There are 109 posts in total.
So here's my analysis of what happened the last couple of days:
First of all, there's no point blaming the people who didn't vote (and by extension, blaming the demographic of young people who didn't vote) for the Tories winning. as with anything where the decisions are made by the people who bother to turn up to decide, elections are won by the people who bother to turn up to vote. Nobody has any idea how the people who didn't vote would have voted had they voted - that's the point of them not voting, they didn't vote because there was nobody they wanted to vote for. One can't assume they'd have all voted Labour, just as you can't assume they'd instead have all voted Tory, Libdem, Green, UKIP, or Christian Peoples' Alliance (Proclaiming Christ's Lordship). They could have voted to entrench a Tory majority even further as likely as they could have voted to bring about a Labour government.
There's also no point blaming the Tory newspapers - whilst its true that newspapers form an essential part in forming opinion, ultimately newspapers are in the sales business; they know that if they present opinion which veers too far away from the opinion of their customer base, their customers will leave for an alternative product. The other reason why there's no point blaming the Tory newspapers is people don't read newspapers at anything like the level they used to - and of course, us in the social media advocacy world have spent the last five years banging on about how social media is now more important than traditional media. We can't have it both ways. The third reason there's no point in blaming the Tory newspapers is that's actually a very dangerous proposition, philosophically speaking - if one is claiming that The Voters are so stupid and feeble-minded they are so easily brainwashed in to voting the way their newspapers tell them to vote, then you're essentially claiming that Voters are too stupid to be trusted with the vote, and that electoral democracy needs to be suspended.
I think it's incorrect to say the voters have blamed the Libdems for going into coalition. If that was the case, all their voters from 2010 would have switched back to Labour and delivered a Labour victory; Jon Bounds has written speculating that they've basically returned to where they were before the SDP. I think the Libdems have been punished, but they've been punished simply for being pointless - the former Labour voters, the Dems, realised they did nothing of consequence to reign in the previous Toryness so went back to Labour, and the former Liberal voters, the Libs, just realised that if they want Toryness they might as well vote Tory instead. It would be interesting to know how many of the eight survivors predate the 1987(?) formal merger of the party and which wings they all came from.
I think it's pointless of bruised Labour activists and supporters to go into a round trying to say they lost because they were either too left wing or too right wing. Ultimately, it's pretty clear that the Tories won because the mood of the country has moved in the direction of Toryness. Had Labour been more left wing, that wouldn't have countered the mood of the country, and had Labour been more right wing, well they may have been in the same boat as right-leaning Libdems, and even if people had have voted for a right wing Labour, that would hardly have been of value to those of us who wished for a leftist programme.
I'll modify that statement, though - Labour lost because the country moved to the right, *because leftists failed to make a convincing case for leftism*; what I think Labour needs to do is indeed move to the left, but as well as that the left needs to drop the rhetoric of just hating rich people, and hating 'capitalism', as if 'capitalism' is a thing. A left-leaning Labour needs to remind voters that we have healthcare and welfare because any of us can find ourselves needing it at any time; it needs to persuade voters that as well as Britain succeeding when working people are succeeding, that Britain also succeeds when it looks after people who are temporarily unfortunate, because those people will be ultimately more productive given proper time to find a proper job; it needs to persuade voters that Britain succeeds when we look after the sick, the disabled, and the unemploy[ed|able] *because doing so makes us better people*, and better people are always more successful people; it needs to persuade voters that capitalism is the row of shops on the high street and the buildings full of offices in the central business district buying things to sell to people who want to buy them and employing people to handle the buying and the selling, and it needs to persuade the owners of those shops and offices that it can work in their interests to help them work in everybody's interests.
