Democracy – Hear me roar!

Okay, the deadline for voter registration has passed. If your name isn’t on the list, then you can’t come in. Not that I have any influence, but I wouldn’t have posted this piece before that deadline, for fear of discouraging anyone. But now I’m in the clear. So I can say this..

My vote is worthless.

I have had the fortune/misfortune(?) to live in two very safe Tory seats in my life. Very safe, double digit majority safe. In one of them, in 2005 the Lib Dem’s did manage to get it under 10%, but we all know what happened to the Lib Dem’s then. Besides, in 2005 I was already living in North East Cambs. constituency. And here in the sunny Fens we gave the Tories a massive 32.6% margin in 2015, and that was over UKIP in second.

Now, apart from my oft repeated dislike of poseur hipsters, you may not be surprised to learn I am not a right wing kind of bloke. Yes, I am white, middle aged, straight and male, but that doesn’t mean I eat from the right side of the plate. So I will never, ever, vote Tory or even worse, UKIP. So every general election, I clutch my voting card and shiny eyed go to the polling station and place my tick in a box for a candidate who most definitely should not give up the day job. I might as well write a witty haiku or an amusing illustration of pigs at a trough in protest instead for all the good it does. In fact, I think the only time I have had a winning candidate was in a town election when I voted for an independent. (Rather than Tory or UKIP again)

Little Bloke, bless ‘im, has had the lecture on the important of democracy and voting from me many times. But it is all said with the same sincerity as lecturing on the importance of eating vegetables when we’re tucking into a meat feast pizza. In my heart I know it’s pointless.

So what’s the problem? Voter turn out for one. I imagine there are many people who feel like me, but who don’t turn out to vote because they know it’s not going to change anything. What you’d call a self fulfilling prophecy I guess. But then, from polling data of those who don’t vote they usually find the ‘non’ votes are split largely along the same proportions of those that did vote. They aren’t all stay at home Labour voters for instance.

So, do we make voting compulsory, like in Australia? I think there is a good argument for it. For a start it would mean the parties would have to seek the votes of all ages and demographics, not just the ones who do tick the boxes. If they knew young people were headed to the ballot in droves they might not lean policies so heavily towards the grey pound.

Secondly, the bete noir that the Lib Dem’s sold their soul for, nobody understood, and fell flat…Proportional Representation. Under the ‘First Past The Post’ system you end up with people like me whose vote is worthless. At least with PR it might actually mean something. Remember the belly aching after the last election, when UKIP had something stupid like 3,900,000 votes and only returned one MP. Now, as much as I hate UKIP, when nearly 10% of the voting population express a choice and only return 0.16% of Parliament, then that is a deeply skewed (and possible ‘screwed’ system) But hey, at least the media give them as much coverage as the major parties, so that’s okay. Under PR we’d have a much more diverse Parliament, with the minor parties getting a more visible presence and having slightly more influence on the governing of the country.

But, if you think that’s bad, look at the Electoral College in the U.S for an example of wasted votes. Texas. A huge state, massively diverse, from desert to cities, to border posts and coastline. I may grumble (and I will thank you very much) about being in a constituency where 50,000 people voted and 21,000 didn’t get their voices heard. But in Texas over 4,000,000 didn’t! Texas’s whole 38 electoral votes went to Trump. Now, if that isn’t a system crying out for reform I don’t know what is.

Of course, the other benefit of being essentially dis-enfranchised is that I don’t have to make the effort to follow the campaign or muse on the policies. And that frees up a lot of time, spares a lot righteous anger (and saves the rest of the Bloke family from my lengthy opinions.)

I will still vote but it’s a bit like on November 11th, when I fall silent for the two minutes silence. I know ultimately it doesn’t change anything, but it is morally the right thing to do and it shows respect for those who came before me.

And if you do live in a marginal seat, then make sure you get up off your sofa and vote on June 8th. Do it for those of us who count for nothing!

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I wish to register a complaint!

