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The culmination of this week’s court case against an Oxford-based sex grooming ring saw seven men found guilty and a light being shone on a criminal enterprise which reads more like something from the darkest corner of a collapsed society than the home counties of modern Britain.To recap, briefly: between 2004 and 2012, the gang identified and targeted vulnerable young girls. Having persuaded the girls that they were in a ‘normal relationship’ of sorts, the girls were then subjected to repeated, extensive sexual and physical abuse in humiliating ordeals lasting for days at a time. While the primary abusers were the men themselves, they also rented the underage girls out to other men from around the UK for days at a time. At various times, the children were beaten with baseball bats, overdosed with drugs, subjected to home abortions, branded with their abuser’s initials, left with sexually-transmitted infections and urinated on. As one -- first groomed at the age of 11 -- said, "At the time I thought it was my choice and it was fine, but years on I can see I never had a choice."The details are appalling enough, but there is one other complicating factor: in Oxford, as in previous similar cases in Telford, Rochdale, Rotherham and Derby, the men doing the abuse have mainly been from South Asian backgrounds, while their victims have been white British girls. And, as a result, the response from across the political spectrum has been uphelpful at best, and dangerous at worst.On one side are those arguing that this is a specifically ‘Muslim’ problem and that certain attitudes in certain Muslim communities are responsible for men viewing white girls as fair game. In the Telegraph, Alison Pearson decried "a Victorian society that has landed like Doctor Who’s Tardis on a liberal, permissive planet it despises" and blamed "a political class still far too timid to challenge growing and alarming separatism in Muslim education and law." The rather more qualified Dr Taj Hargey, imam of the Oxford Islamic Congregation took to the Daily Mail to say that these Muslim men "deliberately targeted vulnerable white girls, whom they appeared to regard as 'easy meat', to use one of their revealing, racist phrases." Less eloquently, the EDL’s Twitter feed is heavily stocked with reports from Oxford and related cases, while the BNP have also campaigned around the issue.On the other side, Joseph Harker blogged on the Guardian’s Comment Is Free site with a lengthy piece of jaw-dropping slipperiness, arguing that when white men committed a similar offence there was "barely a ripple in the national media." However, he started his piece by admitting that the men in his counter-example didn’t work as a gang (thus invalidating his comparison), claimed that the case hadn’t been covered by several news outlets which actually had, and eventually fell back on some extremely iffy statistical reasoning. Yasmin Qureshi -- MP for Bolton South East -- then went on Radio 4’s World Tonight to give a bizarre defence of all Muslims which I’ve now listened to three times and can make no sense of whatsoever. (here from 17.57).So, is this case anything to do with ‘Muslim’ culture (whatever you generalise that to be)? The bottom line is that nobody knows. As I argued on here recently after the Mick Philpott murders, using deviant individual cases to extrapolate a wider social point is a fool’s errand. But that doesn’t mean that there might not be something in the generalised culture of these men’s lives which encouraged them to behave like this (and the idea that one group of men might hold certain views about women from another ethnic or cultural group strikes me as pretty uncontroversial: see the hoards of sad-sack white men who moved to Thailand because they think Thai women are sexually submissive and will do what they’re told around the house).Some fairly bracing conversations need to be had before any clarity can be obtained: does the segregation of any pupils on religious grounds help or hinder social cohesion? Do the newspapers focus disproportionately on Muslim crimes because they’re clickbait for right-wing readers? Is designating criminals as ‘Muslim’ even vaguely useful when you’re talking about a global community of 2.2 billion people with hugely differing cultures from vastly different countries?Hard facts seem to be extremely thin on the ground. A report last July by the Children’s Commissioner suggested that the spate of similar cases may be due to the police and social services responding to high profile cases and seeing if something similar was happening on their own patch. Another school of thought is that these crimes happened because vulnerable teenage girls often gravitate towards the ‘late night economy’ of takeaway shops and minicab offices, which in certain towns are largely controlled and owned by South Asian men.Whatever the reason, until these issues can be debated without fear or favour, it will keep happening. The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that these children were spectacularly let down by the agencies supposed to be caring for them: and on this front, the future looks bleak. A report this week by the British Medical Association claimed that thanks to cuts to social care and welfare budgets, "Britain is failing its children on a grand scale". Too much of this week’s debate has been around the nature of the abusers. It will help us to know what kind of men treat children like this. But it would also help to get to a situation where far fewer British children think in the first place that a kebab shop or a car belonging to a ‘boyfriend’ three times their age is their only place to go at 11pm. Sadly, achieving that is going to take time, money and political honesty on all sides -- three commodities which are in short supply right now.
As a society, we value money above all else. Even things like oil and gold, substances deemed precious the world over, are revered as much for their monetary value as they are for their actual function. Given our dependence on currency, it’s important to, as rappers say, “get money.” There are a few ways you can go about doing that. You can exchange your time and labour for money, also known as having a job. You can sell drugs, though this is almost universally illegal. You can perfect a skill to the point where people are willing to pay you money just to see you perform, as happens with athletes and musicians. Or you can do what those of us incapable of doing any of the above things do, which is to go into business for yourself.Just about everyone I know has designs on or at least daydreams of starting a business, which I think is normal. In a way, it’s counter to human nature to work for and be subjugated by someone else, even if you enjoy what you’re doing and are well compensated for it. And yet, while no one ever says, “I want to be a cog in a giant, multinational machine when I grow up,” that’s usually what happens. If you’re one of those people who wish to be their own boss, pulling the trigger and making it happen is so, so hard. I can’t give you advice on how to create a successful business, but I can hopefully give you the nudge you need to at least try.
