Friday, 8 May 2015

Ed Miliband: A True Inspiration

I watched this speech earlier, and I wept buckets. 

Whatever your party political affiliation. Whatever your beliefs. Whatever your views on what the Labour Party is, was, or could be. I urge you to watch it.

Like most people, when Ed was first elected, I didn't think that much of him. I hadn't followed his leadership election bid as such, so I wasn't subjected to the (frankly ridiculous) assertions that he 'stabbed his brother in the back' by standing against him.

I watched him in his early days, and back when he was still listening to spin doctors, getting things wrong, botching up interviews, having circles talked round him at Prime Minister's Questions. I zoned out of what he was up to for a while.

And then, towards the end of last year, things started changing.

At PMQs, when I saw it, Ed was more sharp. He would land some hits at Cameron and the government. He would ask tough questions, and if Cameron tried to dodge them, he would ask again, until he got an answer, or it was abundantly clear that Cameron was dodging.

I read this article (from a Conservative writer and publication, no less, so it's not as if you'd expect it to be biased in his favour.)
Ed has lead the votes on issues more so than any previous opposition leader. Vetoing military action in Syria, recognising a Palestinian state, taking on Rupert Murdoch's media machine. Opposition leaders rarely win commons votes and Ed has made a habit of doing so.

Then came the Tooting Labour Party dinner, that Mum took me to back in February. Ed was the guest of honour, and as he strode in, he walked tall, and proud. Not cocky, but confident. In a way that was still recognisably the same man I'd seen on TV and yet there was this air about him.
For some reason, being in the same room as he gave his speech, he seemed more articulate. More self-assured. Dare I say it, inspirational.

This, the party's manifesto, and Ed's rhetoric, genuinely convinced me that he was moving the party on from New Labour. That this was a man who would genuinely stand up for working people. The abolition of the bedroom tax, the cutting of tuition fees, the banning exploitative zero hours contracts and unpaid internships, these are all progressive policies that we never would have expected of Labour 5 years ago.

And when the TV debates came, the public started to see Ed for who he was too. He didn't run from them like Cameron did, and when facing off with Paxman, where Cameron looked visibily uncomfortable and shifty, Ed held his own, and even turned the tables once or twice.

As I became more actively involved in the election, canvassing for the Labour Party and going to events, I saw Ed speak in the flesh twice more. At a press conference, and then a rally. At the press conference, even the Guardian and Channel 4 were gunning for him slightly, but Ed answered each question patiently, taking several questions one after the other before answering each in turn.

I watched him at the campaign rally, and he really got us stoked up for the final leg of the campaign.

But there's more to it than that.

Because yes, I identified with his politics. Yes, I believed, (and still do believe) in his vision for a fairer, more just, more equal Britain.

But he is inspiring on a personal level, too.

For nearly five years, Ed has beeen relentlessly bullied and hounded by the press. Primarily a press owned by Rupert Murdoch, and other right-wing news outlets, but these attacks haven't just been political. They've been personal.

Since he won the leadership bid, pretty much all of those papers (and even ones that traditionally back Labour), have directly accused him or implied that he is a back stabber.
They've made fun of his appearance - the fact that he looks vaguely like Wallace.
They've made fun of his voice, because it's slightly nasally.
They've poked fun at him because they happened to snap a picture of him mid-eating a bacon sandwich, when it is phenomenally easy to catch anyone - politician or otherwise - looking silly while eating, and yet it's not stuck to them anything like how it's stuck to him.

The Daily Mail accused his father of "hating Britain", when both his parents had arrived in this country as refugees from the Nazis.

And he has been referred to or implied as 'weak', 'a back-stabber', a 'North London geek', 'a complete waste of space', 'a cad' and countless other highly offensive things.

Ed is a rare breed of politician nowadays. He's a modern intellectual, rather than an 'actor'. To a much higher degree, what you see is what you get - which actually makes him far more genuine.

I, as someone that loves performing, and who aspires to be an actual actor, and am very much one in terms of personality traits. 'Actors' are fairly adept at hiding it when they're under a lot of personal attack and pressure, generally speaking.

And yet were I in his position - hell, I think if most of us, were in his position, we'd be lying on the floor in foetal positions, crying at the torrent of abuse and bile day after day - not just at us, but at our families.

