Home Page Now the dog has a better name, he's disappeared altogether 19/02/15

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

Do you sit down in front of your TV at teatime and watch the news? This used to be such a prevalent custom, but nowadays, I gather, fewer and fewer people have any interest or the time to be bothered with it.

This partly explains why a lot of people say they will not be voting in the elections in May – they simply don’t know enough about it because they don’t bother to keep informed.

Those that like to think they keep themselves informed in other ways – via social media, via websites and via the numerous different avenues which are now open to people to contribute their own news rather than have to listen to other people’s – probably form a large proportion of those who say they are not going to vote because all politicians are as bad as each other.

The sort of half-knowledge which they pick up in this way, and then disseminate in an even less accurate manner to other people, results in a lack of confidence in the system and a general negativity about everything.

For all the amazing power of technology available at our fingertips these days, this will probably be the least well-informed election of my lifetime. Yet large numbers of people imagine they are now better informed than ever before, due to some fictional idea about the importance of ‘transparency’.

People now question everything, they say, which means that politicians and organisations have to be more open and ‘transparent’. As I have said before, they are like people who compulsively take their television apart to its tiniest constituent parts every morning before putting it together again, just to prove to themselves it should still be working and, NSS (No Surprise Sherlock, in polite circles) it doesn’t work any more because they have stuck the wrong connections together.

As I don’t do that, my TV works perfectly well and broadcasts to me a variety of news and political programmes from varying viewpoints (as does my radio), out of which I can try to make a judgement about what the facts really are.

But then comes what the BBC fondly and erroneously entitles: ‘the news from where you are’. This, to anyone living in Haverhill, is one of the funniest comedy moments of the day, because we know that there is almost no possibility of Haverhill featuring in any way.

Now and again, of course, there is some major court case, or some frightful tragedy which cannot be ignored, but in general the town might just as well not exist.

When I worked in another place we used sometimes to try to work out the sliding scale of importance which was applied by outside news providers to Haverhill – you know, like the old foreign news values which equated the death of one Briton with, say,  ten Americans, 20 Frenchmen, and 500 Bangladeshis.

It did seem as though the relative positivity of any Haverhill happenings weighed heavily in their calculations. For instance, a sex attack, a mass punch-up, a stabbing or the collapse of a business with the loss of lots of jobs would be likely to make its way quite high up in their priorities – maybe even top on a lean news day.

However, an astonishing act of kindness, a massive community success or a business developing a brilliant new piece of technology of global importance would be unlikely to figure at all.

This was the old saying of giving a dog a bad name and hanging him, seen in action. Most viewers or readers had the idea that Haverhill was a rough, run-down, loutish and unproductive carbuncle on the face of picturesque and clean-living East Anglia, and news providers were keen to provide news which shored up that perception.

Readers and viewers did not want their prejudices challenged when they picked up their local news. It would be like English sports fans being told how good the Americans were at soccer, the Dutch at cricket or the Belgians at anything.

Sadly for news providers throughout the East of England, Haverhill no longer provides any evidence of these sort of negative activities. The town’s business economy is lively and its crime rate lower than virtually anywhere of a similar size you care to mention.

Of course, its retail offer is limited and its transport links poor, but that will barely get into any of the 50 shades of grey, let alone the black negativity expected of the town.

So now Haverhill is pretty much ignored altogether, as if it were a place where nothing happens, like most of the reign of Henry III in English history (the period, incidentally, when Haverhill’s most illustrious native flourished).

I meditated on this the other day after seeing a rather desperate effort by Look East to re-invigorate the myth by focusing on the Spirit of Enterprise roundabout sculpture.

After an item earlier in the week about Maggie Hambling’s scallop shell at Aldeburgh being voted one of the worst pieces of public art, they had invited viewers to submit their ideas for competing candidates from their region.

I’m sure they had plenty to choose from, but they took the opportunity to highlight some twit going on about the Spirit of Enterprise looking like a loo roll, a waste bin, chicken wire – all the old clichés. Poor old town mayor Roger Andre was wheeled out to defend its even being allowed to exist and divide opinion.

Nobody bothered to research any further and discover that it had been voted among the top three roundabouts in the country by passing motorists, or had made it into a calendar for roundabout geeks. Other people like it, even if some here can’t appreciate it.

So the East of England at least knows that something happens in Haverhill – people like to complain about their public art. Whoopee.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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