Clearing up the confusion

It appears that I have a bit of confusion to clear up:

Who is the Ministry of Truth? I used to think the answer to that was simple: it is Unity (whoever the fuck that is). It turns out however that there are two Ministry of Truths. The other Ministry of Truth has been running this advert on Messagespace for the past few days. It doesn’t appear to have anything to do with Unity (I’m guessing here, but somehow I suspect that if this was one of Unity’s projects, he’d mention it on his own blog). It’s a good job I didn’t start this rant last night though because at that point I hadn’t realised that there were two MoTs and was set on saying very rude things about him.

No, this new ‘pretender’ to the name ‘Ministry of Truth’ has precisely fuck all to do with me…

…and quite frankly I’d be completely fucking offended if, after discovering what this all about, anyone did think that this was my gig.

The MoT to which James is referring can be located at this URL…

http://www.ministry-of-truth.net/

And its the ‘brainchild’ – a terms I’m inclined to use very loosely – of a little-known documentary film-maker by the name of Richard Symons of Spirit Level Film, whose previous film-making ‘form’ seems to consist mostly of low-ish budget soma for petrolheads.

Now, first things first, the one thing I don’t have a problem with is other people using the MoT name – its not like I’m about to start applying for trademarks or anything like that.

That said, I do have an issue or two with this particular site/project.

So far as the background to it is concerned, this BBC press release perhaps best explains what’s going on:

The Why Democracy? season is a huge multimedia event – exploring the state of democracy in the world today – with the BBC at its heart.

Beginning in October, the season will run globally on TV, radio and online, on over 40 broadcasters, in over 200 countries and territories – a potential audience of 300 million people.

In the UK, BBC Two, BBC Four, BBC World, BBC Parliament, BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service will all run programming dedicated to the idea of democracy.

Central to the season are ten documentaries, made by filmmakers from around the world, taking a wide-ranging and in-depth look at the nature of democracy. Subjects include US torture in Afghanistan, the election of a class monitor in a Chinese primary school, Che Guevara and the Danish cartoons controversy.

And this is all tied in to a site/project called Why Democracy? that’s seems pretty worthwhile and interesting, if a tad short of real political meat in some places for my personal tastes – but then as the raison d’etre seems to be focussed more on engaging the interest of young people that’s perhaps neither surprising nor particularly to the project’s detriment.

What I’m personally much less keen on is that:

a) The site, itself, amounts to no more than another badly executed attempt at a viral shill for the documentary, one that’s well down to the poor standards set by the fake blog that the Beeb tried to run alongside that dreadful dope show about parliamentary bag carriers (now deceased – the show that is) last year.

(About the only thing I can recall about that particular programme – the name of which escapes me – was that it would have been improved immeasurably had the first episode concluded with a scene showing Francis Urqhart ordering the mass execution of the entire cast).

It even has its own ‘blog’ (on Blogger) with the now obligatory badly researched blogroll – Guido, Dale, RM, Biased BBC… stop me if I’m boring you.

(Actually the name of the bag carrier show was ‘Party Animals’ – I looked it up over at BBF having recalled that Hamer used to take the piss out of the show – and its ‘blog’ was called Village Vermin, which has, like the show,  died on its arse)

It’s also got its own Facebook page (yawn) and a frankly hilarious Myspace site on which you’re invited to view the programme’s ‘beginner’s guide’ – if you can hear it over the sound of the Lo-Fidelity Allstars’ ‘Battleflag’ which plays as soon as you hit the page.

and

b) That the basic premise of the show, which appears to centre on the film-maker hawking a fake bill which purports to attempt to making lying by politicians a criminal offence, is a bag of shite.

How shite?

Well this is the programme/site’s ‘manifesto’, which clearly demonstrates that the film-maker in question appears not to understand the most basic of principles that underpin our uncodifed constitution.

MANIFESTO

Believe it or not, there are sound principles behind being able to prosecute our elected representatives for telling porkies…

We, the people, are sovereign.

We grant this sovereignty to our elected representatives in Parliament.

