28 November 2016

"Maybe reality is a simulation"

I don’t watch that much television, news and politics shows mostly, and I’m certainly outside the target 16-34 year-old audience of comedy programmes on UK’s Channel 4, which even one of its former Chief Executives considered had an "obsession with adolescent transgression and sex". Nonetheless, when this week’s New Yorker ran a long article by Giles Harvey about “Charlie Brooker, the British satirist who is now a television auteur” I thought I should read it. (In versions of the magazine his article’s title is Worst-Case Scenario, and on-line The Speculative Dread of “Black Mirror”).

Harvey concentrates on Brooker’s showrunning of the “prophetic TV show”, Black Mirror, which Harvey describes as an “acclaimed and eerily clairvoyant series about the unintended consequences of technological innovation”. Its interest to most of the New Yorker’s readership probably derives from the fact that:
The show, which first aired in Britain, on Channel 4, in 2011, became an international hit, with licensing rights sold in more than ninety territories. In 2014, Netflix acquired exclusive U.S. streaming rights for the first two seasons. Last year, Brooker and his longtime collaborator Annabel Jones signed a contract with Netflix to make twelve new episodes. The deal was reportedly worth forty million dollars.
But my British eye was caught by this passage:
In “The National Anthem,” the show’s début episode, set in a fictional Britain, Princess Susannah, a popular member of the Royal Family, is abducted. Her release hinges on a single demand: the Prime Minister must have unsimulated sex with a pig on live television.
Harvey goes on to describe the origins of this episode, how Channel 4 came to give it the go-ahead and a description of some of the story of how this imaginary story ricochets around the media, for example:
Throughout the episode, the screen pulsates with news crawls and graphics, polling results, tweets.
For me, as no doubt as for other UK readers, there was something familiar about all this, as Harvey reveals later:
“The National Anthem” first aired in late 2011. Last year, an unauthorized biography of British Prime Minister David Cameron quoted an anonymous member of Parliament who claimed to have witnessed Cameron during his student days at Oxford placing “a private part of his anatomy” inside the mouth of a dead pig during a hazing ritual for an exclusive social club. Twitter did what Twitter does with such material, but the BBC and other traditional news organizations initially resisted covering the story. The situation plays out in an almost identical manner in “The National Anthem.” Even the Twitter hashtags that appear in the episode—“#PMpig,” “#trottergate”—showed up on the actual Web. 
“Who’d have thought the pig-f****** [my *’s] episode would be the most accurate one?” Brooker said. “I didn’t know anything about that, by the way. I’d never heard the rumor. So when that story broke I was quite weirded out and genuinely worried for a short period that maybe reality is a simulation designed to confuse.” He exhaled. “I hope it doesn’t happen again.”
The unauthorised biography Harvey refers to is Call Me Dave by Michael Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott, published in October 2015, and the passage he describes is on pages 73/74. The “anonymous member of Parliament”, described by the authors as “a distinguished contemporary of Cameron's at Oxford” is their only source for the story. He is reported as having made the allegation on three occasions in 2014, finally claiming that photographic evidence was in the possession of a named individual. “This person failed to respond to our approaches.”

In the absence of anything else, the authors conclude possibly a little lamely that:
Perhaps it is a case of mistaken identity. Yet it is an elaborate story for an otherwise credible figure to invent. Furthermore, there are a number of accounts of pigs' heads at debauched parties in Cameron's day. …
Though they name only one:
The late Count Gottfried von Bismarck, an Oxford contemporary of Cameron … reportedly threw various dinner parties featuring pigs' heads.
So it seems that Brooker’s reputation, at least as seen by Harvey, for prophesy and clairvoyance depends largely on the National AnthemCall Me Dave succession (putting the differences between a live pig and a dead pig’s head as sex objects aside as too distasteful to pursue). This does seem to raise two points to bear in mind:

Cameron graduated from Oxford in the summer of 1988, 26 years before the reported date of the MP’s allegations in 2014. Are New Yorker and Call Me Dave readers right to assume that Ashcroft and Oakeshott would have made reference to any rumours prior to 2014 if they had heard of them?

There is no mention in Call Me Dave of the Black Mirror National Anthem episode which had been screened less than three years before the MP’s allegations.

