McQueen Playing Silly Games with Lovers Rock

Lovers Rock
TV Rating: **
Broadcast: 22nd November 2020
Channel: BBC1 9pm

No no no
You don’t love me
And I know now.

Fans of the genre will recognise the above as the opening lines to Jamaican reggae artist Dawn Penn’s 1994 classic lovers rock anthem ‘No No No.’ Alas for ‘Lovers Rock’ director Steve McQueen, judging by the ensuing social media storm following the film’s broadcast, the song accurately sums up the feeling of many British fans of this genre of music. It was broadcast on prime time BBC1 30/11/2020 as part of the Small Axe series of 5 films from the celebrated Oscar winning Director.

Before I go into the detail of the review, I must firstly congratulate McQueen on getting this commission from the BBC for this and 4 other films, all being shown mid-evening on Sunday nights on BBC1. For decades Black programming has been shunted off till very late at night so the BBC are to be applauded for giving this series it’s backing and such a prestigious time slot.

Small Axe: Lovers Rock

The film evocatively captured the beautiful melodic Lovers Rock music, the good time blues/house party vibe, the romance, dancing, the friendships and tensions that can encapsulate all the elements of a night out. That’s great but the problem with it was that it was essentially a one scene movie – the blues party. People are used to watching such scenes literally as exciting scenes in a film. Not the whole film. The biggest failing of the film in fact was the lack of a clear story line. Essentially it was a soundtrack set to a dance. Fine, but that isn’t a film. Viewers could have just downloaded videos or played records if they wanted to hear the music.

It was clear from watching it that McQueen doesn’t know Lovers Rock and having looked into the background to this I now know this to be true. He has admitted in an interview that he’s never been to a blues party in his life. That doesn’t mean he can’t make a film about it, but he needed to do his research and/or lean heavily on those who knew the scene in order to convey authenticity. Considering there was a lovely cameo from the writer of Silly Games, Record Producer, Dennis Bovell, who would have known the scene very well, it’s surprising and disappointing that a more realistic film wasn’t produced.

The length of the film was unusual 69 minutes. Very short by today’s, even yester-years, standards. Why the extra 9 minutes? Well the answer to that is simple – it was the 9  minutes devoted to Janet Kay’s classic and much loved single ‘Silly Games’. I love the song but it was so stretched out it became laborious and un-enjoyable. I understand the desire to base the seminal moment of the film around this song, but this over milked the cow. By the time the credits rolled it almost felt as if Silly Games lasted for 60 minutes with just 9 minutes of film. That was plain silly and would have benefited from serious editing.

There were numerous scenes thrown in that seemed to make no sense and were out of kilter with the non-existent storyline and plot. For instance the two girls about to kiss in the bedroom at the party. That seemed un-necessary and added no value or entertainment to the story. There was a cross in the bedroom in which they sat, which made the scene almost blasphemous. There were a few symbolic signs of the cross in the story from time to time. It wasn’t entirely clear what they were saying other than signifying the Lord is present – be that in the house or on the street. It was also a nod to Martha’s Christian belief’s which aren’t really a feature of the story until a particular junction towards the finale.

The best friend leaving without her girlfriend. That never happens or at least not without discussion first (which didn’t happen) and even then it still doesn’t happen!

The scene with Martha just sitting directly on the toilet seat is also a big no no. I understand why it was there visually as from the bathroom she could see her friend leaving, but it just seemed forced and gratuitous.

The attempted rape scene of Cynthia was unrealistic and aside from the perpetrator being stopped and threatened there and then, he suffered no other consequence and returned to the dance as if nothing happened.

Then there was the scene with the guy arriving mid-way through the party all angry and extremely vexed with Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) for not attending his mother’s funeral. There was no context whatsoever for this and him laying hands on the bouncer and not getting thumped down was unrealistic as was him having a go at lead actress Martha whilst her romantic lead, Franklyn (Micheal Ward) sat there watching and not stepping in to protect and defend her was also unrealistic.

It’s baffling that a film with no clear plot, storyline or narrative with plenty of padded out scenes made it through the rigorous commissioning and broadcasting process at the BBC.  

Surely an actual storyline could have been based around lover’s rock songs? That’s been done so successfully with so many films e.g. Mamma Mia and Bohemian Rhapsody to name but two. The Story of Lovers Rock documentary by Menelik Shabazz did this so well, mixing the music with interviews and anecdotes from the artists, comedians, and others who lived and loved the music at the time.

It is also a baffling mis-step to put this series on at 9pm on Sunday’s directly up against the brand new series of ITV’s hugely successful ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!? It’s almost as if they’ve set up Small Axe to fail. A black orientated series was unlikely to fare well with such scheduling. Ratings thus far bear that out – 1.5m for Mangrove (which was a lot worse, in my view) and 1.2m for Lovers Rock. That’s a very poor return. That’s unsurprising for the reasons outline above and more so because there has been a total lack of promotion worthy of the name by the BBC. Whilst they did preview Small Axe months ago, now that the series is going out, there are no or very few trailers being shown. I had to search for them online including the one for ‘Red White and Blue’ broadcast on 29/11/2020. It’s just unacceptable. When has the BBC ever not massively promoted such a Sunday night series? It’s hugely disappointing and disrespectful all round to McQueen and the viewers. Why make the show if you’re not going to seriously back it and promote it fully?

Whilst the film was overall an enjoyable, highly watchable film, it just left a lot to be desired.

It’s quite telling that none of the Lovers Rock artists as far as I’m aware promoted or have talked online about the film on their social media. Unlike Leroy Logan, the ex-Police Sergeant and subject of ‘Red, White and Blue’, he, as well as the actor playing him, film star John Boyega, were fairly active with their social media, TV and radio appearances in the build up to the broadcast. Leroy’s seen the film and is clearly giving it his blessing so I have high hopes therefore that it will be a good film with a storyline! If not, I’m sure Logan has plenty of friends in the Police force who will be happy to pay McQueen a visit, so it had better be good for his sake!

As for Lovers Rock, well to quote another Dawn Penn classic, I think McQueen should just put his hands up and say “I’m So Sorry.”

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

Links

  1. Mo Gilligan: Black, British and Funny – Tiemo review – 29th November 2020
  2. What a Sorry Mess: ‘Sorry I Didn’t Know’ – Tiemo review – 9th November 2020
  3. Craig and Danny: Funny, Black and on TV – Tiemo review – 3rd November 2020
  4. Lenny Henry’s Race Through Comedy – Sky Gold (2019 ) – repeated 19-21st October 2020 and currently available to watch on Sky TV.
  5. Blue Story: A South Side Romance – Tiemo review – 1st December 2019

Posted in Concert reviews, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mo Gilligan: Black British and Funny – Review

Mo Gilligan: Black British and Funny
TV Rating: ****
Broadcast: 15th October 2020
Channel: Channel 4

Mo Gilligan goes on a journey through his comedy roots, shining a well-deserved light on the British Black comedy circuit of the past 30 years.

The Black British Stand-Up comedy circuit has been a thriving one for the last 30 years. However if you hadn’t in that time ventured out to many live gigs, relying on the numerous TV comedy shows for your entertainment and as a gauge to who’s hot and who’s not, you’d be forgiven for thinking Black British stand up comprises a handful of Comedians named Gina, Judi, Lenny, Richard and Stephen.

That’s far from the case and there are countless superb comedians doing their thing, or at least they were pre-Covid-19 times, on stages up and down the land, from Catford to Watford, from Southend to Bridgend. From small theatres like The Kiln in Kilburn, North London, to huge places such as the Hackney Empire in London’s East End, where some of the main interviews for this programme were filmed.

Mo Gilligan

Presenter Mo Gilligan’s journey started at the prestigious Hackney Empire – London’s equivalent to the New York Apollo theatre, where he had assembled a range of talent spanning different generations – including Angie Le Mar, Dane Baptiste, Eddie Kadi, Eddie Nestor, Llewella Gideon, Michael Dapaah, Slim and Thanyia Moore. Whilst the insights they offered were fascinating, the set up didn’t work so well due to socially distancing in the stalls. The format made it a little awkward for the conversation to flow smoothly and clearly they needed a little warm up to get going. I thought Angie’s opening gag re “playing the Empire before it was built” was funny but it went over most of the assembled gathering’s heads until she ‘woman-splained’ it!

Dane Baptiste was on point with his observation on the difference between the career opportunities of Black versus white comedians, commenting that Black comedians only get one opportunity to make it, whereas white comedians will get many more chances to impress, especially when it comes to TV comedy. He said white comedians can go off and do whimsical, flight of fancy comedy that raises a smile, as opposed to comedy that lifts the roof off. He’s found that a Black audience demands comedy that does just that by generating belly laughter that reverberates around the venue. It means such an audience can seem far harder to please, but in Baptiste’s view, if you can succeed with such an audience, you have the potential and talent to do that anywhere.

Nonetheless talent and potential is not in itself enough to make it out of the regular comedy circuit and on to bigger things. Many have proved themselves and earned their stripes on this toughest of circuits but that hasn’t translated into a progression to TV comedy, panel shows and national tours, which for many would be a desired comedy career path.

