, the Hackgate...

DANNY WEBSTER: I think standards in public life in general are an issue. I look at the expenses crisis. I look at the economic crisis. I look at Hackgate/Leveson is very similar issues, as three issues were people were given a great deal of trust and actually that trust was abused, been abused and has evaporated. So I think people are concerned that actually standards in public life aren't what they should be. I think more attention on that has gone on the political side of that than the journalism side, I think people are perhaps more skeptical of journalists anyway, so they are more easily "Ah well they are in it for themselves!" but the two Worlds of politics and journalism are so closely aligned that they are very easily drawn together, so you see politicians that are obsessed with getting media attention and journalists who need stories from politicians and the lack of trust between the two parties very easily came together. So Christians haven't said a great deal about the Leveson Inquiry, and about hacking. I think partly because they don't know what to say. I think they would think it was not necessarily a very good thing, that there are these problems there are these people who are entrusted with communicating to us and they have abused that trust. I don't think they would know what to say next. I think actually that's quite similar to the expenses crisis. That they know there's something wrong as with politicians expenses, but they don't actually think "Right, what's next, what does this mean?"

PAUL BURGIN: And they don't necessarily feel qualified to deal with

DANNY WEBSTER: Precisely

PAUL BURGIN: Which is a very fair point. Would you say that it's an issue, in your experience as Parliamentary Officer.. How much of an issue does this concern Parliament? Have you seen MP's and Peers more wound up about Hackgate then perhaps the public?

DANNY WEBSTER: I think MP's and Peers are very conscious about what the public think about them and I think the expenses, and Hackgate, has drawn that out even further and so they are very very conscious that they don't want to be seen as too closely in line with the press. they're conscious that they don't want to be  seen as trying to give favorable attention. At the same time they want coverage for whatever it is that they're interested in. So there is this relationship, there are journalists that are very reluctant to meet, even talk to MP's. The idea of sitting down and paying for lunch with a Lord! One journalist was like "Oh I wouldn't do that! It's just too difficult!" because it might be seen as abusing the process, whereas I think before that was far more common thing

PAUL BURGIN: So journalists are a bit more wary as much as politicians?

DANNY WEBSTER:I think there's wariness on both sides, but at the same time they both feel they need each other. So they still do engage with each other, they still do.. the politicians still try and get their stories out into the press for the party leaderships. They still work on a sophisticated high level in trying to get the press to work in their way, to adopt a narrative they like. I think for the more junior MP's it's generally their own pet concerns and things they're interested in and we have been doing some work with Christians in Parliament and it is interesting that the level of interest from the press is only there if it's controversial. So if it's about gay marriage, the press will cover something. If you're trying to make a broader point, we were looking at the question of "Are Christians discriminated against in this country?" and the general outcome of the inquiry was  "A little bit but not a great deal!" Because it was a slightly nuanced, slightly not Daily Mail headline it didn't really get much coverage. I think that's a challenge that politicians in order to get the attention, they feel they have to say something controversial, but in saying something controversial are they actually misrepresenting reality and what's happening

PAUL BURGIN: That's a fair point, and I think you have inadvertently answered two other questions. You yourself, how important an issue do you see Hackgate? Do you think it's something that has the potential to change the political landscape of this country? I mean I'm sure... I get the impression you seeeing this from what you said earlier in context with the Banking crisis and the MP's expenses. Do you see this sea change...?

DANNY WEBSTER: I see more of a sea change on the political front in terms of the trust in politicians. I think the politicians have felt a definite need to change and to improve their standing. I think for journalists.. Good journalists don't have a great deal of contact with the public. They write their piece, they write their headlines, but actually how does a member of the general public get in touch with a journalist? There's a divide there. There's a consumption. They consume the papers and the TV programmes, but there's not the same connection that you do have with politicians. I don't think it's as much of an issue and I don't think it will lead to has much of a sea change

PAUL BURGIN: You don't think so? The Murdoch Empire has hit a crisis that no one really anticipated!

