Articles

Repeat after me #FBPE crowd…

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2018 by chr1sr0berts

So, as I said in my previous post:

https://chr1sr0berts.wordpress.com/2018/06/13/corbyn-labour-brexit-and-the-fbpe-48-crowd/

…the Tory “rebels” will not rebel. They fear Corbyn more than anything else, they certainly fear a Corbyn led Government more than they “love” the EU. And how about the new hero of the Remainiacs – Dominic Grieve? Apparently, to some, he’s the new leader of the opposition:

Well, he couldn’t even bring himself to vote for his own amendment:

A reminder from Paul Mason:

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Articles

Corbyn, Labour, Brexit and the #FBPE/48% crowd

In Uncategorized on June 13, 2018 by chr1sr0berts

The following paragraphs are merely some thoughts I have on the current situation vis-a-vis Labour, Brexit, and the #FBPE campaign(ers) often so vocal on Twitter, and the 48% group on Facebook. The former is not a hashtag I use on my own profile, but I am a member of the (one of perhaps many) 48% group(s) on Facebook

Firstly, a qualifier. I am (still) a member, of The Green Party, perhaps not as active as I’d like, but I remain a member. That said, my broader politics are such that I am a supporter of the Corbyn/Momentum project and have become rather frustrated by the increasing ferocity of the #FBPE and 48% focus on Corbyn/Labour and their (in)ability/unwillingness to #StopBrexit.

The current situation is a near impossible one for Labour. The repeated and tiresome posts/Tweets along the lines of “FORGET CORBYN!” “LABOUR HAVE ALREADY BETRAYED US!” “GIVE LABOUR A KICKING!” and one from today “CORBYN IS JUST AS BAD AS MAY!” pay no heed to the political landscape under an inadequate electoral system. Constant repeats of “WE JUST NEED TO STOP BREXIT” are similarly problematic because they simply ignore the social conditions that produced the Brexit vote in the first place.

I think one of the most urgent challenges is the creation of a political economy that doesn’t actively impoverish and disenfranchise a large swathe of the population. Many Brexit voters – though by no means all – felt/feel actively dislocated and disenfranchised from political and economic life, they essentially lack(ed) social, political, economic agency and capital. The EU referendum vote gave these dislocated and disenfranchised citizens the opportunity to “kick” an uncaring establishment, and they did so. Looking around at their/our lives, seeing no possibilities for positive change, thinking that the major institutions are not designed to serve their interests, and – vitally important – internalising the logic of media propaganda that the EU is the source of all their/our problems….what would they/you do? If the above is true, even just for some, then the instincts of (some) Leave voters are right, the major institutions (both within and beyond the EU) are not designed to serve their/our interests. It is true that perhaps the target might’ve been partially misidentified, but it was the only one on offer.

In this context, and given that the above constituency has, historically, been drawn to vote Labour, Corbyn and the Labour Party have the near impossible task of attempting to represent the interests of the above disenfranchised (largely, though not wholly Leave voters), alongside the interests of the “cosmopolitan” urban, socially liberal citizens (largely, though not wholly Remain voters). This socially liberal position is probably the position/identity of many people in the 48% Facebook group(s) and the #FBPE Twitter crowd. This is a fragile coalition but it must, as much as possible, be held together to some extent.

The major issue I have with the “Stop Brexit” campaign is that it will do nothing to assuage the disenfranchised, in fact, it will merely confirm their worst suspicions, namely: that “the establishment” (loosely defined) don’t care about them/us, and worse, have not even heard them. Most crucially, if “Stop Brexit” means merely returning to the status quo, this will not address the very real issues that partially caused the Brexit vote in the first place. For many that voted Brexit, the status quo was/is characterised by deindustrialisation, financialization, privatisation, outsourcing, precarious labour and political abandonment. Now it is true, that the above characteristics sometimes manifests itself in anti-immigration rhetoric, but I suspect that, for many, the “immigration problem” is merely the most obvious signifier of their dislocation and disenfranchisement. *To be clear, I do not agree with this assumption, merely that, with the encouragement of the Daily Mail, Express, Telegraph, Sun and a political class in fear of, or in agreement with, the above ‘newspapers’, immigrants become the easy targets* …So when Brexit voters – even the more cautious, thoughtful and potentially amenable to the Remain position – hear “Stop Brexit” without any details, or even concerns that the status quo has not, does not, and will not serve their interests, then “Stop Brexit” very much looks like not caring, having no answers other than the one(s) they already reject(ed). When people say “Stop Brexit”, those that voted to leave simply hear it as (or take this to mean) “return to the status quo” …a status quo that catastrophically and monumentally failed to serve their interests. Problematically, “Stop Brexit” also pays no heed to the “will of the people”. Now  of course, the actual phrase “the will of the people” is a disingenuous one, but that does not mean it lacks urgency and currency to those that hear it and say it, to people who felt heard for perhaps the first time. If this is true – and I think, for some, it is – then the Brexit vote and the phrase (or variations of it) has a certain poignancy and legitimacy for Brexit voters. Similarly, the “IT WAS ADVISORY!” argument does nothing to persuade because  – although strictly speaking, accurate –  the EU Referendum was manifestly not framed as advisory, and the frame is important.

What has emerged or become clearer – at least from my discussions on the 48% forum – is that The EU functions as a sort of cipher, a vessel into which “progressives” pour all their hopes. The wider historical and political context of this is vital to understand. For the last 25+ years, there has been an assumption from the media/political elite that we are in a “post-ideological” age. The Labour Party, firstly under Kinnock and then, with increasing enthusiasm and zeal under Blair, bought into the post-ideological understanding, but it was always false. The post-ideological (sic) Labour party and wider political culture in general was what many would refer to as “Neoliberalism”. This is not the place to enter into a wider debate about the merits (or not) of that term, save to say the term has a certain use-value in this context. Under neoliberal forms of socio-economic reproduction, apparently all ideological debates were over, and the “centre-ground” was the place to be, but it was and remains false. It is certainly unsustainable as the financial crisis made only too clear.

“Centrist” politics – which, it seems to me at least, is the dominant position of the 48%/#FBPE crowd(s) – essentially requires that the productive economy is hollowed out in favour of financialisation, outsourcing, privatisation, and rent-seeking. Scholars are increasingly referring to this model as not a ‘productive economy’ but an ‘extractive economy’. It accommodates the demands of capital while simultaneously increasing the precarity of labour. Those of us who sell our labour (income) have seen our wages stagnate or fall, while those who accrue revenue from assets (wealth) have remained fine, or even done very well. It is true that “Centrist” parties did, at times, attempt to throw in a bit redistribution, but there is an argument to suggest that this is not a productive or sensible way to organise political economy. There are of course interesting discussions to have as to how we do organise our political economy, (and some very interesting and more radical ideas) but the 2008 Global Financial Crisis demonstrated that the status quo was/is not sustainable.

