Thursday, December 04, 2014

Bite the Ballot: The Nathan Barley of Political Engagement

In 2005 a sitcom was launched, co-written by Chris Morris of Brass Eye and The Day Today fame.  It focuses on a character, Nathan Barley, who is an incredibly overrated fashion conscious manchild. He only gets attention because he self-promotes through digital channels and is perceived to have the necessary ‘street cool’. The show, it seems, was well before its time as we now have a living, breathing case of life imitating art in the form of ‘Bite the Ballot’.

‘Bite the Ballot’ describes itself as “a not for profit organisation that empowers young people to speak up and act, to make their votes and opinions count.” Further down in its blurb we find something I’m sure was actually lifted from a Nathan Barley script – “Our core values when engaging those furthest away from politics are to be unconventional, inclusive and bold.”
They present themselves as studiously neutral. Which sounds nice given their current big hitting scheme is “Leaders Live”. The idea behind this is that they deliver questions to the main political leaders in the UK ostensibly provided from the general public via social media. In practice, most of the questioning occurs through an audience panel that is supposedly representative of the UK’s “youth”.

And it is the panel where this farce becomes completely unstuck. 

The second episode of “Leaders Live” featured Nigel Farage. The “representative” audience panel picked by supposedly “neutral” Bite the Ballot engaged in a solid hour of abuse, belittling, heckling and verging on violent interrogation of Farage. The role of the chair, Rick Edwards, during this episode appeared to be to primarily emulate Helen Keller as best as he could. 

The apparently in built anti-UKIP panel hostility was obvious to many who were commenting live at the time as well as the majority of the commenters on the archived Youtube video. The belligerence and bias was worse even than the most partisan BBC selected audience for Quisling Time I ever recall seeing. It was more embarrassingly (albeit unintentionally) self-parodying than Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse’s send up of the latter too.  

One only needs to watch the previous episode, with the Green Party’s Natalie Bennett to see the shocking divergence in the panel’s behaviour towards the two leaders. She was given a relatively easy time on the questions front, only really corned twice (e.g. on the performance of Brighton council) and even then she was treated with good manners and respect throughout. The panel seemed to like what she had to say, but then that’s easy with the Greens because they can promise spending on all and sundry without having to account for it. And of course this particularly appeals to the young and inexperienced who are more likely to opt for idealism and less likely to ask how one earth the Green’s apparently bottomless spending bonanza can be financed. 

A parody of panels

Who was on the panel for the Nigel Farage episode? That’s the million dollar question. It’s also one that ‘Bite the Ballot’ singularly fails to answer. Nowhere on their site or on the youtube channel is a list of the participants, never mind any biographies. This information is just a teensy weensy bit important.

As a result I had to piece together (occasionally making mistakes) who was actually present and their backgrounds. It is, frankly insane, that I had to do this. It is part and parcel of modern broadcasting that viewers are informed as to who is being questioned and who is doing the questioning. Not in this case though. 

So, who took part? Amongst those participating and including almost everyone who actually spoke on the panel I’ve been able to determine the following:

Piers Telemacque (@Pierschickenboy)
A vice-president of the NUS and active anti-UKIP activist.  You can see him here using crayon (how appropriate) to express his hatred of the party. He continues the proud tradition of NUS representatives in being thick and obnoxious. In between his slews of abuse towards Farage he claimed that Farage had worked for “Wall Street”. No, really. I’m sure there’s a bright future ahead for Piers in the greasy poleclimbers club that is the NUS and just like his predecessors will be willing to sell anyone out to get what he wants when he’s sick of being a bag carrier and useful idiot. 

Kenny Imafidon (@KennyImafidon)
Charming chap this one. Even more belligerent than Piers. He’s currently “Special Advisor on Youth Policy”. How did he achieve this august position? That makes for uncomfortable reading. Turns out he used to be a thug in a London gang. Ended up in the dock for murder. He was  however acquitted. Oh, that’s OK then?

