Category Archives: politics

Q&A with comedian Chris Coltrane for Let’s Be Brief

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.

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Chris Coltrane’s Q&A is part of the State of Independence series
State of Independence Pop-up Island | 22-28th July 2013
Unit 17 | Boxpark Shoreditch | 2-4 Bethnal Green Rd | London | E1 6GY

What are EU on about?

You’ll know the Conservative grassroots member by their swivelling eyes and lunatic-type behaviour, according to an as yet unnamed senior Conservative member whose unattributed remark has been splashed all over the papers like a kiss and tell in the Sun. They might be shouting gay people out of their church or terrorising European economic migrants in your local Polski Sklep.
And senior Conservative members, when they aren’t undermining their own supporters, are confusing and berating the general public in equal measure. They’re about as inclusive as the aristocracy.
Boris Johnson wrote a piece for the Telegraph last week that went thusly: “As a British diplomat once languidly observed, the trouble with the whole debate on Europe is that there is too much religion and not enough politics. It is like the feud in the early Christian Church between those who believed that Christ was of the same substance as the Father, and those who said He was of a similar but not identical substance. Was He homoousios or homoiousios? You might say it didn’t make an iota of difference – and yet that iota was the cause of strife that cost thousands of lives.”
You could probably express this same argument by saying: “The trouble with the whole debate on Europe is that there is too much religion and not enough politics. It is like the feud in the early days of Coke and Coke Diet. Does it taste the same? You might say it didn’t make one iota of difference – and yet that iota was the cause of strife that cost thousands of lives.” Ok. Maybe the last bit doesn’t work. And Coke obviously isn’t religion – although it is more popular – the only countries that it isn’t present in are Cuba and Syria. And likewise, Europe also isn’t a church. But in one fell swoop, Boris alienates anyone who hasn’t closely studied the Crusades, while a simple fizzy drink analogy would have made the same point.
So why would the Boris-friendly Torygraph, along with Murdoch’s Times, seek to stitch up the Conservative aid by reporting on his comments in the first place? Perhaps they are all FT subscribers, which this weekend reported to its wealthy readers that the EU is going to put a €500,000 pay threshold on bankers’ bonuses. Perhaps this is actually a double bluff by the right wing press and the Tory part itself to make the whole EU exit thing sound rather like a good, homegrown idea and not one imposed by friends of those at the top.
There are people – many of whom are members of the Conservative party – that wholeheartedly believe that we should leave Europe. There are many, much less well heard, who believe that we shouldn’t. So far, we have received little actual information on the topic, save that 100 Conservative MPs are very keen for us to have a referendum, they say at the behest of their members. But anyway, no one actually has any idea what the UK would look like after the event. So whether it’s because of Romanian immigrants, ‘elf and safety’, or because it’s going to hit their considerable bank balances, the anti-Europeans can’t be as sure as they sound. So let’s have another costly public vote on something that few people really understand, yeah? Because the Eurovision Song Contest clearly isn’t enough.
Intuitively I believe that Europe is a good thing. I think we are stronger together, weaker apart. And Barack Obama has expressed the same sentiment, whatever that means. The UK just isn’t that big a deal anymore. I like Europeans and I can’t understand why languages aren’t as valued in the UK as they are elsewhere. I feel impotent on the continent. Which gives me some idea of how impotence can actually feel. We have also seen the longest period of peace in the region under the European Union. Which is probably a good thing? An interviewee in the recent Ken Loach documentary The Spirit of ’45, made the rather grisly observation that if we could make killing Germans a legitimate industry, the UK would be thriving.
Some people reckon that with this piece BoJo was positioning himself to be the post-EU UK PM. ROFL? Might I suggest that our exit from the EU could be a long-term strategic plan to break that peace pact and get Britain working again? I can almost see Boris, Churchill-like, wearing a onesie (check it out at the Cabinet War Rooms museum), with a long stick in his hand directing the Boris Bombers. We can just ignore the people, doctor the evidence and send some brave people to their untimely deaths. And then the government will change and everyone will have collective amnesia. We’ll see.
One of his key points was that we are all actually pretty rubbish, with or without the EU. He said if we left we “would have to recognise that most of our problems are not caused by “Bwussels”, but by chronic British short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills, a culture of easy gratification and under-investment in both human and physical capital and infrastructure.” Not sure how much of this can be laid at our door… Or even that of Bwussels.
Meanwhile, gay marriage has also become a sticking point for the Conservative party. I’m not quite sure why such an unpopular club would like to alienate willing members who want to give up their individual freedom in the ‘eyes of God’. Likewise, I wouldn’t be so keen to join a club that didn’t want me, although if it was my religion… I guess I’d just want it to be cool to marry the person I love.
So. This week, Conservatives are yet again trying to change the rules of a club that doesn’t really need us to be members while also refusing to change a club that they don’t really want other people to be members of.
Perhaps it’s all these little clubs – much like the ones where swivel-eyed loons of the journo-political variety hang out together – that are the problem.
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Smashing illustration of BoJo by Dale Edwin Murray, created for the Sunday Times
Written for and first published here: http://www.letsbebrief.co.uk/what-are-eu-on-about/

Who was Boney M Anyway? Or why it’s no surprise you don’t know who Margaret Thatcher is (was)


At a pub quiz a few weeks ago our team had an average age of 30(ish), with only my boss (yes I spend my spare time at quizzes with my boss) over the age of 50.