As I wrote above, I think the EU can then function as a cipher or repository for “progressive” hopes and dreams. In the era of the mythologised “centre-ground” (its dominance in political discourse) generally progressive people turned towards, and simultaneously attached their hopes and dreams to the EU. It is not a case of what the EU actually is, but more a case of the idea of the EU as somehow progressive. And who can blame them/us? In the ideological vacuum of (the ideologically vacuous) “centre ground” the EU thus becomes an idea(l) onto which some vague sense of “progressive” values can be attached. For some (I stress, not all) in the #FBPE/48% crowd, EUphilia becomes politics for people who don’t do politics….or certainly people who don’t do ideology. This is why the leaders of the “Stop Brexit” campaign are those very same centrist (non-ideological (sic)) political figures: Alastair Campbell; Tony Blair; Nick Clegg; Vince Cable; John Major. Why would anyone look to these people for leadership, guidance, hope, less still any analysis of the political landscape, when – one could argue – they are (some of) the people who emptied politics of ideology, and in so doing, helped create the conditions for the Brexit vote. As Richard Seymour puts it: ‘They (Remainers) sat through the same Nick Clegg vs Nigel Farage debacles that I did, and still conclude to this day that what we need is more Nick Clegg.’  The financial crisis was the chickens of centrist politics coming home to roost, the Brexit vote, and the rise of Corbyn, is (in part) politics catching up with economics. It still stumbles on in zombie form, but there can be no return to it.

Which brings me back to Corbyn/Labour and their (admittedly frustrating) position on Brexit and talk of “A customs union”. With this move, and some other steps, it is possible that, having assessed the situation, the Labour/Corbyn project have come to realise that, at the very least, ‘A’ Customs Union is vital,  if only to maintain the Good Friday Agreement in the island of Ireland. In this sense, some of the small and subtle shifts are a nod towards political and economic reality without necessarily fracturing the unstable coalition that Labour needs.

*for more on these ideas, see here, and here*

A reminder: I voted Remain, I would do so again in a heartbeat, but those of us that voted Remain and that (more or less) support Labour under Corbyn’s leadership, despite claims to the contrary by some, do not necessarily think he’s “the messiah”. The lazy assumption (often voiced by that hero of the Remainers, James O’Brien) that we think he is “the messiah” is infuriating. I generally and genuinely like and quite admire James O’Brien, almost the only place in British mainstream media where one can find that particular brand of (soft) left politics (pro-unions, wages increases, workers rights, pro-immigration, pro-public sector, critical of ‘market’ dominance) is on his daily programme on LBC.  He’s also one of the few (only?) broadcasters that continues to take on the Brexit(ers) and their arguments with any regularity. He is a smart, intelligent, thoughtful and quite rigorous broadcaster and journalist – and god knows we need them. However, the caveat: When it comes to the Brexit debate and Corbyn, that sense of critical understanding – the wider social, political and electoral context – occasionally deserts him. I’m not sure I’d characterise O’Brien as a ‘hardcore’ Remainer, (a ‘Remainiac’ – though he has appeared on their podcast) but that’s certainly a position ascribed to him by the hardcore Remainers. The Remainiacs, the 48% and #FBPE crowd so often bemoan the lack of subtlety and nuance, the binary thinking that characterises hardcore Brexiters, but then in the next breath, anyone on the Remain side that is simultaneously supportive of Corbyn/Labour is accused of a messiah complex. As if there’s no agonising over it; as if it’s simple; as if we, too, are not thoroughly distressed at the Brexit shambles; as if we, too, didn’t wish the EU Referendum vote had gone the other way. To simply assert that Corbyn’s Labour position is wrong, or that it’s simple, or simply a matter of becoming a Remainer is to basically pay no attention to, nor have an analysis of political economy, ideology, the pre-EU referendum social conditions, the political and electoral landscape as it is. It ascribes onto Labour/Corbyn supporters a laziness that is simply not present. To inscribe us thus is to indulge in precisely the same lazy thinking Remainiacs accuse Brexiters of. In fact, all we are doing is simply acknowledging the immense difficulty of Corbyn/Labour’s position, while maintaining and arguing that Labour are – to say the very f**king least – not only massively preferable to the Tories, but vital, indeed a necessity for the future of our political economy and society in general. So while both (New) Labour under Blair, and the Tories (under Cameron) might have succumbed to neoliberal tendencies, it is the Tories who called the referendum, as such, they simply must take the lion’s share of the blame for the entire mess in the first place.

In an environment in which the left (broadly defined) was weak domestically, as James Butler eloquently puts it: ‘…the EU functioned as a sort of lodestar’. With a weakened left, progressive hopes were outsourced to the EU. So the EU has become the vessel for “progressive” politics for people who don’t do politics, or certainly that don’t see politics as class struggle, that lack a theory of ideology, that don’t see politics as a form of ideological antagonism. The EU became the form of liberal cosmopolitanism, of globalisation that did not threaten capital. It has(d) no interest in, less still critique of imperialism, social (in)justice and capital. Classic liberal cosmopolitanism – ideological and class antagonism is stripped out.

So while I think (still) it would be better to remain as a member of the EU, leaving in the current circumstances may well prove to be disastrous, repeated calls to simply #StopBrexit are not productive. That ship has sailed. Just “Stopping Brexit” will merely confirm the suspicions of the Brexit voters. It will further strengthen their beliefs that they’ve been shafted, it cements the idea that they were right to distrust the “political establishment”…and I would have to agree. Even if you do not agree, “Stopping Brexit” has the potential to become a central component for the radical right, already in the ascendancy, they can then organise around this fact, organise around their shafting by  the establishment…the extent to which this will finally shatter an already unstable and flaky socio-political settlement is worrying, and could have disasterous consequences.

Finally, despite the electoral arithmetic not adding up, the #FBPE/48% crowd(s) continue to demand that Labour #StopBrexit. Or at least they argue that by not doing more, Labour are selling “us” out. However, it is not within the power of Labour to “Stop Brexit”…they simply do not have the numbers! Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston (a Tory I do at least respect) are not going to rebel, certainly not if such rebellion led in the long run, to a Corbyn-led Labour Government. Soubry, Wollaston, Clarke, Grieve fear a Labour Government almost as much as (Labour MP *now had whip withdrawn*) John Woodcock does!

“Stopping Brexit” only looks to mitigate the (most likely terrible) consequences of Brexit, but it does not examine liberal cosmopolitanism’s creation of the social political conditions, the causal (or correlative) historical conditions that made (the) Brexit (vote) possible. Just imagining:

a). That The EU is some sort of panacea *if only ‘we’ could persuade the Brexiters with ‘our’ logic*:

b) That Labour can just easily discard a core constituency (becoming the LibDems);

c) That returning to the status quo will prove sufficient…

…is a misguided fantasy.

 

Articles

Two Year Degrees

In Uncategorized on December 10, 2017 by chr1sr0berts

BBC News TF

**Scene inside the Tory Cabinet Office**

Theresa May: “OK so young people are not voting for us, we need a policy that appeals to them”

Policy Adviser: “hmmmm, OK, what do you propose? Some sort of industrial strategy, you know, one that might lead to more skills and employment opportunities?”

**Tory MP’s look blank and confused**

Policy Adviser: “How about legislating on a much higher minimum wage?”

**snorts of derision**

Policy Adviser: “Public investment in ….I don’t know, housing?”

**no response**

Jo Johnson (Minister for Higher Education): “I know, I’ve identified the problem, students are graduating with too much debt, right?”

Policy Adviser: “Riiiiight, but that’s our fault, isn’t it? We tripled tuition fees”

Entire Cabinet in unison: “SHUT UP!”

