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Sunday, December 21, 2014

The way forward for British politics

The most important political event of the year here in the UK, bearing in mind the degraded nature of our democracy and the nature of modern political debate, was the edition of the BBC's flagship public political discussion programme, Question Time, that featured both Nigel Farage and Russell Brand.

Russell Brand pre-prepared his best lines when appearing on Question Time and read them off cue cards, Nigel Farage has said as fallout from the pair's on-screen clash continued to rumble on.

[From Brand read his best Question Time lines off a cue card, Farage claims - Telegraph]

Brand is like Farage in so many ways. Neither of them seem terribly smart and they are both much less charismatic than they think. They both promote a populistic rehashing of genuine grievances and benefit from the real feeling of alienation abroad amongst the populace without proposing any rational or even plausible solutions.

Now, on this point, I cannot help but observe that what constitutes a sensible solution is hard to determine. I have noted before, as have others, that policies advanced by the Monster Raving Loony Party and dismissed out of hand by the establishment, and the media (and, indeed, the public) have a strange habit of becoming mainstream thinking once there’s been some water under the bridge, 

All-day pub opening hours, “passports for pets” to avoid them having to go through quarantine after returning from holidays abroad, lowering the voting age to 18, and the abolition of the 11+ exam because it’s “the wrong age to take an exam that affects you for the rest of your life” are all measures we have in place today.

[From What are the Monster Raving Loony Party’s election plans?]

The lesson of history comes through loud and clear. Policies that appear Loony at first will eventually be implemented by a future Labour government. But now, our politics have fallen to a state where endless coalitions mean that Loony policies will not get the attention that they deserve from future Parliaments.

The solution is obvious. Russell Brand should become the leader of the Monster Raving Loony Party and forge it into a powerful opposition force to provide an alternative to UKIP. This will transform the British political landscape back into a two-party system, the UKIPpers and the Loonies, where the parties stand for something different. He should do it soon, so there is plenty of time to get Russell’s plans for a socialist egalitarian paradise into the manifesto in plenty of time for the election.  It will sit nicely alongside existing manifesto commitments.

We will ban all forms of Greyhound racing. This will help stop the country going to the dogs.

[From 2010 GENERAL ELECTION MANIFESTO | The Official Monster Raving Loony Party]

There are plenty of other policies from earlier manifestoes that Russell could draw on to create a policy document to change the political landscape for a generation. Like Russell, I think we should focus on the economy, where the Loony proposals for a 99p coin (to save on change in shops) and a campaign to persuade European countries to leave the Euro and join the Pound will engage a public  that it is not too comfortable with numbers. I’m sure Russell can add to this list with little effort. Encouraging people not to vote is an excellently Loony manifesto commitment, as is the idea of the Occupy Movement giving “the people” hope (I’d wager that at least 51% of the people have never heard of the “Occupy Movement”).

I want to go back to time when the two main political parties had clear and different ideologies, an inspiring vision for Britain in the 21st century and leaders that television impressionists (e.g., Mike Yarwood) can work with. This is how to do it! Russell do not let the people down!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

John Cooper-Clarke is a prophet as well as a poet

One of the reasons why our society is doomed is that it has no moral compass.

Facebook said breastfeeding photos have never been against the firm's Community Standards, but nipples had to be covered or concealed.

[From Facebook removes mother's breastfeeding photo - Telegraph]

So. Pretending to rape women on MTV is OK for Facebook, and I'm sure you can find a zillion Robin Thicke or Miley Cyrus videos (I didn't look, because I didn't want my interest in them to be misinterpreted on some GCHQ computer somewhere), but a picture of a nipple is beyond the pale. Never mind Facebook, this is Modern Britain in a nutshell. Our greatest living poet, John Cooper-Clarke, saw all of this coming a generation ago. In one of his greatest works, a heartfelt rage against the truly bizarre public morality abroad in a United Kingdom, he wrote:

“This paper’s boring mindless mean
Full of pornography the kind that’s clean
Where William Hickey meets Michael Caine
Again and again and again and again
I’ve seen millionaires on the DHSS
But I’ve never seen a nipple in the Daily Express.”

You’ll Never See A Nipple in The Daily Express (John Cooper-Clarke).

The Bard of Salford says it all.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Time for slow TV

The recent success of Scandinavian television in the UK has been quite surprising. "The Killing", "Borgen" and "The Bridge" were stalwarts on my iPad for many months. But I think the next wave of Scandi-TV might be even bigger. We need to look beyond Denmark and beyond Sweden: Norway is the next big thing.

Since then, “slow TV” has become a staple of Norwegian public broadcasting. In 2011, more than half the country watched a cruise ship’s 134-hour journey up Norway’s west coast.

[From Big in Norway: Slow TV - Olga Khazan - The Atlantic]

I think I will add a slow TV element to my campaign to become the next Director General of the BBC. I have in mind a camera mounted on the 18.15 to Portsmouth Harbour via Woking as a regular feature. I'm also thinking about a channel that is nothing but someone reading (in full) all new legislation coming from Parliament for people who find the train too stimulating.

Of course, I'll need a famous face to get it underway. The most talentless, uncharismatic and boring television presenter I can think of is Claudia Winkelman, so I think I should get in touch with her agent right away.