This Saturday, Pakistanis will go to the polls in a crucial general election, a poll that will have huge significance not just within the country, but across the borders. If the outgoing government manage to smoothly hand over to whoever wins, this will mark the first time in the country’s history that an elected civilian government -- as opposed to military dictatorship -- has managed to hand power over to another one successfully after serving a full term.And who is in power in Pakistan matters to all of us: the ongoing campaign against radical Islamic terrorism is still largely centred within the country’s borders (and heavily utilises Pakistan’s own army); it’s a nuclear power situated in an earthquake-prone region, with a chaotic political structure spanning the government, the military and the ISI (Pakistan’s spy agency); it’s in a state of low-level aggression/diplomatic deep-freeze with next-door-neighbours India, a key western ally and trading partner; and it is believed to have been a constant meddling presence in Afghanistan exerting a disputed degree of control over the Taliban.So, there’s a huge amount riding on this ballot -- voter turnout is predicted by some pollsters to be up 10% compared to 2008’s election. And from a news point of view the Pakistani election is the kind of event that makes you realise what small beer UK politics often is. We get Ed Milliband standing on a wooden palette, slightly testy TV debates and an industrial-strength golf club bore like Nigel Farrage crashing in a microlight. By contrast, the Pakistani campaign has already seen kidnapping, industrial accidents, a dead tiger, prison murder, suspected spying and -- as of the start of this month -- the deaths of some 34 people.Front-runner is Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League, who has already served as PM twice before. By contrast, his rival and former PM Pervez Musharaff has had a disastrous campaign. Returning from exile in London, things began badly on his arrival home when Taliban death threats and a miserable show of supporters saw him scuttling away from the airport under guard. Courts then barred him from standing for election, before arresting him for abuse of his office while in power. He now languishes under house arrest. The current ruling power, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is led by Asif Ali Zadari – whose wife Benazir Bhutto was murdered during the last election campaign, and who is generally viewed as corrupt and ineffective.The wild card in all this is Imran Khan, the former captain of Pakistan’s cricket team; popular among young urban voters, Khan has made a big deal of standing against corruption, paying taxes and building a hospital (he slightly glosses over the long period when he was an international playboy and socialite, before marrying into the Goldsmith family).The backdrop to all this has been mounting turmoil: in quick succession, first an Indian and then a Pakistani political prisoner were murdered while in jail while being held in the other’s country; Nawaz Sharif this week promised to end Pakistan’s involvement in the ‘War On Terror’ if he wins; while Wednesday saw three people killed and dozens injured in the latest Taliban suicide bombing outside a police station. The militant group have also issued a letter threatening suicide bombings on Saturday against ‘the system of infidels which is called democracy.’ They’ve not threatened Khan’s marches, although there proved to be no need, as Tuesday saw him plunge from a collapsing mechanical platform at a rally and land on his head. He remains in hospital with 15 stitches in his head and two back fractures but is expected to make a full recovery. Far less certain is the fate of former PM Yousaf Raza Gilani’s son, who was kidnapped by gunmen on Thursday while campaigning. The kidnappers are unknown at the time of writing, although suspicion has fallen on the Pakistani Taliban. Meanwhile, animal rights activist and actor Faryal Gauhar has launched a case against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, after a rare white tiger who appeared at many of their rallies died of extreme heat and suffocation.
Whatever the outcome of Saturday’s poll, Pakistan is heading into a period of massive upheaval: of it’s population of 190 million people, two-thirds are under the age of thirty; three years of flooding have decimated its agricultural industries; powercuts are rife across the country, less than 1% of the population are believed to pay income tax and radical Islamists are increasingly demanding that government policy conforms with their worldview (Youtube is still banned in the country after it refused to take down a blasphemous American film). The Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, struck a pessimistic -- and plain-speaking -- note in today’s op-ed: "Unless the next government comprises mindless morons it will soon realise the impossibility of meeting all these demands to the satisfaction of the religious lobby…it will be obliged to spend time and resources on compromises designed to keep the wolves at bay…the religious extremists will eventually fail because they have nothing to offer to a modern society but they will cause incalculable harm to Pakistan before finding their place in history’s dustbin. Ominous signs, no doubt."
This week saw six British men pleading guilty to planning to bomb an English Defence League rally. The would-be Islamic Jihadists will be sentenced on June 6. Primarily, there’s a sense of relief that a terrorist atrocity was avoided with no loss of life. But reading through the details of the case, the ineptitude of these potential mass murderers is astonishing: in the ongoing battle against Islamic extremism, it would appear that we have finally come face to face with the al-Fuckwit Brigade. Not so much the War on Terror, as the War on Terminal Stupidity.To briefly recap: in June 2012, the EDL were planning a march in Dewsbury. Deciding that the best response to these fringe irritants was ‘a homemade bomb packed with nails and ballbearings’, five men drove up the motorway from Birmingham (not usually considered the safest way to transport high explosives). However, they mistimed their mission and arrived after the march had dispersed, so wandered round town for a bit before having some chips and then heading home. One of their cars was then stopped for having no insurance -- they had actually purchased it online, but had mistyped the vehicle’s registration number in the process, thus voiding the paperwork. The police duly impounded the car.At this point, realising that the police had possession of a car, registered in your name, which contained an undetonated bomb, you might think that doing a runner was the best option. Particularly when you factor in the other items in the boot -- sawn-off shotguns, knives, and a printed manifesto dated for that day referring to the Queen as a ‘female devil’ and warning the ‘English Drunkards League’ (groan) that ‘Today is a day of retaliation… the penalty for blasphemy of Allah and his Messenger Muhammad is death.’ The explosives were discovered on the Monday morning and soon after two of the men were under police surveillance. Just to seal the deal, group member Omar Khan phoned the car pound during this period to ask if he could retrieve some ‘personal items’ from the vehicle.Similar tales of stupidity are emerging in the aftermath of the Boston bombing: mainly of the Tsarnaev brothers planning the crime so ineptly that they didn’t even have enough money to leave the state and so had to hijack a car, thus alerting the police to their whereabouts. In the Dewsbury case, the bombers couldn’t even pick their target correctly: Terrorism 101 suggests that you attack something which broadly represents society at large, thus making as much of the population as possible feel like they could be in the firing line (ie. an airline, the London Underground etc). Targeting another group of extremist idiots who’d struggle to fill the back room of a pub in Luton totally misses the point. That sloshing noise you can hear? Osama Bin Laden, furiously turning in his watery, barnacle-encrusted grave.Why does this matter? Because we spent ten years after 9/11 terrified that we were facing an implacable, ideologically-committed enemy, who was utterly fixated on our destruction thanks to festering, long-term geopolitical and religious grievances. Actually, in a large number of recent cases we seem to be up against a bunch of blokes with the combined IQ of a flapjack who appear to give their terrorist missions less thought and planning than most people give to picking their lottery numbers. This doesn’t mean that they can’t be lethally dangerous, but it should inform how we as the public respond to them. And underpinning this should be the fact that first and foremost, these people aren’t Muslims -- they’re just imbeciles. Indeed, a swiftly issued statement from the Birmingham Coallition of Muslim Organisations and Mosques said ‘The Muslim community in Birmingham wishes to make one thing absolutely clear: These acts are not carried out in our name.’In its first iteration, al-Qaeda seemed like an ideologically cohesive group with concrete (if utterly unrealistic) goals. The latest cases seem more rooted in what The New Yorker’s David Remnick described as ‘the toxic combination of high-minded zealotry and the curdled disappointments of young men.’ And looking at those found guilty this week, the overwhelming impression is of a group of people who were terminally stupid, convinced of their own greatness, too lazy to do a job properly and too blinkered to recognise their own limitations. The irony is that for all that Omar Khan and his associates claimed to hate modern western society, they sound like pretty perfect representatives of its very worst aspects.
This week saw the British economy, the coalition and -- more specifically -- chancellor George Osborne -- narrowly dodge a bullet when the Office for National Statistics published its figures estimating GDP for the first quarter of 2013. The good news for all of us -- and the thing that will stop George having to take a trip to one of the nation’s overcrowded Job Centres -- is that the Office reported faster than expected growth. Crucially, this meant that the economy avoided two quarters in a row where growth contracted – this is the official definition of recession, and a negative result at this time would have meant we were entering a triple-dip recession.This is the good news. The bad news? The economy still only grew a miserable 0.3%. Most of this came from the service sector, and the recovery of North Sea oil and gas thanks to a cold winter. More worryingly though, the construction industry is still in the tank, with building falling by 2.5% in the first quarter. Overall, this effectively means that we’re back at the same point we were when the crisis started in 2008, with the economy having made tiny steps forwards and backwards but not actually having made any significant recovery.Obviously, things could be a lot worse -- today saw the announcement that Spain’s unemployment figures had gone up to an eye-watering six million people with some 27.2 percent of the workforce now idle (up from 7.9 per cent six years ago). But the UK’s anemic performance is being increasingly noted by outside parties: the country has already been stripped of it’s triple-A credit rating by two ratings agencies and last week Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, suggested to the UK that “now might be the time to consider” whether relentless austerity was actually working. Next month, the IMF will arrive in London to conduct what amounts to a routine audit of Britain’s financial health -- “Looking at the numbers, without having dwelled and looked under the skin of the British economy…the growth numbers are certainly not particularly good," she said. Her own chief economist went further, with Olivier Blanchard warning Osborne that continuing to pursue austerity is “playing with fire.” This is a major about turn from the IMF, who had previously supported austerity policies from the UK government.
