The fine art of pop-up journalism

A scandal as newsworthy as “Dog bites postman”: the local newspapers have set their face against those delightfully, unintentionally humorous pop-up newspapers distributed by political parties at election time. The party papers, in case none has come your way, pretend to be local newspapers but consist only of plugs for their candidates. They are not exactly subtle. They may appear real to the bored and gullible, which is what all political campaigning does.

Most of them are from the Liberal Democrats, whose novel interpretation of the notions of truth and honesty in campaigning have long been a fascination for students of politics and psychiatrists. We have all loved those ‘Labour’ leaflets that, when opened out say “Labour … cannot win here”.  (I mainly see those in seats where the Liberals trail a poor third.)

The LibDem fake newspapers have been joined by the other parties too though. They all give as good as they can get.  Some Conservative newspapers even carry on throughout the year and provide a more useful village newsletter than the commercial papers do.

Maybe a few people are taken in.  That is not the point though: these newspapers work at a subliminal level – they only need to hook you for a moment to embed the impression of their headline in your mind, and if you then realise to your horror that you are reading a political leaflet, nevertheless in that opening minute you have read it as news and it makes an impression.

I need to get hold of some more examples – they are exactly what I should be using.

The local papers, the genuine locals, are discontented.  They voice fears that these pop-up party pretend papers will sap trust in the integrity of the local newspapers.

Who are they trying to fool? The local papers have done that very convincingly all by themselves.  The political news is simply reprinting the political parties’ press-releases: all those pictures of a councillor standing by a new sapling or a hole in the road are no different from the pop-ups. There is no integrity nor that vaunted neutrality in journalism; that is a phrase thrown around to encourage customers, but there is no integrity in journalism beyond the appearance needed to bring in the widest range of paying customer.

I have sympathy with the newspapers as they have a hard task trying to persuade people to buyer a wad of folding paper when on-line splash stories and antisocial media dominate the attention of their key market.  An irony is that they pay journalists to produce news content as a chassis to feed the adverts to their customers, which is where the real business lies, but oftentimes the newspaper is only bought for the adverts anyway.

The local newspapers long ago blazed a trail in the bringing the news. Now the young apprentice has copied the master’s work, and may excel him.

Maybe the pop-up party paper is the way forward for local journalism. There is motivation for it, and their village citizen-journalists are closer to the ground than those in the town on the other side of the tracks. 

I do not see the pop-up papers in our villages though, not even from the Liberal Democrats: they are good at press-releases, so that the local commercial newspaper looks like their LibDem paper already.

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Bydded i’r Hen Iaith Barhau

Llongyfarchiadau i di, Boris: the Conservative Manifesto repeats and re-enforces the pledge from 2017, and in 2019 we are promised:

We will support Welsh institutions such as S4C, the National Library and Museum, the Urdd and the National Eisteddfod.

This time the pledge is not in the Welsh local manifesto but the national, UK-wide manifesto.

I pause with the thought that yr Eisteddfod Genedlaethol (what happened to ‘Brenhinol‘ in the name?) and yr Urdd, even before we get to y Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru and yr Amgueddfa Cymru are devolved matters on which Westminster has little influence. Sprinkling a little star-dust, or money anyway, goes down well, and the richness found in the Welsh language should not be confined to the narrow bounds of the Principality: let the bards speak over the world.

Welsh, yr Hen Iaith, is the most beautiful tongue in the world and need not stay hidden in the western parts. It is not just a part of British culture and identity, but the oldest, most evocative expression of our nation – it was not always called ‘Welsh’ but used to be called ‘British’, and British it is, found in the place-names of the island far beyond the thirteen counties of Wales: the great cities of London, Winchester, Manchester, Leeds, York, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and others have their names from the old British language, from which Welsh of today has little changed. It suffuses the island and gives it a shape and a name. In the days of Rome, all those native tongues vanished in Italy, Gaul and Hispania, but the Britons did not give up our tongue, and it is spoke still, as Welsh.

It would be worth treasuring for that resilience alone, but there is far more, for it is not for nothing that the song praises Wales as ‘Gwlad beirdd a chantorion‘ (‘Land of poets and singers’): Welsh is peculiarly suited to poetry. You might not see this from the clumpy “Committee Welsh” painted on road-signs, but spoken in the free air it is such that you cannot speak it without singing.

Politics should not interfere, but if it does then at least let it do so with love. Labour’s manifesto says nothing of the Welsh language, nor does the Liberal Democrats’. (Plaid Cymru do, as you would expect, but only in an odd context: they have forgotten that we are out of the EU in weeks.) The Conservative and Unionist Manifesto adds on another project t supporting the institutions: “We will support the ambition for one million people in Wales to be able to speak Welsh by 2050”.

