Introducing the ‘Headlines Game’

Something to make the news a little less depressing…

Before we start, I’m saying it up front. This is meant to be light-hearted and not to be taken seriously. So please don’t.

Many people find the news depressing, often to the point of giving up on it. Reading opinion pieces in particular, especially in this modern age of viciousness and bile, can be overwhelming. It’s understandable.

I read them a lot, sometimes agreeing, sometimes disagreeing, but generally trying to get a breadth of opinion is, I find, good for me. I like to seek out those who I know will wind me up, simply to keep on top of the current arguments of my opponents. It is only by understanding the other side that you can fully understand yours. That in mind, the Guardian and the Telegraph are good places to start.

But I get it, it can get heavy. So I’ve been playing a game recently, just for my own entertainment, that you’re welcome to try.

You’ll have heard the term ‘never judge a book by its cover’. Well, a similar adage could be applied to articles and columns – ‘never judge a piece by its headline’. It’s often sensationalised and strips the nuance out of what the writer is trying to say, particularly with opinion pieces. So the game is as follows: just react instantly, and without much thought, to each headline, as though that’s the whole article. Be sarcastic, be funny, don’t be nuanced, go against your own beliefs even, but act like that’s the whole piece. I’ve taken the top Guardian opinion pieces as of this evening (even though I won’t post this until tomorrow midday) and done the same with the Telegraph. It should go without saying (but let’s be honest, this is the internet), that the reactions are not supposed to reflect your own views 100%, it’s just a bit of fun.

My results are below.



Killer cyclists? Let’s not forget the real threat on our roads

Let me guess? Straight white males, Guardian writer?

Steve Bell on Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit – cartoon

Not sure I want to see that in cartoon form…oh her ‘lawsuit’, my apologies.

Has the UK become a country that really doesn’t like children?

Nope. Next.

Jeremy Corbyn should offer pro-EU hope, not more fears about Brexit

HAHAHAHAHAHA. You put the terms ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘pro-EU’ in the same sentence. You still haven’t spotted it have you? Bless your little cottons.

We understand the solar system, so why do people still struggle with gender?

No we don’t, and these seem to be two quite different things, mate. Maybe you should deal with them separately?

The far right hates vaginas. Why doesn’t this anger the left more?

Does it really? Questionable. Maybe as much as the Left hates penises I suppose…

Feminists have slowly shifted power. There’s no going back


‘Elite’ is now a meaningless insult that’s used to silence criticism

You’re probably right. Bit like ‘fascist’ isn’t it? Or ‘racist’. Or ‘sexist’. Or ‘homophobe’. Or ‘transphobe’. Or ‘Islamophobe’ There’s loads isn’t there? Both sides can play this game if you want to.

How populist uprisings could bring down liberal democracy

Ooo do tell, I’d love to know.




Britain cant prove that Putin was behind the Skripal poisoning – but we must act nevertheless

Sounds like a plan, Fraser me old mate. Guilty until proven innocent, how very Soviet of you.

Why the TPP has allure for US and post-Brexit Britain

Does it though? We’re not even in the Pacific. We are in Europe though…

Ruling out greenbelt removes a key lever to resolving our housing crisis

Doubt people want to live at a music festival anyway.

Let’s not focus solely on the downsides of being female, but celebrate what women can bring to the table

Like the dinner? AM I RIGHT GUYS??? Oh come on, you served that to me on a plate…NO I DIDN’T MEAN…never mind.

Who wouldn’t want their grown-up children living with them again?

Me. Next.

Civilisations shows the Greeks were as image obsessed as we are – but should we judge them?

Yeh, sure. Why not?

Here’s what men need to do to tackle gender inequality and injustice

William Hague, you’re a straight white male and therefore disqualified from speaking, albeit helpfully, on the subject. Check your jolly privilege, sunshine. Gosh. Go cycling or something…

Labour reaps with Munroe Bergdorf what it sowed with Toby Young

Do we really want to play this game? Trawling our social media histories can’t end well for anybody.

There’s a storyline in the TV show ‘The Thick Of It” in which the main characters are subject to an independent inquiry on the subject of ‘leaking’. Leaking had become one of those practices that everyone did, everyone knew was going on and just got on with it. Whether it was a genuine scandal, or just the way the government worked, everybody knew that it wouldn’t look good with a full media glare shining on it, despite the fact that this was exactly how the media got their stories.

