Curious to know President Macron's choice of prime minister, I went to an online news source last Monday afternoon. I found what I was looking for, but with surprising difficulty. The news was buried in a narrow column of also-ran material.
Avril Lavigne: reports of her death are greatly exaggerated
In the main area of the home page, there was a story of more global
significance judging by the generous space allocated to it: a conspiracy theory that the Canadian singer-songwriter Avril Lavigne has been dead for some years. 'A Twitter user who claims to be a 17-year-old high school student and has more than 13,000 followers detailed the claim in a thread which has since been liked and retweeted nearly a quarter of a million times in total,' the report informed us.
Should we be impressed? I can exclusively reveal that Ms Lavigne is very much alive, that the Twitter user is a twit, that his many followers are twits, and that the theory is not even new (it has merely 'resurfaced'). Only one question remains unanswered: why would any serious media outlet – which this purports to be – give house room to such social media drivel?
Elsewhere on the page, I learned that Harmony – the invention of one Matt McMullen, CEO of Abyss Creations – is 'a new type of sex doll' that can move and talk, that it has big breasts and that its eyelids and lip movements are 'fairly crude'. I learned also that the new Miss USA – one Kara McCullough, aged 25 – has 'sparked controversy' (we should note in passing that controversy is never caused or started; it has to be 'sparked') – with her opinion that healthcare in America is 'a privilege not a right'.
All this qualified as news – along with 'the marathon man who finished
44 runs in 44 days', 'the dying art of the Beijing crew cut', and the business reporter who is celebrating British Sandwich Week by making his own (he's keeping an online video diary to show how it's done).
On Monday afternoon, hospitals were cancelling operations because of
an international cyber attack; the prime minister was encountering hostility in the streets during her general election campaign; the president of the United States was conducting himself in an increasingly erratic fashion; and Kim Jong-un was again playing with his warheads. But on my website of choice, the smattering of coverage of the real business of the day was overwhelmed by mind-numbing trivia, just as it was the day before and would be the day after. On the same website, the fact that a Scottish poet (Liz Lochhead) cried a little on air when recalling the death of her husband was recently reported as if it were news.
Welcome to the bizarre world of Britain’s new publicly-funded tabloid,
better known as the BBC.
Shock horror! The state – remember it? – could soon be back if the opinion polls are again proved wrong. When a main theme in the draft of the Labour manifesto – nationalisation of the railways, the Royal Mail and the energy companies – was leaked, the right-wing press accused Corbyn of wishing 'to return Britain to the 1970s', a uniquely wicked decade, it seems, until the election of Margaret Thatcher restored order and decency to our national life by asset-stripping the family silver.
The energy companies are gangsters. The price of a first-class stamp is a rip-off. And since the railways were opened up to the Souters of this world, that glorious institution, the dining car, has all but vanished (except, I gather, on the London to Cornwall route) in favour of a miserable at-seat service of snacks. (West Coast does breakfast rather well; I’ll give them that.) Worse, the great railway hotels have been appropriated and vulgarly tarted up by such low individuals as Donald Trump.
If there is precious little good to say about privatised utilities, I insist on proposing a small, unfashionable toast to the state. The newspapers were only a few decades out. Labour would not be returning Britain to the 1970s but to the late 1940s when the state was a byword for practical idealism.
It is true that the state has often had to act in the teeth of opposition from vested interests and rabid journalists. It is conveniently forgotten, for example, that the medical profession and the right-wing press were both opposed to the new National Health Service. In the end the doctors, to their eternal shame, had to be bought off.
The state which established the NHS also created a universal system of
welfare to protect the poor, somehow managing to do both at the same
time. The state did a great deal more. It maintained public libraries,
subsidised the arts, kept the streets relatively clean and provided elementary education. For these blessings, among many others, we should be keenly grateful. Yet, despite its civilising virtues, the state has somehow become a term of abuse, and anyone supporting a restoration of some of its lost powers automatically invites derision, as the hapless Corbyn is discovering.
How comforting, though, that when a sample of the electorate were asked what they thought of Labour’s proposals for public ownership, an unexpectedly large number – half of those questioned – endorsed them. These might be the same people who have recently had to buy a railway season ticket or are facing fuel poverty because of the rapacious practices of their electricity supplier. Presumably the other half go on subscribing to one of the supreme conspiracy theories of our time (surpassing even the death of Avril Lavigne) – the ludicrous notion that the private sector is a model of efficiency.
An air of mystery hangs over the general election in Scotland. I have not seen the source of the mystery mentioned in recent weeks. But it’s
mildly intriguing nevertheless.
Before Theresa May upstaged Nicola Sturgeon by going to the people,
she had peremptorily rejected the latter’s demand for a second independence referendum. The first minister retaliated by stating that she had a plan and would soon be revealing it to the Scottish parliament.
It was generally assumed, perhaps wrongly, for the commentariat often
get things wrong, that Ms Sturgeon was about to issue a unilateral declaration of a second referendum, one of dubious legality since it
would be held without the permission of the UK government. I had begun to ponder whether I would vote in such a referendum and had come to
the tentative view that on grounds of principle I wouldn't.
Then came the election announcement and Ms Sturgeon’s plan, whatever
it was, fell into abeyance. Nothing has been heard of it since. But we can be sure that it will be revived after the election or replaced by a second plan, in which case we may never know what the first one was.
It could be argued – and I do argue – that we are entitled to know in general terms what the first minister had in mind, if not as a contribution to the democratic process then as a footnote to political history. Yet Ms Sturgeon continues her gastronomic tour of Scotland, supping a pint of ale here, digesting a haggis pie there, smiling obligingly for the cameras, untroubled by such awkward questions. Odd, really.
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