Foul mouthed Bob to the rescue … again!

Last weekend, cultural power-house ‘The X Factor’, hosted the debut of ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’. Some would say that Geldof’s troupe of mainly white Western artists’ rehashing of an originally awful record was a good thing. After all, it raised a million quid in five minutes and as for the awareness, my God, you can’t put a price on the good it will do! Right? Wrong. I have no doubt that Band Aid and the original concert had good intentions at their core. However, thirty years of aid work and charitable giving has had, at best, chequered success. The complex ramifications which have resulted from the West’s throwing money at Africa have been numerous and varied. Anyone studying these would know that simply getting the band back together is not the easy fix, as is apparently claimed by Geldoff, Bono etc.

Lets start with the Logo. Is the use of a map, showing a continent of around 54 states, really the best way to raise awareness of a disease found in only a handful of countries in the region? The continent of Africa is vast and charities’ irresponsible use of emotive rhetoric and images has created a perception of Africa as a single state that is unable to support itself, constantly with its hand out. On the contrary, most of Africa isn’t suffering from ebola. Africa is home to policy stable, economically affluent, prosperous states which often suffer from the stigma unjustly attached to them, however unintentionally, by charities. Lyrics in the original song such as ‘No rain nor rivers flow’ generates a completely misleading image of the continent. What Bono’s supposedly ironic line ‘Thank God it’s them not you’ is supposed to emote I have no idea but it certainly isn’t positive.

And this is not the only song trying to create support for the fight against ebola. There are at least another three songs recorded by African artists, none of whom are being promoted by the gang of narcissists donating their celebrity to this cause. If half of Bob’s efforts had gone into promoting African artists instead of bolstering dozens of white artists’ portfolios, there would be no complaint from me. However, I have to agree with the rapper Fuse ODG who pulled out of the recording: this new song projects a negative image of Africa.

The cash. The 1980’s and 90’s saw a massive rise in the aid industry and charitable giving. Without doubt this was driven by good intentions and that includes Geldof’s Band Aid projects. But that doesn’t instantly mean it’s necessarily ‘a good thing’. Charitable interventions have been responsible for some disastrous side effects: funding despots by paying for work visas etc., sustaining militias which steal aid donations, destabilising economies by saturating markets with external produce, giving out drugs with no instruction for use – the list goes on. That’s not to say it’s all bad. Many charities operate ethically and effectively, to the benefit of those they help. Bob’s project could have just as easily run a programme supporting artists in specific states suffering from ebola, perhaps by promoting the growing number of songs already produced. Instead, saint Bob reached for his mobile and employed a thirty-year-old model with no regard for historical adjustment.

So, what about Bob Geldof? He has attracted more than his fair share of criticism in the past and not all of it justified. Granted his career was in the doldrums before the original Band Aid, but he wasn’t alone in his desires to better the lives of those worse off. His use of his celebrity and public acts such as the ‘Give us yer fockin money’ incident, did much for raising public awareness of important issues. He may have personally benefited following these events but at the end of the day, at the time, something was better than nothing in regard to aid for Ethiopia. However times have changed. With all our knowledge of the potential pitfalls and developments in expertise as to how to make aid work better, why is Geldoff so hell bent on the reincarnation of his outdated project? It’s not that he’s unaware off all the above problems; on occasion you’ll hear him discuss them, but he seems unable to let go of the original model.

The other day Geldof was cut off on Sky News for saying ‘bollocks’ twice. The fruity language was inspired when the presenter asked him the respond to criticism. Nice argument Bob. One of the criticisms had came from the founder of Africa Express, a man who has dedicated his live to promoting African music, to helping the people of that continent without just throwing money blindly hoping some might stick. To dismiss a serious comment from an expert in the field like this is arrogant at best. Calling the President of Ethiopia ‘a cunt’ took balls, without doubt. But I can swear as well and I say, when you start to dismiss expert opposition to your argument in such a way it’s time you fucked off and had a word with yourself.