So when one of the parties (the party of government at the time) announces an inquiry in order to gain some political leverage, the whole thing looks like it’s going to collapse. Ollie, a special adviser almost crumbles at the news. “An inquiry into all of leaking – all of leaking! We are so…! We are so screwed.”

To which Alastair Campb…sorry, Malcolm Tucker replies, “He’s done it. That chinless horse-fiddler. Our f***lustrious PM has opened Pandora’s f***ing Box and curled a massive steamer right into it.”

Which is to say, well done mate. We’re all going down now. And if I am, I’ll be dragging you down with me.

Both parties are constantly trying to one-up each other, looking for any tiny crack in the armour to ram a sword into and prise power. But they both know there are some roads that they can never start down, because they know the whole house of cards will come tumbling down and take them all out.

It’s starting to feel like the modern day version of this is what the Spectator have started calling ‘The Digital Inquisition’. And Labour and the Left generally must be starting to regret opening this particular Pandora’s box and curling a…well, you get the gist.

Only recently, the journalist and director of the New Schools Network, Toby Young stepped down from a new advisory position that he taken up in the Office for Students following an unprecedented campaign against him that was based on a trawl of his social media history. It turned out that he had said some unpleasant and shocking things in the past, and this was brought into the full media spotlight for all to pick over.

He was jumped on – Angela Rayner, Jess Phillips, Owen Jones, all took chunks out of him and the government for this apparently unwise appointment. I saw plenty of it from my own friends and connections on social media. Petitions, campaigns and reposting of his old tweets were paraded around for all to sign, join and despise.

Now, I’m not (here, anyway) taking a position on this. You’re welcome to make your own mind up on whether Mr Young was an appropriate choice for this post. My point here is that this tactic is not something that will only hit one side of the political divide. This has been proven in the last week, as Labour found themselves caught in their own net.

The transgender model and campaigner Munroe Bergdorf had been appointed to the Labour party’s LGBT advisory board, but stepped down after a similar campaign showed some highly unpleasant comments that she had made in the past on social media.

I’ll be completely honest, in my opinion this person is a deeply unpleasant individual with some shocking, awful opinions. I’ve heard her speak where she can give as much context as she like to her views, and I find her to be ill-informed and spiteful. She is, as far as I’m concerned, an idiot.

What I don’t like, and will defend her as much as I will defend anyone on this point, is the stripping of context around something that someone has said and presenting it as the whole truth. This is something I will come back to in a future piece, but for now let’s just say that whenever you see a small quote, especially when used to attack or smear someone, ALWAYS look for the context around it. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve read something, thought “well there’s no amount of context that could give that any credence”, only to click the link and find it more understandable. So please, when you read anything about what Munroe has said, read it in its full context. And do yourself a favour and do the same for Toby Young, Jeremy Corbyn or anyone else you’ve taken a dislike to.

I really don’t want to play this game where any appointment is followed by a trawl of their history. We will have to get to the point where we’re going to have to see our past selves in the context in which they were said, and give each other a break. Can any of us really admit that we’d be happy for anyone to trawl back into our archives before we’d had a chance to do so ourselves?

It doesn’t help that everything we have ever said on social media is presented (if you search for it now) in the modern UI (user interface) – that is, whatever Twitter or Facebook looks like now. Imagine we could see a post from 2010 in the UI that 2010 Facebook had. It would already put it into its context effectively. Old photographs and videos are black and white – it gives them context immediately. If we could put them all into full HD colour, we’d subconsciously be applying our modern biases and culture to an age that didn’t have them.

If you want to do this, then fine, but it’s going to take us all down. I promise you, though, it isn’t a fight worth having, and it’s up to all of us to take responsibility as individuals to start giving people a break. This starts with your enemies. Because I can assure you, if you don’t apply the same rules to those on your side as you do to your enemies, you will be open to justifiable attack.

And you can’t say you weren’t warned.

The police must never be routinely armed with guns

Who is reassured by automatic weapons on a residential street? We must resist this folly.