Others have been even more critical of Osbourne’s doctrine. In February, the Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report claiming that things were so bad that the only option available to the government by the next election (expected 2015) will be to introduce a series of tax increases (kryptonite to Conservatives). In response to the same report, the usually-indulgent Daily Telegraph bluntly stated that “The Coalition’s economic policy is not working. The cuts in public spending have been applied in the wrong areas and George Osborne’s fiscal strategy has proved to be too timid…The country is broke and recovery is not in sight. The facts have changed -- so must the measures adopted by the Government.” Martin Wolf has argued in the FT that “There is no reason why the people of the UK should suffer for (the government’s) mistake indefinitely.” And Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman regularly pops up to point out that not only is pursuing austerity in a depression “deeply destructive”, but that “the shadow won't just be cast on the present, but on the longer term. [Britain] will be a weaker economy ten years or even 15 years from now because [it has] failed to provide adequate demand now." He’s also detailed how the academic paper frequently cited as the basis for austerity economics is, most likely, cobblers due to dodgy methodology and a coding error in a spreadsheet.The problem for Osbourne is that austerity has always been as much an ideological stance as an economic one -- the Conservatives believe in small government, a minimal state and a reduced public sector, and the recession was a good excuse to aggressively pursue these goals (and their constant mantra that they inherited a mess from Labour ignores the fact that by the time Gordon Brown left office, GDP was back up to around 2.5 per cent per year thanks to the Labour government’s post-2008 stimulus). But most worryingly, the best example of where this might lead us is not in the chaos of mainland Europe, but further afield in Japan, where their economy has now stagnated for almost two decades under austerity. They have finally cracked, and have now ordered their central bank to print vast amounts of money to raise government spending while slashing taxes and pushing up inflating by two percentage points. It’s risky, but it might just be their only option. But with George Osborne unwilling -- and ideologically unable -- to back down, it looks like we in the UK are just in for more of the same. A lot more.
Many of us have experienced that moment when we question our career choice and start considering alternatives. It's natural, and our intuition is often right. When it's time to make a career change, a lot of us will hesitate and muddle ahead doing something we don't enjoy. Why don't we make the jump? Because fear gets in the way and prevents us from making a decision we know is right. How do you get over the fear of making such a big change?I'm in a good position to talk about this as I've made two very significant career switches so far: I trained (and practiced) as a medical doctor, left medicine to become a video game developer (jointly founding BioWare) and most recently retired from gaming to pursue a digital media career focused on beer (at The Beer Diaries). Obviously these are massive life changes, and I can certainly say in retrospect they were big, scary choices. But I wouldn't alter any of them. If I didn't make that first move out of medicine and into video games, I'd regret it today. I was much more scared of being cooped up in a medical office for the rest of my life than exploring the unknown territory of a new career in video games.Fear is a funny thing -- it's both an impediment and a motivator. We fear the unknown, and we also fear the results of bad decisions, embarrassing ourselves and the loss of things we value. These are the killers when it comes to changing careers. In many ways we're defined by our work. Any radical change can create an immediate loss of all of the value we've created in a prior career. We're afraid of what might happen when we change careers because of the sheer uncertainty -- will we succeed or fail? If you trust your skills and capabilities you really don't need to fear the change.Getting over your fear requires you to address your concerns directly. You don't want to be in a position where you regret your career choice and refuse to do anything about it because fear is getting in the way. The way I tackled my decision was by considering the worst possible outcome of my switch from medicine to video games and embraced it. I accepted that I was likely to be a dismal failure, and I made the jump. I wasn't expecting to succeed, though success was still my dream. I fully expected that I'd probably have to return to medicine, tail between my legs, and pick up more or less where I left off. Those initial steps leaving medicine behind were scary. Gone was the reliable income and the comfort of knowing exactly how things would unfold for me (medicine is a very predictable career). I worked only rare weekends and evenings as a doctor and finally left medicine completely after BioWare had been running about four years. This first step will be different for everyone. Some people will maintain a good day job waiting for their moment, like one of my friends from BioWare who pursues a very active music career. Others, like my pal who quit being a lawyer to become a bigwig in the coffee world, will make a huge, dramatic jump similar to mine.You're probably thinking that it's crazy to leave medicine after training for years and ending up with a respected, lucrative job. Fortunately, at a relatively early age, I realised that life is much too short to do something I didn't truly love. And I didn't love medicine, but I could use it as a stepping stone. By having a stable base career I had a safety net if I totally blew it in video games.
This week’s entire news cycle was dominated by the death of Baroness Thatcher: Britain’s first female Prime Minister; the longest-serving British leader of the 20th Century; a genuinely revolutionary force in British politics; and a character who excited a loyalty in her followers which was matched only by the genuine hatred of her opponents. 23 years after she left office, her death was still the cause for heartfelt tributes, articulate protests and a slightly squalid street party in Brixton. So, what have the commentators judged to be her best and worst achievements?The Iron Lady's Greatest Achievements 1. The FalklandsFour months before Argentina’s 1981 invasion, Ipsos-MORI record Thatcher as ‘the least popular prime minister in polling history’, with her rating then soaring to 59% after the Falklands were taken back. Even many of her opponents now concede that the Falklands was sovereign British territory, that was invaded by one of latin America’s most poisonous dictatorships, and that what could have been a military debacle was handled quickly and successfully. 2. Not actually snatching milkKnown as ‘Maggie Thatcher The Milk Snatcher’ after the government abolished free school milk for over-sevens in 1970 when she was Education Secretary. However, the policy actually originated from the Treasury as a cost-cutting measure (Ken Clarke claims that the free milk was only given out as a way of using up farmers’ surpluses). Thatcher herself later claimed to have argued against the abolition.3. Taming unionsThroughout the 1970s, Trade Unions were engaged in an almost constant war with their management and government. And this mattered because around one in four of the population were in a union (13.2m people), with industries able to come out on strike in support of other strikes. In 1979 around 900,000 days a month were lost to industrial action; by November 1990 this had dropped to 183,000. Worse for workers, but better for the economy, better for managers and there was no repeat of 1974’s three-day week (when energy strikes led to Britain experiencing power cuts).4. Deregulating industryIn modern Britain, it’s almost impossible to imagine how centralised much of business was from the end of World War Two until the 1970s. The government didn’t just own utilities, energy companies and the sole telephone company allowed to operate. At various times they also controlled all of the pubs in Carlisle, Pickfords removal firm and Thomas Cook travel agents. While this had already started to loosen under Ted Heath’s government, Thatcher set about selling off everything which wasn’t nailed down: Council housing, British Gas, British Telecom, the stock exchange, British Steel. Depending on how well you did, this either led to more competitive services, greater consumer choice and financial prosperity, or was what Harold Macmillan described as ‘selling the family silver’ which set the ground for a pointless, service-based economy and the 2008 banking crisis.5. Completely shifting Britain’s political centre of gravityThatcher’s greatest victory is that her time in office moved Britain markedly to the right. No mainstream politician in recent memory has seriously suggested rolling back any of her changes (Labour removed all talk of nationalisation from its charter in 1995, and even firebrands like Ken Livingstone were happy to deal with the financial sector). In 2002, Labour’s Peter Mandelson admitted: "We are all Thatcherites now."On the next page: Maggie Thatcher's failures...