DANNY WEBSTER: I think that there are is a crisis, I think there have clearly been hugely dishonest and pitiful things going on. I think the question is will it change this, this link between people, whether it's politicians or whether it's other senior public figures who need press or want press attention and then the press who want the stories, and that relationship means that both of those sides are willing to engage. I think the hackgate and the criminality side of it needs to be dealt with. I think the relationship between the press and public life, I think will always be a little bit messy. I think there there are areas where transparency will help open that up. where we will see the sheer no of meetings that take place between the lobbyists for News International and special advisers that, when you see that sort of thing, you see the influence and you see the way that actually that lobbyists for huge organisations operate. I think for me that was the really interesting thing! When you see the emails you see that's how people who are lobbyists for these type of organisations work and it is quite scary. Something has to be expected, I'm sometimes perhaps a little too pragmatic about it, but I expect people in organisations, people in companies to try and put their case and I expect that politicians to hear it but also to be able to make up their mind independently of that. Maybe I put too much trust in politicians to be able to detach themselves and not be so worried about the negative press attention that they will therefore do business deals that are  more favourable for the companies. I think that's where the News International issue really comes into play is that they are a press company that political parties want coverage from. They are also a business organisation which is affected by the political decisions that they make and I think there's two sides to that which means that there's a trade off and that are politicians giving them something on a business level therefore in order to get them something on the press coverage and I think if that's going on them yes there is the.. there's a very dangerous toxic mix that's happening, but I think the press will always want to tell a story. I think the press needs to have the freedom to do that! I think that...

PAUL BURGIN: It's probably also more to do with.. This is a personal view of mine, but I think they best way we can have all these regulatory reforms and changes and everything else we can propose.. I mean the Press Complaints Commission was universally seen at the end of it's life as toothless. But it was set up in response to a similar, nowhere near as bad as we have now, similar problems twenty years before, and I think the only real change might be when the public start to think, put a connection between the newspaper they buy and what comes out of that newspaper

DANNY WEBSTER: Yes, I think you are absolutely right,  we want a press and a system of politics that is better, but we are still going to consume our journalism in the way that we like it, and I think that on a consumption level there's really no change and until there is change on a consumption level you are not going to see any changes of the business end of  these organisations. Because people still buy papers that have extreme headlines, they will still buy newspapers that run scare stories, that  make blatant political claims, because that seems to be what people want and the papers will continue to write it because that is what people are buying and I think it's on that consumption level that actually the change will take place rather than on regulatory level and I am very suspicious of regulation because I think we can run very tight rules and laws on how we want them to behave and actually what does that achieve? It just makes people more sophisticated in the ways they try and get round it

PAUL BURGIN: That's true but there's also the Goebbels effect isn't there in newspapers! That if you repeat something enough times to a reader they will believe it and a lot of that does go on doesn't it!

DANNY WEBSTER: Yes. Oh definitely!  And I see it with stories about Christianity. That there is a picture painted through the press, for example that Christians are discriminated against. Christians cannot adopt, both of which I'd say are untrue, generally. There are some discriminatory problems for Christians, but generally most Christians do not face any problems. Some Christians who want to adopt face some problems, but the vast majority of Christians adopting don't, and actually there is a real need for Christians to adopt more because we have a crisis and I would be far more interested in encouraging Christians to adopt that than telling them they can't because there are a few problems. So I see this problem that we have a press that tells the church audience that they are being discriminated against and that that actually gets repeated back and that they then think "Oh we are discriminated against!" well when have you been discriminated against? "Oh no I haven't but I have heard this story!" and often it comes back to a few isolated cases, well some of them are really bad, others are not quite as bad as they are presented, that they then adopt as their own

PAUL BURGIN: In your experience do you think, Christians, people generally, are being more savvy about the media than they used to be? Or do you think...

DANNY WEBSTER: I would hope they are. I think often Christians read what they want to hear. When we did this inquiry with Christians in Parliament, the Church of England, the person giving evidence for the Church of England, said there was something within the Christian consciousness that likes the idea of  martyrdom, that has this "actually we recognise that everyones against us" mentality and sometimes Christians adopt that a bit too easily and I think certainly in terms of the press I think that buys into that quite easily and I think it's the responsibility of churches and Christian organisations and people in leadership in different roles to not buy into that scaremongering tactic, but instead present a positive nature that doesn't deny the fact there might be problems, but doesn't buy into headline grabbing.. and that's the problem that we want, Christian organisations, want media coverage. They then sometimes say things that they know will get media coverage. I think there is a real responsibility for Christians to speak with integrity and truth, even if that means they don't get the coverage they might otherwise get.

