The Pressure of the Poppy…

4 11 2009

In the Independent today there is a piece by sometime funny-man, and, if we’re honest only known for being on Have I Got News For You, Mark Steel. In this piece, entitled “Why should I be pressured into wearing a poppy?”, Steel ponders why there is a pressure for people to wear poppies at this time of year.

Some of the points he makes are valid ones, and naturally for a comic he runs with some ideas to their absolute logical conclusion. The whole piece is here to read. But then he gets involved in discussing Haig, and his role in the war and subsequent creation of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. And, as befitting someone who really has no idea what he is writing about, Steel harps on about Haig being “as responsible as almost anyone for the slaughter”. Which has the unfortunate implication that Haig was in some way responsible for the origins of the war. Which, of course, he wasn’t. And of course there was nothing he could have done to quell the death rate in a war which saw the technology to kill them develop at an unprecedented rate.

Steel criticises Haig for being religious too. Which is merciful because if he hadn’t been, more men would have died. Which is ignorant, stupid and foolish. So Haig was religious. So what? It was perhaps something he needed to be in order to help him through the war.

Steel’s suggestions regarding the government and the current wars are nothing more than foolish, and missing the entire picture. In short his piece is a painful misunderstanding of both the current war and the Great War. It is difficult to know whether Steel was  being deliberately moronic in a comedic manner, or whether these views are actually his own. Either way it is just a bad article in a reputable paper.





Shedding a Light…

14 09 2009

A while ago I wrote about the levels of graffiti in and around Sheffield station produced by one ‘Bloodaxe’. I couldn’t fathom the motives for his apparently methodical covering of every immovable object around the station. It seemed so mindless, so pointless.

On Saturday, whilst waiting for my shift at work to begin I was reading the Indy and its numerous inserts, including the magazine. In the mag there was an article about “covert ‘street bombers'”. Those folk who go out and scrawl graffiti onto buildings, walls, power boxes or trains. It was a hugely interesting read. It began with tranquility, with the ‘bombers’ pausing, stopping to take in their surroundings, plan their actions, and appreciate the quietness of a train track in the depths of night.

Naturally the writer of the piece reflects public opinion when she wrote that the increased governmental offensive against these ‘bombers’ was being successful, however the nagging feeling is that we are meant to sympathise with these people. But there is more to it than that. Not only are we meant to sympathise, we are meant to be aware that these people do not care whether we sympatise with them. “They do not seek or want your approval”. That is what we are told. That is what we should understand.

Philby tries, unsuccessfully, to explain why they do it. She gives us reasons which are not reasons at all, they do not want to be famous, like Banksy (who, it is suggested, is not really part of the same movement at all, and has instead moved away from everything which makes the street artists do what they do), nor do they crave approval. They do it for the rush, the thrill of breaking the law. They try to offer new perspectives of the world, try to give meanings to inanimate objects. They do it to make a point (the main proponent of the piece, Fuel, recalls his feelings when he graffitied a train with a message about the war in Iraq), they do it because they can.

Whilst the piece was a hugely interesting read (it can be found here), I was left with the nagging feeling that this wasn’t the point of Mr Bloodaxe’s trawlings. There was no message, no agenda, no attempt at colour or art. It was just a tag. He isn’t a street bomber in the same way that those described in the article are. He’s a tagger, in essence, very different; yet to the simple, the same as those who draw the images with a passion, an enjoyment, a feeling of euphoria achieved not by taking drugs but by large, yet usually inoffensive, vandalism.





Platforms and Fightbacks…

9 06 2009

As the dust begins to settle following a pretty poor set of European election results for all the major parties (The Conservatives only gained 1%, and the Lib Dems were down 1.2%), the focus has fallen on the quite frankly ugly/evil mug of Nick Griffin. The Independent has it splattered across it’s front page today, coupled with the caption “A Dark Cloud Over British Politics“. I’m not sure what it is, but his face alone indicates someone who is just that bit evil (maybe that’s just me?). Anyway, so the question becomes what to do about the BNP?

At least, that’s what it should become. Again, maybe it is just me, but I feel I am seeing more about who is to blame for the BNP’s rise, rather than what can be done to stop it. Some blame Labour for losing the most seats in places where the BNP were successful, others blame politics more generally for failing to engage with the voters. The thing is, the one group who are not blamed, but should shoulder the responsibility for encouraging a racist/homophobic party to the fore, are simply the electorate. Those who put a simple black cross into the box next to the BNP last Thursday deserve to be labelled as the ignorant racist idiots who allowed themselves to get swept away in the sensationalist yarns spun by Griffin et al.

However, the vote shows me two things. The first is that the PR system of democracy is a flawed one, as I commented a couple of weeks ago. Griffin would have been nowhere near the limelight save for the system. He won less votes than in 2004, but because Labour did so badly, he didn’t need to worry.

The second thing is that a no-platform policy to these extremist prats is just not a viable option. I found myself agreeing with Glenda Jackson’s summation of the whole thing in the Indy today. She wrote,

At least the way ahead is clear. The days of arguing whether we should confront or ignore the BNP are over. We won’t confront them. We will tear into them. We will highlight and expose their agenda of prejudice and bigotry and division.

