Where is what we actually want out of life in this whole rush-to-power malarkey?

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It’s easy to forget with the 24 hour news carousel forever spinning, but there is a whole point to this politics malarkey – us.

I recently had a slightly frustrating and insulting exchange on Twitter in the wake of the Labour party NEC decision to (quite rightly) keep Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot paper for the potential leadership challenge. It went something like this:

 

Some bloke:

“Deluded Corbyn supporters can’t see Labour will never be elected again” yawn, etc…

Me:

“What’s the point of power for power’s sake if you don’t get the chance to enact polices you actually want?”

Some bloke:

“You really don’t understand government do you?”

Me:

“I suppose you do and are going to enlighten me with your superior knowledge?”

Some bloke:

“Power is all that matters. I guess you saw what the Conservatives achieved yesterday?”

Me:

“You mean May getting to be PM? What’s your point?” (I must stress, at this stage I am genuinely wondering what his point is – I am interested to know now that his initial insult against my intelligence has subsided…)

Some bloke:

“You really are a fool aren’t you? Goodbye.”

 

A fool! A fool no less! For asking someone to clarify a point they were yet to make.

The conversation ended soon after that with me wishing him farewell and good luck with his megalomania. I very rarely comment on other users tweets who I don’t already know, and this is why.

However, he kind of proved the point I’ve made before and will make again: what is the point of power for powers sake?

The reason I support Corbyn, more so than I do the Labour party, is because I agree with the things he wants to do i.e. his policies.

According to random bloke, that’s not important. What’s important is that we all support a version of a party being led by people who I massively don’t agree with, because “power is all that matters”.

I don’t feel I need to explain the false logic in that argument, do I?

Maybe I do, because I hear this all the time. Firstly I hear it in the mainstream media (none more so than the BBC), and then I hear it spilling passively out of the mouths of people who I know and meet.

“Corbyn is unelectable” they say… Well, no, actually, he isn’t. In theory, in a democracy, no fully-fledged citizen is, especially when you happen to be the democratically elected leader of a major political party.

“We don’t want to be a party of opposition” they say. Well, Labour, by definition, IS the opposition party. Perhaps the reason they didn’t pick up votes under Miliband in the last two election was because they didn’t represent a significantly opposing view and therefore didn’t enthuse those who would have turned out to vote for them to do so? Or many (like me) moved our votes elsewhere in search for some other world view even remotely aligned with our own?

It doesn’t take much prodding to unravel these arguments, does it? (They are barely even arguments) And that’s what we need to do, because no one in the mainstream media is going to do it for us like they do for the Tories/establishment.

I guess that random Twitter bloke was trying to imply that the way the Conservatives steered Theresa May into power was some kind of ‘achievement’ in terms of public/media opinion and opposition to having an actually unelected person take the reigns of power with seemingly little fuss. And if you are a Conservative, who supports May, then maybe that is an achievement, but, what has that got to do with me, and people like me, who want to see the kind of policies Jeremy Corbyn is proposing represented in our democracy?

Absolutely nothing.

Because it may be about the never ending rush for absolute power, but that doesn’t make it a good thing for the rest of us.

We live in a country now where idealism, socialism, disarmament, tolerance and welfare  are branded as being undesirable tenets on which to base a society. This is thanks to the power of the media, the capitalists and the complicit politicians who want us to think this way. And for once someone who says they want to break down the power held by the unelected media and business conglomerates over our lives and democracy is able (against all odds) to even be allowed a platform to say this, and the world turns against him, and by extension, anyone who agrees with him.

What’s worse is they are making us say it too… to ourselves, to each other, as if we know something. We don’t know anything about politics, not really, not most of us, only what we are told, and we are told, relentlessly, “he’s unelectable… he’s unelectable… he’s unelectable…”

You know what? Fuck them. Elect him. Or at least stop just repeating everything and at least try to think about it and put it into your own words so we can all talk about it and see if there is some valid reasons behind it all worth discussing.

Don’t just tell someone ‘they don’t understand’ and call them a ‘fool’ for asking… Get angry, yes, but direct it constructively. I don’t know, write a blog or something…

The Book Marketing Diaries Part 3 – Asking for help

I’ve never been too proud to ask for help. I may sometimes be too British to ask for help, but that’s a whole different social anxiety altogether.

Over the coming weeks I will be asking many of my friends, family, acquaintances and the occasional tenuous contact to help me with my next book release.

Specifically, I will be asking a core group of people if they would like to have my book for free ahead of publication in exchange for an honest review so that on the day of the launch, other readers who I don’t know already have some guidance and (hopefully) reasons to pick my book out of the multitude on offer.

This will be happening soon. I will contact everyone who I think may want to help out with this, but I am also open to anyone letting me know that they would like to be part of this journey with me. If I am lucky enough to reach the golden number I am hoping for I may have to scale it back, but for now it’s open doors to early reviewers.

If you do, please let me know either through Facebook, or by emailing info@garryabbott.co.uk, and/or ideally by following this blog and leaving a comment with details of how I can contact you. I will be offering primarily digital editions in whatever format suits. I may consider providing a few printed copies if people are adamant! (but this will be limited… overheads and all. I got a marketing plan to try and fund here!)

In the meantime, in lieu of the real artwork that will be coming at some point, here is something I put together for a bit of fun (this in NO WAY represents the actual artwork… I just like messing in photoshop now and again, and skulls are cool, especially in space, with a bowler hat, a monocle, a galaxy and a planet for eyes, coming out of a supernova…These are nearly all images that you may encounter mentally if you become one of my treasured readers!)

tgc teaser layers 2 copy

From it all.