Which brings me to Ed Miliband. Ultimately, as the figurehead of Labour, as the person representing Labour to the voters, it's almost entirely his fault the country moved in the direction of the Tories. I've never been able to get out of my head the image of him being like William Pitt the Younger calling on the Leader of the Opposition to test him on his Latin vocab in Blackadder the Third. Us educated liberals like to claim politics isn't about personality, but the fact is, it is. It's about leaders with the personality and charisma to persuade people to follow them, and frankly Ed Miliband has never had that; he's never been inspiring, all the way through his career as leader he's never had a credible counter-proposal to any Tory policy that's relevant to most people - when he's opposed, he's only ever opposed in sound-bites, incapable of backing up any initially-stated opposition with any credible alternative (just saying 'I can't promise anything now until I get into government'). He's allowed the Tories to own the narrative of the final Labour years in government without doing anything to counter it. On the Channel Four interview with Jeremy Paxman and questions from the audience he generally dismissed the awkward questions with 'I don't care' - well sorry, it's your job to care. He allowed the Tories to own the narrative of a possible Labour government kept together by the SNP by rather than saying 'yes, that will be what democracy will be all about' instead saying he'd never be in a government kept together by the SNP - the moment he did that, he sealed his fate and sealed the fate of Labour in Scotland. And sealed the state of the UK for the next five years, and probably beyond.
Over the last week or two at work I've actually started being a little bit naughty.
The webteam in Birmingham here, like many council webteams, sits within the Customer Services division of the council, rather than within either Corporate Communications or IT, like in many other councils. This means the word which underpins all the work we do is the word 'customer'.
Being frank, I was never particularly happy about us being moved from comms to cs when it happened - as a person out on the street who buys things, my overwhelming experience and view of 'customer services' is they're the people you take a faulty product back to, who spend a lot of time trying to pursuade you it isn't faulty, or the people you complain about an intangible service to, who spend a lot of time telling you the majority of their customers think the service is just peachy. I, frankly, have never been happy about my job being associated with that sort of thing.
I've also never really liked this description of our website users as customers, but it's only in the last few weeks or so I've been able to really crystalise why I've never really liked it. The first reason is one which I've shared a lot in many arenas, and which underpins a lot of my discomfort with a number of current council website trends - customer services divisions of councils seem to have quite a skewed view of who their customers are, focusing on the people who are complaining about potholes, missed bin collections, and leaky taps in their council houses. Those might be the biggest numbers of customers, but that shouldn't exclude the business customers (large and small), the visitor customers, and the politically-engaged customers - those other groups, because they don't register as big numbers in the statistics, it is often a struggle to get counted as also important.
The second reason i realised more recently why I don't like the word is that actually, very few of any of these people are actually customers in the usual sense of the word - customers are people who have a choice, who can take their custom elsewhere if the initial provider doesn't live up to expectation.
But for most services, council customers don't have a choice to go elsewhere - it's only councils who provide the service of fixing potholes, collecting bins, and fixing leaky taps in council houses; the customers are stuck with our service, whether we provide a good one or not. Not just that, customers are people who not only can choose who to have a service from, but they can also choose to have a service at all - but our customers have a right to these services of having their potholes fixed and their bins collected; by referring to them as customers, we're actually denigrating the fact that they have rights. And similarly, customers have the option to not choose a service - but council tax customers don't have an option to not pay their council tax!
So a couple of weeks ago at work I started, clearly and pointedly, in all emails and spoken conversations, no longer referring to customers, and instead referring to citizens - citizenship is what we want to promote in our towns, boroughs, cities, and counties, citizens encompasses everybody ensuring groups don't get dismissed, and citizens to me emphasises the fact that they have rights to our service rather than being people who should be grateful for it. And specifically when it comes to web services, I've returned to what should never have been dropped in the first place - referring to web users as, well, users.
Interestingly, not long after I first wrote this, internally the organisation did indeed start to replace the word 'customer' with the word 'citizen' in all its communications - I wonder if it was my effect that did it?Public / Third Sector Digital
Today I officially pronounce the Bullring fruit and vegetable market to be dead.