And yet Ed has taken all of it in his stride. He is phenomenally thick-skinned, and he has never let it get to him - certainly, there's been no evidence of it in public.

He is unrepentant, and principled. When he says something, whether that be that Labour didn't spend too much (they didn't), or that the UK contributed somewhat to the crisis in Libya, he has not gone back on it. There are plenty of people who'd be apologising and repenting over making statements as controversial, or contrary to public understanding, as that. But Ed has not done so, not once. Regardless of whether you agree with him on those things or not, that shows he is a man of stubborn principle.

Even when it came to accusations that he would form a coalition with the SNP, once he had ruled that out, he stuck to it. That even annoyed me, and other Labour supporters, as we saw it as his clearest way into government, but he wouldn't budge. And truthfully, I think even if the polls had gone the way we expected them to in this election, he would have kept his word. Co-operating, conversing and compromising with other parties on a vote-by-vote basis (the SNP included) may have been necessary, but I highly doubt he would have signed any official pacts with them.

Ed is a family man, he clearly loves and adores his wife and family. He was asked recently what 'the best thing about being Ed Miliband' was, and he replied:
'Being married to Justine, and having two wonderful boys, Daniel and Sam'.

Now, I know, all male political leaders these days make a thing of being a 'family man', but it struck a chord with me. As did his statement that if it turned out either of his sons were transgender, he would still love them unconditionally. To put this in context, Stonewall, the gay rights group, (the ones behind that 'Some People Are Gay, Get Over It' campaign) only recently extended their remit to campaign for trans rights.

Finally, if we go right back to Ed's student days, then as revealed recently, while he was at Oxford he campaigned against unfair rent increases.

Now, David Cameron, the man Britain has voted back in as Prime Minister, was also at Oxford. But what was Cameron up to when he was there? He was a member of the infamous Bullingdon Club, whose current initiation involves burning a £50 note in front of a homeless person. While there's no evidence to suggest Cameron himself did this, there is evidence that he was part of the club when they smashed a restaurant window in 1987.

So, one was campaigning in small ways for social justice, the other was part of a club that to this day is infamous for flaunting its privilege, and for violent and anti-social behaviour. The latter now leads a government that protects the wealthy few, while cutting benefits for those most in need.

When I look at Ed Miliband now, I see a man that is a true inspiration to me. An underdog, underestimated at every turn, but who rose to the top of the Labour Party, and until late last night, looked very likely to be our next Prime Minister.

He's good humoured, he's resilient, he's principled and pragmatic. He is loving and caring towards his wife and family, and even if he hadn't quite taken the Labour Party right back to where it belonged on the left, he was getting there. And no doubt, had they got into government, and with the pressure from movements from below (that he welcomed), he would have taken it even further as Prime Minister.

The policies he put forward on behalf of the Labour Party, and the fact that he is a bit of an underdog, earnt him an online fanbase of young people normally reserved for singers and actors - never politicians. It makes me burst with pride to have been part of a movement like the #Milifandom. A movement that is sometimes misunderstood or not taken as seriously as it perhaps should, but is fun, amusing, a bit geeky, and a good laugh - just like the man himself.

At heart, Ed is a bit of a geek. Look at his enthusiasm, in the Absolute Radio interview, when talking about Manic Miner. Look at the way, in this interview in The Guardian, he discusses the Manic Miner app for a tablet, lamenting how it isn't true to the original, saying there are too many lives and it's the wrong first level. Pure, unashamed, geekiness. :)

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I perhaps see a bit of myself in Ed Miliband. I know, for those of you that know me, that I probably seem more confident and self-assured, and have always had a certain ease in front of audiences, where Ed perhaps hasn't.

Maybe it's the Jewish heritage. Maybe it's the geekiness. Maybe it's the basic set of values - the desire for a more fair and equal society. Maybe its the love he feels for his family.
Maybe its the solidarity I feel because of having been picked on earlier in my school life for looking a bit weird.

Maybe its the fact that, I feel like if I hadn't gotten properly involved in Drama stuff as early as I did, I would be like Ed Miliband - struggling in such a public field to begin with to make myself seem credible, or tough, or leadership material.