Well I’m back from a fantastic week spent in the South West in a quiet cottage, nestled in a peninsular on the River Dart in the small and quaint village of Dittisham (that I was reliably informed is pronounced ‘Ditsum’ by the locals).

It’s nice to remove oneself from ‘real life’ every once in a while, why else would we go on holiday? But in this case, thanks to the steep, rolling, 3G-blocking Devonshire hills and an opportune breakdown of the only hard-line internet connection for the entire week we were staying there, I not only ‘got away from it all’, for most of the time I got away from it all.

I got away from my near obsessive checking of the BBC news website, as if in the hour since the last time I looked world peace will have broken out. I got away from my frequent and often pointless flicking through Facebook and Twitter, as if I expect any news from my friends and family that is noteworthy not to be announced in any other way. I got away from checking my book pages, as if I will be become an overnight success purely by my powers of near-constant monitoring of sales ranks. I got away from checking and deleting the raft of meaningless emails that, despite several mailing list culls, continue to surge through like a relentless tide and deposit digital flotsam and jetsam in my inbox. I got away from fact-checking and adorning my conversations with Google.

I say I got away from it: when we made our frequent trips to the nearby towns, such as the wonderful Estuary of Dartmouth and Kingswear (two towns separated by the mouth of the River Dart, conjoined by an amazing ferry system for vehicles and pedestrians alike as in the photo below), I have to admit I occasionally had my eyes on the signal to see if I could get a few updates here and there. Thankfully, despite myself, this rarely happened either. Now and again I would receive the header subjects of a bunch of emails with no actual message, but I found that was enough, adept as I have become at recognising spam, waffle and marketing from a milliseconds glance.

There was still television however, but this didn’t feature much at all. Most mornings I was up before 8am, ready for fishing or rowing or whatever activity was planned that day, only to find my two younger brothers (9 and 12) already up and watching repeats of ‘Golden Balls’ or ‘Pointless’ on the ‘Challenge’ channel while the adults slumbered into being. I could deal with that. At that age I would have filled the room with the screeching madness of American cartoons about transforming robots or something (it’ll never catch on). On an evening after a long day doing stuff and things, the news may have come on for a quick check of the weather, which had the sometimes unfortunate effect of meaning we caught the odd news segment here and there.

One particularly striking example was when the BBC went all ‘Minority Report’ and had somehow managed to surround Sir Cliff Richard’s house with reporters and helicopters prior to the police turning up to search it. As the sensationalist report was beamed into my eyes, I thought to myself, ‘is this a bit weird? Or am I so used to reading the news I’ve forgotten how weird it is to actually watch it’. No. It turns out it was a bit weird, and the BBC are being investigated (or at least questioned) for having seemingly blackmailed the police into allowing them access to the raid in return for not jeopardising the investigation with the details they received via some shady leak. Responsible public news broadcaster? Hmm…

So it seems you can’t always get away from it all. I still had a moment of despair at the mechanisms of mass communication that exist in this country, but thanks to the lack of internet, it only lasted about as long as they news item itself, and then it was gone! I wasn’t able to check back on updates or furiously research Google for opinion pieces and alternative news streams. I just let it slide away as I thought about getting my next beer, watching the Perseids meteor shower in the none light-polluted clear night sky, and thinking about catching fish the next morning (I didn’t catch any fish, but it was fun anyway. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, give me a fishing rod and everyone will starve. I’d go for the fish option if I were you).

Now I am back, and yes, I have fallen into old patterns again, I admit. But I hope that by writing this down and hypocritically posting it on the internet in the hope that other people may read it, I am at least reminding others and my future self that it is possible to switch off every once in a while. All you need is to go somewhere beautiful in the countryside where there is no responsibilities, internet or phone signal whether you like it or not, despite your best efforts. Simple really, why didn’t I think of it before?

 

Dartsmouth 2

Dartmouth from the car ferry. Yes, that’s a car, on a ferry platform, being towed across the water. Very cool.

 

 

 

Owl Stretching Time – Pythons and Culture.

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Although I didn’t make the pilgrimage to the O2 arena to watch Monty Python bow out on stage, I was very happy to realise on Sunday that the very last show was being broadcast live on television. Despite the beeped out profanities (thanks to the broadcast going out pre-watershed), it meant that I, and presumably millions of others, got to watch the end of an era.

As far as ‘era’s’ go, it could be argued that it ended some time ago. I remember watching the 30th anniversary evening on BBC2 in 1999. As I recall it was an evening of Python episodes, interviews and documentaries. When the night finished the continuity man announced over the BBC2 logo – “That was the end of Monty Python”, a sentiment the pythons had previously made clear, having contributed only a few snippets of new footage and interviews, and I think, still not really seeing eye to eye on many ideas. (For what felt like many years, Eric Idle seemed to have banished himself to America, only ever appearing in video link ups. I always just guessed it was a tax thing).

This time, however, it felt like a much more fitting way to close the curtain on what has been for them, and us, a cultural phenomenon. It was obvious that they had chosen to come together mutually rather than just responding to expectations because of some arbitrary anniversary. It felt like watching five talented men, happy and thankful for the chance to choose the manner of their own exit, doing it in style.