PAUL BURGIN: So, some questions (from) some of my followers on Twitter... One is why isn't Christian ethics further up the Churches political agenda? Oh Media ethics further up the churches political agenda? Sorry

DANNY WEBSTER: I was thinking about two related things yesterday. One was talking to you and the other was questions of individual morality and I wondered whether sometimes the church is too idealistic when it comes to individual personal morality and too pragmatic when it comes to corporate social morality


PAUL BURGIN: I remember thinking that many years ago

DANNY WEBSTER: So we have "How shall I live my life and I have this perfect standard of what I should do! And there are rights and wrongs and things that  when I transgress those lines I need to repent and have forgiveness for" and it's quite clear. But then when it comes to a corporate social level of morality, whether it comes to politics, business, journalism.. We step back and say "It was very, very complicated! There are all these inter-linking things! There's this trade off, there's that trade-off, life isn't perfect, we've got to live in this complex reality where things aren't always as good as they could be. We acknowledge we live in a broken world!" and I think sometimes that we accept that a little too easily, that we become pragmatic at working in this broken world and accept trade-offs that sometimes entrench that brokenness into our lives, so we accept that we have poor motives, that in a business situation people are greedy, that people will want to make as much money as they can, but how do we then mitigate against that? Whereas I sometimes think actually  we need to step back and say "Actually how can we have a much bigger vision? How do we have a vision for business that isn't centered around greed? For politics that isn't solely about power!" I'm not sure what the comparative one is for journalism. "Is journalism always about selling papers?" or is it about "How do you have a journalism that is always more interested in truth than in making money or gaining credibility?" So I think it's not that high up the churches agenda, I think it needs to be higher up the churches agenda and I think perhaps it needs to get there by somehow coming up with a vision of what a more ethical media would like! But there are people who think about politics, how could politics look, and it's more...

PAUL BURGIN: It's got to be more imaginative than some broadsheet readers ideal which is broadsheets only apart from the i, possibly the Evening Standard, and everything else can go hang! You need an alternative don't you really?

DANNY WEBSTER: Yes and it also can't be a press that says everything that I agree with

PAUL BURGIN: Which we are all very good at!

DANNY WEBSTER: Yeah! So we like the fact that papers say things we agree with and that actually we live in a society and a world of so much difference that the press will always reflect that, there will be worldviews that are different

PAUL BURGIN: I have to confess it does bother me personally that I am very good at sneering at The Sun, The Daily Mail, or The Daily Express, and their readers and yet it occurs to me that when I go and buy The Independent or The Guardian, one of the reasons I enjoy buying those papers is that they reflect my beliefs, prejudices, worldview very, very, easily and I can be in a little nice, safe cocoon which is the very thing I tend to sneer at people who...

DANNY WEBSTER: So in terms of having a media that's better, it's not just a media that says what we agree with, it's a media that presents different points of view, so you might have worldviews that are very unchristian being presented through the press and that is part of the fact that is plural, that has different worldviews, and we have to find a way to view that, rather than wanting a press that only ever says things we like. Cos' that would get us back into a whole heap of other problems where it only ever says one thing, there isn't really any press freedom. So I think that's the trade-off, that you want a press that's free to say things that are radically different to what you think, that can even be offensive, and because that's important, but we also want a press that's responsible, that doesn't distort the truth in order to gain readers

PAUL BURGIN: Fair point. So in what ways should we as Christians be engaging with the media more effectively?

DANNY WEBSTER: I think sometimes it happens.. I think we should as consumers, we need to be more responsible!  I think we need to know what we are consuming and why we're consuming it! It think there are people who would prefer one paper over another, that's perfectly reasonable. But I think it's knowing that we won't cover that with our own sets of views and prejudices, that we will read what we like to read. That not all people who read other papers are wrong!

