Archive for the ‘Political campaigns’ Category


I’m still absorbing yesterday’s dark news. Keeping these to capture the feeling…

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Democracy, Control & Project Fantasy


Yesterday’s Any Questions on BBC Radio 4 was a special edition in the wake of the murder of Jo Cox. There was no studio audience and the panel was made up of commentators rather than politicians. What cheered my heart to some degree, in the midst of a moronic and deceitful referendum and a tragic assassination, was that two disparate journalists, Polly Toynbee of The Guardian and Peter Oborne of the Daily Mail, emphasised the desperate need for voting reform and some meaningful form of proportional representation.

I have voted in every election in my adult life – for 34 years – until the recent London mayoral election which I did not turn out for because I didn’t care for either of the main candidates. In those 42 years I have never elected a single person. Because I’m a liberal by nature, though even when I’ve voted otherwise/tactically, as in May 2015, I’ve still made no difference.

In Anita Anand’s Any Answers phone-in after the programme an MP’s chief of staff rang in and threw away that great cliche that in our democracy we “can always vote them out”. But we can’t. I haven’t been able to.

We have a highly overrated ‘democracy’ in which elections have boiled down to become focused on a tiny minority of swing voters in marginal seats.

We have an increasingly disempowering ‘democracy’ in which a party like UKIP gets millions of votes but one seat only, gets three times as many votes as the SNP but 1/56th of the representation in Parliament. How should those millions of UKIP voters feel in the wake of that most depressing election? I’ve no particular sympathy for the UKIP perspective but I don’t believe their supporters’ votes should be without value or real meaning.

As I was walking along the river in Winchester yesterday evening I spotted a Leave campaign poster at the back of an affluent house, with a URL  including the words “take control”. I would contend that even if we took back sovereignty from the EU we would continue to have no real control. At least ‘we the people’ would not. We the politicians, many of whom are elected on well under 50% of the vote, indeed many on under 30%, may gain even more unearned control and fundamentally undemocratic power.

UK democracy has been severely wounded and bleeding out long before the horrendous murder of Jo Cox, by all accounts a representative of great integrity, selfless conviction and beautiful character. Her death is tragic. Her killer’s state of mind is sadly poisonous. The referendum debate is toxic with hate and mendacity. I’ll go vote on Thursday – but with a deep sense of disempowerment and little feeling of hope…

Rhodes Must Be Remixed


All Rhodes lead to remix

Here’s my solution to the Cecil Rhodes statue controversy in Oxford. The Rhodes Must Fall campaign wants to have the statue of the in many ways rather nasty imperialist taken down from Oriel College, Oxford, his alma mater and beneficiary of his largesse. Rather than tearing down the statue like some dodgy authoritarian regime and airbrushing out history like a bunch of old Commies, let’s add another layer to it like the Brixton-based artist Hew Locke (son of a Guyanese sculptor and a British painter) did on the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol. Or put adjacent to it a bigger statue of, say, Nelson Mandela. Let’s add and be constructive…


Hew Locke – Edward Colston from Restoration (2006)

Locke draped Colston in trading beads, coins and other accoutrements of empire. (Or to be precise, he draped a photo of the statue in this 3D mixed media – but why not do it directly on the statue itself for good (in both senses)? )

You can see some of Locke’s works in the last room of the ‘Artist and Empire’ exhibition currently [until 10th April] on show at Tate Britain (ironically – the Tate & Lyle sugar fortune having been arguably built on slavery).


Edward Colston naked/unremixed in Bristol city centre

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Nelson Mandela slightly remixed with bird-shit, Parliament Square, London

Hew Locke talking about Restoration [2 minute listen]

Behind the mask of the Stop the War Coalition

The organisation which calls itself The Stop The War Coalition posted this tweet on the night of 13th November 2015 as news of the Islamist terror attacks on Paris spread around the world.

Then they deleted the tweet which shows clearly what lies behind this organisation, because they don’t want to be open about their actual views.

They don’t want people to know what or who is at their heart but it’s important that it is preserved for posterity so anyone who thinks it’s a benign gathering of pacifists can be disabused.

tweet published by Stop The War on the night of 13th November 2015

published by Stop The War on the night of 13th November 2015


Hammers and bags of stones

STEED (nods)

I’ve gathered intelligence on Fenian agitators in Liverpool and Manchester, Sir. In both cases I was able to ascertain the ringleaders, and break up the malignant activity.