I don’t really want to review the show in detail here. I think Martin Freeman put it well when in a ‘VIP lounge’ pre-show interview he said that no matter what he thought of the performance, they’ve already done it, they’ve already earned our applause and gratitude. As it happens, I think they more than earned it again with a funny, naughty and well produced finale.

Instead I want to talk more about some other sentiments that were raised by another celebrity fan in the backstage build-up: Harry Shearer, of ‘Spinal Tap’ and ‘Mr Burns from the Simpsons’ fame. He said that although the Pythons didn’t influence his kind of comedy, what they did do was show people that a group of creative people could maintain control over their own output. There is no doubt from the first moment of Python on TV when Graham Chapman says ‘Good Evening’ before sitting on a stool to the sound of a squeal, and then we cut to a drawing of a pig being crossed off a blackboard, that the BBC had taken a risk (see video below). Even more so when you listen to the stilted, baffled titters of the studio audience who don’t quite know what to make of it. Given that it took some time for Python to grow in popularity, it would have been so easy for some number obsessed executive to have deprived the world of their legacy. It hardly bears thinking about.

Of course there would have been some element of creative control over it, but the point, I think, is that they were allowed to experiment and take risks within wide boundaries, even if they were very silly risks. Without risks, culture stagnates. I imagine this is similar to when Paul McCartney was allowed to do a totally acoustic ballad in the form of ‘Yesterday’, a decision that many other producers and managers would have dismissed in favour of ‘more of the same’. Which takes me nicely onto my next point…

Harry Shearer also said that for these reasons, the Pythons and The Beatles are synonymous in his mind. Both groups inspiring his generation and beyond to stick to and stand up for their own creative vision. I agree with this entirely. For someone born in 1981 I was strangely raised on a cultural diet of The Beatles and Monty Python. This came mostly from my older brother. Quite how he discovered it all I don’t really know, as our parents lived outside of the UK for much of the ‘golden age’ of comedy and music. Either way, they were staples in my life, despite having been born not long before these cultural icons had all but disbanded, or been shot. But even from an early age, it was the sheer creativity of both these outfits that interested me. It was the reach of their influence in so many things that followed in our culture that made me excited.

As we get older and discover the world around us, finding out about the architects of our world is (or should be) a profound experience. Comedians and musicians may not have put the bricks and mortar around us, or paved the streets, but they certainly set the tone. Artists of all kind are the interior decorators of the life we are born into. They add to the ‘point’ of it all. Even if you argue that they are only a small part, they are an important and entertaining aspect that we would all miss if it wasn’t there. Unless that is, you want to live in silent, grey boxes, doing nothing ever but working, eating and procreating, never once telling or hearing a story, making something up, whistling a tune, drawing or enjoying a picture, or laughing… ever again.

There are many ways to make an impact on this world, and so many who try end up adding to the problems or creating new ones because their motives are ill founded. Artists give – even if they are sometimes rewarded for it – they create output to (generally) make the world a more enjoyable place and provoke original thought. It is this sentiment and motive embodied in exemplary examples  such as the Pythons and The Beatles that I wanted to try and get at with this blog, and in my little way to say thank you, and goodbye.

 

Use your vote how you want to, not how you wish you didn’t have to.

The UKIP puzzle.

Now before I even start I want to make it clear that I am not, I repeat not, a UKIP supporter. Nor do I support Labour, the Lib Dems or Conservatives. For this reason (amongst others) I am deeply concerned about politics in this country and have been trying to wrap my head around the UKIP puzzle for some time.

I understand why complete disillusionment with all of the major three parties would cause people to look for alternatives, but why is the only alternative that seems to be rearing its head an even more extreme right-wing party? I know there is the Green’s, but where are they? Either they have decided not to campaign or they can’t get any column inches or airtime thanks to the 24/7 barrage of Farage.

Just think how many times you have seen Nigel Farage’s face in the last few months or heard him speak. Now think how many times you’ve seen/heard Clegg, Miliband or Cameron. I would wager that of all the political parties out there, UKIP is by far enjoying the most publicity. Even if all the stories are generally about bigoted remarks and views, have you not heard the phrase “all publicity is good publicity”? Yes you have, come on, I know you have. It was in a film or something.

Since the last election I have been struggling to think what I will do the next time I have chance to vote. I was cheated by the Lib Dems, I deplore the Conservative attacks on the poor and vulnerable, and I don’t see any clear opposition from Labour that makes me think they will act any differently (oh yeah, and they took us into an illegal war). They are all one in my eyes. I want none of them.

The Solution?

So what do I do? Not vote and be accused of apathy? Spoil or submit my ballot blank and hope that means something? It’s been puzzling and frustrating me for some time, but guess what?! The answer has arrived! All I need to do is not vote for UKIP.

Of course that means I will have to vote for one of the other three major parties, because if I even have an alternative/independent candidate standing in my constituency, voting for them will just help UKIP to win by spreading the loose votes around. So that’s it. It is now my duty to vote, against all my judgement and intuitions, for a party I don’t want to vote for – in order to keep out a party I don’t want to vote for.

I can’t help but think this is perfect for the ‘big three’. They don’t even have to campaign to capture the disaffected and unrepresented, they just let UKIP do it for them by being so scary a prospect that in comparison they look like half decent human beings. Of course this is wrong. I don’t want to vote for any of them, but I’m not given that choice. The simple words ‘no suitable candidate’ strikes fear it seems. But then we love democracy right? But not too much. Just the right amount to keep things ticking over.

