Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Lobotomy central...

The art of making politics accessible to a mass audience is to ask difficult questions simply... not to ask cretinous questions badly.

This did not occur to the BBC when they commissioned The Daily Politics (and briefed its presenters). The Lib Dem leadership edition joins the list of so-bad-it's-a-scream TV along with Flash Gordon and the Lara Croft movies. I only watched about 10 minutes and it's now been replaced on the BBC website by yesterday's edition. But even 10 minutes were sufficient to have me in stitches (Stephen Tall found it more disturbing than funny). Even the timing of the show was brain-dead - carefully scheduled after the last sensible posting date for completed ballots.

The BBC obviously thinks that the average viewer has had their brain fried by reality television and can't concentrate for more than a minute at a time. So each candidate had to make a 60 second video. This meant Chris Huhne had to talkveryveryfasttosayanythingsubstantial.

Whilst he was motor-mouthing away, the camera swerved around like a drunk in a rowing boat. It swung through 180 degrees to take in a small straggle of bored-looking bystanders, zoomed alarmingly on Chris Huhne's nose and then dropped to ground-level which gave him a brooding silhouette like a statue of Lenin.

He was interviewed by Andrew Neil who used to be the UK editor of the Economist but who appeared to be doing a good impression of having received a brain donation from a newt. As the interview went on I realised it wasn't just any old newt but the Paris Hilton of the newt world on a particularly blonde day. In the minutes before I switched it off, the questioning ran something like this (this is from memory so will only be approximate - the Realplayer file is gone and I don't have a transcript... But it should give you a flavour - it was *this* bad):

Paris the Newt (smugly): The Institute of Fiscal Studies has said that your plans to remove the lowest earners from tax would cost £21 billion. How do you intend to pay for this?

Chris Huhne: As I have said in my manifesto, I'm going to raise this money using environmental taxes. I haven't done like David Davis and produced a fully costed plan during the leadership campaign [bunch of stats about contemporary taxes raised through green taxation compared with under Thatcher]. But I've costed our manifestos during previous years and I will bring fully costed plans to autumn party conference which I'm sure will be checked and approved by the IFS as they have previously

[Clever person's next question: You've said that you're going to be paying for tax cuts for the poor through green taxes but haven't quite decided the exact form this might take. Can you explain what sort of green taxes you might be thinking of?...

No such luck...]

Paris the Newt (scenting a kill): So you can't say where the money is going to come from? You've claimed that you're going to do a good thing - cutting taxes for the less well off but you now can't say how you're going to raise this money?

Chris Huhne (looking mildly bemused): As I've just said, I'm going to raise it through environmental taxes

Paris the Newt (with a sense of finality and glee): So you can't say how you're going to raise this money

Chris Huhne looks utterly and understandably perplexed (and he wasn't the only one). Back to Paris: For someone whose so interested in the environment, don't you think it's dubious having investments in mining and oil companies? Why do you have these investments?

Chris Huhne (looking like he's suddenly seen an Exeter sign when he was travelling Durham to Glasgow): Well, I thought they were good investment opportunities...
Paris the Newt: But you're investing in oil companies?

[I know, Paris, why don't we shun oil manufacturers completely and cut off the flow of oil... effective immediately... Won't that be good for the economy/human race?]

Chris Huhne: BP have a portfolio of renewable resources

[Good - it wasn't Esso. Clever person's next question: So you believe BP's claim that it's trying to be socially responsible? Do you think businesses can voluntarily act for the benefit of the environment (either out of self-interest or even alturism)? Or is it all so-called 'greenwash'?)]

Paris the Newt: But what about investing in a MINING COMPANY? Drilling for gold in Egypt in the Red Sea

[Ok, you've lost me now, Paris... So you think we shouldn't mine anything? Even most plants mine some stuff out the soil! What did he want him to say "I've moved into an eco-commune and this suit is made of my own saliva"? Where's the scandal?]

Chris Huhne (gently rebuking): They're prospecting for gold, not drilling

Paris the Newt: But they're drilling! For gold! In Egypt! In the Red Sea!

[Not sure which was worse here. Chris thinking the drilling mistake couldn't be overlooked or Paris making the mistake and then repeating it... this caused at least 20 seconds of Chris trying to interrupt Paris to tell him it wasn't drilling 10 seconds previously and it *still* wasn't drilling]

Chris Huhne (looks confused): Prospecting. I don't see what that has to do...

Paris the Newt: But it's the Red Sea, in Egypt, for gold

Chris Huhne: I don't think being for the environment means you can only invest in things that are actively promoting the environment

This was about 10 minutes in, but I expect it continued in the same vein. As you can tell, the investigative journalism was as sharp as a meringue.


  • At 9:15 am , Anonymous jdc said...

    Gold is very environmentally unfriendly to process, so it would want a big environmental tax slapping on it as a luxury.

