Six things from the last few weeks you should be really angry about

Forget Snowden.

For those people who prefer to live their lives in a state of permanent opposition to pretty much everything, Edward Snowden’s decision to leak classified information through The Guardian newspaper about US and UK government internet surveillance techniques has been manna from heaven. No matter the rights and wrongs of Snowden’s actions it keeps the idea going that there is another ‘Watergate’ moment out there if only we could find it.

But to me, if you really do want to live your life in a perpetual state of internet-based emotional froth, then there is plenty enough truly shocking information out there, released every day, to have you bouncing up and down on your chosen hand-held or desk-based device whilst punching the air and exclaiming "I told you so!!!!" without you necessarily having to go down the road of believing that the moon landings were fake. 

So here are six things from the past two weeks you should really be puce with indignation about, but probably aren’t.

  1. Venezuela is falling to pieces Inflation is nearly 50 per cent, driven mainly by food prices, and President Nicholas Maduro is slipping back into old school South American Marxist language. ‘Yankees go home’ he proclaimed in a television broadcast last week. Rich Venezuelans have reacted to the lack of US dollars by going to the US and borrowing currency on credit cards and bringing it home to buy goods. The economic chaos is worsening as Venezuela increases its dependence on oil – a suicidal policy in itself.  But it is the urban poor who have been hit hardest as food prices rocket. The last time this happened, in 1989, 2,000 people died in the ensuing "Caracazo".
  2. Follow the Yellen Brick Road Job creation in the US is trundling along at a predictable pace and by the end of April 2014, at the current trajectory, all of the jobs lost in the 2007-2008 melt down will have been regained. Should Janet Yellen survive the process of becoming the Chair of the Federal Reserve then her first task may be to consider whether to signal the end of US pump priming known as Quantitative Easing. It may have already occurred by then of course but given the appalling mess that the Fed made of their last attempt to test the water in the disastrous May/July period this year, sending mortgage interest rates up by 1.5 per cent and stopping bank lending in its tracks, you would expect them to be a bit clearer next time.
  3. The financial crisis has moved to its fourth stage It started in personal finances, moved into the banks, caused local government to contract and now finally it is reaching national governments. Watching the US go through the ritualised partisan wrangling over increasing the debt ceiling reminds us that the loudest echoes of the financial crisis have not faded, we have just been deafened to them. This new form of democracy – one with a gun to its own head – seems to be saying "Give me what I want or I’ll shoot" to the financial markets. One day someone will miscalculate and this will go very wrong. 
  4. The markets are calmer when there is no information being released It’s been rather pleasant doing this job in the past couple of weeks. Days go by and nothing major happens because many of the data gathering and releasing departments in the US are shut. Stock markets, bond markets and currencies still move but with nothing like the ferocity seen in the past. It is a reminder of how reactionary markets and news sensitive the system has become. It almost feels like an argument to reduce news flow rather ‘increase transparency’ which is the modern mantra and one that appears to do little but "increase anxiety".
  5. Help to Buy has nothing to do with helping people to buy houses The UK needs another housing bubble like it needs a hole in the head. The fact is the UK banking system is shrinking and no capitalist system based on borrowed money can propel itself without a fully functioning banking system. If you add together the outstanding loans of Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds then you can see that although deposits continue to rise, the value of loans is declining. To be fully functioning, systems like ours need both trust and confidence which just so happen to be the two major ingredients missing from our society. Help to Buy is a psychological scheme designed to get people back into the idea of borrowing money from banks.
  6. The Bank account of China swelled to USD3.7trn last month Whilst we have been tightening our belts as part of the latest of our episodic crises, China has continued on with its 30-year plan.  Their collective bank account swelled by another $165bn last month. UK Chancellor George Osborne has announced he is going to relax visa application rules to make it easier for Chinese visitors to come to the UK  - you can understand why given our own collective bank account is empty.

I shall now return to my hollowed out volcano somewhere in the South Pacific to discuss the future with John F Kennedy, Jimmy Hoffer and Lord Lucan and hope the US and UK governments aren’t hacking my router. It would be embarrassing to know they can see me catching up on "Strictly – it takes two’".

Photograph: Getty Images

Head of Fixed Income and Macro, Old Mutual Global Investors

Photo: Getty
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Hyper-partisan Corbynite websites show how the left can beat the tabloids online

If I were a young Tory looking forward to a long career, I’d be worried.