PAUL BURGIN: And we have to be aware of the faults of our favourite..

DANNY WEBSTER: Yes. So I think as consumers we have to be responsible, we have to know the papers will only change if people stop buying them. I'm not blind to the fact that it's not always readers who matter! It's advertisers that also matter. I'm aware that..

PAUL BURGIN: Well that's what helped break the News of the World

DANNY WEBSTER: Exactly, I remember hearing someone speak last autumn  about the News of the World and they were saying actually it was the advertisers. It was when people got onto the advertisers and got them to pull their ads that half of the ad buy for the next time they had had gone, and then once that happened then the cumulative effect had other people pulling out because it became bad for them to be associated with that, that that actually was what brought down the News of the World, there were many other things in the pile up process, but that final straw was not the readers, because actually galvanising two and a half, three million readers would be very difficult, to target half a dozen key players...

PAUL BURGIN: That said, I did this thing where I did this campaign for boycott.. a petition to boycott the News of the World and I did a facsimile on my blog and what surprised me was the No of hits on my blog, to get that page on my blog and print out the copy. So there were a small but significant minority that were prepared to do a boycott campaign that weaken..

DANNY WEBSTER: And individual action can make a difference. Sara Hyde who was involved in the campaign, I don't know if you saw it, about New Look.. about a month or so ago they had some T-Shirts that they were selling leading into the  European Championships, and they were quite sexist, and quite quickly New Look a lot of negative attention and then they pulled the T-Shirts. So I think consumer action makes a difference, we have to be responsible consumers. I think also we have to learn not to be afraid of the press, not to always think they are going to be against us. I think there are local churches that have had a hard time with their local press. There's been some things that the press has picked up on that they've ran along stories, they have been very critical of something the church is doing, the views that the church has, and therefore the church has backed totally out of it and refused to say anything to the press, they refuse to advertise the great events that they do, the programs they run. So I think there needs to be more confidence for churches to engage locally  with their press, whether it's events that they are running, things that they are doing. Or just building relationships with them to write regular columns and there are church leaders who do monthly columns for the local papers because they are people who can relate to their community. So I think building relationships on a local level is a much easier way than thinking nationally because actually you can have that more direct contact person to person with journalists, whereas with someone writing for  The Times or the Daily Mail, it's very, very difficult to imagine. I think on a national level we have to expect, we have to have that idealistic vision for a press that is better, that doesn't easily settle for old fashioned ways for things to work out! I think there can be better ways of doing these things

PAUL BURGIN: Would you say the media.. that churches need more training in dealing with the media?

DANNY WEBSTER: Yes that's a definitely, and there is definitely a need for some of those barriers broken down, for church leaders to know that actually it is quite simple  for them to get in touch with the media, that it might not be the church leader, but there might be other people in their churches that want to do it, how can churches help people in their congregations who want to engage in the media. So I think sometimes we put too much responsibility on the church leaders, a church leader is a church leader, that's what  their passion is for, so while some church leaders may do really  good job of writing a column for the local paper, actually maybe someone in their church is much better or equipped to do it! How can those people be empowered to do..

PAUL BURGIN: We do tend to put too much on our Pastors and Vicars don't we! As if we expect them to have a whole array of talents that they weren't exactly...

DANNY WEBSTER: We put a lot of pressure on church leaders to do everything, but we also, when we identify leadership, we assume it's church leadership. So we see someone with talents for leadership and think "Ooh, we're going to send you off to Bible College, theological training, ordain you in the Church of England, and then you can become a church leader too!" actually we need people who are, who have leadership gifts in politics, in business, and in the press, so we need people who not just engage with the press as consumers or as, for want of a better word, the arts, on the church side of things who actually go into the press, be journalists, be editors, and do a really good job of doing that

PAUL BURGIN: Getting your hands dirty

DANNY WEBSTER: Yes, and I think that's the real challenge because there is always a danger in certain sectors of public life that become tainted and seen as "Oh well, that's slightly beyond the pale for Christians!" I think for a while politics had that reputation, I don't think it necessarily does so much. I think business sometimes has that reputation and I think journalism does now as well, that actually it's all a bit too dirty when I think reverse that and say "Because it's such a challenging place, because it's a place that has that, that sense that it's dirty, that sense that there is something wrong here, actually that's why it's vital that Christians do work in those areas and do require leadership!"

