The happening place

“I’m standing here, outside a building, where something is going on. Or not.”

It's hard to pin down exactly when it happened, but at some point in the 1990s we started seeing the outside of buildings on the news. It was a boon for architecture students or people who enjoyed seeing houses or offices in all their glory over the shoulder of a serious-looking on-the-spot reporter, slightly less interesting for the rest of us.

"I'm standing here, outside a place, where something is happening," the reporter would say, in the kind of hushed tones reserved for David Attenborough intruding on a couple of copulating gibbons in a rainforest.

"Hang on," I must have pondered the first time I saw it, "what are they doing, standing outside a building? Why do that? Why not show something happening, or nothing happening, or just admit that nothing's happening, and have someone in a studio talk about the nothing that's happening?"

Of course, you're not allowed to say nothing's happening. Something is always happening. Not on camera, but somewhere near where the camera is pointed. And once in a lifetime, looking at the outside of a door has brought joyous success – Bernard Ingham barging John Sergeant out of Margaret Thatcher's way as she crashed his OB to tell the world that she was fighting on in the Conservative leadership battle against Michael Heseltine.

Every other time, though, no. It's just been the outside of a door.

"Here's someone's front door. They might open it; they might not. They're . . . not opening it. Ooh, is that someone behind a curtain? No. It's a leaf blowing in the wind. We'll just stay with these pictures for a moment, in case . . . no. No, I just thought I saw a flicker there, no." And so on.

When the world went mad during the general election campaign last April, you could look at a stalker's-eye view of a door belonging to a house of someone who'd been called a bigot by Gordon Brown. As if we wanted to. Or might be interested in the door. "Oh, there's a door, much like one you can buy in B&Q," we said to ourselves. "And there it stands on its hinges, resolutely staying shut, while something of mild import happens behind it."

There's a new layer of ennui that's been added to the "house where something might be happening" news trope; it's the "football stadium where nothing is actually happening" shot. Transfer deadline day this week saw camera crews rushed to football grounds where the floodlights were off and nothing was demonstrably happening, where players may not have even been, where ink may not even have been applied to contracts with telephone-number salaries on them. But that was the nearest thing to a location, so that's what they filmed.

It's surreal, when you think about it, to have a reporter standing outside a football ground where nothing is happening, reporting on the nothing that's happening, telling you that perhaps something might be happening, then telling you about the "sources" they've been hearing about telling them about what might (or might not) be going on over their shoulder, in that giant stadium that's closed.

More surreal to think that clusters of fans actually start arriving outside these empty stadiums to celebrate/commiserate/burn things, depending on their mood. Are they doing it just because the cameras are there? Which means, all of a sudden, the cameras aren't there in vain; they're finally filming people who've turned up to celebrate the nothing that's happening in the stadium behind them, because someone was on TV reporting on the stadium in which nothing was happening, so they thought they might come down and see what was going on – even if it's nothing.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Want to beat child poverty? End the freeze on working-age benefits

Freezing working-age benefits at a time of rising prices is both economically and morally unsound. 

We serve in politics to change lives. Yet for too long, many people and parts of Britain have felt ignored. Our response to Brexit must respond to their concerns and match their aspirations. By doing so, we can unite the country and build a fairer Britain.

Our future success as a country depends on making the most of all our talents. So we should begin with a simple goal – that child poverty must not be a feature of our country’s future.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies projects that relative child poverty will see the biggest increase in a generation in this Parliament. That is why it is so troubling that poverty has almost disappeared from the political agenda under David Cameron, and now Theresa May.

The last Labour Government’s record reminds us what can be achieved. Labour delivered the biggest improvement of any EU nation in lifting one million children out of poverty, transforming so many lives. Child poverty should scar our conscience as much as it does our children’s futures. So we have a duty to this generation to make progress once again.

In my Barnsley constituency, we have led a campaign bringing together Labour party members, community groups, and the local Labour Council to take action. My constituency party recently published its second child poverty report, which included contributions from across our community on addressing this challenge.

Ideas ranged from new requirements on developments for affordable housing, to expanding childcare, and the great example set by retired teachers lending their expertise to tutor local students. When more than 200 children in my constituency fall behind in language skills before they even start school, that local effort must be supported at the national level.

In order to build a consensus around renewed action, I will be introducing a private member’s bill in Parliament. It will set a new child poverty target, with requirements to regularly measure progress and report against the impact of policy choices.

I hope to work on a cross-party basis to share expertise and build pressure for action. In response, I hope that the Government will make this a priority in order to meet the Prime Minister’s commitment to make Britain a country that works for everyone.

The Autumn Statement in two months’ time is an opportunity to signal a new approach. Planned changes to tax and benefits over the next four years will take more than one pound in every ten pounds from the pockets of the poorest families. That is divisive and short-sighted, particularly with prices at the tills expected to rise.

Therefore the Chancellor should make a clear commitment to those who have been left behind by ending the freeze on working-age benefits. That would not only be morally right, but also sound economics.

It is estimated that one pound in every five pounds of public spending is associated with poverty. As well as redirecting public spending, poverty worsens the key economic challenges we face. It lowers productivity and limits spending power, which undermine the strong economy we need for the future.

Yet the human cost of child poverty is the greatest of all. When a Sure Start children’s centre is lost, it closes a door on opportunity. That is penny wise but pound foolish and it must end now.

The smarter approach is to recognise that a child’s earliest years are critical to their future life chances. The weight of expert opinion in favour of early intervention is overwhelming. So that must be our priority, because it is a smart investment for the future and it will change lives today.

This is the cause of our times. To end child poverty so that no-one is locked out of the opportunity for a better future. To stand in the way of a Government that seeks to pass by on the other side. Then to be in position to replace the Tories at the next election.

By doing so, we can answer that demand for change from people across our country. And we can provide security, opportunity, and hope to those who need it most.

That is how we can begin to build a fairer Britain.

Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central and a former Major in the Parachute Regiment.