If you don’t know them, I’m not telling you.
Sir Ian is back and he’s taking no prisoners. Although he is detaining people at the border in a legal fashion.
So, The Thatcher Seance is happening, and it’s ruffling a few feathers. Here’s the trailer:
The show is already part of history, as I previewed it as part of the record-breaking attempt to perform the world’s longest comedy gig. Ha! Take that, Norris Macwhirter, and your other friends on the creepy far right…
If I were you I’d book tickets now. See you there. And maybe her, too.
(Full Disclosure: I write for The Revolution Will Be Televised so everything I say above should be taken with a pinch of whatever condiment you like because it airs on BBC3. Oh, and it won last year’s BAFTA for Best Comedy, while we’re talking about quality programming)
I don’t listen to Radio 3. I don’t enjoy the programming, it’s almost all repeats of music that has been around for hundreds of years, and I suspect with the amount of Wagner they play that everyone who does listen to it is probably a bit anti-semitic. Radio 3 is not for me.
I don’t, however, want to see the BBC axe it.
More than that, there are some channels I think are actively detrimental to human life. With the tag-team property fetishism of Philandkirsty and Sarah Beenie, Channel 4 supported a bubble in the housing market for more than a decade. Their relentless propaganda claiming property ownership was the only route to happiness fuelled the sorts of mortgage lending that led to Northern Rock going bust, priced ordinary people our of most city centres and created it an atmosphere in which social housing now can’t be built because of the effect it will have on house prices. If you build a council house you’re robbing from the real humans, you see. Essentially, I’m saying Channel 4 are mainly responsible for the recession, and for the crisis in housing stock we currently face. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing us he wasn’t Kirsty Allsop.
But I wouldn’t cheer if Channel 4 closed.
The reason for this – and here comes the science part – is that I actually don’t think my personal viewing preferences should govern all the television that exists. Nor do I think my personal preferences should be the yardstick by which the BBC’s performance is measured.
So here’s why we shouldn’t close BBC3, even if you don’t like the programmes it makes.
Nighty Night, Monkey Dust, Pulling, High Spirits with Shirley Ghostman, 28 Acts In 28 Minutes, Mongrels, Dead Boss, Him And Her, Annually Retentive. Those are all excellent comedies you wouldn’t have without BBC3.
Oh, and then there are the little shows like Little Britain, The Mighty Boosh and Gavin and Stacey, which some people liked..
And, just thinking about what’s currently on, there’s Uncle (giving a new performer a deserved lead in a BBC sitcom), Bluestone 42 (which is both ambitious and relevant) and The Revolution Will Be Televised (which was nominated for a Rose d’Or last year as well as winning some award or other). There’s Live At The Electric, giving new acts (with some notable omissions – ahem) some of their first television exposure as well as being presented by the oldest man in comedy (unfortunately, the new acts are sacrificed after the show so that Russell Kane can drink their blood and soothe the ache in the lump of black gristle he has instead of a heart).
So let’s talk genre. And mention The Fades, Being Human, Torchwood and In The Flesh.
In fact with Little Britain USA, La La Land, and the US versions of Torchwood, Pulling, Being Human, and Dead Boss, BBC3 has exported loads more television programmes to America than, say, ITV1. Which has managed Jeremy Kyle USA. In fact, Sharon Horgan alone has exported twice as many programmes to America as ITV1. Programmes which started on BBC3.
BBC3 has commissioned a lot of great comedy over the last ten years. And, importantly, when BBC exists more comedy is commissioned. Which means something you like is more likely to be commissioned. More is better than less. When you cheer the demise of BBC3 you are shouting “Huzzah! I shall have fewer choices of what to watch in the future! Thank Christ! I’m such an idiot I usually end up watching complete shit!”
But it’s so expensive! Yes, and it’s not like that’s offset by its producing world-beating cash cows like Little Britain and Gavin and St-oh.
Yes, there are also some terrible programmes, quite a few terrible programmes. But there are terrible programmes on every channel. Have you tried watching television during the day? It’s almost enough to make you pull your trousers back up and get back to work. Almost.
Then there’s the cost argument. The BBC needs to save money because the licence fee’s been frozen. And it has to find it somewhere. So why not here?
Because the money isn’t being saved. It’s being spent again.
Closing BBC3 will save between £80 and £100 million. That sounds like loads.
