Chris Coltrane is a stand-up comedian by night, a writer by day and “a thorn in politician’s arses whenever the opportunity arises”. He recently appeared in No More Page 3 and Everyday Sexism’s Stand Up to Sexism, and yes it was funny, as well as at the People’s Assembly where he talked about his activism with UK Uncut. This included setting up a library in an unscrupulous bank with a load of school children, with of course, comical results. He also runs Lolitics – a comedy night in north London.
Q) Why and how did you get involved with political activism?
I used to watch a lot of activism on TV when I was younger. You had shows like Monty Python’s Flying Neoliberalism, or Jasper Carrott’s Capitalism Smackdown, and I used to watch them on repeat, memorising all the chants. Then as I got older and moved to London, I heard about all these open-mic activist nights around town, where anyone could get on stage and protest for 5 minutes. So I made a few calls and booked some in, and of course you’d get ever so nervous before the gig, but as I did more my five minutes moved to 10, and before long I was taking an entire occupation up to the Edinburgh festival. I took over a branch of Gregg’s in the town, which Chortle gave a lovely 4-star review to. I’ve never looked back, really.
Q) Is it easy to do comedy about such serious topics?
Yeah, it is for me, because I come from a long line of satirists. My great great grandfather, Dicky “The Dick” Coltrane, was one of the old music-hall satirists in the East End. One of his sketches about Archduke Ferdinand was so powerful that he ended up stalling World War I by an entire month. Sobering to think how many lives were saved, thanks to one simple sketch about a world leader, a bag of feathers, and a giant magnet…
Q) What project have you done that you are most proud of and why?
Probably the time I temporarily changed my name to Edward Snowden, had massive facial re-constructive surgery, leaked the biggest intelligence story in history, and then had all the surgery reversed to escape detection. At the time of writing they think I’m on a plane to Bolivia. Ha! Idiots.
Q) Are there any drawbacks with being politically active?
Not really. I mean, there is the fact that the police are more likely to beat you up, or that the police are more likely to knock on your door to suggest you don’t go to a certain protest, or that the police are more likely to monitor your phone calls, or that the police are more likely to lie to try to get you in trouble. But other than that, it’s a pretty sweet life.
Q) How important is independent thinking and doing and where do you get it from?
Independent thinking is important, but sometimes I think it’s gone too far the other way. For example, did you know that there are men called Keith who are allowed to vote? I’m not sure what I think about that. Can you think of a single trustworthy Keith? Keith Chegwin, Keith Sweat, Keith Floyd… no no, it simply won’t do.
Q) What is the key issue for you right now?
A lot of my friends are very passionate about a woman’s right to chews. Can you believe that in the 21st century women aren’t even allowed to buy sweets? It’s stupid. I can see why my friends campaign so hard to fight it. As far as I’m concerned, women should be allowed whatever confectionery they want – Chewits, pancakes, even popping candy (I’m a member of the radical-left, and I make no apologies for it.)
Q) What’s next?
Bargain Hunt is coming up on BBC1, and BBC2 has Wimbledon coverage… but I expect that’ll probably be out of date by the time this goes to print, so I can’t help you with that one. Sorry.
The Labour party had 193,961 members on 31 December 2010 according to accounts filed with the Electoral Commission. At the same time, the Conservatives managed about 177,000 members, so said activist Tim Montgomerie. The fact is – there are many, many more people who aren’t members than are.
There is room for 304 more Labour parties, or 338 Conservative parties. Many MPs have been around for donkey’s years. And a lot of the ones that haven’t have worked their way up as office juniors under the people that have. And, as some guy called Einstein once mused, the issues that we face today cannot be solved by the same thinking that got us to where we are.
Parties actually complicate and confuse – you either agree with them, whoever ‘they’ are, or us. However the political parties often work together in some sort of an unspoken consensual pact to maintain their position. After all, they are guaranteed to be back in office sooner or later. So why rock the boat?
Cue the Labour party – who’ve been surprisingly quiet on most of the controversial announcements made during the Con-Dem’s term so far. That’s because they are awaiting in preparation for the next time in the hot seat, they needn’t risk putting themselves on the line. Why chance being wrong? They do just little enough that no one can complain. Or they seem so irrelevant that no one actually cares.