Gina Yashere, dejected after not getting her dues in England and knowing she was worth more, upped sticks and left for Los Angeles in 2007 and has never looked back. Her shows appear on major US channels and Netflix, including the first Nigerian-American sitcom, ‘Bob Hearts Abishola,’ featuring an all Nigerian cast. Gina was forthright in naming TV commissioners as the gatekeepers blocking her career progress and saw there was more chance of her talent being recognised, appreciated and financially rewarded stateside.

Baton Passing

Richard Blackwood was funny when remarking on how people now ask him if he knows Mo Gilligan, stating “I do, but they should be asking if Mo Gilligan knows me!”  That baton may be being passed on to the younger generation but Richard’s not ready to let go of it just yet! Good. That’s exactly as it should be. You have to earn the right to carry the comedy baton forward.

Mother and Son

It was wonderful to see the most direct baton passing of all as Gilligan interviewed Angie Le Mar with her son Travis Jay. Gilligan paid Travis a great complement by saying not everyone knows they are related. Travis could easily have made that well known, but chose to develop his own career, build up his own brand and following by standing on his own two feet and not relying on his mother for a helping hand up the comedy ladder.

What was fascinating was seeing the different generations talking about how they’d influenced one another. There were helpful contributions from stalwarts of the Stand Up comedy scene who’ve helped bring so many through – such as John Simmit, Quincy and Rudi Lickwood to name but three.

One of the most poignant moments was seeing Gilligan interviewing Slim, explaining how he looked up to him growing up and coming up on the comedy circuit. Slim revealed that in these pandemic times he is making ends meet outside of the comedy world, as are so many comedians. It was sad to hear that from someone so highly loved and rated on the black comedy circuit and regularly voted the Best Black Comedian in polls and award ceremonies. That didn’t sit right at all. You won’t find any of the most popular white, mainstream TV stand up comedians having to make a living outside of comedy during this pandemic. It felt like a tremendous injustice.

There are younger comedians who’ve broken through onto TV in the last decade who are not a patch on the likes of Slim, Curtis Walker, Richard Blackwood and Rudi Lickwood for instance, when it comes to talent, stage craft and ability to perform on the big stage, yet these stalwarts don’t seem to get the opportunity of appearing on Live at The Apollo, Mock the Week, Countdown Meets 8 out of 10 Cats etc.. and countless other stand up comedy or comedy panel shows which have served as vehicles that propel comedians to ever more  TV appearances and above all the national prominence and fame that goes with it and results in the ability to create a distinctive brand, tour nationwide and make serious money, for example, from DVD and book sales.

Why Aren’t Black British and Funny Comedians making it onto TV?

There have been some breakthroughs – American, Reginald D Hunter, compere Mo Gilligan of course (Momentum on Netflix plus various Channel 4 shows), Daliso Chaponda, Kojo Amin and Nabil Abdul Rashid for instance. The latter three did very well on the hugely popular Britain’s Got Talent making it through to Semi-Final and final stages in recent series. That just shows how well loved and understood Black comedy is. As an aside, I do think Nabil pushed the #BlackLivesMatter act a bit too far in his semi-final this year. Whilst it was amusing and absolutely perfect for a topical stand up gig, it was not for live TV when judges are at the serious, business end stage of the show and thinking about what the Queen would enjoy watching, which you have to remember is actually the ultimate goal of the show. That quite radical semi-final set probably cost Nabil what could have been a well earned place in the final.

I accept absolutely that TV Commissioners have been the ones holding back Black British Comedians, but it could be argued that there’s an element of some of the comedians being their own worst enemies that has to be considered.

Slim, A Dot and Richard Blackwood

I think there has been too much reliance on playing the big theatres on a bi-monthly basis with packed line ups featuring 6+ comedians in very long show’s going on till 11pm, nearly midnight. Whilst the shows are invariably highly entertaining they can feel like a marathon when a good quality 2 hours of entertainment would suffice. More comedians could and should have broken away from that to do one man/woman shows touring the country and moving away from the London centric comedy circuit. For example Richard Blackwood and Slim performed Bad Boys I and II in 2015 and 2018, selling out a couple of nights at the Hackney Empire. The second of these were when Blackwood was still in Eastenders. Once he’d left the show surely he should have capitalised on his new found fame and toured nationwide? Slim too surely should have gone on the road. No disrespect to others but those shows proved they didn’t need 5-6 supporting acts. 

Maybe they had their reasons. Regarding making it on TV, Slim’s talked about it not being for a want of trying. When it comes to things like that questions have to be asked of his agent for it was their job to market and promote their acts in order to enable them to achieve their goals. His agent without a doubt did well by him for years but didn’t achieve that ultimate goal. Maybe it just wasn’t about them and the commissioners are blocking top talent for reasons known only to them. He’s changed agent now so time will tell if that makes a difference.

Richard Blackwood performed a sensational, critically acclaimed one man play ‘Typical’ at the Soho Theatre in 2019. That deserved the opportunity to tour nationwide but alas it didn’t. Maybe he had other commitments. Could the show’s producer not have worked around that or offered the role to another actor. As a one man show that should have been feasible and it would have been highly pertinent, particular in the context of this year’s #BlackLivesMatters campaign.

I have to say also there can be lack of professionalism on the stand up circuit which if translated to TV won’t be tolerated and so that may well be another reason behind the failure for so many to breakthrough e.g. the notorious Black People Time, soon come attitude won’t wash with TV. Readers will be familiar with this if they attend Black stand up comedy or theatre productions. So infrequently do they start on time that it’s almost a running joke. Audiences aware of this tend to arrive late for shows and shows wait for audiences before they start. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and it shouldn’t be that way. Un-professionalism extends into some other areas too.

The Language is doubtless off putting too many people who would otherwise attend shows. I know it’s not unique to the Black circuit, but considering at least 1 in 5 black people (20%) are church goers it’s unlikely that they are going to take kindly to shows featuring profanity and vulgarity. There has been an heavy reliance on this for years. Even in this programme there was occasional swearing. It seemed out of place and un-necessary. There was a similar programme looking at the history of Black comedy on another channel just 2 days before this one. Not one swear word was uttered but it was just as valid and entertaining a programme as this one. The difference was that went out at prime time 8pm, this went out at 10pm. Such shows are a show case for talent so why spoil it be swearing? Just because the later time slot allows for swearing doesn’t mean it had to be taken advantage of.

Lack of Stand up Comedy

There was a noticeable absence of stand up comedy clips, which seemed like something of an own goal from a collective looking to break into the mainstream. This programme could have been enhanced with more comedy clips for the benefit of those not so familiar with the comedian’s featured. The stated aim of the show was to shine a spotlight on comedians, so it was a glaring omission not to show them doing what they do best.

Times Are a Changing

ITV have been at the forefront of change – with shows like Britain’s Got Talent featuring Daliso Chaponda, Kojo Amin and Nabil Abdul Rashid.  Jonathon Ross showcased a lot of new Black talent with the Jonathan Ross Comedy Club including Aurie Styla, Babatunde Aleshe, Michael Odewale and Sophie Duker.

All in all this was a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining programme  featuring contributions from so many stars of the black comedy circuit rarely seen on TV.  The talent is there and it’s not just a case of knocking at doors to get on television. The gatekeepers have to be willing to open the front door and let the talent through.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

Links

  1. Craig and Danny: Funny, Black and on TV – Tiemo review – 3rd November 2020
  2. Lenny Henry’s Race Through Comedy – Sky Gold (2019 ) – repeated 19-21st October 2020 and currently available to watch on Sky TV.
  3. What a Sorry Mess: ‘Sorry I Didn’t Know’ – Tiemo review – 9th November 2020
  4. McQueen Playing Silly Games with Lovers Rock, BBC1 Film – Tiemo review – 29th November 2020 
Posted in Comedy Reviews 2020, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What a Sorry Mess: ‘Sorry I Didn’t Know’ – Review

Star Rating: *
ITV1
4 Episodes – Broadcast: 6th, 13th, 20th and 27th October 2020

Sorry I Didn’t Know (SIDK) was the much hyped new panel show during ITV’s Black History Month season of programming that was intended to be a programme highlighting Black history with humour with a range of comedians and actors. The show is capably hosted by Jimmy Akingbola, of ‘In The Long Run’ fame (Sky) with regular team leaders Chizzy Akudolu and Judi Love.

Each round of the show features a set of question comprising working out the name of a famous Black person from Yes/No questions, naming inventors of particular products and technologies, finishing a quote and putting a date to famous historical events.

Whilst ITV brought viewers a small range of entertaining, humorous and sometimes educational Black History programmes during October including ‘Alison Hammond: Back to School’, this regrettably wasn’t one of them. SIDK is very much a poor man’s QI, without the wit and humour of that legendary series. This one missed the mark by a country mile, dismally failing to be funny and any nuggets of information (and there were some) were lost in this very poor programme.

Jimmy Akingbola, Host

Whilst there was good natured banter between the team leaders and host, for the most part the panelists didn’t really gel well. I’m not saying they didn’t get on, more that the  spark and camaraderie between team members and opposition you usually see on panel shows was missing and it’s that what makes for good television.