UKIP as the ugly best friend

UKIP are, for want of a better analogy, the ugly best friend in an American teen movie – there to make the vacuous self centred cheerleader look good. Unfortunately, unlike those movies, this ugly best friend doesn’t have a heart of gold, or can’t take her glasses off and suddenly be transformed into a beauty. ‘Ugly’ in this movie, means on the inside. We are in a race to choose the least ugly people to run our country (no less), and it is our duty, apparently. There are no beautiful people here.

I think this hope for a popular knee-jerk reaction against UKIP back to mainstream politics is a strategy, and I mistrust it. Maybe UKIP are aware of this and are banking on those who support their views to outnumber those of us who apparently have to ‘come back’ to defeat them. And what happens if they get enough of the vote to be a viable coalition party next year? Can you imagine a Conservative/UKIP coalition? A right wing party being ‘tempered’ by an extreme right wing party? Lovely. Can’t wait for that to happen. But then, to stop that I need to vote Labour, and I don’t fucking want to.

Simple answer

So this is what I’m going to do. If I believe that no one standing in my area represent my views, I will post a blank ballot*. If there is someone I feel I can support in all honesty (an independent or smaller party) – I will vote for them. That’s it. Because all the scare-mongering and rhetorical questioning I have adopted for this blog, is just that. Use your vote how you want to, not how you wish you didn’t have to. If we all did this, maybe none of them would get in, or the ensuing confusion would mean that a dialogue would have to start about what happens next. Maybe they will even include us in that conversation.

Thanks for reading, and please let me know what you think. Discourse and discussion is key.

* A blank ballot is apparently more effective than a spoiled ballot. A spoiled ballot can be written off as illegible. A blank ballot, by the absence of any mark, says something. Funny that, isn’t it?

 

About Me.

I am a writer and musician living and working in Staffordshire. I have recently published my first collection of speculative fiction short stories on Amazon ‘The Dimension Scales and Other Stories’ which can be found here. Thanks for reading!

UK (£1.82)

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00JW1KMUG

US ($2.99)

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JW1KMUG

…and on most other major eBook retailers sites…

Access The Beatles. Part 1.

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Something I haven’t talked about much on here is my love of the Beatles. I am a big Beatles fan. It’s not something I externalise much: I don’t buy Beatles duvet’s or plaster my walls with pictures, but I do, and have always, loved their music. They are a big influence on me.

One thing I’ve always wanted to do is point out a few tracks that aren’t so well known by none-Beatles fans. Obviously their catalogue is HUGE, but many people (I suspect) are more aware of the major singles and songs that have been covered and popularised by other bands (especially following the ‘1’ album that captured the imagination of a whole new generation some years ago featuring all the re-mastered number 1 singles).

So today’s post is going to be a few links to Youtube videos of less well know songs, and why I like them. If people like this post I will do another. I’m not particularly ranking these in any order of preference  – just picking some out that I think will surprise and delight newbie and die hard Beatles fans alike. (something for everybody, see?)

Let’s get started then with the first five (I’ll do more if you like it!). I’m working chronologically due to me referring back to album lists! By the way, unless stated otherwise, presume Lennon/McCartney for writing credits.

 

1. Ask Me Why (Please Please Me) 1963

First up, I’m only picking one from the debut album ‘Please Please Me’ – mainly because only half of the album was written by The Beatles, and most of the others are so well known now it would defeat the point of this post!

WHY GARRY, WHY?!

Because it demonstrates (even this early on) the Beatles use of close harmony, and deviation from standard Rock ‘n’ Roll, which leads to the kind of progressive song writing that I will be featuring!

 

2. It Won’t Be Long (With The Beatles) 1963

Next up, the opening track of ‘With The Beatles’ (second album), and definitely not the only one from this Album to feature here!

BUT MY GOD GARRY, WHY?!

The opening! The call and response of the chorus vocals which belts straight in, bouncing across the stereo, and then smoothing out into story-verses (all underpinned by the simple yet distinctive descending guitar riff at each section break).

 

3. Don’t Bother Me (Harrison) (With The Beatles) 1963

From the same album, George Harrison’s first writing credit.

EXPLAIN! I DEMAND YOU EXPLAIN!

Well, George Harrison must have had a hell of a time getting heard in these early days (even in later years this same problem led to him temporarily leaving the band). But this early outing is  a belter, and much opposed to the mop-top ‘whoooo!’ image of the time. It is gritty and angry, almost uncomfortably so, and this is expertly reflected in the arrangement and performance. Don’t you think?

 

4. Any Time At All (A Hard Day’s Night) 1964

Okay, things get a bit confusing with Album release if you’re trying to follow them through Wikipedia – so I’m sticking with UK releases, making this album #3 (feel free to correct me).

SO WHADDA YOU GO PICKED THIS ONE FOR EH?

A bit like ‘It Won’t Be Long’ – this just kicks straight in with a hook that drags you (or me, or all of us) into the song without a second to realise it. Just imagine this really heavy. There is still a skiffle/folk feel to the interlinking verses, but they just serve to lull you into the screaming chorus (and a brilliantly composed solo, hinting at the clever instrumentation that would come to define later studio work).

 

5.And I Love Her (A Hard Day’s Night) 1964

The next one from A Hard Day’s Night.

EXPLAIN YOURSELF YOUNG MAN!

