Talk about Newsnight

A blog and forum.

Nick Clegg and Colin Firth

  • Newsnight
  • 18 Dec 07, 06:38 PM

firth203x100.jpgIt’s been a fairly prized day for Nick Clegg, and not just for winning the Lib Dem leadership contest. He has won himself another title as some of the Newsnight female staff have commented on his striking resemblance to Mr Darcy, aka Colin Firth.

Frequent images of Clegg on the news throughout the day prompted one of the ladies to spark off this debate. Maybe it’s the skin colour, the slightly foppy brown hair or the suit and tie that recalls that Bridget Jones moment.

Do join in the debate and let us know what you think – would you swoon if you saw Nick Clegg walking towards you in a sodden shirt?

The ethics of Christmas presents

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 18 Dec 07, 06:22 PM

Let’s not beat around the bush: Christmas is a carbon catastrophe and the reason is our ludicrous culture of present giving.

scrooge203x152.jpgI know I’ll be called a mean old Scrooge but here’s the Christmas manifesto of this (former) Ethical Man: if you must give, give money.

Why? Because you don’t have to want Tiny Tim to starve in the workhouse to recognise what bloated consumer nightmare the festive season has become.

Take my family, for example. We try to meet up over the Christmas period but I am beginning to wish we didn’t.

Not because I don’t enjoy seeing everyone and eating and drinking far too much before falling asleep in front of the telly. Last Christmas I couldn’t wait to tuck into Ned, the Newsnight turkey. No, the reason is that I hate giving presents.

There you go you see – you are thinking I’m an old Scrooge aren’t you?

Well I say bah humbug to that. I hate receiving presents too and here’s why.

I’ve got three children and they have ten cousins. If each of my children buys everyone a present that’s thirty-six presents. If all the cousins do the same we’re talking 13x12 presents – a staggering 156 in all.

And that is just the start. We’ve got to get presents for my folks, my three sisters and their husbands, my mother-in-law and her partner as well as my father-in-law, my wife’s grandmother and her brother. Then, of course, they’ve all got to do the same for us. So that’s another 9x8 presents – 72 more gifts - even if we assume that couples get just one present.

So my direct family alone could buy each other as many as 228 presents every single year and that’s before I’ve popped over to my cousin Xand’s for a mulled wine or two (another present plus one for my Aunt Anthea) or even begun to think about presents for friends (not that I do, you understand).

So why are these 228 presents a carbon catastrophe? That’s simple: because every single one has a carbon cost. It wouldn’t be a problem if this glut of gifts were actually useful. But be honest, when was the last time you actually got something you wanted or more importantly, needed?

Tsunami of tat

My children are too young to read this blog so I can be completely honest here. They now get so many presents that we collect up the ones we don’t like and give them to the local charity shop. I know it sounds cruel but we live in a small house and we would be engulfed in a veritable tsunami of tat if we didn’t.

The real problem is that giving presents is an inherently inefficient activity. It means guessing what someone else may want or need. Every now and then you’ll buy the perfect shirt but more often than not the ornament or tie or garden thermometer will end up in the attic or more likely in a landfill site and all the carbon that went into making it is completely wasted.

A few decades ago you probably needed the socks that your mum gave you or the saucepan she was given by her Aunt. These days it is different. Consumer goods are so cheap and plentiful that even people on very low incomes have no shortage of stuff.

Indeed, if you need proof of how corrupt our present giving culture has become look no further than the “gift” shops that have colonised every high street. You know the ones; they sell things no-one wants like scented candles, little vases and foot massage kits. Nevertheless they seem to do reasonable business.

Cash is best

Some of you may be thinking that I’m missing the point. You’re thinking that present giving isn’t about the inherent value or utility of the gift but is about the act of giving itself.

I’ll concede there’s something in that but gifts don’t have to be useless. I’ve got a rule of only buying consumables as presents: food and drink (and sometimes fireworks). At least you know someone is going to enjoy them.

But surely it would be more ethical if we all bought each other stuff that you knew we really needed. Stuff like washing up liquid, toilet paper and breakfast cereal. Or better still, cash.

I’ve never understood why giving money is considered bad form. Wasn’t that five pound note folded into Granny’s card the very best present of all? You could use it to buy something you actually wanted. Not only that, cash is completely carbon free (until you buy something, of course).