Policy Adviser: “Erm, so what’s the solution you’ve come up with? Decrease fees? Reinstate the central teaching grant? Write-off some of the debt?”

Jo Johnson: “No, we’ll offer 2 year degrees….less time, less debt!”

**Entire Cabinet high-five and head off for a celebration leaving policy adviser to work up the document**

– Later that day –

**Scene: Inside Dept of Education. Policy Adviser trying to reason with Jo Johnson**

Policy Adviser: “There are a few problems with this policy….Firstly, won’t this introduce a 2 tier system?”

Jo Johnson: “What do you mean?”

Policy Adviser: “Well, those that can afford it, will continue to do the traditional, if you like ‘proper’ degree programme…

Jo Johnson: “Don’t call it proper, this is just as good as the old 3 year degree”

Policy Adviser: “Would you expect your children to do one of these ‘2 year degrees’?

Jo Johnson: “Don’t think I didn’t see those ‘air quotes'”

Policy Adviser: “Sorry Minister….but….well, would you?”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slsjyGoLJyQ

(from 2 mins 45 secs)

JJ

Jo Johnson: “…… ……. ….. Look, there are a range of different options”

Policy Adviser *sighing* “OK, look, another thing. Who will teach these degrees? The thing about degrees is that they’re taught by the very people doing the research. Research takes time, certainly to do it properly. In those weeks when students aren’t on campus, that’s when the academic staff do their research. They all have to submit to the REF”

Jo Johnson: “I agree, I was taught (at Oxford) by some wonderful research active staff….”

Policy Adviser: “Precisely, that’s my point. You’re a beneficiary of that system which this new one will deny to those choosing the 2 year degree. Research, and that it’s undertaken by the very people teaching you is one of the key things that makes it a DEGREE…you know HIGHER Education. When would they have time to undertake their research?”

Jo Johnson: “Well maybe these 2 year degrees would be taught by other staff, perhaps younger academic staff.”

Policy Adviser: “But then these other teaching-only staff will be offering a different course. THEY’RE NOT THE RESEARCH ACTIVE STAFF! So it’ll be a different degree. A two-tier system”

Jo Johnson: “But it’ll reduce the time, hence reducing debt. Everyone’s a winner!” *Jo Johnson smiles to himself*

Policy Adviser: “OK, let me see if I’ve got this right. So you’ve identified the problem as ‘too much debt’? But then instead of reducing or removing the debt burden, you’re simply reducing the quality of the ‘product’….but they’re still in debt, right? Additionally, and this something you’re silent on, many of the students most concerned about debt actually work during their degrees. In your new ‘2 year degree’ when would they have time to work? And, I hate to bring it up again….but when would the academic staff have time to do research….you know, the very thing that differentiates a degree programme from other forms of education?”

**Jo Johnson is now grinning inanely, he walks backwards out of the room still grinning**

— Later that evening —

**Scene: In the cinema queue**

Ticket seller: “Hello sir. Now, with this particular film, we have a special offer on”

Jo Johnson: “Ooooh, sounds interesting….do tell”

Ticket Seller: “Well, you can either pay £15 or £10”

Jo Johnson: “Well obviously I’ll take the £10 option….but, what’s the catch?”

Ticket Seller: “No catch sir, it’s just what we like to call our “accelerated” viewing experience. Don’t worry, it’s exactly the same, no difference in actual quality, it’s the same film, just you watch it at a quicker pace.”

Jo Johnson: “errrrmmm….what?”

Ticket Seller: “Look, we’re just trying to ‘break the mould’ of a system in which the normal 90 minute films have ‘crowded out’ any ‘more flexible ways of viewing’”

Jo Johnson: “Erm, right. But it IS the same film, though?”

Ticket seller: “Yep yep, exactly the same. You just watch it quicker. If you don’t mind me saying, sir, you also look like a mature viewer. ‘This latest policy is particularly attractive for mature viewers ….who might want to go through the film watching experience at a faster pace'”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-42268310

BBC TF ii.png

**looking slightly baffled, Johnson gives it a go**

–Scene: Inside the cinema screen

**Johnson frowning and looking bemused….struggling to understand and keep up as a sped-up 90 minute film rushes past in 60 minutes. Dialogue too fast, frames moving at 36 frames per second**

–Final Scene **Jo Johnson shouting and demanding his money back**
Coming to a University Campus near you ….*possibly*

 

Articles

Removing ‘Child-Poverty’ …targets, but not actual existing poverty: A Neoliberal Repertoire

In Uncategorized on December 22, 2016 by chr1sr0berts

As was recently reported, the Conservative Government have now decided to close the “Child Poverty Unit”. In justifying their decision, the following phrase did rather leap off the page: “…amid a *restructuring of goals around a wider measure of life chances, also taking in issues such as debt and addiction*”

It is a classic of the neoliberal repertoire, “Life chances” are a vague notion, as such, they can be folded into personal responsibility. All responsibility for one’s own position in life is loaded onto the (somewhat slender) shoulders of individuals. And if you don’t grab your “life-chances”, hey, you only have yourself to blame. One small glimmer is that at least the term “debt” is mentioned as an issue, though the extent to which debt will also be assumed to be a wholly personal decision (as opposed to an almost inevitable condition in neoliberal Britain) is another matter. Removing the social in favour of the individual (responsibility) is of course not new, but in closing the unit, and ceasing to measure child-poverty, I can scarcely remember so brazen an admission of systemic failure (not that it will be framed this way of course) Because, as the superb Arundhati Roy explains:

“Poverty too, like feminism, is often framed as an identity problem. As though the poor had not been created by injustice but are a lost tribe who just happen to exist, and can be rescued in the short term by a system of grievance redressal (administered by NGOs on an individual, person-to-person basis), and whose long-term resurrection will come from Good Governance — under the regime of Global Corporate Capitalism, it goes without saying.” (Arundhati Roy, Capitalism: A Ghost Story)

As important as the removal of the child-poverty targets by the government, is Roy’s use of the term capitalism. While one action conceals, the other action (of writing) names and reveals. In fact, the very term capitalism was, until the onset of the GFC in 2007/08 only really uttered on the far left. Perhaps in University research and teaching in Economics departments, though, here, too it seems to have fallen out of favour. The term, and critique of it as a social and economic system, or “Mode of production” clung on in sociology, (some of the more critical) Business Studies programmes, Cultural Studies (what remains of it), History and Human Geography, but elsewhere, and particularly in both politics and media, capitalism as the only show in town, (Thatcher’s “There Is No Alternative” (TINA), springs to mind, and was recently revived by the then Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron) gained such currency that to offer even marginal critique of it would cast you as an outrider. We can see traces of this erasure in the Government’s decision to close down the unit. To remove the cause itself, not from governance, but merely from view. 

This latest move by the Tories clearly indicates that not only are they not capable or even vaguely interested in “eliminating child poverty” but they cannot (or refuse to) even see or name the system(ic problem) staring us all in the face. Any act of resistance needs to factor this in, we need to identify and name the system (and systemic) failings that cast some aside while simultaneously lifting others. One does not need to be a Marxist to see the systemic failings, one just needs to be alive and alert.

