Gina Miller: Bristol Festival Ideas

Gina Miller @ The Bristol Festival of Ideas

04.10.18: Tuesday night and off to an evening with Gina Miller, who is known mainly for legally challenging the UK Government’s right to invoke Article 50 (Brexit) without reference to Parliament. In the absence of political moderation, for many, Miller has willingly, or unwillingly become the figurehead for those desperately seeking somebody to rally around. As a consequence, Miller has faced an appalling barrage of abuse, including threats of gang rape, beheading, racial harassment, murder and, acid attacks. Her personal office has received packages containing dangerous substances. Her legal team has been subjected to protests outside their offices, and at least eight people have been served with cease and desist notice by the police. In a self-declared act of ‘satire.’  Rhodri Colwyn Philipps, 4th Viscount St Davids, a British peer, described Miller as a “boat jumper” and added: “If this is what we should expect from immigrants, send them back to their stinking jungles.” The 4th Viscount St Davids also offered “£5,000 for the first person to ‘accidentally’ run over this bloody troublesome first generation immigrant.” 

How have we got here? A question I often find myself asking, whatever our views on the challenges we face in our communities. What has stirred up so much animosity, hostility and, hatred? It is a darkness that strikes at the heart. A hatred I have known to have existed in the few but not the many. The grumpy uncle, or neighbour who lazily points the finger at everybody else for their troubles while fearfully avoiding the hallway mirror. Last Sunday evening I spent over 2 hours in a public meeting trying to discuss the merits and genuine concerns of a proposed winter shelter for the homeless in my neighbourhood. These issues are always sensitive, often the catalyst for bringing the worst out of people with locals exasperated by the weak administration of the consultation process managed by the City Council. Yet, none of this provided any justification for the uncontrolled rage, and venom aimed at those most vulnerable in our community who face the threat of freezing to death over the winter periods.

The demands for the council to compensate people for a perceived loss of house value, if the project were to be granted, is one thing and a concern for personal safety is another, these are entirely natural concerns. The council must calmly explain how it will help mitigate these factors, justified or not.  How these adult discussions are able to take place in an environment of open hostility, lack of humanity and outright appalling behaviour is frankly beyond me. At one point I turned to witnesses a group of people poised continuously to interrupt when breath was taken by anybody else contributing to the meeting, tightly clenched hands, a reddening and angry facial expression, like volcanos awaiting explosion. This is not a legitimate expression of concern, but an embolden confident disregard for anybody else. In part a small reflection of where we are as a people at the moment, polarised and unable to reach out, share and lacking any empathy. A smaller reflection of what Gina Miller is relaying tonight.

There is much, which I agree with Gina Miller, Brexit, the general state of politics in the UK, government abuse of power, erosion of accountability and a need to find new ways of opening up dialogue across our fractured political divide. There are also issues where her analysis, on the surface seems naive with the reiteration of the muddle that a ‘kinder, more socially aware capitalism’ will help solve the deep-rooted economic injustice between North and South and in the micro-economies of the UK regions. Not everybody who works in the world of capital finance has, and will never have the values of Gina Miller, and waiting for this type of transformation to take place is a wait too long. Especially for those who have had to live with the consequences of failed 3rd-way market-based (kinder capitalism) solutions since the 1980s. A decade, which brought the promise of an end to ‘boom and bust’ economics by its advocates who often now like to start their narrative from the financial crash of 2007, and the onset of austerity.

Tonight and I can genuinely sense a feeling of the utmost loss, grieving, ongoing bewilderment amongst the audience. It is a feeling captured towards the end of the evening during the Q&A session when Miller to her credit talked about the need to reach out to those who voted for Brexit. The voice is one of that is reminiscent of many who cannot comprehend a loss of power, an elderly man who asks “how do we get into their heads to help change their minds.” A question I am quite sure sounds much more sinister than what the questioner meant but nevertheless gets to the core of the problem. As a proud North East migrant, who voted for remain, but wanted reform. It’s not a case about getting into people heads, but listening, demonstrating empathy and a willingness to support the implementation of policies that will address economic injustice.

Gina Miller is a remarkable woman, and I can list a lot of platitudes. I utterly reject and condemn the vile misogynistic and racists abuse she faces and will no doubt continue to suffer. She is an inspiration to anybody who values common decency, and more people like her are required in public life. Her decision to transfer political allegiances away from the Labour Party to the Liberal Democrats is regrettable but understandable as the Lib Dems seem to offer a better home for her ‘kinder capitalism’ ethos. It is a move that also contains an element of irony given some academics had drawn the conclusion that the seed of Brexit was sown when the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition Government embarked on their policy of austerity. I can only reflect that our appreciation of Miller’s work will be valued more in the post-Brexit landscape, after the storm, than it is today.