A MINISTER grips a copy of The Times with growing irritation


The Suffragettes are regrettable by-products of our civilisation, out with their hammers and their bags full of stones because of dreary empty lives and high-strung over-excitable natures.

I read the script of Suffragette early last year when I was doing some work with Film4 to do with it. I found the history more compelling than the story and immediately hit Wikipedia in search of more on the Pankhursts and the heroic Emily Davison. I saw the finished movie the other day at The Phoenix, East Finchley – it was OK but the most moving part was actually the documentary footage of Davison’s funeral right at the end.

The factoid just after, in the end credits, that Swiss women didn’t get the vote until February 1971 also moved me – and many others in the audience – right off our perches.

This week got off to a colourful start with a workshop in the boardroom of the National Portrait Gallery, in my case focusing in particular on the digital. The boardroom is on Orange Street behind the gallery which I’ve always loved for sharing its name with the street in downtown Kingston, Jamaica which was once the heart of ska, rocksteady and reggae.

Buster, bowl me over with your bogus dance, shuffle me off my feet
Even if I keep on running, I’ll never get to Orange Street

One fella in the room did have dreads – Professor Paul Gilroy of King’s College, London. The rest of the gathering was equally professorial including a Princeton History professor and a Goldsmith’s lecturer/curator. The new director of the NPG was there with his senior team, all women. While we were discussing the future plans of the gallery I was thinking about how to piggy-back effectively off other media and be topical/reactive –  in doing so I came across some amazing photos on the NPG website straight out of the Steed scenes (Brendan Gleeson and his prodigious beard) from Suffragette

Surveillance Photograph of Militant Suffragettes by Criminal Record Office 1914 {courtesy of NPG}

Surveillance Photograph of Militant Suffragettes by Criminal Record Office 1914 {courtesy of NPG}

Surveillance Photograph of Militant Suffragettes by Criminal Record Office 1914 {courtesy of NPG}

Surveillance Photograph of Militant Suffragettes by Criminal Record Office 1914 {courtesy of NPG}

After the Fight c.1914 {courtesy of NPG}

After the Fight c.1914 {courtesy of NPG}

You can find 5 suffragette portraits on the National Portrait Gallery site here.

At lunchtime after the workshop I popped round the corner to the Noel Coward Theatre to try to get a ticket for Photograph 51 with Nicole Kidman about another monumental woman, Rosalind Franklin, one of the three key discoverers of DNA. Looks like I’m going to have to do a heroic two-hour queue at 8.30 in the morning to get to see this play – and I’ll have to try not to get over-excitable in the process…

Honest Serving People

united nations logo ID symbol
The debate about Syria and the use of chemical weapons as conducted in the UK and beyond these last few days has been marked by lack of clarity and thoroughness in the thinking. In such circumstances it never hurts to fall back on Kipling’s Six Honest Serving Men to make sure you have the basics addressed:

I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

  • What happened in Syria last week? Were chemical weapons used?
  • Who used them?
  • What can be done about it?
  • Who should carry out the response? Where is it most in the national interest to get involved?
  • How will military action help?
  • What will happen as a result? And when will it end?

I’ve traded in my Why for an extra What because the Why is very complex in itself: Why should we respond to the use of Chemical Weapons? Why do we distinguish them from say cluster bombing? Why do the current lead voices reckon they have moral authority when they have used napalm, agent orange, white phosphorus, depleted uranium and the like themselves, even in recent times?

I have a strong conviction, for these and other reasons, that any action to be taken, diplomatic/political or military, needs to be multilateral, preferably through the UN. Whether the United Nations Security Council is up to the job will be tested again. With two major powers who seem to conduct their foreign affairs consistently with no moral dimension it’s a body which really needs to justify its existence. It would be good to find a way to get Russia and China to actually suggest solutions. Likewise it would be good to put a bit more of the onus on the Arab League to see if they can contribute something positive to the world.

In the meantime I’d strongly encourage UK citizens to make their views clearly known by writing to their Member of Parliament via MySociety’s brilliant Write to Them service, the easiest way to get an email off to your elected representative in a matter of moments.