Alongside the closure of the Child Poverty Unit, and Cameron’s revival of TINA, come the terms “global race” and being “lean and competitive“. Employing such athletic metaphors might serve politicians well – they paint a picture of athletic, competitive winners – but do very little for the rest of us (other than push us into penury). In a way, the terms are part of the same political trajectory as the closing of the Child Poverty Unit. If you can’t actually fully ignore the problem – because the evidence of poverty is (of course) in front of our very eyes, then shift the terms of the debate (the discourse) and load responsibility onto individuals, to be “lean and competitive” in the “global race”. Don’t name the problem, shift the focus…onto YOU (and your failings).

On the same morning the Guardian reported the closure of the Child Poverty Unit, the strikes by Southern Rail were continuing. On the 19th December, James O’Brien had delivered a perfectly apposite description of the ways in which media hegemony operates. A mere two days later, Weds 21st December 2016, a caller to LBC Radio called James O’Brien. The caller, simultaneously furious at the strikes but lauding the vitality and genius of (publicly paid for research that produced) algorithms suggested that an algorithm has successfully operated the DLR for years. Now, while this is true, the caller failed to explain how, if deployed more widely, across dozens or 100’s of different sectors, the 1000’s, perhaps millions of people displaced would earn enough to eat, house, and clothe themselves and their families. In political economy terms, they would lack sufficient ability to “reproduce their own labour power”. In political terms, they and their families would perhaps fall in to “poverty” and be in need of the exact kind of assistance the Child-Poverty Unit was originally designed to provide. Alas…

Just to be absolutely clear, I long for the day we can allow automation to do more work, but there are problems here aren’t there? The problems – as I see them at least – are not in technological innovations per se, but are instead inherent in the particular social relations through which the technology and innovation was and still is deployed. The point is not that problematic outcomes are inherent in the technology, or that technological innovations and developments can be “blamed” or are “bad”. More that technological innovation is deployed through a particular form of social relations. In this we return to Arundhati Roy’s naming of the system. Capitalism – certainly its neoliberal variant.

Technological development is supposed to be (is) transformative, but the transformations are not being realised, shared or redistributed for us all. The technological developments and innovations have not been used to ‘transform society’ at all, but, to borrow a phrase from the “Regulation School” and in the words of Jeremy Gilbert, “have instead been used to modify and solidify the ‘regime of accumulation’”.

It is in these circumstances and this context, that the Southern Rail strike need to be located. The only option for those under threat, is to use the means of political organisation and expression available and appropriate for the current moment. So, in the current situation – where tech innovation is used to accumulate capital while labour is crushed under its heel – strikes are the only option. Basically, until we transition to an economy that deploys the technological means we have at our disposal to benefit us all, withdrawing one’s labour (currently a defensive move designed to grimly cling on to the things gained over the last century) is the only option.

What might be better is for the technological gains to be deployed, shared, used or re-imagined as a means to provide for us all. If we continue to live under the same model of social and political economy, in which technological innovation is used to crush labour, then (with apologies for repetition) in time, there will be too few employment “opportunities” for the population to earn enough to feed, clothe and house themselves and their (our) families.

In these circumstances, what do the government do? Do they think about, debate, propose policies to expropriate some of the technological gains (for which much of the R&D was initially paid for using public money ? Do they propose investing in more R&D so that the transition to an automative, technologically efficient society, perhaps with the guaranteed social wage? No, they close the Child-Poverty Unit, assume poverty is entirely the fault of “failing” individuals, and encourage us to join the “global race” to become more “lean and competitive”. In this context, what do the terms “global race” and “lean and competitive” mean? If accepted by us – how hegemony works – then they mean the odds are not stacked in favour of most of us.

 

Articles

Home Comforts

In Uncategorized on May 18, 2015 by chr1sr0berts

Yesterday [Sunday 17th May 2015] I spent the afternoon at my family home – my Dad’s home. My poor Mum died in 2009, since when my Dad has lived there alone. He has now married again and is moving to a new place with his new wife. His new wife, Heather, is lovely and makes him very happy. The house is now being sold – he’s moving in 12 days time. Therefore, yesterday was my last ever time in what has been our family home for 33 years.

Mum and Me 1982

I spent much of the afternoon wandering about the rooms and the garden, reminiscing and taking it all in. So much of my life is tied up in that house. When as a child and as an adolescent I would bring friends to the house….sleepovers; football; cricket; cycling; watching endless hours of TV comedy taped on to an ancient VHS player; learning to breakdance in the garden; my mum juggling oranges to make my friends laugh. Once she decided to play an impromptu game of hide-and-seek, my friend Bones and I knew she was in the house, but she’d decided to hide. We looked all around until finally, as we walked up the stairs for perhaps the 5th time, she emerged from inside the giant laundry basket with the lid balanced on her head. Yesterday I noticed that a different laundry basket was in the very same place, at the top of the stairs. Memories of parties – though not many; – our many different cats; a patio I built; a shed I constructed; once, when unemployed all summer I painted much of the outside of the house; the pet rabbits we had and who lived in a hutch in the garage – and who used to run around in the rabbit run constructed by my grandfather; memories of my older sister and of her friends – some of whom were my first “loves” *not really, but as a teenager I certainly fancied some of them*. Then my actual first loves, girlfriends staying over – but never in the same room *until I was over 21* …but most of all, our family. All of these things – and more – came flooding back yesterday.

But the house also made me think of my own family. The garden was where my wife Hannah first met my Mum…whereupon, just to embarrass me, she barked like a dog! Hannah loved this and I think from that moment, loved my Mum. As adults, we have our own version. We have our own home, and our own children.  Yesterday afternoon, Natty [my three year old son] put some music on and danced around what used to be my bedroom. I watched him for ages, to watch him made me happy, to see him do what I had once done in that very room…it was like we’d come full-circle. It of course, again, brought back lots of memories of my dear Mum, and it made me miss her all over again. The smallest little items with seemingly no significance to anyone else made me well up. I know that it’s only bricks and mortar but it has been a lovely home for our family – my dad, my mum, my sister and me….all sharing the space together, laughing, eating, talking, sometimes arguing ….and everything else people do in a home.

Anyway, it is now time for another family to make it their home, the house, the home deserves a happy family, and we’ve certainly been that.

I really missed my Mum yesterday, she was the funniest, wittiest person I knew. Yesterday, in the now emptying house, and with her gone, it was like suffering the loss of her all over again.

With the sale of the house goes the last tangible space of my Mum. It also means I no longer have a “base” in the town where I grew up. At first I thought it was this lack of base that hurt, but on reflection, and in talking with my sister, I realise it’s something else. Perhaps I have a case of arrested development. But now, finally – at 43 – it is as if I have finally become an adult. Probably partly driven by a desire for safety, familiarity and comfort, all the time my father still live[s]d in that house, there was a tangible space that linked me to my childhood, a space where I could go – though I too rarely did – and be my parents’ child again.

My Dad is a wonderful man, scrupulously fair, loving, warm, honest and caring. But with the home we shared gone, I know I can never return to the place of familiar and familial comfort, to the place of so many happy memories. And, with my Dad’s move to his new home [and new life], I know that I will only ever be a guest in his new house – a welcome guest certainly, to repeat, my Dad is a wonderful and loving man – but a guest nonetheless.