Whether you're mourning our first female Prime Minister today, you've always been waiting for this site to update, or you're not sure how to feel right now, Twitter is full of nothing but the opinions of everyone on the death and life of our most controversial of PMs. Here are 12: a cross-section of Twitter's reaction to Margaret Thatcher's death this morning at the age of 87. The good, the bad, and the outrageous.Sorry, new Made In Chelsea series. You've been trumped (or Thatchered?) for news today.1. Dave Cameron2. Lord Alan3. Ian Beale4. Stan Collymore5. This kid6. Mark Millar7. Journo Chris Harding8. Our very own Michael Hogan9. Ross Noble10. Psychologist Richard Wiseman11. Business Researchers Ipsos Mori12. The Guardian's Eva Wiseman13. This joker14. This restaurant
We’re all in the business of selling, whether we’re job-titled sales people or not. Selling actual product to business clients, selling ideas to bosses and selling ourselves to everyone we work with. And that’s why the principles of what sells well -- what persuades people to wanting what you have to offer -- can improve any career.A new book, The Challenger Sale looks at the methods different people use for selling, defines them into five clear profiles and finds, categorically, which works best: the “Challenger approach”. It’s not the one you’d expect, either, says American author Matthew Dixon, “the big surprise is that if you ask most people, ‘There are these five profiles, which do you think would win?’ nine out of ten would say the 'Relationship Builder'. It’s conventional wisdom that selling is, of course, about relationships.” That’s not what actually garners the most success, though, he argues.Interested in what high-performing salespeople do better than most, Dixon, along with co-author Brent Adamson, studied the techniques of 20,000 salespeople from around the world. From that behaviour, he found that regardless of whether they’re in different sales professions, or from different parts of the world, they all fit into one of five categories: The Hard Worker, The Problem Solver, The Lone Wolf, The Challenger, and The Relationship Builder. Where we've been going wrongSo, what does the ‘Relationship Builder’ -- a skill we’ve always been told is one of the most prized in worklife -- do that doesn’t equate to business success? After all, It’s not what you know, but who you know… right? “It’s no longer good enough to be liked, to be acquiescent, to be reactive, in a world where customers can get a lot of information from the internet, from other sources beyond salespeople, “ says Dixon, “The new currency of what defines a good relationship is the ability to come in with that sometimes-provocative new idea and get people to think differently. That’s what challengers do.” Relationship Builders react to what their customers need, bending over backwards to take care of their every whim. Whereas keeping the client happy, says Dixon, is the secondary focus for challenger-types, “What you come to realise when you talk to these challenger salespeople is they do build good relationships, in fact they build world-class relationships with these customers, but they view the relationship as a means to an end.” You can’t just rely on good relationships for future business any more, he argues.The Challenger personality-type, on the other hand, is a debater. They present new ways of working to customers, rather than delivering what the client says they want, “they come up with counter-intuitive and proactive ideas that push the customer out of their comfort zone, they also do this with their colleagues and their managers which can make them kind of difficult to manage,” explains Dixon. But we're not all sales people. On the next page: the three things Challengers do differently, and how to apply the techniques to any career...
This week’s news was dominated by the culmination of Mick and Mairead Philpott’s trial for the manslaughter of their own children. Even after the judge’s summing up and sentencing -- which saw Philpott described as having ‘no moral compass’ and receiving life imprisonment -- much remained unclear about the case: the motivation and precise involvement of their co-accused, Philpott’s friend Paul Mosley, was still a mystery; there appeared to have been an attempt to frame Philpott’s ex-girlfriend, Lisa Willis, although why they thought the police would convict her on purely circumstantial evidence is unknown; there was possibly the motivation of moving to a larger council house, but again, nobody definitely knew.
This, however, didn’t stop pundits from across the board latching onto the case and holding it up as proof of a wider point. While there was an element of this on the left (and Dan Hodges on the Telegraph blog gave a good account of how Guardian types can be just as quick to exploit personal tragedy for political gain), it was the right who excelled themselves, seeing the Philpotts as enabled in their crimes by the welfare state. In The Sun’s first edition on Wednesday, their leader culminated in the line ‘Let’s hope this is the last time the state unwittingly subsidises the manslaughter of children’; by the second edition the last four words had been substituted for ‘a monster like Phillpot’ as even they realised that blaming Child Benefit for Philpott’s crime was probably over-egging it a touch.At the Daily Mail there were no such subtleties, with Philpott identified on the cover as a ‘VILE PRODUCT OF WELFARE UK’. The piece was, even by the DM’s standards, a spectacularly nasty piece of work: the subheading about how he ‘bred 17 children by five women’ dealt in the kind of dehumanising language more usually seen on racist internet forums; unknowable conclusions were jumped to about Philpott’s motives; and, most disturbingly, the actions of one disturbed criminal were used to attack not just an entire group of people (and ‘Welfare UK’ is broad enough to cover pretty much anyone who gets any help from the state), but to draw a clear line between the receipt of benefits and behaving like a criminal scumbag. Both papers were feeding off the increasingly touted idea that what’s really screwing this country is a grasping underclass, rather than, say, the government’s economic mismanagement and the exploitation of deregulated markets. Chancellor George Osbourne duly shifted the blame for our current situation and told reporters that ‘It's right we ask questions as a government, a society and as taxpayers, why we are subsidising lifestyles like these.’ It’s an attitude which seems to be sticking in the public mind -- especially since attempts to blame the rich for the financial crash have been spectacularly unsuccessful.Credit: The IndependentWhat’s interesting is that on closer inspection, the Philpotts didn’t actually fit Osborne and the Mail’s model of feral shirkers. Both women in the house worked (albeit in low-income jobs); Mick wasn’t some absentee father (quite the opposite); people who knew the family (including Ann Widdecombe, traditionally no friend to anyone to the left of Genghis Khan) reported that the children were well looked after and well-behaved. The family might have existed somewhere on a spectrum of ‘a bit unconventional’ to ‘deeply weird’ but that was no more responsible for their crimes than ‘the free market’ was responsible for businessman Christopher Foster’s murderous suicide in 2008.And this is the whole point of cases that grab the public imagination. Like the mock-kidnap of Shannon Matthews, or the murder of James Bulger murder before that, people want there to be a reason for an awful crime, but it’s almost impossible to draw any wider political conclusions from them because the people who commit these deeds are complete outliers. Mick Philpott seems to have been a freakish mess of contradictions: an obsessionally devoted father who was prepared to risk terrifying, injuring or killing his children to prove a point; a man so arrogant that he thought he might be able to get away with his hare-brained plan, but stupid enough to leave a vast trail of forensic evidence behind him; a person with a mess of guilty secrets in his past who was happy to live much of his life under media scrutiny. He’s got nothing useful to tell us about Britain today, he should be denied any more of the weird celebrity that he obviously courted and anyone who wants to learn about our current socio-economic mess would do better to look at hard data and government policy rather than the deranged scheming of a self-serving idiot.
