The August Riots


Friday, 23 October 2009

Question Time – serious political debate or fascist farce?

The appearance of British National Party leader Nick Griffin on BBC1’s Question Time may have been viewed by some as an acknowledgement of the right to free speech, but for the hundreds of protestors outside BBC Television Studios it was nothing short of an aberration. Meanwhile for those choosing to take a moderate stance on the BBC’s decision, there could be no greater justification than the simple fact that Nick Griffin, as an elected representative of the public, has a right to appear alongside mainstream politicians if invited to do so. Unlike many others I do not believe that the BBC has afforded the BNP any additional credibility through their decision to allow Griffin to appear on Question Time. It was the election of BNP candidates to the European Parliament by ‘Yorkshire and the Humber’ and ‘North West England’ constituents that actually did this, rather than any actions taken by the BBC. Indeed as a publicly-funded broadcaster the BBC has an obligation to represent the realities of the political situation within Britain on shows such as Question Time, and thus should not be allowed or forced by any group or individual to ‘cherry-pick’ the parties it represents based on their ‘suitability’. This has been backed up by BBC Director General Mark Thompson, who acknowledged that “Question Time is an opportunity for the British public to put questions to politicians of every ideological hue”, as well as stating that the argument against allowing the BNP to appear is “a case for censorship”. Whilst some have previously claimed that that the BBC represents a predominantly left-wing view on domestic political issues, there can be no doubt that by allowing Nick Griffin to appear on its flagship political show, the BBC has proved its commitment to ‘impartiality’. Even before Griffin’s arrival there had been a plethora of objections raised against his appearance on the panel. Peter Hain, Secretary of State for Wales described the BBC’s decision as “one of the biggest mistakes in its proud history”, adding that “the gift of credibility will last him [Griffin] a lifetime”. The BBC itself saw significant internal unrest over the decision, with one senior correspondent pointing out that “public servants can be sacked for membership of the BNP and yet the BBC wants to give them airtime with the main political parties”. Before the event there was considerable doubt as to whether anyone from the Labour Party would appear alongside Nick Griffin, given the custom that “Labour does not share a platform with the BNP”, and the fact that a number of Cabinet MPs had expressed disquiet about having to appear alongside BNP representatives.

In the end the Question Time panel was composed of Labour Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw, Conservative peer Baroness Warsi, Liberal Democratic Home Affairs spokesman Chris Huhne and playwright Bonnie Greer alongside Nick Griffin. Griffin’s arrival at the BBC was met by protesters from the Unite Against Fascism organisation, backed by chants of “BBC shame on you” and “Nazi scum off the streets”. Griffin was only able to enter the BBC compound though a back entrance due to large numbers of people surrounding the front gates and the threat of the demonstration spilling over. Despite this around thirty people managed to compromise the heightened security and enter the building itself, before being halted at the reception and forcibly ejected. Griffin’s reception inside was no less vociferous, with large sections of the audience booing his entrance and many of his responses to their questions. Once the show began it quickly became abundantly clear that the other panellists were enforcing a pre-arranged strategy to prevent Griffin communicating his views to the audience. In what may have appeared to some, and certainly did to myself, quite counter-productive Straw and Warsi in particular attempted at every question to interrupt the BNP leader, and stop him being able to give a satisfactory answer to the majority of questions he was asked. I feel this was hugely misguided on the basis that if the members of the panel had let Griffin answer questions fully, he would have been more likely to discredit himself by accidentally revealing the BNP’s true position on issues of race, ethnicity and homosexuality and break his veneer of acceptability and legitimacy. I feel it was the other panellists who unfortunately discredited themselves, as they were seen to bully Nick Griffin and attempt to suppress his right to reply. I would imagine that the majority of ‘neutral’ spectators would have felt sympathy with Griffin on this basis alone. At the beginning many would have praised Jack Straw for immediately discrediting the BNP and giving Griffin the difficult task of defending its ‘honour’, when he said that “each other party has a moral compass and respects religious and ethnic differences”, yet “Nazism didn’t and neither does the BNP”. However the manner in which Straw and the other panel members, including host David Dimbleby proceeded to act towards Griffin quickly began to grate on me. Whilst I don’t agree with BNP policies and would never affiliate myself with the party in any way, I feel that no other panellist would have been treated in such a manner, and this ought to be acknowledged. It was enjoyable however to see Nick Griffin’s morally repugnant and historically inaccurate views on the Holocaust and Jewish people in general challenged, as this and the past anti-Semitism of the BNP and its predecessor the National Front often goes unmentioned.

