I’m quite the Twitter addict and spend far too much time on social media so, in essence, I’m a connoisseur of memes – I’ve seen ‘em all: cats in hats; inspirational quotes; life-affirming ditties. Can we reduce politics to memes? Jez we can! We select facts which suit our needs, wiggle and jiggle and squeeze them into bite-sized chunks, stick them over a picture of, you know, whatever, and set them free to wreak havoc on whoever their intended victim is (because, let’s face it, they’re rarely positive).
The EU Referendum has brought up its own set of memes: I’ve been lectured on the wastefulness of the EU by Colombo, Sponge Bob Squarepants and Micky Flanagan; I’ve been told that voting out is racist by Nigel Farage, Oswald Mosely and Darth Vader; I’ve had every world leader’s face in my face telling me to face facts (but only the ones appearing on the meme – not the other bad facts!). Each fact – cutting, succinct and blithely wrapped up with its own pretty picture – screaming “Behold, for I am the truth – thou shalt have no other truth before me!”
Others are equally blithe: Leave keeps repeating its own falsehoods, like the £350m a week we (DO NOT!) send to the EU every week; Remain plays the race card every day, not understanding that a deck with that many cards of the same face must be rigged; and, today, I was horrified to see Craig Woodhouse, Chief Political Reporter for The Sun, write “Presumably Cameron and the Remain camp agree with this, given it’s from “experts” they love so much?”, like knowledge, understanding, research and being an ‘expert’ is a bad thing and these people, with their education and learning and thought, are bad.
It made me wonder: are we wandering to the world of The West Wing? Aficionados of Bartlett’s presidency like me (see, I do deal with old media, too) will remember Jed’s second election and the ten word answers. Bartlett had a problem: he was too smart to lead, too smart to make decisions and too smart to be trusted. His knowledge, intelligence and ability made him unelectable – and he needed to connect with everyday people by becoming an everyday person. In the end, intelligence and faith in electorate won out, I’m glad to say – but it isn’t in this election. We’re stuck looking for the ten word answers, feasting on memes and wandering blindly into the future, the vision of which was laid out by fictional words forcibly attributed to fictional characters. In, out, left, right, it’s just on, on, on.
All we get are 10 word answers and this question – hell, any question – needs more than that. Like Bartlett, I want the next 10 words, and the next and the next.
A lawyer, an economist and a businessperson walk into a pub…
But then I went to Politics in the Pub – (I’m biased – I’m one of the organisers) – and had a proper talk about the future. There weren’t any politicians, just experts in their fields. I listened to an economist, a lawyer and a business person talk with eloquence, experience, nuance, subtlety and, above all, at length. They said what happens now, what might happen in the future and the possible consequences of both votes. They didn’t threaten me with unfettered immigration or a £30billion budget, they didn’t treat me as a traitor or a racist, and, above all, they didn’t insult my intelligence. They could have – they were all cleverer (and certainly more knowledgeable) than me – and I didn’t understand absolutely every ramification and repercussion of what they said. How could I? I’m not an expert in these areas. But they didn’t pull intellectual punches – and in this far-reaching vote, the effects of which will be felt by the UK, EU and the world for years, if not generations, to come, why should they?
I love Politics in the Pub because it gives me the next 10 words, and the next, and the next and the next. Politics in the Pub gives me the next 10,000 words and it gives me a chance to ask difficult questions and receive difficult answers.
Everyone is entitled to vote – as it should be – but wouldn’t that cross in the box carry more weight if you’d sought out long, complicated articles, shared nuanced, balanced conversations, and heard passionate arguments from knowledgeable people? Mine does.
If you want to know why this debate was so great, take a look at Bradfordzone’s live blog – and make sure you come to our future events… and I’ll kindly ask you not to refer me to this article if you see me retweet, share or even create a meme; after all, hypocrisy is the new, erm, something.
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Wow! What a night! Love took centre stage as politicians from the full spectrum gathered at The Library Bar to woo potential voters… and what a show they put on.
Thanks so much to all the speakers and all who came to listen. At the end of the night, the politicians got a resounding vote of thanks with a hearty round of applause – and, boy, did they deserve it.
Because the Valentine’s special took so much organising, but was so very, very special, we hope to put on a similar night… next year. In the mean time, look out for future events on the EU referendum, the joy of tax, the NHS and much, much more, all happening right here in Bradford city centre.
Naz Shah MP returned to The University of Bradford to talk about the infamous Bradford West Campaign, her first 80 days in Parliament and her priorities for the next 5 years and beyond. Expertly probed by Dr Parveen Akhtar, Sociology lecturer at the university, Naz Shah gave real insight into how her battle with George Galloway affected her personally, how she is growing as a politician & a person and how she intends to make Bradford the tech capital of the North.
