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…

The predictability of opinion – what makes people interesting

What makes a person interesting? Can I predict your opinion? Yes? Then you’re not interesting.


Let’s take an issue to start with: gay marriage.

You’re in favour? Ok great. Now let me guess:

  • You’re ‘pro-choice’ in the abortion debate
  • You’re in favour of ‘gun control’
  • You read the Guardian
  • You hate the Daily Mail
  • You’re broadly pro mass immigration
  • You voted Remain
  • You, shall we say, ‘display negativity’ towards the state of Israel
  • You’re in favour of legalising marijuana
  • You don’t want any private money in the NHS/healthcare
  • You want the railways to be nationalised
  • You’re in favour of proportional representation of some kind
  • You would abolish the monarchy
  • You think the BBC is broadly right wing
  • You are against the death penalty, even for heinous criminals

Oh I do beg your pardon, you’re against gay marriage? Ok great. Now let me guess:

  • You’re ‘pro-life’ in the abortion debate
  • You’re against ‘gun control’
  • You read the Telegraph or the Mail
  • You hate the Guardian
  • You’re broadly anti mass immigration
  • You voted Leave
  • You, shall we say, ‘display positivity’ towards the state of Israel
  • You’re against legalising marijuana
  • You don’t mind private money in the NHS/healthcare
  • You don’t want the railways to be nationalised
  • You’re against proportional representation of some kind
  • You would not abolish the monarchy
  • You think the BBC is broadly left wing
  • You would favour the death penalty for heinous criminals


Now, these things are all very different issues. Some of them are moral questions, some political, some social. Some would reasonably require a lot of thought to come to a solid conclusion. And yet, with most people, just knowing their position on one of these things is a solid predictor of their opinions on the rest. Why should this be? I question how much anyone really understands the issues they have taken such a line on.

The neuroscientist and best-selling author Sam Harris sums it up best: “Knowing one person’s opinion on any political issue allows you to reliably predict their opinion on other issues. This shouldn’t happen because these issues are totally unrelated. Why should a person’s view on guns be predictive of his view on climate change, or immigration or abortion, it shouldn’t be but it is. This is a sign that people are joining tribes and groups, it is not a sign of clear thinking.”

Having a conversation with such a person is, for the most part fruitless and dull. It will inexorably end in subject changing, whataboutery and appeals to emotion, because they don’t understand enough about the issue. If their opinions are predictable, they are not interesting. The briefest trawl through Twitter will tell you this. Such people are not interested in listening, changing their mind, or accurately capturing their opponent’s position.

Listening to some professional women’s rights activist sound off about gun control is painful, particularly when they come up against someone who knows the facts, the stats and can back up a pro-gun position. Similarly, watching a right wing businessman chat on about immigration or ‘the lies about climate change’ can be made to look idiotic by a scientist with a full grasp of the facts.

You can tell instantly when a person clearly doesn’t read or even acknowledge anything on the opposing side. It’s painfully obvious when a Guardian reading Corbynista has never even seen the Telegraph, glanced at the Mail on Sunday or picked up a copy of the Spectator. It renders their arguments incomplete and turns them into an intensely vacuous shell. You’re not arguing the issue – you’re defending the tribe. I use an example from the Left here, simply because that’s what I experience most, and the Left is the side that claims dominion over fact, logic and reason. But if you can’t make your opponent’s case for them, you don’t understand it well enough. So how can you claim you understand yours? And where does yours come from?

Some of this is understandable. A high level belief that ‘big government’ is bad and that individual freedom is paramount will inevitably lead to a grouping of some issues under the same banner, because any misgivings at that lower level would be overcome by an overarching principle, in much the same way that the US constitution overrules many smaller changes in law because it is the overarching agreement that American citizens have with one another.

But what is really fascinating is when you come across a person whose views on some issues deviate from their home crowd. These people are much more interesting to listen to, because the only way they will have come to this deviant view is by thinking carefully and forming a solid conclusion. To express it in public would have required a complete conviction in their process and their argument.

It’s exciting, because when somebody puts a question to them, you have no idea what their response might be. But whatever comes, it will surely be well reasoned.

There are brilliant examples of these people from across the political spectrum. Liberals who voted Leave and vice versa is a good place to start looking. There are also shining examples of those dull, lifeless crowd followers all over the place as well.

Think of Farage – I could probably predict his opinion on everything. Similarly with Owen Jones. What fashionable lefty cause has he not jumped all over and furrowed his brow in that sincere way while appearing authoritative about it? It’s just so boring. He gave a perfect example of what I’m talking about during the referendum campaign when he penned a piece putting forward the case for a ‘left wing Leave’. This lasted all of 5 minutes before he retreated back into his herd, now consistently sounding off against Leave voters and Brexit itself.