There are some traditions and routines in life that become so ingrained in one’s head that auto-pilot takes over and we switch off. The commute to work, doing the big shop on Saturday morning and, for me anyway, going to the football. We know the rhythms and the routes, we know which traffic lights we prefer on the way to the office and we know that the houmous in the Old Swan Tesco is in a slightly different place to where it is in the Allerton Tesco (although having said that, Old Swan Tesco are in the process of moving everything around. Allerton it will have to be.)

My family’s ‘going to Anfield’ ritual is as old as I am, my parents having been season ticket holders for decades, and my brother and I joining as soon as we were old enough that we could keep up the pace to walk the route. It’s the same every game. Leave the house around an hour before kick off, park the car 45 minutes before kick off, walk down together on the left hand side, cross over the road in front of the stadium, stop for a couple of minutes on the corner of the Kop and the Kemlin/Centenery/Dalglish, make our predictions, then go our separate ways into the stadium – Dad and brother into the Kop, me into the Kemlin/Centenery/Dalglish. Into the second turnstile (never the first, or any other), up the stairs, across to my block and out to my seat.

I could do this with my eyes closed – it’s barely changed in the 20+ years I’ve been doing it. Sure, the turnstiles are automatic now, but I still go through the same one. There’s only the three of us that go now. But other than that, only something extraordinary could throw me off.

And that’s exactly what happened at the Boxing Day match last year. Liverpool were playing Swansea, so it ought to have been a low security kind of affair. United, Everton, Chelsea – these are games where you expect slightly more police and maybe some police horses, but other than that, it’s generally a few smiling officers posted around the ground in hi-vis jackets, overseeing some semblance of order. This is not what greeted us as we crossed the road in front of the stadium.

On this occasion, I was shaken out of my routine by the sight of two heavily armed police officers standing in the middle of the road. They were both carrying machine guns and looked decked out for war. They were still smiling – everything about the personality of the image was still the same, but the outfit was one of menace and aggression. These weapons were not equipped in a  passive way, there in case of emergency – they were being held, trigger in the right hand, left hand under the barrel. Ready to shoot.

To my knowledge, there was no threat. No reason for these weapons to be deployed. I have written to the Police and Crime Commissioner and my MP to ask why these shocking, unpleasant guns were required for a Boxing Day match against a non-rival, but received no reply. Frankly, even if we were playing United, this would have been serious overkill. What are you going to do, shoot someone if they start fighting over a song about Gerrard?

What possible use could these assault weapons have been in anything that might have taken place at a football match? What would have happened if some unrest or low level violence had taken place within range of these two men? Their hands were on a gun. How could they have dealt with a couple of morons swinging fists at one another? “Excuse me mate, can you just hold this while I go and break that up? Safety’s off, try not to pull the trigger.”

The excuse often given in these situations is that they are there to ‘reassure the public’. Reassure me of what? I can assure you, I was far from reassured. Seeing an automatic weapon on a residential street in a populated city is one of the most alarming sights I’ve seen in a long time. Had there been a threat of terrorism, a serious indication of violence made against the stadium or the surrounding area, it may have been understandable, but there was nothing of the sort. So while we are all assuming this is a routine match, seeing armed police is the opposite of reassuring – it makes you think there has been a threat and we haven’t been told about it. Follow that link above – plenty of research negates this silly view.

It put me in mind of our family holiday to America in 2005. Flying into JFK airport in New York, we were greeted with the sight of police everywhere, all with pistols holstered on their hips. There was no heightened threat level, no expected incident – this was the norm. I asked my mum why they all had guns, and she replied “that’s just the way it is here”. Well, fine. but that had better not make its way over here.

I remember when we had some friends over from America. We were discussing over dinner and games the differences between our two countries. My wife hadn’t really realised just what a different country the US is to Britain, and so she was enjoying the back and forth. At one point I piped up to her, “I bet these guys wouldn’t believe you if you told them our police don’t have guns” – their faces dropped and they froze. “WHAT? How on earth can you feel safe if the police don’t have guns?”. It was a real lesson in mindsets and culture.

My worry is that we are being buttered up for some move towards arming the police as a routine measure. Getting these out and visible bit by bit so that when it is announced, we’re already sort of used to it. This must be resisted.