From The Independent today…

France and Spain back down on fish discards after internet campaign

France and Spain today backed down over a plan to carry on throwing dead fish overboard after an internet campaign organised by a television chef.

Prior to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s social networking campaign, the two countries had been hoping to persuade fellow fisheries ministers to sign a declaration opposing a ban on discards, when trawlers exceeding their allowable catch throw back fish into the sea dead.

More than 130,000 Twitter and Facebook messages were sent to ministers urging them to oppose the draft declaration and France and Spain did not insist on a vote. Britain’s fisheries minister Richard Benyon went into the meeting saying he would oppose France and Spain. The EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki now looks likely to phase out discards over four years, by reforming the Common Fisheries Policy in a way that ultimately kills fewer fish.

Last night Fearnley-Whittingstall told supporters: “I’m coming back on the Eurostar and it’s been a satisfying day. Discard disaster has been averted as the French, Spanish, Portguese and Belgian revolution just didn’t happen. Maria Damanaki led from the front and seems to be building consensus among the ministers. Everyone agreed that the amazing Twitter and Facebook activity over the weekend made a real difference.”


136,000 tweets were published between Saturday and when the EU Fisheries Ministers gathered in Brussels on Monday morning, addressed directly to each Minister in his/her own language.

To top off a moment of victory, this evening Hugh’s Fish Fight won the RTS Award for Best Popular Factual Programme, the citation [below] highlighting the importance of the multiplatform element. Hugh was delighted and is raring to move on with the follow-up series this year which will cover events like yesterday in Brussels.

“An interesting, watchable and accessible series of clever and effortless campaigning. The presenter is an amazing advocate, demonstrates admirable tenacity and gains unbelievable access. The series is also distinctive in terms of online innovation and activity.”

This is the second time this year a resolutely TV-centric awards has picked up on the multiplatform dimension of Fishfight, indicating the increasingly mainstream character of Multiplatform. Last month Fishfight won the Best Popular Factual Programme category of the Broadcast Awards, run by the industry’s tradepaper. The citation included:

“A passionate, uncompromising programme that made a potentially dull subject fascinating – and with superb use of multiplatform.”

Tipping the hat to Hugh’s previous campaign, Chicken Out, I conclude with a traditional little joke: Why did the Belgian chicken cross the road?

(Because there’s fuck all else to do in Brussels.) Not like the London chicken then.

{Article reproduced courtesy of The Independent.}

The Great British Property Scandal

So here’s what it’s all about:

After just over 24 hours more than 52,000 have joined the campaign

Our Intrepid Leader (George 'Homeboy' Clarke)

It’s been a pretty tough project but that backing plus the following have made it worth the blood, sweat and tears: before the season even started transmitting this multiplatform commission prompted a debate about the senseless waste of empty homes in the House of Commons. I’m just back from an event in Parliament with George Clarke fronting our C4 delegation to rally more MPs behind the initiative, including the committed Lib-Dem Andrew Stunell and the shadow minister for Housing Jack Dromey.

George with The Great British Property Scandal literally on his mind

Here’s the extract from Hansard:

29 Nov 2011:

Empty Homes

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): It is an honour to have secured this Adjournment debate on empty homes. It is an issue that I and many Members on both sides of the Chamber have raised in recent weeks and months. Indeed, only last week, three Members asked about empty homes during the ministerial statement on housing.

I became involved in the issue of empty homes because of my deep concern about overdevelopment in my Colne Valley constituency in west Yorkshire. It is home to the lovely towns of Slaithwaite, Marsden, Holmfirth, Honley, the Huddersfield suburbs of Lindley and Birchencliffe and many more beautiful areas. I was concerned that our beautiful Pennine countryside was set to be dug up for new identikit homes.

The idea of green fields being developed is bad enough, but it defies all logic to be doing it while thousands of existing empty properties are being left to rot. In fact, my local council, Kirklees, has just voted for a local development framework that will impose 22,470 new homes in the district over the next 15 years, with some going on green belt. I say, bring Britain’s empty homes back into use first.