Indeed, the whole tone of the piece should have foretold this. It opens with “at first, only a few dipped their toes in the water; then others, hesitantly, followed their lead, all the time looking at each other for reassurance.” Does this not show just how little he has really thought about it? He’s essentially saying ‘I’ll go if you go’. How courageous.

“The more leftwing opponents of the EU come out, the more momentum will gather pace and gain critical mass.”

“The case for Lexit grows ever stronger, and – at the very least – more of us need to start dipping our toes in the water.”

Except the second he dipped his toe, he saw it was freezing and promptly wrapped himself in a towel. Thanks mate, the rest of us who swam out into the deep are so grateful for this bravery now that the sharks are devouring us. Hope it was worth it.

True courage lies in expressing thoughts that you know full well will get you ostracised by your side. Others simply occupy their own space, not bothering to cultivate a base in a camp in the first place. I raise the example of Mr. Jones only because, having read his column for a while and getting bored of its predictability, I suddenly glimpsed a light shining through it. “This will get him into trouble – how exciting. How will he push through?” Alas, he didn’t, and his column has been as predictable as ever, ever since. It’s a real shame, because he is likeable, writes well and has a significant following.

On the other side of things, let’s take the Hitchens brothers as an example. Christopher, the darling of the Left – Peter, the darling of the Right. Neither, when you really look, deserves the title, nor would they want it.

Christopher, who sadly died in 2011, was one of the so called ‘Four horsemen of the Atheist apocalypse’ alongside Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris (this was later expanded to be the 5 horsepeople, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali joined the group). He exploded into public consciousness with his book ‘God is not Great: How religion poisons everything’ and was a vicious polemicist against religion. He was adored by students, atheists and left wingers.

But looking a little deeper, things aren’t as clear as they might be. He was an avid proponent of the Iraq War, never ever shying away from it. He blasted the Clintons (one of the most painful things about his death is not being able to see what he would have made of the 2016 presidential election), believed firmly in Israel’s right to exist (albeit with criticism of the Israeli government), thought that men should be the providers and breadwinners for their wives/partners and had serious reservations about abortion.

“My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, anyplace, anytime. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass.”

Well, quite.

His brother Peter has a similar style, yet finds himself on the opposite side of most things. As a Mail on Sunday columnist and self-declared Burkean Conservative, you may think you could predict him. He hates Tony Blair, strongly opposes drug legalisation, believes criminals should be punished with prison, would reinstate the death penalty if certain judicial criteria could be met, is a fervent Monarchist, opposes mass immigration and believes the UK should leave the EU.

So how, then, does such a person also find more hatred for the Conservative Party than any other? David Cameron is a ‘slippery HR man’, Thatcher ‘overrated’. He would renationalise the railways ‘immediately’, did not vote in the referendum (indeed does not vote in elections), believes the UK should stay in the Single Market, that there should be a strong welfare state, that the Iraq War was a disaster (not difficult now, but opposed it when it was unfashionable to do so in media circles), that Trident is a ridiculous and out of date weapon that we should rid ourselves of and that Jeremy Corbyn is a good thing for the Labour Party.

These are the kinds of people you always want on your side, but they can never predictably be so. Simon Jenkins, Germaine Greer, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Douglas Murray (Matthew Parris recently said of him “[he] writes so well that when he is wrong he is dangerous.’) – these are the people you want to listen to. Not even necessarily to agree with them, but to see that they have thought clearly, express their view and sod the consequences. Some of the most interesting talks you can hear are broadsides against your firmly held beliefs, spoken by a heavyweight intellectual from the other side in firm and weighty tones. Who could fail to be stimulated by that? Dullards and cowards, that’s who.

The greatest joy is meeting someone in the flesh who can argue against your view with rigour and persuasion. A small group of us had a wonderful knockabout during the referendum campaign, a time that I look back on as a period that sharpened my thinking, forced me to back up what I thought and, in some cases, change my mind. They argued passionately for their side, and they could very well see what motivated my side.

That’s all disappearing. In this new world, tribes are king. There is simply no reasoning with most people. There is no ‘I disagree with you, but still like you and enjoy hearing your arguments.’

Well, screw it. I think what I think. Come at me. Let’s have it out. I promise you – it will be more fun than you think.

The greatest trick the EU ever pulled was convincing the world that it was ‘Europe’

I’ve always been struck by that line in The Usual Suspects where Kevin Spacey’s character quotes the old saying:

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist”

Religious or not, it’s a powerful statement. Its power lies in its inherent simplicity, a simplicity that makes you stop and question. For those who believe in the devil, it is a statement of terror. ‘People don’t even believe he exists, how can they know the true and cunning power being exerted upon them?’ For those who don’t, it makes you question. ‘If I don’t believe he exists…is it because he doesn’t exist…or because he has fooled me?’ Even if only momentarily, the power of the conundrum can jolt.

