Friday, 15 August 2003

Back to Charlotte Square

I don't usually agree with the views of Ruth Wishart but today I do:
Nowhere is that appetite for engaging with issues, events, and ideas more evident than at the International Book Festival, where some of the world's most provocative writers, historians, and commentators meet some of the world's most enthusiastic audiences. There is a spell now being woven in that sprawling, tented village which has captivated many thousands of new adherents.
The Book Festival is indeed wonderful. I have already mentioned my first two visits and was there again on the next two days. On Tuesday there was a talk on "Writing Local History" by Brian Osborne, co-author of The Clyde at War and author of several other books on Scottish history. I had not heard of Brian before but enjoyed a very enthusiastic talk by one who clearly loves his subject.

The next evening I attended a panel discussion organised by the Institute of Ideas as part of their commemoration of Orwell's centenary. Claire Fox chaired The Art of Political Journalism with speakers Iain Macwhirter (Sunday Herald), Brendan O'Neil (spiked online), Chris Shaw (Channel 5) and Lindsey Hilsum (Channel 4).

I was pleasantly surprised to hear Macwhirter defend "objective truth" and make his claim that New Labour spin was a consequence of so many of Blair's people being educated by the cultural Marxists of the Frankfurt School. There was an amusing discussion about Fox Television. Claire Fox (presumably no relation!) mentioned it as an example of a new type of politically committed television journalism. Shaw responded by claiming that although Fox TV sometimes pushed a conservative viewpoint, most of its programmes were politically neutral "like CNN." None of the panel seemed to know that millions of Americans think that CNN is the "Clinton News Network" or even the "Commie News Network".

Several members of the audience complained about innumeracy in media reporting and in government pronouncements. Macwhirter agreed and denounced Gordon Brown's use of "double-counting" when announcing spending plans. The panel members were certainly not libertarians but all had a healthy disregard for Blair and his crew.