Last Sunday, Boris Johnson was subjected to a particularly memorable journalistic lynching. Appearing on the BBC to trail Michael Cockerell’s documentary about his life, times and potential rise to ultimate power, he squared off against Eddie Mair. Coming across like some villainous property developer from an old episode of Taggart, Mair softly delivered a series of questions to Johnson about the small matters of getting fired from the Telegraph (for making up quotes), about getting fired by the Conservatives (for lying to Michael Howard) and about his part in a taped phone conversation with convicted fraudster and fellow ex-Etonian Darius (pronounced ‘Da-RYE-us’ for ultimate poshness) Guppy in which he asked for Boris’s help with getting a journalist’s details so that he could be attacked.The Mayor’s response to Mair was abysmal -- he floundered, crabbed his entire body off to the side, frequently glanced off camera, burbled some evasive balls about how it was all along time ago, before Mair delivered his lethal headshot. "You’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?" If Johnson’s press handler was present, one hopes that someone took his belt and shoelaces off him at that point.By contrast, the documentary itself was a pretty kind affair. It began with footage of Johnson playing tennis with his siblings, looking unfortunately like some sort of farm hand with a restraining order as he grunted around the court in a woolly hat and shorts. But, as became apparent throughout the film, however ridiculous he looks -- stuck halfway up a zipline, locked out of his house by his enraged wife while wearing a pirate bandana -- he always manages to turn it to his advantage. And underneath that artfully scruffed-up hair -- a sort of Aryan Nations-meets-Robert Smith nest -- is a scheming, formidably ambitious mind. "A sly fox disguised as a teddy bear," as his one-time boss Conrad Black put it.What emerged from the film -- in which everyone else agreed that Johnson would probably love to be PM while he wandered off into complicated analogies about the ball popping loose from the scrum -- was a portrait of a deeply strange and contradictory character: An archetypal agent of a very particular strand of the English upper classes -- fruity growl, nervy mum, stern dad, steeped in Classics -- who’s actually a product of a hugely cosmopolitan, multi-national background; a phenomenally focussed, hard-working intellectual who is still the kind of dickhead who chants ‘Buller! Buller! Buller!’ when he sees his old friends from the Bullingdon Club (the elitist Oxford society that Johnson and Cameron were members of); A man who, his biographer noted, "never laughs. Real laughter involves losing control", and yet who, as his nemesis Ken Livingstone conceded, "makes people feel good about themselves. It’s an incredibly powerful force to have in politics. Not many people have got that. He can therefore get away with a lot."And this matters, because right now -- even after the Mair debacle -- Johnson is one of the only senior politicians the public actively like. This week’s YouGov poll gave him a thumping net approval score of +53 – absolutely trouncing Cameron (-44), Clegg (-19) and Ed Milliband (-13). And nothing seems to dent him: he’s made awful choices in his wingmen (people like the disgraced Ray Lewis and the aforementioned Guppy who gave a particularly aggravating defence of Johnson post-Mair); his private life far exceeds what other politicians have been monstered for; he’s got a strangely creepy, thuggish aspect to him and from the wrong angle looks like an oligarch’s enforcer crossed with Elton John; and he’s unapologetically posh while the country’s in the midst of a crippling recession.But he gets away with it all because, ultimately, the public feel like he believes wholeheartedly in what he says (it doesn’t really matter that the cause about which Boris Johnson truly seems to believe in sincerely is ‘Boris Johnson’, the effect is the same).The main note of caution was sounded by his old Telegraph boss, Max Hastings. "They’re desperate for someone popular," said Hastings. "But (if they elect Johnson) it’ll mean they’ve stopped being a serious party." And there’s a worrying precedent for this kind of rise to power not too far away; as Private Eye editor Ian Hislop said in the film, "he’s our Berlusconi, but somehow it’s funnier." And the main thing to remember about Berlusconi is that once he’d risen to power on a huge wave of charisma and personality, he swiftly lost interest in the business of actually governing the country. However, as Hislop pointed out, this doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen. Now, when they talk of Johnson as a potential PM, "they’re not laughing any more." And there’s nothing Eddie Mair can do about that.
The voting in of the new, 266th, pope saw the news channels going absolutely mental. A vast, theatrical spectacle seemingly built for live TV cliff-hangers (the Vatican did seem to be milking the ‘rustling the curtains and getting the crowd ramped up’ trick a bit), the conclusion of the papal conclave was exciting enough for BBC News to devote an entire web stream to a static shot of a chimney. Here’s what we learned, and what you need to know about the new pontiff.1. Nuns and priests get really excited when there’s a new pope‘Fun’ isn’t really something you associate with the servants of God, particularly in light of the last decade’s revelations. But they were going absolutely batshit in St Peter’s Square while awaiting the result -- every time the camera panned across the crowd it was like some monochromatic version of The Smash Hits Poll Winners Party or Glastonbury, with waving, grinning hoards desperately trying to get their mugs in shot.2. The Vatican have the world’s most underused brass bandIn the lead up to the announcement, the Vatican and Swiss Guard marching band combined parping, rousing tunes with intricately choreographed dance steps strangely reminiscent of Public Enemy’s bodyguards, the Security of The First World. What do they do the rest of the time? Are they like Sade’s backing band, who just wait around on a retainer for when she gets the urge to make an album every ten years or so?3. The Vatican guard are armed to the teethThat ‘debate on gun control’ which the US has been having obviously hasn’t got as far as the Holy See.4. It’s now a social media-literate papacyThe Pope’s account, @Pontifex was reactivated at 19:08. Twitter claimed that some 7 million tweets had been written on Wednesday relating to the new Pope, peaking at 132,000 per minute. This was topped only by Obama’s 2012 election victory, which registered a whopping 20 million tweets (237,000 per minute).5. The secret white smoke recipeThe white smoke that emerges from the chimney when a decision has been reached is formed by the burning of the secret ballots once they’ve been counted. Potassium chlorate, milk sugar and pine rosin are sprinkled on top to ensure the smoke comes out the right colour.6. There’s a lot that’s new about this one…Cardinal Bergoglio -- or Pope Francis as he’s now known -- is the first pope from Argentina, the first from outside Europe for over 1500 years and the first Jesuit to hold the office. And, in contrast to his opulent predecessors he was renowned in Argentina for leading a simple life and taking public transport. His first