I started to realise very early on in the referendum campaign that, though not necessarily deliberately, the terms ‘EU’ or ‘European Union’ were being conflated with the term ‘Europe’. This is, of course, nothing new – for decades this conflation has been rife. But it started to matter seriously when the country was about to take a vote on it.

Now, the reason given is one of simplification. “Oh, you know what I mean when I say Europe.” But therein lies its power. Let’s just make it simpler…let’s just say Europe, it’s easier, ‘European Union’ is so cumbersome, ‘EU’ doesn’t really roll off the tongue…

All perfectly true. But let’s take a look at the two distinct terms.

‘Europe’ conjures up images of wonderful cheese, beautiful wine, fresh bread, trains that glide across serene countryside, alpine skiing, sandy beaches…it’s an emotional term.

‘European Union’, whether you’re for or against, puts one in mind of bureaucracy, not getting much done, huge expense, federalism, bullying of small nations, the migrant crisis…it’s a practical term.

During the campaign, I endlessly made this point, almost compulsively correcting the word ‘Europe’ with ‘European Union’, because it was important to me that we talked about the actual issue, rather than reaching for emotion. But I was drowned out. Much as many Leavers on television kept having to say “we won’t be leaving Europe, just the European Union”, I tried in vain to steer the argument toward accuracy, but it was no good. Being accurate was deemed to be simply providing a smokescreen in front of a deep seated hatred. The scoffing and the sliming was too overwhelming. The apparent effort it would take to change this language to be accurate was too much. But this is always a good sign that you’re right, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too worried.

And before I move on, that point is important. It is actually inaccurate to say that Britain is leaving Europe. Inaccurate. Not true. Lefties, I thought this was important to you?

Someone who really gets this distinction is one Jeremy Corbyn. Quiet as he is on his certain desire to leave the European Union (interesting that his followers don’t seem to mind this and let him get away with it, despite their almost worshipful adoration of the EU), he knows full well that Europe is not the same as the EU.

He gets it. His followers resolutely do not. And here is another point which I have been trying to make but cannot get through to anyone with…Jeremy Corbyn’s ideas CANNOT BE EXECUTED whilst Britain is in the European Union. It is impossible. Illegal. Not allowed. If you voted to Remain, but voted for renationalisation, protecting industries etc…you have cast two completely contradictory votes. And anyone claiming the EU can be reformed…well there really will be no convincing you.

It suits the monstrous EU to be called Europe. Much as it suits the wolf to be called Grandma. It knows that whilst people will look past its ugly associations and choose to hear German symphonies in their heads and smell French cheese in their nostrils whenever they talk about ‘Europe’, it is safe.

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist”.

The line was uttered by Kevin Spacey’s character, Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint. Well, that was who he said he was anyway.

Doesn’t really roll off the tongue though…does it?

Thoughts on Gibraltar and James O’Brien


They’re more British than we are

Well…that escalated quickly. One mention of a British territorial rock and it’s all kicked off. Perspective has, as is customary in these modern times, taken a long break and doesn’t look like it will be coming back any time soon.

An early shot has been fired from one of the warmer nations of our soon-to-be-former trading bloc regarding Gibraltar, a tiny but spectacularly beautiful jut of land on the Southern coast of Spain. This lovely corner of the planet is British territory and has been since 1713 when the Treaty of Utrecht was signed, but remains disputed by Spain. Its 30,000 inhabitants feel thoroughly British, reiterating that fact in two referendums on their sovereignty – one in 1967, and another in 2002 when Tony Blair and Jack Straw tried desperately to give it to Spain.

They are a civil, peaceful, multicultural people who have absolutely no desire to be ruled by their Northern neighbours. They fly both the British and EU flags on their official buildings, having voted in enormous numbers to Remain part of the latter. But now they feel themselves being pulled once more into the middle of an unseemly spat.

This will, in time I’m sure, come to be seen as a mistake on the part of the EU. It is hardly a gesture of goodwill and will put an undue strain on the negotiations. They successfully managed to goad Michael Howard into saying something unwise (although trying to imply he was calling for war is a misrepresentation that should make any reasonable person wince – see paragraph 1), but there has been nothing but good grace from the government. Theresa May has not risen to it, nor should she. The question of Gibraltarian sovereignty has nothing to do with our leaving the EU, and it must stay that way.

It does make me lament that the advice I offered in a previous blog was not heeded by Number 10. It’s almost as if they haven’t read it. But imagine the position we could be in now. “We have guaranteed the rights of all of your citizens, and you repay us by questioning the integrity of one of our overseas territories? That’s not very constructive or friendly now, is it?” Moral high ground gained. Alas, it is not to be so.