I still believe Ed is all of those things, but I know that a lot of people did not, or still don't - or at least weren't sure.

I am a politics geek to some extent, but I am not a politician. I don't have ambitions to be an MP or Prime Minister. If I was to to end up in a career relating to politics I think I'd prefer be more of an Owen Jones type.

But that doesn't mean I don't feel genuinely inspired by someone like Ed Miliband.

He had his faults - he didn't propose as coherent an alternative to the other small left-wing parties. He and Labour aligned themselves with the Tories and Lib Dems over the Scottish referendum, rather than setting up their own separate campaign. He didn't lead Labour enough to effectively tackle the Tory myth that they spent too much last time they were in goverment, nor did he point out enough that the Tories backed every one of Labour's spending plans until the financial crash, and the Tories were actually calling for less bank regulation in the run up to it.
He didn't find a way of showing commitment to gaining a Labour majority, while not seeming arrogant about possibly having to progressively work with other parties (which, short of the result going in the complete opposite direction last night, is what would have been necessary).

But nevertheless, he begun the process of moving Labour back to the left, and the rhetoric and core message was a clear and good one: That Britain only suceeds when working people suceed.
It's now important that those of us who did support Labour (or a Labour-led government, at least) do not wallow in our disappointment. To keep fighting for that better society. To protest the Tory cuts, to do our utmost to look after each other and the most vulnerable who'll be hit heaviest in the next five years.

It is to be hoped that Labour doesn't elect a Blairite now, and realises that their faults were more incoherences, and not being radical enough, rather than being too radical.
They still ran a good, (essentially) positive campaign, and their defeat was as much from Tory scaremongering, tabloid smear and Shy Toryism as anything else.

Labour has lost a great leader today. I am thankful he will still be serving his constituency in Doncaster, and hope he receives another ministerial job in the next Labour government - he is a credit to his party.

Here's to you Ed Miliband. Long live the Milifandom ;)

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Times, They Are A-Changin'...


Here we go.

After 5 years of coalition government, under the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. After a largely stale election campaign for what will probably usher in the most interesting result in generations...
Today, Britain goes to the polls again.

Those reading this will know it's no secret I'm a Labour supporter. I've gone out canvassing with The Labour Party over the last couple of weeks, knocking on doors, posting leaflets, talking to other voters. I've shared and retweeted countless videos and posts from Labour over the course of the campaign. I've written blog posts and long-winded facebook posts on my opinions, and been on many a rant.

Now, I know there are a lot of people today, who are as desperate as me to kick out this Tory-led government. To be rid of the bedroom tax, of exploitative zero-hours contracts, to cut or abolish tuition fees, to lower the voting age, to raise the minimum wage, to scrap or reduce Trident.

While I have advocated doing so by voting Labour, others have suggested doing so by other means. In Scotland - voting for the SNP. In England - for the Green Party. In Wales - for Plaid Cymru.

Many of my friends in particular have lost any faith they had in the Labour Party, and will likely be voting Green today. And I don't blame them.

I was considering a Green vote myself at the start of this year. I felt disillusioned with the politics of the norm, I wasn't sure Labour, or Ed Miliband, was up to the job - there were all sorts of reasons.

Now, I could go into all sorts of my own reasons that caused me to change my mind (and believe me, there are many). Quite apart from any of my own personal reasons, I can also offer you this article by Owen Jones, a favourite columnist/writer of mine, or this video from Russell Brand along the same lines, explaining why voting Labour is not a solution, but a beginning of a fight back:

(Side note: I never thought I'd be in such agreement with 'Mr. Don't-Vote' Russell Brand at the start of this year, but there you go).

But you know what? As important as I believe that is, I am also someone who is, in principle, opposed to tactical voting. I damn well think that you should be able to vote for what you believe in, without the fear of letting in the party or candidate that you hate. I still think that as long as we still live under this ridiculous first-past-the-post voting system, then you should maybe be cautious of voting Green in some marginals, if we really want the Tories out of Downing Street. And it's worth bearing in mind that in places like Sheffield Hallam and South Thanet, we have the chance to end the political careers of the unprincipled Nick Clegg, and the scare-mongering Nigel Farage (the latter of which has vowed to stand down as UKIP party leader 'within 10 minutes' if he doesn't win a seat).