Salami slicing is always the best way to advance policy. It is quiet and sneaky, and makes objections sound petty and silly. “It’s not like we’re going for full on arming, just an armed section of the police.” “Oh well only some police are armed”, “Only some forces have been allocated funds for training” “Only at airports and stadiums”, “Well just those who have to go to more dangerous areas”… But this is exactly why we need to register objections when we encounter these situations. Because before we know it, the sight of guns will become more commonplace. If you laugh at the NRA’s suggestion that ‘a good guy with a gun is the answer to a bad guy with a gun’, then consider your support for armed police very carefully.

We have to realise that it is a ratchet. Once these things are given out to police officers like handcuffs and helmets, there will be no going back. This will not be something we can reverse. Once guns are in common use, they will be seen as ‘required’.

It’s strange to see friends who couldn’t be more against guns in America argue for UK police to be armed. Can you not see that this is how it ratchets up? If people feel targeted by the police, and those officers start walking (well, let’s be honest, driving) around the neighbourhood with guns strapped to their sides, what do you think those people are going to do next? It doesn’t take much imagination.

Frankly, I don’t believe there should even be an armed division of the police. It is a civilian force. If you want to shoot guns, join the army. If there is a terrorist incident, send the army. But I realise this is not a popular opinion, and I don’t want to divert and dilute my argument too much here – I’m really more interested in patrol policing than reactive policing at this point.

I may come back to this subject at another time, but for now, I will be taking note of any moves to advance this policy and would welcome any correspondence from others if you spot it happening.

My son is currently 9 months old. Before I know it, he’ll be scampering at my side, running excitedly between his father, his uncle and his granddad as we beat that hallowed path towards our historic stadium. If he has to see what I saw, but on a regular basis, we will be living in a different country. And that would be a real shame.

Do people really still care about the Oscars?

Are they really choosing the ‘best’? How can we know? And who are ‘they’ anyway?

I’ll be totally honest up front – I’m not that much of a film buff. Sure, I like films. But I’ve always been more of a book and TV series person. I go to the cinema maybe once a year and rarely pay attention to the latest films. When they’ve been out for a while, then maybe I’ll watch them, but otherwise I don’t feel the need to queue up for the latest Star Wars or see Les Mis on opening weekend. That isn’t a judgement on those that do, I should point out, it’s purely a personal preference.

This does mean that watching any awards shows pertaining to film, such as the Oscars or the BAFTAs, would never really interest me. I wouldn’t know what was going on, I wouldn’t have a horse in the race and I can think of more interesting ways to spend an evening. Again, personal preference.

What I can’t understand is why those who genuinely do love films and really do have favourites and want to watch a contest between heavyweights winning properly big awards would still watch the Oscars. If that is what you want, the Oscars surely isn’t that anymore? It’s like people who like music and want to see a load of singers perform to see who is the best that year watching Eurovision – you realise that isn’t the basis of the contest, right?

Of course, Eurovision has long been seen, even by its most dedicated supporters, as just a big load of fun, a political and televisual pride parade. There may be some groaning and whingeing that the truly best performers aren’t being properly recognised, some may even feign ignorance as to why this could even happen. But they all know that Greece has only voted for Austria because German finance ministers have crushed their economy and they want to spite them in some way – and Eurovision is their democratic outlet. It’s completely transparent – we all know what’s going on, and so being upset that some Estonian metal/grunge band are higher than a Spanish singer who can actually hold a tune would be patently absurd.

But with the Oscars, they still try to pretend that it’s all about being the best. ‘Best Actor/Actress’, ‘Best Film’, ‘Best Soundtrack’. Have we not already realised that it’s nothing of the sort? It’s purely a night for political propaganda, virtue signalling, pointing out institutional racism, sexism and the like, and maybe making a first pitch to be President. I’m not even saying this is a bad thing, but that’s what it is. Fine if that’s what you want, but is it not just tedious now? How can you sit through it? It used to be seen as bad form – now, if you don’t stand up to the latest oppression craze, you’re done for.