PAUL BURGIN: It becomes that vicious circle again, that we mentioned earlier isn't it! Do you, one more question... there seems to be a perception in some quarters of the church about the media being anti-Christian, that's not exactly justified is it really?

DANNY WEBSTER: I think there are certain stories about religion that make it into the press and there are a lot of stories that don't. If it involves a Bishop saying something, it makes it into the press, if it involves Christians saying something about homosexuality it makes it into the press, when it is a Bishop saying something about homosexuality it makes it even bigger! So there is a journalistic bias towards some types of stories. I think sometimes there is a bias towards stories that paint Christians as out of touch as it were. I think there, I'm just conscious that those sorts of stories do make it into the papers, that paint the church in a little corner that, even if it's done in a way that presents Christians as being discriminated against, in that synthetic mindset, there is still that "Christians are being discriminated against, which shouldn't happen, but that has happened because they have different views from the rest of the World!" There is a, I think there is a slight intolerance towards Christian worldviews, even in papers that talk about discrimination of Christians, so I wouldn't say that they're anti-Christian, I think they know that some of the stories sell better than others, that, a story about gay marriage will work on two levels. That it will enrage people who are supporters of that, that the church is backwards in their view, it will also galvanise Christians that they need to stand up for their rights. Whereas part of that is the fact of reality that the media will go for stories that are more polarised and two distinct sides. But then, but then there are stories that make it into the press that are much better. So for example there's been a range of stories recently about food banks that churches run, that that is actually a great story about work that, that is not exclusively but mostly church based

PAUL BURGIN: And it's a growing thing. My fiancée's a big one for food banks as an issue

DANNY WEBSTER: And my church runs one down in Vauxhall, that, we've been doing it for just over a year, there's been a huge need, which is kind of scary in itself, that there is that need for it, but that actually it's been a great taker, that we'll go and stand outside Sainsbury's in Vauxhall and collect food and people donate a lot of food for that, so there are good news stories that happen in our church and the press do cover those things, so I don't think the press is anti-Christian, I think there are stories that present the church in a negative light that sell papers and I think that the church therefore needs to do a really good job of...

PAUL BURGIN: Of making the positivity of their work sell

DANNY WEBSTER: Yeah, making their, making as much as they can of the great things that they do! Of not walking into traps where they slag each other off! There is a peculiar Church of England position that, for people in the Church of England, they will get noticed more

PAUL BURGIN: If they're rude!

DANNY WEBSTER: Well if they're rude, if they say something while having a debate, whether it's about women Bishops, some other issue, then actually what happens within the Church of England makes the pages of the press, because it is that institutional body, whereas for other churches they almost completely go under the radar. I think some of the new churches that aren't part of the traditional denominations, they exist completely under the radar with the press and often the only time the press gets in touch is because they will have heard a story that the church has done something or said something and the church goes into panic stations because this story's being released that presents the church in a negative light, and there's been two cases recently, one a church got a fund from another church in Liverpool that suddenly came to the attention of the press and some of the work that they were doing was undermined, but then the church wasn't really able to deal with the press because it wasn't ready for it!

PAUL BURGIN: They wouldn't have been trained properly

DANNY WEBSTER: They hadn't been trained

PAUL BURGIN: A final question which is, would..., it seems a bit off the beaten track, but it was offered to me on Twitter this morning. Do you think Christians are better at being inclusive? That's how I interpreted the question anyway

DANNY WEBSTER: In what regard?

PAUL BURGIN: Generally I think it was!