Goodbye HouseLast day at Decoy

Articles

Selling the Cow to Buy the Milk (Keiser, M; 2013)

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2014 by chr1sr0berts Tagged: , , , , ,

Imagine a university funding policy so ineptly crafted, so short-sighted, so rooted in short-term “thinking” that a mere 3 years after its inception, it is already collapsing

Much of this was predictable and predicted by many, but most of all by the person who’s done more research into this than anyone else. Andrew McGettigan‘s book “The Great University Gamble” is essential reading in this respect. In fact, so essential is it, that I have sent a copy of it to our new Minister for Universities [and my own constituency MP] Mr Greg Clark.

Firstly, it does not benefit students, universities, or the much mythologised “taxpayer” [BTW, for the record, students, staff, managers are *also* “taxpayers”] Demanding that students take on enormous debts in order to fund their education is such a fundamental transformation of the[ir] relationship with and to education. It turns students from people engaged in an academic relationship, into mere “consumers of education” As a member of academic staff at a university, my “academic labour” is transformed, and I am now merely a “service provider” It imagines that students can select their “education provider” based on the habits of consumption more in-line with choosing where to do your weekly shop. University is not like this. To quote the aforementioned Andrew McGettigan: “…the endeavour (the marketisation of Higher Education) is misconceived… the government misunderstands the kind of “good” that education is. The market is being set up as if undergraduate education were a normal consumer good: it is not. For better or ill, undergraduate higher education in England is a positional good: institutions are ranked in a hierarchy, and opportunities are restricted” University is also [most frequently] a “single-purchase good” i:e one usually only does this [actually purchases] once….and not “weekly” [like your shopping] It places the onus on students to “perform” as consumers. However, the entire mechanisms for measuring value, and – as importantly – what actually constitutes value are insufficient to the task of actually measuring the values of higher education. The means of measuring the “value” of a degree is anything but consumptive/economic…but of course, the idea from Government is that this becomes the case.

The policy was able to be pushed through, in part because of the established “news values” regarding the ways in which the “£9000 tuition fees” were and are reported. I’ve written previously [in an academic paper *awaiting placement*] that a discourse of “education consumers” was established almost immediately – in November 2010. The news narrative on the day of the first protest was as follows: “1000’s of students take to the streets to protest agains the rise in tuition fees” What none of the news reports outlined, was that the rise in fees was to cover for, or replace wholesale the withdrawal of the teaching grant – in my subject area, the withdrawal was 100%. This is the most fundamental change to universities for a generation. Rather than providing contextually adequate information to include this fundamental shift, the news media instead established – very quickly – a discourse of students as disaffected and angry “education consumers”. Of course, this is all “old news” but it requires critical interrogation and scrutiny precisly because it establishes the discourse – the discursive formation if you will.

And so it was established and look where we are now. A report from May of this year was headlined “Degree Courses Not Value for Money Say Many Students”:  This is a classic “news hook”, a “value for money ‘news hook’” …Higher education is now located in the “discourse of consumption”. I should add by the way, that I do not blame students for thinking in this way, they have, after all, taken on large debts in order to fund their education so it is “natural” [or at least learned behaviour] in these circumstances to assess the value of their studies in some consumptive way, a sort of “cost/benefit analysis”. I just don’t think they should have to take on debt in order to study for a degree. Nor – sadly – do I expect more from our news media. The transformative goal of this mess of a policy – and the news media are largely willing accomplices in this – is to ask that students see a degree as a form of benefit only to the individual. Andrew McGettigan again: “Its reforms treat it as solely of benefit to the private individual, missing the associated public benefits which are now at risk”. So students are now encouraged to see their higher education as a form of ‘human capital investment’. “…by undertaking training the individual makes themselves more productive. This is evidenced by the higher salaries enjoyed by graduates – the return on investment. Education becomes recoded as a financial purchase the benefits of which will be seen later in higher income not unlike an annuity” (McGettigan, A 2013: 55) The funding policy is thus a piece of social engineering masquerading as responsible government policy. I imagine that once a large enough cohort of students have been through the system, all the while internalising the “degree as purely personal benefit” then the transformation will be complete. Higher Education simply will be a form of consumption, and many students may see themselves purely in the form of a sort of “entrepreneurial self”

Related to the “degree as human capital investment” and the “recoding” of education, is a form of individualisation perfectly in line with conservative, Conservative and neoliberal thinking. Individualisation and a form of “outsourced learning” are at the heart of the current ideological [deregulated, privatised, financialised] environment. Many years ago, graduates were in demand because having a degree demonstrated certain critical, intellectual, written, creative, and reflective abilities, skills and competencies. This is still the case but the ground has shifted beneath us. Now employers – often represented by the CBI – complain that “graduates aren’t ready for the workplace”. What they mean is that their employees still require some very specific job related training…which costs time and money. In years gone by, if and when employees required some specific vocational training, businesses would pay for training…or perhaps pay towards it…or give employees time, space and support for extra training/evening school classes. This is increasingly rare. Now many [but perhaps not all] businesses seem to demand that new graduates and employees are “job ready” When put like this, we can see it as a cost saving measure for the “business sector” or the lamentable phrase “UK PLC” to transfer “training/education” onto the state. I even – sort of – understand this from a “business perspective” [a micro-economic perspective] I understand the need for businesses, particularly SME’s, to want/need their employees to be competent and efficient, and that they might not want to – or perhaps cannot afford to – pay extra for the training that might be required. However, we, all of us, ought to expect and demand more from Government and Government policy. We should demand that they do not think on such a short-term basis – Government should not think like a business, or think only “what’s good for business”, because “what’s good for business” is not necessarily “what’s good for citizens” In short, this Government think in “micro-economic” terms….when they should be thinking in “macro-economic” terms. Or rather, perhaps this Government do think in macro-economic terms, but in a hangover from, or a continuation of the market fundamentalism of “The Chicago School” they imagine [ignoring the last 35 years worth of stagnating wages, indebted financialised personal circumstances….soaring corporate wealth] that personal and company finances, will, if left to their own devices, sort out the  rest of society. Let the market roam free – the micro – and the wider society – the macro – will be sorted. However, this latter [hopefully end of] stage of neoliberalism takes personal financialised debt even further. If you transfer all costs onto individuals and consequently financialize and impoverish your citizens, then you’re cleary unfit for office.  Responsibility for education/training has been wholly transferred – first from “businesses” to the state [Colleges, Universities]; then from the universities on to the shoulders of individuals in the form student loans to pay for increased tuition fees. It is the very apotheosis of neoliberal ideology. All training is outsourced and costs are transferred wholly onto individuals in the “competitive labour market”. Incidentally, Foucault has much to sayas does Lazzaratoon this. Lazzarato in particular – updating Foucault’s earlier work – takes into account that the “entreprenuerial individual” might be locked into a form of  quasi authoritarian neoliberalism that has debt as a form of social control.  So funding through tuition fees is the ultimate financialization of society – any notionally socially useful thing you need – education, housing, healthcare [NHS privatisation is well under way with zero political mandate; almost no critical scrutiny and certainly very little reporting in the media] will come with a heavy personal, indebted, financialised price “Ah, you need an operation I see….ah, you need some more training and education….Hmmmm, I’m afraid you’ll need to borrow…..still, not to worry, here’s a long-term loan for you” Increasing financialization and increasing personal debts sounds familiar to me. So, right at the time when we know such a “policy mix” was a major contribitory factor in the crisis of 2008….this ideologicaly driven Government decides to transfer this busted model, wholesale, onto the university sector and individual students. Call me sceptical, but this does not look like a recipe for success!