Maybe not. It turns out the imprisoned murderer and accessory were actually his friends and part of the same gang. As he himself said, it “could have easily been me”. Oh dear. It is following this that events become truly bizarre. It appears that our establishment inexplicably decided that he needed special treatment,tea and biscuits. This gang-banging thug was elevated by our establishment, with money, education and status poured on him to become effectively an establishment selected “Community Leader / Representative” type. I’ve genuinely never seen anything like it.

Myles Dyer (@MylesDyer)
An employee of the Guardian.

Nothing else really needs to be said.

Mawaan Rizwan (@MawaanR)
A BBC employee. He’s a “comedian” apparently.

Another embarrassing belligerent on the show, this chap being the one who apparently really hates rich people with large houses.

Again, what more need be said. 

Russ Haynes (@monkeywithagunn)
Another “comedian”. This fellow was possibly the most belligerent of the lot and I genuinely thought he was going to get out of his seat to get at Farage at some point. He went heavy on the race card.

Rebecca Brown(?) (@beckie0)
Current/recent university (under)graduate. Massive youtube following – the largest of the lot as far as I can tell. I found a ‘Google hangout’ with some of these people discussing participating in ‘Bite the Ballot’ from 2013 where she made it clear she had not had any interest in politics until recruited by this organisation. She appears to be a relatively harmless youtube narcissist and was one of the politer panel members. 

John (surname?) (@JazzaJohn)
Another youtuber and LGBT campaigner as far as I can tell. Came across perfectly reasonably on the show. 

 Hannah Witton (@hannahwitton)
Another social media narcissist.
Current/recent university (under)graduate

Jamal Edwards (@jamaledwards)
Millionaire rapper. So, yeah, “representative”. Spoke during the Natalie Bennett interview previously but as far as I can recall did not ask a question of Nigel Farage. Which is probably just as well as the remainder of the panel appeared to be going on for a full on ‘soak the rich’ attack and things could have got awkward quite quickly especially if Nigel knew who he was otherwise….
I originally mixed him up with Kenny Imafidon – primarily because information was so thin on the ground about the panel I was resorting to comparing still images after confirming Jamal was on the show. 

Ben Hanlin (@benhanlin)
Magician. Employee of ITV (noteworthy especially in this case as this whole enterprise was arranged with ITV as a partner). 

Tom Harwood (@tomhfh)
Probably the single most neutral representative panel member I’ve been able to identify so far.  Follows the usual Youtube narcissism pattern but has a following comparable to many people I know myself on social media who have just been around for a while. 

Lucy Moon (@meowitslucy)
Another youtuber. Her twitter timeline makes it clear she’s another serial UKIP hater. She’s also noticeably more narcissistic than the others going by the evidence there and she’s only 19 (the majority of others seem to be in their 20s upwards). Not good. She was the most ill-tempered of the female panel members.

There are a handful of others I’ve not had the time to track down yet (so far its 11/15 – though only 14 of those appeared on the episode in question). However, as far as I can tell I have managed to include everyone who asked questions from the panel on the Farage episode.

Where was everyone else?

Where they weren’t diehard lefties and UKIP haters (that covers the people who spent most time heckling, interrupting and abusing) the panel members were major social media narcissists and/or media luvvies. Are these really the people who are most appropriate to be representing the UK’s “youth voice”? If there could even be said to be such a thing? Where were the political right wingers, the young people working in trades, armed forces, front line services? Why do only graduates, youtube personalities and “comedians” get to speak? You know – where’s the missing 50% of British youths who did not go to university and also did not become youtube superstars plucked from obscurity?

How desperately unfunny must the “comedians” on the panel be if all they can do in this situation is effectively act as simple hostile hecklers? Speaking as a fan and regular attendee of the London comedy circuit I can’t imagine any of the performers I’ve seen behaving like this. Even if they were out to undermine Farage they would have prepared some funny zingers rather than behaved like two year olds on the verge of tantrums, violence or both. 