I finish writing this blog entry, I open my web browsers and read the headlines. The Institute for Public Policy Research have published a new report (link here) calling for “A radical overhaul of Britain’s economy as far-reaching as Labour’s post-war reforms and the Thatcherite revolution in the 1980s is needed to address the UK’s chronic failure to raise the standard of living of millions of workers since the 2008 financial crash.” As well-meaning and insightful this report maybe I am left thinking, while Rome burns.

The B Movie is being Re Ron

“The first thing I want to say is mandate my ass” the opening words from Gil Scott Heron in his 1981 (15-minute) track B Movie.

B Movie served as the B side to the single Re-Ron both quintessentially criticising the election of populist right-wing actor Ronald Reagan to the White House. It was also the closing track on his 1981 album Reflections. While some of the detail within the lyrics will seem dated I defy anybody not to listen and draw parallels with the ongoing American car crash we are all now witnessing. 30 years later and in many ways all that seems to have changed is the actor.

Toadmeister

I don’t recall his name, but it was New Years Eve 1998, the comedian walked on stage and was warmly welcomed. His opening gag, “Scotland is celebrating tonight….Lena Zavaroni has had a shit.” His comic timing was impeccable. The room filled with equal bouts of laughter, gasps and groans. It’s a gag that has stuck with me.  Not because of any comic value, but its cruelty, given it was common knowledge that Zavaroni, a child star of the 1970s, had been suffering from anorexia since her teenage years and within a year of this gag the 35-year old Zavaroni was dead. The only thing I took heart from that night was the thinning audience seeking refuge in an adjourning bar where it was concluded the comic was boring, a one-shot pony, no depth and no charisma to manage an audience beyond aiming to shock. Years later 3 things often cross my mind from that evening.

  • The feelings of those in the process of losing a loved one, if they were to discover their loss, suffering, pain and devastation was joke material.
  • The ability to offend and be offended is an integral part of a functioning democracy and should be defended. An argument often overlooked by those on the left and misused by those of the right.
  • Thirdly, by walking out of the comic’s routine, which he will have noticed, we the audience, were in effect holding him to account.

20 years later and the willingness to say something shocking, offend, slag off or degrade is epidemic, even those seeking, accepting or obtaining public office are in on the act, but like that comic, they are often dull and as sure as night follows day accountability ultimately catches them up. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson MP the illustrious Secretary of State for Foreign affairs in the UK (one of the prominent 3 positions in UK Cabinet government). Johnson has sought to position himself as a Trump type character for the common man. Endlessly projecting himself as an affable, jovial person, he is now widely viewed as an incoherent train crash on Thomas the Tank proportions.

Johnson is of that ilk, a background of wealth and privilege giving a pretentious and mistaken belief they are not constrained by the standards decent people self-regulate to demonstrate their dignity. A sense of respect towards others including those less fortunate.  Johnson sense of privilege allows him to casually describe war-torn Sirte, Libya as potentially the next Dubai once the dead bodies were cleared away. In this context, it became of little surprise that Johnston ran to the defence of his fellow traveller Toby Young, (journalist and self-styled educationalist) who has recently been appointed to a government-funded educational quango (The Office of Students). Young believes people attacking his appointment is because of his ‘outspoken Tory’ views, but while this may provide logic to some people, as a parent, with a daughter entering the university sector shortly, his politics are not of my concern on this occasion.

There are principled conservatives, as there is across the political spectrum, who have a sense of service, standards and ethics. They understand the tone they adopt provides a sense of responsibility, leadership and integrity, which underpins our trust and confidence in those wishing to serve the greater public good. Toby Young is not one of them. Toby Young is my 1990s forgotten comic making observations about “huge knockers, having a dick up a woman’s arse, gloating over baps, wanking over the efforts of Comic Relief to raise money for those in need and referencing working people as stains and deformed.” The critical difference between my 1990s forgotten comic and Toby Young is simple. My forgotten comic has never, to my knowledge, sought or accepted public office.

Young’s appointment is rightly receiving the criticism it deserves, and given the noise, he has released a statement regretting “the sophomoric, politically incorrect remarks on twitter and I hope people will judge me on my actions.” Schizophrenically Young is seeking to present himself twice. The virtual Toby detached with less accountability and the Toby in the real world. The real world Toby is demanding to be taken serious convinced in his self-belief, righteous education and privilege that he was born to offer us all the benefits of his gracious service.  There will be those who find Young’s observations as the pinnacle of modern ironic comedy as part of the fight back against a politically correct world constructed by the liberal elites, which he and his ilk have built in their heads.  A world, which they believe suffocates their freedom to call a spade a spade. It is a world where the ‘alt-right’ see themselves as freedom fighters against disabled ramps. A world where the context of equality is determined by wealth, status, the social network you belong too and what remains is a matter of charity.

