Posts Tagged ‘Sally Bercow’

Sally Bercow and the slaughter in Woolwich shows why we can’t put social media back in a box

28/05/2013, 02:36:58 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Citizen journalism is perhaps a rather grand term to describe a person with a smartphone capable of pressing an ‘app’ and pointing it at a commotion, however its effect has now revolutionised the visual media, as we saw in all too stark terms last week.

The heinous murder of Drummer Lee Rigby on the streets of Woolwich and its aftermath was quickly whizzing round cyberspace allowing us to see, graphically, the tale of horror that was being cautiously relayed by the mainstream media.

The term ‘media’ never used to need this caveat. The term was exclusively reserved for newspapers and broadcasters. Now, the technical utility of a smartphone allows everyone to publish and broadcast. We are all the media.

It may be shaky and grainy, but we are getting used to unexpurgated and contemporaneous footage undercutting broadcasters and newspapers’ monopoly in telling us the truth. It is utterly changing our understanding and reaction to major events.

Now, we decide for ourselves. Uploaded to YouTube, this unshackled truth is, to paraphrase Lyndon Johnson, up and halfway around the world before the context gets its boots on.

This is the challenge facing modern editors and news outlets, judging how far to go in matching its pace. Sit too long on these first-eye accounts and the readers will simply find them elsewhere on the web. Edit their usage and stand accused of censorship or bias. Use them and stand accused of sensationalism or in that hoary old term, giving terrorists the oxygen of publicity.

In a piece for the New Statesman last week, Sunder Katwala, the director of British Future, a think tank exploring issues of identity and integration, said it was ‘a shame’ that no newspaper front pages the day after the killing of Drummer Rigby ‘inverted the lens’.


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The party machines might not know it yet but political parties are dying

13/12/2012, 07:00:31 AM

by Peter Watt

Political parties are strange constructs where by necessity a coalition of views is encapsulated under one brand.  So you have the campaign group and Progress all sharing the Labour banner or left leaning Lib Dems sharing a party with the orange bookers and so on.

To put it even more colourfully, it means that Frank Field and Jeremy Corbyn can share the same political colours!  While there will be some shared world views of course and certainly a degree of shared culture and history, actually it is often more of a case of “vive la difference” or “damn your principles and stand by your party” depending on your view or current mood!  And the reason for this is that it is important for two very good reasons.

Firstly, when it comes to elections voters are offered a relatively easy to consume and unified approach from a small group of potential political alternatives.  Debates around the direction of travel and then the detail of policy happen within the parties in order that common policy stances can be offered to the public.

And secondly, that there is a reasonable chance of a stable administration being formed after the votes are counted.

There are other benefits of course.  Political parties have been excellent institutions at identifying and developing potential future political representatives.   They also allow a forum and focus for the discussion and development of policy positions as the wider environment changes.  All of this relies on party discipline and a desire for unity to work; and the system has generally served the country well for many years.  And at election times people have voted for their preferred party rather than their preferred candidate.

But slowly such certainties are changing.


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20 minutes is too long without my smartphone

04/04/2011, 07:00:56 AM

by Sally Bercow

Not being a sporty sort, the most exciting thing I’d read about the Olympics – by far – was that they would usher in the use of mobile phones on the London Underground. Hurrah ­– an end to the frustration of losing my signal every time I take the tube. I’ll soon be able to tweet and text as I trundle round the Circle. I shall do my Ocado shop from the (relative) comfort of the Jubilee line. No more shall I have to time my tube journeys around people who (allegedly) only have 10 minute “windows” to take calls in their frightfully high-powered days.

And then Boris goes and announces last week that the project to install an underground 3G network has been shelved, at least for now. It seems that it’s too technically complex to complete in time for the Olympics and some reports suggest there was a ding-dong over funding (the mobile networks and the Chinese telecoms company huawei had been expected to pick up the tab, estimated at around £100 million).