Whilst representing our sovereignty, our elected representatives have fundamental obligations to be honest, transparent and accountable to us.

We are entitled to formal, legal, independent courses of action for a breach of these fundamental obligations.

No. We, the people, are not sovereign – because we live in a constitutional monarchy and not a fucking republic.

The people are most certainly sovereign [on paper] over the big pond in the US, which is why the United States Constitution begins as follows:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

But here in dear old blighty, its actually parliament that’s soverign – hence the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty (D’oh) and the constitutional and legislative authority of parliament is derived not from ‘the people’ but was, instead, appropriated from the monarch over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries. This is why, amongst other things, Acts of Parliament still have to receive the Royal Assent before passing into law and why a considerable number of the powers of a British Prime Minister, including the power to form a government and appoint ministers of the crown, are still wrapped up in the royal prerogative.

Politicians in the UK do not represent our sovereignty, they are elected to exercise the sovereignty of parliament, as appropriated from the crown, and the express obligations that a parliament has to the British people are, but for three remaining clauses of Magna Carta and a few principles derived from the common law, only those set out by previous parliaments in statute and only then in so far as any given parliament chooses to observe that statutes rather that alter them.

Is that really the best idea that the Beeb could come up with a Britain’s contribution to a global multimedia project about democracy?

An idea that so badly conceived that the film-maker appears not to have understood just about the most basic and fundamental principle of the British parliamentary system?

One where about the only silver lining seems to be that, at least, the programme doesn’t appear to involve Justin Lee Collins?

For fucks sake, if you look at the Beeb’s press release you’ll see some of the other offerings from around the world:

Looking For The Revolution

Rodrigo Vazquez travels to Bolivia to see whether the idea of a revolution started by Che Guevara 40 years ago is still alive today. Evo Morales seems to be trying to keep revolution on the agenda, but others wonder whether it can ever actually happen.

Taxi To The Dark Side

Dilawar, a young Afghani taxi driver, was arrested and tortured to death by United States forces in Bagram. Oscar-nominated director Alex Gibney provides a forensic account of how such abuses became possible, and finds a trail leading to the door of the White House.

Egypt: We Are Watching You

Democracy is nothing without fair elections and Egypt’s record of controlling votes is universally criticised. Three women who founded Shayfeen.com started to do something about it. Leila Menjou followed them as they risked life and livelihood for democracy.

Can a socialist revolution really work in South America?

Are the Americans up to their necks in human rights abuses in Afghanistan?

Can one really campaigning for open and transparent democracy in a corrupt and dangerous state, and if so at what personal risk?

All meaty political questions, and yet when it comes to our contribution the best we can come up with is…

‘Can we think of a cheap way to make our politicians look like a bunch of twats?’

…and we can’t even manage to get our own fucking constitution right in the process.

I’m halfway tempted to label this, a little snarkily, as more evidence of the ‘Guidoisation’ of politics in the UK as a bit of a dig for Messagespace running ads for the damn thing, but that would actually be deeply unfair to Guido who, to give him his due, at least understands the key differences between a constitutional monarchy and a republic and how sovereignty functions in the UK system.

I’m not usually one for levelling criticism directly at the BBC, but given the central theme that it chose to take on board for its contribution to this project – call it lying, spin, propaganda, it all amounts to the same thing – to end up with a sub Michael Moore gimmick documentary based on the premise of pushing a fictitious anti-lying bill in the faces of politicians and then filming their reactions smacks of a deep-seated act of cowardice, as any serious treatment of such question necessarily demands that we should consider not only the role and attitudes of politicians but the entire nexus in which politics interacts with the mainstream media and how the interaction between the two serves to distort public perceptions of political narratives.

(And if one were to make such a programme then a good starting point would, in my opinion, have been to commission Steven Poole to work on the programme).

Perhaps, in the final analysis, the most revealing thing that can be said about this film is that while its one of the ten documentaries that the BBC will be showing in the UK as part of its contribution to this project, its not one of ten films featured on Why Democracy? website – I’m assuming that part of the deal is that each participating country/broadcaster can drop one of core ten films that the project is promoting globally in order to include a film of more local ‘interest’.