Until you realise that they have pledged to spend £30 million of it on new drama for BBC1. And £30 million of it creating BBC1+1. Oh, and there will still be a programming budget for BBC3, but it will be online only.
I would say that only the BBC could get rid of something that cost £100 million and only save themselves (at best) £40 million, but that’s patently not true. I reckon I could.
So, if the programmes are successful and it’s not saving much money, why is it being done?
Now, call me an old cynic, but it seems to me that the sorts of people who watch BBC3 are generally not the sorts of people who read the sorts of newspapers who will influence the sort of government who will oversee the next licence fee agreement. This is a move to show the BBC can make tough choices (unless that tough choice involves standing up to governments).
What makes it more nakedly political is the use of the money to fund BBC1+1, a channel that will only be watched by people who can’t use their set top box, and haven’t discovered the Internet. Old people.
It’s yet another broadside in our current war on youth.
From the removal of the EMA, through the introduction of tuition fees, the removal of housing benefit for under-25s, to the current proposals to remove all benefits from under-25s, we are at war with our young people. We used to hate them because of their sexting, their hoodies, and their riots. Now I’m not sure we even need a reason.
A fifth of them – close to one million under-25s – are unemployed, and the message coming out again and again from the political class is that they don’t matter. Politically, they are expendable, and now we’ve decided they’re culturally expendable, too.
And then we can hitch up our petticoats in horror when they dare listen to that beast Russell Brand, and we can ask ourselves “What is to be done with the young people? Why are they so angry? What have we ever done to them?” before we get an attack of the vapours and lie around honking like broken geese, perplexed by the incredible mystery of it all.
And we can turn on Sarah Beeney and thank our lucky stars we got on the property ladder when we did.
(Now go and sign the fucking petition to #savebbc3)
(Oh, and BBC3 also remain responsible for one of the most entertaining hours of television ever broadcast. Go and get some popcorn and tuck into Danny Dyer, I Believe In UFOs. Seriously. SERIOUSLY. My favourite bit? The bit where he’s discussing crop circles and descrobes how people “read about them in the newspaper, but then forget all about them to turn the page and look at some tits.” Because that is how all newspapers work.)
I’ve been reading up on early 20th century pacifism, recently, and spent today reading the works of W.T.Stead, who founded the Stop The War Committee in response to the Boer War. In 1912 he wrote “The Great Pacifist: an Autobiographical Character Sketch”, which you can find here.
Stead started the weekly newspaper The War Against War, which became The War Against War in South Africa after the beginning of the Boer War. He was one of the organisers of the Peace Crusade in 1898, which was to go to capital cities to spread the word about pacifism. One of its other organisers was Tsar Nicholas II.
He was an odd sort of pacifist. He believed that Britain needed to maintain a navy twice the size of any other in the world. He thought that Cecil Rhodes was one of the goodies. He thoroughly supported the maintenance of the British empire ar0und the globe (although he made it clear that this was for moral not ‘jingoistic’ reasons.
For a pacifist, his views are close to what we would think of today as “the Tony Blair philosophy of war”, or, as he described it “the imperialism of responsibility”. (As a side note, he also wanted to establish a United States of Europe as a stepping stone to a World State with an international High Court Of Justice, where states could be brought to trial).
But what caught me eye was what he had to say about Russia, and the Crimea. Bear in mind, he’s one of the West’s most pro-Russian journalists, and is personal friends with the Tsar when he says:
All my life long I have been a thoroughgoing opponent of the Russophobist war spirit which has plunged Europe into the Crimean War, and which has repeatedly brought about war both in Europe and in Asia. By advocating constantly the principle of the European Concert, and demanding the enforcement, if need be, by the armies and navies of Europe, of the treaty-guaranteed rights of the unfortunate Christians of the East, I was always more or less at variance with the orthodox Peace Party, whose one idea was non intervention and abstention from all European complications. I protested against this doctrine because I believed it to be an abdication of the responsibility which we owed to those for whose good government we had made ourselves responsible by the Treaty of Paris and the Treaty of Berlin; and whenever the chronic misgovernment of Turkey became acute in massacres and atrocities I never ceased to urge upon England and upon the other Powers to use the overwhelming strength which they possessed for the purpose of compelling the Turks to carry out their treaty obligations.