Being much more into sport, watching competition is still exciting. Yes some teams have more money, some teams have better players, there’s plenty of unfairness, but the unfairness is there for all to see. But, take football – it’s still 11vs11 (men, natch) on a pitch and whoever scores the most goals wins. Simple as that. We all know the rules, we can all see the difference in talent between the two teams, and off we go. As far as the sporting competition goes (forget the finance and the boardrooms), as long as we can be sure that nobody is cheating and there’s no match fixing, it’s transparent.

Who decides what the best film is? Based on what criteria? Can we trust them to be impartial? How? Apparently they are 91% male and 76% white. 

Already Hadley Freeman in the Guardian is talking about something that sounds to me like ‘not picking what you think is the best’.

“After a tumultuous year for the film industry (and the wider world) the Academy will face ridicule unless it starts giving prizes to the truly important films.”

Important films? Not the best films?

It all looks to me like a census taking exercise. The awards given should reflect society in general – even splits between male and female winners, an appropriate slice of winners who are black, latino, any other race you want to include exactly according to their population split.

Again, fine, if that’s what you want. But will you be able to really trust that the ‘best actor’ or ‘best film’ has been chosen? And does it even really matter, with it being so apparently subjective anyway? Arguably, the fact that this doesn’t naturally happen anyway would suggest that there is intrinsic bias, but with a process so shrouded in mystery and so subjective, how do you correct that without rankling one tribe or another? We’ve probably never had awards that have genuinely been given to the best. I’m more than willing to concede that the apparent whiteness or maleness of the history of the awards probably points to exclusion of some sort or another. I get that, and I can completely sympathise with the view that it looks very much like an old guard carrying on with the status quo. But doesn’t that just drive home the point? It will never, and can never be fair if it is subjective. If we’re saying that in the past, people have just been chosen because they’re white and male, then it’s never been fair?

There are suggestions that unless the Oscars moves into line with this sort of thinking, it will die. That may very well be true. But in getting there, it may kill itself anyway.

I’ve always tried to stay away from identity politics as a matter of principle. It’s so much more interesting to hear what people think and why they think it than base it all on their skin colour or their chromosomes. But this seems to be an increasingly naive view. As someone who wouldn’t care less if the whole Academy, or Houses of Parliament, or boardrooms were completely full of black, M-F trans disabled immigrants, as long as they have a diverse range of viewpoints, I seem to be in the minority.

What that does mean is that as soon as we start agitating for equality of outcome, I get bored and give up watching. I can’t trust the outcome, so who cares? I know what my favourite film is, why do I need that validated by a load of over-remunerated victims of one sort or the other banging on about the plight of their favourite thing that week? I’d have no problem making 100% of the decision makers black women. Let them all choose the best film. Not a white guy in sight, if that’s what you want. It’s subjective anyway, they can pick whatever film they like.

A system like the one that chooses the Oscar winners, so visible and so powerful can never survive a collision with identity politics. The two are currently powerful, and only one can remain standing. I know which one my money’s on. There can never be a system that everyone would be happy with.

It would be great if there were a system to be able to choose who or what was genuinely the best, but I don’t know of one. Perhaps you would be kind enough to point one out – I’ll gladly listen. Maybe it would produce a whole roster of white winners one year, or all black winners, or all female winners, or all male winners. But applying quotas, whilst giving the diversity that is desired, would always leave questions to be asked.

Last weekend, Manchester City beat Arsenal to win the English Football League Cup. Cool. Nobody can argue with it. City are richer and have better players, but they played on the same pitch with the same referee with the same rules. They won the trophy and nobody whinged. Maybe my simple mind needs these simple rules. But why anyone can still be bothered with film award shows is beyond me. Least of all getting upset about the outcomes.

I just can’t see how you could enjoy yourself when you’re just ticking off diversity sheets and not being interested in the actual art. It seems a pointless waste of everyone’s time and effort when you’ll all just end up at each other’s throats anyway. Just assign the awards based on population splits and be done with it. That way, it’ll be transparent and we can all get on with our lives. Let that be the criteria from the start, and let’s drop this facade that we’re choosing the ‘best’. If black people have already won three awards, then no black person can win the next one – it has to be a latino. Would that not make it simpler and fairer?

Or see which actor can score the most baskets from the free throw line and give them the little golden statue. If it helps, I can all but guarantee you more black winners if you do.

