The Parochial Village Mentality of British Politics and Media
Matthew JAMISON | 05.12.2016 | WORLD / Europe

The Parochial Village Mentality of British Politics and Media

The insufferably pompous old Etonian Conservative MP Kwasi Kwarteng, champion of all things Brexit (including a hard Brexit) is fond of talking in platitudes about how «global» Britain is. In an article he recently wrote for Prospect magazine entitled «Britain succeeds when it is open to the world» (though in Mr. Kwarteng's vision just not open to the rest of Europe) he puts forth a highly romanticized, almost mythical depiction of Britain throughout the ages. But just how open and global is Britain in reality in its politics and media? How Kwarteng and his ilk square the circle of Britain being «open» and «global» and yet cutting itself off from the 440 million plus citizens of the European Union is beyond me, as well as the deeply insular state of its media and politics. If one closely examines the political discourse, issues and preoccupations of British politics and the editorial priorities for coverage of news items in the British media, one finds a deeply insular, parochial and provincial mentality consumed with internal trivia rather than global affairs.

Let us start with the British media both television and print. The quality of the British press is probably one of the worst in the Western world combined with the puerile, gutter nature of the vicious trash tabloids which are some of the most disgusting rags of newspapers to be found any where in the world. Take the BBC News for example. On the front page of the BBC news website on December 1st the three lead articles are all completely relevant only to the internal goings on of the UK. The lead article is about (what else) immigration to the UK stating: «Immigration to the UK reaches record high». The second news item the BBC website leads with is: «Councils urged to redesign speed bumps». And the third news item is entitled: «Search for couple as 1970s wedding photos are found». You really couldn't make it up. From the national obsession regarding how many immigrants are coming into the country, to the provincial, mind numbing minutiae of speed bumps to the banal parochial trivia of some photographer launching a search for a mystery couple after finding their wedding photographs in an old camera, it is pathetic.

These are the headlines at 1330hrs in the UK that the BBC editorial team believe are most important to lead with on their website. BBC news television is not much better. When I switched on BBC 24 at 11am on December 1st to get the latest headlines I was greeted with wall to wall coverage for almost 30 minutes of the press conference for the new England football team coach, someone called a Mr. Gareth Southgate. Sky News also did the same believing it was so important to cover the latest England football coach by interrupting news to cover his press conference live, not that the arrival of Mr. Southgate will probably make much difference to the chronically woeful and inept performance of the English national football team. At least the corporate sponsors of football, who had their logos plastered over the wall behind Mr. Southgate got a lot of free publicity. Not to let the significance of the appointment of Mr. Souithgate go over looked the Sky News website also leads with the story regarding Southgate under the title; «England boss reveals teammate was abuse victim».

Meanwhile, over in Syria, rescue workers claim that at least another 45 people have been killed today as the bombardment of east Aleppo intensified. With the United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss their plight, around 50,000 people are now reported to have fled their homes in the east of the city in the last 72 hours. In fact, out of the four major British news stations, only Channel Four news which is the best of the lot, has had the decency, seriousness and global insight to lead with the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria and the situation in Aleppo consistently according it prime headline billing on the evening news while its counterparts at the BBC, ITN and Sky normally get round to the latest events in Syria by the fourth or five story. 

The British newspapers are just as insular and mundane. The only good newspaper left in Britain is the Financial Times which achieves the delicate balance of newsworthy national and important international news excellently. You will find salient international news stories on the front page of the FT intermingling along with strategically significant coverage of national UK political, economic and social news. It contains high quality analysis and serious, substantive op-eds which deal with the big picture. Next to no pseudo «celebrity» garbage is to be found in the Financial Times unlike most other British newspapers both broadsheet and tabloid which plastered on their front page the plight of the poor Kim Khardashian robbed during Paris Fashion Week. Yet with the FT, that is where it begins and ends in Britain for high quality national and global print journalism both broadsheet and tabloid. The Times, to be blunt, is full of crap. Page after page of irrelevant, parochial trivia. You have to skip all the way to the back of the Times before you come to international news and only then it is a few stories. Its Sunday sister paper The Sunday Times is even worse and reads more like a lifestyle magazine than a serious newspaper usually obsessing over some great British past time on television such as the fate of The Great British Bake-off without the erstwhile Mary Berry.