It had a good innings – nobody can complain about a run of 856 years and it being curtailed; I remember when plans to demolish the 1960′s market and shopping centre area were being consulted on how most of the traders predicted the market wouldn’t survive, but – the soul having been ripped out of the place notwithstanding – most of the stalls made it through that redevelopment.
Then there are the current fears that the move of the Wholesale Markets from right next to the Bullring Market will cause major hassle – Jon Bounds has commented on the silliness of the image of traders wheeling trolleys full of cabbages half way across town half way through the trading day, but there’s the very real concern of how produce will be then transported, coupled with the new uncertainty surrounding when the move will actually happen.
But to me, what has finally killed the market is the combination of the serious drop in quality of the produce on sale, combined with the scourge of the man from the weights and the measures, the Poundabowl.
Now don’t get me entirely wrong – where the typical shopper might think more in terms of a number of items rather than a weight of items, there’s nothing wrong with it; but it still makes price comparisons difficult, because you don’t know how much you’re getting for your pound from different traders – you may well even be getting a different amount from the same trader each time you buy!
Until recently, produce from the market always tended to have what supermarket fruit and veg well and truly lacked – flavour. I still remember like it was yesterday my reintroduction to the market (after being horrified by reading Felicity Lawrence’s supermarket exposé, Not on the Label) and rediscovering that an onion is an actual real vegetable with a texture and a flavour, rather than some white thing which goes in the dinner for I’m-not-really-sure-what-it’s-adding. The market produce was the blemished, funny shaped stuff which the supermarket bland-o-matic rejected as being Not Possible To Bland.
But of late I’ve noticed that the flavour is less noticeably different from the supermarket, but more critically, the quality has gone right down the pan. It’s no use buying four or five peppers for a pound rather than three or four peppers for £1.50 if you only get to actually use two of them because the rest have become a putrifying blob of mush after a couple of days. I already decided a couple of weeks ago to stop getting my onions from the market because basically half of them were rotten even on the day I bought them.
Today, when I went to my usual stall for getting peppers, I was saddened to see they too have gone over to poundabowl. Rather than hand-picking the precise peppers I wanted (ie, the ones which looked the least off) I would have been forced to accept the ones in the bowl. I usually get a mix of colours, but these bowls were all monochrome – when I asked the assistant for a mix, her reply was “no, I’m not allowed to do that”. So I walked away and found another stall.
The other stall was also poundabowl, but at least when I asked if he could do a mix he said yes. When I checked in the bag to see how mixed he’d done it (just one red to five greens – I wanted three reds and three greens), I saw that two of the peppers were a putrifying blob of mush already.
If I can’t even rely on what I buy being of merchantable quality on the day I buy it, I’m not sure I can be bothered going all the way down there to buy in the first place. So for that reason, I’m out.Birmingham
Zakir Hussein and the Masters of Percussion - Town Hall, 02/07/2008simon gray - 2008-07-02, 14:30:37
Mention the words 'Indian Music' to the man or woman on the Northfield Omnibus, and the chances are the first person who will come into their heads will be Ravi Shankar. Which is understandable really, since it's fair to say he above anybody was chief in popularising Indian classical music to western audiences. However, if you were to find a member of the world music cognoscenti and say those words to them, there's a good chance the thought will come back as tabla player Zakir Hussein.
And rightly so - whereas Ravi Shankar is, as they say, a master, Zakir Hussein is the master. But more to the point, whereas Ravi Shankar in his high profile collaborations with western musicians has largely done his own thing bolted on to the side, Zakir Hussein has very much been much more devlopmental in the field of Indian / western musical fusion, going back as far as the 1970s with the band Shakti with John McLaughlin, through working with straighter jazz artists such as Airto Moreira and Pharoah Sanders, and through to the more techno sounds of Tabla Beat Science.
