English comedian, presenter, political satirist and journalist Mark Thomas spoke to Jason McCrossan about his latest show that he is touring the UK with called THE RED SHED which he is performing at the Gulbenkian theatre in Canterbury on 17th February.
The show celebrates the 50th anniversary of Wakefield Labour Club’s iconic Red Shed. It’s the story of where Mark first started to perform in public and where he politically came of age as a student involved in the miners’ strike.
Words cannot express the pain and anger that many British people feel at the killing of a UK MP, in broad daylight, on 16 June 2016, on the streets of the small Yorkshire village of Birstall; death snatching the life of one of our most promising Member of Parliament – Jo Cox.
So far all we know is that her attacker was in his 50s, described as a loner who may have mental health issues – but on the latter point we still do not know.
It says a lot about our view of parliament and our politicians that few people outside of her constituency or parliament would have been aware of just how promising and respected Jo was. She was only in parliament for 18 months – yet managed to punch through not only on political issues but also across the political divide. Unlike some politicians who would argue over the direction of a worm – just because they couldn’t bear to agree, Jo was different and would work with anyone of whatever persuasion if they shared her views on the various humanitarian causes she championed.
But let’s be clear – Jo wasn’t just an MP – she was a daughter, a wife and mother of two children whom she loved more than anything. In an emotional yet considered response, after his wife was pronounced dead – Jo’s husband Brendan said: “Today is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. More difficult, more painful, less joyful, less full of love. I and Jo’s friends and family are going to work every moment of our lives to love and nurture our kids and to fight against the hate that killed Jo”.
We still do not know the cause – however, speaking at the scene of her death the leader of the labour party Jeremy Corbyn alluded to a possible answer when he said “She was taken from us in an act of hatred, in a vile act that has killed her. It’s an attack on democracy, what happened yesterday. It’s the well of hatred that killed her “. One assumes that the Prime Minister has been given constant updates by those holding the killer and may have passed on some information to Mr Corbyn.
If you want to know who Jo was and the type of platform that she was forging her way on – just listen to her maiden speech in the House of Commons in 2015.
I was on facebook when the news of Jo’s shooting started to break – responding to someone who had written a post on the EU referendum and how they only way to regain our country and stop immigration was to vote to leave. My critical response to this including lamenting the idea that it is the EU that makes us undemocratic – when we have nearly 900 unelected Peers in the House of Lords with the power to change, delay and black legislation and whom cost the taxpayer about £21 million per year and that we should sort out the deckchairs on our own beach before looking over the water and blaming a messy beach abroad for our troubles.
I also touched on how the focus on immigration and EU bureaucrats let our own MPs and parliament off the hook – and was pretty scathing about our MPs. Then as news started to roll in that not only had Jo been shot, but had succumbed to her injuries, I decided I could not hit the reply button. It just didn’t feel right to be having a go at politicians when one had just been murdered on a British street in a small British village. Maybe me and the British public have been too harsh on our MPs – the majority of whom, are not that different to us and who come within the communities we ourselves live.
I saved a copy of what I have written and I’m now not sure if I will ever respond to Mr Angry about Immigration – because, actually, I don’t want to get caught up in the tit for tat nasty – blown out of all proportion debate that we have had so far. I will write something – but maybe I will be that bit more respectful to those who govern us – and maybe we all should. I note that because the killer is white, with links to the far right – no mention of the words “terrorist’ or ‘terrorism’ has been made- yet, it is hard not to imagine if the killers skin colour had of been different – the headlines and news bulletins would be flooded with words trying to link this to some muslim extremist group either here or abroad – like what happened when the soldier Lee Rigby was murdered by a man who had mental health issues – who happened to be muslim. Maybe we in the media need to also learn to just watch our language and how we present the news to the public.
If all the public hear from the news that they consume and by certain political groups that we are “awash” with immigrants and that we are ‘full’ ‘cannot cope’ our shores are ‘flooded’ and our politicians are inept and unable to control the ‘flow of immigration’ – then maybe, just maybe, it lights the torch paper in people making them angry which then leads to some, who do not have the full control of their mental state, to see themselves as champions for Britain. Whist taking the life of a wife and leaving to children without a mother.
If you are a fan of political history – you may be interested in this video that charts the final months of John Major’s government through the eyes of the shadow Chancellor Gordon Brown and his team, including Charlie Whelan, Ed Balls and Ed Miliband, following them through Labour’s election campaign and into government. This programme was broadcast on 30th September 1997.