There is a show on the BBC that, for reasons I can’t fully articulate, makes me furious every time I see it. It’s not a politics show, current affairs or sport punditry. It’s called ‘Money for Nothing’ and it’s quite a charming premise. A lady hangs around council rubbish tips and grabs stuff off people who are dumping items. She then takes them away to be repurposed into new items to be sold on, returning any profits to surprised original owner. (Who all seem to be very worthy, in giving it to charity.) Now, in theory, I should be all for this program. It’s young, it’s funky, it’s upscaling and repurposing stuff that would go to landfill. But somehow it seems to miss that mark, instead displaying a huge Middle Class/ Hipster aesthete that ends up making me want to man the barricades and bring about the working class revolution. They’ll take an old armchair, or table. Give it to some funky young furniture designer, who usually ticks all the hipster boxes, flannel check shirt, woolly hat, trendy beard. They’ll go away and return later to discover they added some legs, given it a polish and are now charging £500 for it. The hipsters get their £450.00 fee and the original owner gets £50 which is, I’ll admit, better than nothing, and some middle class idiot get a £500 table! Not even a dining table! Some daft occasional table! Who are these people? Who has got that much disposable income to waste on furniture that will be ‘on trend’ for about 20 minutes.! They better not be the same people who whine about paying too much tax because frankly, they clearly have more money than sense.

So, we end up with Middle Class people dumping items, getting them repurposed by trendy, over priced hipsters, then sold to other, richer, Middle Class idiots. When she hands over the money at the end, it’s always some affluent, nice suburban house she visits. Never a rough looking ex council estate. Why? Because working class people don’t throw away good quality furniture. They sell it on or they have cheap chipboard flatpack furniture that has fallen apart.

The late Sir Terry Pratchett, bless him, in one of his books, gave a great description of Rich versus Poor economics. A Rich person buys a pair of boots for £100. They are well made and comfortable and last him ten years. A poor person buys cheap boots for £10. They leak and are uncomfortable and fall apart after a year, so they have to spend another £10 on a new cheap pair. So after ten years, they’ve both paid £100 for their boots, but the rich person has had blister-free dry feet, whereas the poor person has had trench foot and blisters the whole time.

It brings the class warrior out in me and watching a program like ‘Money for Nothing’ really gets that blood pumping in my veins. It is also great entertainment for Mrs and Little Bloke, who find my vocal fury very entertaining to watch.

It’s enough to make me write into Points of View…(Finally, we’re hitting the moral of the piece.)

I find Points of View immensely annoying, but for different reasons. Any feedback show where viewers/ listeners are encouraged to write in to vent their views tends to make me wince/ exhausted/ angry in varying degrees. It’s the god awful ‘I don’t pay my licence fee to watch….’ attitude. As if the few pence a day you pay towards the upkeep of the BBC means that you must enjoy and approve of every single programme it broadcasts. I deeply dislike ‘Money for Nothing’, but I’m grown up enough to admit that there may be people out there who do like it. (Though not quite grown up enough not to say those people are still idiots.)

There a huge tranches of the BBC TV and radio output which I find terrible. Radio One with its presenters in their 40’s still pretending they are teenagers. Radio 2, or the broadcasting arm of the Daily Mail as I like to think of it. Radio 3 with its 5 tweedy listeners. Even Radio 4, king of the radio, has its rubbish, patronising programmes. (There was one a few years ago called ‘Lives in the Landscape’ which could just have easily been called ‘Let’s laugh at poor people’ One episode was about a wedding in a community hall in a council estate. You could almost hear the host saying ‘And look, they have vol au vents and flowers, like at a proper wedding’) and Radio 5, I dunno, that’s sport ain’t it?

The point is that any network’s output has to cover the width of their audience. On BBC1 that is a large spread, across all ages, ethnicities, sexualities, economic status. Not every show is going to appeal to every audience member. Not even close. And I would argue, where they have tried to put out programming that does, we end up with non offensive pulp which no-one can be bothered to be offended by. The BBC is lumbered with having to take feedback because it is non-commercial, funded by the licence fee, so the great unwashed think they have a say in it’s governance. Just because you don’t like something, unfathomable as it may seem, doesn’t mean others have to feel the same. Or else how is Mrs Brown’s Boys still on air?

Life is too short. Don’t like a show, don’t watch it. Watch something else! Unless they are broadcasting downright lies then get over it.

Besides, hang around 10 minutes and they’ll be a Homes under the Hammer and, let’s be honest, you can’t quite help watching that can you? (I like the estates agents casually walking in and out of rooms.)

So, umm. What’s the moral this week?

I guess it’s ‘Everyone has the right to an opinion, but everyone else has the right to not listen it it.’ Don’t like something, write about it on a blog instead! Then you can vent your feelings and nobody need ever read it. Just like this entry.

Except you have read it.

Good for you.

Have a nice day. xx

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A view of the continent.