Most of what people know about Naz Shah came during the tempestuous Bradford West where she took on and defeated infamous incumbent George Galloway. For those keeping the most cursory of eyes on the campaign will have witnessed behaviour unbecoming of any politician in the civilized world. It was fitting, then, that Naz Shah opened up about how she was affected by the “revelations” posted on social media and handed around Bradford West’s Asian communities. Her blog post, which went viral and was picked up across the main stream media, was penned almost immediately after her selection as the candidate for Bradford West… and was in direct response to the waves of attacks she expected. “Within two hours of being selected,” she told us, “two fake Twitter accounts in my name had sprung up” as well as doctored photos. If not going so far as to make a direct link between the accounts and her adversary George Galloway, she noted that they belonged to his supporters, and chose to reveal her story as “I’ll be damned if a rape apologist is going to control my narrative!” She also revealed that late in the campaign, a handwritten letter was passed around Bradford West Asian communities which accused Shah of being “a working girl” and, to her great distress, questioned the paternity of her children. Obviously upset, Shah spoke passionately and defiantly about the experience, saying that she was tough enough to take the accusations about her, but that bringing her children into the campaign was beyond the pale.
Shah also voiced her disappointment at the lack of local support, particularly from women’s groups. She enjoyed vocal support from national groups, such as Southall Black Sisters, but found it lacking in Bradford, and felt that, in particular, some Muslim women’s groups and powerful Muslim women within the city could have done more given who she was and who she was fighting.
Given all those faceless, nameless voices who were against her, she took time to thank the people of Bradford and beyond – of every political party and none – who gave her support in the face of such antagonism: “For every troll, I had a hundred fantastic people.”
The attacks also reminded her of why she moved from community activist to politician – although those are monikers she’s uncomfortable in swapping. She told us how Khalid Mahmood MP (Birmingham Perry Barr) came to Bradford to discover local talent. It was him asking Shah why, when she had the bottle to battle Galloway and an understanding of what she thought needed to happen in Bradford to improve things, she wouldn’t throw her hat in the ring. “It’s a dirty game and it’s a man’s world” she told him; but it was his challenge – if you don’t stand, how will you change things? – that first made her seriously contemplate running.
Naz Shah laid out her priorities fpr her time in parliament, starting with her desire to bring tech money, jobs and prospects into the city. Noting that Bradford will be the UK’s youngest city by 2020, she wants the city to use this to its advantage by bringing in investment and for Bradford to become the Northern Powerhouse’s tech capital. Although low on specifics of who and how she’s courting, she is clear that Bradford’s best chance of success is to become a leading edge in the technological revolution, much as its previous wealth came from leading the industrial revolution. She has met with two of Labour’s possible leaders, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham, about what their leadership would bring to Bradford and both threw their weight behind Shah’s Bradford Taskforce which has technology at its heart.
Priorities – Education
Leading in the field of technology cannot come without changes to educational attainment for our young people. Education cropped up again and again during the campaign, and with Bradford languishing as the worst city in England for educational attainment and pitifully low in terms of the number of Good schools, education is key to any future prosperity.
Shah has met with Dave Green, leader of Bradford Council, and Susan Hinchcliffe, portfolio holder for schools, to discuss plans. She referred to the plans already in progress and the input from Professor David Woods who worked on London Challenge which transformed schools & schooling in the capital. She assured us that she will be working closely with the council and making sure that they are doing what they say they will and that it is having an effect – and would welcome a further visit from Ofsted which, she is sure, will back her belief that change is happening. Whilst she lamented the way the council has dealt with change for decades, she is confident that her City Hall colleagues are on the right track.
Priorities – Breaking Down Barriers
No discussion with any of Bradford District’s five MPs could take place without race being mentioned. Naz Shah stated categorically that she is MP for everyone in Bradford West irrespective of race – and noted that, often, discussing race is unhelpful because, in Bradford, it is class and income which are far better determiners of employment, education, skills and income than simply the colour of your skin. This is the battle she wants to fight.
In discussing race, she spoke of the frequent accusation that Muslims don’t integrate and that monoracial areas are of Muslim’s causing. Admitting that getting communities working together is a tough challenge and one where successive parliamentarians have struggled to make a difference, she knows she must act fast and hard to make a difference.
Several anecdotes demonstrated that she is acutely aware of the problems she faces: from the white couple moving out when she moved, the Asian family who sent round introductory cards but received only one in return, to the family in Toller ward who were shocked when she came knocking as they’d never had a politician call on them before because (they believed) they were white.
Labour – Leadership & Loss
Naz Shah spoke passionately about why Labour lost the election: in her view, a lack of honesty caused Labour’s downfall. She believes that Labour needs to reconnect with people and be seen again as the party of the working man. “We didn’t own our own narrative” and the scaremongering about links to the SNP, not getting away from being blamed for the global financial crash and being seen as the party for the unemployed not the working man all contributed to the defeat.