Whilst I understand the need for social distancing when recording TV programmes in these Covid-19 times, there was s a hugely un-necessary social distance separating the two teams, yet the respective teams on each side sat quite close to one another, easily less than 2m apart, so there’s a glaring inconsistency in that.

In episode 1 Paul Chowdhury was aggressively rude in his attempts at humour, using an offensive term as his main recurring joke.

In episode 2, I don’t know what happened to the effusively entertaining Judi Love, but this Judi was a terrible, cringe making embarrassment. Bring back the real Judi Love. In a Guess the Name segment where she got to ask the panelist’s one question at a time to help her guess the famous person’s name, she would ask for instance, “Is it a man?” No. She’d then bizarrely follow up with a pointless, wasted question, “Is it a woman?” Her overall line of questioning was similarly appalling. I don’t think ‘Line of Duty’ will be calling her in to join the team any time soon!

Her team mate, celebrity comedian Russell Kane was not un-surprisingly visibly and vocally exasperated with Judi, asking why she was asking follow up questions with self-evident answers. It was as if she either didn’t know the game and/or was extremely tired. Something seemed very wrong. It wasn’t a good look at all and she’d have been better off not filming the episode at all than putting in a sub-standard, car crash of a performance. She was so bad, if it was a football match she’d have been substituted within the first 10 minutes.

Nathan Caton was on Chizzy’s team but didn’t say a single funny thing and presumably he wasn’t booked for his historical knowledge.  In fact, he didn’t say very much at all. Very odd. Russell Kane was this episode’s saving grace with his whining dance and witty asides. Other than that it was an awful episode.

The history board section where the team leaders have to point out historic dates was a good concept but didn’t work well at all. The board isn’t sufficiently well demarcated to enable the team leaders to put their marker on precise enough dates and with both team captain’s displaying limited history knowledge it was painful watching. Surely if you’re appointed team captain for a Black history show you would brush up on your history knowledge? Or maybe they took the title of the show too literally!

The series had some excellent, high profile guests including Angie Le Mar, Colin Salmon, Tom Allen, Russell Kane and Kerry Godliman. The latter 3 were a reversal of the norm for these type of panel shows, as they were the ‘token white’ guest on an otherwise all Black line up. I expected a lot more with the range of talent on each episode but it just didn’t work.

SIDK was first piloted by ITV in November 2016. It was rejected by all the major channels in the 4 years since. On the evidence of these 4 shows it’s obvious why that was. The premise of the show was fine and it has a lot of potential, but this just didn’t work. It would be great if it could be given a chance to improve and return for a second series, but sadly I think that’s highly unlikely. Never mind ‘Sorry I Didn’t Know,’ sorry would have covered it.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

Links

  1. Craig and Danny: Funny, Black and on TV – Tiemo review – 3rd November 2020
  2. Sorry I Didn’t Know – ITV Player – Available to watch for a limited period of time.
  3. Black Voices – 1 minute videos – ITV Campaign – October 2020
Posted in Comedy Reviews, Comedy Reviews 2020, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Craig and Danny: Funny, Black and on TV – Review

Star Rating: *****

Broadcast: ITV, 13th October 2020

You wait years for one documentary on Black British comedy then 2 come along not just in the space of one week, but in the space of 3 days in the second week of Black History Month.

Craig and Danny: Funny, Black and on TV (FBT) aired on ITV (13/10/2020). That was closely followed by the extremely well promoted ‘Black, British and Funny’ on Channel 4 on 15/10/2020. This show’s title comes from the co-hosts Craig Charles and Danny John-Jules of Red Dwarf fame, although they and that show are barely mentioned or seen on screen, but nonetheless that popular show’s contribution to the TV comedy landscape is undisputed, with it reportedly being the world’s most popular science fiction sit-com, running to 12 series over many years.

FBT takes the viewer on a journey through Black TV comedy from Charlie Williams in the 1970’s through to rising stars like Michaela Coel who broke through 5 years ago, in October 2015, with her hit Channel 4 series ‘Chewing Gum.’ The show’s title

What was clear from the programme was just how much of a glacially paced evolution it was, especially compared to other  TV comedy which saw the rapid rise of alternative comedy that spawned a generation of household names with enduring careers. Just think of ‘The Young Ones’, Rick Mayall, Alexia Sayle and Ben Elton to name but a few.

One has to wonder why Black comedy hasn’t evolved and travelled faster and further than it has, for I would argue that the quality and TV ratings have always been there. Could it be attributed to racism, the gatekeepers to what appears on our televisions i.e. TV commissioners, low ratings or the disinterest of the British public?

I shall return to answer that question later, but what is clear is that must be some very tired shoulders out there as it was evident from FBT that so many of the country’s much loved stars have at various times stood on one another’s shoulders in a manner that facilitated different generations the opportunity to breakthrough and move things along in terms of representation.

This journey started with Charlie Williams, born in 1927 Barnsley. His father was from Barbados and his mother was a born and bred Yorkshire lass. Williams came through on the Northern working men’s club circuit. Winning over those tough crowds was no mean feat for a Black man in the 1970’s (it probably would be almost as tough to do so today). His act won over these audiences, got spotted by TV executives and ultimately secured starring roles in various TV shows, the pinnacle of which was ITV’s The Golden Shot (1973-74) taking over from the late, legendary comedy superstar Bob Monkhouse. That was quite exceptional for at the time it was the biggest show on TV.

Rudolph Walker

From there the next major breakthrough was Love Thy Neighbour (1972-76) starring Rudolph Walker, Jack Smethurst, Nina Baden-Semper and Kate Williams. The show was hugely popular, commanding massive audiences of up to 17m. That was fascinating as the show was focused on the inter- racial relationship, dynamics playing out between a white couple played by Jack and Kate alongside that of the neighbouring Black couple played by Rudolph and Nina. Whilst the women got along famously, the men were regularly at loggerheads over racial issues. A new incarnation of this probably wouldn’t get shown today but it was seen as funny for its time and regularly highlighted the bigotry and idiocy of Jack’s racist views. This show was something of a first for British TV and clearly struck a chord with viewers.

Nine years after Love They Neighbour ended, the BBC brought us a similar show – In Sickness and In Health (1985-92) that portrayed Waren Mitchell’s Alf Garnett character as a racist bigot and Eamonn Walker’s Winston as a perfectly fine, regular human being, who gave as good as he got without stooping to Garnett’s level.

Sandwiched between these legendary shows the country continued to wrestle with real life race relations in a battling way. In the early 1970’s the country had entered perilous waters following Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech (20th April 1968). It was an era when intense race relations combined with recession and poverty, disproportionately impacted the Black community and boiled over into the historic race riots of 1981 in Brixton (London), Toxteth (Liverpool), Handsworth (Birmingham), Chapeltown (Leeds) and Moss Side (Manchester) and other towns and cities across England.

In a way many of the TV shows highlighted above merely prodded , with gentle humour, at the racial issues and tensions impacting thousands of Black people. 

Sir Lenny Henry

From there the show moved on to national treasure, Sir Lenny Henry, who of course got his big break via appearing in and winning New Faces (1975), the forerunner to shows like Britain’s Got Talent. I think we all know how New Faces catapulted the then 16 year old Lenny Henry from Dudley into the illuminatingly bright glare of the national spotlight which remarkably for an industry as fickle as show business has stayed with him ever since.

Sir Lenny Henry PhD

His stock rose immeasurably over the years leading to Lenny becoming, as TV Producer Terry Jervis, aptly put it as “a one man brand.” This arguably peaked with Lenny becoming a knight of the realm for his TV career and extraordinary charity fundraising through Comic Relief which he co-founded. In between all that TV and theatre work he impressively managed to fit in studying for and achieving a Masters degree and PhD.

From there FBT revisited The Fosters (1976-77) – the first Black British sitcom. Alas it was axed after just 2 series.

For years it was just Lenny Henry representing the whole of Black British comedy as far as TV were concerned. Stand up comedians and TV audiences would understandably be wondering if there was something in the old Stephen K Amos joke that “for others to get a break Lenny Henry would have to die.” Fortunately that’ drastic event has proved not to be necessary.

Since The Fosters there have been a number of notable series – Desmond’s (1989-94); The Real McCoy (1991-96) – finally released on BBC Store a few years ago and on BBC I-player in July 2020 (all 5 series) as well as 3 Non-Blondes (2003).

Curtis Walker – The Real McCoy

The real McCoy as Gina Yashere commented, “was like the holy grail. All Black comedians wanted to get on it.” She was booked to appear, but at the last minute they booked someone else so she missed out. That was their loss. I wonder who took her place. She never did say!

The Real McCoy was a much loved mix of stand up and sketches that went down a treat with Black audiences starved of seeing a good representation of themselves on TV.

Richard Blackwood

Richard Blackwood was the first major Black TV comedian to make it and sustains a career on TV since Sir Lenny Henry. As he immodestly but accurately said, at one point “Everything I touched turned to gold.” He appeared on various shows, peaking with ‘The Richard Blackwood Show’ on Channel 4 (1999-2000). Alas this was axed after just 1 series in March 2001.