2014, in an open letter to sitting Prime Minister David Cameron, Lord Paul Bew, who chaired The Ethical Standards in Public Service wrote about the public desire of wanting those involved in public life to adhere by common ethical standards. Lord Bew hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “for the public how things are done are as important as what is done.” The ethical standards Lord Bew was talking about are Integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and that holder of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour

By appointing Toby Young, Theresa May is setting the bar for her standards, so what next how about Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown to head up a public body into women’s health. Katie Hopkins to front up a refugee relief quango, how about an Honourary Lordship for Trump in recognition of his work in building religious tolerance? To use your own words Mr Young “I hope people will judge me on my actions.” Well for my small part here I am judging you by your actions and the standards in public life.

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Blue not burgundy is the new black

There is a crucial moment in the first Matrix film when the character Neon is presented with a life-changing choice by Morpheus between taking a red or blue pill“You take the blue pill, You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland.” For those not familiar with the Matrix films the term red pill refers to a human who is aware of the true nature of the Matrix. There is a myth, which persists in the minds of some people in U.K. that the European Union forced the U.K. to change the colour of its passports from blue to burgundy and by regaining the original blue passport is a mark of national identity, sovereignty and taking back control. In the comedy of errors that has become the U.K these things matter to somebody, somewhere, for some reason for which I am not entirely sure. These are the people who have swallowed the blue pill.  Those who have taken the red pill know the British government voluntarily switched the colour of our passports in the 1980s and the EU has never had the power to force member states to change the colour of their passport.

The “news story’ about the colour of our passport is what many would call a politically manufactured distraction or spin after another terrible week for the sitting zombie government in the U.K, which slips and slides from one crisis to another. Meanwhile, properly one of the most progressive-left opposition sit waiting in the wings to deliver a killer blow. To early and Labour will be left picking up the mid-negotiation mess, much better to wait until the next round of negotiations is well underway. This will give an incoming Labour Government, which will not used to the rigours of a free-market economy as enshrined in EU treaties and law to intervene more radically in the economy. It’s not the type of ‘taking back control’ the Brexiters had in mind, but how ironic it would be. PS: The original colour of the British passport was black. Carry on swallowing the pills. 

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Best Man Project

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The Last Flower

Somethings have explanations, some things take belief, while others just leave you pondering for a rational reason for them to exist. They capture a moment, like stars when they align. On this damp, chilly September morning in the corner of my kitchen, a corner where the plants do their best to thrive, of all these days, a blooming flower stretches out seeking the sky. It’s the last flower, my father planted before he died on the 3rd March 2017, which is exactly, to the day, 12 months after my mum had passed away. The significance of this solitary flower that blooms on this damp, chilly September morning is what causes the pause, as I make a breakfast tea and say happy birthday to my mum.

Thackray’s Oddity

In a decade peppered with cultural and economic change, the 1970s certainly churned out a vast array of musical genres. While TV sitcoms reflected the mundane of life there was also documentaries that sought out injustice and the mysteries of the world, (John Pillinger, The World in Action, Whicker’s World).  In this national psyche emerged the oddity of Jake Thackray’s Yorkshire baritones penetrating the fray of well tuned southern accents, which still dominated broadcasting. My first memory of Thackray was as a young child during a magazine TV programme called That’s Life, a machine gun etiquette of consumer protection, light entertainment, performing dogs, funny shaped vegetables sitting alongside hard-hitting investigations into wrong doing. Thackray was brought up in a working-class family and enjoyed the pleasures of pale ale, rugby and pipe-smoking. After moving to Lille in France, where he taught English, Thackray became an unlikely disciple of French artists like Georges Brassen and Jacques Brel.

A poet songwriter and solitary singer Thackray’s songs were pitted with humour, satire, and social observations of everyday life. A person who shied away from the limelight, referring to himself in the 1970s, “I turned into a performing dick” after his popularity propelled him to regular TV appearances Thackery withdrew to smaller venues and pubs where he felt a connection with his audience. Aspects of this work have dated, but his importance is often overlooked, and while some lyrics may not find favour, it can be sluggish to cast off artistically given his observations are so humorously ludicrous, and light years away from them misogynism we witness in today’s music scene. It would be like trying to sensor Tom and Jerry cartoons for modern video game violence.

In his later years, Thackray was beset by health and financial problems: he had become an alcoholic and was declared bankrupt in 2000. He died of heart failure 24th December 2002. To a young child, he was an oddity. He stood out because there was no reference point to place him but he remains to this day one of those artists who is captured in glimpsed childhood memories of my parents chuckling along to the double meaning of this lyrics.

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