[Addendum] When I wrote this post, I assumed that Claudia Winkelman was married to someone famous and that was how come she was on TV but according to the wikipedia link she is actually a hereditary celebrity and is on the BBC because she has famous parents.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Our tax system is almost completely wrong

There’s an excellent piece in the July 2014 Prospect magazine by Philip Collins called “What is tax for?” in which he notes that almost half of the tax raised in the UK is income tax (ie, a tax on work) and only around one-twentieth is tax on land and buildings. He calls the case for tax property and land “excellent”, and I agree. We went down the wrong path on this a couple of hundred years ago and have never recovered from it. He also calls for the re-imposition of capital gains tax on the primary residence: I’m not so sure about this, because I wonder if it might be better to abolish capital gains tax entirely in order to encourage more people to invest for their pension-free futures, but I’ll have to think about it a little more.

Talking about direct taxes, Collins calculates that a 1% tax on land value would be sufficient to abolish corporation tax entirely, which would surely benefit the nation in many different ways. Apart from encouraging more people to invest in businesses here, it would also begin to redeploy to the legions of clever people at accountancy firms who spend every waking hour trying to dream up tax loopholes to apply themselves to more productive enterprise.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Wolf of Woking

I just couldn’t sleep on my last long-haul flight back into Heathrow. One of the reasons what that they guy next to me, who was a lawyer for one of the big international law firms (and had spent ages marking up a long document with Rothschild written all over it, so not short of a bob or two I would imagine) was watching “The Wolf of Wall Street”. This probably the most socially-irresponsible film to be exhibited to still-forming teenage brains since ‘Rock Around The Clock” had them tearing up the seats in cinemas the length and breadth of the country. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a fraudster who becomes a multi-millionaire building a bogus trading business and eventually gets arrested and sent to jail. His victims were left a couple of hundred million dollars out of pocket. The eponymous hero goes to jail for a few months and is then released to a new life. Propelled in no small measure by the success of the film, he is expected to earn $100m this year from books, speeches, corporate gigs and personal appearances. Once he’s paid back the $50m that is his share of money owed to investors, he will still be quids in. Crime doesn’t pay? Really?

The lawyer was chortling all the way through the film, and my teenage son loved it too. How am I now to persuade him to go off to University to do something socially-useful like engineering or science? The message he got from the film was that cheating people out of money, provided you wear a suit, is excellent fun and delivers girls aplenty.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Othello

Guildford Shakespeare Company

Holy Trinity Church, 5th to 22nd February 2014

I’ll save you the trouble of the reading to the end. This is a brilliant production, not to be missed.

The story is well-known. Iago, angry about being passed over for promotion, determines to destroy Othello, the "Moor of Venice” (a character many believe Shakespeare based on the Ambassador to the king of Barbary, who visited London around 1600), and sets about deceiving Othello into believing that his wife Desdemona has been unfaithful. It’s a play about jealousy. So I knew all of this, although I hadn’t read the programme or any notes about the play, when I sat back hoping to be entertained and surprised. I certainly was, but I was also shocked, because I was unprepared for the intensity and depth of emotion that the play stirs up in the hands of such talented actors.

Somehow the interplay between the atmospheric environment of Trinity Church, the “double stage”, the clever lighting and the intimacy set up by Caroline Devlin’s excellent direction worked to heighten and make compelling Chris Porter's outstanding Iago to the point where I almost wanted to jump up on stage and attack him myself.  The play was compulsive from beginning to end. I couldn’t take my eyes off the leads as the action switched from stage to stage.

Matt Pinches seemed to inhabit Cassio effortlessly and David Carr’s Othello had the nobility needed to make the play set off on the right path but I thought that the women stole the show as it moved to its tragic close. The way that Nicola Hartley played Desdemona was perfect to her end and the Emilia’s final speech was delivered rich with emotion, right at the edge but never over the top, by Rosalind Blessed (who, it turns out, is the daughter of noted thespian Brian Blessed).

I’m not sure that the “Cold War” theme completely worked for me. If it wasn’t until I read the other reviews of the play that I realised that that was the point of the 1950s staging. I thought it was 1940s staging and I'd taken the uniforms to represent British or American troops in Italy in 1943 or 1944. I’m a man, so how am I supposed to tell the difference between 1940s dresses and 1950s dresses? But the reason that this did not resonate with me was that the war between Venice and the Ottoman Turks was not a Cold War in any sense. In fact it was an almost continuous extremely hot war, or more accurately, series of wars, seven in all, that ran from 1463 to 1718. Cyprus, where most of the action takes place, fell to the Turks in 1571 following the siege of Famagusta after which the city, surrounded by 100,000 Ottoman troops and 1500 cannons, surrendered and the Venetian commander was flayed alive.

I really appreciate the opportunity to see theatre of this quality. I fell asleep still thinking about Othello’s feelings towards Desdemona and how they mutated in response to the information he was fed. Run, don’t walk, to the box office and beg, steal, or borrow a ticket to see this wonderful production before it ends on 22nd February.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I give up - it's time for post-democracy

We keep hearing that politics is in crisis because of democratic disengagement, low voter turnout and a lack of real ideas and ideology. All true. It is time of philosophers and scholars to put forward genuine alternatives and show us an enlightened path to a post-democratic future.

Sir Bob Geldof has thrown his weight behind Russell Brand's call for a political revolution, warning that the current system of democracy "may not be viable for much longer".

[From Bob Geldof Backs Russell Brand's Revolution In Call For New Politics]

I couldn’t agree more. Letting the general public have any kind of say is madness. I think it would be far better for affairs of state to be left to “artists” of one form or another, which is why I clapped with delighted when the Today programme revealed that FAG puppetmaster Matt Damon was lurking in the Davos shadows this year. We live in a world beyond satire, so abandoning democracy for Russell’s socialist egalitarian paradise seems a natural step.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.

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