A year before this Sacha Baron Cohen spectacularly arrived on the scene with Da Ali G Show (2000-04 which first aired on Channel 4 on 31st March 2000. Blackwood admitted to feeling understandably aggrieved by that turn of events, as he was doing just fine, being himself, representing his community in a positive way, only to be cast side for someone who was perceived to be culturally appropriating and mocking one aspect of Black culture.

Personally I didn’t think Sacha Baron Cohen meant any harm by Ali G and found him to be immensely funny and as his film and TV career has clearly demonstrated, Sacha Baron Cohen wasn’t a flash in the pan overnight success. Many others could have quite easily have lived off the success of Ali G and stayed with that character for years, but he chose to evolve, develop other characters and move away from Ali G.

Felix Dexter

It was lovely to see the late Felix Dexter, who died in 2013, remembered in the tributes to comedy greats of yesteryear. Angie Le Mar said, “He should have been a huge star. He had it all.

Gina Yashere

So with the somewhat glacial progress and clear limits on progression from stand up comedy to TV, what’s a comedian to do? Well many head state side. They often return perhaps realising that the grass isn’t always greener. Gina Yashere uprooted and moved, lock stock and barrel to USA in 2007. Richard Blackwood commented, “We thought she’d be back in 6 months as that’s what always happens.” Not this time. 13 years on and Gina’s stock is still rising in America with her shows appearing on major TV channels and Netflix including the first Nigerian-American sitcom Bob Hearts Abishola featuring an all Nigerian cast. As Dane Baptise put it, “she’s made huge strides for Black comedians and Black people worldwide.

Chewing Gum

Micheala Coel is a genius,” said Gina Yashere of the writer and actor of Channel 4’s hugely popular ‘Chewing Gum (2015). Richard Blackwood was equally effusive, describing Coel as “an amazing comedy writer.” Chewing Gum won a BAFTA ‘Breakthrough Talent’ award in 2016. Llewella Gideon admired Coel as “she presents 3 dimensional characters. That means you see past race.”

Memory Lane

FBT was funny, entertaining and educational. It was a fabulous trip down memory lane that showcased the evolution of Black British television comedy over the last 50 years.

In a way the many clips shown were symbolic. They whetted the appetite for more, reminded you of the transience of the Black presence on TV. Aside from Sir Lenny Henry, The Real McCoy and Richard Blackwood, few of the shows or its stars have had long running series or achieved as much in television as their potential and talent merited.

I know many sitcoms and shows come and go and have a set time in the spotlight, but many of them were repeatedly commissioned and appeared on our TV screens series after series, year after year. Black British comedy and comedians have not been so fortunate.

As this programme vividly demonstrated the talent is and has always been there going right back to Charlie Williams in the 1970’s. It didn’t go away. It simply went underground. Those who follow the Black comedy circuit know this and will have been able to follow many of these talented comedians on stage performing stand up comedy or acting.

Why has there been a paucity of long running Black British Television Programmes?

Going back to my initial question, I posited three possible reasons. Firstly. Was the talent not there? This show, the live experience on the Black comedy and theatre circuit, not to mention a number of hit shows on You Tube such as Meet the Adebanjos (2012) and All About the McKenzie’s (2016) which eventually were picked up by TV, shows it was there, so it cannot be that.

Secondly, were the ratings not high enough? Possibly that would have been a factor. However Charlie Williams hosted the highest rated show on at the time; Lenny Henry won the X Factor of the day, New Faces in 1975. Love Thy Neighbour pulled in 17m viewers. The Real McCoy lasted for 6 years (1989-1995) thus demonstrating a longevity that proved there was a demand and love for Black comedy.

Aside from some of these examples I accept that some Black orientated programming is not necessarily going to compete with the likes of mainstream shows such as Only Fools and Horses, Eastenders etc.. but very few shows do that anyway. Besides, the BBC and Channel 4, in particular, have a public service broadcaster remit to serve the entire UK population, which means programmes should specifically be made and broadcast to appeal to minority ethnic groups who also pay their licence fee and therefore should be represented on television.

There is a third possibility. Could it be that the gatekeepers, the TV commissioners who decide what goes on TV and what gets re-commissioned have kept Black talent of our screens for too long? As those people tend not to be minority ethnic that could be the most significant, most plausible reason. Many will find that conclusion extremely disheartening and misguided. I appreciate part of their concerns may be TV ratings, but as highlighted above, the ratings for shows featuring Black talent, even those covering controversial topics, have not harmed audience figures in the last 50 years. I believe there has been a great interest, fascination in exploring this and seeing it acted out on TV in shows such as Love Thy Neighbour, Mind Your Language and In Sickness and in Health.

When it comes to pure comedy and humour the ratings indicate that the mainstream TV audience do enjoy Black comedy. Did the TV executives bar the likes of Jewish Comedian Jackie Mason at the height of his career, despite him performing routines that focused on his Jewish-ness? They did not.

Where does Black British TV Comedy Go From Here?

Will this show and Mo Gilligan’s ‘Black, British and Funny’ be game changers in any sort of way? We’ll see. Though you don’t see many shows like this on TV, we’ve been here before just one year ago in fact (October 2019), when Sky Gold broadcast the excellent 3 part series: Lenny Henry’s Race Through Comedy.

ITV should rightly be highly commended for this show and a great deal of what they’ve been doing with their programming this year be that with Britain’s Got Talent, not just because of the Diversity furore and their supportive stance, but for all the Black talented comedians and magicians on the recent series and the wonderfully diverse representation depicted in countless TV adverts. I believe that audiences would love to see as much visible, unmissable diversity with their regular TV programming as viewers have been seeing with their far more diverse commercials, local TV news and new presenter representation.

Little has changed significantly and consistently over the last 50 years, but I would hope that any reflections and considerations on these shows will result in a greater number of and more sustained, quality, diverse Black programming, plus the all important re-commissioning of programmes, be they good or average, in order to give them and the talent appearing on screen and off screen the same opportunity to grow and develop as other communities get. That’s how you demonstrate true commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. You have to allow people a chance to succeed. To fail and to go again just as they do with mainstream talent and programming. That clearly hasn’t happened enough. If the TV stations are serious about representation and want to have more Funny, Black and on TV they know what they to do.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

Photographs © Tony Attille

  1. Craig and Danny: Funny, Black and on TV – Available on ITV-Player until 11/11/2020.
  2. Lenny Henry’s Race Through Comedy – Sky Gold (2019 ) – repeated 19-21st October 2020 and currently available to watch on Sky TV.
  3. What a Sorry Mess: ‘Sorry I Didn’t Know’ – Tiemo review – 9th November 2020
Posted in Comedy Reviews, Comedy Reviews 2020, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

10 Steps To Eradicating Racist Murders and Honouring the Life of George Floyd

Stay Alert. Control the Police. Save Lives

You could be forgiven for thinking America is at civil war judging by the pictures on our news screens last week and this week following the cold blooded, calculated murder/manslaughter of George Floyd on 25th May 2020.

Earlier in the same month, on 8th May 2020 Europe celebrated the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Victory over Europe day, when Germany admitted defeat in World War II. Defeat of Hitler’s Nazi army and white supremacy vision. The parallels are clear. Europe decided it had had enough of appeasing Hitler. America, in particular African-America, with its Caucasian allies, is standing together and saying enough is enough. They have to defeat the stain of racism in their nation. The fires raging across the nation are a deliberately violent demonstration that the period of appeasement and tolerance is dead and buried.

The shocking video of George Floyd’s last 8 minutes alive as his life was literally squeezed out of him by former Police Officer Mr Derek Chauvin has shocked the world. In a civilised society we surely cannot allow his death to be in vain. My earnest, deepest hope from afar, in England is that America fights this battle with the same vigour, vitality and commitment it and nations all over the world have adopted to fight the deadly corona virus.

George Floyd

It has been open warfare on the Black man in America for too many years by far too many of its renegade Police Officers. This is a battle that isn’t going to be won by physically taking on the might of the US Police force, which make no mistake will be backed up the US military if need be. President Donald Trump has made that abundantly clear in his infamous tweet (censored by Twitter for potentially inciting violence – I think we can safely strike out the word ‘potentially’) – “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

While I fully understand the immeasurable, un-containable anger and frustration leading to the burning of police stations and police cars – which has a certain logic and justice to it, the looting, rioting and burning down of cities and places of employment, I have less sympathy for. I consider it folly to destroy your own communities at the best of times, more so during the middle of a pandemic which has chucked millions of people onto the unemployment register. That is undoubtedly a factor in all this, as so many have been cooped up indoors for months on end, so many more have nothing to lose, that this was just too much for them to bear.

Let us pray and hope there is not a spike in corona virus as a consequence of these actions where it is clear social distancing is not being maintained.

Many others, such as Daily Show host Trevor Noah, may disagree. Nevertheless the swift show of strength and anger is clearly not going un-noticed. The whole world is watching and waiting to see what America will do next. It is waiting to see what President Trump will do to address this monumental problem within the Police Forces of America.

