Sunday 11 May 2014

Question Time and the UKIP problem

I'm a big fan of the BBC, and I don't think that they show much in the way of bias. In fact, I think that they generally do a good job of representing issues fairly, but I do think that they have to take a certain amount of responsibility for the surge in popularity of UKIP.

In the last six months, UKIP have been on BBC Question Time on more than one every four episodes (excluding a more Welsh specific one and a South African one), with six showings. And in the last five episodes alone, UKIP has been represented three times.

As we all know, Nigel Farage himself has been on a lot. In fact, in the last six months, he has equalled appearances  with Grant Shapps and Danny Alexander, who appear to have as empty a social diary as him*. In recent decades, the only guest that has ever had more appearances than him is Charles Kennedy. And Nigel's only one appearance behind Charles.

This is quite the record for a party that doesn't have any MPs. Parties that actually do have MPs like the Green Party have had a single appearance by Caroline Lucas (on a show that Nigel Farage was on). And the notoriously publicity-shy George Galloway has also had a single appearance in the last six months as well.

But the appearances aren't enough for UKIP. In an article earlier this year, Farage asked whether Question Time audiences are too hostile, suggesting that there's an unfair balance in the audience leaning to the left and suggesting that those that criticise may be plants. As anyone who saw last week's question time, when Charlie Bloom criticised Farage, using the context of far right parties and history to explain why he didn't 'have any time for you, sir', UKIP certainly do come in for some stick. And, if you check out his timeline on twitter, you'll see that there are plenty of UKIP supporters claiming that he's a plant as well.

But why am I concerned about how often UKIP are on Question Time? After all, when the BNP went on Question Time, overestimating the cuddle-ability of Nick Griffin, they pretty much died out soon afterwards.

The difficulty is that UKIP do a great job of appearing as if they're the underdogs, while doing their level best to appeal to the fear and hatred that permeate parts of our society.

They're basically very good at having their cake and eating it. Having members of the party that openly criticise gay marriage or refer to David Cameron as a 'gay loving nutcase', and saying that these don't reflect the views of the party, while also saying that the over-70s are uncomfortable with gays and gay marriage. Saying that it's not the kind of thing that they do, while making clear that they understand those who are worried about it.

It's the same thing with racism. Whether it's their members that refer to 'Bongo Bongo Land', or Farage supporting Jeremy Clarkson's use of the word 'nigger'** as being 'perhaps not quite going over" the line of being offensive. It's treated as simply being controversial or old-fashioned rather than being racist.

But then, racism is something that Nigel Farage doesn't appear to see a huge problem with. Whether it's his school teachers describing him as a racist or whether it's the multiple news reports from earlier in his career about the regularity with which he allegedly used words like 'nigger' and 'nig-nog', including when having meetings with BNP members. Or maybe his version of 'racism' is different to a lot of other people's. UKIP deny pretty much all of that, incidentally, or Farage disavows responsibility, playing it off essentially as schoolyard japes to get attention.

Of course, it's the over-65s that are the greatest supporters of UKIP and the most likely to move that way, which is part of why UKIP are doing their best to appeal to the more scared and resentful members of that generation. It also may be why they're going out of their way to appeal to the elements of that generation that may have more sexist, racist and homophobic attitudes, or at least don't get why things have changed so much, because in their day, it just wasn't offensive, don't you see? The fact that this age-group is also far more likely to vote at all just makes them all the more appealing.

The more that the party turns up on television, the more legitimised they become and the more popular they become. The more they get to portray the myth that they're a friendly, inclusive party.

But also, and I fall as foul of this as anyone, the more they rile people up. The more they get people watching and discussing and the more that shows like Question Time rank on twitter and the more column inches they get. But it's a vicious circle - the more they appear, the more they're discussed and the more relevant they seem to be, so the more they appear and the more they're discussed, and...

Some of this is presented as Farage being charismatic. I don't see it, personally. He's loud and laughs a lot, but he's actually very boring. He strikes me as the kind of guy you'd avoid in the office or the pubs that he's so very fond of being photographed in. But I do understand that he makes for good - or at least popular - television.

I just wish that Question Time, This Week, and the like weren't making their job so easy right now. Personally, I wish that The Green Party and the NHA party were getting more of that free publicity, in order to highlight areas I think are more important issues like the environment and the future of the NHS.

It's important to remember that discussion on the internet is only going to accomplish so much, whether it's blog posts like this one, twitter or facebook, as that's not the main audience that UKIP are aiming at. The best way to limit the damage that UKIP can do is to get out and vote. Every vote that isn't for them reduces the overall amount of share that they get.

* This is based on going through the last six months of guests on Question Time as recorded on the BBC website (which has incomplete information in the sum-ups) and Wikipedia.

** I went back and forward over whether to censor this on the blog or not. In the end, I decided that these are ugly words, and it's the ugliness that I want to highlight. If you feel I've misjudged this, I apologise.

Thursday 8 May 2014

Short Story - Base Station Q

This was my entry to the SciFiLondon Flash Fiction challenge. I was given the following and the challenge was to write a story that used all three:


Line: "If, for any reason, I do not respond I'll leave a note."