Be careful using superlatives – they won’t work when you really need them

Do you really need to reach for the strongest word you can think of?

Several years ago, we attended the wedding of some friends of ours. A lovely couple, celebrating the happiest day of their lives. It was a wonderful occasion.

The groom is, shall we say, a very positive chap. Excitable and effusive, he radiates warmth and positivity. He also uses superlatives a lot. In everyday life, this is charming and fun, but when making a speech on your wedding day, can lead you into some problems.

All the usual bases were covered during this speech. Thanks were proffered to both sides of the family, all who had helped, his ushers, the bridesmaids – you know the drill. In the thanks came the superlatives, and why wouldn’t they? He was delighted and having a wonderful time.

The in-laws were ‘amazing’, the people who did the flowers and the food ‘incredible’, the ushers ‘absolutely wonderful’, the bridesmaids ‘astonishingly gorgeous’, all said with gusto and depth of feeling. He definitely meant what he was saying.

But then he turned to his bride, his new wife, the absolute pinnacle of the whole thing. And there were no words left. How could she be ‘amazing’? She’d only be as good as her parents. How about ‘incredible’? Nope, already blown that one on the food. ‘Gorgeous’? What, only as attractive as the bridesmaids? He was reduced to mere noises and hand gestures as he grasped and groped around for words that were not forthcoming.

Now of course, in this instance, having used up all of his superlatives meant he came across as properly speechless in a charming, Hugh Grant-like way. We could all clearly see the love he had for his new wife, and frankly, words like ‘amazing’ and ‘incredible’ would feel lacking in this situation anyway. All who have gazed at their bride and had to say something about them in front of all those you know and love will have felt this feeling. No words seem to do the job adequately.

On the flip side, though, the use of negative superlatives can have a damaging effect, particularly when said by public figures or uttered in public life. The range of events that people are expected to comment on is broad, and yet there seems to be a consistent thread of going for the most extreme word for everything.

Using a word like ‘disgusted’, however relevant to the situation, blunts it to some degree. If you’re ‘disgusted’ by hearing of the crimes of a serious criminal like a murderer or a rapist, that seems pretty appropriate. Who could argue with that? But if the Foreign Secretary blurts out some silly notion about bridges or cake, is the word ‘disgusted’ really what we should be reaching for? Using it here leaves it a less effective weapon when you next want to use it.

Let’s take some recent examples, gleaned from a brief trawl through Twitter, searching on some key terms.

John Major has called for a second vote on the EU/UK deal. I would disagree with that, but it’s a fair enough, perfectly defensible position to take. One tweet reads “John Major advocates ignoring a democratic vote – DISGUSTING”. Really? Is it not just disagreeable? Or disappointing? Another called him “an absolute disgrace”. Wow. What are you going to do when a real disgrace happens, like a serious crime or a government scandal? Use the same word?

The word ‘appalling’ is pretty strong. One might be ‘appalled’ by the expenses scandal, or perhaps the UK-Saudi Arabia arms deals. These seem fairly reasonable uses for it. But customer service? Poor website design? These are just two things that some prominent people are ‘appalled’ about.

Perhaps Twitter is not the best place to be searching for reasonable people (I avoid it as much as possible), but many people spend a lot of time there and this debasing of our language in order to prove you’re the most outraged or the most angry about something has a wider effect.

Modern politicians feel the need to react to everything with the strongest possible terms, and very often, on Twitter. It means that when there is a genuinely horrid event or an opponent does something actually ‘shocking’, these words will not have the meaning they once did. And for what? So they can virtue signal away, free of the possible repercussions of not ‘condemning something in the strongest possible terms?’ Oh, grow up.

One story that I have been following for a while and has really, shall we say, got my goat, is the reaction of the Church of England to accusations made about a long dead Bishop, George Bell. I shan’t go into the detail of the whole affair here, but suffice to say I have, on occasion, been stirred to serious anger. But in one response of the Bishop Bell Group to the Archbishop of Canterbury, these men and women (fiercely fighting for the reputation of a man much revered and currently being destroyed) use words that seem mild in comparison to some examples I have given. And yet, the words have weight and force behind them.