I understand the point Noah’s making in his excellent Daily Show video on the killing of George Floyd, the protests in Minneapolis, the domino’s of racial injustice and police brutality, and how the contract between society and black Americans has been broken time and time again. It’s right to link all that’s going on in the United States, or should that be Diss-United States, as Ahmaud Arbery, Amy Cooper and George Floyd and countless others haven’t happened in isolation. They all inter-sect at the crossroad of rabid racism and gun control (lack of) right across America.

Gun control enters the equation as the only reason Floyd and bystanders were unable to stop the Officers was because they were all armed and Chauvin and Tou Thoa showed a willingness to use their guns. I was very, very unhappy and uncomfortable watching people be bystanders just filming and pleading with the officer to stop. A robust, far, far quicker, more threatening, more heavy handed response was required and was lacking with tragic consequences. 

I just can’t see how burning down the city you live in, in my view, stupid at the best of times, can be the correct course of action especially in the middle of a pandemic, in week when the United States reached a horrific milestone of 100,000 deaths, by far the highest number on the planet.

This economic violence needs to cease forthwith and I would strongly argue that anyone who is that angry should without delay unite, re-direct and re-purpose their collective anger into something that will generate the far more productive, constructive, tangible and long lasting change they want to see. Surely that will be the best way to honour the memory of George Floyd, Ahmaud Abery, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castile and countless others who’ve been murdered by racists. That is precisely what I want to focus on in this article.

Justice for George Floyd

First and foremost we need to secure justice for George Floyd. It’s excellent news that the irresponsible former Police Officer Derek Chauvin was been summarily dismissed from his post, arrested and charged with 3rd degree murder. Why it isn’t 1st or at least 2nd degree murder is a major concern, as are initial reports citing Mr Floyd had underlying health issues. Please? The authorities will be saying next he died of covid-19.

What about the other 3 officers, including Officer Tou Thoa who acted as a shield to prevent anyone stopping Derek Chauvin, plus Officer J.K. Kueng who held Floyd’s back and Officer Thomas Lane who held his legs while Chauvin put his knee on Floyd’s head and neck area for 8.46 minutes including 3 minutes when Mr Floyd had stopped talking and moving? It’s tremendous they were all summarily dismissed unprecedentedly quickly, the very next day – 26th May 2020, but again it’s of great concern that they too haven’t been arrested and charged with, at the very least, aiding and abetting a murder. That surely is a serious miss-step and needs addressing ASAP. I cannot see the protest marches, fire burning and destruction ending until that happens at the very least.

10 Steps to Permanent and Lasting Change

One hopes and need to ensure that state/nation-wide legislation plus internal policies and procedures will be implemented, if they aren’t already, in every single state of America so that should there be future unlawful murders of innocent Black men, the Police Officers responsible, directly or indirectly, are summarily dismissed or at the very least face internal disciplinary procedures for gross misconduct and then go onto face the full force of the judicial system, just as any other citizen would. We must not lose sight of the fact that Police Officers are employed to serve and uphold justice and protect American citizens, not kill them. What we’re seeing in such cases is anything but that. It’s the exact opposite. An abuse of power by Police Officers who don’t deserve their position’s.

We need to look at other initiatives, think outside the box, for ideas perhaps not yet considered and implemented. Effectively, to borrow from the corona virus campaign in the UK, America needs to ‘STAY ALERT. CONTROL THE POLICE. SAVE LIVES.’ To that extent I propose the following measures aimed at bringing a halt to racist murders of innocent men and women in America and elsewhere in the world where the police are abusing their authority and duty to uphold the law and protect its citizens.

1. Report America to the United Nations and ask that they go in and investigate racism within the US Police Force with an aim of Reducing Inequalities – one of their 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

2. A commitment for strong and effective leadership to enact and enforce these and other appropriate measures proposed from the President of the United States, the legislature, senators, Police Chiefs, mayors, governors and local Council Leaders.

3. Punish Officers not only by taking away their employment, but punish all Police Officers across America until the message gets though that they are one united Police force and if action needs to be taken to address this then all have to be in this together and all need to feel the pain financially, not just the guilty perpetrators. I recommend that every single one of the 52 states pass swift and immediate legislation to enable this. President Trump should be lobbied to sign an executive order to make this mandatory from June 2020. If he has the power to do so, he needs persuading by the senate and public to exercise it. He has shown he can move swiftly to flex his executive authority with the corona virus. In that light I am proposing the following immediate actions:

(i) – Introduce an immediate pay cut of 5% for all Police Officers each and every time there is an unlawful murder or manslaughter of an innocent Black (or other man/woman for that matter). Right across all Americans states. That is to last for 1 year and they would only be eligible for future pay rises if there are no further incidents in America in the 12 months following the pay cut.

(ii) – If that is not feasible USA wide, then at the very least enact that across the state in which the murder/manslaughter occurs.

(iii) – If that can’t be passed, then introduce a pay freeze – USA wide ideally or at least within the State in which the murder/manslaughter occurs.

4. Hold Chiefs of Police and other leaders more accountable for the actions of their officers. If that isn’t already in place, that would force them to do more to root our racists and racist, murderous actions of the officers under their command.

5. Investigate whether annual appraisals are taking place and re-enforce the equality and diversity principles and core values that every officer is meant to be upholding. I would recommend that that needs reviewing so that this is monitored and measured on a more frequent basis. It is seemingly all too easy for Officers to hide their true colours, get employed, pass their probation, then revert to type. By then it’s too late. You have an armed racist patrolling the streets of America with a license to kill. Literally. For instance, with only 1% of Officers in Minneapolis ever facing charges, they act like they know they’ve got a 99% chance of getting away with it. No doubt that’s why they made little attempt to stop the mobile phone filming of Mr Floyd’s murder. The fact 7 days later only 1 out of 4 of the men has been arrested and charged rather proves the point at this very early stage.

6. Review recruitment and probationary procedures. I would hope that 95% of Police Officers are honest, law abiding, non-racist Officer seeking to uphold law and order fairly and justly, but their good reputation gets dragged when the likes of people like Mr Chauvin rear their ugly head. That speaks to something just not being right with the Police’s recruitment and probation policies. Are they robust enough to identify and weed out racists and racist behaviour traits? Is there a need for more intelligent psychological profiling to assist in this regard? America’s a sophisticated society when it comes to such things. It shouldn’t be beyond the wit of man or woman to come up with something useful in this regard. This includes as a matter or great urgency reviewing the legislation that lets dismissed officers be re-engaged at a later date, especially the rules which preclude employing Police forces from knowing why an applicant was dismissed. That is a huge loophole that needs closing.

7. Ensure that lessons are learnt and disseminated right across America from the states where they’ve been very successful in reducing, if not eliminating racist murders/manslaughters. This should be enacted with a view to ensuring there is standardisation of approach across the USA’s 52 states so that it gives them all the best long term chance of success and protecting African-American citizens from racist Police Officers.

8. Mandatory monitoring and publication of complaints, unlawful murders and other relevant data that would assist.

9. Ensure that lessons are studied, learnt and implemented based upon successful strategies deployed in the corporate world around issues of diversity, equality and tackling racism.

10. Enlist the support of White Americans. The marches and demonstrations in the past week show that so far White America is as appalled by what they say as African-Americans. There is a need to unite and work together to eradicate the fatal effects of racism, both individual and institutionalised.

All of the above can be applied not just in the USA, but in the UK and any other nations where lawless Police Officers are operating.

Today we can read this article. We can breathe. Whilst we can breathe I feel it is incumbent on all who truly care about this matter to take action, however big or small to push forward on any of the above initiatives and of course add to them where there are additional ideas that might advance the movement and ensure Mr Floyd’s death is not in vain.

I close with the words of Bob Marley’s song ‘War’ (1976) based on Emperor Haile Selassie 1’s ‘War’ speech on 4th October 1963, calling for world peace at the 1963 United Nations conference in New Your City.

“Until the philosophy
Which hold one race superior and another
Inferior
Is finally
And permanently
Discredited
And abandoned
Everywhere is war
Me say war.”

STAY ALERT. CONTROL THE POLICE. SAVE LIVES

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

Links:

  1. Should Youngsters Be Leading the War on Gun Control in America? – Battle of Ideas Tiemo Review –  28th October 2018 
  2. Detroit – Harrowing Civil Unrest Drama –  Tiemo film review 3rd September 2017
  3. 3.5 Minutes, 10 Bullets – Tiemo film review – 10th October 2015
  4. 12 Reasons Why  Dominic Cummings Kept his Job – Tiemo article – 31st May 2020
Posted in Legal, News, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

12 Reasons Why Boris Johnson Was Right to Stick with Dominic Cummings

1. The Successful Strategy and Numbers

Congratulations to the Government and Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister, Dominic Cummings. The numbers are going down. Obviously any deaths as a result of Covid-19, or anything for that matter – other illnesses do still exist – is very sad and one too many, however considering the numbers we were seeing in April, the death rate for 24th May 2020 was a remarkably low 118 – the lowest it’s been for 2 months since 74 died on 23rd March 2020. The following day it was 121, on the 26th May – 134.