Climate Change vs Economics

Climate change has been on the radar for over a hundred years now. Strong evidence originating in the 60’s and 70’s convinced many and currently there are few deniers of the potentially most pressing issue the world has today. However, there is little one can do to significantly effect this matter before its too late. Regardless of scientific evidence and the concurring beliefs of the vast majority of intellectuals specialising in the field, global institutions with the power to save the planet choose to ignore advice in favour of economic growth and market values.

The neoliberal political revolution has turned fiscal variables into an almighty deity, omniscient and not susceptible to wrong doing. When the UN agreed positive action was necessary, Carbon Credit markets where created then traded on stock exchanges; when polluted, smoggy cities need vehicles with lower emissions, electric cars and tolls on old vehicles emerge. This has increased the production of new vehicles and in tandem the profits of companies involved. Even given the best intentions these are hardly the drastic actions necessary to combat climate change. But that’s not to say that these institutions can’t help. Perversely it is primarily them who have the power and resources to enact the measures required, in the time scale necessary, to avoid subjecting all markets to the same fate as the dinosaurs. Buying power and boycotts of immoral institutions can affect markets but nowhere near as fast as is necessary. Even if everyone were able to be as green as they know they should be, far too much money can still be made through trashing the place. It’s not that there’s no money in ethical business, there’s loads. But not as much as in unethical carbon-heavy practices.

If the impending doom were something a little more obvious, let’s say an alien attack, companies and states alike would quickly unite against the common enemy. When the enemy is a man-made nightmare poised to wipe life away altogether, let alone the odd market here or there, these institutions just can’t let go of the current economic dogma, and remain petrified of looking anti-business. The power to change is no longer in our hands: it’s in theirs. Occasionally the odd public figure speaks up at the UN but with the model of greed so entrenched there will have to be a far more serious event if companies are to change their modus-operandi. Even if this happened tomorrow, do we have enough time as it is? If, like me, you prefer the altitude found on the moral high ground you will continue to recycle waste and keep an eye on the thermostat. However, I fear this may be pissing in the wind – to use an old Irish phrase.

If, hopefully when, powerful organisations collectively challenge these attitudes towards climate devastation, they have the power to disperse the impending doom overnight. A few enlightened shifts of policy and adjusted business practices could secure a far more prosperous future for the planet. But as long as the enchantment of neoliberalism keeps these institutions focused on economics there is little chance of change on the horizon.

Not voting is voting for UKIP

Today saw the beginning of the end of society as we know it. For me this realisation came when I was in the vicinity of the A12. Right or wrong, the people of Essex and the wider population get to vote. But they choose to deny themselves, and the planet, the potential for development. What is barely a fringe political party which cannot even bother to produce a manifesto, UKIP, attracted more media time than Diana’s death: there everywhere. Why other associations don’t capitalise on the political void that UKIP exploits, is a mystery.

Has anyone reflected sufficiently to notice how the media now swings the right wing agenda to sell ‘headlines’. Some of us might be forgiven for giving a shit. On-lookers may even be forgiven if they mistook a polling station for a manifestation of democracy. With turnouts of less than fifty per cent it’s nearly impossible to recognise our democratic system as the one for which people have died, as one which has protected our freedoms. The Pankhursts dedicated their lives to winning women the simple right – to vote. It may seem ‘boring’ but unless more people defend our freedoms by utilising the ballot box, we are all doomed!

It’s not a massive ask to expect you to read two minutes of a manifesto to decide if your values reflect those of the political party you are going to vote for. But people don’t. UKIP aren’t just stealing the votes of the conservatives, they are also filching the votes of some traditionally left wing individuals who feel compelled to align themselves with the liberal elite. Farage and his cronies not only propose a far right wing agenda, but also the legalisation of hand-guns and demise of the welfare state which underpins our society.

If you support the UKIP agenda (if you can find it), as is your right in a liberal democracy: fine. But do participate. Had the traditional left wing voters read the words of the UKIP leader, before defecting to the right, they would find that these people want to strip society of all those things that support our vulnerable and weak. If you are happy to exchange education, health care, pensions and various other social benefits, in favour of mildly less tax: OK. But that’s not what the wider working class want.

