There comes a point where the striving for ‘balance’ requires Lewis Carroll levels of delusion, says Jem Roberts…
When the idea of writing this column was first put to me by a very kindly person with small birds twittering around their head, the issue of ‘balance’ was hit upon very quickly. ‘Political balance’ is something we have all taken in our stride over the years, particularly with an election in the offing – those times as a kid when favourite comedy shows would be taken off the air because Ben Elton said ‘Thatch’ at some point taught us that, particularly within the BBC, no kind of partisan material could be shared without an equal and opposite viewpoint.
Political balance’ is something we have all taken in our stride over the years
But, given the showboating auditions for Evil Tyrant shown by the Conservative front bench since 2010, what logic is there left in this concept of ‘balance’? It’s a particularly thorny quandary, particularly when you take a step back – preferably onto the surface of a different planet – and dispassionately dissect the lies we all accept from infancy, in Western civilisation.
Take the very concepts of ‘left’ and ‘right’-wing politics. When was the last time you ever saw either piece of jargon used where the synonyms ‘humane’ and ‘inhumane’, or ‘compassionate’ and ‘elitist’, could not precisely fill the same spaces? There may be demurring voices (particularly from those prepared to find good in Trump), but anthropologists are generally agreed that Life On Earth has a ‘left-wing’ – that is, humane – bias. In a basic, just society, the tribe member only interested in self-advancement will be headed for disaster, no matter how strong they may be, because human beings realise that helping each other only benefits every single person.
So how can ‘balance’, between the humane and inhumane, be seen as in any way a sensible thing to aim for? Do you walk down the street, stroke a friendly cat, and then say, ‘In the interests of balance, I’d better make sure to kick the next cat I see in the face’? Or do you recognise compassion when you see it, and promote it, defend it, hug it to yourself?
It has become a particularly ludicrous concept in the run up to this 2017 General Election, given the blatant and objective wide-spread bloodsport that is Corbyn-baiting, the transparent lies consistently shouted at the top of Tory lungs being totally ignored in favour of about a week’s worth of hysterical hooting that Diane Abbott forgot some numbers in a radio interview. As someone who is not only anything but a Corbynista, but recognises that ‘Corbynista’ was designed as a pejorative term of abuse (and in fact this sentence contains the first ever usage of ‘Corbynista’ which didn’t come dripping with disdain directly from a Conservative supporter), I was on the side of those who insisted that anti-Labour BBC bias was a myth – until I actually watched what used to be the BBC News, and the terrified courtesy shown to Theresa May and damning stress on any negative they could squeeze out of the Labour campaign was objectively just there on the screen, for anyone who has learned to take in media with anything but a drool-chinned, glassy-stared passivity.
And yet, when Amber Rudd’s plea that we should judge the government on their record elicited an immediate guffaw from a section of a BBC audience, the Conservatives were immediately on the phone outraged at ‘BBC bias’ against the party the Corporation allow to get away with murder, day after day. The party that has taken seven years to make the United Kingdom more divided that it has ever been in living memory, and as underfunded, socially fragile and volatile as it has ever been, and then announced ‘Enough is enough!’ after the second terrorist atrocity in less than two weeks. Is it ‘left wing’ bias to recognise shameless incompetence? To state the fact that our government is still protecting billions upon billions of pounds from taxation? Because that money belongs to their friends, and not in the wage packet of any of the front line public servants who have had to mop up the blood of these terrorist acts.
The party that has taken seven years to make the United Kingdom more divided that it has ever been in living memory, and as underfunded, socially fragile and volatile as it has ever been, and then announced ‘Enough is enough!’
Conspiracy theories are almost without fail the worst kind of paranoid fantasy, and none is more pathetic than the idea that any media outlet (with the exception of dogged propagandists like the Canary) has any bias against Theresa May and her government. Such a majority of all media has forced a right-wing bias while bleating about ‘balance’, and yet if the 2017 General Election had been on a level playing field, Corbyn and Labour’s astonishing progress in just a few weeks would be enough to make them Masters Of The Universe. But those BBC election debate punters laughed because the Tory party is the sickest, blackest joke ever cracked, and if we didn’t laugh… Who knows what might happen?
