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
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
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
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
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.