No, failure to vote is a vote for the right. Democracy is precious and relies on participation. If you’re one of the few who support the beer swigging, fag smoking, toffs who want to minimalise the state, then that’s your right. But participate. Read their manifesto (new version yet to be published). Ask yourself, ‘What do I want/need from society?’ If the answer is nothing at all, vote UKIP. If you don’t vote then that’s another vote for UKIP. If you don’t like their agenda: fucking vote them out of the game! They already have an undemocratic hold on the media, and unless we defend society, what follows is disaster. Participate!

What we have in Western Europe didn’t just turn up on the doorstep. People died! Women couldn’t vote in this country until the early twentieth century and yet today young women voluntarily abstain from political participation due to a sense of dissociation from the more complex elements of a liberal democracy. I’m sure Sylvia Pankhurst would agree with the plea, participate in our democracy! If it happens that you support small-state ideology: fine. But be under no illusion, UKIP’s answer to all problems is to take money away from those in need. Worse, a no vote is a vote for the right. It’s not a huge ask to schlep to the polling station once every four years and occasionally buy a newspaper. Whichever way you look at it, without your participation, UKIP win. They already have a disproportionate hold on the media in comparison to other fringe parties such as the Greens. Don’t let them beat society into submission. We have the power to change things. Participation can empower the voice of the nation, without a vote an individual is an oppressed void.

In less than a year we return to the polls. We now stand on the edge of a political cliff. If you don’t care, fine. If you do? Exercise your democratic rights. It’s not hard nor is it a big ask. But if you give a shit about anything, vote. Without it, two thousand years of social development means nothing. Unless you understand what they stand for an explicitly support them, help vote out UKIP and the liberal agenda. Participate, or we all lose.

Do Tory MPs belong at the Bingo?

Following the budget last week, Grant Shapps, Tory MP and party chairman, tweeted a fake bingo advert which claimed that the decrease of tax on bingo and the penny off beer duty was ‘To help hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy’. Whether this act was supposed to be a genuine attempt at connecting with the voting public, or a crass joke from a toff poking fun at working class people, the result demonstrates how the ever-growing beast of social media has big teeth and can bite. From a Conservative viewpoint this is, at best, a failed attempt at engaging with the public, an unfortunate choice of words blowing up into a public relations disaster. At worst, however, the tweet can be seen to expose an out of touch member of the upper classes as a patronising snob. Either way, it is clear that Twitter and other elements of social media can be powerful tools and politicians should tread carefully when engaging themselves in these spheres; just because an MP can handle the press or happens to be an effective public speaker, there is no guarantee that these skills will transfer to social media. Even the most skilled operatives in these arenas are subject to the changing favours of a fickle public and have discovered that good fortune can turn on a sixpence.

Commentators from the left and the right have both rightly condemned Shapps’ tweet and the aftermath has left his party facing awkward questions regarding class and austerity only a little over a year before an election. Owen Jones took advantage of the gaff and wrote an article on the ‘Death of working class Toryism’ in The Guardian, while in The Telegraph Ian Martin reported that it was considered a ‘condescending public relations disaster’ and exposed the fact that originally it had been George Osborne who had signed off the controversial poster, but that he had left Shapps to take the blame when it went sour. Nick Clegg took a break from bolstering Conservative agendas (elections only round the corner) and described the tweet as ‘silly’ during his public diplomacy crusade on LBC radio. Even that bastion of Conservative rhetoric, The Express, described the advert as ‘Patronising’ and ‘disrespectful’ in one column.

