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Talk of many things

07 June 2013

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I WORRY for Alan Dein, presenter of Don't Log Off (Radio 4, Wednesdays). If he continues to surf the internet at all hours, and open Skype conversations with adolescent girls from Pakistan with the line "Do you have a boyfriend?", then surely he is going to attract the attention of the authorities. Of course, Dein's purpose is legitimate. The programme's pre­mise is that Dein is open to all callers, who contact him via a Face­book advertisement that states simply "Talk to me."

He has furnished several series with the highlights from these encounters. So we met Jaycee, aged 17, from Islamabad, with her vision of paradise; Brenda, from Indiana, who married a Muslim, much to the dismay of her Chris­tian friends; and Peruvian Carlos, who, after a long struggle, has ma­­naged to obtain a Canadian visa, but has not yet persuaded his sweetheart to join him there.

Radio excels in what might be called the "There's nowt so queer as folk" genre, human experience being an inexhaustible fount of engaging material. Dein does this sort of thing brilliantly, except that his voice betrays too great a reverence for the ephemeral wisdom that these distant voices impart, and for the accidental process that brought them to him. In fact, if you trawl the oceans of social media all day and all night, you are pretty much bound to start making connections.

The random encounters facilitated by social media are what modern broadcasters, publicists, and politicians long for and fear in equal measure. Done well, as in Barack Obama's election campaigns, the strategy can be a game- changer. But others have suffered humiliation as a result of the demo-
cratic access that social media provide.

Michael Foot would have been  horrified at the way that modern political campaigns rely on such resources; for, as we heard in Arc­hive on 4: The longest suicide note in history (Radio 4, Saturday), he was a man for the traditional hustings rather than the TV studio. As a result, in the disastrous 1983 election campaign, he managed to convince only the faithful who attended his meetings that Lab­our's shambolic manifesto was a good idea.

This was an entertaining piece, but I doubt it told us much that we did not already know. And one thing that is still not clear is why the Labour Shadow Cabinet so easily accepted a manifesto that pro­mised nuclear disarmament, renationalisation, and withdrawal from the Common Market.

There was no creeping realisation that the document was a disaster; the likes of Lord Hattersley and Lord Kinnock claim to have known it from the start. One the­ory that, in all this confusion, sounds the more plausible is that it was a deliberate plan to lose an already unwinnable election, and discredit Tony Benn's policies in the process.

There is some heroism to be found in the failure: in the impulse of Foot to lead, to engage the public in a debate on a form of socialism that would never again be the stuff of mainstream public discourse. And, when nationalisation of the financial services eventually came about, in 2008, there was no public debate - and it even had the support of the Tories.

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