And the film that we’re not going to see?

Well, a quick headcount suggests that its this one:

In Search of Gandhi

What kind of democracy does India have today? Using Gandhi’s famous Dandi salt march through Gujarat as a starting point, this road-movie style documentary looks at contemporary India, the world’s biggest democracy, and explores the significance of the Gandhian legacy of peace and non-violence for democratic movements in the twenty first century.

…which is, admittedly, listed as still being production but looks, to my mind, to be a damn sight more interesting and valuable contribution to a project about democracy that our own crass effort.

  • Delighted to read confirmation that you aren’t behind the Other MoT – I thought as much once I looked at it in detail.

    Largely agree with what you write. I would only demur on the point that it is not a “real” Bill – unfortunately I have a nasty feeling they are serious about introducing it.

    As for “Guidoisation” – I was going to use the same term but couldn’t shoehorn it in.

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  • Thanks 🙂

  • Dammit, I had the misfortune to witness this witless programme last night (Newsnight? I can’t be sure, the red mist had descended).

    Loads of questions to MPs centred around “DO MPS LIE!!!!1111?” and then much sneering at the answers. Yeah. Those evil MPs are all (by their nature) lazy buggers who would have got away with spending all day cattleprodding the electorate and setting fire to constituency correspondence if it weren’t for the forensic examination undertaken by these brave warriors for freedom. Not.

    Christ, where are my blood pressure pills?

  • JB

    Saw Newsnight last night and wondered how long it would take for something to appear here.

    That was a very shabby bit of film making to say the least (how crap were the edits in it?) and the blog, which has been around for a while, is dire too.

    Was waiting for this demolition and it is a delight to read….

  • Trixtron

    For starters, this programme is an eye opener for young voters, who would otherwise trust everything politicians say. Secondly, I believe this website is only irritated because it shares the same name as this documentary project. Thirdly, this was ‘commissioned’ by the BBC, and not directly made by them. Having been involved in the programme myself, I should know. This was a one man mission trying to discover the truth and find out why politicians are NOT held accountable for their actions/lies etc by law. I think that is a fair enough point, and if you disagree with that, then why on earth would you want to OPPOSE a bill which helps politicians become more honest?

    Its not a ‘fake’ bill. Infact, its being put through an Early Day Motion on 17th October. Its a Bill which should have been made law years ago, and then maybe hasty actions such as the Iraq War wouldnt have happened until the ‘facts’ were investigated.

    If anything, were BOTH on a mission to find the truth. With OR WITHOUT the BBC. Infact, we were almost BANNED last week. Chew on that.

  • Jherad

    I’m a little torn.

    I agree with the bulks of Unity’s post, but:

    a) Do like seeing politicians squirm, and believe this doesn’t happen enough.

    b) Think politicians need to be held MUCH more accountable than they are for their lies, halftruths and spin. That the public think most senior politicians are pathological liars has to be at least partly responsible for voter apathy.

    That said – This tabloid TV isn’t the way to tackle it. I like that term ‘Guidoisation’ – it fits well.

  • Braxton hicks

    I stayed up to watch it because I thought it was you !

    What irritated me most was that there was no thought about how political debate or rhetoric is structured as this seems to me to be as valid a reason for why politicians ‘lie’ or avoid answering questions directly.
    There was no thought to what unintended consequences might be.

    I’d draw a parallel with the freedom of information act in that while I think it is a good thing there is a cost in that Politicians will simply avoid making difficult decisions in a recordable way- sofa govt by insiders becomes more appealing.

  • LawBunny

    The full version of the Ministry of Truth will air tonight at 7pm on BBC2

    Enjoy.

  • Meet the natives was far better. But anyway the polis I want to stop telling known untruths are (a) all of them, please; but especially (b) the ones like Cllr John Leech, now MP who distribute leaflets saying a cancer hospital needs saving as it may close to people in waiting rooms battling for their lives.