‘Profound dismay’ may be a term further down on the ladder of superlative than ‘absolute disgust’ or ‘utter disgrace’, and yet when it is said by these highly literate individuals speaking as a collective, it strikes at the heart with frightening power, rendering those other words frail and meek. This letter was sent after previous correspondence that described the position taken by the office of the Archbishop as ‘unfortunate’, ‘disappointing’ and ‘unbecoming’.

Have no doubt, these words were said by a group of people who would doubtless, at times, have been brimming with a seething righteous anger. The group would not have formed without such a strength of feeling. But they have applied calm and reserve to their public utterances, which has meant that when the struggle has reached its high point, they can wield words with power and might.

Exercising some restraint with our language would be a highly desirable step towards civility, in my view. Applying some context, reacting slowly, having some perspective – all things that would need to be in place. But we all must take individual responsibility. It’ll never happen if we constantly try to out-react each other.

Let’s take a step back, and reset.

Taking the time to think – In praise of not reacting instantly

How long does it really take to get to a fully formed view? Probably longer than composing a tweet…

I was struck when watching an interview with Ian Hislop  (mainstay of BBC panel show Have I Got News For You and, more to the point, editor of satirical magazine Private Eye), by a response he gave to a question put to him.

He was asked “In this age of 24 hour news, how are you able to run a self-described ‘current affairs’ magazine which publishes every fortnight?”

His answer was swift and enlightening.

“Well the great thing about publishing every fortnight is that you have time to think. The problem with rolling 24 hour news is that you just go bleh bleh bleh. So the news comes out unformulated and the comment comes out equally quickly. So quite often, you see a story and think ‘well that’s obviously not true’, and then people comment on it and you think ‘well why have you commented on that, it’s not true?’ and we’re going to find out it’s not true in about an hour anyway. There’s just a huge amount of space filling. With a fortnightly, by the time you come out there’s a chance to say something interesting.”

Clearly, the term ‘current affairs’ has evolved as the word ‘current’ more and more means ‘what happened in the last 3 hours’. There won’t be any getting away from it – as reaction is available instantly, with social media (particularly Twitter) allowing a story to travel around the world with the click of a button, reaction will be given instantly.

Perhaps, then, it is down to each of us to consider what our reaction actually is. While we can add our voice to the conversation instantly, is it worth tempering that voice with a little reserve, even scepticism? An initial dipping of the toe before a fuller, more measured response later? It’s something I certainly need to consider – blameless I am not.

The panic that takes hold of most journalists or commentators if a story breaks and they’re not close it is not a new thing. But whilst in the past that would have meant they didn’t have the scoop for the following day’s release, now it means they are instantly a million miles away from it, with no way to get to the centre as it breaks all day long, while their colleagues or rivals dominate. This induces a habit of pushing everything, however ill-formed or unconsidered into the public domain as quickly as possible.

24 hour news is not necessarily a bad thing. The ability to know about things straight away is a remarkable technological feat, and one which doesn’t need to be reversed. But I would suggest that the culture needs to mellow. A thing has happened – ok, fine. Let’s talk about it, but do we need to have a fully formed opinion on it immediately as well? Can’t we wait a week for that? Why are we inviting commentators into the studio to give their ‘immediate reaction’? Why are we reading out viewer emails? Can’t the reporters and the journalists just report what they know so far without the reach for ‘what the people think about it as well’?

I read an old post on this site that spoke about the Gibraltar crisis. Remember that? Course you don’t, but I bet you reacted strongly when it happened. I only left it a couple of days myself.

I may come back to this at some point, because I’m sure there will be some example that will illustrate the point better than this general observation.

But in the meantime, perhaps we can all just step back for a moment whenever we are invited to give our view on an event that is 5 minutes old. Have we considered all the angles? Am I sure this is even true? Does it even matter? What will happen if I wait? These simple questions have recently turned would could have been a blind rage into not even bothering to react for me. And boy, does that make a difference.

Judge the past at your peril – who knows what we’ll be maligned for

Who knows what we will be judged for in 2118? It’s simply impossible to know.

And then there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Well, sort of. The hit 90’s American sitcom “Friends” recently hit Netflix, some people tweeted some things, and it all well and truly kicked off.

