The Problem with Normcore Publishing and Podcasts

We used to talk of a ‘media class’ and a ‘political class’ but the distinction is becoming more and more fuzzy as politicians interview each other on platforms like GB News and pundits and columnists with inside tracks rise to prominence on the back of huge salaries.

Increasingly ex-journos and columnists have re-invented themselves in podcasts and substacks and you tube channels. These were the spaces intended to be enriched by genuinely independent new media (and that still exists) but more and more what’s given prominence by legacy media is their old chums who have retired or been sacked only to pop-up on one of these channels and given a fresh lease of life.

Lifting the Mood

The rise of the bro-cast is part of this media landscape, here edge-lords Alasdair Campbell and Rory Stewart of The Rest is Politics award their pal Anas Sarwar with a special prize. He responds humbly: “As an avid listener of @RestIsPolitics, it was an honour and a surprise to be named as @campbellclaret’s UK Politician of the Year! We made great strides in 2023, but feet firmly on the ground for a momentous 2024. Hard work, humility and hope will be my guide.”

Here Robert Peston Times Radio personifies this shift of commentator to political figure with a spectacularly crap take.

In ‘Bust, Saving the Economy, Democracy and Our Sanity’ written with Kishan Koria they lay out the following prognosis:

“We in the West appear to be at a year zero, with the seeming end of the relative peace and prosperity we took for granted. The pandemic, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, growing tension with China, a rolling back of globalisation, Brexit, the return of inflation and painful interest rates – all these have shattered the illusions of the world as we knew it.

For years our politicians have said they were going for growth and would ensure that those with least would benefit disproportionately from the proceeds of that growth. They’ve failed. Growth has vanished. The poorest are desperately struggling to heat their homes and to eat.

We are at that point where confidence in our fundamental institutions has been undermined by leaders who have an uncomfortable relationship with the truth and by an economy that has mainly served the richest.”

Having argued that “There is the decline in standards in Parliament I would say the degradation quality of our politicians and indeed I have to say of Whitehall and I think that we we we’re all living and breathing the shocking decline in the competence of how we’re governed in the covid inquiry is just one example I mean day after day to hear about the incompetence of the government in the widest sense.”

His answer to this?

  1. Reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 220 and increased their salary from £90,00 a year to £250,000 per year.
  2. Increase constituencies to three times their size.
  3. Have another referendum on Europe.
  4. Make the House of Lords wholly elected and to deal entirely with constituency issues.
  5. Reform First Past the Post.

These suggestions could only come from someone deeply embedded in the political culture and institutions, It’s thought that he has an estimated net ‘worth’ of £5 million as of 2022, and a salary of £750k per year. Only someone of this income could seriously suggest increasing MPs pay to a quarter of a million as an answer to Britain’s endemic problems. There is nothing about broadening the pool of people who might enter politics, there is nothing about decentralising the political system, there is nothing about creating better forums for participation or challenging power centres. There is nothing to be said about the core problems of capitalism or the disasters of climate change that stem from it. The assumptions about “growth as an unquestionable good” are ridiculous.

His answer, and his answer is the personification of this new media class, is ‘Pay very rich MPS more than double what they currently earn!”

In a way this doesn’t matter. Peston is an overpaid media-insider and his norm-core book will sell a few copies and no-one will really care. It’s gobbledegook but my point is it does take up air-play. The public realm is crowded with these gatekeepers and opinion-writers – and here the Times Radio interviews Peston – it’s a circle of media people interviewing each other about their often bland and completely useless ideas. Even the title is ridiculously overblown ‘Saving the Economy, Democracy and Our Sanity’. Really? How embarrassing.

The problem is that these highly bland establishment figures dominate public discourse with ideas that sound like undergraduate essays, blocking out more radical prescient thinking and flooding the zone with ideas that barely scratch the surface of the dire problems we face.

Comments (16)

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  1. Sandy Watson says:

    Whenever I sense my ideas are moving off-track all I need do is go back to my basic principles which are based on my desire for a caring, fair, just and equitable society. I ask myself – will (this or that idea) help? The answers come back very quickly and clearly.

