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Monday, 5 May 2014

Advocacy Politics and the Pavement Paradox

If you read (I don't advise it) a newspaper like The Guardian you will come away with the impression that politics is about advancing the interests of groups which feel they are disadvantaged and are articulate enough to say so. They want a bigger slice of the cake and know that sharp elbows are the route to getting it.

When I read some piece of sectional-interest advocacy politics, I always think of the pavements.

Everyone from the filthy rich to the stinking poor uses them and no one likes tripping over on badly-maintained ones. There is a common interest - a shared interest - in having well-maintained pavements.

That's the problem. Well-maintained pavements aren't the stuff of advocacy politics. No one group is going to get better off from better pavements. Everyone is. And no one is an advocate for every one. No one is going to pay you or encourage you to represent a common interest. If one day better pavements arrive, everyone benefits regardless. They don't have to contribute to get them.

Politicians - the professional political class with their own interests in shares of the cake - know that the route to power lies through assembling the voting support of enough sectional groups. In Britain, that mostly means people over 50 and what are always called ordinaryhardworking families - the sort of people temporarily encumbered with children but looking forward to the day when they too will be over 50.

Pavements are not an issue but housing costs and child care costs and pension benefits and Free Bus Passes are. They are slices of the cake. Politicians make promises about these things, often engaging in competitive bidding. That could end up being costly, so sometimes they try a different strategy, appealing to sectional groups who won't be a Burden on the Budget. It doesn't cost much to appeal to those wanting fox hunting bans (Labour) or gay marriages (Conservative). There's just the risk that you lose more votes than you gain.

But if you promise Better Pavements you are trying to appeal to everyone and Everyone is not a winning coalition. Pavements aren't adversarial enough, just painful when you trip over. They will remain that way, for ever.


Added 25 July 2018: See now the chapter "Macadamised" in my book, The Best I Can Do (degree zero 2016), freely available from Amazon, Waterstones, and other booksellers

Saturday, 3 May 2014

My Submission to the BBC Impartiality Review 2013 (Stuart Prebble Report)

Clearing my Desktop, I found the Submission below. Stuart Prebble's Impartiality Review has now been completed and published. I can't update the Submission in any way since I no longer read the BBC News website - it has been deleted from my Favourites Bar.


SUBMISSION from Trevor Pateman   4 March 2013

1.     This submission relates only to the BBC News website ( and only to its coverage of Religion.

2.     Over a long period of time – three or four years at a minimum - the website has created the impression that in relation to Religion, only the affairs of the Roman Catholic church are worthy of coverage and that there are only two newsworthy figures in that Church, the Pope and Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

3.     Website coverage comprises reporting of scandals affecting the Church but also uncritical reproduction of the Church’s own press releases. For example, on numerous Sunday mornings in the past few years, a main lead story has been the content of Cardinal O’Brien’s sermon for that day. There are also what might called be “Human Interest” stories about the Pope – his clothes and so on – which lend a Hello! magazine feel to some of the news coverage.

4.     There is some coverage of the Church of England, both of its scandals and occasionally of sermons by one of the Archbishops, but quantitatively far, far less.

5.     There is no coverage at all of the non-conformist churches.

6.     There is very little coverage or no coverage of other religions – Judaism, Islam and so on – as religions, with leaders, doctrinal conflicts and so on.

7.     The result is that website readers are effectively directed towards thinking that only the Roman Catholic Church is an important religious organisation and that only Roman Catholic beliefs and conflicts around them are worth thinking about.

8.     The BBC News website does have a global readership and it might be argued that this accounts for the attention to Roman Catholic rather than, say, Church of  England affairs. But if the website is intended to be global, then there should be an awful lot more about religious Islam than there is.

9.     Insofar as the website is a National site, then the coverage is completely unbalanced. Cardinal Keith O’Brien is sometimes presented in a Scottish context, but Protestant Scottish religious leaders are rarely if ever mentioned. This is not a question of space. It would be quite possible to give a “Sunday Morning Round Up” of sermons being given if sermons  to empty pews are felt to be important. The partiality arises in the editorial decision that only Cardinal O’Brien’s are (or were) worth reporting and that they are worthy of lead story coverage.

10.                         The claims here are very general but will be supported by an analysis of the BBC News website Log (which I assume is kept in some form or other). But by way of example, I will point you to my Blog post of 16 April 2011 where I felt confident enough to predict that Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s Easter sermon, whatever it contained, would  be the main religious story on  Easter Sunday – as indeed it was (see my Blog post for 24 April 2011 at