The question remains however. Should politicians be engaging with these new forms of media in the first place? Although the information technology revolution is now in full swing, do these new forms of media transfer to all walks of life? David Cameron and George Osborne both have Twitter accounts. With the exception of a few swivel-eyed loons defending tweets on austerity, the response they get is mainly vitriolic abuse. Although the response is quite funny, it reads like an embarrassing parent trying to be ‘hip and groovy’ while the kids smash the house up during a drunken rampage. For sure, the untapped well of votes residing in the eighteen to twenty year old population must be like a golden chalice to politicians but they wouldn’t canvass a bus shelter late on a Friday night. Converting cool, popular, left wing comedians to Conservative thought is the thing of Tory wet dreams, but self preservation keeps proponents of right wing policy tight lipped or absent altogether from late night comedy clubs. This is reflected on Twitter with people like Mark Steel and Frankie Boyle utilising the Twitter accounts of Osborne and Cameron to publicly abuse Conservatives. These comedians thrive on this opportunity and, without being able properly to defend themselves, the politicians involved just look weak and increasingly ridiculous. There must be part of the ICT revolution that stuffy, disconnected, humourless, pompous, condescending, toff politicians can use to develop their agenda: it’s not on Twitter.

Bongo’s got mouth but no trousers.

More and more, endorsement of charities and aid work are part of the work of being a celebrity. For decades humanitarian organisations have tried to attach themselves to public figures as a way of advertising their cause. Advertising, fundraising events and public awareness rallies all are naturally attracted to the use of popular, good looking celebrities who are comfortable in front of crowds and cameras: it’s their job. This is legitimate. As long as all actors involved operate with a degree of transparency with regard to who benefits financially and such like, then there is no problem. This is a free world and why shouldn’t charitable institutions utilise all available tools to promote their cause? However, the media sphere is changing. Current media organisations use sensationalist tactics to draw attention to themselves through an ever-increasing battleground, vying for business as they compete in a free market. Additionally, social media and other powerful platforms provided by the internet, now means that access to this sensationalism is only a click away. Factors like these have produced various new types of celebrities. In a world where an individual can go from zero to hero and back again in a few weeks, can we really compare one celebrity to another? Also, this new environment surely puts pressure on charities’ choice of proponent for their cause. The danger that they may accidentally attract endorsement from celebrities with questionable pasts or views leaves them in a precarious position.

Fundamentally though, the job of being a celebrity is not to save the world. As citizens and individuals they have the same rights as anyone and if they want to align themselves with an organisation they can. As professionals, some celebrities generate a unique type of soft power which, again, they are free to apply to anyone wishing to utilise it. Credibility diminishes however when celebrities overstretch their role and present themselves as saintly ‘knights in shining armour’ here to save the day. John Cooper Clarke’s poem, ‘Who stole Bongo’s trousers’, is a foulmouthed but appropriate dig at an unnamed ‘rock star’ and his ridiculous one-man campaign to rid the world of evil. Celebrities are quick to jump on bandwagons such as climate change and third world debt but all too often fail to apply these values when paying taxes or deciding to have their headwear transported thousands of miles across the Atlantic. Alternatively there are some celebrities who carry out their humanitarian aid responsibly. Angelina Jolie is informed and passionate about her role as a diplomat. The work she does is on specific issues and she is clearly up to speed on the finer nuances involved. When Jolie had a double mastectomy her motivation to allow the procedure was from her inherited high risk of breast cancer. However, good looking, popular stars publicly discussing such experiences can be described as brave; not only does it put important issues like cancer in the limelight but it also presents decent role models to society.

Sadly, more prevalent is the sensationalist, vacuous idiocy produced by the likes of ‘Bongo’ and his contemporaries. The actions of this type of celebrity ‘diplomat’ can have potentially disastrous effects. During the 1980’s and 1990’s there was a large rise in aid giving from the West. This investment did not always have positive effects. Stories such as those accusing institutions of using 90% of donations for internal administration and news that aid work could be perpetuating civil wars emerged, but Bongo and his mates strode on unperturbed, with their pop concerts and narcissistic meetings with political leaders. Instead of looking at a situation rationally, highlighting the failures and trying to address them appropriately, as Jolie would, up goes the cry to get the band back together. This invariably results in massive revenues and publicity for the bands but leaves suffering individuals in distant continents with, sometimes for the best, no change in their situation. Perhaps if Bongo were to lose a testicle to promote testicular cancer charities then he might have one ounce of decency or credibility. However he won’t: he doesn’t.

