The failures of political journalism

I've just watched a video of an interesting talk entitled ‘The failures of political journalism’ delivered by the journalist Helen Lewis on 29 May 2019 at a seminar organised by Oxford University's ‘Reuters Institute’. It can be seen on the institute's website and also on Youtube. The talk identified ‘seven deadly sins’ that political journalists perpetrated over the course of last two general elections and the two referendums. This article will first list them then briefly discuss them then suggest some new ones. The sins are:

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Review of ‘Dangerous Hero: Corbyn's ruthless plot for power’, by Tom Bower

This book posits that the hard left plans to end democracy in Britain. Describing the aftermath of the 2015 Labour leadership election, Bower writes:

‘Commentators criticised Corbyn's ‘poverty of ambition’ for failing to win the political centre, but they misunderstood. As unwilling as ever to compromise, he planned to defeat the PLP, transform Labour into a genuinely Marxist party, and win sufficient electoral votes to become prime minister. Just the one victory would be enough. Thereafter, McDonnell boasted, their changes would be ‘irreversible’. [ … ] Just as Corbyn and McDonnell intended to revise the Labour Party's rules to permanently protect their coup from any challenge by social democrats, they would change the British constitution to cement their victory. The result of the second general election would be a foregone conclusion.’

This may seem like a paranoid conspiracy theory but, by telling Jeremy Corbyn's life story, Tom Bower tries to show that it isn't as paranoid as it sounds.

The book is a tabloid hatchet job, its nature given away by the large typeface. Throughout the book Bower regularly assumes the reader holds a number of conservative attitudes thereby potentially alienating readers who don't, probably the very ones he is most trying to convince, in whose minds those of the book's criticisms that are genuinely valid may be devalued. For example:

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Book review: ‘Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming’, by Andreas Malm.

When I bought this book I thought it was going to be a history of steam power in the textile industry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I was looking forward to reading about cross‑compound engines, Corliss valve gear, centrifugal governors and indicator diagrams.

When I opened it I was surprised to discover that it is, in fact, a sequel to Karl Marx’s Capital. It attempts to weave (no pun intended) the idea of fossil fuel into the fabric of Marx’s theory of class struggle. It aims to show that capitalism and fossil energy are so intimately connected that they cannot be separated, from which it follows, according to the author, that only the overthrow of capitalism can avert climate change.

The book is full of words and phrases that only Marxists use, such as ‘structural crisis’, ‘surplus value’, ‘historical process’, ‘commodity fetishism’, ‘primitive accumulation’, ‘subsumption of labour’, ‘property relations’ and even ‘bourgeois property relations’. The author appears to have a checklist of ideas from Das Kap and to be ticking them off one by one.

I should have guessed from its title that it would be something like this, in which case I wouldn’t have bought it. If you are tempted to buy it for the same reason as I was you now know everything you need to know about it and I will forgive you if you don’t read any further.

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What’s happening with Swansea Bay tidal lagoon?

Am I the only person who’s bemused about what’s happening to the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon? It looks like precisely nothing, though it would be just my luck for a deal to be announced five minutes after I post this article. If that happens, then don’t bother reading the rest!

As far back as July the FT reported that the project’s investors were warning that the delay in making a decision was putting the project at risk. According to Wales Online, a bunch of Swansea councillors met with Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Greg Clark on 30 October to urge him to speed things up, but two weeks later there have still been no announcements about what is happening. I wondered whether an announcement might have been made at the recent International Tidal Energy Summit earlier this week, but there’s still no news.

I don’t understand why the government couldn’t have given it a definitive unambiguous yes or no several years ago. But I have a theory, and here it is.

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Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, what is its real cost?

The Swansea Bay tidal lagoon debate tends to focus on its cost. The figure usually quoted is £168/MWh for the feed-in tariff or ‘strike price’ needed to enable it to go ahead. If you were wondering where this number came from, how it was derived, and whether it is still correct, then you’ve come to the right place.

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Rebooting marine energy. One year on.

A year ago I wrote a blog post entitled Rebooting Marine Renewables. Its centrepiece was an analysis of the electricity generated by wave and tidal-current plant in the UK as revealed by ROCs and REGOs. Now seems like a good time to update it by taking a fresh snapshot of the data to see what has happened since then. To keep this article short and sweet please read the original post for background and context. The most relevant part is where the graphs of the data are shown.

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An attempted reconstruction of Tidal Lagoon Power’s ‘New Power Cost League Table’

Tidal Lagoon Plc (TLP) has recently published a document called ‘The New Power Cost League Table’ that compares the cost-effectiveness of different electricity generating technologies according to a new measure they have devised that they call ‘lifetime consumer cost per MWh’. Figure 1 shows the league table.

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