Perhaps, if she can draw breath between her constant parroting of the slogan ‘Strong and stable’ – a catchphrase whose weight of tragic irony doubles with each passing day – Theresa May should be complaining to the BBC about its Reality Bias. Because human beings do laugh at the scary things in life, and twice as hard when they are also obviously fools. Hitler only had a crap moustache and one testicle, but May has pushed a Brexit policy she publicly decried before the referendum vote, and then, having grabbed power at all costs when the chance came, rather than concentrating on delivering that policy, called a shock election because she imagined she smelt Labour blood in her highly trained fox-hunter nostrils – and then, having plunged the country into chaos once again, refused to campaign in any environment other than closed-door events with an audience specifically cast from resting Tory actors, who follow her from town to town – and then, sniffed at her opposition because they were engaging with the election she called, rather than concentrating on Brexit, like her. These actions are the behaviour of a lazily written sitcom character, they are so broadly comical. To laugh at this blind dishonesty is hardly Trotskyist, it’s the most human response possible.
And when you consider the probability that despite all this wild public dishonesty, like a naked Emperor doing cartwheels and rubbing himself against the horses, May will still win the election, maybe the only coping mechanism that will work, is to just keep laughing.
Jem Roberts is a comedian, historian and author – his news book Soupy Twists, the official Fry & Laurie story, will be released by Unbound this autumn. JEMROBERTS.COM
How do you spend your days?
I'm a full-time author and freelance journalist – right now I'm working on @TalesofBritain, a major collection of British stories for the 21st century, so my days are largely spent retelling fairytales.
Why is being an author important to you?
Until Tales of Britain, my books have all been comedy non-fiction – I'm Douglas Adams' official biographer, and written official books on Blackadder, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, and Fry & Laurie. Comedy is the highest artform, and should be celebrated to the maximum – while great comedians are still around to share their anecdotes and theories. So I'm here to preserve and promote cultural history, both comedic and folkloric.
What drove you to focus on journalism & writing? Was there a particular moment you can remember that led you to this field?
No, I first earned money as a writer at the age of 14 (25 years ago!), reviewing NES games, and it's always been my primary occupation.
What drives you professionally?
See above! Preserving the views of our greatest comedians, and currently promoting British folklore, because if I didn't, a UKIP-type might.
In your opinion what are the three biggest problems facing the developed and developing world?
Our democracy has been flawed from the very start, and it no longer seems to give any option for social justice. This is mainly the fault of New Labour, by dragging the opposition into the centre, all chances of providing a real alternative to the relentlessly elitist and exploitative right-wing government have been desiccated, ground down, devalued. We haven't had a compassionate government in my lifetime.
If you hadn’t become a journalist what would you have done?
I also perform comedy, sketches and songs, solo and with my band The Unrelated Family.
What led us to this moment in history?
Er, lots of 'see above' in this Q&A...
What are the lessons we failed to learn during and since the 2008 crisis?
How about the fact that the top 5% are hiding the wherewithal to food, shelter and clothe those at the very bottom of our society, to pay nurses, doctors and teachers and generally make our country function properly? And they are continually protected by those in power? That's a pretty big fail.
Can you list some ‘Baby Steps’ out of the current economic mess?
Never vote Tory.
If you were a global President what would your first three pieces of policy be?
1) Ban all political parties – only Independents can be elected to serve their region in Parliament, then a second election decides on a cabinet.
2) Illegalise profit. Every individual, every company and corporation should have a profit cap (and I would set the limit far lower than Corbyn's £80k p.a. per person), and every penny above that goes directly to fund public services, and help those who need it.
3) Establish parliaments in Wales and Cornwall to devolve responsibility to Britain's four lands, and a new joint Parliament of all four will meet regularly in a new British Parliament away from London, perhaps Birmingham. Northern Ireland has no place within the UK.
Tell us something you have been wrong about?
I went to bed on the evening of EU referendum without any doubt that nothing would have changed in the morning.
You are stuck in a ski lift for twenty four hours - you can have one person (living or dead) with you who will it be?
If it was a few hours, probably John Lennon, but 24 is pushing it. So I'll go with the woman I'm dating right now, we may as well get some pleasure out of the situation.
Name the book that changed you…
Probably 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens, the greatest story ever told.
What would you do differently if you were to start all over again?
Never touch cigarettes.
Give our readers, members and subscribers a piece of advice that has served you well…
Don't EVER vote Tory.
Anything you would like to plug? Now is your chance.
My new book, Soupy Twists: The official story of Fry & Laurie is released by Unbound this year, it'll be in shops. While Tales of Britain will start crowdfunding this summer, also on Unbound.