DANNY WEBSTER: I think Christians do a great job of making a church a very welcoming place, and I think that actually it's totally disconnected to the doctrinal views of the church! I think the church can be a radically inclusive place to all, because it can be a welcoming community. I think it can be a place where people come together, it obviously, how often do you have places with people in their nineties, people with children, people with different ethnicities, I think it can be a really inclusive place! I think the challenge is how do you hold together that mass of variety of different cultures, lifestyles, views, as a community that is not just welcoming of welcoming people to come in, but actually of traveling together! I think that's the challenge that everyone can be welcoming, but then the church is going somewhere, the church is doing something, and that does involve some level of "this is what the church is about", so while we come from a massive variety of different places we are heading in the same direction, so I think that's where there's a slight tension towards that and I think sometimes the goal doesn't try and stop people from being inclusive, and I think they shouldn't, I think the important thing is saying "Right, how do you welcome everyone! How do you make a place work for all! Feel included! And at the same time travel somewhere together!"

PAUL BURGIN: Danny Webster, thankyou very much for your time

DANNY WEBSTER: That's okay



The Banking Scandal Parliamentary Investigation

I am a little concerned that those who one would thought to have been on such a committee were the very MP's who have challenged and dealt a blow against George Osborne. That said, I am hopeful something good will come of this and hopefully it will also lead to a Judicial led investigation as the issue is too important to play party politics with, as we have seen happen in recent weeks. Time will tell though, and as Macmillan once said "Events dear boy, events!"

Friday, July 13, 2012

Why the investigation into bankers should be held by a public enquiry!

This is a classic example as to why there should be a public inquiry. Labour insisted on it, Cameron and Osborne refused to hold one. I wonder why! Osborne certainly could not give a good example in the House recently, but then he has been wasting time smearing Ed Balls! Hopefully there will be a recognised need for a public inquiry as time goes bu, but sadly I suspect that will be because it will be recognised that the problem is too widespread

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Interview With Big Finish Designer, Mark Plastow

When David Tennant's Doctor uttered that line "You were my Doctor!" in Time Crash, he was speaking for many of us who grew up with Peter Davison as the earliest Doctor they remember (well almost for me. Logopollis is the earliest story I recall and that is mainly because I was transfixed by the 4th/5th Doctor regeneration scene at the end). For Mark Plastow of Big Finish it is the same. Well almost; "It would be easy to say Peter Davison, because he was the Doctor I grew up with, but if I'm honest, I don't have one." he says. Adding, "Or perhaps I should say they are all my favorite. To me, each actor to take on the role had brought something different and exciting to it. I genuinely love the fact that the programme actually celebrates when it is just about to lose its lead actor!" Although he was definetly hooked on the show from the early eighties "I don't really remember a time when I wasn't a fan of Doctor Who. I grew up watching Peter Davison, I can still remember the excitement of hearing THAT theme tune. Of course it was transmitted on weekdays back then, and there were always great discussions at school the day after. It was also responsible for my first forays into creative expression. Much to my mother's exasperation, I painted my bedroom door blue in an effort to make it resemble the TARDIS!" For those who don't know, Big Finish is an audio production and publishing company that have been doing missing adventures of the good Doctor, those stories set in Doctor Who's past that never got broadcasted or are set between broadcast adventures. Original actors from the series have been involved, inc all five surviving Doctors from the Classic Series; Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, and Paul McGann. They also do spin-off ranges and other cult series now gone such as Blake's 7 and Sapphire and Steel. A delight for those into Cult TV and Sci-Fi who grew up in the 70s and 80s. It has had such luminaries as Mark Gatiss writing for them and one leading figure is Nicholas Briggs who does the Dalek voices in the TV series among other things. Mark enjoys the work there; "Watching a Big Finish audio being recorded is definitely one of the best things. It can all get a bit surreal, watching actors you feel you have grown up with swapping anecdotes in the Green Room between scenes." It also has a family feel "I suppose the most unexpected, is just how lovely everybody at Big Finish is. That may sound like I have to say that, but it really is true! It is such a dedicated and talented group of people, who have an absolute passion for what they do. I feel honoured and proud to be part of it." So how did Mark get involved? "I had been listening to the Big Finish stuff from the very beginning, and have watched the company evolve with interest. Doing what I do, it's fun to see how the product packaging has changed as well as the dramas themselves. As my skills improved, I thought, 'I can do that.' So I put together a small portfolio of stuff and sent it to them. I was incredibly lucky with my timing, because it just so happened that they were on the lookout for someone to take on the in-house design duties at the time. I was then very much thrown in at the deep end, and had to hit the ground running..." So what is the most enjoyable and least enjoyable thing about his work? "Personally, the least enjoyable thing for me is getting started! I can have an idea rattling around in my head for days, and mentally build a picture of what I want to achieve. By the time it comes to put pen to paper (or graphic tablet), it feels slightly daunting to have to do justice to what was in my imagination... The most enjoyable is having created something that you are really proud of. There is a glorious feeling of achievement when all the various elements of a design come together well, and getting to play around in the Doctor Who sandbox is enormous fun too." Imagery is always vitally important for any story and the more important the better. Mark's favourite from the TV series is "The Caves of Androzani" ; " I vividly remember watching this at the time, and being unbelievably terrified of Sharaz Jek. So much so I actually had to leave the room on several occasions. It's amazing that this was broadcast in an early evening slot, I mean it really is quite a brutal bit of storytelling. I was pleased to see it top the DWM poll recently. " And there was me finding the Black Guardian the most unnerving! But Mark does not have a favourite story out of the ones he has worked on with Big Finish; "I don't think I can single out a specific story. Getting to read the script in advance is highly satisfying, working out which elements are best to use for a cover. There is some really fantastic stuff coming up... Vortex magazine is an absolute joy to put together. There tends to be a bit more freedom for me in terms of typography and composition. It is defiantly something that is continually evolving. It is produced on an incredibly tight deadline, and there is an element of exhilaration in getting it finished on time! I am really proud of it." Mark has also just started life on Twitter and is down as "Sugary Tea" which is a cause of some curiosity; "Well... I'm a huge fan of Blur, and my favorite album of theirs is 'Modern Life is Rubbish'." he explains "There is a song on it that references sugary tea, and for some reason, it struck me as quite a good moniker!" And life is better for many people with tea. For those who want to know more about Big Finish, you can find their company website here