The broken relationship between police and society

The recent verdict that, although not holding a gun, Mark Duggan was lawfully killed in August 2011 leaves a dangerous precedent for the police, society and the rule of law in the UK. The ruling further drives a wedge between society and the police instead of addressing the institutional problems with modern day policing.

The origins of policing in the UK, especially in the Met, come from the need for an institution to work within civil society, with a mandate to prevent crime and to uphold the rule of law, protecting the citizens of the state. Instead, current law enforcement is centred around fighting crime retrospectively, protecting private property and supporting government policy. It would appear that CCTV, surveillance, the monitoring of telecommunications and undercover operations are now the way the police operate. Additionally, heavy-handed reactions to dissidence and controversial practices such as stop and search, kettleing and holding prisoners without charge for lengthy periods are the hallmarks of modern policing. Gone is the era of the local bobby who was part of a community. Their role in society used to be a respected local face of the constabulary. This meant that they could, over time, obtain detailed specialist knowledge of an area and build trusting relationships with local people. Over time this approach gave officers a unique position and the ability to prevent crime. Instead, today crime is committed first and police then turn to their resources after the event, justifying draconian retaliation.

When Duggan left his house on the morning of his death one of the first things he should have encountered was a friendly face in uniform whom he knew on first name terms. Instead he was followed in secret and observed. Operating in this clandestine manor the officers suspected that they had observed him committing a crime. With no solid evidence of this, let alone intimate knowledge of his personality or behaviour, those who stopped him were unsurprisingly on edge and cautious of the reaction they might receive when they stopped the taxi he was in. This resulted in a deadly situation which stemmed from poor intelligence and a lack of hands-on policing.

Communities in places like Tottenham have long had fractious relationships with the police, fuelled by reports of institutionalised racism, hard line attitudes such as those outlined above and misuse of powers such as stop and search. These problems are acknowledged by the Met commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, but prescriptions to resolve these issues come in the shape of officers wearing cameras and calls for water cannon from City Hall. Instead of trying to work with citizens and society to fix the broken relationship, these measures create a bigger gap between the two groups, fuelling tensions and resulting in the potential for repetition of tragedies such as the death of Duggan.

Undoubtedly firearms officers have a difficult and dangerous job which they carry out to the best of their ability. However, the fact remains, Duggan was shot dead, unarmed, when he had both his hands in the air. Officers responsible for the high profile deaths of Duggan, Jean-Charles De-Menezess and Ian Tomlinson have apparently been protected from prosecution. Unsurprisingly these cases lead to the public perception of injustice and fuel tension between the police and the community. Protecting officers like V53 is obviously going to frustrate those on the other side of this divide and in turn perpetuate the vicious cycle. Additionally, the way the Duggan family were treated following the killing has been detrimental to an already strained relationship. The decision to inform the press before the family has been disastrous and communication has broken down so badly the resulting riots in Tottenham were sadly unsurprising. Had this been any other event the family would have been informed immediately: they weren’t. Had there been a prominent member of the police working with locals in the area, information could travel quickly and easily between the two groups: there wasn’t. Had there been a healthy relationship between society and the constabulary, people would have accountable persons to work with from the police: they don’t. Instead the ruling sent a message to the locals of Tottenham that the police are always protected from prosecution. However, the message sent to the police is more disturbing. The lawful verdict showed police that if they shoot an individual, regardless of the circumstances, they will be protected from prosecution. This probably wont result in more police shootings but one thing is for sure: the chasm between society and the police grows.

Legitimate government involvement in the media

tomsrantspace

Traditionally the democratic position of the press in society is as a fourth estate acting completely independent of government intervention. However, since this ideological position was developed, the industry, politics and social arena have changed dramatically. Information technology and globalisation have morphed the planet and now we live in a different world; new attitudes to the modern press and its relationship with government need to be taken into account. This change of environment means that now political parties and governments would be foolish not to participate in the media arena in order to push their agendas. Having positions in their institutions such as a communications director is, therefore, a necessity for any modern political party but the policing of their activities within the media must remain in the hands of the media.

Use of progressive, pragmatic political ideals and a mix of age old political dogmas can achieve the best for…

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