The British Character : Has It Changed? #4 Political Apathy

The burning issue in the world of politics this week seems to have been apathy.  The BBC is doing its bit to combat it – or possibly stir it up – with an advertising campaign.  The Independent, under the headline ‘Politics holds least interest for the public in a decade’ reported

“The research … shows that less than half the population is interested in politics at all and one in three is unlikely or certain not to vote at the next election. … The study found that dissatisfaction with politics is particularly evident among Liberal Democrat supporters.  A year ago 72 per cent of Liberal Democrat voters said that they were interested in politics but that has now fallen to just 50 per cent.  The number of Conservative supporters interested … has now fallen to 65 percent while Labour support has dropped to 48 per cent.”

Meanwhile, in The Guardian, under the headline “Apathy appears to be the burning issue in Newcastle“, Dutch journalist Joris Luyenduk reported

“Most people I have spoken to down the campaign trail south from John O’Groats don’t know there are local elections coming up, or don’t care … Half a dozen random strangers either won’t vote, or won’t tell me who they’ll vote for.  Perhaps the apathy itself is the burning – or simmering – issue.”   

I’m not sure that apathy – in the sense of an absence of feeling – is quite the right word here.  I suspect that most people find the aspects of party politics that fascinate those professionally involved with it – the personalities, the tactics – about as involving as minor sports such as basketball or ice hockey. 

In the good times, this translates into a benign indifference, but, when times are hard, it turns into a sort of exasperation that people in whom they have so little interest can exert such influence over their lives, and annoyance that it feels irresponsible and potentially self-harming not to care.  But perhaps this is mere autobiography.

But is this new?  Predictably – according to Pont – the answer is no. This is from 1937, when there really was quite a lot going on in the world of politics.   

Firstly …

Spanish Bombs : Cecilia Bastida

To continue with the seasonal theme of the Spanish Civil War, here is a version of The Clash’s Spanish Bombs, performed by the Mexican singer Cecilia Bastida.  As she mentions in her introduction, she originally sang a more up tempo version of the song with the band Tijuana No.

It wouldn’t be too difficult to come up with a “sophisticated” dismissal of this song.  Naive … overly romantic about the Republicans … reduces complex situation to sloganeering … factual inaccuracies … tokenistic.  No doubt you could slip in the fact that Strummer was educated at a public school.  On the other hand, it was – and remains – hugely popular in Spain, as the comments attached in Spanish to the various other versions available on YouTube will attest.

It probably didn’t help that the version of the lyrics printed on the original sleeve reduced the section sung in Spanish to near-gibberish.  I believe this was because Ray Lowry had to try to reproduce what was being sung without the aid of a lyric sheet and – as he couldn’t speak Spanish – that was the best he could come up with.  Bastida restores the original sense (or some sense, anyway) (“infinito” as opposed to “y finito“, for instance).

Now I come to think of it, this is quite seasonal (unless my memory is playing tricks on me), in the sense that London Calling was released just before Christmas in 1979, and I spent most of my Christmas stay with my parents listening to it (it might even have been my Christmas present).  I remember feeling fairly pessimistic about the prospects for the coming decade, what with the trouble in Afghanistan – the Soviet “invasion” beginning on Christmas Eve (my 19th birthday) – the prospect of civil unrest following the recent election of a Conservative government and so on.  Perhaps I might give it another spin this Christmas – purely for reasons of nostalgia, you understand.

Cable, Osborne and Darling : the verdict

I did manage to catch a bit of last night’s debate between the three Chancellors.  I think it was quite shrewd to time it so that it overlapped with Eastenders.  A fair percentage of viewers will have switched over – “I suppose we ought to hear what they’ve got to say” – half way through the debate and, by contrast with the appalling display of ill-temper and shouting on  BBC1, the 3Cs must have seemed like the epitome of sweet reason.

So, here’s my verdict –

George Osborne – nice chap, but about as well qualified to be Chancellor of the Exchequer as I am (i.e. not at all).

Alistair Darling – can’t improve on Michael White’s description (from the Guardian) – “looking … as if he’d lost his car keys but knew he’d find them.”

Vince Cable – reminds me of that period in the seventies when Brian Clough used to appear on the TV on expert panels and in interviews explaining exactly where the current incumbent as England football manager was going wrong and what he would do instead.  A nation would say from their sofas, settees and armchairs – “He really ought to be the Manager, you know.  Of course, they’ll never give him the chance …”

Judy Holliday again, and Tallulah Bankhead

It is odd that the way one thing leads to another.  If East Midlands Trains hadn’t experienced their little local difficulty in the region of the Langtons on Saturday I might not have found the time to read Tanya Gold’s article that I was mentioning the other day and so I wouldn’t have been reminded about Judy Holliday – so thank you for that East Midlands Trains.

If I hadn’t thought about Judy Holliday I wouldn’t also have come across the clip that this is leading to, and I wouldn’t even have known that Tallulah Bankhead had her own radio show.  In this excerpt Miss Bankhead congratulates Judy H. on her Oscar with the help of various stars of the day.  You certainly can’t fault the woman’s bravery – not only did she defy Senator McCarthy, but here she also teases Bette Davis. Note how JH drops her Betty Boop voice ( the one she used when dealing with the Senate) when speaking to Ethel Barrymore, the Grande Dame of the American theatre.  Winston Churchill, incidentally, proposed marriage to Ethel Barrymore in 1900 – he clearly had a thing about Americans – and Tallulah Bankhead – herself an unusually liberal Democrat – had a father who was the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives. 