It sounds like something from a bad film, but the point is clear. Let us (by which I mean intelligent, educated folk regardless of politics) have a platform with these people, let us demonstrate why they are racist, homophobic, simple minded folk who have no clear idea about the way British society is now constructed, let us consign them to history along with other extremist groups. Let us show you why this party does not represent everything that Britain now stands for. It is not about nationalism, but multi-nationalism.

The very worst thing that we can do is have a no platform policy against them. It is clear that there are a few pockets in Britain who swallow the BNP’s empty rhetoric with all the hunger of a malnourished dog. Forcing the BNP underground through the no-platform approach would serve to make them martyrs to a cause. They would gain more from being ostracised by society than simply allowed into rational debate. Even Griffin must know, deep down, he has nothing. He is gambling with a two and five, hoping something falls his way. At the moment, the cards seem to be falling for him, expenses, recession, falling political confidence. All aid his cause (and he still didn’t do that well at the European elections). Yet to salvage these problems would leave him raising the stakes with nothing. It is the job of the main parties, as well as the likes of the Greens and UKIP to begin to sort these problems out. Faith needs to be restored. That’s the simple bit that most already know.

The question of how is infinitely harder. Perhaps it has to be the grassroots levels, perhaps it has to be the folks in the street knocking on doors, talking to people. Perhaps it has to be at the top, with Cameron, Brown and Clegg leading by strong example, setting the tone for others to follow. It was only today that Jeremy Vine was talking about how the ‘green shoots of recovery’ are beginning to sprout in the economy. Perhaps the only thing that the system needs is time itself. Let the wounds heal and let politics begin to speak for itself again through it’s actions and consequences.

The main thing that does need to change though is that people need to feel a connection with their MP. People need to know their elected MP will fight their cause in Parliament. At the moment, they don’t, hence why they are looking for other options. Or indeed, why they are not voting in the first place. To some, politics is just men in suits aye-ing and nay-ing to various issues. To others it is a tool designed to impeed the person on the street. Levels of crazy bureaucracy, red tape, and silly laws all do not help. Politics is something that the public need to get reacquainted to. The consequence of them not is the grizzled mug of Griffin plastered across a few more front pages.





Turmoil and Rationality…

5 06 2009

Apparently, following the departures of four members of the Government in the past four days, Gordon Brown’s time as British premier are numbered. It is apparent that the Labour Party are in turmoil, they are suffering in the local elections (I am writing this before the results are all in, but the early results do not seem good for Labour), they are suffering in the media, and, depending on what you read, they are suffering thanks to their backbenchers. The overall problem is that they are suffering. And, according to some sensationalist parts of the media, and a growing number of public voices, the only solution left is for Brown to walk away from the post he coveted for years.

This is irrational, illogical, and as far as I can see, will not happen. These may prove to be famous-last-words, but Brown will only leave No.10 when the results of a general election have seen him off. And, seeing as how he has the choice of when to call an election, I simply do not expect this to be any time soon. To my mind it makes no sense for him to call an election from his point of view. He wanted this job for years, and now he’s got it, he won’t give it up without a fight (which, according to Simon Carr in Thursday’s Independent, he has “got the hang of” now). Why call an election when he is suffering badly?

From a party point of view it makes little sense either, why call an election when you are guarenteed to be hammered pretty much everywhere, thus making the (presumably) Conservative majority even stronger? Would it not make sense to wait until 2010, ride out this storm, recover some ground somewhere, and really give the election fight a good go, thereby making some dents in the Conservative majority?

The other point is that there really does not seem to be anyone to take up the post. Alan Johnson has made a good job of distancing himself from the position, despite rumours persisting that he would be the most likely to succeed should Brown make way. Other names, such as Cuddas, the Milibands or Balls, hold only bit-part support. There is not much in the way of other options for the Labour party.

The public may want an election now, but this is the result of two things. The first is the media, who have been driving this frenzy pretty much since the Telegraph broke the first expenses story. The second is public naivity. They want to have a say in who is actually running the country, rather than watch someone, who was, in their mind, unelected, blunder his way from problem to problem. They do not seem to understand that a party was elected to govern, rather than an individual.

To dam the cascading torrent of problems with a cabinet reshuffle seems to be akin to stopping up the Niagara Falls with a rotten branch. However, today Brown has brought forward the resuffle to divert some of the attention away from the local election results. The one key thing which stood out for me was that Alistair Darling remained as Chancellor. To my mind this makes sense from Brown’s viewpoint. It is obvious that the economy is in dire straits, by keeping the same guy in the position of Chancellor, this can dissipate the blame away from Brown. If he had appointed someone else, the blame-game consequences would have seen him take on more, rather than less, responsibility for the state of British finances. By keeping Darling, at least he can be consistant in sharing the load for the predicament.

These are testing times for Brown and the party as a whole. The Telegraph revelations have now written their way into the history books. The results of these revelations are still being written.