It’s that time of year again folks! The Eurovision Song Contest Finals are on tonight. Now, I know we in the UK usually treat them as a laugh; a shambolic kitsch demonstration of Euro Trash nonsense, where Johnny foreigner can’t quite get pop music right. Once aided and abetted by the good naturedly sarcastic commentary of the late Sir Terry Wogan and nowadays by the slightly more bitchy Graham Norton. And yes, as a rule the songs are pretty dreadful to our Western ears. And yes, I’ll admit, my vote is largely influenced by how much I fancy the performers. (Remember the butter churning lady from 2014? God bless Poland. Not to be confused with the bread making ladies of Russia.)

The most fascinating part of each year’s song contest though, is the voting at the end. They’ve tried all sorts of systems over the years, from 100% Jury votes, to 100% phone in. Now it’s sort of a mixture of both. But however they have done it, it still comes out as deeply partisan, sectarian voting blocks. In recent decades the song contest has grown massively, so now there are semi-finals to get through before you reach the Saturday night finale. (Of course certain countries get a pass straight through. Good job really, ‘cos we’d never qualify otherwise.)

Each yeah we huff and puff about the biased voting and how nobody is voting for the UK entry for political reasons and because Johnny European just hates the British. All of which is a bit unfair really. (Only a bit unfair. After the Brexit vote can we imagine how popular we are now in various sectors.) Because in some places in Europe, the Eurovision Song Contest is taken very seriously indeed. During the worst years of the cold war, when the Eastern Bloc was locked down hard against all Western influences, being able to secretly tune in and watch the show was an act of rebellion. The song contest was seen as a symbol of European unity and freedom, something to be aspired too. I’d recommend seeking out the book, Nul Point by Tim Moore, where he goes out and interviews acts who scored the dreaded Nul Point at various Eurovision’s. He goes into greater detail about the political landscape of the contest seen from the various component countries. It’s also very funny, especially when he accidentally smuggles drugs into Denmark (I think, could be Finland, somewhere cold up north anyway.)

But Eurovision I think, also demonstrates the UK’s attitude to Europe as a whole. Slightly weird, insignificant and largely irrelevant to us. We’ve never really felt part of Europe because we’ve never lived inside it.

In England (And I mean England, not the UK or GB.) our borders, language and culture have remained largely unchanged for centuries. Yes, I know Berwick Upon Tweed has been popped into Scotland and back many times but for the last few centuries it has largely stayed put. The biggest change was when Ireland earned/ was granted/ won (however you want to phrase it) its Independence. Now look at Europe. Almost any country you care to mention has had massive cultural upheavals since 1900. Great empires smashed and reformed, countries forced together, then later split apart by revolution or bloody civil war. Hundreds of miles of borderlands shifted forwards and back. So you end up with great swathes of population who ethnically feel they belong to their neighbours, not the country they, for the moment, live in. Large regions speak their national tongue only as a second language, usually speaking a dialect more based on the language of the geographical neighbour, who, chances are, used to own that land.

Imagine if most of Kent spoke French as a first language, if half of Yorkshire and Northumbria spoke Danish. Imagine whole communities, whole towns and cities, centuries old, full of ethnic Danes, living life as Danes, celebrating Danish culture and holidays and cooking Danish traditional food, only begrudgingly participating in the rest of the UK’s political life. Imagine if those communities have regularly been at war with each other over the centuries, tearing into each other, then being abandoned in a foreign country by the sweep of a diplomat’s pen at peace talks.

So much of Europe has been split and reformed; population’s isolated by borders written on a map, not natural ones like seas, rivers and mountains. Centuries of armies marching across their lands back and forth. Yes, we were bombed in WW1 & 2, but our streets haven’t rung to the sound of invading armies for a very, very, very long time.

And we have the nerve to get all uppity if a Polish shop opens in our town, or we hear people speaking ‘foreign’ on the train.

So given that background, can’t you see how a political union with your neighbour’s might seem a desirable thing? How bickering in a debating hall might be preferable to foreign tanks rolling down the main street of your town?

And if you ever doubt what kind of influence the UK has had on Europe, just take note of how many songs tonight will be sung in our native tongue, not their own.

So if we get Nul Point because all of Europe thinks we’re all ignorant, isolationist fools, then, well, they just might have the point.