Unity is often seen as a good thing. And depending on what’s being united – that can be the case. However, the current Labour unity against Jeremy Corbyn is going as well as can be expected.
There is so much bad blood flowing around the Labour party at the moment (from its heart to its toe nails) I’m surprised it hasn’t been wheeled into an NHS hospital for a transfusion! Then again, with the track record of some NHS hospitals (Romford Queen’s Hospital) – maybe staying out is the medicine which is keeping it alive.
The belief is that Jeremy Corbyn is a problem for Labour and it’s election chances of 2020. I don’t actually think that Jeremy is the problem at.
The problem in so far as I can see isn’t with Jeremy – but with the uninspiring nature of the other candidates. Why aren’t they doing better? If Labour doesn’t really like them – who will?
If NONE of them seem able to even come close to Jeremy – in terms of engagement, charisma, warmth, charm & voice- what chance does Labour have in 2020 when fighting a real opponent? This particular Labour leader election – must be, must be – one of the worst managed, handled and executed election ever. It’s a disaster in terms of PR, the available candidates and the future election prospects of the party.
If you believe the polls (and after May 2015 why would we?) Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper haven’t captured party members imagination in the same way that Corbyn has. But maybe this reflects the wider trend away from party suits with plukes (spots for those unfamiliar). Just evaluate the Corbyn effect – with the Nigel Farage effect. Great at grabbing headlines. Great at getting party members enthused and great at getting them active in their communities. The problem with Farage is, of course, no one outside his gabble of groupies – want to see him actually running the country!
So, I understand why the Labour party fear a Corbyn win. It would probably be his last success. Capturing the hearts of your party is one thing. Capturing the hearts of a nation is another. As David Cameron has shown us twice – you don’t need to be a brilliant politician or outstanding Prime Minister. But, as RuPaul would say on her drag race “Good luck….and DON’T fuck it up”. Unfortunately since 2007 – the Labour Party hasn’t heeded Lady Ru’s words of rudom.
But surely the bigger problem here is the total lack of enthusiasm for any of the other candidates. A number of Labour’s ‘big beasts’ or just ‘beastly beasts’ have come out for Liz Kendall including David Miliband, Tristram Hunt, Chuka Ummuna, & Margaret Hodge. Liz Kendall? A future leader? A future Prime Minister on the global stage? Really? She ain’t no Angela Merkel or Barbara Castle. One wonders if some of those names attached to her are giving their backing knowing that the public are as likely to vote for Liz as they are for compulsory syphilis injections (and yes, some will) – thereby giving them time to grow within themselves and prepare for their own Labour leadership bid in 2020?
And then…into the debate tumbles Tony Blair, Alistair Campbell and Gordon Brown – all with one message. A message which appears to go against the ‘holy grail’ in which new Labour was built. Negative campaigning on one subject – in which you force feed a message that no one ordered nor has the appetite to taste – let alone devour.
The lack of a future Prime Minister between here & 2025 is a problem for Labour and the problem is that no one seems to know how to handle it. From Blair to Brown; Burnham to Cooper – the undignified way this contest is being played out should give much comfort to Chancellor George Osborne – whose chances of being PM are now looking stronger than ever – especially as he’s had plenty of time to practice and improve his communication skills. By 2020 he will be a force to be reckoned with & could be “our” Tony Blair to “their” David Cameron. We’ve almost forgotten how insignificant and floundering Cameron used to look at the dispatch box when up against Blair. Cameron never did and never could win when facing formidable competition.
Whoever wins the leadership of the Labour party – will face the hardest tests of their political career. They are up against a Tory party machine that survived a major recession and a rather under performing Prime Minister – who then won an election.
The next Labour leader has to not only get the policy right. They must, as Ed Milliband found to his cost, look and sound like someone who could lead the country. For me, the jury is still out on whether this is possible between now and 2025. And I think that’s a real shame.
Well, we go to the polls on the 7th May and it seems like the only thing that is sure – is that noone is sure how the vote will turn out.
In Sittingbourne, local radio station 106.9 SFM held a an election debate between 5 of the candidates hoping to be the next Sittingbourne & Sheppey MP.
Subjects such as help for small businesses, the future of our local ambulance service, supporting the fishing industry, staying in or out of the EU, cuts to children’s services, mental health and local housing were all discussed.
All the questions were written and asked by the audience.
This is the first time the candidates for Sittingbourne & Sheppey have debated live on local radio together.