morning in the new job saw him going back to his hotel to thank the staff and pay his bill himself. Oh, and he’s only got one lung after the other was removed following an infection when he was a teenager.7. And a depressing amount that’s familiar…The whiff of political scandal. Just as Joseph Ratzinger was dogged by his early involvement in the Hitler Youth, the Catholic Church in Argentina has been accused of complicity in Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ (the period from 1976-83 when the military government waged a campaign of murder, torture and abduction against its left-wing opponents). The Argentine Catholic church as a whole made an apology in 2000 for its conduct during the period, but prior to 2010 Bergoglio twice refused to testify in court about his behaviour at the time as head of the country’s Jesuit order. When he eventually gave evidence, lawyers accused him of being ‘evasive’. Journalist Horacio Verbitsky has gone further, publicly claiming that Bergoglio withdrew his order’s protection over two dissident priests who were then kidnapped by the Argentine Navy (Bergoglio categorically denies this).8. Italians still dress better than anyone elseRome’s Catholic hierarchy are kitted out by the esteemed tailors at Gammarelli. Before the name of the winning Pope was announced, outfits were prepared in small, medium and large (including pairs of their lux white socks) to cover all eventualities.9. Pope Francis might have a really bad first week in the jobOne of the last acts of the previous pope, Benedict XVI, was to order three cardinals to carry out an inquiry into last year’s scandal when the Pope’s butler leaked papal letters to the Italian media. These exposed (among other things) in-fighting and details of how the world’s smallest state manages its finances. However, two Italian newspapers have reported that the new report – the sole copy of which is locked away in a safe in the former Pope’s sealed apartment – contains evidence of widespread financial mismanagement and sexual blackmail. One of Francis’ first tasks will be to read the report and see exactly what he’s signed up for. All that one of its authors would say of the report is ‘There will be black sheep, as in all families…’
There aren’t many people in the country who can write down ‘Host Of Radio 1 Drivetime’ on their Consensus form. In fact, there is one man. Greg James is that one man.In just six years, he’s gone from student with a radio (and video game simulator) addiction, to being one of the stations’ biggest names, taking over the Drivetime seat from previous bums including Scott Mills, Sara Cox and Chris Moyles.So, we spoke to the superstar DJ about how he’s joined the esteemed pop ranks, and the steps wannabe DJs must take to do the same. JOB PROFILE: RADIO PRESENTERHours: Varied, dependent on time slotSalary: Anywhere from £100 a show on local radio to £500k presenting primetime slots on major stationsWhat was it that made you want to work in radio in the first place?I’ve been obsessed with listening to the radio since I was little, and I thought, if you could make that into a job, then that sounds like it would be the most fun job ever. And I was right. And I’m very lucky to be doing it. I was obsessed with listening to people like Chris on the radio. I just thought, ‘you’re amazing. This sounds like a really fun job to do.' And it’s even more fun than I thought it would be. Not to say it’s not stressful at times because I think that jobs are supposed to be stressful and difficult. It’s a very difficult job, but very rewarding as well.Would you count Chris Evans as an idol you’d want to emulate?Yeah. Minus the drink problems and when he went mental. Apart from that, I think he’s had a pretty incredible career.Working at Radio 1 can sound a bit impenetrable -- what would be your biggest piece of advice for someone starting out?Well, not to worry about it being difficult to get to. Be aware that it is difficult to get a job, let alone a dream job, or a job at somewhere like Radio 1; it’s hard to get a good job anywhere. It sounds easy for me to say it now because I’m working there, but I honestly never worried about not getting there. You can’t start doubting yourself before you’ve even done it, so I think you need to have a very positive mindset about it, and not get knocked down if something bad happens. I mean, I was sending emails off to everyone for years and no one really emailed back, and for the few that do, you have to really take those opportunities. Don’t be a pest, but just be keen and show that you’re not mental. It’s a fine balance but I feel like eventually if you work hard enough you’ll get it. Also, it would be stupid not to think that you have to have some luck, because you have to have luck, of course you do. Radio 1 needed somebody at the time that I happened to come around. If you don’t think you need luck then you’re deluded.
What kind of person would radio presenting suit?That’s the beauty of Radio 1, everyone’s very different. Scott Mills off air is quite shy, Gemma Cairney who does Weekend Breakfast is loud, so I think it suits all sorts of types. And that’s the beauty of radio presenting, is that you don’t want 10 people the same. It takes all sorts of people, but you’ve got to be interested in listening to people and meeting them and all that sort of stuff. You’ve got to be interested in your listeners, if you’ve got contempt for them then you’re going to fail. What’s a typical day at work like for you?I get in for about midday normally. A lot of stuff’s pre-recorded, so there’s normally stuff to pre-record, or a feature to go through. The great thing about being on in the afternoon is that you can react to stuff that’s happened in the morning and you’ve got time to prepare it. I like that people can listen to my show at four o’clock and get a summary of the whole day. It’s a nice way to finish, I think. It’s obviously completely different to the breakfast show, which kind of sets the agenda, whereas we can affect it a bit more in the evening.I used to do the stupid Early Breakfast show, which I loved doing for two years, but its getting there that’s the problem. When you get there its fine, but getting up at ten to three is not normal, no one likes doing it, and you never get used to it. But it did mean I had this amazing hub of listeners that I could just talk to, who were waiting for four o’clock to come round for their mate to come on the radio. It‘s like a really special early morning club. They still text in to my afternoon show, it’s great that they’re still there. They’ve kind of followed me through the schedule, which is nice. How do you wind down after a day at work? I love my American comedy box sets, so I watch things like 30 Rock and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Or I go round to a mate’s house and play FIFA. Or my revisited obsession will be trying to build my new city in SimCity, Greggingham, which feels like a scary addiction that’s come back again. In my teenage years when I was trying to avoid doing revision, I would keep it on pause, so I’d go and do a bit of geography revision and then go back to it. I’ve still got a lot to learn: we just had a tornado and everyone died because I didn't build a hospital, but sometimes it’s nice to revisit old addictions.On the next page: The most valuable way of learning radio...