Well, McCartney is getting into his stride writing the kind of songs here that seem to squeeze you like an emotional sponge. All the while he is singing, “I know this love of mine, will never die, and I love her” – the music is saying something else, something along the lines of “this love thing makes me want to despair for my very existence in anguished contradiction”. Which is brilliant. And then there is the arpeggio classical guitar backing and solo from Harrison, and yet another brilliant run down defining section changes. It’s a sad beauty.

 

Conclusion:

I could do this all day – but the blog would be very long, and I already write blogs that are too long which don’t involve 15 minutes or so of music! I’m sure plenty of people will be familiar with these songs, but still, some won’t, and it’s nice to give the less well-known tracks an airing, even if it is on my modest little blog.

If people like this, I shall do more, five at a time, over the coming weeks. Let me know by liking, commenting or just reading the page! (which, if you’re at this point, you already have done, so well done and thank you!)

 

About me:

I am a writer and musician from Staffordshire UK, currently touting my first published eBook ‘The Dimension Scales and Other Stories’ which can be found in these places. Please have a little look!

http://www.amazon.com/The-Dimension-Scales-Other-Stories-ebook/dp/B00JW1KMUG

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Dimension-Scales-Other-Stories-ebook/dp/B00JW1KMUG

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/dimension-scales-other-stories/id862470105?mt=11

… and KOBO, NOOK and Barnes & Noble too! (just search for the title!).

Newsjack Series Ten Critique with BONUS JOKES!

By Garry Abbott

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As you may or may not know, the topical ‘sketchbook’ comedy series ‘Newsjack’ has just finished its tenth series on BBC Radio 4 Extra.

The show has an ‘open-door’ policy for writers, allowing anyone to submit sketches and jokes each week to be considered for the script. Over the last three series I’ve had credits in 9 episodes (two in series 8, five in series 9 (including a sketch) and two in series 10). I would say I’ve been lucky to get these credits, but that’s not entirely true – I’ve also been really disciplined.

Each week I prepare the maximum number of sketches and jokes they allow you to submit. I spend all week keeping an eye on the news, making notes if I spot something with potential. I then spend a whole day getting my sketches together and the best part of another day writing one-liners. Basically for six weeks I lose my Sundays and a good part of Monday to topical writing!

The format of the show changed a bit this year. I was invited down to Comedy House in London to attend a briefing where we were introduced to the new format by the new producers. I got to meet a bunch of other writers. The BBC provided beer. We all went to the pub afterwards. It was good.

The new format was challenging. Less submissions allowed, a strict format for one-liner jokes, and a new ‘feel’ to the show. A lot of these changes were centred around the new host, stand-up comedian Romesh Ranganathan, who now opens the show with his own routine before the rest of the cast join him to start performing the submitted material.

There was some unease at these changes, hence the writers briefing I think. It felt initially like we were losing nearly ten minutes of potential joke placement to Romesh’s monologue, and that the prescribed one-liner formats were stifling (previously you could just submit as many jokes as you could fit on a page, in whatever style/approach you felt like – now you are allowed three jokes in each of three categories – ‘coming up’, ‘breaking news’ and ‘listings’). However, things change and people must adapt – and I got the feeling that most writers (like myself) just knuckled down to the new show and vowed to see what happens.

So what did happen?

To start with the positives; I liked Romesh’s opening monologues. It feels fine to me that a show that is designed to bring people up through the ranks should do the same for the cast and crew as it does for the writers. I’ve already heard Romesh appearing since on the ‘News Quiz’ (Radio 4) and hopefully thanks to Newsjack we will hear/see more of him in the future. The change-up to one liners worked quite well – breaking up sketch features and keeping the show interlaced with snappy jokes between longer sketches. As per usual, the rest of the cast did a sterling job with most of the sketches, especially Lewis Macleod and Morgana Robinson (who joined the cast this year, a steal for the producers I reckon). And most of all, it did what it set out to do: showcasing material by none-commissioned writers from across the country who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity.

I think there is a general reluctance amongst the writers to say anything negative about the show in the fear that they may never get a broadcast credit again! However, what sketch show have you ever heard which doesn’t have its ups and downs? The famous hits and misses? And naturally, there were a few things that didn’t quite work for me. I think most of them generally stemmed from a bit of an identity crisis throughout the series. I registered a shift away from satire towards goofy-entertainment style stories – but then I think it went back towards satire again towards the end. This is understandable when the new producers had a vision for the show and were willing to test things out to see what does and doesn’t work. This may have led to come sketch/joke choices for the purpose of fitting the new vision, rather than being the best of the bunch. But under such pressure to collate, choose, redraft, rehearse, perform, record and edit the show each week, I think we can forgive the odd groaner or sketch that didn’t land quite so well. Also, Romesh isn’t a character actor, so we only had one male voice that could do diverse characters (in the form of the vocally-talented Lewis Macleod), so some sketch options felt thin, and there was a lot of one-to-one interview style sketches in order to give Romesh a role to play (as himself). These often worked quite well, but I think another male character actor would of helped a lot here to broaden the options.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the old format was also not perfect, because topical sketch shows often aren’t (even the ‘Now Show’ has it’s off-moments). So all in all, I think it hit the brief, raised more smiles than not, and explored some new territory at the same time – all good work for when they start planning series eleven (I hope).

Anyway, I’ll leave you now with a few of my jokes that did and didn’t make it into this series (I haven’t included the sketches here, I will put them up another time). Well done to all those who got stuff on, and all those who didn’t but stuck at it anyway.