Being a man of encroaching middle-age and portlitude, last month I was asked to fill in a couple of times as an understudy department store Father Christmas.
Swathed in cheap velour, covered in itchy facial hair and home to a gurgling stream of acrid sweat, it was a magical experience, and one that taught me several important lessons. Lessons about how Father Christmas is making a list of who’s naughty and nice, but he’s making it about the parents. He’s also noticing who’s pushy, who’s overtired, and who’s been drinking heavily.
Father Christmas is judging you, parents. And here’s why.
You haven’t provided a convincing backstory – There are many wonderful tales about Santa Claus. He lives at the North Pole (or in Lapland) and is married (or single, or a large, asexual gnome), and makes all of the toys himself (or with an army of elf-slaves). When your child starts asking questions about the practicalities of being Father Christmas, that’s the point where you jump in and say something like “Well, we thought that Father Christmas did it like this, isn’t that right, Father Christmas?” It’s not your cue to stand mute, check your text messages, or to try to stare Santa out. This is especially true with the question “Are you the real Father Christmas?” which can be answered a number of different ways: “No, Father Christmas is very busy and has lots of helpers;” “Of course I am;” or “How dare you question my authority? You get nothing!” Unless you give SOME HINT as to the way you answered that question, Father Christmas may well end up contradicting you, and I’m pretty sure I know whom your children will consider a more reliable source. Play the game, people.
You’ve brought a toddler, good luck with the nightmares – For many children, meeting Santa is a HUGE deal. It would be like meeting George Clooney, if George Clooney also crept into your room and gave you whatever you wanted… No, scratch that. not like that. Anyway, for young children, this is their getting to meet Madonna, or the Queen, or Stephen Fry, knowing that they’re going to be assessing your behaviour while you do. Also there is a huge beard, music, garish surroundings, and probably an odd smell. There is no excuse for taking a child under 3 to see Santa. They ALL freak out. If you want a picture of a tiny baby with Father Christmas, fine, but to any child who’s vaguely sentient of what’s going on it’s going to be pretty traumatic. Congratulations, you’ve just queued for 45 minutes because you were determined to give your child nightmares.
You’re outsourcing your parenting – If you’re bringing your child just so that Father Christmas can threaten them, you need to take a good, hard look in the mirror. Then punch the mirror and use the shards to slice your own awful face off with. Yes, the promise of presents is part of the whole deal, but telling little Ciaran that Santa probably won’t be bringing him anything when Santa is sitting right there is a dick move.
You are just terrible – If your child asks for Grand Theft Auto V then Father Christmas probably wouldn’t be doing father Christmas’ job if Father Christmas didn’t point out that that’s a game rated 18, and your child is only 9. When he says he probably won’t be bringing that, it doesn’t help if you then add your voice to the pleas to bring it “He has been really good, though.” At this point, Santa reserves the right to think of you as a monstrous cunt. Just so you know. Santa isn’t saying it, but he’s thinking it. And he likes making lists.
You refuse to help your inaudible child – Sometimes it all gets a little much, and the intense emotion that comes with talking to Father Christmas renders some children utterly mute. At this point, you can help, by prompting or answering on their behalf. Anything but playing fucking Angry Birds, while Santa and your child experience a tense, Cold War standoff.
You keep referring to a letter Santa hasn’t seen – Let’s just be clear. The Father Christmas you’re going to get isn’t real. you’re the grown up. That shouldn’t need explaining to you. So when you say, “You remember the letter Lucy sent to you, don’t you, Father Christmas?” That’s fundamentally unhelpful, if there are going to be follow-up questions. And there ALWAYS are. “She really wants that thing she put at the top of the list, Father Christmas.” Fuck you. “It would be especially good if you could remember the instructions she gave you in the PS.” Up your stupid arse. “And of course you’ve remembered the password she wrote in it, so that she’d know she was dealing with the REAL Father Christmas.” May your head be full of the eggs of a false-widow spider, which will burst and flood all over your Christmas dinner, the resulting lack of pressure on your brain will give you a new appreciation of colour, but will also render you incapable of speech or unaided urination. Merry Christmas.
For the children, meeting Father Christmas can be a magical moment. For the adults, remember to be on your best behaviour…
Happy Yuletide, from Ian.