 

Brielfy, on the subject of increasing household and personal debt, and that this is the major contributory factor in the crisis of 2008: The repeated rhetoric from Cameron, Osborne, Danny Alexander et al has been “Clearing up the mess left by Labour” and “Pay off the nations credit card” and “We can’t borrow our way out of a debt crisis” Disregarding that the credit card analogy is either economically incompetent or disingenuous, “borrowing our way out of crisis” is exactly what they plan for the economy….it’s just they don’t want Government to do it – when they can borrow at interest rates of 2.9% over 10 years [you try getting that kind of deal from your bank] …they want “us” to do it…then keep spending. Corrected figures from the OBR released in 2011 – correcting the figures they released after Osborne’s first “Spending review” in October 2010 – indicate clearly that this is an expectation. Household debt as % of income to increase from 159% to 173% by 2015. “We [Government] won’t borrow….but you lot [the plebs], yeah, go on….borrow away!” *despite it costing much more*

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To return to the student/university “funding model”. As should be clear, the model is firmly based on ever increasing levels of personal [financialized] debt. It *should* also be politically, ideologically and economically toxic. Even if we ignore the injustices of personal financialized debt [which we should not] macro-economically it fails, too. Imagine what the graduate repayment obligations – 9% of salary over £21,000 – could possibly do to levels of aggregate demand in the future. Personal debts and subsequent repayments at this level – FOR THIRTY years – must, simply must impact on people’s ability to “spend” thus demand will suffer. However, there is very little understanding, critique or contextual depth to our news reporting. I’d quite like a piece of “news” [not comment] to consider, understand, explain, contextualise and report this accordingly. That there is very little news understanding, means the policy is not really that toxic….or at least, not quite as toxic as it ought to be.

Politically it stinks – but again, they seem to be getting away with it: Selling off the student loan book – the previous plan that Vince Cable has just announced he’s shelving – is merely a trick to boost Government coffers and shift the debt off the govt balance sheet. A sort of “pre-election” boost, “Look, the public debt is down, told you we’d do it” Earlier this year George Osborne announced that selling off the student loan book would raise £12billion. This has since been downgraded, so much so that they can’t sell it. The “£12billion” from previous loans were to be used as a means of funding the next tranche of student loans… for the next few years of students. Can anyone see a problem here? Take an asset – the student loan book; sell for less than it’s “worth” – from £12b now trying to sell it for £2b – and use the money to fund another lot of debt. At the same time, deprive yourself [the Government] of a future “revenue stream” It is, in the words of Max Keiser “Selling the cow, to buy the milk” It is a *pure* [*not pure at all, it is neoliberal, finance capitalism led*] “free-market” ideology masquerading as Higher Education policy and “sound economics”.

How much hope do any of us have that the Labour opposition will be any different in Government? After all, many of the decisions that relate to Higher Education taken in the four years of this coalition Government were based on the Browne Review, a review established by the previous Labour Government under the “guidance” of Peter Mandelson. The report, with which we are all familiar, is laughably titled: “Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education” – Yes, you read that right….”Sustainable!”

 

There’s loads more of course. Obviously I recommend Andrew McGettigan’s book:

 

…and perhaps try [m]any of Aditya Chakraborrty’s fine articles….like this one from today’s Guardian

 

Twitter @chr1sr0berts

And Follow Andrew here: Twitter@amcgettigan

And Aditya here: Twitter@chakraborrty

Articles

BBC coverage of the NHS – Panorama “Britain’s Secret Health Tourists”: a case study

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2012 by chr1sr0berts

What follows is an edited version of a paper I have recently submitted for publication in an academic journal. The academic paper is approx 6000 words in length and contains “screengrabs” It will hopefully be published soon – although it first must be subjected to peer review (fair enough) but this sometimes take time. In the meantime, I wrote a shortened version for the Open Democracy Website Our Beeb. This edited version exists in part thanks to the editing skills of Jamie Mackay and Dan Hancox. It seems that at present, the blog is too long for Our Beeb, so in the interim, I post this shorter (approx 3400 words in length) post here on my own blog.

The establishment of the BBC as the publicly funded media organisation remains an important and potentially progressive act. As it stands, the BBC has a role to play as perhaps the embodiment of objectivity and impartiality. It forms an important part of British social, political and cultural life.

…a set of principles for public service broadcasting was established: universality of coverage; diversity in programming; reflection of national identity and culture; the servicing of minority interests; the provision of an impartial news and current affairs service free from the influence of business of government; and the delivery of innovative, ‘quality’ programming designed to inform, education and entertain. (Debrett, M. 2010) emphasis added

Notwithstanding the recent fall-out from the Jimmy Savile abuse allegations, the BBC continues to enjoy remarkable levels of both enthusiasm and trust among large sections of the population. This is in part because television, as a resource of scarcity, has an obligation to impartiality that is not expected nor demanded of newspapers

By the 1980’s, television had reached a point of maturity where, whatever the party of government, it was seen as a decisive weapon in the battle for electoral hearts and minds. Because it was not open to the same partisan approach as the press, it was implicitly trusted by voters. (Barnett, S. 2011: 118)

Therefore, and despite the fast changing media landscape of the twenty-first century, television still maintains its role as the most important source of news and current affairs information. It is in this tradition that Panorama can be located. Panorama, remains the flagship current affairs broadcast strand on British television, the standard bearer against which other broadcast strands are measured. Therefore, to what extent is Panorama upholding the practices and values of ‘impartial’ television journalism? What is more, are these practices and values sufficient? For if it is still the case that: “…television matters because it remains central to people’s lives, and television journalism matters, partly because it still commands proper resources and mass audiences, and partly because it upholds the central tenets of professional practice: truth telling and holding power to account. (Barnett, S 2011: 248) ..then are said ‘central tenets’ and ‘professional practices’ adequate to the task they have been set – and perhaps largely assumed to uphold?