The debate will rumble on about whether Nick Griffin should or shouldn’t have been allowed to appear on Question Time, and the ramifications of this incident remain to be seen. What is clear however, is that the issue of immigration is one which continues to divide the nation, whilst being almost completely ignored by the ‘big three’ political parties. When asked if he believed the BNP’s increased support amongst the British public was down the “misguided immigration policy of the government”, Jack Straw failed to give a satisfactory answer, completely avoiding the issue and digressing to the maximum extent possible. He then proceeded to wrongly identify the scandal over expenses as the reason for this development, showing either his ignorance on the subject or staunch determination not to confront the immigration question. Obviously he alone cannot be blamed for tactics such as these, as it seems that the Labour and Conservative parties have made it their mission to avoid talking about immigration or the public’s increasing willingness to listen to the only party, rightly or wrong, currently doing this, in favour of simply condemning the BNP. Ultimately, Nick Griffin wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to appear on Question Time if the government was making any attempt to deal with the problem of immigration; if this were the case the public would have no reason to turn to the BNP, and its hard-line members would be exposed as the racist, prejudiced, imperialist, Nazi-sympathising bigots they are. Whilst the major parties do nothing, so BNP support will rise and people like Jack Straw have to share the same platform as the BNP many more a time. The newspapers have undoubtedly focused on this story above any other, with many ministers and columnists predicting a pre-election poll boost for the British National Party, supporting the idea of Nick Griffin’s appearance on the show as an “early Christmas present”. Indeed the party has claimed that a record 3,000 people had registered to join the party in “the biggest recruitment night in its history”. Yet if the BNP’s appearance on Question Time has helped to increase their support, it is the fault of the panellists on the show and the way in which it was organised. This has essentially been proved by the number of complaints received by the BBC about last night’s broadcast; just 100 of these were objecting to Griffin having been invited to appear, whilst almost 250 believed the programme had been biased against him and conducted in the wrong manner. We can only hope Lord Mandelson’s prediction that “in the short term, he may have done himself a favour, but in the long term he has done himself no good at all” comes to pass.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Apollo 101 – ready for take-off?

Lively pop-rock trio Apollo 101 are Norwich’s latest musical sensation, “crash landing” on the local scene. Following a “myriad of electrifying performances” at venues across the east of England, the band are poised to release their debut single ‘One More Chance’. Since forming earlier this year they have gone from strength to strength and are set for a series of pre-Christmas gigs, including the Oxjam Norwich Takeover next weekend, to coincide with the single’s release. The band is comprised of lead vocalist and guitarist Chris Walker, lead guitarist and backing vocalist Josh Rayman and drummer Andy Walker, who also provides backing vocals. Their style has been described as “combining elements of contemporary pop rock with an eighties synth feel” to produce an “engaging and distinctive sound”. Apollo 101 cite amongst their influences artists and bands including Madonna, Muse, a-Ha, Johnny Cash and Joy Division, reflecting their diverse and unique musical style.