    1. SteveH says:

      I’m sorry Sandy, I don’t buy it. Very few human beings achieve such noble thinking and practices. But, its a great aspiration

      1. Sandy Watson says:

        That’s the problem, eh?
        You don’t buy it.
        But what DO you buy?

  2. Satan says:

    The author sounds like he greatly dislikes Robert Peston, and has no opinion at all on his co-author, Krishnan Koria. An unfortunate basis for a review of anything. I am wondering what it would be like if music was reviewed based on the widespread deep character flaws of musicians who have forged a career that requires pig-headed stubborness, considerable suffering, and probable benefit and tax fraud that doesn’t engender empathy with the lower class unless you can make money out of it.

    1. I have no opinion of Peston at all – just that its extraordinary that someone gets to such an exalted position and salary) with such plainly stupid analysis?

  3. SteveH says:

    Great article. Hit the nail on the head!

    People like Preston spend all their waking hours, (and probably the sleeping hours too) working out how to write and sound like they know what they’re talking about. Thing is its not even conscious thought, just instinct.

    Its the curse of the educated classes in the time of social media and the digital age

    I grew up relying on printed matter, listening to truly amazing thinking and informative people like Jacob Bronowski’s “Ascent of Man” TV series and book, and Mark Arnold Foster’s “World at War”.

    You see, I’d gone to a slum school whose purpose was to contain us rather than educate. As an introspective scared child I hid in my local library losing myself and avoiding the violence and unhappiness that was normally unavoidable. This school was closed down and I found myself in a high performing school. Sadly, I was niw welcome and found myself beaten by arrogant middle class teachers on a weekly basis. Until in a final confrontation with the headmaster, I was pushed out to join another slum school.

    Oddly enough I found teachers with more compassion, although the school offered little hope for any kind of ambitious futures. Leaving school at 15 with only a few useless CSE’s, I applied for a course a technical college. Only my English CSE was accepted. The kindly college principle gave me GCE Maths and Physics books and three weeks to up my game. I passed the GCE level exams, and emerged from college with respectable qualifications. This took me onto the armed forces, who completed my education educationally and as a person.

    I soon realised that those who took the more direct privileged higher education route were consumed by their ambitions and a sense of entitlement.

    I now see this in the likes of Preston et al.

    It seems that with the explosion of Universities, student numbers, and graduates. As a society we’ve forgotten the purpose of universities. They’ve become a hot bed of activism and virtue signalling and not the centre of scholarly excellence. In fact they’ve become degree factories and.businesses.

    Why are we surprised that we now have armies of ambitious degreed people trying to compete for influence and attention?

    Preston’s book confirms to me that we are
    Overwhelmed with mediocrity who have only succeeded in undermining the society they were expected to improve.

    1. James Mills says:

      I think I read this ”story” in a Dickens novel !

    2. Derek Thomson says:

      “This took me onto the armed forces, who completed my education educationally and as a person.” Yes, quite. What “slum” school did you attend?

    3. Professor Popkiss says:

      I’m guessing Steve H, that maybe you still work for the military?

      Standard ‘University of Life’ right-wing populist ‘thinking’.

      You are confusing real university education with Oxbridge PPE-type bollocks.

      All of your targets are the latter. They run the government, civil service and the media – especially the state broadcaster.

      There are two problem areas – 1) the so-called elite universities and their PPE type degrees that are more akin to indoctrination than education, and their purpose is to shore up the political and economic status quo AND 2) the micky-mouse so-called New Universities that ‘teach’ essentially non-academic subjects as ‘degrees’ in a very deliberate ploy to undermine true higher-education.

      You are right about one thing: Universities HAVE been turned into businesses. This will inevitably fail, bu has caused immense damage.

      You need to hone your attack better. Many of us studied, researched and taught useful things at university – and many of our former students do useful things in society.

      But for that, you would need an education – which is not provided by an institution whose purpose is to kill people on behalf of the very elites you berate.

  4. Fay Kennedy says:

    I absolutely agree with you SteveH. I graduated as a mature age woman and relished my time at university. But I was disappointed at the lack of interesting and challenging discussion as the focus for most of the students was there careers.