 

Panorama “Britain’s Secret Health Tourists”

“Declan Lawn reports on how ‘health tourists’ are obtaining free NHS treatment they should be paying for – at a cost of millions to our health service. Panorama goes undercover inside a black market where NHS access is being bought and sold, and finds an NHS practice manager taking money to register health tourists. Declan also discovers how easy it is for foreign nationals to get free treatment – with many hospitals across the country not making the required checks” [Panorama broadcast 3/10/2012]

The above is taken from the BBC Panorama website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01nbryp what follows is some analysis of the content. The analysis is limited to the opening two minutes of the broadcast. This opening montage essentially acts as a “trailer” for the remainder of the programme, as such it sets the frame and context through which the viewer is invited to understand the unfolding story of “Britain’s Secret Health Tourists” and the NHS

Visuals Diegetic score/Voice-over Non-diegetic score (if present) Brief description
Black and white library footage
Ambulance driving to Hospital. “The NHS” >> Eric Coates’ “Calling All Workers” Sepia tinted opening montage
Nurses receiving patient from ambulance outside hospital building.Patient smiles as disembarks << “a national institution since 1948” >> Eric Coates’ “Calling All Workers”
Nurse caring for individual patient (washing his face) << Promising free health-care Eric Coates’ “Calling All Workers” Visual demonstration of “care”
Dr taking the blood pressure of a patient << to the residents of Britain Eric Coates’ “Calling All Workers”

The programme opens with black and white library footage, complete with Eric Coates’ “Calling All Workers” as the diegetic score. Various shots of an ambulance, nurses caring for patients and finally a Dr taking the blood pressure of a patient provides a nostalgic sepia tinted opening tone. Laid over the top is the voice-over of BBC Panorama reporter Declan Lawn, who reminds us, “the NHS, a national institution since 1948/Promising free health-care to the residents of Britain” This suitably nostalgic opening serves to remind viewers of a perhaps better, more promising age, the sepia tinted images of care are designed to resonate as indicative of more innocent times. The romanticised image of the NHS thus established, the narrative then jump cuts to a contemporary and urgent scenario

Visuals Diegetic score/Voice-over Non-diegetic score (if present) Brief description
Jump cut to contemporary scene
Image of an ambulance rushing through the frame Ambulance siren Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Cut to ambulance passing through the frame accompanied by siren to signify “emergency” in contrast to previous images of “hope”
Lawn, shot close-up driving through the streets <<But now, we reveal how NHS managers>> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Cut to shot of Lawn in car, on his “journey inside the NHS”
Covert filmed sequence of one of the aforementioned “NHS managers” counting out £20 notes << can cash-in on that promise >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Visibly Counting out notes, visibly and literally “cashing in”

The image of an ambulance rushing through the frame, accompanied by a siren and the generic emergency Casualty style non-diegetic score serve as a visual and aural (televisual) reminder that the contemporary NHS scenario is urgent and far removed from the past. Lawn shot in his car, a classic trope of television thus signifying that our reporter is “taking us on a journey” through the story.  There follows the first (of many throughout the programme) shots of undercover, covert filmed sequences, designed to cast and characterise many of the protagonists as the principle cause of the crisis in the NHS. At this point the voice-over matches the visuals insofar as, one of the “NHS managers” is covertly filmed counting out £20 notes – a visual and literal representation of his “cashing-in” (at “our” expense)

Visuals Diegetic score/Voice-over Non-diegetic score (if present) Brief description
Billowing Union flag Early visual call to patriotism to defend the NHS (from the ‘Other’)
Jet plane passing through the frame in grey sky Every year, the NHS is being used >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Plane passing through the frame to signify the arrival of the ‘Other’ “using” the NHS
“Thrown-focus” sped up footage of a bustling and busy contemporary hospital << by thousands of ‘so-called’ health-tourists >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Post production effect – “throw-focus” to capture “thousands” streaming through hospital – struggling to cope.
Suitcases being wheeled through arrivals lounges << foreign nationals who are not entitled to its care >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Foreign nationals visually signified by suitcases tracking across airports
Extreme close-up (ECU) of Lawn’s eyes << and who don’t pay >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Extreme close-up (ECU ) of Declan Lawn, his eyes to signify close attention to detail – on “our” behalf
Computer screen containing numbers and charts (costs of care) << for the privilege Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Decontextualised shot of large numbers

The Union flag is the first visual call to patriotic defence of the NHS. This is further enhanced by the next sequence of shots combined with the voice-over. A jet plane passing through the frame; then a “throw-focus” shot; sped up footage of a bustling, busy contemporary hospital; suitcases being wheeled through arrivals lounges  – clearly representing the en-mass arrival of “thousands of ‘so-called’ health-tourists…foreign nationals who are not entitled to its care and who don’t pay for the privilege” (Lawn, D BBC Panorama “Britain’s Secret Health Tourists” broadcast 3/10/2012) We then cut to extreme close-up (ECU) of Lawn’s eyes signifying his investigative prowess, followed by computer screen containing suitably large numbers and charts that may or may not bear a relation to the cost of care – it is never explained, the image is designed to merely stand-in for contextual explanation.

Visuals Diegetic score/Voice-over Non-diegetic score (if present) Brief description
Interior shot of Declan Lawn in car, on a journey Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Return to Lawn on another journey inside the NHS
Exterior shot of person entering car. Leg and foot in shot, face “framed out” Using journalists from all over the world >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty
Car Interior – shot from rear seat. Lawn in focus, accomplice/investigative undercover journalist face blurred out of focus << We go undercover >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Visual representation of “undercover” signified by out of focus shot on one of protagonists (undercover journalist)
Cut to exterior. Undecover footage (secret filming) of “Middle-man” counting out cash. << in a ‘black market where access to GP’s is being bought and sold >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Undercover shot of the “black market” in which a suspect counts out cash
Lawn shot through Venetian blinds << we find out how easy it is for health tourists >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Staged shot of Lawn captured through blinds – viewers offered opportunity to see into spaces normally denied
Lawn switches on an X-ray display << to get X-rays >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Visual signifier supportive of the voice-over – so we can literally see the expensive, technological procedures given to “Health tourists”
Shot of patient entering an MRI Scanner << MRI scans >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Visual signifier supportive of the voice-over – so we can literally see the expensive, technological procedures given to “Health tourists”
Exterior – Lawn walking through the streets << and blood tests in hospital for free>> Declan Lawn back on the streets walking purposefully

Declan Lawn continues on his journey, visually displayed by the car. We then witness a sort of visualising of the methodology. Shots of “framed out” investigative assistants with the voice-over confirming the “undercover” nature of the investigation. A shot from the rear of Lawn’s vehicle with one journalist blurred out of focus. This is quickly followed by more “undercover” covert filming of another villainous character, in a “black market” again, counting out notes. We then see staged shots of Lawn filmed through blinds or half hidden, signifying the “undercover” espionage style of his journalistic engagement and that we the viewer are privy to information previously concealed. The voice-over referring to “health tourists” overlays shots of obviously expensive medical procedures which are visually displayed for us. Then a cut to Lawn walking purposefully through the streets looking pensive – but active(ly) engaged on our behalf.