Apparently, some so called ‘Millenials’ (a group to which I, apparently, belong having only been witness to around 4 months of the 80’s) pointed out some ‘problematic’ things about one of the most popular television shows of all time. The lack of racial diversity, apparent sexism, transphobia, toxic masculinity – a veritable feast of modern Twitter cliches poured onto the internet like a spilled tub of organic houmous.

The reaction was no more enlightened. A howl of rage quickly countered, quite disproportionate to the initial crime, and blasted and smashed its way through the rather bewildered twentysomethings.

Now, let’s be clear. Friends is one of my all time favourite shows, it suited its time perfectly, and I can’t stand this horrid modern view that all things at all times must reflect all things and all people (except of course if they aren’t liberals). But that’s what it is – a MODERN view. Whilst the reaction was over the top, the silly, self-serving sobbing over how Chandler treated his dad deserved at least some of it.

I have been rather amazed, having watched some of my favourite classics again recently, at just how much things have moved in this direction, though. One episode of ‘Only Fools and Horses’ has Uncle Albert use the term ‘paki shop’ and ‘that paki’ (in purely descriptive terms, you understand, certainly not as an insult). I was quite shocked. But that is a relatively old show, most of it made before I was born. While such language makes me bristle, it was of its time (if you don’t believe that, the mere fact that it was broadcast with that word in it should make the case for you).

The IT Crowd has a whole episode devoted to the discomfort of the main characters while attending a ‘gay’ musical. Not much politically correct language there, and this from a trendy lefty writer and producer.

And herein lies the problem. Shows like Friends, the IT Crowd, The Office – they were written by as right-on lefty liberals as you would have been able to find at the time. So how can they be judged by the standards of 2018? Setting aside for a moment that the standards of 2018 are stupid and ridiculous, surely we must never watch anything from the past again?

Moving away from television to more serious matters of the past, some recent issues have involved attempting to remove statues of major historical figures from public view, and lamenting the views of otherwise heroic persons. This again is going to cause issues if we seek to constantly judge the past by the standards of today.

We judge the Victorians for sending children up chimneys. We judge the 1920s for restricting universal suffrage (despite the whole concept being, apparently, up for debate again following the referendum). We judge many previous centuries for overt racism. We judge the slave trade. But how many of things were obvious to the masses to be wrong? Demonstrably none of them.

The problem we will have is that a future generation will slam us – and it is next to impossible to work out what that thing is. The comedian Jimmy Carr once said “I know one of my jokes on my tour will land me in serious trouble – but there’s no way of knowing which one”. Clearly, we’re not trying to be deliberately offensive as Jimmy certainly is, but the outcome is the same – how can we know which of the things that we do or say now will be judged harshly by the standards of 2118?

There may be some obvious candidates. It could be our treatment of animals raised for food, but then that is already permeating pretty far into our consciousness. How about the supply chains for our clothing and electronic devices? Well again, we’re pretty aware of them. Driving around vehicles powered by the internal combustion engine? IN CITIES?! Again, it’s being addressed.

It could be that referring to any baby or child as a ‘boy’ or a ‘girl’ will be seen as monstrous. “How could those ignorant people have assumed their child’s gender before they had a chance to work it out for themselves?”, they may cry. Or perhaps keeping an animal inside a domestic dwelling will be looked back on with shame and anger. “Can’t believe my grandma jailed a conscious creature and referred to it as ‘hers’ – #disowned”.

If that sounds alarmist, consider this. People quickly forget the speed at which some things have entered our consciousness. Who would have guessed even 2-3 years ago how controversial it would have been to claim that there are two genders? Slightly further back, that a marriage is between a man and a woman? I remember the word ‘gay’ being used as a pejorative on the playground at school, quite unchallenged. Sure these things are changing now (and fast), some rightly, others questionably – but should that give us a warning sign?

I don’t want to stray to far into predictions – I think I’ve made my point. Maybe those things will never come to pass. But the point remains – we simply cannot know. And we’re for the most part going about our lives as best we can, just like our ancestors did. If we want to be remembered fondly as people who tried, but were of their time, the biggest favour we could ourselves is giving the old great-great-grandparents a break. They tried their best.