A full third were committed UKIP haters and there are question marks over several of the others. It was a shockingly biased panel and the aggression towards Farage was left completely unchecked. It’s worth noting that all of the ethnic minority panel members who spoke up were persistently interrupting and belligerent. If your goal was to portray the young left-leaning members of the UK’s BME communities as know-nothing, belligerent gobshites then this episode was a major success. GREAT JOB guys!

It would appear to most of those commenting on ‘Bite the Ballot’ youtube videos that, as commenter ‘Venimus Vidimus’ put it, the panel

“were chosen because they're simple minded, desperate to be liked, malleable, sycophantic, photogenic, glib and left-wing (the latter trait being a direct result of the former traits).”

The boss weighs in 

As if it wasn’t already enough of a Nathan Barley episode with the student left drama queens and social media narcissists on the panel, the “Big Boss” of ‘Bite the Ballot’, Michael Sani, has since written about the panel make up. He has in turn delivered the very quintessence of exactly the kind of purified, distilled, thoughtless idiocy that seems the characterise these kind of enterprises and was mercilessly mocked in Nathan Barley. 

It is at this point that the mutual masturbation circle now turns into a full on circular firing squad.
In case they have a sudden injection of sense and delete the piece, I’ll quote you the section I consider most apposite:

“On the first: yep, I agree. At times, even I was calling for Rick to step in to keep control of people’s emotions – but to be fair, it was arguably the hottest debate we’ve ever seen with Nigel. It was refreshing to see people’s emotions on show, especially from this age group. One thing’s for sure – it’s becoming harder and harder to say ‘Young people don’t care’: because last night they proved they do. And now we build upon it, collectively.

Before I go into how, let’s address the idea of our unrepresentative audience. The audience was selected because of the networks they represent – many of whom have thousands of fans, followers and subscribers. You name it – they have them. These debates are pilots. We are trying to find a format where the few can represent the masses, and we are consistently perfecting the model because – like with everything BTB – we are not afraid to try, reflect, then try again. Yes, one member of the audience, Myles, has a day-job with a certain left-leaning print media house, but he didn’t mention that during the event, and more importantly, he brought in the views of his YouTube, Twitter and Facebook subscribers. That has always been the aim.

As for the chap from NUS, yes, it’s disappointing that he’s posted rude, anti-UKIP pictures on his social profile. He was supposed to be in a position of representing a mass of students. The thing is, we all have to work and support one another here. NUS need to be clear on what is – and is not – acceptable for their officers; and from BTB’s side, we need to think about how we brief audiences ahead of these debates so they don’t lose their electricity (and protect us from being picked apart).”

Holy non-sequiturs and complete-lack-of-self-awareness Batman! Would you like a dirty dripping contempt salad and a side order of sneer with your order, sir?

It was refreshing to see people’s emotions on show”

- Yes, wonderful. Portray the representatives of “the youth” as ignorant brutes determined to get their way through shouting others down, along with a distinct implied violence. And even the boss was calling for the chair, Helen Keller (sorry – Rick Edwards), to notice something was up and step in. But he did nothing of the sort. Why?

let’s address the idea of our unrepresentative audience”

- The “idea” of an unrepresentative audience. Got that? It’s just an “idea”!

The audience was selected because of the networks they represent”

- The “networks” many of them represented were followers of a social media narcissist. In case you’re unfamiliar, Michael, with what narcissism entails, the narcissist does not “represent” their following.  They expect to bask in their reflected glory from sycophants. 

We are trying to find a format where the few can represent the masses, and we are consistently perfecting the model because”

- This is just pure delusional talk. There is no model or format at work here beyond pulling in a social media circle jerk. The folks you picked represent some quite specific cliques and you’re excluding, at a minimum, 50% of the UK’s “youth”.  I fear that by “perfecting it” you mean pull in people who have more followers and shares on social media. I don’t think you understand the meaning of “representation” here, Michael.