Visuals Diegetic score/Voice-over Non-diegetic score (if present) Brief description
Exterior – the grounds of a hospital. Mid shot of Lawn and another investigative journalist Diegetic – “did anyone ever ask you if you were ordinarily resident in the country?” Shot from a distance
Close up of journalist Diegetic – “Nobody” Zoom to focus attention as protagonist speaks important words
Exterior – Lawn’s car  driving up the street (headlamps on) << Critics say the system is flawed>> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Another signifier of the journey into the heart of the NHS complete with “light shedding” visual symbols
Interior – interview with expert “critic” Diegetic – “This is the poor old NHS being given the task of implementing something which is unworkable” The narrative of this broadcast is legitimised by use of those on the inside

Another car journey then a sweeping shot of Lawn entering the grounds of the hospital sets up the next sequence. Shot from a mid-distance on slightly shaky camera, thus signifying covert filming. The need for this shot as covert though is merely to position the audience. Because both journalists on screen at that time are aware of, and are in fact a part of the investigation, this short sequence and the camera work is designed to give the impression that the audience are “overhearing” information, a series of “quick zooms” invite the viewer closer to (important bits of) the story. A quick cut to Lawn (again) in his car, shot from distance with the headlamps on – perhaps a “light-shedding” metaphor. The voice-over introduces us to “critics” of the current system with a short interview clip in which the “poor old NHS” is fore-grounded. At this point, it seems germane to mention that it is not in doubt that the NHS faces issues of cash-flow and funding. The point of this analysis is: the broadcast invites viewers to identify that the (at least partial) cause of this funding crisis in the “Poor old NHS” is to be laid at the feet of “foreign nationals” and unscrupulous “NHS managers”

Visuals Diegetic score/Voice-over Non-diegetic score (if present) Brief description
Exterior – shot of two Union flags hanging high in the street << We discover how the >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Second visual call to patriotism
Lawn walking through crowded London street – just visible through crowds << NHS is losing millions of £ >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Perhaps third call to patriotism combined with Lawn’s purposeful walk through recognisable environment
Close-up of Lawn’s hand placed on a computer mouse << to other European countries >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty ECU of Lawn again to signify close attention to detail
Close-up of Lawn working on computer, looking at screen >> and how our NHS>> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty CU of Lawn again to signify close attention to detail and his stealthy undercover work
Graphic display – European Identity card >> slides out of frame << passport >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Post production edit of “European” health insurance card >>
<<slides into frame: Library footage of Eurostar train << into Europe Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Eurostar Train slides across screen
Crowded platform and crowded escalator complete with European passengers disembarking << is wide open to fraud Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty European passengers disembarking
Cut to exterior and another undercover, covert filmed sequence of “middle-man” counting out cash (complete with sub-titles demarcating how much cash) Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Undercover footage, again unscrupulous protagonists visually displayed counting out money
Interior: Nurse busily walking through a hospital corridor Tonight, join Panorama Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Interior of hospital – recognisable scenes
Medical glove wearing hospital worker pushing a hospital bed as the NHS Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Shots of expensive medical equipment
Generic (expensive) medical equipment Struggles to makes savings Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Shots of expensive medical equipment – as “the NHS struggles to make savings”
Exterior: Aforementioned NHS Dr (already seen “cashing in”) walking hurriedly down the street being pursued and challenged by Declan Lawn We show how secret health tourists are costing the NHS millions Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty The denouement of the broadcast is trailered here – the “Roger Cook” style confrontation with an already seen cashing in unscrupulous individual.
Graphic – In style of Casualty bearing the title of the broadcast: “Britain’s Secret Health Tourists” Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty (louder) Casualty style graphic – signifying drama, recognisable signifier; emergency

These final sequences begin with another call to patriotism with a shot of two union flags billowing in the London streets. More sequences of undercover “secret” filmed footage – in the “black market” – and more visuals of “middle-men” counting out cash.  Throughout the broadcast we are treated to an abundance of “Pull-focus” shots. These are designed, as one might expect, to “pull-focus” of the viewer into the narrative. Significantly, the “pull-focus” is a characteristic trope of television drama. The dramatic is in keeping with the style of current affairs broadcasting

Being an eminently visual medium, television excels at constructing powerful meanings, at creating vivid impressions, associations and eliciting emotional involvement. It is not so good at presenting lots of facts and the kinds of messages where attention to nuances, reservations and contradictions is vital … The medium lends itself to aesthetically appealing and dramatic representations but is less appropriate for logical and factual argumentation, discriminating descriptions of reality and in-depth analyses. (Ekstrom, M 2002.)

In this concluding section of the “trailer” the foreign nationals arriving is visually displayed by the Eurostar train sliding into frame, thus signifying the ease of movement, and to extend the analysis, in the context of this broadcast, to signify the ease with which rules are sidestepped. The passengers are seen in their hundreds disembarking the Eurostar, to signify “a mass”, and a wide open border, possibly even a border “wide open to fraud” (Lawn, D BBC Panorama “Britain’s Secret Health Tourists” broadcast 3/10/2012). The denouement is classic combative and dramatic confrontation journalism in the style of Roger Cook, so we are offered a sense of (partial) resolution. The opening 1 minute and 45 seconds sets the tone for the remainder of the episode. In this particular broadcast the viewing public are offered the narrative that the NHS is under threat – which is certainly true – and that the intrepid, espionage like, undercover journalistic skills of Declan Lawn will reveal such menace. However, Panorama: The Secret Health Tourists locates said menace and threat in the form of the “foreign national”.

One of the reasons such brief but detailed textual analysis is undertaken is to outline the ways in which Panorama, in some respects constrained by the discourse of broadcast television journalism, deploys classic dramatic signifiers in order to “tell the story” The story told here though – the story of “health tourism”, a fear inducing tale of foreign nationals stealing “your” tax payer funded NHS care – is manifestly not the story of the NHS in 2012. Whilst it is perfectly in keeping with the traditions of the form, one could argue that such traditions as broadcast here, are inadequate. In the context of 2012, and the changes brought about by the “Health and Social Care Act”, it is surely incumbent on the UK’s flagship current affairs broadcast strand, located on the principal Public Service Broadcaster, to devote significant attention to the de facto privatisation of the NHS. But, in utilising the tropes and characteristics inherent in the form of BBC current affairs Public Service Broadcasting, Panorama discursively reproduces the normative ideals perfectly commensurate with perceived “values” of neoliberal hegemony. In this specific case, Panorama’s coverage of the NHS focussed on reimagining and reproducing an already established fear of the “Other” within a narrative of “…the NHS struggling to make savings” [Lawn, D Panorama broadcast 3/10/2012]. Significantly, as is common in the contemporary television journalistic landscape, the narratives and stories told are both of, and by a narrow range of individuals. The focus on individuals is perhaps the most urgent signifier of current affairs television’s inability to critically interrogate wider structural issues. It is easy to tell the story of individual failings; individual flaws; and the individualised mendacity of ‘Othered’ identity forms – after all, through repetition, “we” already *know* the ‘Other’ is to be distrusted and feared. Surely more worthwhile and urgent to critically interrogate the systemic structural flaws of neoliberal capitalism and their likely introduction to and affect on the NHS. That critical analysis remains largely absent from the narratives of current affairs broadcasting is both problematic and self-fulfilling. “It is always much easier to create frames than to change them” (Wolfsfeld, G. 1997) One could argue that in absenting any consideration of the “reforms” contained within the “Health and Social Care Act”, and the very real possibility that it lays the ground for privatisation, Panorama’s Britain’s Secret Health Tourists was in fact a staggering waste of journalistic resources. In place of critical interrogation of NHS privatisation, through entirely absenting such considerations, the neoliberal “market knows best” “consensus” is left unremarked upon in favour of a narrative of exclusion and fear.

Bibliography

Barnett, S (2011) ‘The Rise and Fall of Television Journalism’ London. Bloomsbury Academic Press.

Debrett, M (2010) Reinventing Public Service Television for the Digital Future. Bristol. Intellect Books.

Ekstróm, M (2002) Epistemologies of TV Journalism: A Theoretical Framework in Journalism Vol 3 (3): 259-282.  

McNair, B (2009) ‘News and Journalism in the UK’. London. Routledge.

Wolfsfeld, G (1997) Media and Political Conflict. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.