Although that landmark achievement has been overlooked by mainstream media, I think it’s important to point it out for context in the Dominic Cummings story. We know the numbers have been falling consistently since the peak on 10th April 2020 and last week confirmed it emphatically. It would have been mightily ironic and unjust in that momentous week if one of the architects of that success was jettisoned. Cummings should not have been fired or forced to resign for numerous reasons outlined in this article addressing all of the key issues and more raised.

2. Ungrateful Critics & The Furlough Scheme

For that outcome to have occurred would have spoken to a perception of a nation totally ungrateful for the support its government, advised by Cummings had provided. The Conservative government had already pumped in an eye watering £100 billion into the economy by 30th April 2020. The furlough scheme alone is costing around £14 billion per month, plus there are numerous other initiatives to financially support the nation through this crisis. The final bill could be as much as £298bn just for this financial year (April 2020 to April 2021), according to the Office for Budget Social Responsibility. The final total could be even higher. Leaked Treasury documents suggested the figure could be as astronomical as £337bn.

The UK has gone a lot further than many other nations in supporting its workers and I think the critics should bear that in mind when attacking the government and individuals within it such as Cummings who most likely had a say in and influenced the furloughing decision.

In a really big week of announcements – significant extra funding for transport infrastructure, announcements about schools re-opening for all age groups from 15th June 2020, furlough extensions and amendments, non-essential retail to open up etc… all of them were well and truly over shadowed by the Cummings story surrounding alleged breaking of the lockdown rules.

Dominic Cummings, Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister

3. Legitimate Reason covered by the Regulations

My opinion on this both before and after watching his press conference on Bank Holiday Monday 25th May 2020 was that Cummings had legitimate reason to go to Durham and I fully support the Prime Minister in giving his fulsome backing to Cummings. As you will recall at the Downing Street Press Conference later the same day, the PM insisted that Mr “Cummings had acted responsibly and legally and with integrity.”

I never saw or thought there was any clear, objective reason to sack him or even demand his resignation. Furthermore, it matters not a jot in the grand scheme of things and particularly considering the stage the nation was at in its battle against covid-19. Please refer to Impact section below.

In his statement Cummings said that his wife had suspected covid-19 and he feared that he could be next as it was rife in Number 10 and was extremely concerned that should both become incapacitated at the same time there would be no-one to look after their 4 year old son. They considered the best thing to do was go to the family home in Durham. This he believed would be covered under the ‘exceptional circumstances’ caveat in section 6d of the government’s lockdown regulations. 

4. He Was Backed by Jenny Harries and Durham Police

Furthermore, Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England defined such “exceptional circumstances” as being those involving child care. She confirmed this at the Downing Street Press Conference on 23rd March 2020, the day the lockdown was announced. Whether or not the public people knew of or agreed with section 6d, that was his rationale.  Even Durham Police in concluding their own investigation last week stated on 28th May 2020 that he did not breach the lockdown rules by driving to Durham.

Lack of Respect

5. It was solely the decision of his Manager, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson

I think one of the things highlighted by what I can only describe as a witch hunt against Cummings is the complete lack of respect for authority figures, both the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and his Chief Adviser. Whilst I accept a degree of legitimate scrutiny and interest in public figures is part and parcel of a democratic society, whatever people think of this case, the PM alone is Cummings’s line manager as well as PM. He considered all the facts as presented to him by his employee and decided to retain him, insisting that Mr Cummings had “acted responsibly and legally and with integrity“. That’s in his gift entirely and should have been the end of the matter, but oh now, the critics – media, MPs and general public were having none of it and harangued and hounded both men all week.

On top of this there was a lack of respect and empathy shown for the fact he’d lost is Uncle during the pandemic and also the fact that he, his wife and 4 year old son all got very ill during their self-isolation.

6. The Nation was Facing the Peak of the Epidemic and Needed Cummings to be at the Heart of Government with the Prime Minister and Many others in Downing Street catching Covid-19

Cummings is the Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister. This isn’t some menial, junior job. It’s obviously an important job that carries a lot of pressure. Judging by his bosses staunch defence of him, he’s doing very well at it and wasn’t about to be sacked over something so relatively minor. He wouldn’t say it himself, but he could argue an exceptional circumstance was his role in the government especially at the very peak of a national crisis, on top of which, the PM had covid-19 at the same time and his health was visibly deteriorating. Further adding to his worries was the fact that so many in No 10 had gone down with covid-19.

In fairness I have to say one of the problems around this was the fact that the PM is not trusted to be truthful on all matters, hence his saying he knew all the facts and had reached a decision wasn’t enough for the media and other critics. That is regrettable, although in this age of distrust of politicians and scepticism I suspect any PM would have been questioned robustly about the story.

7. Legitimate Reason Within the Rules – Cummings Presents his side of the story in the Downing Street Garden on Bank Holiday Monday 25th May 2020

Prior to Cumming’s press conference in the Downing Street garden I had a sense that there may well have been other personal, health related reasons that Cummings has disclosed to his boss, the Prime Minister, which he did not want made public and quite rightly were none of the public’s business to know about. For instance it’s been revealed that his Uncle Sir John Laws died on Palm Sunday, 5th April 2020. That in itself would not have been a reason to make a separate, specific trip up to Durham, but might have been a factor in his thinking considering Sir Laws had been ill in London for some time.

Until the 25th May 2020 we did not know the full extent of his 24th May 2020 conversation with the Prime Minister, suffice to say it seemed to go on for a number of hours and the PM must have been satisfied with what he heard for him to announce at the  Downing Street Press Conference that he was “not marking him down as he had acted responsibly and legally and with integrity… They were the actions of any reasonable father.”

I think it would have been and still would be grossly unfair and disproportionate to dismiss Cummings based on this. He’s provided his account and his boss has accepted it. Whether the media, MP’s or the general public agree or not is of no great concern. They aren’t his employer. Considering the significant financial sums at stake [One Rule for Cummings’ section] that’s no trifling matter.

Maybe Cummings over reacted and panicked in response to his wife’s sickness on 27th March 2020 as she was soon over the illness, yet he got ill himself, plus his little boy. To quote from his statement:

I drove the three of us up to Durham that night, arriving roughly at midnight. I did not stop on the way. When I woke the next morning, Saturday the 28th of March, I was in pain and clearly had Covid symptoms, including a bad headache and a serious fever. Clearly I could not return to work any time soon.

For a day or two we were both ill, I was in bed, my wife was ill but not ill enough that she needed emergency help. I got worse, she got better. During the night of Thursday the 2nd of April, my child woke up, he threw up and had a bad fever. He was very distressed, we took medical advice which was to call 999. An ambulance was sent, they assessed my child and said he must go to hospital. I could barely stand up, my wife went with him in the ambulance, I stayed at home, he stayed the night in hospital.

In the morning my wife called to say that he had recovered, seemed back to normal, doctors had tested him for Covid and said they should return home.

There were no taxis. I drove to the hospital, picked him up, then returned home. I did not leave the car or have any contact with anybody at any point on this short trip. The hospital’s – I don’t know what, roughly five miles or something away, two miles, three miles, four miles, something like that.”

Arguably this is the crux of the matter and what lockdown was meant to avoid. I appreciate his reasoning but clearly he got worse during or within 24 hours of the journey and less than a week later his son was being driven to hospital in an ambulance. This is hardly an endorsement or encouragement to the public of travelling such a long distance during a pandemic with strict lockdown rules in place. You could say that was punishment enough.

8. Is there one rule for Cumming, another for the General Public?

I don’t think there is. However if he was to lose his employment over this then I would have to agree with that statement and the one rule for “the public” would be in favour of the public and discriminate against chief advisers, for I know of no member of the general public who has been fired or forced to resign from their job for breaking lockdown rules, or simply being perceived to have broken the rules and I am certain many have in their own small way and that is on them and their conscience. Some footballers have been fined for breaking the lockdown, but that’s it.

9. Risk of Unfair Dismissal Claim

If that happened to Cummings he would have a case to say he’d been unfairly treated and claim unfair dismissal. It’s worth reminding ourselves that the fine for a breach of lockdown was £60 at the time (this increased to £100 in England from 13th May 2020). That initial figure is equivalent to a parking fine in London. This indicates the government don’t view it as a serious criminal act. There have been almost 17,000 breaches to date. I suspect not one of those people lost their jobs.

There is no logic or legitimate reason why what “might have been a minor infringement,” as Durham Police described the trip from Durham to Barnard Castle on 12th April 2020, should cost a man his livelihood. It would be grossly disproportionate and if Boris Johnson were to sack him on these grounds, he would be risking an Employment Tribunal claim for unfair dismissal and breach of contract. The government could be looking at a £1/2 million pound claim just for a minor breach that the government decided was only valued as a £60 fine!!

If the media is so keen on maintenance of strict lockdown rules, perhaps every single reporter and photographer in the media scrum outside Cumming’s house much of the final week of May should be fired for not maintaining the 2m distance between one another? Or is it one rule for the press pack, another for political advisers?

Similarly, are we going to be fair and take into consideration all the sun lovers packing out beaches up and down the country from Brighton to Bournemouth and from Southend to Southport last week? They weren’t maintaining 2m social distancing. Should they all be fined to and forced to quit their jobs? Or is it one rule for special advisers, another for the general public?