We decided that we’d try to double our points on the noughties round – steering well clear of the 70s ‘mum and dad school reunion round’ – as it was the decade that most of us remembered most clearly. Yes – we could have gone for the 90s… Perhaps if we were cooler, we would have.

So we powered through Vampire Weekend and Kelly Clarkson and bumped ourselves up from second-til-last to fourth. Hey, we didn’t win, but we were nearly on the podium. Think about how those guys in second place felt, knowing how close they were to stealing victory.

Anyway. During That 70s Round, my boss exclaimed: “How do you not know who Boney M are?!?” “Err… I recognise the name but maybe because I wasn’t alive in the 70s? And nobody seems to mention them in passing..? And I don’t listen to Smooth and 6Music doesn’t seem to remember them either..?

Wikipedia, knower of most things, knows that “the group was formed in 1975 and achieved popularity during the disco era of the late 1970s. The group has sold more than 150m albums and singles worldwide with most sales in the UK and Germany.” So Boney M is plural. Who knew?

A pretty huge chunk of history has passed me by but hey, perhaps I’ll go back in time and ask my mum to mention everything she thinks I might have missed. Anyway, they don’t teach pop music at school – although they do at this university…

“Many have taken to Twitter today to pour scorn on many of its younger users who didn’t (or lolz pretended they didn’t) know who Margaret Thatcher was.”

So just as my boss was surprised about this, many have taken to Twitter today to pour scorn on many of its younger users who didn’t (or lolz pretended they didn’t) know who Margaret Thatcher was. She became head of the Conservative Party (or the Tories, as they are now more popularly known) in 1975 and was succeeded by John Major in 1990. Anyone 23 and younger obviously never experienced life under Thatcher and they don’t really teach politics at school either – lest we actually all understand what the hell is going on.

Two years ago, as something of a political buff who knew that a lot of my friends were in the dark about politics, I pitched this idea to the head of BBC Learning:

The Future Project: What is the ‘left’ and ‘right’? Why is our population ageing? Who makes the decisions?
The Future Project attempts to answer these questions in an easy-to-follow, interactive and fun way. Think Brian Cox, but with politics rather than planets. It is for those of you who want to watch Question Time, but first you need to know why these issues matter and what they mean for the future. If you know who Nick Griffin is, but don’t know where his views come from, or you know that the climate is changing, but don’t understand when or why it will affect you, this is the show for you. All the topics discussed over the series are genuine concerns put forward by you, addressed in a non-political way. By the end, you should be able to understand current affairs and make more informed choices about voting and about your future.

He said: “I’m afraid I can’t see this working – I’m not sure what’s in it for most of the audience. It feels like a great thing in the Twittersphere, less of a televisual piece.

If these Twitter admissions show us anything, it’s that some young people have the whole world at their fingertips but have no idea who some of the people that shaped their lives are. They do not even know we had a woman prime minister – no wonder female representation in parliament is still woefully low. But how do you know what you’re looking for if you don’t know what you’re looking for… or aren’t really looking? And where can you go for impartial political information?

As it has been acknowledged throughout the day, Margaret Thatcher was a divisive political leader, hated by many on the Left, celebrated by many on the Right, with many others impressed, upset and elated. But you have to know your Left and Right before that means anything to you and it is very hard to get unbiased facts from either side. And even to get ‘truth’ and ‘fact’ from the media – where Mail and Times readers alike go for their ‘own brand of objectivity’ – it depends on who’s telling you. What they keep in, what they leave out and at which points they give you a knowing italicised word.

So you’d think the BBC would be the perfect spot for this kind of information, but alas, no. ‘Head to Twitter’, I hear you cry, ‘hey, the BBC has now placed  a Twitter feed firmly at the centre of its new news operations’, but we all know that is just awash with Left and Right leaning know-it-alls and bemused teenagers who don’t know how to use Google. I blame Tony Blair – surely you know who he is?

But what does it matter anyway? She’s dead. Let’s just say, she was made out of iron, she hated women and although she never lost a general election (?), she didn’t have as many hit records as Boney M. And her name isn’t as funny.

Spoon-feed us stuff about the Tudors at school and give us unadulterated access to Youtube and you’ll get the young people you deserve.