  • It even has its own

  • Hehehe – even a crap project is allowed one redeeming feature, Justin. 😉

  • Trixton:

    1. Firstly, I don’t know where you’ve been since the 1950s and it MAY have escaped your notice, but young people have never tended to believe everything that politicians say. They also, as a group, aren’t that interested in politics which is why the 18-25 turnout in elections is so low. Oh, and the single most important factor in the political allegiances of the under-18s is the political stance of the parents. So this pissweak “documentary” has single handedly cut all those cultural and psephological ties has it? Whatever.

    Secondly, Unity is not pissed off with the programme because it shares a name with his blog, as you can see from his post he’s pissed off because he spent half an hour of his life watching this shite when it would have been much more pleasurable to be removing his own testicles with a rusty spoon and frankly, I know how he feels.

    Thirdly, your one man mission to uncover the truth was more about ego-stoking than understanding the complexities of modern political discourse which you simplfied to merely “politicians I don’t agree with LIE!!!111”. Which is bollocks – who died and elected the camera happy LSE bloke doing the ker-azy interviews, the Great Legislator?

    Fourthly, if it’s being put through as an Early Day Motion it IS a fake Bill. An EDM is a parliamentary petition, a sort of parliamentary graffitti. Nevertheless, your boss’ scribblings will be in fine company amongst similar EDMs about congratulating staff in the Macclesfield condomm factory for donating

  • bunny

    Westmonster – it’s interesting you feel so passionately against the project. I am not sure I really understand why. Perhaps you would be kind enough to post your explanation on the Ministry of Truth blog.

    For clarification – Adam Price will be putting a private members bill in on Wednesday 17th – the bill is backed up by EDM 2091, tabled by Matthew Taylor.

  • david calumny

    Unity you appear to be getting your facts and norms confused here. It is a fact as, you say, that Britain is a constitutional monarchy in which parliament is sovereign. Yet this says nothing about whether there is a coherent or desirable norm supporting or underlying this fact. I think the film did a remarkable job of bringing out the lack of an acceptable norm here: it is historically the case that Parliament does not represent our sovereignty but how does this square with basic democratic norms that have become integral to the legitimacy of all modern polities?

    Note that not one of the MPs asked dissented from the view that sovereignty flows from the people. If the filmmakers are confused about the source of democratic legitimacy in the UK (not simply the brute fact of sovereign power) then they are not alone. Your little potted history fails to mention how our political system has from the levellers onwards constantly had to accommodate external demands for popular sovereignty. Although our uncodified constitution has never recognised popular sovereignty our bizarre political system has been shaped in reaction to it. The doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, which emerged as fudge following the restoration, was parasitic upon notions of popular sovereignty that flourished during England

  • bunny

    David – wow. Well put.

  • Bunny,

    With pleasure. I think that MPs of all political parties work extremely hard in most cases, and always try to do what they think is right (I might not always agree with what they do, granted. But that’s what we grown-ups call “debate” rather than “lying”). Yeah, you’ve got your share of lazy bastards, perves, and weirdos as you do in any walk of life, so what’s knew. As de Tocqueville (oooh, get me eh?) once said “people are not angels. If they were, government would not be necessary.”

    So, contrary to the implicit contention of the other MoT, few people go into politics because they want to cattleprod the electorate and get fat at the trough of Parliament. This is pure bollocks.

    The narrative of “all MPs are lying dissemblers” is neither one I recognise or welcome. I think it’s an overly simplistic argument made by people who – due to self-importance who lack of patience to understand how politics works – want to create a greater atmoshphere of cynicism around the work of Parliament and politicians.

    It’s a lazy and cynical manipulation of a pisspoor theme that merely dumbs down politics further making real, meaningful interaction between the elected and the electors more difficult.

    That said, it was a splenetic post. Apologies guys – it’s been a bloody long week.

  • and that should, of course, be “what’s new” in line four. Get it together, woman.

  • bunny

    Westmonster… appreciated.