Has he been a hypocrite?

Has Cummings been a hypocrite? I don’t believe he has been for as far as I can recall he’s not spoken at any press conferences or other public forums and told the British public what to do and how to observe the lockdown. If he has please share the evidence.

Even if he had, he’s explained his reasoning and that’s been accepted and understood by his line manager, the Prime Minister, within the legitimate context of “exceptional reasons.” I got the strong sense if the situation arose again he’d do exactly the same. The journalists should have asked him but failed to do so.

Did he bring the Government into disrepute?

From an employee relations perspective you could argue, as many MP’s, commentators and members of the general public did, that he did bring his employer, the government into disrepute. Unquestionably the furore over this has detracted from the vital ‘Stay at home/protect the NHS/Save Lives’ message the government has promoted since March, the falling death rate, track and trace and gradual lifting of the lockdown. However that is only the case if there has been a clear breach of the rules and it’s been decided by the PM, Cabinet and Durham Police that there wasn’t.

In fact, it’s been used as an opportunity to re-emphasise the importance of the guidance. I think that trip was twofold. He might not have been feeling 100% to drive 260 miles back down to London, but I suspect Barnard Castle is a favourite place of his that he’d not been to for a long time and he just fancied going there as he was so close to it. I don’t blame or condone him for that after all he’d been through in the previous fortnight. That is speculation on my part, but sounds a more plausible reason. It may or may not be true, but if it is in part, I daresay his critics would have had more respect for him if he’d openly said that – even if the testing if he could drive OK reason was also genuine. In such a febrile, poisonous political, media atmosphere one can hardly blame him for wanting to not provide his full rationale.

If you compare his misdemeanor to many of the things someone like President Donald Trump has done and survived, what he did or didn’t do, doesn’t bear comparison.

What was the Impact of the alleged breach?

10. No Evidence His Visit Had Any Negative Impact on the Infection or Covid-19 Death Rate in Durham

There’s been much talk of the negative impact keeping him in post will have on the enforcement of the lockdown going forward. I don’t accept that at all. There is no evidence for that whatsoever. If you disagree, I would love to see the evidence that his visit increased the spread of the virus and death rates in his home city.

As I said at the start, far from criticising him, if he is perceived as the behind the scenes architect of the strategy the country should be applauding, not castigating him, for the effective strategy and messaging what has resulted in falling death rates over the past week and in fact ever since the peak was reached on 10th April 2020.

Moreover, the public have had long enough to work out the importance and value of the strong instructions issued. If carelessness and reckless breaches of the guidelines results in a second spike then sorry, but that’s on the general public, not Dominic Cummings or anyone else.

If anything the biggest impact Cumming’s action took were personal – on himself and his son. He said he caught covid-19 the day after the long 260 mile drive to Durham and for reasons undisclosed had to take his son to hospital during his 14 day self-isolation. By being in the close confines of a car with his sick wife Mrs Wakefield for a minimum 5+ hours drive it’s hardly surprising. That’s a pretty clear warning and lesson in itself for Cummings and the wider public. Perhaps it might have been better for the media to have highlighted that last week.

Why is no 10 Downing Street a Hotbed of Covid-19?

One of the many interesting things revealed during his press conference was that he feared catching covid-19 due to many of the staff working within close proximity of one another and most having had symptoms of covid-19. “At this point most of those who I work with most closely – including the Prime Minister himself, and others who sit within 15 feet [sic 4.5m] of me every day – either had had symptoms and had returned to work, or were absent with symptoms.

I suspect they’re working a lot closer than that as transmission should not be happening if people are keeping the minimum 2m social distance from each other. Why was that? How far within 15 feet of each other do staff work and meet in Downing Street? Were they not following the advice created in and emanating from that building? I remarked at the time and still notice it now. During the daily press briefings the 2-3 speakers simply do not appear to be standing a minimum of 2m apart even when it’s just two at the press conference. It’s not as if there’s not sufficient space in that huge room. It’s as if the herd immunity strategy, denied by the government, was and still is in operation inside Number 10.

11. Does Strict Adherence to Lockdown Restrictions Truly Matter?

This is symbolic and all of this furore, including the actions of those below, who resigned, demonstrates that there might be a lack of genuine belief in the requirement for such a strict application of lockdown and social distancing rules for those who are fit and healthy, without underlying health issues. Their actions in a way have shown that an omission to strictly follow it is not automatically a death sentence and does not automatically equate to transmission of the virus. Admittedly Boris Johnson stretched that point a bit too far for his liking, so too did Cummings, but by and large there has been no significant health consequence whatsoever of people driving long distances to visit parents, second homes or meet lovers for secret trysts. In spite of all that, the death rates has fallen significantly, the lockdown is lifting and even today the government, from nowhere, has just announced that those 2 million people shielding can now leave their houses from 1st June 2020.

At the same time I fully respect and acknowledge the importance of the restrictions and failure to follow them has had consequences – we saw that with the PM’s ending up fighting for his life in hospital for a week and the Cummings family all getting very ill.

12. What is the Point of Resignations?

Regardless of where you stand on this issue, what really would be the value of the resignation or dismissal of Cummings? As stated earlier he’s not breached the regulations in such a significant way that it should cost him his job (even allowing for his key role); neither has he breached his contract of employment. He’s not the face of the government strategy in a way that Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock, Dominic Raab, Michael Gove, Professor Chris Witty and Professor Sir Patrick Vallance etc.. have been, speaking regularly from the No 10 podium advising us all how to behave during this lockdown.

After a similar furore, on 5th April 2020 Dr Catherine Calderwood resigned at the Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer. So too did Professor Neil Ferguson, the epidemiologist whose modelling helped shape Britain’s corona virus lockdown strategy. Exactly one month after Dr Calderwood resigned, on 5th May 2020 he also resigned as a government adviser after breaching the rules (lockdown and marital – well his lover did anyway) by receiving visits at his home from his married lover.

We’re 1 & 2 months on respectively from each resignation. Can anyone tell me what difference it’s made as I can’t think of any? Other than quickly shutting down a story that the media would have made a meal of, in practical terms I saw no benefit of their resignations. If anything it’s been a negative as the respective governments have lost key advisors at the worst possible time. An apology and moving on was all that was required.

With Cumming’s all the media and critics want is a sacrificial lamb, a scalp, before they  await their next victim. I salute Cummings, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet for standing up to their critics and the bully boy tactics of the press pack seeking to unjustly hound the man out of office.

A Word to the Adviser

When all is said and done, whilst Cummings had every right to stand his ground based on the regulations, on reflection it might have been wiser to apologise for the offence his actions undoubtedly caused to those who perceived him to be blatantly breaching the rules and/or at the every least the spirit of the lockdown. This might have helped shut down the story and create a more harmonious pathway forward. As it is there’s still  a great deal of disquiet over this and it’s taken the heinous murder of George Floyd in Minnesota on the same day as his press conference and the announcement of a number of much welcomed lockdown restrictions being lifted from 1st June 2020 to push this story of the front pages.

As I said at the start, the rapidly falling covid-19 deaths rates, dropping as low as 118 last week-end, were the most important numbers of the week to focus on, not the 260 miles to Durham and 30 miles to Barnard Castle.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

Photo – Courtesy of BBC

Links

  1. Dominic Cummings full statement and video – Express & Star – 25th May 2020
  2. Corona virus: How Much will it cost the UK? BBC News/Business – 22nd May 2020
  3. 10 Steps to Eradicating Racist Murders and Honouring the Life of George Floyd – Tiemo recommendations – 31st May 2020
Posted in Employment law, Legal, News, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Royal Treat as the Prince of Hip Hop Brings Joy to Sting the King of Pain

*** World Exclusive ***

Message In A Bottle – The Musical
Rating: *****
The Peacock Theatre
Portugal Street
Holborn
London WC2A 2HT
Tickets from £14
Ticket office: 020 7863 8222
Choreography by Kate Prince, based on the music and lyrics of Sting
A Sadler’s Wells & Universal Music UK production with ZooNation: The Kate Prince Company
6th February – 21st March 2020

I should have known this right from the start. Right from the moment the idea of a musical based around the music of Sting there should have been no doubts about its success, for as Sting himself sings in the eponymous title track ‘Message in a Bottle,’ “only hope can keep me together”.

Well I’m sure Director and Choreographer Kate Prince went into this project with a great deal of hope and faith, firstly that Sting would give his seal of approval for her to proceed and realise her vision, then for it to be written, produced and choreographed and ultimately make it onto the West End stage.

On 7th February 2020 the TV news reported on the UN Refugee Agency announcement that only 29 states offered resettlement places, with the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Sweden and Germany accepting the largest numbers of refugees. That happened to be just the second night of the Message in a Bottle musical I was at. It was quite timely as the theme of Zoo Nation’s latest show is the story of refugees. Its starting point is a village that is alive with joyous celebrations finds itself suddenly under siege. Everything changes forever. Determined and daring, three parted siblings step out on their own extraordinary adventures.

Message in a Bottle is of course the perfect title and song choice to base the show around as its theme is of “a hundred billion castaways looking for a home,” to be “rescued before they fall into despair.”