(It’s not like farming and building up a flock, you know – these are people, who can choose what to speak, my wife’s family among them.)

There is a richness to be found from understanding the Welsh language. A million speakers does not mean those who speak it at home, but understanding it is a worth though wearisome endeavour. I can suggest another angle though: do not confine it to Wales. The first Gorsedd and Eisteddfod were held in London, and they have met in Liverpool. Britons outside those western counties might care to recall that once Wales was all Britain, and maybe their ancestors spoke the language, which is therefore a route to our own heritage.

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Judicial review: the Manifesto

If the lofty bien-pensants of the legal profession are aghast, it must be a good thing. The Conservative and Unionist Manifesto for 2019 says:

We will ensure that judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays.

That is exactly what I have been saying for months.

The promised “Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission” could be a Yeatsian monster, but done well and carefully selected (did I leave my card?) it will be valuable. It heralds not a wholesale rewriting of the constitution (Conservatives, after all) but a review of whether it all fits together the way we thought it did. Basically, it is to overturn the Cherry/Miller case – and it needs overturning. I have commented previously on how to do that.

It is interesting too that the same paragraph drops the old commitment to repeal the Human Rights Act (the subject of another article, I feel coming on). Now says “update the Human Rights Act”, and administrative law. The threat of Corbyn and McDonnell looms dark over the nation, and anything which rebukes their desire to seize private funds and property, and to punish where there is no crime, is valuable. The European Convention on Human Rights may be a tottery bulwark against Communism, but it is something.

On judicial review specifically, action taken to reform it should codify the rules so that they are clear. This should strengthen the procedure, and improve public respect for it. Judges are accused of being political when they cass and annul administrative decisions, but if the rules are clear and clearly adhered to, they will have better protection from those accusations.

Look at the Wednesbury rules. These govern the propriety or otherwise of administrative decisions and so these rules are the basis of judicial review, but they are entirely judge-made rules. As they are invented by a judge, another may reinvent them, and as long as the rules are open to flexible interpretation, they empower judges where judges are not meant to be. The rules are well-meant – they are intended to ensure that powers are exercised for the purpose for which they were given and not for a corrupt purpose. They are valuable in that they obviate the need for every Act of Parliament to specify limits and provisos on the powers it grants. It is uncomfortable though that the courts have had to invent these rules, because powers are given by Parliament and in principle no one else should be able to countermand their exercise. Those rules to imply limits on powers granted should have been made by Parliament, and they should be in the forthcoming review.

However, there is another wrinkle. State powers are not the only ones governed by the Wednesbury rules. There are private powers too, like the powers that a trust deed may give to trustees entrusting them with authority to manage or sell the assets entrusted to them, and these private powers also use the language of discretion and decision. Just as property may be entrusted to the care of a trustee, so public powers are entrusted to officials or councils. It is a healthy sign if “trust” is understood as a common concept, howsoever high the trustee may be, or think he is, and governed by the same common rules.

Another court decision has just been published, in which the High Court determined that even in a private contract where it gives one party discretion in his or her actions, that discretion is subject to the Wednesbury rules. This is not quite the first time that a judge has explicitly invoked Wednesbury over private powers; it has appeared hesitantly on occasion since the Socimer case in 2004 but seems to be becoming established, not as a rule to be implied into every contract but as a rule to interpret words such as “reasonably” and “discretion”. That does accord with sense and principle.

In any consolidation, restatement or change to the Wednesbury rules for administrative decisions, Parliament might want to see if they are also inadvertently leaning on private property too. The concept that they all rely on the common concept of entrusted authority is a comforting one.

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Boris unleashed

The Conservative Manifesto 2019 sounds daunting at 64 pages long cover to cover, but that is just over half the thickness of Labour’s, and the contrast is massive. Labour give us pages of close text on every subject under the sun that their activists get angry about, but the Conservative and Unionist Manifesto 2019 eschews essays and much of the 64 pages is taken up with feel-good photographs.

The differences make an impact. Labour is anger-blame-command, while the Conservatives have aspiration. The most telling word in the title is not “Brexit” but “unleash”. It is a wonderful word that taps into the British spirit and well chosen. It is also a very Boris word.

In fact Boris suffuses throughout the document, not just because his picture appears at least eight times and his name too, but in the approach and the energy. It must be remembered that the 2017 Manifesto, though reviled now, was praised when it came out as a short, solid, no-frills statement. In fact the short detail it had was enough to give a grip for Labour to leap in with some damning attacks – remember the “dementia tax”? The 2017 Manifesto was a Theresa May document: curt, efficient, workmanlike. This 2019 manifesto is Boris all over.