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lords Reform

I agree with Lords Reform but is this the right time? Personally I think the public are more worried about the state of the economy and public services, plus this kind of change needs to be brought forward in a Referendum and the alternative should ideally be a fully elected second chamber with exactly the same powers the Lords has now!

Monday, July 09, 2012

Mars

Fantastic panoramic view. The best yet I think! Plus hopefully the rover will tell us a lot more about Mars!

How to celebrate 50 years of Doctor Who?

Next November will be the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. It's shocking how quickly time has gone. And invariably this brings up the question of how it should be celebrated.

Way back in 1972/3 the series had an answer to this. Almost every week someone suggested a story which brought together all three incarnations of the Doctor and it was decided to make such a story to celebrate the series' tenth anniversary. Ten years later the series went a few steps further by commissioning an extra special edition of the series, bringing bold old companions and enemies as well as old Doctors and even getting around the small problems of one past Doctor declining to take part and another having passed away.

Inevitably there have been expectations of a reunion story every ten years. In 1993 there was much excitement about a special one-off revival of the series to be called "The Dark Dimension". However the project died before filming began. (From what I've since seen this was probably a mercy killing.) We did, however, get a brief mini-adventure that brought together the five surviving Doctors and model stand-ins for the other two. It was good for what it was, but fans expected so much more and crucified it.

By 2003 most fans had probably concluded that Doctor Who was never going to be revived onscreen and we would have to do our best with the various spin-offs. But we still got a reunion story that year when four of the five surviving Doctor actors unite in a special audio adventure "Zagreus", which even managed to add one of the deceased Doctors via a little used recording.

Of course 2003 was also the year the show's revival was announced and when it arrived two years later, it exceeded all expectations. After a few yeas it became clear this wasn't just a one-off nostalgic success but once again something that was going to last and last. Which brings us to 2013...

On the face of it, the answer seems obvious. There should be a story bringing together all surviving Doctors, and if possible find some way to "include" the three deceased actors, in a glorious epic adventure. Throw in lots and lots of other past elements and the result is bound to be an audience pleaser.