In terms of the song itself, ‘One More Chance’ tells a remarkably simple yet painfully understandable story of the end of a relationship; according to the song’s writer Chris Walker the concept behind it, despite arguably having been covered “over and over”, was very much “new ground” for him personally when it was written. The song has been described as “an optimistic proclamation of feelings for someone special”, and despite its simplicity the open and honest nature of the lyrics allows the listener to easily empathise with the feelings being described. Musically the combination of 80s electronic beats and contemporary indie guitar rhythms, whilst not particularly breaking any new ground, is effective and a vindication of the basic formula popularised by MGMT and Bloc Party amongst others. From the moment the first few synthesiser notes creep out, the song gently soars into life and the journey begins. The imagery of the verse as a journey is particularly apt, with the lyrics ‘running, like a tube train, on red and yellow tracks' apparently having been written whilst travelling on the Tube. There is also a strong emotional link to this idea, as Chris Walker “figured that all the different tracks and tube lines were like individual events or thoughts”, frequently colliding and reflecting his emotionally-charged state of mind. The chorus almost lies in wait with the infectious chant of ‘so come on!’ drawing the listener in and carefully building the tension before the explosive chorus. The impact of the chorus is immediate, with the raucous sound and style seemingly instantly recognisable as Feeder-inspired; it charges at you, and quickly forces you to sit up and take notice.

It almost seems as if ‘One More Chance’ sets out to trick the listener; it wants to make them feel as if they have it sussed, but the dramatic changes in focus, tempo and styles throughout the song soon put paid to any thoughts of this. After repeated listens the song becomes entrenched in the listener’s consciousness. Whilst some believe familiarity breeds contempt it isn’t the case here, as after listening again and again the song still sounds as fresh, upbeat and forceful as ever. Although not specifically cited by the band, the fusion of gentle pop, electronic overtures and emotionally-charged choruses echoes the style of the Killers. Musically the song appeals on a number of levels, with its catchiness’ an important ace up the band’s sleeve. Once you’ve heard ‘One More Chance’, it becomes very difficult to forget. Yet the lyrics are also an extremely important to the song’s appeal. Chris Walker’s plea for “one chance to shine” will immediately resonate with many listeners, for it is not grandiose, pretentious desires and emotions he is dealing with, rather understandable and regrettably common ones. Indeed, the band’s debut album, for which the anticipation is set to soar in the aftermath of the single’s release, will be recorded “over the next few months” with its musical style as yet unclear. It seems likely therefore that Apollo 101 will very soon be the name on everyone’s lips, with a nationwide tour in the next year or so a strong possibility for this talented three-piece. So are Apollo 101 ready for take off? I think we can safely say without too much doubt that yes, they are.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Jeremy Clarkson – voice of the nation or too opinionated for his own good?

Following his most recent rant against television bosses for their obsession with having, in his words, “black Muslim lesbians” on shows in order to balance out the numbers of white heterosexual men, Jeremy Clarkson has shown himself once again unafraid to court controversy. Few would disagree that Clarkson has shown himself to be a bastion of political incorrectness over the years, yet are people beginning to get sick of his aversion to caution and penchant for telling it like it is, no matter who he may offend? Well from a personal point-of-view, I'd have to say no. Whilst I accept that he does have far too much to say sometimes, and acknowledge his lacking any discernable tact, there are few people prepared to be honest and in the simplest terms, ‘call a spade a spade’. Those questioning the lack of female presenters on Top Gear should ultimately accept that they are fighting a losing battle against public opinion. Any attempts to change the Top Gear presenting line-up one including a female appears tantamount to forcing shows such as Loose Women, which has a predominantly female audience, to accept male panellists, as Top Gear is principally directed towards men aged between sixteen and thirty. If anything Clarkson has emerged far more favourably from this incident than those bombarding him with questions and accusations, as he unlike them he tends “not to draw distinctions between men and women” as "girls are just people”, whether at work or on the road.