The content of the manifesto seems less important than its impact. It does, like every other, spend a lot of its time saying how the a Conservative government will spend my hard-earned money on things I will never have use of. (So far so Georgian.) It says income tax will never rise and it hints at eventual reductions in tax, but no more. There is no mention of inheritance tax: the Brexit Party have sworn they would abolish it, so come on Sajid; do the same.

Really it is the aspiration that makes this look a winner. Labour want to clamp down, regulate and seize into government control, while the Conservatives talk of opportunity (the word appearing 14 times). (“Aspiration” appears twice, once in “we understand the concept of aspiration, and enterprise” and once in “John McDonnell’s inexorable
hostility towards aspiration and entrepreneurship”!)

The reception has sounded positive, and nothing has yet caused a killing sound-bite like the “dementia tax” one.

There should be no slackening nor inattention: at the time of the manifesto launches in 2017, polls were showing Theresa May with a higher rating than Boris has now and on course for a higher majority than the polls suggest now, but from that point it all went wrong and the poll ratings plunged. There is still all to play for.

Though all could still go horridly wrong, and the country be facing bankruptcy under Mr McDonnell, but the soundings so far are all positive.

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Not a sch-lur but a telling sch-lip

The moment in the Leaders debate passed not unnoticed. Jeremy Corbyn referring to Jeffrey Epstein pronounced his name in the German fashion – ‘Ep-schtein’. Understandably, commentators were hanging on every word and syllable to find proof of Corbyn’s deep anti-Semitism, and here were syllables dripping with meaning – not ‘Epsteen’ as the man called himself, but ‘Ep-schtein’: make him sound German, very foreign, for the man was Jewish and in this way Corbyn could emphasise that and how set apart he was for that reason.

Actually though, I have to defend Jeremy Corbyn to a certain extent. I will not deny that he is an utter twerp unfit for public office, and agree that he has permitted a foul sewer of anti-Semitism to thrive and grow in the Labour Party, and his own remarks put him within that toxic culture so that he might be attracted to Jew-haters’ ideas, if he had an idea in his head. On this occasion though it was something else.

He was trying to be clever and correct. He saw a name, saw it looked German and so pronounced it as German. It is a habit of the Islington classes to try to show their universalism by pronouncing foreign names in the way the foreigners do, and even if they get it wrong, they have the kudos points.

I will admit it myself: I read and speak German frequently enough that I use German pronunciations without thinking even when the word has passed thoroughly into English. In IKEA, I have to check myself to stop using Swedish pronunciations for products (or in fact Swedish-as-mispronounced-by-a-Norwegian). French words that have been part of English for centuries still get a retro-pronunciation as French in some mouths, including some words that French borrowed from English in the first place.

It is not always a show-off (all right, often it is) and it may be a way to display having had an education, or to show ones own cosmopolitanism. Alternatively, and think this is the main reason, it may just be anxiety to get it right and not to mispronounce and be seen to be ignorant.

We get it wrong. How many of us, after all, speak all the languages that come across our plates from day to day? In most delicatessens the staff call a chorizo sausage a ‘choritso’, because they think it is the authentic Mediterranean pronunciation, which presupposes that the first half could be Spanish and the second half Italian. I do not expect them to speak either language, and I now grit my teeth rather than correct them all to the Spanish pronunciation (‘choreetho’). That is one Corbyn would not get wrong – he speaks Spanish very well as most of his wives so far have been Spanish.

Trying to get foreign names right is the best way to get them wrong. Use “Peking” in a newsroom and you could be facing a half-hour dressing-down and insistence that the old name is insulting to the Chinese and it has to be pronounced the Chinese way as “Bay-jing” – if only they knew that names written in Pinyin are not pronounced as if they were English, and the name is actually pronounced closer to ‘Pey-ching’; so ‘Bay-jing’ is surely just as insulting? I cannot think that ordinary Chinese folk care. In any case, a name can be different in different languages – no one bats an eyelid at our capital city’s being called ‘Londres’ in French or ‘Llundain’ in Welsh, and to be fair, the Welsh name is older than the English name. Names have become part of English been transformed to be spoken in English. However the worry about being incorrect or (most horrifying) sounding uneducated, weighs heavily on some, and they keep getting it wrong, and thus proving the limit if their education.

This over-correction is nothing new. Throughout the 1980s the BBC insisted that the White South African government operated a policy pronounced ‘apart-height’: that would be correct if it were German, but it was an Afrikaans word and is ‘apart-hate’ (somehow more appropriate).

It is in this context that Jeremy Corbyn mispronounced the name of the late Jeffrey Epstein: not out of malice to expel his race from society, but out of an ill-conceived attempt to be right. As with most of his ideas, his concern to be right has been exactly the opposite in result.

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