Yes, one member of the audience, Myles, has a day-job with a certain left-leaning print media house, but he didn’t mention that during the event”

- Ooh. A “certain left-leaning print media house”. There’s not even a hint of contrition here is there? I can almost feel “Boss Man” Michael’s sneer in his words. And you also appear to be frighteningly oblivious to the fact, Michael, that it is definitively your responsibility to inform your viewers of such details.

- I think the Guardian’s Myles Dyer has realised there’s trouble ahead as he is currently busy clowndancing in the youtube comments making out that he’s actually a really neutral, reasonable guy. One glance at his twitter timeline during and just after the event though and anyone can see the real picture: One of Myles revelling in so much backslapping over his perceived success in ‘operation get Farage’ that it’s amazing he hasn’t taken time off to see a chiropractor. 

and more importantly, he brought in the views of his YouTube, Twitter and Facebook subscribers. That has always been the aim.”

- And there you have it. It’s all about the hits…sod accuracy, representation, bias…Never mind the fact that the bulk of followers are likely to subscribe to a similar viewpoint thereby exacerbating the bias even further.

As for the chap from NUS, yes, it’s disappointing that he’s posted rude, anti-UKIP pictures on his social profile. He was supposed to be in a position of representing a mass of students.”

 - Right. Because you had no idea that this is what he was all about. And the very idea of NUS reps actually representing the mass of students rather than the speech-code obsessed authoritarian harpies? Hoho – pass the smelling salts, please dear!

“NUS need to be clear on what is – and is not – acceptable for their officers;”
- Pretty much anything acceptable to the far-left goes at the nutty NUS. Including opposing motions against ISIS initiated by (Muslim) Kurds because of  - er - “Islamophobia”. 

“and from BTB’s side, we need to think about how we brief audiences ahead of these debates so they don’t lose their electricity (and protect us from being picked apart).”

- Translation: we need to ensure our biased selectees know how to obscure their biases from easy discovery!

This all simply beggars belief. “Boss man” had the opportunity to pull back from the precipice. Instead he hits the accelerator pedal and flies straight over the cliff, smashes into the rocks below and bursts into flames.

No acknowledgement of an issue, no contrition and no prospect of rectification at all. The ostensible goal of this “neutral” organisation is to teach and inspire young citizens about politics and voting. If the mission here was to teach young people the lesson that, in UK politics, you can expect to be unashamedly and outrageously deceived right from the very start, then this has been an absolutely stellar success.

The cat is out of the bag now, Michael.

You had a duty of care to inform the audience. You failed spectacularly.  

The most important currency in politics is trust. Once it is gone it can take a generation to win it back. ‘Bite the Ballot’ have demonstrated that they are wilfully biased. Worse, they have clearly expressed that they simply do not care that they have been outed and intend to carry on as before. Notice also the lexical register that Michael Sani uses. It is very childlike, blasé and pompous. It reminds me very much of how Russell Brand happily masturbates his own ignorance and anti-intellectualism in his own inscrutable writing. And this man is the “Big Boss”. God help us.

Tories should be wary

There’s no love lost between myself and the Tories. However in spite of my general dislike of the party and my specific issues with Cameron himself, I do not think he or they deserve to be put through this idiotic farce. Dave is so far the only party leader to have not confirmed a date with ‘Bite the Ballot’. In all seriousness I think, now the outright bias of the show is on full view, that he would be wise to withdraw. 

It is arguable that Cameron could be in for even worse treatment than Farage. Why? Because the visceral hatred of UKIP and Farage from this lot is what I would refer to as “fashionable hate”. It has become a popular past time, to impress your mates and be seen to make the correct noises for herd approval to claim to hate UKIP even if you know little about them and even less about the issues they raise. Yet there is something that is somewhat fleeting here.