    1. John says:

      Fay – I assume the students were mainly school leavers.
      Even from a 40 year distance I recall that most students were just like other people of their age – interested in their own personal social and sporting interests, music etcwhile progressing their degree/ career. (nothing wrong with that). Political thought was not a high priority for most students I knew, including myself, as it didn’t seem immediately relevant to our own personal interests. I also had non student friends and they were on the whole no different. If I recall young people with a deeper, active interest in politics were regarded as a bit nerdy and boring. This gradually changed as I worked (in NHS through 1980’s) and politics became more relevant to me though some colleagues, former students and non students, continued to have little interest in politics.
      The one thing I would say about my time as a student was that in my area of study many people came from a similar middle class background. I found that this led to some of them having little experience and understanding of people who did not come from a less privileged background.

      1. SteveH says:

        I grew up in the 70’s and after tech college, considered going on to University.

        Outside of certain professiionals I’d encountered (Doctors etc.,) I knew no one who’d been to University. Where I came from it just wasn’t a consideration.

        I sought advice from the council’s careers dept. There I was challenged as to my reasons for wanting to take that path. The advisor had graduated with a history degree, saying that it hadn’t done him much good, and that the qualifications I currently had would give me a lot of options for a great career.

        I think there should be fewer Universities and that only our brightest and best from whatever background be sought out and pushed through tough academic courses, but supported pastorally and mentored to ensure the least materially privileged are not disadvantaged by the middle and upper classes.

        There should even be 2 year degrees for the very brightest.

        For those not academically equipped for such top education (like me) would have the opportunity to go as far as I could in the appropriate activity and profession.

        There needs to be an understanding and cooperation between educational classes that brings the best out of everyone, and that we achieve the best for all our people and our nation.

        1. John says:

          I knew a few people at University who had not come straight from school but had worked prior and taken a different route. I think it may be fair to say they possibly valued their education more and we’re slightly more motivated. This is not surprising as they saw education as not only a way to progress but also as a route to a better life.
          I would contend that rather than restricting educational opportunities at universities it would benefit all students if their were more students from different backgrounds. I like mast students I knew worked during holidays which again was good life experience as well as helping earn some extra income.
          The fact is that if the country is flourish in 21st century we need a highly educated workforce. I’ll give you a personal example – my daughter undertook a nursing degree and is already taking on roles that were not available for nurses a generation ago. Many people are scathing about nurses needing degree qualifications but they have no knowledge of how the needs and demands of healthcare nowadays. I am sure the example in nursing can be extrapolated to many other so called Mickey Mouse degrees.
          Lastly- today’s youngsters will not be able to retire until their 70’s so why rush them into the workforce straight from school? There is a lot more to achieving long and happy life than just working.
          In short I would like to see educational and vocational opportunities extended to as many people as possible, especially those from less privileged backgrounds, rather than restricting it to less. My evidence for this assertion is the column we are commenting on as the media/politicians establishment primarily has its roots in a private school chums background as opposed to a graduate background.

  5. SleepingDog says:

    The military are over-represented in Westminster with MPs having military backgrounds being almost all Conservative males with officer rank (similar case in Lords). Considering the typically black-and-white anti-thought conditioning, and apparent lack of meritocracy in the British military, as well as extreme incompetence and corruption across the MoD, the quality of their input to politics seems part of the problem.
    Perhaps the endemic sexual abuses of the military and Commons are related. The trend of outspokenness in serving British military chiefs may be following the previous trend of politicisation of police chiefs under Thatcher. Although there are limits, in that the British military are as fond of secrecy as other royalist institutions. It doesn’t make for open and transparent politics.

    And since British military operations are increasingly about media manipulation, maybe the crossover between all three areas (politics, media, military) is the wave of the future, at least the kind to cause destruction on a massive scale.

  6. Paddy Farrington says:

    Your point is well made, Mike. But the solution is not to attack universities or people with degrees, as seems to be suggested by some in this discussion. Just don’t buy these books! If you feel you have to read this kind of thing (and there are plenty of alternatives…), try libraries or second-hand bookshops. The problem is not that there is too much rigorous scholarship around, but too little. Instead we get this kind of celebrity media guff, which will soon sink into oblivion.

  7. Frank Mahann says:

    The Daily Mail probably.

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