    I think perhaps you should watch the film again. The film never at any point suggests all politicians are liars.

    Quite the opposite in fact.

    A law would indeed protect the majority of good, hard working honest MP’s by giving the electorate a mechanism to establish the truth rather than having to rely on opposition slander or trial by media.

  • But the way it was done implied that ALL politicians are liars! Where did it say “most MPs spend their days tirelessly sorting through constituency problems and spend most their weekends in surgeries or opening fetes and if they want to keep their job they have to spend four weeks being abused by members of the public and chased by large dogs”?

  • bunny

    Can you point out where it did that Westmonster?

  • Er, well wasn’t the entire programme based around the Bill being waved in various MPs faces and then filming their reaction as they refused to support it, implicitly making them out to be liars?

    And wasn’t the premise of the programme that MPs lie and should be prosecuted for it?

    I got that bit okay. I missed the bit where the majority of them were presented as decent men and women trying to pursue their notion of the common good according to their conscience and party political affiliation.

  • bunny

    Nope the premise of the program was that there is a gap in the constitution.

    Laws exist to protect in the event of breaches of standards and norms – not to imply that all those under the law are guilty of the offence.

    Are you a murderer? Fraudster? Rapist?

    Didn’t think so and neither is most of the rest of the population but you’re happy we have statutes in place to deal with incidents when they do happen right?

    I repeat, re-watch the film. You might change your mind.

  • I watched the film and it was rubbish. Badly made, badly thought-through argument, badly presented interviews. There were jump-cuts everywhere. In fact the programme narration contained several lies.

  • Usalmon

    I enjoyed the film and would like to see politicians made more accountable to the electorate. I’ve only contacted my own MP twice (once about Iraq; once about making my neighbourhood safer for local children) and was disappointed by his responses: the first appeared to have been written for him and the second was a fob-off. The contributors and owner of this site have a good understanding of the political and parliamentary process; I’m just disenchanted with how politics works. Most of my friends don’t vote – not because they don’t care about politics, but they don’t see a connection between their MP and what happens in Parliament.

  • Jherad

    It was not the premise that all politicians are liars that annoyed me – I don’t think the ‘film’ seriously implied that.

    What annoyed me is that it was just bad.

    Tabloidy, childish, trashy, call it what you may – it weakened what could have been a serious argument, debated in an adult manner. Instead, minus the subject matter, it could have been an episode of “you’ve been framed”. I’m fed up with crap TV.

    If the argument had been made with serious debate, and interviews that weren’t edited for comic effect (look at the facial expressions kids!), it might have been taken more seriously. Instead, an interesting topic (well, at least for me) will get the brushoff by anyone who doesn’t think this kind of ‘entertainment’ constitutes a documentary.

  • I’ve seen a couple of the others – eminently serious programmes that transcend the blurb for this one.

    But I will comment in detail when I have seen it – although it did remind me of the “Today Programme” Bill publicity stunt.

    My initial thought is that “do you think that politicians lie” is a level of sophistication I might find in the Beano. The meat needs to be in teasing out just what that means – e.g., is it a lie when Mr Gordon announces something in the budget then torpedoes that in the small print 3 days later when the News Cycle has gone.

    And I’m not on the Blogroll. Bah!

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  • Rachel North

    Dear Unity

    Today I got this facebook message from ‘Win Smith’ and Jim Knight, Katrina Hann, Kevin May, Susan Kramer, Gabriela Negoita, Giang Nguyen, You, Rob Newman, Jay Patel, Patricia Mouri, Patrick Sullivan, Pippa Louise, Sophie Phythian, Olivia Mckinnell, Tom Oldman, Thomas Quentin Carrie. It read thusly:

    ‘Please send a short email to you local MP asking him/her to support the bill tomorrow. If you go onto the Ministry website http://www.ministry-of-truth.net all you have to do is type in your postcode and you’ll be taken to a page where you can write a short message, and fill in your details – it’s really easy and only takes a few minutes

    Thanks,

    Win
    Support the Misrepresentation of the People Act
    THE MISREPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE ACT
    A Bill to Ensure honesty, transparency and accountability from the representatives of the People and their employees.
    The obligation for honesty and transparenc…
    Share…’

    I sent this reply to all:

    ‘Thanks ‘Win Smith’ ( How Orwellianly droll) but I don’t want to get involved with misleading viral advertising for a TV programme that attempts to dupe its audience in this way and in the process actually jeopardises voters’ relationships with their elected representatives.