Or is it that easy? It's much harder than it seems to come up with good ideas and successfully implement them, but when you have to write to include a big list of elements, and make sure the script can be easily adapted to take account of actor availability, there's a real danger of producing a poor, incoherent mess that's little more than a few good elements strung together. With six surviving Doctor actors there would be an awful lot of balls in the air if all were to be involved.

And it's also difficult to ensure that all the old actors will be available and willing. Several have been unhappy with past proposals (although who turned down what varies depending on what you read and who you speak to), especially those that seem to have given their parts little more than a few tacked on scenes. Others have a general reluctance to revisit past roles. There's also the question of salaries - let's be honest, the series is much bigger now than in previous years and lead actors (and their agents) will expect a reasonable modern salary.

Is it even possible to do "The Eleven Doctors" without it collapsing under its own weight? And in an era when virtually the entire series is available in one form of home entertainment or another, is there really as great a need for bringing back past Doctors?

And the elephant in the room is fans' awkward relationship with return appearances and past continuity. In the early 1980s the return of the likes of the Master and the Cybermen were applauded no end and other old elements also came back. But over time fandom started angrily denouncing those years of the series for "pandering to the fans" and "alienating the casual viewer" (who, by definition, is not represented in fan discourse), believing it was responsible for the show's (temporary) demise. During the wilderness years the spin-offs oscillated between the various extremes of using lots of fan pleasing elements to consciously trying to avoid absolutely any past reference whatsoever. The revival of the series has plotted a middle course with a number of old elements returned but usually taking time to introduce them anew and most people have been happy. Of course it helps when those elements come in stages, not all at once.

Perhaps the answer isn't some grand reunion tale but instead a focused good adventure featuring the current Doctor and companion that acknowledges the past but also takes the series firmly forward. Good, exciting adventures that grip the audience - that's not too fanciful an idea is it?

Friday, July 06, 2012

Osborne Vs Balls

Yesterday saw the Commons at it's most badly behaved, and that is saying something (and I say this carefully as I can see how it got out of hand and I lost my temper with Osborne just watching him), and it didn't at all help that Conservative MP's loathe Balls and Labour MP's loathe Osborne
But what bugs me is why Osborne doesn't call for a Judge led inquiry (given the seriousness of the situation) and when he decided that Balls was not involved he got an aide to contact the BBC and failed to apologise himself, and not even getting the aide to give an apology. If Osborne wants to survive politically with credibility he has to do better than that!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Doctor Who: What I'd Like To See for the 50th Anniversary

Over the next 16 months, God willing, Mars Hill will be looking at Doctor Who in the run-up to the 50th Anniversary, the history of the show, and what is expected for the anniversary. For my piece here is my bucket list, as it were, about what I would like to see happen for the 50th

  • A multi-Doctor story (although Tom Baker, Peter Davison, and Colin Baker seem cautious (the last to the point of saying no), Christopher Eccleston refuses, and Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, and David Tennant seem happy with the idea)

  • A story that works through several episodes, or a special two-three hour episode (so as to pace everything out)
 
  • Daleks, UNIT, The Master (if possible), a companion from each of  the Doctor's incarnations (Ian Chesterton a must), Totters Lane Junkyard, a few hidden Time Lords
 
  • A new nemesis, or danger, or something new about Time Lord history 
 
  • A reference to the Brigadier 
 
  • Appearance of River Song (although I think that's a given) 
 
  • And something to explaining who the Doctor is? (again I think that's a given)
 
  • Oh and a scene in St Cedd's, Cambridge (A nod to The Five Doctors and give Shada it's due ;-) )
I think that's it really!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Forthcoming Interview With Danny Webster

Yesterday I interviewed Danny Webster, the Parliamentary Officer for the Evangelical Alliance at Portcullis House, where we discussed the Christian faith, the media (in particular the print media), and within the light of Hackgate and the Leveson Inquiry. He stated that

  • Christians tended to read what they want to hear
  • Christians tend to adapt to martyrdom mindset too easily
  •  What alternative media do critics want to see, because if we want a media that purely suits our beliefs and desires then that is not ideal.

The interview will be uploaded onto Mars Hill next week