The tories on the other hand face what I would call “institutional hate”. Despite not even having been born when Thatcher was still in power, many of this lot seem to uncannily pop out of the womb with a built in hatred of her and need to blame the country’s current ills on a prime minister who has been out of power for decades. You know how it goes. Everything is Fatcher’s fault, innit bruv? You instinctively support manual frackers (miners) but inexplicably hate and fear hydraulic fracturing. The tories were so evil they even caught the Teletubbies going for a poo. They had the Brighton bombing coming. The Falklands was worse than Iraq. And yes, the Belgrano was a fucking cruise liner.

Don’t do it to yourselves. Yes there will be mass hysteria by the self-righteous New Left, but their teeth grinding and childishness will only prove the point.

The children of Orwell and Huxley

One final issue that really bugged me. Because this attempt at imitating Nathan Barley was struggling to be so in touch with the supposed social media zeitgeist, all the panel participants were glued to their spyphones and tablets. The occasional full frontal shot of the panel was actually quite unnerving. When they weren’t send spittle flecked tirades Farage’s way, they were looking down with crooked necks at the miniature portals in their laps.

At any one moment the majority of the audience was simply not paying attention. In human communication terms this is a significant step backwards and not a practice that should be actively encouraged. ‘The Youth’ have become inheritors of the worst of both Orwell’s and Huxley’s fears. Continually policed Newspeak (and, increasingly, prudery too) combined with hypnotising, addictive yet numbing behaviours of performance and approval carried out via devices that are used to spy on us. 

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a social media network’s glow from a backlit display occupying a dulled, distracted, inattentive human face, forever.


Unknown said...

You communicate your frustration with the idiocracy perfectly!

Anonymous said...

Great piece. Well researched. Luckily I missed the show but I may subject myself to a viewing if feel my blood pressure needs a boost.

Foxgoose said...

Is our future politics really going to be led by gaggles of unemployable, juvenile, narcissists trying to launch pathetic "meeja" careers on as much of other peoples' money as they can blag?

They make even our existing bunch of threadbare, middle-aged, self-interested, troughers look like Pericles in comparison.

If you asked sane people which professions we might look to for political leadership of our youth - would failed actors & comedians come high on the list?

They are, after all, people whose only visible talents lie in vanity & pretence.

Top man Mike's personal vanity attempts say it all:-

Katabasis said...

Stiger - thanks. I hope it was entertaining!

Anon - thanks. Yes it is indeed a piss boiling programme to watch.

Foxgoose - it seems to be that's the case. Lots of people hoping to be plucked from obscurity. Well worth browsing some of the participant's Youtube channels just to get a grip on the horrible narcissism at work.

And thanks for that link on Michael Sani. Didn't cast his first vote until he was 27? Great. So basically this "movement" seems to value people who are ignorant rather than getting the already-engaged youth involved.

Pete North said...

Never forget who moved the debate onto their turf. This is what was always going to happen the moment it became entirely about immigration. Who takes the blame for that?

Unknown said...

Very entertaining, like Pointy you have an irreverent way with words I can appreciate.

Anonymous said...

I should know better than to troll a troll, but you're truly vile. What happened to you in life to make you such a hideous person? Take a long hard look in the mirror, are you happy? If you let go of all this hate you just might find happiness.

Katabasis said...

D'aawww isn't that sweet.

Anon 4:32 is concerned about the happiness of poor little me.

Tell you what, squirt, thanks for your pedestrian armchair psychological profiling but best not give up the day job eh?

That being said, I'll return the favour. Given that you use "troll", "hideous" & "vile" in the same paragraph and consider your own lame contribution as "trolling" I think I can quite comfortably predict you are the very type of over sensitive hand-wringing cockpuppetfuckwit that I'm more than happy to piss off.

Anonymous said...

I don't think a lot of young people support UKIP because they have moved away from racism in the past 30 years

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