She was clear about the direction the party should take and is still undecided about who should lead it. Although she originally got behind Yvette Cooper, she is equally enamoured of Andy Burnham. For her, deciding who to throw her weight behind was difficult because there is “a Rizzla paper between them” and either could lead the party. Keeping her options open, she has not publically backed or campaigned for either (excepting appearing at one hustings for Yvette Cooper).
On Jeremy Corbyn, the most left, least Blairite candidate, she was less supportive but not dismissive, noting that she hadn’t met with those in his camp (which includes Bradford East’s Imran Hussain) as, at the time, his candidature was not a serious prospect like it is now.
The Welfare Bill
Labour has come under attack for its interim leadership calling for an abstention, and Shah has faced this criticism. In her defence, she was categorical: she did not abstain – but voted for the amendment. She did not vote against the government’s bill, though, as many Labour rebels did, including Bradford East’s Imran Hussain. Her explanation as to why revolved around Labour’s problems noted earlier and how it is struggling to lead and engage. Her view, and that of the party’s leadership, is that a vote against the bill would have been tagged as a vote against opportunity as the bill contained provision for 3 million new apprenticeships. Branding the bill’s make up as “Tory trap”, she felt unable to vote against it as it would further entrench belief that Labour is the party of the unemployed not the working man. She will oppose the bill, though, and noted that this battle is not over – the real work to ensure that educational maintenance grants, caps on the number of children who receive child benefit and more will come in committee and debate, not on the passing of one vote.
We always have a vote at Politics in the Pub – and not being ones to pull punches, we put in a particularly contentious one: Are you confident Naz Shah will be a good representative of Bradford West? It’s difficult to put your hand up against someone when they’re watching you, but we feel we’ve got a pretty honest audience and following, and the vote was split almost 50-50 between YES and DON’T KNOW with just 2 saying NO.
After answering Dr Akhtar’s questions honestly, confidently and with humility, Shah won over many in the audience. Her answer on welfare which included parliamentary process, relationships with the media and a hint of mea culpa gave many an understanding why Labour had seemed to dodge the issue and taken so much flak in the media; her desire to be everyone’s MP, not just those that either look like her, pray like her or voted for her, won her support undoubtedly; and her passion for the job which appears to have been redoubled since she shakily signed in for the first time showed us all that she is passionate about representing Bradford (whether you agree with her politics or not).
It is for these reasons that, in the end, she won over many, with around 3/4 of people saying YES they are confident she’ll represent Bradford West well and none saying NO.
Naz Shah was not the only Bradford West candidate speaking: James Kirkcaldy, who ran as an independent, spoke eloquently, and even in rhyme, about David Cameron’s “change in tone”, suggesting that we are witnessing a paradigm shift towards a darker, nastier side of politics where anyone, especially those of the left, can be identified as terrorists.
We also tried to get more people involved through technology and broadcasted the event using Periscope, a live streaming app which allows anyone in the world to see what you’re seeing. Although the event was well attended in person, more people tuned in via Periscope – some from Bradford, whom we’d love to see in person, but many more from across the UK, Europe and the world.
Dermot’s compere skills were again in full force and his delivery of the @CorbynJokes timeline was sublime – but the biggest laugh came for his thoughts on the Lord Sewel scandal, noting that, after being caught allegedly snorting cocaine from a prostitute’s cleavage, he should be lauded for his commitment to international trade and the local economy.
And that’s probably a good place to finish up.
Politics in the Pub would like to thank Naz and Parveen for agreeing to the event, and for being so open, honest and challenging – and also to The University of Bradford Students’ Union for being such great hosts, especially UBU’s Women’s Officer, Samayya.
We really hope you enjoyed our first Politics in the Pub event – What’s the Point in Voting?. We certainly enjoyed putting it on – and we’re already looking forward to the next events.
In the mean time, take a listen to what Jay Unger of Bradford Community Broadcasting thought of the night – with plenty of interviews from the night… maybe you were interviewed.
Here’s what people said about our first Politics in the Pub event:
It went really well and thank you for asking me – it was relaxed, good humoured and I felt everybody who wanted to say something had the chance to do so – well done! – Cllr Debbie Davies
Thought the event was excellent… Keep up the good work. – Cllr Simon Cooke
Friendly, welcoming and humorous atmosphere. – Feedback via Polldaddy
Open debate, opinions were given fair hearing. – Feedback via Polldaddy
It was in a pub! Very relaxed atmosphere, friendly and welcoming. – Feedback via Polldaddy
Keep it going! It was great for a first event, will definitely come again. – Feedback via Polldaddy
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