This Week is an odd programme. Only the unique way the BBC is funded can ensure that this shambling, incoherent mess of an hour’s telly makes it to your screens every week. Want to hear establishment platitudes whispered as if they are naughty, almost unbroadcastable, pieces of mischief? Watch This Week. Want to sit in baffled amazement at politicians sit grinning, dressed in a bizarre rainbow of unhealthy colours, like two-week old clown puke? Watch This Week. Want to know what Peter Stringfellow and Gyles Brandreth and Olly Grender think about things? Of course you do.
Last week, they were still upset about Russell Brand, almost choking with inchoate rage as they, a group of political insiders, decided that he was wrong when he said our political system excludes the views of millions. It was like watching a group of stranded puffins, hooting for rescue, slowly realising the island they live on is made entirely of bird-shit.
Their obliviousness to the irony of seeing a group of political leaders agree that the political system was fine, and then for the state broadcaster to pump it out to the entire nation was delightful. Less delightful was the fact that many people, and some of them my friends, seem to agree with them. Some people seem to find it physically possible to tick a box and pat themselves on the back at the same time, which is no mean feat.
There was a torrent of sneering articles about Brand, suggesting he “go back to Hollywood” or “stick to shagging”. People who feign concern at the fact that democratic politics fails to engage much of the young population could wait to stick their fingers in their ears as soon as anyone articulated what that young population might be feeling. Brand was ‘unhelpful’, ‘naive’, and possibly ‘a git’.
Lots of people – including lots of comedians – decided that not only should you vote, but you should probably have to vote. “You have no right to criticise is you don’t vote!” came the cry.
Of course you do. I don’t like football. I think it’s a pernicious, violent game that people around the country use to sublimate their frustrations with life. I think it idolises cretins and thugs, gives its viewers a chance to indulge in organised racism and homophobia every week, and its shallow, comercial values are a deep sickness in our public life. So what do I do? I don’t watch it.
However, I now realise the error of my ways. What I should be doing is joining a football club, watching it every week, and supporting it vociferously at every occasion. Because only then can I hope to change football from the inside.
All of the critics of Russell Brand, however, are guilty of making the same fairly large fallacy of composition. Parliamentary politics is not politics. It’s not even a relatively major part of politics. It’s possibly to be highly political, and not to participate in party politics, and – I would argue – the most successful politicians have been.
People fought for years to get the vote. They did, and they did so successfully. How did they do it? Not by voting for a party that promised it to them, because they couldn’t. If that teaches us anything, it is that it is possible to bring about huge political change even when you can’t use the vote to get it.
The serious point here is that extra-parliamentary organisations are much better at affecting what MPs do than voters are. From churches to trades unions to billionaires, if you want the ear of an MP you’d better be able to either offer them money (or the chance to retain their seat, and its attendant money) or be able to cause trouble for them. That is where parliamentary power lies.
But people have died for the vote! Yes, people have also died during childbirth. That doesn’t mean we should all have to have children out of respect for their sacrifice.
But… But… democracy! Is it, though? Seriously? It’s not what Aristotle meant when he described democracy. It’s not what the Chartists meant when they described democracy (remember annual parliaments?). The prime minister can use the royal prerogative to overrule parliament and go to war. The heir to the throne gets to pre-approve bills to see that they don’t affect his business dealings. The Queen gets to veto private members’ bills she doesn’t like. It’s a constitutional monarchy with pseudo-democratic trappings.
And remember, there’s a House Of Lords as well! A whole parliament full of people who can reject bills, amend bills, and over whom you have absolutely no say whatsoever. Remember kids, even if you vote, even if you win, even if your party honours its pledges and puts together a bill, there’s still no guarantee it will become legislation.
Because voting remains a sideshow. You achieve less politically by voting than you do by buying Fairtrade coffee.
And the fact remains, my best chance of unseating my MP in my deeply-Tory seat is to vote UKIP, and hope enough of the Conservative electorate in my constitutency feel its a safe enough seat to do the same. When my only hope of having my vote count at all is to vote UKIP, there is something deeply wrong with the system.
Ah, but the British public rejected AV, so we can’t reform parliament. Yes, we entrusted the parliamentary class to set up a vote on whether or not the system that elected them should be changed. And they won. Entrenched political power is entrenched. Hence the name.