Tallulah Bankhead lead an eventful life, some of the details of which are frankly unsuitable for publication in a family blog such as this  – Eventful life.  Makes the confessions of the wife of our own dear Speaker – Sally Bercow – seem rather tame.  One of the more bizarre things she was alleged to have done was to have “seduced up to half a dozen public schoolboys [from Eton] into taking part in “indecent and unnatural” acts” in a hotel in Berkshire. (See here).  This, however, seems to have been a total fabrication by MI5, proving, I suppose, that our security services were every bit as devious then as they are today, if a little more imaginative in their methods.

Know thyself 2 – the Political Compass

Having established which sex I am,  let’s see whether the internet can help me work out where I stand politically.  The  Political Compass seems promising.  Old hands may think  this a bit old hat (old gloves?) , but ’tis new to me.

A few simple questions – Would you sell your Granny for sixpence?Do you keep Adolf Hitler’s birthday? and so on, and out come the results.

Here they are (fig. 1) (and – for comparison – some other well known personalities (fig. 2)).  I appear to be in the same quarter of the playing field as Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama (slightly to the left of the DL, in fact).

The interesting point here, I think, is that I’m reasonably sure that if one were to give a cross-section of the public the names of all those on the second chart and asked the sample to rank the well-known names in order of preference Mandela and the DL would come out 1 & 2, but all Western democracies seem to be governed by those in the top right hand corner.

Go figure … answers on a postcard etc.

fig 1.

I am here

I am here

 fig. 2


Yours truly, Angry Mob – or Mr. Pooter joins the commentariat

In which I make some amusing remarks and find myself caught up in a lynch mob

Curious experience a couple of nights ago.  Tiring slightly of my  backwater I decide to venture out into the mainstream (or trickle or torrent, whatever the technical term is) of the blogosphere.  I decide to give the world the benefit of my views on a couple of subjects via the medium of one of the better known blogs.

Put soberly and rationally (and I wasn’t perhaps entirely the first of those, at any rate) the point I was intending to make was that I was surpised that the revelations concerning MPs’ expenses had caused quite the furore they have as compared to all the other things that they have done collectively over the last thirty years or so, and how very likely it would always have seemed to me that they would get up to those kinds of tricks.

I first of all try the BBC news website where, as you might imagine, there was already a considerable body of comment on this subject.  I make my point (aware as I am doing so that I am wildly exaggerating my strength of feeling on this question) and post it.  I then realise that the post won’t be published for several hours, if at all, so decide to head off in the direction of the Guardian’s Comment is Free to try my luck there.       

There I see Alexander Chancellor’s article about Stephen Fry’s alleged comments on the matter on Newsnight (which I managed to miss, but it’s fair to say aren’t going down particularly well) so I decide to throw in my two penn’orth there.  Having got a taste for it now I look around for another blog to comment on and my eye falls on an article by Polly Toynbee “Brown must go now”, or something along those lines.  I find that this has attracted so much comment that it has been closed: I then spot another, newer comment by Toynbee saying that once Brown has gone, in line with her instructions, Alan Johnson must be appointed forthwith.  For some reason I find this quite enraging and post a derisive message, in which I say that in 35 years of reading the Guardian I have never managed to finish one of her articles.  This cannot possibly be true, although it is true I rarely even begin to read the ones she writes currently (the ones under the cartoon).  I then return to my comments re. Chancellor, Fry and the expenses and add an even more provocative comment saying that I think MPs should actually have their expenses increased.

I then go back and read the other comments on Toynbee’s article.  These make my jeering sound like a model of sweet reason.  She is getting the bird in no uncertain terms.  Collectively we make up a virtual lynch mob.  I then realise that this article is one that is due to be published in the next day’s paper, and that it has already managed to attract over a hundred hostile comments. 

Why is it, precisely, that we are all so angry?

  • Some are genuinely angry about the expenses scandal.
  • Some are genuinely angry about the way that Nu-Labour has traduced the better traditions of the Labour Party.
  • We are mostly frustrated that our various points of view have no effective representation in the mainstream of political life.
  • But also, I would guess, we are angry (if only subconsciously) that the much-vaunted democracy of the blogosphere does not mean that our views are given the same prominence as P. Toynbee.  If she says that Brown must go, or Johnson must come in then she expects to be taken notice of.  If we want to be taken notice of then it is a question of strength in numbers, swarming like angry bees.

Still, feel slightly (very slightly) regretful and atone by leaving a message of thanks to Frank Keating for a nice mini-memoir of Colin Milburn. 

Perhaps I’m better off in my backwater after all.

BNP – early risers?

Up at about 6.45 this morning to discover my first leaflet for the hotly contested Leicestershire County Council elections.  It’s from the British National Party.

Does this mean that their patriotic zeal inspires them to be up spreading their message of goodwill to all men before the other parties have got out of bed – or that they sneak round in the middle of the night because they don’t want anyone to see them?

Or maybe it was the milkman?