Young people are characterised as either not caring enough to vote, or prefer campaigning on single issues. But a lot just feel that politicians don’t represent them, and their vote wouldn’t make one bit of difference. Parties focus their efforts in marginal seats, knowing there are many safe seats where they know they will win because they know enough people feel obliged, or compelled, to vote as they always do and maintain things as they are.
You probably think ‘fuck it’. And that not voting is dangerous. That will show them. But to the parties – it is actually greater participation that will unsettle them – it will make them have to work for it.
I’m not an anarchist. I think we need great leaders, who make good decisions based on the facts they have available, in line with the values of our modern society, for the public good. We need people with style, substance and integrity. We really can’t think so short-term – we are future parents, future homeowners, and future old people. I meet people every day who are doing things differently from community banks to cooperative energy schemes. If you think that something can’t be done, can’t be changed, and that there is not point- that is exactly what they want you to think.
So how could we change this?
Apart from the Human Rights Act – which many politicians claim is the worst thing that ever happened to us – nowhere in one place does it say what we are really all about. Who is Team GB?
I reckon we need to take a huge look at who we are and where we want to go and write down some broad principles. The government is so keen on measuring everything else – why not set ourselves some goals and measure our success.
– Sustainable for future generations
– Health, productivity and fulfillment for all
– People before profit
– Fair access to services
– Collaborative approach
– Trust, openness, fairness, fun
We should be able to vote online using our national insurance number. Anyone who says this is open to fraud should a) check how lax the current system is and b) admit they are only afraid that more people might actually do it.
There is no real way of becoming a candidate if you aren’t in a party.
1. Abolish parties
Candidates for a given area can put themselves forward, a personal manifesto in line with our new constitution, based on an interest in helping their region. They can also outline any expertise that might make them fit for a particular ministerial job.
Then, like jury service, panels (perhaps with ‘expert witnesses’ from particular fields) pick the most suitable candidates. Then everyone can vote.
2. Failing that – and I’m pretty prepared for it – let’s create a new party. Our Party – The People’s Party – a party that is for everyone’s interests for the future.
People who tell you that things can’t change either have an interest in things staying the way they are (banking, finance, political industries), or they’ve already planned their escape route.
So we have to change it ourselves. We, the people, Team GB. Why not, we’ve got nothing to lose!
Artwork – Aardvark Manifesto 2011. Available here.
In two short years, public opinion has shifted from #Iagreewithnick, to the creation of a pretty terrible remix of our deputy PM’s belated apology for making a promise that he almost certainly wouldn’t have kept.
The contempt with which people now hold MPs – bait for any computer literate human – is clear. But what has also shone through this week, is how the public is viewed by some of our leaders.
Cue GateGate, or that time the guy who makes all the Conservatives do as they’re told, Andrew Mitchell, probably used the word pleb, picked up at public school, in an altercation with a member of the public service. Despite overwhelming evidence, he has denied saying it, and his party is particularly annoyed because of all the work that has gone in to trying to make everyone think that they aren’t just a party for the rich. But did he say it? Public trust in the police isn’t great either, following high profile errors, corruption and a shooting that sparked last year’s riots. Yes, this system is pretty much junk.
We still have the Labour and Conservative party conferences to go and I challenge them to say anything that they haven’t just made up because they think it’s what we want to hear. The reality is that there will be cuts, cuts, cuts and the Labour party has no interest in there being anything otherwise – as they can come and ‘save the day’ in two and a half years’ time. And we’ll all no doubt be incredibly indifferent – or as scornful as we were when the last lot was in.
You might wonder where these Nicks, Andrews and Daves spring from anyway. Politics actually has a relatively sweet application process. You get selected by people who agree with you, if they are even allowed to make a real choice, from a list of people who all broadly agree anyway.
People are chosen for their job by a small group who qualify to be consulted because they are barmy enough to have joined the minority of people who still identify with frankly unfashionable concepts.
And when it comes to ministerial appointments, it seems no one will really look at your expertise. Win! Only great managers who don’t get bogged down in the detail need apply. Crazy, really, because we wouldn’t let a newsreader wander off and be a doctor without some pretty extensive training. And surely it is prior industry experience, that qualifies you to manage in a given field? Any graduate looking for their first job knows – no experience, no job. And many of our leaders can’t even seem to manage their expenses.
Crazy glitter artwork by Steven Barrett’s Glam Glitter Trash prints and greeting cards. Very far from trashy.
