Weekly Newspaper of the Year 2013 Winner

Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 5th December 2016

THOMAS Mair, the extremist white supremacist, may have gone to prison for the rest of his days for the brutal murder of MP Jo Cox.

All praise to the trial judge who refused to allow Mair a final opportunity to express his vile beliefs. Mair had refused to answer police questions or give evidence in court to explain why he gunned down and stabbed the Yorkshire MP in the street, yet he wanted to make a statement before being send down.

We should not think it ends with Mair’s jailing. What shocked me was the information that 50,000 people on Twitter had posted views sympathetic to this cowardly killer. This poses the question in my mind. Is Twitter, instead of being a valuable forum for millions of posters, really an enemy of democratic debate?

With just 140 characters, people can only make brief statements. Twitter doesn’t offer the opportunity for reasoned argument and debate. Rather, it’s becoming a forum for the exchange of insults and some disturbing threatening trends have emerged.

An MP in one of Jo Cox’s neighbouring constituencies has received so many threatening tweets she now has to employ personal safety back-up. When you hear of a female MP whose mother has pleaded with her not to be controversial it’s gone too far, surely. And whatever you may think of Nigel Farage, there is no excuse for the threats to his life which, he says, have made it almost impossible for him to walk the streets without bodyguards.

We are witnessing a perturbing increase in political extremes on both right and left which is undermining the special relationship which exists between MPs and their constituents. What is it that has brought about this change in our political debate that has led to the cancer of hatred that ultimately prompted the unspeakable actions of Thomas Mair?

MPs have become an easy target for knee-jerk criticism in our media, but the majority are decent, hard workers who, like Jo Cox, are passionately committed to helping their constituents, especially the most vulnerable members of society.

But the new threat comes via the Internet where it’s impossible to judge if abuse is the work of some sadly inept kid on a computer getting their kicks from the anonymous threats they purvey, or if just a small percentage of the 50,000 who supported the slaying of Jo Cox turn out to be another Thomas Mair, with the dark forces of extremism at heart.

Mair and his like are a problem of a society we’ve all helped to create. You just hope and have to believe that many more than those 50,000 twisted individuals believe in the sort of world which Jo Cox and decent people like her struggle to achieve.

“HE’S NOT THE REAL SANTA”

THEY finally decided to take me out of the firing line when overhearing one small boy telling his mother: “He’s not the real Santa, I’m going to pull his beard off.”

I have often wondered if my brief spell as a store Father Christmas did more to destroy children’s faith in the Santa story than anything they learned subsequently.

It wasn’t my finest hour. Go along to Asda, said the boss. Be Santa for a day and write a nice festive piece about the joys of Christmas.

Ho, ho and ho again. Some men are born Santas, some are created with a bit of training, but some of us are destined never to be convincing, despite the red coat, flowing white beard and the sack full of toys.

I’m all for keeping belief in the old boy going as long as possible. It’s a tough life being a kid these days without spoilsports trying to destroy their innocence. The Childline charity said recently that calls from youngsters wanting advice on personal problems and expressing their fears about Aleppo, Donald Trump, Brexit and a dangerous world have risen by almost one-third in the past year.

You think kids don’t pay attention to the bad news that pours forth every day? Not so. “We need to ensure our children are reassured rather than left overwhelmed and frightened,” said Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC.

We’ve now got academics, presumably those with nothing better to occupy themselves, telling parents to stop lying about the existence of Santa. A professor at the University of Exeter has written an essay questioning the morality of allowing children to believe. Another university professor, Dr. Kathy McKay, goes even further by claiming parents have “blatantly and consistently carried on a lie for a number of years”.

So if there’s no Santa there’s no Harry Potter and no Dr Who then? This can’t be right. We all need to disappear into fantasy sometimes to shield us from the realities of this harsh world. The truth comes out eventually, but I don’t see kids scarred for life by discovering not everything they’ve believed is correct.

I promise, my days as Father Christmas are gone for good. I’ll leave it to the real deal in future.

GET THAT MAYOR!

A LOCAL councillor last week told the Herald it had taken the Government until September, nine months on from the ravages of Storm Desmond, to sort out the paperwork for an application to the EU for funding for restoration work.

Is heel-dragging a typically British thing? It’s something we’ve come to accept with stoic frustration. Just look at the miles of traffic cones on our roads and the works that seem to last an eternity. We moan like anything, but then just plod on in a spirit of weary acceptance that that’s how it is, simple as.

Here in Cumbria there are lots of people still in temporary accommodation, not back in their homes after the floods a year ago.

This, in many countries, would be unacceptable. Japan, for example. Did you see the response when a gigantic sink hole opened up in a main street? Workmen descended on the spot and had it all fixed and good as new within a week.

Furthermore the mayor pitched up to express his contrition to the public because the job had taken a day longer than anticipated.

Find that mayor. Get him over here pronto. I guarantee he’d have everyone back home well in time for the festivities. Oh, and the A66 between Penrith and Scotch Corner dualled by the end of January — at the latest.

SOMETHING OF NOTE

MANY’S the time I’ve come back from a council meeting or some such gathering and sat studying my shorthand notes attempting to put into plain English something that’s been said.

I well remember the local councillor who said to me: “It’s a good job you write what we mean to say and not what we actually do say.”

That’s the thing about shorthand. I was taught by my journalistic elders and betters that it was not our aim to make fools of people. They were perfectly capable of doing that without our interference. The job was about expressing what they intended to say.

The National Council for the Training of Journalists recently announced shorthand will no longer be compulsory as most reporters are now armed with tape recorders. As a proud dinosaur, I’m sticking with notebook and pen. I still think an accurate note is better than a taped voice when it comes to sorting out the right words, in the right order, later on. In the end you seem to get better quotes the traditional way. I don’t suppose the NCTJ’s trainers think like that, though.

FULL OF BEANZ

NINE people complained about a catchy TV advertising tune played on empty baked beans cans and the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), worried kids might cut themselves on the sharp edges, decided to ban it.

Result: Beanz meanz loadsa publicity. The complainers and the ASA failed to take one important factor into the equation — the Internet.

Three YouTube videos showing the original advert and variations on the theme attracted more than two million viewers, thus providing manufacturers Heinz with incalculable free worldwide exposure as the film went viral. So, instead of a TV advert going out in this country for a few weeks then disappearing into the mists of adverts past, the ASA was left with faces redder than the sauce in which the beans are soaked in the tins.

The complainers who wanted the adverts banned got their wish. But kids these days are far more likely to follow the Internet than watch television and I wonder how many youngsters have turned up at A&E since with bloodied finger ends as a consequence of this advert’s unexpected on-line publicity.

As for the complainers and their bid to ban the beans can advert, well, gone with the wind I suppose.


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