I was gutted. By any standard, it’s a crushing blow. How are we meant to morph into David Cameron’s “nation of entrepreneurs” if we can’t even do business on the run, for goodness sake? Mobiles on the tube will boost London’s economy. How much harder will it be to “drive growth” if you can’t stay in range and in touch with the world 24/7? Just think how useful it would be to text your clients and reassure them that, ever the true professional, you are en route but hampered by signalling problems. Other cities – Paris, Hong Kong, Barcelona – have sorted it, why is London such a dinosaur? Never mind the much-maligned civil service, the tube is a strong contender for the “enemy of enterprise” crown. (more…)

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You can’t trust the nuclear industry, and we don’t need them

28/03/2011, 07:00:02 AM

by Sally Bercow

The nuclear emergency at Fukushima, which is still unfolding, has thrust nuclear power back in the spotlight. Many people have jumped on the renascent anti-nuclear bandwagon (welcome, Angela Merkel) and, quite rightly, nuclear safety assessments are now underway in many countries, not least our own (the government’s chief nuclear adviser will deliver a report in September).

While recognising that it’s foolhardily “off message” for a wannabe Labour politician, I confess I have long been against nuclear power. And not because it’s got the “scary” word “nuclear” in it (a patronising, cheap shot the pro-nuclear lobby often resort to making). Indeed, I know that, statistically speaking, nuclear power is pretty safe, despite the catastrophies of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Actually, for the record, although I’m unequivocally anti nuclear power, when it comes to defence I’m certainly no unilateralist (Britain needs to maintain some form of nuclear deterrent – albeit not the absurdly expensive and over-the-top Trident system).

The reason I’m against nuclear power is two-fold. First, I don’t trust the industry and second (and far less subjectively), I believe that it’s a tremendously expensive distraction – preventing us from realising the enormous potential of renewable energy. (more…)

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The week Uncut

26/03/2011, 10:30:52 AM

In case you missed them, these were the best read pieces on Uncut in the last seven days:

Tom Watson decided to back Cameron… and then changed his mind

Dan Hodges says Libya is not Cameron’s first war, it’s Blair’s last

Sally Bercow predicted the usual Tory fare on budget day

Atul Hatwal reveals how the fuel stabiliser will hike household energy bills

Peter Watt asks: where’s the social care in the health and social care bill?

Rob Marchant doesn’t want Ed to march for the alternative

Jonathan Todd thinks Miliband can own the future in a way Cameron can’t

…and in this weeks Half a minute Harris, Tom backed Theresa May on student visas

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Despite Osborne’s patrician brave face, all we can expect on budget day is standard Tory fare

21/03/2011, 08:00:21 AM

by Sally Bercow

With the amount of cereal my kids get through, action was required. Out went Kellogg’s Frosties at £2.69, in came Essential Waitrose frosted flakes at £1.69. The kids objected at first – not on taste grounds, mind, but because they missed seeing Tony the Frosties tiger cavorting about on the box. Happily though, as own-brand fish fingers have passed unnoticed, no such bond appears to have been forged with Captain Birdseye. Indeed, our cupboards are now heaving with Essential Waitrose and I’ve cut my weekly Ocado shopping bill by around a quarter (and, yes, I know I’d save even more shopping at Tesco or Sainsburys but, the last time I looked, neither would deliver to Parliament – apparently because it’s a business address).

Now I’m not going to pretend that switching from Kellogg’s to own brand means I’m in the same boat as families whose very existence is a struggle to make ends meet. But squeeze on living standards (the biggest in 90 years) is hitting everyone – even those, like David Cameron and George Osborne, multi-millionaires by birth, with rather a lot of cushioning and very little idea of what life is like for those who struggle to eke out an existence. Inflation is rising twice as fast as pay and the Chancellor is only making matters worse – adding to the squeeze with his 2.5% VAT hike in January.

That’s why Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are right to say that this country is undergoing a “cost of living crisis” and to call on George Osborne to use his second budget to help hard-pressed families, starting at the petrol pump. If Osborne thinks that merely cancelling or postponing the annual 1p-a-litre tax rise on petrol will be a sufficient sop to beleaguered motorists, he’s gravely mistaken. Instead, he needs to go beyond this and reverse the VAT rise altogether, by using the extra £800 million brought in by the bank levy. (more…)

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The week Uncut

19/03/2011, 10:15:37 AM

In case you missed them, these were the best read pieces on Uncut in the last seven days:

Michael Dugher says the right posture can really help a squeezed middle

Tom Watson looks forward, and says winners don’t look back

Sally Bercow says ministers are all over the place – no grip, no delivery

Atul Hatwal thinks Ed Balls has a commitment problem

Victoria Williams wants more women in the government

… and in this weeks Half a minute Harris, Tom took on Polly over AV

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Ministers don’t know what they’re playing at