A year ago, I asked my wise friends of Facebook the question: ‘What do you think of politics today?’ I gave the options ‘like’, ‘don’t like’, ‘don’t know enough about it’ and ‘don’t care’ but left it open for others to add their own categories. The reason I asked is because I love politics. It is important to me because it has an effect on my life. 37 replied.
Results were: 13 – ‘don’t like’, 10 – ‘no major distinction between major parties anymore – vote grabbing whores all’, 4 – ‘occasionally interested’, 3 – ‘that’s a deeply vague question’, 3 – ‘I like turtles’, 1 – ‘I’d rather not vote than vote for Rupert Murdoch’, 1 – ‘don’t know enough about it’, 1 – ‘don’t care’, 0 – like.
So this was a pretty rubbish sample of vaguely young people. Both boys and girls answered and many were happy to add alternatives. It appears that most people consider themselves to have enough understanding to know that they don’t approve. Not one said ‘like’.
The political parties are back in the Commons after their summer break. The only profession, aside from teachers and children, that gets such a long period off. And certainly the only one that doesn’t get any stick for it. I’m not saying that it doesn’t make sense to rest people in high-pressure roles where they often work long hours. But the same gesture isn’t afforded to everyone else doing such jobs.
While they are papped by the media allegedly relaxing on their staycation, many can actually be found surrounded by SPADs (Special Advisers, roles populated by Oxbridgers in the ministers’ own image) preparing for the new term. No sooner have they got their well-cut suit jackets off (except for the ones who got bollocked by a female Conservative MP the other day for looking scruffy), there’s been a re-shuffle in the Cabinet. And party conference season is just around the corner – more on that later.
A ‘reshuffle’ sounds alarmingly casual. Like the first line-up was an initial, random shuffle and this subsequent one is similarly haphazard. Commentators are wondering how Big D has managed to miss the fact that George Osbourne is the most hated man in England (booed in the stadium when he was presenting medals to Paralympic winners, when even Gordon ‘End of Boom and Bust’ Brown got a cheer), his new Minister for Equality has been absent or abstained in all major LGBT rights votes and his new Health Minister (the one who ballsed up a huge media deal with Rupert Murdoch by being… too good friends with him) is sometimes referred to accidentally on the BBC as Jeremy Cunt. And he has no health expertise. And he has been reprimanded on both expenses and tax avoidance.
Oh and not to mention Lib Dem David Laws making his big comeback, painted as being just about the only competent one, despite leaving his ministerial post in 2010 after it was revealed he claimed money from the taxpayer for a room in his partner’s flat; which doesn’t give you much confidence in the rest of them. Overall, it reveals a healthily bizarre pattern to making high power appointments.
So, with that bit of hocus pocus out of the way, the parties can all continue with preparations for their big annual shindigs, starting with the Green’s last weekend. Party conference season is a bit like summer for teenage festival-goers. Get wasted. See people you know. Potentially hook up. Perhaps learn something. If you wondered where political parties decide their policy – it’s not here. They don’t really recruit members either… So, why then you ask, do they exist? I went to a debate last week for the launch of Policy Review TV with @PollyToynbee from the Guardian arguing for them to be abolished, and @TimMontgomerie, editor of Conservative Home, saying they should remain.
I’ll spare you the details and just give you a couple of tit-bits. Polly called them an “extraordinarily artificial event where delegates are irrelevant.” Tim said they are a ‘Disneyland vacation’ for politics lovers. He said there are actually three conferences:
1. TV conference – for the cameras. Main aim – DO NOT MAKE A GAFF ON TELLY
2. Fringe conference – events outside the main hall where charities and thinktanks can be found
3. Late night bar conference – the only socialising lots of politicos ever get to do
Many limitations were identified with the help of the crowd. People suggested the length was prohibitive to those who have… er… jobs. Conservative Home actually worked out that its conference now costs more than £700 to attend. Much more than a festival and not in the summer holidays… Hmm.
Political parties are in massive decline. This is happening for many reasons, here’s a few: they don’t represent the views of modern people, they have bad internal organisation so they find it difficult to get people and biscuits in the same room, they don’t want too many people coming with their individual ideas and views, the situation in government has stayed stable whether they have members or not, they aren’t cool, they don’t seem to do what they say they are going to do, they don’t tell the truth… I could clearly go on.
Illustration by my lovely friend Hannah Wallace.
Written for and first published here: http://www.letsbebrief.co.uk/no-more-parties/