But at the end of the day, with any general election - it is your vote, and your decision.

I think many of us do not want to wake up to another 5 years of Tory led government. There are some that are probably not very keen on a Labour one either, but if the Tories are ousted, then a Labour-led government is the better (if not ideal) alternative. But how we get there is up to us.

Labour are not going to win a majority at this election. No-one is. But if, as polls predict, the majority in the House Of Commons is made up of anti-Tory MPs, then we can begin some real change.

Ignore Miliband's apparent claims that he won't be doing deals or compromises - that's pre-election talk. His first duty is to his MPs and candidates standing in the election. He's also trying to maintain that he is a man of principle, and doesn't intend to be bartering away bits of his manifesto which has been carefully crafted to be practical but fair. And good on him for that. (It also doesn't help that the Tories managed to back him into a corner over the SNP thing, but that aside).
After Election Day, if he ends up as Prime Minister, the furthest he might get without concessions is the first Queen's Speech. After that, thanks to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, then although he might not be ousted by a vote of no confidence, he could still reach legislative gridlock if the parties propping him up veto bills without changes.

I also think, like Owen Jones, that the minor parties should be demanding a referendum on proportional representation as a condition of support. And before we assume that Miliband or Labour as a whole won't agree to that, given that first-past-the-post gives them a supposed electoral advantage, remember this:

Labour, led by Miliband, backed the AV campaign in 2011. There was division in the party over that, but he lead the cross-party campaign for AV, and even those that opposed it in the party did so on the grounds that the reform wouldn't go far enough to bringing in a fairer voting system.

Well, a PR system would.

Okay, it's not as likely to deliver majorities, but it doesn't look like the current system can do that now anyway. At least with a PR system, parties would be obligated to compromise and work together in the national interest, and we might see some actual progressive politics for a change. Parties highlighting and co-operating where they agree on issues, rather than constantly dismissing each other because of a few differences.

And all of that can begin, today.

Whether you vote Labour, SNP, Green, Plaid Cymru, SDLP or even Lib Dem today, know this: this is where the fightback begins. However those of us on the left choose to make our voice heard, let's be united today, and in the coming weeks. If Cameron and the Conservatives try to cling on, with the help of the newspapers, as they're apparently planning to, then we must stop them.

Miliband himself said in the Brand interview that politics isn't just about the politicians - that real change comes from ordinary people. Essentially, that he welcomes the changes and pressures coming up from below. If he sticks to that, and if he's as principled as I think he is, he will - then we can take what is already a pretty good Labour plan (certainly by previous standards) forward, and turn it into a great one.

Vote for what YOU think is right today. But above all, turn out and VOTE. :)

Friday, 1 May 2015

How Tinie Tempah disappointed me...

A few weeks ago, I found out from a friend that one of my favourite artists, Tinie Tempah, was going to be playing an intimate gig in Canterbury - at Club Chemistry.

Despite having been here at the University of Kent half a year, I had not yet been to Chemistry. But the opportunity to see Tinie, for £35 (significantly cheaper than usual) and in a club (significantly smaller than the sorts of venues he normally plays now) seemed too good to pass up.

I had been looking forward to it ever since.

I first saw Tinie live in 2010, at KOKO in London. His first album had just come out and he was fast becoming a bigger star than Dizzee Rascal. Since then, I have seen him a total of five times (excluding the other night) at gigs and festivals.

I was managing my expectations a little more with this. Having been disappointed when Wiley played a set at The Venue (on campus) earlier in the year, and he had come on pretty late - certainly a lot later than I was used to for a gig - then I was prepared for Tinie not being onstage until at least midnight. I was fast discovering that gigs in clubs by big artists tend to be shorter, and start later anyway.

But I knew I wasn't going to feel that same sense of disappointment that I'd felt with Wiley. Where the main issue with him was his performance was unremarkable, then my previous experience of Tinie told me that even if he only played 5 or 6 songs, he'd make them count.

I checked Twitter earlier in the day, and discovered Tinie was due in Canterbury for 2.30am.

Pretty late, especially given that the doors for the event opened at 10.00, and there'd be no admittance after 11.00, but I thought, 'That's fine. It's a long time to wait, but it will definitely be worth it.'