 

Series Ten Hits:

BREAKING NEWS:

“Michael Jackson to release a new album in May, proving it really doesn’t matter if you’re black or white… or dead.”

LISTINGS:

“Later tonight, The Archers, at whatever time you’re not expecting it and can’t get to the radio to switch it off in time.”

 

A selection of my series ten rejects:

BREAKING NEWS:

“World plans to celebrate a hundred years since the first World War by starting a new one.”

“Studies have found that obese children may be slower thinkers because they take more time to answer questions in class. That’s a bit unfair if you ask me, it’s hard to talk with a mouth full of Mars bars.”

“Misunderstood threat from Obama laughed off by Russians who say their asses are already frozen.”

“MP John Mann warns Labour not to be ‘too clever’ if they want to win the next election – ‘not a problem’ says Ed Miliband as he cleans his ears out with his tooth brush.”

 

COMING UP:

“As the row over the upcoming budget escalates, we’ll be investigating if George Osborne has got Balls on the ropes, or if he just keeps them in his pants like everyone else.”

“Following the announcement that 100 year olds in the UK have increased by 73%, we’ll be investigating how they got so big”

“Grant Shapps will be trying to explain why he doesn’t think it was racist to refer to the UK as Bingo Bingo land.”

“Plain packaging on cigarettes: we’ll be investigating if it would be a more effective deterrent to only package cigarettes in actual planes.”

 

TV/RADIO LISTINGS:

“New to ITV! Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen goes head to head with Kelly Hoppen to try and redesign a town house in only twenty minutes! That’s: Game of Throes, coming soon.”

“This Friday on ITV2 – ‘Birds of a Fuhrer’: Long suffering Eva is in for a big surprise when her new husband tells her what he’s got lined up for their honeymoon.”

“Radio 4 has assembled the coalition cabinet to ask what songs they would play if they were ship-wrecked: in ‘Desert Island Dicks’ – tonight at nine.”

“Can you guess the celebrity just by taking a look around a triple heart bypass? Find out tonight in ‘Through the Keyhole Surgery’ on ITV2!”

“Join Jeremy Clarkson and friends as they score some high quality drugs from a bloke round the back of a pub, in Top Gear, tonight at nine.”

Petitions!

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Today I want to ask some questions about e-petitions. I’m sure I don’t need to explain in detail, but e-petitions are calls for action or protest, circulated via the internet, that are able to be digitally signed by supporters.

The questions I want to ask are as follows:

  1. Why, given the official government e-petition site, are there now numerous groups running their own petitions? How are they funded?
  2. What does the potential over-population of this process mean? Does it water-down the message / impact?
  3. Why does it always ‘seem’ like engagement with these petitions is relatively low?

The reasons I am asking these questions is that I’ve noticed a change in my behaviour recently when it comes to internet petitions. I think it has been triggered by an increase in email I have started to receive, asking me to support various causes. Presumably this is because I have in the past, signed some petitions. However, my main concern is that I am getting to the point where I am deleting these emails before even reading the information, and as such, I am trying to examine why that is. Upon reflection, I think the above questions broadly represent my concerns. Hopefully in this blog, we can work through these together, and please feel free to post your views or further information to the comments if you think it will be informative.

Background

The UK has had an official e-petition system in place since around 2010-11. As I recall, it was heralded as being a step to more accountability and transparency (what isn’t?). The point was that any petition over 100,000 signatures can trigger a reading by a back-bench committee, and, if passed, then move onto a debate in the house of commons.

Of course, like most ‘accountable and transparent’ democratic powers, the caveats have a big impact. There is no requirement for the petition to be debated, a simple reason stated on the website can, and does, suffice in many cases (such as, ‘this issue is being looked at under another guise’, or simply ‘here are our reasons why we won’t look at this further’).

So, a once exciting sounding proposition, the power to set debate, very quickly diminished to the realms of ‘gimmick’ for a lot of people, I suspect. For a start it was flooded with badly written, misspelled calls for the death penalty to be reintroduced, and other quite extreme causes. Also, it seems from a quick inspection that many causes struggle to hit the threshold for debate anyway, and those that did/do, are often backed by newspaper campaigns, which to my mind, is much the same as what was happening before anyway (the media sets the agenda, the government responds).

NGO petition sites

More recently there has been a surge in none-government organisations offering the tools and services needed to start your own petition. Notable groups include 38 Degrees and the US based Change.org. A quick scan of funding methods for each reveal a big difference. 38 Degrees is a none profit organisation, funded by donations from members and charities. Change.org however, is a profit led business, paid by large NGOs like Amnesty International to run campaigns and also funded by advertising revenue. However, as a result of this funding model, it still offers a free service that anyone can use to run a campaign.

There are also other, less well known e-petition sites out there offering much the same. From a quick glance, I see the names ‘go petition’, ‘petition online’, ‘the petition site’, ‘i-petition’ etc..

So why so many?

It would seem to me that this is one sector where too much choice is potentially a very bad thing. Already I’ve listed seven sites, from a mere few minutes of research. So, take a message, have it represented seven times, in seven different ways, and distributed to seven different mailing lists and groups of users, and instead of one big resounding statement to deal with, you’ve got seven smaller none-unified voices to ignore.

Putting myself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t really want to listen to the united voices of the electorate, this division seems most helpful. Added to that the fact that the government have already given us a site for logging petitions, and yet we are choosing not to use it, I would have further reason to ignore the pressure from the none official groups.