And so it came to pass that a programme which told it’s participants they were recording a show about “community spirit” and how individuals “were working together and helping each other in tough times” finally ended. The fact that the programme makers lied to the participants (they filmed lots of working people and community events over 18 months that was just dumped) – doesn’t seem to matter as they would have been made to sign contracts waiving any rights to what material was used and how the show was edited (under the guise of – we are programme makers – we understand this process – you are poor and stupid…errr you are in need of some well deserving attention brought upon you and (fairy dust sprinkle) (annoyingly enthusiastic voice) – we can make it happen.
The series ended with a ‘live’ debate, involving the participants and other interested parties including MPs and journalists who written some nasty stuff – about these benefits scum…I mean those people who claim additional financial support from the state.
Mass hysteria had been whipped up in the press and from commentators about the fairness of the welfare system and this programme was all the evidence they needed. “It’s not fair that people should sit about all day doing nothing and then get paid money for it” they shrieked!! Really? so what do these so called commentators do with the rest of their 37 hours after they’ve spent just 3 slagging off lazy, idle, work shy scroungers into 500 words? Does yet another afternoon lunch with Sebastian and Felicity for a skinny Mocha -chocca-latte -chino-frappo crapo chato – followed by attending yet another pretentious “must see” exhibition at a tiny art gallery – quaffing free champaign – really count as work?
The truth is, seeing laziness in others is easy. Seeing it in ourselves – when we spend so much time flapping and “frapping” about from one “rendezvous” to another….not so. And therefore I don’t rush to criticise nor condemn the people that channel 4 made minor celebrities out of.
Actually, I think on the whole they came across ok. There are much worse streets out there where the people aren’t full of witty remarks and camaraderie – but nasty and truly awful to each other – where stealing from their neighbour is just as commonplace as stealing from the state. Streets where the police only go when required and for whom society and it’s morals might as well be on another planet.
And then, like the benefits themselves – it all finished. I’m hard pressed to come to a conclusion about what the merits or otherwise of watching the programme had on me – or for that matter, the general debate on welfare. In the first episode I learned that if you want to try and shoplift something – try wrapping kitchen foil in the bottom the bag – as it stops…something….from doing…something… or something like that? Then in the second episode I learned that gangs of european men come over here on a promise of easy work and easy money – only to find themselves in squalid conditions, working 12 hour days and only receive token payments for their labour. When they try to report the dodgy gang master who is not paying them money – and our police and state seem impotent in it’s ability to deal with the situation…”go after the bloody businesses where these men work and are being exploited” I shouted at the TV screen. Nothing happened.
There were of course other characters: the rather annoyingly chirpy church woman who is keen to transform James Turner Street from a rather downtrodden, ugly, messy street into a downtrodden, ugly clean-ish street; the guy who knocks on people’s doors selling things for 50p – hence why he is known as the “50p man” – but doesn’t have much luck and (capitalists look away now) seems to take pity on every other person he meets – and gives them stuff from his bargain box free.
Finally, we got to the “Live Debate” – hosted by Richard Bacon and stuffed full of people I think I’d heard of and faces I think I recognised.
This mass-debate was pretty poor – lots of uncoordinated shouting or cheering – depending upon what point was ineloquently made. White Dee (it seems she prefers to be called Dee – real name Deirdre Kelly) was the only human from the programme that was allowed (or trusted) to speak more than one sentence.
There was the Minister for Work and Pensions – whose name I forget, but who used to be a fireman in a previous life (told us twice) and whom at one point, if I heard correctly, made a joke about shagging white Dee’s mum?? The Minister’s shadow Minister (do try and keep up) had been too busy to watch the programme (too many functions with free booze & cold sandwiches to attend) and so watch 3 of them that day and was appalled by stuff that I can’t remember and don’t care to regurgitate.
One of the interesting angles that came out of this debate for me was seeing those hard nosed columnists, who normally write whilst cocooned in the safety of their middle class homes – their venom slowly dripping onto the page – come face to face with those people whom they’d slagged off. Being people on benefits – of course they had actually read any of the articles and so weren’t offended in the least – but Mr Bacon did try and get a bit of a confrontation going – alas there was nothing to bite. The columnists didn’t want to say things such as “I wish you hadn’t had any children you couldn’t afford” or “I have not met such nasty dole-scum since one traveled on a train in London”. More of this – commenter -v- commentee would be interesting.
The debate only had Richard Bacon as it’s thread and I didn’t feel he really managed to weave it together very well and generally it seemed the pre-production of it had been sloppy and lazy at best. So, basically, it couldn’t have finished better.