There is a groundswell of support for the empty homes campaign. I have to admit that I am a big fan of Channel 4 shows such as “Grand Designs” and “Restoration Man”. The presenter of the latter show, George Clarke, will be telling the nation about the scandal of Britain’s empty homes in a forthcoming series on Channel 4 next Monday and Tuesday evening—that is the plug out of the way.

What is an empty home? Homes are left empty for a number of reasons—for example, when they are between tenants, being refurbished, in probate or when the owner is in care or hospital. For the purposes of this campaign and this debate, however, we are primarily talking about long-term empty homes. These are properties that are stuck empty, and I believe that getting those houses back into use could be a quick and relatively inexpensive way of providing more housing.

7.17 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Andrew Stunell): Like my hon. Friend, I have been in contact with George Clarke and Channel 4, and I am happy to add a second endorsement of the programme on empty homes that they are developing. He, I and they are appalled at the scandal that 250,000 properties [see how the Government manage to make 100,000 disappear – just like that?] are empty when millions of people are on waiting lists, anxiously looking for homes and unable to find them. As well as being eyesores and as well as easily falling into disrepair, empty homes are often an expensive menace to communities and public services, attracting antisocial behaviour, squatting and vandalism.

The Government know very well that we need to build more homes, more quickly, and the housing strategy statement made in the House by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government last Monday shows real earnest intent. At the same time, we have to make better use of our existing homes, as that is better for communities, for the environment and for the families who have the new home to live in. We have been working on ways to bring empty homes back into use, and tackling those homes is one of the key pledges that we made in the housing strategy.

Add your name to the campaign to fill Britain’s empty homes here

Here’s the season trail:

Update 8/12/11:

It’s Thursday night now, 72 hours on, and we have over 91,000 signed-up supporters on the site. Way beyond my expectations. 100,000 is a key number as that enables a parliamentary debate to be triggered. Turn, little counter, turn.


My favourite of the pictures I took on the anti-cuts march #march26The rest of the photos are here

A bumper week of sales in alternative fish

Fish sales soar as celebrity chef campaign hits home


Supermarkets and fishmongers report a bumper week of sales in alternative fish like coley, pollack and mackerel after celebrity chefs team up to champion them


Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is leading a campaign to change Britain's fish eating habits 

Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is leading a campaign to change Britain’s fish eating habits
By Richard Tyler 18 Jan 2011 Daily Telegraph 

Billingsgate Market in London has said its 42 traders had seen a surge in demand following the launch of Channel 4’s Fish season last week, which saw chefs Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver, Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay extolling the virtues of alternatives to cod, salmon and tuna like coley, Cornish pollack and mackerel.

Tesco, the country’s largest supermarket, said it had sold between 25pc and 45pc more “fresh sardines, coley, brown crab, whiting and sprats” compared to the previous week.

Marks & Spencer said it had its biggest ever week of fish sales, up 25pc on the same week last year, while Sainsbury’s said it had seen 12pc increase in pre-packed fish and a 7pc rise at its fish counters and in frozen fish. Pollock, an alternative to cod, was up 167pc, it said.

“We have managed to get our hands on more Dab than normal. It will influence what our buyer orders,” said a Sainsbury’s spokesman.

Independent fishmongers have also seen a spike in consumer demand and interest in the fish they are buying.

Steve Herbert, who with his brother Graham and their father William, runs W.J. Herbert & Sons on the Wood Green high street, north London, said: “It’s been a good week. Lots of people have been coming up asking about the TV show. There’s been a hell of a lot more coley sold. That had been dropping off.”

However, Mr Herbert said some alternatives like Monkfish and Turbot were too expensive for most customers and even mackerel had risen in price recently. “If the fish is too dear people will just not pay it,” he said.

Mr Herbert said they had seen one-off surges in demand, most notably during the BSE disease crisis that peaked in 1992, and he remained a realist. “We have seen a rise in sales after TV shows before and then it drops away,” he said.

Don Tyler, chairman of the London Fish Merchants Association and a big fan of sprats, said: “Retailers I have spoken to have had a very, very good week. There’s no doubt that the publicity has led the public to be more adventurous.”

He added: “We were very concerned about the publicity over fish getting thrown over board but the campaign has attracted favourable attention to the trade.”

Article reproduced courtesy of Daily Telegraph

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