Another way to look at it would be that having an open-sector will encourage the best to rise up to the top and keep innovating in order to more efficiently influence and win supporters to their platforms. Regardless of whatever funding model they are using, presumably some of the money has to be supporting jobs and salaries (which is fair enough), and therefore, competition is a healthy stimulant.

But then, it is us who are setting the campaigns, isn’t it? It is us who are after a democratic influence of our own, isn’t it? After all, we don’t want to open up yet another level of mediation between us and our representatives, influenced by supporting organisations and individuals, either privately or publicly, do we?

Successes.

So what are we achieving with this relatively new democratic tool. Today (12/03/2014) – These are the top successes featured on change and 38 degrees:

Change.Org:

  1. Bank of England keeps woman on English banknotes. (36,000 signed petition. Jane Austen to appear on Banknotes from 2017)
  2. Glasgow city council protect place in special need’s school. (7000 signed petition to reinstate transport costs for a student who would have otherwise not been able to attend)

38 Degrees:

  1. Don’t limit our GP visits – campaign by 38 degrees to overturn proposed plans by Conservatives to cap the number of times we can visit GP. A position denied and rejected by the Tories, and claimed as a victory by 38 degree’s.
  2. Olympic Tax Dodging – Multinational corporations agreed not to use a tax break offered for sponsoring Olympics due to consumer pressure, as campaigned for by 38 Degree’s.

Now, the government e-petition site doesn’t list ‘successes’ as it is just a gateway, so let’s look at the two most popular (now closed) petitions and the outcome:

  1. Stop the Badger Cull – 304,211 signatures. Closed 07/09/2013. Response: Basically nothing. It states that it will be discussed in the weekly backbench meeting, and that a response will be published soon… ? Obviously the highly unsuccessful and unpopular cull has ended now, but the principle on what happens next surely needs an answer?
  2. Convicted London rioters should lose all benefits – 258,272 signatures. Closed 09/02/2012. Response: Well it’s rather lengthy actually. It details the benefits  you already lose if you are convicted, the ways in which you can lose housing if you are convicted, and leaves some room for further debate about further sanctions.

The above, for me, shows something clearly. Yeah, have your petitions, but we’ll only take them seriously if we were going to do something like that anyway. So, no guarantee of action or changing views, just a tool to reinforce their own mandate when it comes along.

Due to that, I can see why a none-government alternative is a healthy option, but looking at the achievements of the top two NGO petition sites, there seems to be a leaning towards local victories, and less-clear government back-downs or u-turns that may, or may not, have been influenced. (after all, we are quite used to seeing policies challenged and dropped in early stages anyway).

Ultimately though, the petition, in whatever form, either lands on the lap or in the inbox of someone who is in no real way obliged to do anything about it, or at least, do anything of any substance about it. That is just the way it is, but I don’t mean that as a discouragement.

A quick thought on numbers

Very briefly, let’s look at those two ‘top’ closed petitions on the Gov site. 300,000 people wanted to save the badgers. At the last count, that’s about 0.5% of the population (if I’ve got my maths right). Change.Org can boast slightly higher, with just shy of 500,000 people urging Iain Duncan Smith to live off £53 a week (which funnily enough, he never did). But this doesn’t tangibly shift the percentage. 38 degrees is harder to quantify, with their emphasis on ‘campaigns’, I can’t seem to find actual petition info, as they offer various routes (such as mass emailing of MPs), so I don’t think it would be fair to compare.

Still, why are less than 1% of us being engaged by these routes? It seems very small. I would be interested to hear more about the average demographics if anyone knows of this information, and thoughts from the leaders of these organisations about this.

Working conclusion

So, although it may not feel it(!), this is a very brief blog to examine this phenomenon and its impacts, but I have some initial thoughts from spending the afternoon looking into it.

The government e-petition site is only as good as the will of the government monitoring it. It offers us little chance of affecting change if they can simply choose not to debate the issue, or only respond if it’s on their political ‘radar’ anyway. Given the numbers using it, why would they? Even at an all time low, ‘The Sun’ readership is currently around 6 million people. No wonder the government are more likely to listen to anything they print, representing (indirectly) a good 10% of the population.

As for the NGO petition sites, they seem more encouraging, though my quick research already shows that MPs have taken to debunking them as being ‘left’ affiliated instead of independent organisations. And for the profit based, anywhere where major advertising revenue is required for funding leaves open the possibility of corporate demands and intervention (and a quick search on the Change.Org advertising model does seem to throw up some controversies over this).

Personally, when I see an issue I am passionate about represented by one of these groups, or even a government e-petition, I shall continue to support them (though I may change my email settings to stop getting told about every campaign going!) – but more broadly, I think the debate about the effectiveness and future of this approach needs to continue (or start?), with more fundamental changes being sought to bring more power back to people and away from private interests. I would hate to see these organisations become protective over their new found powers, and hope to see more cooperation and focus on progressive, core issues. (Such as giving us the no suitable candidate box, for example? Or right to recall MPs?).

Anyway, while I have been writing this, I have received two emails from two different petition sites, one about secret courts, and one about food-banks. I would like to think that the few seconds it will take me to sign these (if I agree with them), will help change the world, but maybe we’ve got a little more work to do just yet. No harm in trying though, eh?