Hence my Christmas manifesto.

But by way of a post-script I’ve got a bit of an ethical confession to make. I’m still sufficiently in thrall to Christmas to feel obliged to give some gifts so direct family are getting goats (and a couple of toilets for really special people). And my daughters are getting appalling plastic dolls which shed “real tears” and giggle.

Which, I suppose, goes to prove one of the central problems of tackling global warming: it is one thing to get people worried about the issue, quite another to get them to do anything about it.

And on that note, Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, 18 December, 2007

  • Newsnight
  • 18 Dec 07, 05:50 PM

Lib Dems pick a new leader (again)

nickclegg203x100.jpgNick Clegg has scraped through to win the Liberal Democrat leadership election. His majority of 511 votes over his rival Chris Huhne was anything but resounding, in fact it was the closest ever leadership election in the history of the Liberal Democrats. The former leader Charles Kennedy on his demise, said of his party that they had "passed on the knife to a new generation”. So will Nick Clegg be able to unite his party and make this the last leadership election for a while? Jeremy will be speaking to Nick Clegg and we will be assessing his prospects with our political panel.


Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King was in front of the Treasury Select Committee this morning answering their questions on the strength of the British economy and on who was the source for the Sunday Times report on how low morale in the Treasury was hampering its response to the Northern Rock crisis. Stephanie Flanders will be explaining what it all means.

South Africa

In an acrimonious contest South Africa's ruling party the African National Congress have now finished casting their votes for a new leader. The front runner is Jacob Zuma who will then be the likely President of South Africa in 2009 when Thabo Mbeki's term ends. We should have the result of the election before we go on air. Peter Marshall has been looking at Jacob Zuma's controversial past and what his election will mean for the ANC and for South Africa.

Ben Parkinson

Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson was serving with the 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery when he lost both legs in an explosion in Afghanistan a year ago. The 23-year-old sustained 37 injuries in total, including ones to the brain, spine, skull, spleen and chest, yet he was awarded less than half of the compensation available because of the way the Ministry of Defence scheme is calculated. In our series of End of Year interviews Kirsty has been talking to Ben's mother Diane Dernie about her son's ordeal and her campaign to improve the treatment and compensation given to injured soldiers.

What's the Italian for 'not bothered'?

  • Newsnight
  • 18 Dec 07, 12:11 PM

"Newsnight viewers, being a sophisticated lot, have no need of translation," said Jeremy - and it appears he was right.

capello203x100.jpgBecause how else can we explain the fact that no one contacted us to claim a prize for "the most imaginative translation" of Fabio Capello's speech? Watch it here

Or perhaps you thought a Newsnight prize sounded pretty unappealing..

But just in case there is anyone at the back of the class who didn't understand what the new England manager said - here is the Newsnight translation:

"Being manager of a national team is very different to being a manager who can work with a team day in day out. So we have to all adjust our behaviour - manager and players. Because all of us in that moment come to represent a nation - we have an important jersey we have to wear."

Prospects for Tuesday, 18 December

  • Newsnight
  • 18 Dec 07, 10:48 AM

Carol Rubra is today's programme producer - here is her early email to the team. What do you think we should cover?

Good morning,

There are several interesting stories around today. Let's think about which ones we can put our own stamp on.

clegg203x100.jpgLib Dem leadership - the result will be announced this afternoon and we're hoping to interview the winner. Vince Cable has proved an impressive interim leader so what are the challenges for the new leader?

Mervyn King - he's giving evidence to the Treasury Select Committee. We might get more details about who was warned about flaws in the regulatory framework and when. The Bank of England has also increased the amount of support they are giving to Northern Rock today by underwriting loans provided by other banks. What does this mean for the tax payer?

Immigration - under the legacy exercise 37% of asylum seekers have been given leave to remain. Is this the best way of dealing with the problem?

Honours - Tony Wright's committee has 44 recommendations about what should be done.

Turkey has made the biggest incursion into Northern Iraq since 2003. And Condie is in Kirkuk. How will this affect the stability of the region?

ANC - members have begun voting. Peter Marshall has a profile of Jacob Zuma.

And we have an End of Year interview with Diane Parkinson who has been campaigning for the overhaul of the compensation scheme for injured soldiers after her son Ben became the most seriously injured soldier ever to survive.

Please lots of ideas to the meeting for guests and treatments.

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