Parliamentary politics has delivered MPs who are prepared to challenge entrenched power twice in its long history. Once in 1945, and once in 1645. And we shouldn’t have to wait another 300 years until there’s another world war or Battle of Naseby in order to try to make politics serve people.
People who say “they are all the same” are the problem. No. People who refuse to see that they are are. People who cling to the last shred of hope that the Labour Party isn’t the corporate, authoritarian, centre-right, managerial party it appears to be – and governed as from 1997 to 2010 – can sit in their attics like Miss Havisham, waiting for Tony Benn or Dennis Skinner or even bloody Michael Meacher (who looks and acts like he was left in the sink overnight to soak). Those figures are fig-leaves for the Labour Party to retain the support of the Labour movement.
Let’s look at most of what people like to complain about the Coalition for:
Tuition fees – Introduced by David Blunkett, Labour Education Secretary in 1998. The Dearing Report which had suggested introducing fees also advised keeping the grants system, something Blunkett rejected, getting rid of maintenance grants altogether.
ATOS – ATOS were first brought in to run work capability assessments by – wait for it – the Labour Party. If you want to read about the ways the Labour Party distorted evidence and victimised disabled people for years this paper is quite helpful.
NHS Reform – Let’s not forget that the party who started the creeping privatisation of the health service was Labour in 2002. Remember Tony Blair “not having a reverse gear”, and people who opposed privatisation of the NHS being “the forces of conservatism”? Fun Fact: the reforms Coalition’s Health and Social Care Act wouldn’t even have been legal without Alan Milburn’s 2008 reforms, and he remained committed to gutting the NHS even after stepping down as Health Secretary. Alan Milburn went on to become a consultant for Alliance Medical, a private healthcare company bidding for work in the NHS, and is now a Director of Bridgepoint Capital. Which invests heavily in lots of private health care companies. Those Labour conflicts of interest in full.
Free Schools – Introduced as ‘academy schools’ by Labour.
The Bedroom Tax! – Introduced by Labour for private tenants in 2008.
Um… Foreign Policy – I suppose we might have a government that at least expresses a little regret when it starts wars, but I doubt it.
The fact remains that if you want an unfettered, authoritarian, right-wing, corporate-friendly government that’s happy to demonise disadvantaged groups for electoral gain, you’re best off voting for the Labour Party.
And it’s not just MPs. It’s our entire political class, in which I include the police and the media. From expenses through phone hacking and Savile and Hillsborough and the Met’s collusion with reporters, there is nowhere for an honest citizen to turn. Our laws are made by the corrupt, presented to us by the corrupt, and enforced by the corrupt. The idea that political change will come from our law-making apparatus is fanciful.
So what do we do? If it makes you happy, vote. I do. It’s a habit I can’t break. I couldn’t wait to be able to vote, and being able to participate, in however minimal and nugatory a fashion, in the way governments are formed. However. I am well aware that this makes my complicit in a system that deliberately excludes, and rather than boast about the great democratic tradition I’m upholding, I know that voting is a weakness. It’s an essential naivety that I can’t get rid of.
But there are lots of things we can do, as soon as we stop waiting for politicians to do it for us. There’s relieving each other of debt. There’s homesteading. There’s protest. There’s organisation. There’s non-violent direct action. There’s publicising issues that affect us and those around us. There is doing what you can to make what you can better than when you found it.
We can join things. We should join things. We’ve lost the habit of being parts of political organisations that aren’t political parties. Trades unions have never been less powerful than when they have entrusted their interests to the Labour Party. Join a union. Join a church. Join an atheist congregation. Join an organisation that campaigns for what you are interested in, and give it your time. Start an organisation if one doesn’t exist. Get used to sitting through boring, frustrating meetings, and standing in the cold waving flimsy banners, because it’s only through engagement that things are going to change.
And, if you just can’t shake the habit, at the end of it, you can vote.
Voting has, in the last couple of weeks, become a currency of self-satisfaction, a shibboleth displaying how politically engaged we are, when quite the reverse is true. Voting is the twentieth century equivalent of signing an online petition, a quick, relatively painless way of convincing ourselves and others we are good, involved people, although it costs us very little, and means almost nothing.
It’s not the most important thing we do politically. It might well be most self-defeating thing. But really, who cares? Let’s not pretend the people who don’t are fundamentally unserious. They may be the most realistic of all of us.
So, just for a little while, let’s forget about voting. And do something political.