Some sources for you! (not exhaustive):

http://www.38degrees.org.uk/

http://www.change.org/

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/22/changeorg-corporate-gop-campaigns-internal-documents_n_1987985.html

http://www.mediauk.com/newspapers/13707/the-sun/readership-figures

(supplemented by google and wikipedia searches/results for ‘change.org’, ’38 degrees’, ‘e-petitions’ and ‘British population’)

Hobson’s choice.

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Here’s a little insight into how I plan and write my blogs. Throughout the week, if I’m lucky, I have an errant thought, a loose little notion that is triggered by something I’ve read, talked about, heard or seen – usually one that engenders an emotional response of some kind – and I think, yes, I’ll blog about that.

This week, these words have been sitting on a virtual post-it note on my desktop:

“This week’s blog – Lib Dems. Seriously? What are they going to do? I mean like, really…”

It is in no way an original thought, it’s not even a novel idea. If you are the kind of person who ever talks politics with friends or family (or strangers), then I would guess that this topic has come up at some point in the last four years. If, like me, you are one of the betrayed many who felt you were voting for something new and interesting in the last general election and actually got the Conservatives, I can guarantee you’ve had this discussion.

Just to be clear, I am not a Liberal Democrat supporter, not anymore at least, and that’s the point. I was, for five minutes four years ago when I made a rudimentary mark against a name I have already forgotten on a piece of paper in a polling station in Leek. But not now, for reasons I’m sure you don’t really need me to explain.

So who do I support? If you’ve ever read my blog before then you are likely to have seen me be pretty clear about my general lack of support for any of the established political parties, furthermore, for established politics in the way we have it in general. But let’s say, for the sake of discourse, that I don’t have democratic reformist tendencies, that I do feel I should vote for someone at the next election, and that I believe in the whole process (I don’t, but let’s pretend).

Let’s also say that I still have my general sensibilities and beliefs about how I think the world should operate and be organised – roughly meaning I am all for trying to achieve an equal society in which people are truly involved and responsible for decisions that concern themselves and each other, with guiding principles of sustainability and human development (both individual and at population level), and I am against market driven capitalism where we all try to step on each other’s heads to get a run up the ladder, are labelled and treated as consumers and tax payers, have little concern for other people’s wellbeing or aspirations, and are the mass losers in a rigged competition based economy.

It would seem from my requirements above that one could simply say, ‘ah – you’re a socialist, you should vote Labour’. Hmm, yeah. The problem with that is that Labour spend more time telling us what they’re not going to reverse or change from the coalition’s policies than telling us what they are going to do. That leads me to believe that Labour do not represent my views. Also, they seem pretty keen to distance themselves from being the ‘state that spends’, because as we all know, from the GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRASH of 2008, it was actually the state spending our taxes on public services that caused the banks to gamble away all our money, award themselves massive bonuses and get bailed out by the governments of the world; and therefore to suggest actually spending taxes on things that help society as a whole, is now political suicide (according to the circus). This fallacy, to which Labour subscribe and more depressingly, have apologised for, is unforgivable.

So not Labour then! Obviously not the Conservatives (given my list of what I don’t want to see is their ‘to do’ list), and seeing as the Liberal Democrats have propped up the Tories for the last four years and seem to have adopted Godzilla sized blinkers to their pending political demise, I have no love for them either.

Do I even need to mention UKIP? Not really. I’m not a frightened little nationalist with dubious views on immigrants (or as I prefer to call them ‘other humans’). So no. That also rules out other nationalist far-right parties whose names I don’t want to even mention here.

The Green’s? Well, I like their stand on many aspects, and I admire Caroline Lucas’s hands-on approach to protesting, but where are they? I’m not sure I even have a Green candidate in my area, and given the rapid rise of UKIP over such a short space of time, and the Green’s longer history – I just can’t help but feel they are happy to be a small voice, not a real contender. If the candidates aren’t there, the campaigning not visible, it doesn’t seem to be a real choice.

Independents? That could mean anything. They have neither the financial backing or (inherently) the joined up approach to not be sucked into mainstream agenda’s in the cut throat world of Westminster, or even local politics (which I believe they are often cold-shouldered out of by the established parties anyway).

So here’s me, wanting to vote, not feeling I have any options. What am I to do? Can somebody tell me?

Is it any wonder that as a result of this circular thought process, I conclude that the system is not serving my interests or ambitions as an individual or as someone who is concerned for the trajectory of human civilisation as a whole? Am I wrong for giving a shit about what happens to other people as well as myself? Sometimes it’s hard to conclude otherwise. After all, we live in a world where we increasingly demonise those less well off than ourselves, throw blame down the ladder, and are led in our views by a government and media who seek to divide and sow fear and suspicion amongst the masses. Just read any tabloid. Just listen to the myriad TV and Radio debates in which power responds to them, allowing them to set the terms and boundaries of the argument. Ignorance is rife, glorified and encouraged.

This post started as a thought about the Liberal Democrats and how I can’t understand why they are going to let themselves be wiped out at the next election, and it led to the rest, because it is all connected. We are all connected. We are no different than Clegg, Cameron, Milliband and the rest. There’s more of us than them. I mean like, loads more. Why are we scrabbling about and wasting our time on these people and their powerful friends? Who invests the notion ‘power’ into them anyway? That would be us, allegedly, so it makes sense to limit our choices – in case we actually make them.

So well done, ‘politics’, you’ve succeeded in this case. You’ve removed or sidelined any feasible chance of representation I had, and if I don’t vote you will chastise me for not taking part. Hardly feels fair does it?