Politically I would deem Clarkson’s credentials fairly dubious, and whilst I am a member, along with 515,936 others, of the ‘Jeremy Clarkson should be Prime Minister’ group on Facebook, one could imagine his potential policies to be right-wing bordering at times on mildly fascist. Yet on the issues of political correctness and common sense his views are mostly spot on. Top Gear is one of the most popular shows in the BBC’s canon, and frequently gains 8 million viewers when screened on BBC2. The success of the television channel Dave is very much a testament to Top Gear’s enduring popularity, as it is arguably the channel's flagship show. The BBC frequently receives complaints on almost a weekly basis about either the nature or content of Top Gear or any 'controversial' comments made by Clarkson. Seemingly some members of the public have failed to grasp the idea that it is supposed to be entertaining as well as factual. To me there is a very simple solution to this problem; if anyone takes exception to the way in which Clarkson expresses his views, or happens to object to what he says, they should not watch his television show. Life must have become truly boring if all some people have to do is watch a show they do not like or fundamentally disagree with to hear the views of a person they do not like simply in order to have something to complain about. People ought to understand that Top Gear isn’t a show about ‘environmentally-friendly’ cars such as the frankly dangerous and terrible G-Wiz or the Toyota Prius, which actually does significantly more damage to the environment due to the transport costs involved in its creation. It is up to those involved with Top Gear to decide its content, not the narrow-minded 'moral majority'.

Yet no matter how passionately Clarkson is defended by people with sufficient mental faculties to acknowledge that his comments are mostly said in jest, there will always be those who take what he says far too seriously. The latest of these has blasted Clarkson for fuming about political correctness and his unjust (in her view) ownership of a Ferrari, amongst other things. She argues that Top Gear should be “more representative of British society”, yet the fact is that Top Gear's huge popularity shows that it actually is representative of British society. I think its safe to say that eight million people comprise a large proportion of the British population, and significantly outweigh the number of those objecting to the show and its content. She goes on to ask where the disabled community is on Top Gear and television generally, in some ways a fair question, but once again the disabled community is far smaller than the ‘white heterosexual’ one being objected to. I’d also love to be told exactly which “sad, old stereotypes” Top Gear is reinforcing; maybe she feels the time has come for television to cease being interesting, entertaining and worth watching and be replaced by mind-numbing, politically-correct, inoffensive, safe, dull viewing for those recovering from or about to receive a lobotomy. Whilst she deems Jeremy Clarkson to be someone who “makes a living from being gratuitously offensive”, and assumes he would tease any female co-presenter on air, I would question whether she has any evidence to support this assertion. Even the chief executive of Eddie Stobart, Andrew Tinkler has acknowledged that Clarkson’s joke referring to the murder of five prostitutes in Ipswich by a truck driver was “used to comically exaggerate and make ridiculous an urban myth about the world of lorry driving” and “not intended to cause offence”. At least there are still those who have managed to retain a modicum of common sense and the ability to appreciate humour.

I personally hope Jeremy Clarkson remains on our television screens for many years to come and continues to speak out against those who are constantly attempting to strangle the reasonable expression of views and individuality that makes people like Clarkson and shows like Top Gear such an important part of society. It seems people are too easily offended nowadays, and need to be wrapped up in cotton wool in order to be protected from real people with real opinions. It would be a sad day if the BBC were to betray Clarkson and cancel Top Gear, and I for one would refuse to watch any BBC programming were this to happen. Clarkson’s success comes because he says what people are actually thinking, and isn’t afraid to break the oppressive glass of political correctness surrounding him. He isn’t the one making equality an issue; this is done by the people who constantly emphasise the differences between us. Employing quotas in order to shoehorn a specific group of people into a profession seems incredibly patronising, as it suggests that they are unable to decide for themselves or succeed without the help of others. If it ever happens that our nation becomes one in which offence is avoided like the plague and equality becomes inequality, as positive discrimination constitutes, then we have lost everything we ought to value. For me, this is what Clarkson is trying to protect against; the liberal tide that seems to consider alienation a small price to pay to make sure that every conceivable minority is represented on television.