Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Selective Committal and Media Mauling

There is a degree of grandstanding going on concerning the “Olympic Security Fiasco” and it seems to be mainly generating heat rather than light. This seems to say something about the media (who seem to be “enjoying the story” than actually getting under the issue to expose the real issues) and about our parliamentary select committees (members of the Home Affairs Select Committee seeming to want to ritually kebab the G4$ CEO rather than find out exactly what is going on).

Our (United Kingdom) MPs have had a bad time recently what with expense scandals and petty squabbles over timetabling obscure bills and shouting at each other across the floor of the Commons at every opportunity. So it seems that they are enjoying flexing their muscles via the select committee system. They clearly relished having a go at the Murdochs and Wade/Brooks and co – but that was personal and involved a certain amount of retaliation (as well as kicking people when they are down).

However the attempted duffing up of Bob Diamond and the hapless CEO of G4S seems to border on bullying without actually flushing out anything of particular note.

MP David Winnick: “Mr Buckles, it’s a humiliating shambles isn’t it?”

Nick Buckles: “Is not where we want to be, that is certain”

MP David Winnick: “It’s a humiliating shambles for the company.  Yes or No

Nick Buckles: “I cannot disagree with you”

(ref: transcribed from Video clip on BBC Website 17 July 2012)

Wow, isn’t Winnick clever – that second exchange was really incisive and moved the debate on.  Perhaps he is modelling his behaviour on US Congressional hearings – where prospective Presidential Candidates can “make their name”.  For our select committees to go the way of Congressional hearings would I think be a pity – they seem to set up members of congress above (often literally on a dias that half-encircles the witness) the people – who then get “lawyered up” thereby dulling any investigation.  At least at the moment our inquisitors are on the same level as their witnesses and the setup is sufficiently small to permit conversation between the two parties.  Do we want good telly drama, or do we want our legislature to be enlightened?

I caught a small amount of Alun Michael’s questioning (it was not as well covered as Winnick’s intervention – perhaps because it was trying to find out something about why the situation had occurred).

12.41: Labour’s Alun Michael asks about aspects of G4S’s management which he says includes no pay for 12 days training, people who haven’t received training, students being told they have to pay back training and uniform costs. “It doesn’t sound like a kind way of treating people,” he says.

12.43: “We believe that is the right way to run this event,” Mr Buckles says. But then he admits that approach now seems not to have worked.

(ref: As it happened: MPs grill G4S boss over 2012 security, BBC Website 17 July 2012)

He does at least seem to be trying to get at one of the reasons why this issue arose (see my previous post The consequences of casualisation), but it is still disputable whether such examination at this moment is appropriate. The current objective has to be to understand the current situation and determine whether someone has sufficient control to ensure that the Olympics have adequate security.  After the games I think the reasons for the G4S fiasco (if it in fact turns out to be so) really need to be examined in detail and possibly Buckles and co may give a more considered (and hence useful) response.

The media also seem to be wallowing in the pleasure of reporting a screw-up and asking people to self-immolate.  Again we may ponder their role.  Clearly they have to report the apparent facts and in their (self-appointed) role as the Fourth Estate they also see an inquisitorial role – possibly which can lead to redemption following the revelations in the Leveson Inquiry.  Being a competitive sector the desire to “get the story” means they operate just slightly differently to the approach Judge Leveson and Robert Jay QC.  Hence we get instances such as the Paxo’ing of Chloe Smith (BBC2 Newsnight 26 June 2012) – possibly entertaining, but not very informative.

The media and our politicians are playing to the gallery, but we need to be sure whether this is going to either inform the public or raise the level of trust that we have in either our media or our politicians.  It may just result in greater levels of “media training” for those going in front of either select committees or interviewers.  Unfortunately this will probably mean that such interactions will be so defensive as to be almost totally uninformative.

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