    I particularly don’t want to piss off my MP by writing to her about a made up Bill that’s actually a plug for a TV show: I like to write to my MP occasionally about REAL issues – such as the urgent need for asylum for the Iraqi interpreters at risk from deathsqads, not piss about with made-up shite, however worthy’ why democracy’ is as a TV concept.

    I like the fact that when I write to my MP she reads it and then goes and does stuff, for example, when I asked about the Iraqi interpreters she went and talked to the MOD and replied to me,with a letter she had written to the MOD and their reply to her, and then updated her reply to me.

    That is democracy in action. That is political engagement. That relationship between represented and representative is something to be cherished and protected, not fannied about with via ‘edgy’ stunts.

    In fact, the more I think about this, the more annoyed I am: if you value a Parliamentary democracy, then take it seriously for God’s sake. Why the fuck are you asking people to piss their MPs off with a stunt like this?

    And you might want to read this from the respected, established political and current affairs heavyweight blogger, Unity at Ministry of Truth.Org.

    http://www.ministryoftruth.me.uk/2007/10/10/clearing-up-the-confusion/

  • bunny

    Rachel

    The Bill is real. The campaign is real.

    http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/2accountabilty/

  • bunny

    Honestly guys – your combined vitriol reminds me of the bickering inside the House. Constructive debate is one thing, bitching is just sad.

    Rachel, the reason so many people don’t bother to write to their MP’s is because they don’t think there is any point at all. Who are you to tell members of the electorate they can’t write to their MP to ask them to support Adam’s Bill which he will present tomorrow in the House.

    Its clearly something which has touched a nerve amongst the ordinary people of the UK (if not the knowledgeable and engaged blogging community) and I for one am delighted to see people writing to their MP’s about something they care about.

    I think some of these comments smack of elitism – I don’t think that what democracy is all about is it.

  • Parliament isn’t sovereign, it’s the Queen who’s sovereign, on a basis of being appointed by God. Parliament is emblematic of the monarch’s duty to consult his/her people on the best way to govern them. So whether you call it sovereignty or “advising the sovereign”, Parliament derives whatever position it has from the people. It doesn’t have any sovereignty of its own.

  • Jonathan:

    I take it that you only got as far as the Tudors when you studied history, because we haven’t done the whole appointed by god thing since the Glorious Revolution of 1689, when the King (William of Orange) was de facto appointed by Parliament.

  • Bunny:

    The Bill is real. The campaign is real.

    And its still a dumb, trivial and unnuanced piece of tabloid nonsense.

  • Unity:

    I must admit I’m rather disappointed to read your comments, which come across as petty and vindictive. Thought you would be capable of a more considered and articulate analysis.

    At least your latest musing was kept to a mere 12 words in one sentence; a stark contrast to your unstructured diatribe of last Wednesday, which seemed to lack a coherent narrative.

    Surely, you’d agree that it’s important to discuss the fundamental values, such as truth and accountability, which our democracy is based on, especially given recent trends in voting behaviour and turn out rates at general elections. The documentary may not have been your cup of tea, but at least it contributed to an important national debate about our political culture.

  • .

    Is the Honest Adam Price introducing this bill (in the certain knowledge that it will fail, due to the forthcoming end of session bill cull if nothing else) the same one who has just been told off by the Electoral Commission, the body set up to maintain “integrity and public confidence in the democratic process”?

    The one who has been told that what he claimed to be a Parliamentary report, paid for out of tax payers money, was actually an election advertisement and should be declared as such?

    Just a question….