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The art of the cliche

Last night Mrs Bloke and I settled down and watched the latest Bourne film, Jason Bourne. The critical review of which I can give as a solid ‘meh’. It was alright, though it felt like a rehash of earlier films and gave in to the urge of sequels to add significance to characters’ back stories. But anyway, I digress.

They did a thing in the film, that is such a lazy plot device, but is repeated so often people really believe it is possible. They took a grainy, low resolution camera image and said ‘Enhance’. The image gets processed and a now pin sharp picture of the lovely Julia Stiles appears. It simply doesn’t work like that. A digital image is made up of a mosaic of different coloured squares (or pixels). When you zoom in, all you are doing is making those squares bigger, a computer can’t magic up extra squares from nowhere to give you a sharper image! But, it has been repeated in so many cop shows and thrillers we have started to believe it is the truth. Think about it, when you see actual CCTV footage of criminals or terrorists, are they ever pin sharp?

It is a cliché that has become accepted as truth, whilst being utterly incorrect and misleading. And that folks, is my theme for the day. The clichés we live with that mislead us, subconsciously or deliberately.

Now, film and TV clichés are one thing. Although annoying, you can wrap them up in ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. But where I think they really start doing damage is when a cliché is used in realms where we are being asked to believe it is the truth.

I was listening to a news report the other evening, (Just before The Archers since you ask, so it was Radio 4, a sensible news product you’d expect.) And they were reporting on a story of a young man, Damon Smith, who had been found guilty of terrorist offences, placing a pipe bomb on a train. As part of the report they mentioned that Damon had Asperger’s Syndrome. Just that, no context. Just that little nugget that all but invites you to make a link between Asperger’s and this kind of behaviour, and by extraction, that people with Asperger’s are inherently dangerous. When I read the story online, they had changed Asperger’s to the more accurate Austism Spectrum Disorder, but then added that he was a ‘former altar boy’. Another little nugget of apparently tangential information. But it’s not, is it? It’s shorthand. By hearing ‘former altar boy’ we’re encouraged to think, here is someone who was good, but has gone bad. We’re not told if he is left- or right-handed? Whether he takes sugar in tea, whether he has read all the Harry Potter books? They are equally irrelevant but we don’t attach any cultural meaning to them.

The same thing happens in the reporting of sex. Police officers or members of the armed forces are generally all reported as being male. ‘A solider was killed in Afghanistan today’ or ‘A police officer was injured today…’ But if they happen to be a woman then we get told ‘A female police officer was injured today….’ And if she happened to be a mother, that will get mentioned as well. It’s that subtle sexism, that we are supposed to think ‘she’s a mother; she has no business doing that kind of thing.’ Never mind that all the men may be fathers as well.

Here’s another hypothetical. A 15 year old youth has been arrested for robbery. It’s a boy right? ‘A 15 year old youth’ is shorthand for a feral thuggish boy. If it was a girl, it might be ‘a teenaged girl has been arrested.’ If they are the innocent victims they might be called ‘boy’ or ‘girl.’

Look at this headline from today’s Daily Mail website. (Don’t worry, I’ve cleared my browser history.)

“Confident Macron, 39, and his wife, 64, cast their vote while Le Pen, 48, is targeted by naked protesters as France goes to the polls in presidential election.”

Now, for a start it’s a terrible run on sentence. But why mention the ages of those involved? How is that in any way relevant? It’s not, but, gosh, look how much older Macron’s wife is than him! That’s weird isn’t? And poor Le Pen, who is a sensible age, is getting targeted, (‘targeted’ that’s a loaded word as well) by naked protesters. We have to mention naked of course, because if we click on the story we might see boobies.

Just from that one sentence, which is factually correct I’m sure, we can easily tell which side of the French presidential election the Daily Mail is on. Once again, they seem to be siding with the ‘black shirts’ as it were. Now, how many stories about Donald and Melania Trump, who have almost the same age gap, mention their ages? Couldn’t find any on the search I just did. There are a few that mention her age, but also seem to mention how lovely she looks or how short her skirt was.

We’re in the midst of a general election campaign and, if the local elections results are anything to go by, something weird is going on. But please, please, try and be a little critical about the headlines and stories we are given.

When you are given a superfluous little detail, what is the cliché? What is the stereotype that it is trying to subconsciously create? The British media, though far less partisan than its peers in the US, still carries an agenda.

Think; be critical; look beyond.

And if you are ever in a high octane, action packed, chase sequence, don’t try shooting a gas canister to create a dramatic explosion to hasten your escape. It won’t work.

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