After a vocal beatbox introduction by percussionist Taufiq Qureshi the concert proper opened with a blast from the Dancing Drummers of Manipur; the programme described them as 'dazzling and athletic', which was no word of a lie as gymnastic backflips were in full evidence - simultaneously to the actual business of drumming! The Dancing Drummers then left the stage not to return again until the very end of the concert, which did seem somewhat of a shame, leaving me feeling they were participating as some kind of token gesture rather than being properly included.
After their stint Hussein and sarangi (a kind of Indian style violin) player Dilshad Khan took the stage for a traditional raga performance; Khan opened with the introductory alaap solo, then becoming the accompanying instrument for the rest of that half after first Hussein joined in for the jhor section, with then Bhavani Shankar (no relation) adding - often perfectly synchronised with the tabla - to the drumming mix with his sideways drum, the pakhawaj. There's the old cliché in the rock music world of 'boring us to death with a drum solo', but in the Indian music world, nothing could be further from the truth, especially with drums in the hands of greats such as these. And in an amusing twist to the bol, or 'tabla speech' (where the drummer speaks the rhythms as well as playing them - used as a teaching method rather than performance itself in its proper setting) feature which we are used to getting in concerts here, it was likened to a proper conversation: 'come in, sit down, enjoy the concert; dha ti-ki-taah tun ti-re-ki-ta dha ghe dha ghe KHAT!'. Well it amused us in the hall, anyway.
As the first half was quite firmly traditional classical Indian music, knowing the performers' pedigrees I assumed the second half would be much more fusion-based, especially since all the way through the first half there was set on the stage a western drum kit (minus kick drum) left unused. But instead when then musicians returned to the stage the sarangi was replaced by a sitar, which this time continued to take the lead as the solo instrument in a traditional raga performance.
Finally percussionist Qureshi joined the ensemble on stage, when I realised actually we were being treated to something more interesting than the straight fusion I was expecting. As Qureshi was clearly playing western (and African, as at one point he was playing a djembe simultaneously with the rest of the kit) drums but according to Indian tala principles it occured to me that for the second half we were getting neither traditional Indian music nor 'fusion', but something best described as Indian contemporary classical music - showing that the forms of Indian classical music can, and indeed have, developed over the years just the same way as western classical music forms have changed.
Building through we had a fitting grand finale as the performers from the first half returned to the stage to close what was a fine concert - a concert where I didn't get what I was expecting, but instead was treated to much, much more.
When Portishead first hit the record shops in the mid-90s, I have to admit I was initially a little underwhelmed. That all changed with the release of Roseland NYC Live (and the accompanying concert video) when I discovered just how artistic their music can be; if you're the kind of person who likes contemporary classical music as might be played by B.E.A.S.T. or the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, or alternatively if the arthouse flicks of the Electric Cinema might make that venue your second home, then Portishead are the band for you.
After a gap of some 10 years since that album, the band have come together at last to release a new studio album, the imaginatively titled Third(released on 28 April 2008), together with a European tour to promote, which reached the West Midlands last night.
Unlike many rock reformations, where it feels like the spark had long gone and has barely been rekindled to pay an unexpected tax bill, the return of Portishead shows a group of true dedicated and accomplished musicians demonstrating as much skill and energy today as they did on the album which converted me. The opening track included loud heavy guitars demonstrating them to be so much more than the label 'trip hop' leads one to assume, but the intimate numbers are still there with the band gathering around close in to each other sitting in a huddle.
Importantly, each song blended perfectly with the one preceding and following, and the sudden endings - a feature which often irritates me in a band - in this case were just 'right', an important part of the music rather than laziness. The Lalo Schifrin-esque melodies which wouldn't be out of place in a James Bond soundtrack are still occasionally there along with the live turntablism (I do often wonder, does it matter what records they're playing when they're scratching?), together with a more classic analogue synthesisor soundworld - I counted at least two Minimoogs on stage.
Unless you can make a trip to Paris or Brussels early next month you've missed your chance in the UK on this tour, but if you fancy a Bank Holiday Eurostar trip you could do no worse. Hopefully we won't have to wait another 10 years to see such a truly great band.