Theme: "Everything we touch gets our DNA, Litter is now traceable to the owner"

And here was my story.


I saw him break.

He tried his best to withold the information, but our heightened interrogation techniques are essentially impossible to stand for long. They're physically harmless, as they only involve a series of injections to the base of the skull to allow us to reroute their pain receptors and control them. The agony that they feel is strictly illusion.

We do not torture. We create the illusion of torture. We are humane.

But when we find out that one of the higher-ups in the movement has left some physical evidence somewhere, we have to find out where that is. Our security depends on it.

We had been monitoring his communications for some time. We believe him to be mid-level, but based on the tone of the conversations, we believed that he had affection for her. Maybe was even in love with her.

She is very clever. She communicates with her network almost entirely virtually, and then using every level of encryption and re-routing that is possible, and a few that some of our technicians claim are impossible. She's like smoke, twisting through every attempt to find her.

If we have DNA evidence, no matter how small, we can track someone. The entire city is monitored.

It started in the days of closed circuit television, but as scanners became more sensitive, we ended up being able to track and trace information far more carefully. Crime dropped quickly when this happened, because all it took was the slightest touch of something, in a way that allowed us to identify the DNA, and then...

Then we scan the entire city for skin particles. You leave them everywhere, whether by touching something or the way they just slough off your skin. Sometimes the breeze scatters them, but it doesn’t matter. We just find the highest occurrence locations, and we have a nice, simple, easy-to- follow trail.

But we need something that we know they’ve touched.

So when she asked him to go to 'the usual place' to pick up contraband, and then respond with confirmation, she signed off with something she'd never said before.

"If, for any reason, I do not respond, I'll leave a note."

When she then didn’t respond, that changed everything.

A note. An old fashioned, honest-to-goodness note. Ink on paper. Actual physical paper. That she would have had to have touched at some point. And because of the way that it was said, he must have known where that note would be left.

And so we interrogated him, and when that didn’t work, we moved to enhanced interrogation. The
needles in the base of his skull pierced through the bone, almost imperceptibly. He would have barely felt them.

But once we started dialling up the pain receptors, once we started sending his brain the message that every single one of his nerve endings was individually being ripped, torn out and shredded, but we denied him the ability to pass out through pain... then, he talked.

It reminded me of watching my brother go through the same techniques. He had fallen in with the enemy, fallen in with the movement. They had seduced him, and he had begun to speak out against the government. He began to speak out about security being a sham. He was arrested. He fought. I had to watch in Base Station Q while he was injected. I had to watch while he screamed. Even though I knew it was not torture, it was still difficult to watch. And then, because of his confessions, he was executed.

The same method. The same chair. The same machine to engineer the injections into the back of the skull. Except this time, cutting off the brain. Painlessly. Simply. He was scared, but it lasted seconds.

He told me he was sorry. He told me that he had to fight. That I was wrong. I remembered us as children, and these are the memories I have tried to cling to the most.

But this was not my brother. This was another traitor, another person who hated us. He had arranged numerous crimes in cooperation with her, and if we could get her, that would lead us to the rest.

It was the biggest break we’d ever had.

He became confused as a result of the injections, and couldn’t give us the exact location, but we knew that it would be in one of a number of safety deposit boxes in a major bank. There were thousands of them.

This would take time, but the evidence would be there. That note would be the key.

There was no need for contamination control. The scanners would simply remove my DNA from the equation, focus on her DNA and then send the message out to the rest of the scanners across the city. Once we had it, it would take seconds, and then we would have our trail to find her.

When I found the note, my hands shook. I read it before I scanned it.

It wasn’t for him. It was for me.


When was the last time you read a letter? I suspect it has been a long time. Savour it. Enjoy it. Feel the paper in your hands and be aware that this is how we have communicated as a species for centuries.

Are you a detective? Or a soldier? Whoever you are, you now hold my life in your hands. Once you scan this, I will be easy to find. And once I am found, I will be easy to interrogate. And once I have been interrogated, I will be easy to kill.

So please, before you do, take a moment to question.

Have you lost someone close to you? We all have now. Due to the way we govern ourselves now, we all have lost someone because they disagreed. Because they wanted to be free rather than be safe.

We have not killed anyone. We have not hurt anyone. We have only tried to be free.

We spread messages. We ask questions. This is all we can do.

We are made complicit in the murders of those we love. We are made to watch. Made to testify against them, so that even while we hate ourselves and mourn them, we are controlled. Disagreement is not a crime. Freedom is not a crime. But we have made them so.

But anything we can make, we can change. Anything we can create, we can destroy.

You hold this note in your hands. You can use it to kill me.

Or you can use it to make your own choice.

You could burn this note.

You could be free as well.


I looked around me. My heart was racing, and I could feel sweat trickling down the back of my neck.

I had a lighter in my pocket. A privilege I am afforded. A sign of status. The ability to create fire.

Something we deny many people.

It felt heavy in my hand.