The Telegraph is even worse and far more reactionary. It reads like some local county spectator straight out of the home counties full of non-news stories about the Royal Family, who Pippa Middleton is dating now, fox hunting, the Church of England et al. News that the British Queen's grand-daughter Zara Phillips is pregnant for the second time will take precedence over who the most powerful man on Earth (soon to be Donald Trump) is picking to run the worlds number one economy. The issue of fox hunting for The Telegraph is of greater consequence than the plight of Syrian refugees. Again, The Telegraph, like The Times, dose not accord much space to global news with its foreign affairs section shoved way at the back and only amounting to a page or two and even then it amounts to nothing more than tittle tattle such as which sunglasses Melania Trump wears or which European Royal Family Kate Middleton will be visiting next.

And these are the broadsheets. The tabloids are not fit for toilet paper and here I think primarily of the grotesque Daily Mail which is full of the worst stereotypes of Middle-England bigotry, prejudice and closed, small mindedness. The same is true of The Sun. Both of these vile creations feed their readership a daily diet which consists of a mixture of unthinking nasty racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, trivial parochialism, pub parish provincialism with a good dose of the most vulgar, inane, nauseating «celebrity» so-called «reality» tv BS imaginable. There is nothing of the global breadth and depth and superior quality in Britain of a New York Times with only the FT coming close.

Now, that gives you a flavour of just how «open» and «global» the British media are, the main vehicles which deliver the news to the British population and shape and inform the populaces views, opinions and attitudes. What of British politics? Unfortunately the state of the British political discourse and mind-set is not much better, after-all, in electoral democracies, the political class have to reflect back on to the population the prevailing priorities, interests and opinions of the voting public in order to get elected in the first place. Being a political junkie since around the age of 15, I must confess, over the last ten years or so, I have found domestic British politics very boring and tedious. It is not just the overwhelmingly un-charismatic and drab nature of British politicians which is reinforced when one casts one eye over the green benches of the House of Commons and are confronted with an extremely rough looking bunch of haggard, almost sickly looking rum bunch of public representatives who appear as though they have just rolled out of bed without bothering to brush their hair or wash their faces while throwing on last weeks clothing.

It is also the fact that the quality of debate and level of priority in the lower and upper chambers of the British national Parliament, the House of Commons and House of Lords, is more akin to the deliberations of a local council. The debates in Westminster Hall are not much better. On Tuesday November 30th time was set aside in the national Parliament to discuss: «CCTV in equine slaughterhouses». While in the House of Lords three hours were put aside for the debate of a Bill concerning «New Southgate Cemetery». There was a ten minute rule motion on «aircraft noise» and an adjournment debate on «mad cow disease». Meanwhile in the House of Commons the closest thing approaching what one could call «global» was a throw back to Empire with the debate of the «Commonwealth Corporation Development Bill». If British politics was introverted and insular before the EU referendum, Brexit will now confine the major amount of time and energy to debating and discussing the most insular issue of all, the never-ending question of Britain's relationship with its European neighbours and partners. 

How ironic for Mr. Kwartang and his Brexit crew who pay lip service to Britain being «open» and «global» and yet have engineered the deeply insular and self-indulgent issue of Brexit to become the dominant matter to be dealt with politically for the British Parliament to deal for years, if not decades, to come. Brexit has already drained precious time and resources away from dealing with the big national and international challenges and instead has diverted the UK Parliament on to a course of engaging in internal constitutional naval gazing about who has the authority and power to trigger Article 50 - Mrs May through Royal Prerogative Orders in the Privy Council - or Parliament. Other quaint insular matters exclusive to the peculiar internal workings of the UK will now dominant political debate such as Scotland's position on exiting the EU, the role of the devolved administrations, an EU border between Northern and Southern Ireland, where money will come from for farmers and the regions to replace EU funding etc, etc.

Every country likes to think that what goes on within its national borders is special and important to the outside world. The truth however is is limited to only a handful of countries and Britain increasingly is not one of them. What happens in Britain, apart from its relationship with the European Union or at a push NATO, has very little planetary significance and impact on the globe. Britain is a small island. You can travel to any part of it by plane within an hour, perhaps at a stretch and hour and a half. Geographically it is tiny with the state of Pennsylvania probably being larger than all of the UK. If Britain were a person you could probably mount an argument that it suffered from acute «little man syndrome». Never has this been more completely visible in its provincial village mentality within its media and politics.

Tags: UK