Written for and first published here: http://www.letsbebrief.co.uk/who-was-boney-m-anyway-or-why-its-no-surprise-you-dont-know-who-margaret-thatcher-is-was/

/Crowdring Mobile Petition Platform Gets $15,000 on Kickstarter

A platform that turns your ‘missed call’ into a signature on a petition is now being piloted in Rio, Nairobi and Bangalore after reaching its $15,000 goal on Kickstarter.

Inspired by an Indian campaigner who encouraged people to log 35m missed calls against local corruption in just two weeks, /Crowdring has now been created as scalable platform by Purpose, /TheRules and ThoughtWorks, a digital campaigning coalition.

Users log in online or on mobile and create a petition linked to a local phone number. After logging their missed call, the person receives a free SMS in their local language that shares key facts about the campaign and how they can get more involved. It doesn’t require any credit and works on any handset.

After the campaign has been advertised and completed, the activist can then present their mobile signatures to politicians. The platform enables data aggregation, list cutting and a cost-effective way to purchase local numbers for each campaign. It is open source so can be integrated and updated by developers wishing to use it.

Free ‘missed calling’ is a particularly popular way to send messages in emerging markets where calling rates can be costly. /Crowdring will now be working for the next three months running three social justice campaigns in its chosen test countries, with training for 15 community organisers.

The pitch on Kickstarter says: “We believe that /Crowdring has the potential to become the easiest and cheapest way to bring the world together around social justice issues. 

/Crowdring facilitates two-way correspondence that is free for the user, and can be scaled across cities and continents.

Purpose, /The Rules and ThoughtWorks are a group of activists, technologists, campaigners and designers based in NYC, with partners in Brazil, India, and Kenya. They are working with campaigning organisations in its three host countries called Meu Rio, Jhatkaa and Infonet.

Written for Mobile Marketing Magazine and first published here: http://www.mobilemarketingmagazine.com/content/crowdring-gets-15000-kickstarter-mobile-petition-platform

Oxfam and Coldplay Ask Scoopshot Users to Help End Land Grabs

Oxfam and Coldplay are asking mobile photographers to help create a crowdsourced music video using Scoopshot to call for an end to land grabs by governments, banks and other investors.

Scoopshot has a network of photographers in 170 countries who have been asked to show displacement in their lives by moving a personal object or task done in their home to somewhere unfamiliar. Coldplay’s music video director, Mat Whitecross, will curate and stitch together the film and photography submitted via Scoopshot’s apps and Oxfam’s website to play alongside Coldplay’s ‘In My Place’.

The film will be launched in April as the World Bank convenes its annual Spring meetings. Campaigners say that the World Bank is in a unique position to change the situation as an investor in land and an adviser to companies on buying and selling land. This is the first time that Scoopshot’s crowdsourcing service has been used for this kind of campaign.

Oxfam’s Campaigns Director, Ben Philips said: “Campaigning is all about putting yourself in someone else’s place we know that when we unite and stand up against global injustice we can make a real difference”

Written for Mobile Marketing Magazine and published here: http://www.mobilemarketingmagazine.com/content/oxfam-and-coldplay-ask-scoopshot-users-help-end-land-grabs

Spotlight: Mobile Activism with Qwanz App

It’s not often that the word ‘revolutionary’ is heard in mobile without someone thinking, ‘yeah, that’s what they all say’, but Qwanz has been created with the potential to help people change the world.

The poll booth for the mobile age enables Qwanz app users on iOS and Android to vote in polls on their favourite topics, share the question with friends on social networks and even create a poll to add weight to their own cause. The polling app enables its users to quickly download for free and sign in with Facebook. I created a poll in minutes.

Become an opinion leader


Its competitors, which include Survey Monkey and Polldaddy, don’t offer the same range of functionality, including the ability to forward the results to the right decision-makers and an unlimited number of responses per poll. Users can earn badges for their participation and even become a Qwanz world opinion leader.

Like a good dating app, developers of something like this almost certainly need a critical and diverse mass in order to ensure the polling has impact. Qwanz says it is an independent platform without ties to any political, religious or ideological organisations. Its founder, Pierre Sernet, started the fine arts database Artnet.com, and doesn’t appear to have any sinister motives.

Qwanz also says it has a network of more than 20,000 journalists watching the results – although it is not clear how this has been achieved – but it certainly appears to be a good tool for hacks in a hurry. Is this more armchair activism or can it really make a difference?

Written for Mobile Marketing Magazine and published here: http://www.mobilemarketingmagazine.com/content/spotlight-mobile-activism-qwanz-app

No More Parties?! Part 1

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.

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Illustration by my lovely friend Hannah Wallace.

Written for and first published here: http://www.letsbebrief.co.uk/no-more-parties/