I arrived at around 10.45. On top of the £35 ticket fee, I had discovered it was possible to purchase a meet-and-greet with the man himself for another £30. It was a little steep, but I'd been wanting to meet Tinie face-to-face for 5 years - who knows when another opportunity like that might come up? I bought it and got a different coloured wristband that would allow me to meet him and have a photo op.

So I waited. There aren't really many of my friends here at Kent who like Tinie - certainly not to the same degree that I do - so I was on my own. I saw my friend Verity there, from my course, and chatted to her and her mates a bit, but essentially, I was stuck twiddling my thumbs for 4 and a half hours, while we waited for Tinie and DJ Charlesy to arrive.

I was bored. I'm not going to lie to you, I really was. Even for the other people that enjoy clubbing much more than I do anyway (really not my thing unless I have a lot of mates with me), then I could hear people moaning that Tinie wasn't due to arrive until 2.30.

2.30am finally arrived....and no Tinie. There had been some movement from security guards, who'd gone towards the emergency exit, but it would be another ten minutes before him and Charlesy appeared.

When they did, Charlesy went straight for the turntables. 'Here we go...', I thought. Things were about to get started - they were about to get interesting. As we all looked on, Tinie himself was being ushered through the front of the crowd, to the VIP area. There was some champagne on the table, which Tinie started pouring himself some of as he got set up, and Charlesy was doing a good job of getting the crowd going.

But to be fair to Charlesy, as much as I like him, and think he's a great DJ, then having had four and a half hours of DJ music being pumped out the speakers, I was ready for Tinie.

The rest of the audience seemed to be too - all eyes were on him as he set up, said hello to a couple of the VIPs and progressively drank more champagne.

By this point it was nearing 3.00am. Tinie had tested the mic out a couple of times about 5-10 minutes before, but he seemed to be taking an awfully long time. He kept checking his phone and chatting to one of the guys he had there with him.

He then started pouring champagne into cups, and passing it around to nearby members of the audience - both those that were and weren't in the VIP area. Very exciting for everyone. A gig with Tinie Tempah passing around free drinks before going onstage? People were hardly going to complain.

I was then beckoned over by one of the security guards - they were apparently doing the meet-and-greet right there and then. 'Okay,', I thought. Do it now so that he can come on and do his set, and then slip away quickly afterwards - fair enough.

I went up into the VIP area, and waited. I was stood very near to Tinie, and after a few minutes, the guy Tinie had been talking to turned round to me, said hi, and introduced me. I smiled, shook Tinie's hand, and told him what a big fan of his I was. I told him how I'd been to see him at KOKO in 2010, and how Dad had taken me because I was too young at that point to go by myself. Tinie thanked me and seemed true to the idea of him I had built up over the years - friendly and gracious.

I did wonder when the photo op would arise though. Another guy stood near me asked for a selfie and seemed to be actively discouraged by the guy Tinie had with him.

After a few minutes of Tinie still standing there, not having performed yet, Louise (who I had bought my meet-and-greet through) came over. She gave us some rather unsettling news, just out of Tinie's earshot.

Apparently Tinie wasn't going to play. It sounded as if, when he first came in, he wasn't even that enthralled by the idea of the meet-and greet.

We couldn't believe what we were hearing. There must have been some kind of misunderstanding, I thought. He wouldn't do that - not Tinie. This is a guy who has practically built up his reputation over the years as being friendly and gracious to his fans, and for giving everything 100%.

After a little longer (bearing in mind this is probably at least 3.30am now), Tinie started making his way back through the crowd.

Ah, here we go. Better late than never. He'd do his set and it'd all be worth it. Obviously there had been a misunderstanding after all. No matter.

 "Alright, since I've come all the way to Canterbury, I might as well do one song for you guys..."


It seemed as if Louise hadn't been wrong after all. Either Tinie had changed his mind, or had been persuaded.

He performed Pass Out, which naturally went down well, but him starting with that wasn't filling me with much confidence that I might have heard him wrong. Pass Out is traditionally the song Tinie ends his set with, it being one of his biggest ever hits to this day.

He finished Pass Out, and then said he would do one more 'before he went'. He did Tsunami (Jump), and then said "Canterbury, you've been great, I'll see you on tour!", before putting down the mic and heading for the door.

