They’ve made a huge mistake...

...by making Arrested Development online only.

Unlike most people blogging about Arrested Development, I won’t be offering any opinions as to whether the show’s fourth season managed to live up to the astronomical expectations built up by fans after its previous incarnation was cancelled seven years ago.

That’s because it’s currently only viewable (legally at least) on Netflix, and I really don’t fancy watching it on a tiny laptop, with lines of dialogue served like amuse-bouche in between marathon bouts of buffering.

So as not to cast aspersions on Netflix’s service, I’ll admit it’s the same across the board: my wife bought the new Batman on Tesco’s Blinkbox service last night, but after it took us three minutes to slog through the Warner Brothers logo, we gave up and resolved to postpone watching Citizen Bane until we next saw the DVD on sale.

Yes, I am unfortunate in that, for whatever reason, the electric string that carries internet TV into my house does so at a painfully slow rate (although I’ll blame Virgin Media anyway). But my options still remain limited, and streaming-only launches such as Arrested Development’s leave me lukewarm as a consequence.  

It is not just me and a tiny minority of electrically-challenged cavemen that feel slighted, either. Just look at the grumble-tsunami generated recently at the suggestion that Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox One console would require a constant internet connection even to play single player games.

For those living in new premises and waiting out the epochs mandated by providers before broadband services can be activated, those living in areas with poor provision, and even those who (dare I say it) just don’t much like doing things on computers, it’s frustrating indeed when companies decide we are ready to move our entire lifestyles online.

Of course, the argument in the case of Arrested Development is slightly redundant in that, even were it being broadcast conventionally, I would have to arrange access to an American network to view it.

Nevertheless, it does strike me as unusual that, with all the fourth season’s episodes being released onto Netflix simultaneously anyway, there is no concurrent DVD release. Well, not that unusual – there are clear branding and competitive advantages to Netflix being the only place people can go for their hit of Gob, Buster and the rest.

But even so, if Netflix had made a plastic circle available with the series on it, they would have my money by now. It’s the same argument that gets trotted out every time the Death of Print discussion takes place – people like to possess objects.

Whenever I am implored by the producers of a piece of media to “own it on digital”, an internal pedant seethes; I would not own a house if it was passed to me, brick by brick, by a surly foreman in between long slurps of tea. Nor can I own a TV show when it is delivered via sporadic squirts of electrons. Extend my metaphor and prove me wrong by all means; I’ll still be a lost customer for Netflix.

Photograph: Getty Images

By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.