Despite their best efforts during the election campaign, the Sun, Daily Mail, Telegraph and Express failed to convince voters to give Theresa May a majority, let alone the landslide she craved. Instead, Labour made inroads thanks partly to increased turnout among younger voters who prefer to get their news online and from social networks.

The centre of power in the media has been shifting to the web for years, but during the election we saw just how well a crop of hyper-partisan left-wing news sites are using social media to gain the kind of influence once restricted to the tabloid press.

Writers for sites such as the Canary or Evolve Politics see themselves as activists as much as journalists. That frees them to spin news stories in a way that is highly attuned to the dynamics of social media, provoking strong emotions and allowing them to address their audience like a friend down the pub “telling it how it really is”.

People on Facebook or Twitter use news to tell their friends and the wider world who they are and what they believe in. Sharing the Canary story “Theresa May is trying to override parliamentary democracy to cling to power. But no one’s fooled” is a far more effective signal that you don’t like the Tory government than posting a dry headline about the cancellation of the 2018 Queen’s Speech.

This has long-term implications for the right’s ability to get its message out. Research by BuzzFeed has found that pro-Conservative stories were barely shared during the election campaign. It appears the “shy Tory” factor that skewed opinion polling in previous elections lives on, influencing what people are prepared to post online. If I were a young Tory looking forward to a long career, I’d be worried.

Distorted reality

Television was once the press’s greatest enemy. But its “newspaper reviews” now offer print titles a safe space in which they are treated with a level of respect out of all proportion to their shrinking readership. Surely this must change soon? After all, the Independent sometimes gets a slot (despite having ceased print publication last year) for its digital front page. How is it fair to exclude BuzzFeed News – an organisation that invests in reporting and investigations – and include the Daily Express, with its less-than-prescient weather predictions?

Another problem became apparent during the election. Because the press is so dominated by the right, coverage from the supposedly impartial broadcasters was skewed, as presenters and guests parroted headlines and front-page stories from partisan newspapers. Already, some political programmes, such as BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show, have experimented with including news from outside Fleet Street. One of the newspaper industry’s most reliable allies is looking for new friends.

Alternative facts

The rise of sites spreading the left-wing gospel across Facebook may be good for Labour but that doesn’t mean it’s good for the public. This was illustrated on 16 June in a post by a relatively new entrant called the Skwawkbox, which claimed that a government “D-notice” – now called a DSMA-notice – might be in place restricting news organisations from reporting on the number of casualties from the Grenfell Tower fire.

The claim was untrue and eventually an update was added to the post, but not before it was widely shared. The man behind the blog (who gives his name in interviews only as “Steve”) insisted that because he had included a couple of caveats, including the word “if” in the text of his article, he was justified in spreading an unsubstantiated rumour. Replacing an irresponsible right-wing tabloid culture in print with equally negligent left-wing news sites online doesn’t feel much like progress.

Blood and bias

Narratives about the corrupt, lying mainstream media (the “MSM” for short) have become more prevalent during the election, and it’s clear they often hit a nerve.

On 17 June, a protest over Theresa May’s deal with the DUP and the Grenfell Tower fire made its way past BBC Broadcasting House, where a small group stopped to chant: “Blood, blood, blood on your hands!” Hours later, in the shadow of the burned-out tower, I heard a young woman complain loudly to her friends about money being used to fly BBC news helicopters when it could have gone to displaced victims.

The BBC cites the accusations of bias it receives from both ends of the political spectrum as evidence that it is resolutely centrist. But while many of its greatest critics would miss the BBC if it goes, the corporation could do a better job of convincing people why it’s worth keeping around.

Grenfell grievances

Early reports of the attack on a Muslim crowd in Finsbury Park on 19 June exhibited a predictably depressing double standard. The perpetrator was a “lone wolf”, and the Mail identified him as “clean-shaven”: phrases it is hard to imagine being used about an Islamist. Yet the media don’t just demonise Muslims in its reporting; they also marginalise them. Coverage of Grenfell contained plenty of references to the churches in this part of west London and its historic black community. Yet Muslims and the relief work carried out by local mosques received comparatively little coverage. Community issues such as Islam’s requirement that the dead are buried swiftly were largely ignored, even though a large number of those killed or made homeless by the fire were Muslim.

I suspect this may have something to do with outdated ideas of what north Kensington is like. But it also must reflect the reality that just 0.4 per cent of UK journalists are Muslim, according to a study by City University in London. The lack of diversity in the media isn’t just a moral issue; it’s one that affects our ability to tell the full story.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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