17/03/2011, 07:00:30 AM

by Sally Bercow

As kids we played outside from dawn till dusk, often entirely unsupervised (“helicopter parents” hadn’t taken off in the 1970s). We lived right beside a wood (oh how exhilarating to shinny up a tree), at the top of a steep footpath (aaaagh – must remember that ride-ons don’t have brakes), next door but one to a garage (12 old car tyres an impressive castle make), in a village (personal knock-down-ginger record: 75 doors in under 30 minutes). We spent hours playing games in the local streets; days exploring the woods and fields; weeks running around having fun in the fresh air.

Now, as much as it would please my dear mum, for accuracy’s sake I mustn’t paint a picture of uninterrupted childhood bliss. And I’m certainly not normally one for nostalgia. On the contrary, my eyes roll wildly whenever ageing Tories look up from their Daily Mail to reminisce about a golden age that, to my mind, didn’t exist.

That said, though, it is indisputable that outdoor play opportunities for kids today are so much more limited than they used to be. No longer do the words of Dorothy Parker (“The best way to keep children home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant – and let the air out of their tyres”) ring true. Indeed, today a mere one in five children regularly plays outside in their neighbourhood. (more…)

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Axing libraries is cultural vandalism and a false economy

03/03/2011, 07:00:41 AM

by Sally Bercow

Being partial to an Indian, I’m rather fond of The Cinnamon Club in Westminster, although its astronomical prices (multiply your typical curry house bill by four) mean it’s necessarily a rare treat. Admittedly, I’m biased – I was mid tandoori pigeon when my partner (now husband) popped the question in the Cinnamon Club nine years ago. Nevertheless, as a quick Google search will testify, the restaurant has attracted rave reviews for its gourmet Indian cuisine, its service and, not least, its magnificent venue.

The Cinnamon Club has Westminster city council to thank for its success, even if only in small part and inadvertently at that. In 1998, the Tories shut down and sold off Westminster library in Great Smith Street, one of London’s oldest public libraries. The grade II listed building was then beautifully renovated and The Cinnamon Club arose, phoenix like, in its magnificent, imposing space. In the meantime, Westminster council relocated the library (now known as St James’s) just up the road and it has proved hugely popular with local residents, workers and schools alike.

Last night, however, Westminster council voted to close St James’s Library, as of September this year. I’ve no idea if another destination restaurant will eventually arise from its ashes and, although I like eating out as much as the next person, frankly I don’t care. Like councils up and down the country, Westminster is committing an act of civic vandalism; closing libraries (over 400 are under threat nationwide) will inflict tremendous – and irreversible – damage on local communities.

The sad fact is that, thanks to the Tory-led government – in the shape of Eric Pickles – local authorities are being forced to cut too fast and too deep and, in doing so, many clearly regard libraries as an easy target. “Aha” cries your defensive local councillor “but if not libraries, what would you cut instead”? (more…)

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Somebody tell the government that some disabled people are actually, er, disabled

17/02/2011, 07:00:48 AM

by Sally Bercow

The disability living allowance (DLA) is forecast to cost the taxpayer £12 billion this year, the same as the department of transport’s entire annual budget. So briefed the Whitehall machine as the government launched its public consultation on DLA reform in December (the consultation closes tomorrow).

Doubtless, the figure of £12 billion is correct, but before you rush to join the chorus of Daily Mail-minded souls and proclaim your horror, bear in mind that we spend three times more on defence than we do on disabled people (around £37 billion a year), that renewing the UK’s Trident nuclear deterrent will cost around £20 billion, that we have spent over £20 billion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t spend those sums on defence, Trident or our international adventures (well maybe I am  – but that’s a whole different column), but the point is that it’s all relative.

So while £12 billion for disability benefit is a hell of a sum, maybe, just maybe, we spend that much because – and hold onto your hats here – there is actually a genuine need. Could it be that, with a small minority of dishonourable exceptions, the people who receive DLA really are deserving of it? That they actually rely on the help DLA provides, so that they can cover the higher costs of living, care and mobility that come hand in hand with their disability? After all, there is no evidence of widespread fraud – indeed the 0.5% (£200 million) fraud rate for DLA, while unacceptable, is nevertheless the lowest of any benefit. (more…)

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