With the passing of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, it would be very easy to claim that the world has lost a polarising figure. At the rate we are manufacturing such figures, however, we are not sure that it would be true.As a committed socialist and an enemy of the sort of neo-liberal economics that have arguably made us very rich, Chavez was never going to be a particularly popular guy in the Western world. Upon taking the reins of power in Caracas, Chavez did everything in his considerable power to protest and ultimately weaken the U.S. presence in Venezuela and in South America. He blasted Americans, in particular, with invective, tore into our diplomats and became a sort of cartoon: “the hot-headed dictator.”But Hugo Chavez was not really a dictator, and was certainly not a cartoon.It might seem a little odd, given the subject at hand, but I don’t really want to talk politics here. Not left vs. right stuff, anyway. There are a million other places on the internet to discuss all of that, and in whatever glowing or profane terms your particular leanings dictate. The Chavez government was a mixed bag: It reduced extreme poverty, routinely jailed its journalists, polarised the Venezuelan populace and altered the structure of nearly every institutional organ that country possesses in a myriad of Hugo Chavez-benefiting ways. For those of us who make our livings as writers, there is little to like about the sort of regime that Hugo Chavez headed -- but he wasn’t in it for us. He didn’t really care about us. Hugo Chavez cared about poverty, about the very poor. He really did. He meant it. And when you are talking about politicians, that makes him something of a rarity.When you look over Hugo Chavez’s life and career, it quickly becomes apparent that the guy had a certain brashness, a willingness to put himself in difficult situations. This was a guy who, upon joining the army, quickly founded a revolutionary cell whose ultimate goal was to overthrow the government. In 1992, his “Operation Zamora” attempted to do just that. The uprising, which was supported by maybe 1 in 10 members of the Venezuelan military, failed, and Chavez subsequently turned himself over to the government. In his one post-arrest television appearance, he told his supporters to cease their hostilities, as the opportunity for revolution had passed “for now.” He then went to the sort of jail that sitting presidents put you in after you try and murder them.Whatever else Hugo Chavez was, he wasn’t afraid of a fight. It is generally considered a mark of bravery to serve in the military, especially as a paratrooper, like Hugo did. To then form a secret cell within said military and attempt to overthrow one’s government, well, I, mean, who does that? Who perceives that to be something that is in the realm of possibility, as a life choice? In politics as in the corner bar, the arrival of an unusually determined man onto the scene always attracts a certain type of defensive attention. When Chavez was running for election in 1998, and really ratcheting up his support numbers among the poor and working class, the existing power structure pulled no punches. Media outlets owned by some of Venezuela’s richest citizens published the most outlandish accusations against him, including cannibalism of children. This is how you know you’re making headway: when powerful people get angry. Remember the Occupy Wall Street protests, and how America’s one-percentiest one percenters fell all over themselves in saying how, you know, those kids actually do have some bright ideas? This reflected the movement’s weakness. Had Occupy been serious, the rich would have called them cannibals.After winning the 1998 election, Chavez essentially installed himself as president for life and drastically altered nearly every aspect of his country. It will be very interesting to see if these changes will outlast him, and, if not, what will take their place. But that’s politics. In our view, the most interesting thing about the life of Hugo Chavez, and the thing that we take away from his particular story, is the vastness of his ambitions. It is useful to remember that while we photograph our restaurant meals, learn our craft cocktails and update our LinkedIn, there walk among us guys who intend to overthrow entire societies and alter the course of history. A lot of the time, these guys are dangerous. There are a lot of people who will claim that Chavez was. But they’re out there. And they represent a pole of human -- of (nearly always) male -- possibility that we shouldn’t forget exists: these things can be done. And if you don’t like how others do them, perhaps you should give it a shot.
Since nursery school, you’ve been expected to effectively present information to groups of people. In primary school, it was book reports, in secondary school it was PowerPoint presentations and in university it was 10,000 word papers. In every class, there were always those people who never got nervous, never stuttered and always seemed to want to be up there. These people were never taught how to be comfortable in front of a crowd; they were just good at it. They were naturally talented performers. The rest of us could barely get a word in edgeways without feeling those eyes boring into our souls, judging our every word. There were no core classes that focused on improving these skills, and, as a result, most of us never became proficient at it. This is the art of performing, and it’s one of the most ignored skill sets on the planet. It is also, however, one of the most important to master.There are certain aspects of this skill that brew apprehension in everyone. Performance skills include oration, acting, dictation and general comfort in front of a crowd. All of these tend to terrify people. We know that our audience’s eyes will be fixated on our every move. That our every word will be judged and the potential for ridicule lies in every moment. Today’s information age exacerbates this terror even more. One mistake can proliferate through social media in days, to be immortalised forever.As a result, most people never really bother to learn how to perform. They either learn by failing or avoid it altogether. This leaves many of us well educated but unequipped to deal with anything that requires a public performance. This is unfortunate, as so many of today’s careers necessitate some comfort with performing. Presenting information to superiors, convincing coworkers to follow your proposed solutions or defending your opinions in front of a judge all demand a performance: the ability to convince someone of something they may not believe. There is a certain level of nerves everyone has when confronted with these types of situations. That is normal. The fear is not, and neither is the avoidance.The fear exists only because no one ever made performing a required skill. In fact, the study of performance, or drama, has historically been isolated to the drama kids -- who tend to be made fun of for their interests. The study of speech and debate is a fringe class or after-school activity. Neither is a mainstream part of our education. It should be. If it were, 20-somethings in nascent careers wouldn’t be afraid of speaking up when their professional opinion is needed.In the words of a friend of mine, a lawyer whom we will refer to as Steve, the acting classes we’ve taken together have been "good training in what to avoid, what reduces effectiveness [and has provided] better awareness of bad habits." I can say for myself that my acting training has made me exponentially better at my part-time job. Clear articulation, the confidence to be private in public and the need to be very focused have made otherwise daunting situations far less nerve-racking. Convincing a group of VPs and the CMO that their proposed solution to a business problem cannot be developed as desired is no longer so intimidating. Acting classes aren’t the only way to practice your performance skills. There are plenty of more business-minded oration and dictation classes you could take. Or you can also practice on your own. I can say, however, that professionally taught classes will push you further than you ever thought possible. You will improve, guaranteed. Honing your performance skills will also help you better connect with people from all walks of life. To quote Steve one more time: "[Acting classes have] reminded me that I’m a human being -- as opposed to that other species: a lawyer." You’re going to spend many hours in your chosen career. Being able to step back and connect will increase your chances of achieving the results you want.Remember that confidence breeds skill and skill breeds confidence. Eventually, the expectant eyes of your superiors will no longer clam you up. Practice enough, and you’ll be able to bring that welling nervousness under control and use it to your advantage.