Feeling British may not mean anything to most on the Left, but it still does to these people and they take it very seriously. We would let them down to our eternal shame.

There has been plenty of spluttering about ’empire’ and ‘colonialism’ going on about all of this, most of it not making any sense. This is a self governing, democratic people – but you want us to give them to Spain? A country they have no desire to join or be a part of?

But surely, comes the reply, you can’t just own a bit of someone else’s country? “For the Spanish, Gibraltar is an affront to their sense of national identity and their sense of sovereignty – it’s a bit like having a part of Dover owned by Spain” says Jack Straw. Oh, is that right?

It would appear that Spain doesn’t exactly take this principle seriously, and certainly not consistently. Because what is just across the Strait of Gibraltar?


That little jut of African land, of a very similar size to Gibraltar, is called Ceuta. Ceuta is Spanish territory at the Northern tip of Morocco. Its citizens are Spanish and do not want to be governed by Morocco. Morocco very much wants it back, but Spain asserts its sovereignty. They would never dare hold a referendum to prove it, because that would simply strengthen the case of Gibraltarians to remain British. But the hypocrisy is there for all to see, a mere 30 miles away.

Both of these places are tolerant, multicultural places, patriotic and fiercely loyal to their mother countries – much more, it must be said, than many in those countries are.

The EU would be making a serious error to make this a part of the negotiations. It is imperative that cool heads prevail and this nonsense is dropped very soon.


There must be someone else for the job

I’ve been watching Newsnight for as long as I can remember. It could certainly be said that it’s not been the same since Paxman left, but it still provides a very high quality daily news show that, for me, remains unparalleled.

But I have my doubts about one of its hosts. You see, the BBC is supposed to remain neutral. Which means its news and current affairs shows must be balanced. Which means its hosts should be beyond reproach in terms of their integrity. So how on earth do they justify having in the chair one of LBC’s most outspoken talk show hosts, James O’Brien?

The BBC is often accused of bias, often unfairly in my view. I happen to think that it has a left wing tendency, and this seems to be backed up by statements from previous DGs and insiders, but it does at least attempt to be balanced as much as possible. I also am basing that on nothing more than my own perception at this point, I have no numbers or anything to base it on, it’s just an impression I get.

So why, when accusations of bias are flying around, would you make such a partisan selection for host of the flagship news programme?

He hardly keeps his views quiet on his LBC show, and his so called ‘epic rants’ are constantly shared by my left wing friends (which is 99% of my friends), which would surely make him a hero of the left? He will regularly rail against Brexit, against the Tories, against Jeremy Corbyn. He is far from neutral on any of these topics, so how can we expect him to provide balance if these topics come up? How can he not naturally favour Ed Miliband over Douglas Carswell in a debate about Brexit? How can he not naturally side with a Labour MP over a Tory MP? How can we trust him to fairly deal with a confrontation between John McDonnell and Chuka Umuna?

He hates Brexit, hates the Tories and hates Jeremy Corbyn being Labour leader. You may too. But surely you couldn’t want him to pretend to be neutral?

I wonder what would happen if another LBC host were to be made the next host of Newsnight. Maybe Katie Hopkins? Nigel Farage? Julia Hartley-Brewer? No, I didn’t think so. His equivalent from the Right of politics would never be allowed anywhere near Newsnight.

I was particularly struck by one exchange he had, where he was interviewing a woman called Asra Nomani for a piece about Donald Trump. It was supposed to be two women, but the other guest unfortunately had technical problems and so he was left to talk to this person for whom it was evident he had nothing but loathing. The whole exchange can be found here.

The first sign is the introduction – with his opening line of “Anne Gearan from the Washington Post and Asra Nomani who has written for outlets such as Breitbart and The Hill

He almost spits the word ‘Breitbart’, with a vicious emphasis on the T sounds (something missing from the words ‘Washington’ and ‘Post’, both with equally hard T sounds, in case you think I’m being oversensitive).

Then, Ms Nomani has to spend her first exchange with Mr. O’Brien explaining that she does not, in fact, write for Breitbart, and never has. She also explains that she spent 15 years writing for the Wall Street Journal. She does these things with immensely good grace and politeness, not recoiling at all from his accusatory introduction. This was in a piece about fake news.

This has stuck in my head ever since and I feel a deep sense of unease whenever I think about it. The rest of the clip is worth watching as she gently answers his questions and takes all of his interruptions gracefully and without attempting to speak over him. I am not convinced he should be presenting this programme and I will not watch it when he does. I am happy to listen to him on his LBC show, but the Newsnight chair is not the place for him.