    What's more interesting to me at the moment is that throughout the campaign Mingers have been claiming that rich Huhne backers have been using their money to manipulate the betting market to make their man favourite, and Huhne's lot have denied it.

    The polls have closed, and no news has come out, yet Ming is now the runaway favourite again. Why might that have happened?

  • At 9:40 am , Blogger Femme de Resistance said...

    Gold is very environmentally unfriendly to process, so it would want a big environmental tax slapping on it as a luxury.

    Yes, but Andrew Neil never asked him that so far as I recall (and I'd have remembered). They could have had a very interesting discussion about ethical investing. Instead he just went on as if mining for gold (esp. in Egypt) was unequivocable a bad thing like eating babies. Which it isn't. Yes, we should market price externalities appropriately but only real eco-nuts would suggest we shouldn't mine at all. Result: Chris Huhne was confused and so was the audience.

    Neither did AN ask him anything about what type of environmental taxes he was thinking about when he devised the policy. Instead, he just went on and on as if he hadn't answered the question which he patently *had* - it just required development.

    I am probably one of the only bloggers in UK who doesn't read so I can't help. IIRC there's something about this on Guido (if you haven't seen it already). LibertyCat might know more since he follows political betting odds.

  • At 10:29 am , Blogger Joe Otten said...

    jdc: Very? I'm not disagreeing, but do you have any figures?

    It is very easy to say very, but if a tonne of gold is not much worse than, say, a tonne of iron, that is not bad at all, since a tonne of gold is a LOT of gold.

  • At 11:11 am , Anonymous jdc said...

    No, I think that's fair - iron will be a bigger culprit as it's in much higher volumes, but I think gold pollutes significantly - also the two main ways of purifying it, as I understand, are with mercury or with cyanide. I'm not a scientist though, so that may all be fantastically healthy.

    I'm still interested in Huhne's claim that Centamin Egypt are "prospecting", not "drilling". Does he imagine that they are panning in a river or something? People may be interested in their quarterly drilling update, which couldn't be clearer.

    Seven rig drilling program continues

    Someone should send it to Huhne, it also has a map of the drilling site. Their website even has a picture of a drill, for the hard of thinking :)

  • At 11:26 am , Blogger Femme de Resistance said...

    I'm still interested in Huhne's claim that Centamin Egypt are "prospecting", not "drilling"

    It matters *how* precisely? I can't see any real difference between looking for something and actually digging it up so it's not like he was doing a big lie for some nefarious reason.

    Can't be bothered checking but are you sure they aren't prospecting specifically in the Red Sea but drilling elsewhere? After all, the company won't be prospecting constantly with no drilling operations.

  • At 11:37 am , Anonymous jdc said...

    Yes, they probably are prospecting in the Red Sea but drilling elsewhere, but if you own shares in a company, you own shares in all of that company!

    Huhne chose to correct it, so he must think it matters. I don't think it's a very good start for him to be telling lies, whether they're nefarious ones or harmless ones.

  • At 11:43 am , Blogger Femme de Resistance said...

    Nah. He was just being a pedant.

    IIRC Andrew Neil asked him specifically about drilling in the Red Sea (in Egypt). Chris Huhne obviously believed that drilling was not taking place (yet) in the Red Sea but prospecting was so he corrected Andrew Neil.

    I would have just left the mistake uncorrected but I don't have that personality. It's revealing as to Chris' character (you can take it as either pedantry or an eye for detail) but no more than that.

    There's no reason to lie about it so if there was drilling then Chris was mistaken which is fair enough... it was a seriously random question and I doubt Chris would know all about every activity of a company he had shares in off the top of his head.

  • At 11:49 am , Anonymous jdc said...

    No, not off the top of his head, but when a leaflet criticising him for it was distributed at the hustings, I can't imagine any competent politician not finding out the facts in a serious hurry.

    Still interest in the betting markets. Ming now 4-9 on, Huhne 11-5 with a huge spread. I still can't work out why, though with a million pounds matched a lot of people may be covering positions with little concern for the actual odds.

  • At 12:12 pm , Blogger Femme de Resistance said...

    From a cursory Googling, it looks like what we have here is a semantic discussion about mining operations and not a party political issue.

    Why anyone would think there should be a party political issue surrounding this in the first place escapes me. But some people believe that resource extraction in developing countries is intrinsically evil.

    I would hope the Daily Politics to aim for a higher standard of debate than pandering to that sentiment but since it's a programme aimed to get people interested in politics when they are already interested in politics (see the Power Commission) then that's expected, I guess.

  • At 12:41 pm , Blogger Femme de Resistance said...

    Definitely prospecting:

    Read bottom

  • At 1:46 pm , Anonymous jdc said...

    In the Red Sea, certainly. But in Egypt generally... take a look at their website!


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