This week, a group of British citizens were subjected to a particularly cruel, unusual punishment. Residents of Eastleigh -- the Hampshire constituency that has been flung into by-election mania by the resignation of Chris Huhne MP -- ran the risk earlier this week of opening their front door to be greeted by Neil and Christine Hamilton. The disgraced former Tory MP and his wife were out campaigning on behalf of Ukip, having thrown their lot in with Nigel Farage’s party at what is seen as a crucial election for all parties.In short, Labour will probably be trounced, their lack of popularity emblematic of the party’s ongoing problem to connect with the sleepier, middle-class areas of the country. The Liberals desperately need a good result in their heartland to prove that the public doesn’t view them as electoral kryptonite after their bruising time as part of the coalition. The Conservatives need some good news, particularly after last week’s ratings downgrade. And Ukip see this as an opportunity tailor-made for them to exploit: Farage has a local link to the area (he stood in the last Eastleigh by-election in 1994); they’ve been able to run a gimmicky campaign exploiting Chris Huhne’s downfall; and a poll this week by Lord Ashcroft put them just seven points behind the Conservatives’ Maria Hutchings, hustings-dodging state-school basher and a sort of lightweight version of a Tea Party mum. And as a final push, they’ve roped in the support of recognisable figures like The Hamiltons.Ah, the Hamiltons. There are many, many things that I would rather open the front door to than the Hamiltons: The postman, carrying a letter from the Inland Revenue; Some Jehovah’s Witnesses; A knife-wielding stalker; One of those unidentifiable, monstrously bloated animal carcasses which periodically wash up on the shores of the Hudson; The ghost of my dead grandfather warning me of my own imminent death; A waist-high tide of human excrement.All of these things would be preferable to having to come face to face with the ghastly, two-headed monster of right-wing politics, as big a pair of grinning, self-aggrandising shitbags as this country’s political system has ever produced. To recap: Neil Hamilton -- long before the expenses scandal -- was accused of taking ‘envelopes stuffed with cash from Harrods boss Mohamed Al Fayed in exchange for asking parliamentary questions’. He was turfed out in 1997 when white-suited BBC war reporter Martin Bell ran against him on an explicitly anti-sleaze ticket. Refusing to go quietly, he had to be asked by William Hague to stay away from 1998 Tory Conference after Hague singled out Hamilton as one of the people who had specifically bought the entire party into disrepute. Hamilton blustered on, still attempting to take the Guardian to court in a £10m libel action after they revealed his wrongdoing, and only dropping the case on the eve of the trial.And when you strip away all the other hoopla around the Hamiltons – the willingness to appear on every third-rate TV show (Loose Women and Big Brother’s Big Mouth are highpoints in the Hamilton ouevre) going, the total lack of shame (which makes you wish for the values of imperial Japan vis-à-vis personal responsibility for mistakes), the cartoonish air of harmless stupidity projected by Neil -- this is what you’re really dealing with: the most appalling kind of brass-necked carpetbagger, who abused the political and legal system for his own ends and contributed hugely to the public perception that British politics is a nest of self-serving shits.And THIS is who Ukip decide to rope in when they’re trying to position themselves as a breath of fresh, moral air compared to the mainstream political parties. Local candidate Diana James described a vote for Ukip as ‘a vote for a postitive vision for Britain.’ If you judge people by the company they keep, it really, really isn’t.
At the time of writing, David Cameron is heading down to Chequers for a session to plan the Tories’ strategy for the next election. Joining him will be party chairman Grant Shapps, the PM’s own political consultant Lynton Crosby (Australian right winger responsible for the party’s deeply unpleasant 2005 ‘Are you thinking what we’re thinking?’ election campaign) and chief of communications Craig Oliver (Andy Coulson’s replacement and this guy, as well as Chancellor George Osbourne.There’s certainly a lot for them to discuss: since limping into office, the coalition which is keeping them in office has become increasingly fractious; even against the uninspiring opposition of the current Labour party the latest Guardian/ICM poll shows them 12 points behind, the biggest gap in a decade. Plus, we’re a month away from a budget while the British economy remains on the verge of having a cardiac arrest. The latest blow to fiscal recovery came earlier this week when the auctioning off of the 4G mobile licenses missed its projected total by more than £1 billion. More quietly -- and potentially more seriously -- recent chatter that the ratings agencies may strip Britain’s bonds of their AAA rating in 2013 continues. This would impact on how cheaply we could borrow money on the international markets, while sterling fell sharply again yesterday.Nobody at Tory central office seems to be taking this stuff in hand. It’s not like Cameron’s party don’t have the PR man’s instinct running right through them from the very top; it just seems to completely desert them at odd times. Two cases this week illustrated this erratic judgement perfectly; Cameron’s trip to India was carefully stage managed around his visit to the site of the 1919 Amritsar massacre, and a very, very delicate effort to make the right noises about how hundreds of unarmed people being shot dead by British troops was a bit of a rum do, without actually saying sorry. Presumably this was so Dave could avoid the following day’s headline in the Mail saying something like ‘BRITAIN: NOW WE’RE APOLOGISING JUST FOR HAVING BEEN GREAT’ followed by Boris Johnson popping up in the Sun to write a centre page article pointing out that he actually thinks the British empire was a brilliant thing on the whole. So, well played, Cameron.
But the PM then got suckered into making a stupid, knee-jerk comment about a Hilary Mantel article that he almost certainly hadn’t read; Mantel’s long essay in the London Review of Books was about how, as has always been the case in history, the current royal princess is stripped of her personality, largely thanks to the media. The media obviously took this in the spirit it was intended and boiled their story down to ‘fat, bitter old crone hates beautiful young princess of hearts.’ In a vaguely grown up political culture, Cameron could have just said ‘I’ve not read the piece -- didn’t really have the time to what with the day job, you know? -- and besides, it’s none of my damn business what any artist chooses to think or say.’ But instead we got some deathly boilerplate about how Mantel’s comments were ‘Completely misguided and completely wrong’. When Ed Miliband pitched in later in the day saying that Middleton was ‘doing a brilliant job’, the urge to punch yourself in the balls became overwhelming. The whole thing was a perfect -- and perfectly depressing -- example of what ordinary people hate about modern politicians.
Every time that Cameron gets bogged down in some stupid sideshow like this (or this), it doesn’t detract attention from the big stories like they presumably hope: it just gives the impression that nobody’s actually taking charge of the deeply serious situation that this country is currently in. Our economy is still in the gutter, threatening a referendum on leaving Europe is putting foreign trade in jeopardy and austerity is starting to bite for the third year with apparently nothing to show for it. Gordon Brown briefly tried the ‘serious leader for serious times’ route a couple of years ago before his advisers panicked and got him to go back to feigning an interest in Susan Boyle. Maybe Shapps, Crosby and Oliver could reconsider that option. Whatever other ideas get bandied around at Chequers over the next few days, there’s a lot to be said for giving a bit of grown-up politics another try. Right now, the country needs it.
This answer, by Matthew Manning, originally appeared on Quora. We think it's pretty worthwhile reading and have left it as is, unedited.First a picture of me:That's a picture of me Skyping my mother to tell her about an awful canker sore I developed inside my mouth. Doesn't that look so painful? Dear god -- it was!Now, a bit about me:- I am 28- I have a Master's Degree- A good job- Public transit works fine for meSuffice to say, we're at about the same place. So why do I have self-esteem and you don't?Well, first of all we should clarify. Self-esteem is not binary. It's not something you have or don't have. It's different for each person in different ways. As you can see from my picture, I am not the most attractive specimen to have ever graced the turf of the earth. I am overweight, I have male pattern baldness, I wear glasses. I do have pretty good teeth and a wonderful left ear but, all in all, I know that physical attractiveness is not my strongest suit.When I put myself out there, though, I don't really focus on that. I focus on the other things. I'm funny, smart, entertaining, affable, loyal, curious, and dynamic. I choose to focus on those things and then -- magically -- that's what the people around me seem to focus on as well. I feel good about myself and people can feel that, too. Think of it this way, have you ever been around a girl that you wouldn't normally find attractive, but she's just so unbelievably cool that you can't get enough of her? Be that way for other people.Look, guys like me and you don't have the distinct advantage of being able to impress people by the wonderment of our mere presence. It is what it is, right? But I'm nearly certain that you've got a host of other good qualities that you need to focus on and reflect outward. Stop thinking about the canker sore when you got that whole beautiful mouth.And stop trying to meet women at bars. A loud dark place isn't the best venue to allow someone to see your other intangible qualities. Those will shine through in conversation. Go to meetup.com and join a group or a class. You need a change of venue so someone can take the time to see how great you really are. Good luck, you badass you.