21 November 2016

Everything is possible, David Miliband

I last posted about David Miliband on 23 May 2015, 18 months ago. I was writing just after a Sunday Times magazine cover story had appeared, Celebrity big brother How David Miliband conquered New York, and was following up earlier posts on the theme of whether Miliband would “do a Boris” and return to Westminster politics. Now, after so many major and unexpected events, there seem to be good reasons to revisit the subject:

The UK general election in May 2015 was won by the Conservatives. Ed Miliband then resigned as leader of the Labour party to be replaced by Jeremy Corbyn who was re-endorsed by the party membership in 2016.

The EU referendum in June 2016 came down in favour of Leave. David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister and was replaced by Teresa May. She appointed Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary.

In November Donald Trump was elected President of the United States defeating Hillary Clinton.

When in 2014 I reviewed Clinton’s book, Hard Choices, I noted that “On David Miliband the adjectives pile up:
David proved to be an invaluable partner. He was young, energetic, smart, creative and attractive with a ready smile. We found our views on how the world was changing remarkably similar.
As Donald Trump might tweet, Very nice! And it wasn’t surprising to read Tom Newton Dunn’s Sun story in April this year that
David Miliband is expecting to be given a top job in the US government by Hillary Clinton if she is elected president in November. The New York-based former Labour Foreign Secretary has told MP friends that the Democrat candidate for the White House wants to make him a foreign envoy. … Mr Miliband [may] have to take up US citizenship to accept the job offer. And it would mean he will have effectively ruled out a return to British politics for good.
So in September, when Miliband offered advice (writing in “a personal capacity”) in the New Statesman on the new challenges for the British left post-Brexit, it couldn’t have been difficult for him to muster the equanimity to observe that:
[Labour] have not been further from power since the 1930s.
and that:
The main charge against Jeremy Corbyn is not just that his strategy is undesirable because it makes the party unelectable. That is only half the story. The real issue is that his strategy makes the party unelectable ¬because it is in many aspects undesirable.
and on Corbyn’s foreign and domestic policies:
There is one other element that is not only undesirable, but disastrous. It is the critique that everyone who disagrees with Jeremy Corbyn is in fact a closet Tory – or “Tory lite”. The US Republicans have a similar problem, with anyone to the left of the hard right called “Rino”, meaning “Republican In Name Only”.
But now the real megafauna are on their way to Washington and any prospects of Clintonian patronage have vaporised. And who should show up in London, as The Times tersely reported on 18 November (right), within a week of the Trump victory, but one David Miliband. Nigel Nelson had offered a more timely report in the Mirror on 13 November, David Miliband set to return to the UK after Trump victory- sparking rumours of Corbyn leadership challenge, The former foreign secretary was reportedly hoping for a position in a Hillary Clinton White House:
David Miliband is ready to come back to Britain now Hillary Clinton will not be US president. And that would allow the former Labour Foreign Secretary to return to British politics for a new leadership challenge against Jeremy Corbyn now being touted by MPs for 2018. A friend of Mr Miliband said: “He was only hanging on over there in the hope Hillary would give him a big job. “Now Donald Trump is president it is more likely he will come home.”
Nelson went on, in sentences that would have been more relevant had Clinton won, to review the jobs that she might have put his way, and his rather gushing opinion of her. At this point it is worth pulling up a quote from the May 2015 post:
"The typical term for the boss of this organisation [the IRC] is 10 years. He made a commitment to stay for seven, which takes him to 2020, but with, effectively, a break option at five.”
So, all Miliband has to do next year is find a safe Labour seat which hasn’t been taken over by extremists (unlike poor Hilary Benn) and which will survive the constituency boundary changes, get adopted instead of Ed Balls (an emerging national treasure on the strength of Strictly Come Dancing), be sufficiently pro-Brexit to defeat UKIP at the general election in 2020 which Labour will probably lose, be elected Labour leader after Corbyn resigns, pushing Keir Starmer and others out of the way, and then lead his party to victory in the 2025 election when he will become PM at the age of 59, almost 60. At least his age would be the least of his problems, the average age of world leaders seems to be on the way up.

We live in a time when the improbable can’t be ruled out and the expected doesn’t happen or, to quote Bernard-Henri Lévy:
If Trump is possible, then everything is possible. Nothing, from now on, is unimaginable.
Like a Brexit-driven UK general election in the first six-months of 2017, Miliband being inserted into a safe seat early next year, possibly assisted by Tony Blair's "new political institute", and a defeated and demoralised Labour party looking for a new leader?