And that was it.

Charlesy played one more song from the tables, and then packed up his things and followed.

We were all pretty confused. And to be honest, some people were livid.

There were certain people who, combined with their ticket price, and whatever it had cost them and/or their friends to be VIPs, spent over £100.

And as far as we were concerned, Tinie had arrived late, kept everyone waiting, and then played 2 songs.

Now look - I'd be lying to you if I said the performance he put in wasn't a good one. It's Tinie - of course it was good.

But it wasn't massively special. It didn't make me feel terribly excited to have him there, like so many of his previous gigs had done.

It had been a long night. Over the course of the 5 hours (at least) waiting for his arrival, I had gotten drunk, but had sobered up again.
I had paid £30 extra for a meet-and-greet with one of my heroes, and while the brief conversation I had had with him was nice, it barely lasted 30 seconds (if that), and there were some people who had paid for that same privilige who didn't even get up there to talk to him. In that sense, I was lucky.

I didn't really know what to do. I didn't feel angry as such, in the way that a lot of other people seemed to be, but I was bitterly, bitterly disappointed.

This man, who I had admired since I was 14/15...who I had considered a role model to me in many ways...had let me down. And he'd let his fans down.

He had turned up to a gig he had been booked for, and it sounded as if he had essentially got there and gone 'Nah, I don't really feel like it now', and only done a couple of songs because he was persauded, or felt a sense of obligation.

If what we heard about his reaction to the idea of meet-and-greets (which will have been agreed prior to his arrival) is true, one could be forgiven for thinking that those he spoke to, like me, he spoke to not because he wanted to talk to his fans and make them feel special (as I would have expected) but because he felt obligated.

I spoke to Louise briefly on my way out. It was very uncomfortable - she'd been so nice, and friendly and accomodating, with regard to organising it for me to meet my hero, that I felt guilty to be asking...

But the night had left me at least £60 out-of-pocket, for what was really a shorter gig than the last one I'd seen Tinie at (at the O2, last year) for two thirds of the money.

I said to Louise straight off that I appreciated and understood it wasn't her or Chemistry's fault. But bless her, she immediately understood and asked for me to be given back the £30 that I had paid for the meet-and-greet.
There was talk of full refunds for tickets, which those who asked for have all since received. Chemistry had tried to get in touch with Tinie's management to ask them to pick up the fee, but since they wouldn't pick up the phone, Chemistry generously refunded us all themselves.

I trudged back to the bus stop, waited ages for my Nite Bus, and came back to campus.

Let me be clear: Had I known what I was getting into, I would not have been disappointed. Had we been told from the off that Tinie would only be playing a couple of songs and passing around drinks, I would have probably been okay with that. It wouldn't have been what I'd have hoped for, but I wouldn't have felt cheated, and I suspect most other people wouldn't have either..

Naturally though, there is no way even Chemistry could have known that that was how things would pan out.

My perception of Tinie for the last 4-5 years has been as a humble, dedicated and caring artist, who really respected his fans and loves what he does. He turns up, he gives each performance 100%, and he gets the job done.

But now, for the first time ever, I am seriously questioning that perception of him.

Judging by the angry reactions I saw both while I was there and on twitter, so are a lot of people.

For some people that will have been the first time they saw Tinie live. What does that say to them, about what kind of artist he is?

I don't know the context. Perhaps there is a deeper reason as to why Tinie only did two songs and no photo-ops. Perhaps there's a rational explanation.

To be honest, I really damn well hope there is. Because I want so badly to let it go. To forgive what has happened.

It will be interesting to see if there is an explanation given.

But regardless of whether there is or not, then I think a lot of people are owed an apology for the events of that night.

This man was my hero. This was the guy that really got me into rap music. He makes great music, he's got a great sense of humour, he seems nice and polite and humble - everything I've ever heard about him suggests he's one of the nicest and most respected guys in the industry, and that he works incredibly hard, for himself and for his fans. And that he treats them all with the utmost respect.

But, despite the amiable brief conversation I had with him that night, then his actions...that wasn't the Tinie Tempah that I feel I know and love.

And for those who have not followed his career as closely as I have in recent years, then they may never know or be convinced of any different.

And that breaks my heart.