The banning of the Daily Show

If you were expecting to see the Daily Show on More4 this week you would have been disappointed.

While the rest of the world could see Jon Stewart’s take on the News International hacking controversy, viewers in the UK were denied that pleasure.

Stewart’s usual method of editing footage of politicians for comedic effect fell foul of an arcane prohibition – because in the relevant segment he dared to use footage of MPs speaking in the Commons chamber. The offending segment can be found on this website (use the search facility!). Ironically Stewart’s point was that the British political system – which he describes as ‘awesome’ – holds our executive to better account than do the Americans: perhaps naively, he is praising the UK Parliament!

Television comedians have satirised politicians in this way for some time. This clip from Armando Iannucci’s Time Trumpet illustrates David Cameron’s desire to be the heir to Blair possibly better than any journalist could. But the film of Cameron and Blair was not shot in the precincts of the Mother of Parliaments.

The Today programme discussed the prohibition and any listener might have wondered why it remains in place – although MP Roger Gale still feels Parliament needs such protection.

On August 27th, as part of the Festival of Politics in Edinburgh I’ll be debating with some British comedians about the effect of satire on politics. Once a breath of fresh air in the 1960s the idea of the corrupt, lying, pompous politician has I think now become a lazy cliche – the equivalent of the mother-in-law or Irish joke of the 1970s. It also has political effects. It’s no accident that Guido Fawkes – who trades in a jokey denigration of all politicians – is committed to an extreme neo-liberal agenda which mistrusts any kind of authority not based on the market. Yes Minister was so liked by Margaret Thatcher because it showed civil servants to be self-interested and politicians too weak to do anything about it – the series made her case for reducing government better than she ever could.

As the political novelist Anthony Trollope wrote in his autobiography: ‘The writer of stories must please, or he will be nothing. And he must teach whether he wish to teach or no’. The same can be said of any kind of any artist, comedians included. For if nothing else, the reiteration of the same image – or joke – can reinforce what people think about any subject.

Those making comedy at the expense of politics do therefore have some responsibilities that go beyond making us laugh. But they should not be hedged in by the kind of censorship that kept the Daily Show off our screens. In trying to protect Parliament from falling into disrepute this particular measure has only made Parliament look more ridiculous than could have any comedian.

Steven Fielding

Anders Behring Breivik: the ongoing debate

The recent attacks in Oslo and Utøya by ‘lone wolf’ Anders Behring Breivik have prompted a tidal wave of reaction and analysis in the international press and blogosphere.

Here, Ballots and Bullets gathers together five pieces of essential reading which get to the heart of events:

Our own Matthew Goodwin argues that the attacks are symptomatic of a rise in politically-motivating violence in Europe, and asks what we can do about ‘lone wolves’?

Sam Leith, of the Evening Standard, wonders whether the attacks were about madness or politics?

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen examines the ideological environment from which Anders Behring Breivik emerged.

Tea Party favourite Glenn Beck claims he saw it all coming.

Rob Ford wonders what we actually know about Anders Behring Breivik and concludes: not a lot.

And finally, Matthew Goodwin summaries five things we know about the attacks.

The Norwegian attacks: five things we know

Based on my expertise on the far-right in Britain and continental Europe it is safe to conclude the following:

1. The distinction between actions and attitudes is an important one. Large majorities of citizens in Europe reject violence, but large numbers are also concerned about the same issues that feature in the ‘Breivik manifesto’: concern over Islam, anxiety over immigration and rising diversity, and dissatisfaction with the mainstream parties. This does not equal a mass of would-be bombers, but it does mean that there is a pool of potential around the European far right.

2. We need to ask ourselves whether we have focused too heavily on one form of religiously-motivated extremism, at the expense of other (in this case political) forms of extremism. For example, in Britain we have spent much of our time talking about how best to counter radicalisation within Muslim communities, and prevent violent extremism. But what about other communities and forms of political action that might not be openly violent, but certainly contain a culture of violence?

3. This is a game-changer in how we approach the far right. This movement was often dismissed as the dog which doesn’t bark. Sadly, over the weekend, it barked. We need to get past the conventional wisdom that says  that far right groups and their followers are only a marginal, disorganized and weaker cousin to their al-Qaeda (or AQ) counterparts.

4. We need far more evidence on the far right. It has become pan-European in scope, developing new networks, both online and offline. This is not a problem only for Norway, for Scandinavia or Britain. This is a challenge for Europe and the responses from security services and policy-makers should reflect that.

5. Breivik will almost certainly become a heroic figure among some sections of the ultra right-wing in Europe, much in the same way that Timothy McVeigh was held up by sections of the American militia movement, or David Copeland was praised by British neo-Nazis. These are figures who cross the line that separates ideas from action. In this case, they have also left a detailed blueprint for how to act to any would-be copycat attacker. It is not alarmist or sensationalist to worry about this threat. Both American and British security services have warned about it for some time.

Matthew Goodwin