Kate Prince, Director and Choreographer, was keen to tell the human side of the international refugee crisis through dance and music, specifically that of Sting and The Police, with the main goal of humanising stories and showing empathy for a story often reported in terms of raw numbers, politics and civil war. Without a doubt she achieves that and provides a counter balance to the popular media portrayal of refugees as a problem for the UK and other nations affected, plus conflate the economic migrant situation with refugees merely seeking a safer place to go to just stay alive.

In the song ‘Inshalla‘ from the show and on his ‘57th and 9th’ album (2016) Sting sings about the refugees arriving in Europe from the war torn Middle East. Speaking with NPR’s Michel Martin in 2016, he explained: “The migrant crisis is something that isn’t going to disappear tomorrow. It’s driven by warfare in the Middle East. It’s driven by poverty in Africa. It may be driven by climate change in the very near future. So it’s not going to be something can we can hope to end tomorrow. 

I don’t have a political solution, but I feel if there’s a solution to it, it has to be grounded in some kind of empathy for those people in those boats. Because we as a species all migrate. We’re all migrants. Everyone in this country is a migrant, I’m a migrant, our ancestors were migrants. It’s not going to stop, that’s what we do.”

I was so blown away by the opening of this show that I knew within the first 15 minutes that this was a show I’d want to see again and again. Was I being a little premature? I don’t think so.

Message In a Bottle is a captivating, spectacular fusion of stunning hip-hop and balletic dance enhanced by the vibrant, outstanding music of Sting and The Police. What stood out like a giant neon lit bottle washed up on the shore was the lucid freshness of the music. It was such an unexpected joy and revelation. There’s a reason it felt like this which I won’t spoil by revealing here, suffice to say that fans of Sting and/or The Police will be in for a real treat. Even if you’re not the biggest of fans but just enjoy the big hits or some of the less well known songs you will find this riotous cacophony of outstanding music and dance to be an absolute blast. Remember, many of these songs are up to 30 plus years old but you would not have thought so watching this show. It brought back fond memories of first hearing the songs. You find yourself listening more carefully to the lyrics than you might otherwise have done in order to follow the unfolding story on stage.

It all sounded so current, so modern and all the songs were relevant in furthering the story. Where this was somewhat hard to follow visually from observing the dance alone, the lyrics helped to provide the context and meaning. The chosen songs were individually written and recorded at various stages of Sting’s careers and were never intended to form a thematic story, yet this is precisely what Kate Prince has done. She hasn’t gone for the perhaps relatively “easy” option of just creating a random story simply to shoehorn in hit songs. What’s on stage is the result of the effort (or rather pleasure for super fan Kate) in studying Sting’s extraordinary back catalogue to select the most appropriate songs to fit the story. This culminated in the curation of a wide range of songs and musical styles from the up tempo ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’, ‘So Lonely’, ‘Englishman in New York’ to the beautiful, reggae infused ‘The Beds to Big Without You’, to the more melodic, reflective, ballad songs such as ‘They Dance Alone’, ‘Fields of Gold’ and ‘The Empty Chair’. Not only that but, not surprisingly, all the big hits are there including of course a rousing rendition of the titular song ‘Message In a Bottle’ which, as with many of the songs, was gloriously acted out through hip-hop dance. It was tiring just watching the dancers incredibly athletic, thrilling, balletic movement in perfect synchronicity to the music. The range of dance styles and fleet of foot dance work dazzled and amazed in equal measure. It was simply outstanding.

There’s a part of the show where one husband is missing his wife and ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ is playing and being acted out which was reminded me of some of the scenes from last year’s hit movie ‘Blue Story’ with a number of menacing, hooded characters on stage. In a curious way it was quite poignant and amusing to watch at the same time. The story had plenty of humour and moments to bring a smile to the face, not to mention moments of pathos that saddened the heart.

One of the key highlights was just listening to Sting’s distinctive, powerful and emotive voice enthusing his songs with a new vitality, relevance and urgency that we haven’t seen before in this format as you catch yourself listening to something that feels quite different despite having heard many of these songs for so many years. His voice truly carried the show to heights it would otherwise not have been able to reach.

Fans will have seen many concerts and TV performances over the year but never before choreographed to dance music and certainly never putting them together to form a story based on so many “bloody brilliant songs” as Prince described them, from such an extended period of time.

There are plenty of neat musical surprises too, including lots of teasers … one moment hinting at one song to come, then sharply and subtly seque-waying into a completely different song.

Sting is quoted in the programme notes as saying he was really moved by watching a workshop of the show in the initial stages pre giving the project the green light. “I was blown away by it. The response for me was very emotional not just because I was honoured that they were using my music to express something, but there was something happening at a deeper level beyond understanding.” I totally got that, particularly as someone who’s been listening to his music from The Police to the present time. I too was moved in a way I hadn’t expected. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from the evening, but it exceeded any expectations I had a hundred billion times.

 

I refer to Sting in the review title as the King of Pain after one of the songs from the Synchronicity album (1983) but if you look at a number of his songs Sting truly is the king of crafting songs of pain with the uncanny knack of imbuing them with an upbeat, cheerful melody which are often the polar opposite of their melancholy lyrical content. ‘So Lonely’ ‘Every Breath You Take’ and ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ for instance are all sad, somewhat dark, melancholic songs really, yet their tempo is upbeat and almost joyful. When performed live these are some of the songs that get fans up on their feet dancing away. In their own way Kate Prince and her Zoo Nation production have pulled off the same uncanny trick with this musical. It’s clearly about the tragic international refugee situation yet it’s cloaked in the multi-coloured coat of a barnstorming high energy song and dance hip-hop musical. Speaking in the programme notes Prince states that Message in a Bottle is not a depressing story. It offers hope. “It’s there to uplift and inspire like all our work, because all our works is really about one thing: love. Everything comes back to love and the power of love and the healing power of love, forgiveness and acceptance. This is a piece about the strength human beings have to keep going, to find peace again in their lives despite trauma. It’s about resilience.”

I reflected earlier that within 15 minutes I felt this was a show I’d want to see again and again. Was I premature in that assessment? I think you’ve gathered by this point that it was far from that. It is currently on a 7 week run in the West End but I suspect there will be deafening calls for an encore.

Sting famously sings in ‘Message In a Bottle’ “I should have known this right from the start.” I did and I will certainly be going to see this again for ‘Message in a Bottle: The Musical’ is an exciting, complex, enjoyable and multi-layered show. ZooNation have delivered a breathtakingly stunning performance of stellar music, songs, dancing and energy that undoubtedly merits a further viewing or two. Maybe even a hundred billion!

© Tiemo Talk of the Town
Photo’s courtesy of Helen Maybanks

Links:

  1. United Nations Refugee Agency Briefing – 5th February 2020
  2. Sting and Shaggy Star at the Roundhouse – Tiemo Review – 28th May 2019
  3. Paul Simon and Sting – On Stage Together – London 02 – Tiemo Review – 16th April 2015

Posted in Arts and Culture, Concert reviews, Politics, Theatre reviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will Roger Federer Always Be The Greatest (Even if He’s Not)?

What do you think? This great article from Michael Steinberger  in the New York Times sums up the thoughts I’ve had for some years now. As the almost inevitable, but to Federer fans, almost unspeakable, seems ever closer to becoming reality, do Federer fans have to re-evaluate their feelings, highest regard and #1 standing they hold for him in tennis history as the Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T) ?

I speak of course of the fact Rafael Nadal on 19 Grand Slams currently may level with Roger Federer on 20 Grand Slams if he wins the Australian Open 2020 which kicked off yesterday. If he achieves that goal can you really see a seriously fired up Nadal being stopped from going on to win his 13th French Open title this Summer, 21 in total and being #1, the new G.O.A.T in the history of winning men’s Grand Slams?

What surprised but really impressed me a lot from the piece was the fact that Federer also seems to have been having the same thoughts and is fully expecting his amazing haul to be superseded not just by Rafael Nadal, but by Novak Djokovic as well and perhaps by some distance too.

Surprisingly he seem at peace with that and realises that the previously unthinkable may well come to pass this year or next unless he starts adding to his Grand Slam haul. That he can observe this with such equanimity is such a measure of the great man’s coolness, maturity, level headedness and the mindset that’s seen him achieve so much both inside and outside of the game and become the superb global sporting ambassador that he is.

What are your thoughts?

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Posh Reggae at The Palace from the Saxophone Queen

Posh Reggae at the Palace from the Saxophone Queen

Star Rating: *****
Alexandra Palace
Muswell Hill
London N22 7AY
Review date: 29th November 2019

On a chilly night in North London saxophonist YolanDa Brown warmed the heart with a wonderful, high quality night of musicianship she entitled ‘posh reggae.’ It certainly felt posh in the august setting of AlexanDra Palace.

The large audience for this, the final show of her 10th Anniversary Tour, was thoroughly entertained with a selection of songs from her last album ‘Love Politics War’ (2017) as well as numbers from ‘April Showers May Flowers‘ (2012). The music was beautiful, melodic and relaxing. YolanDa and her band were every bit as classy as the AlexanDra Palace they were performing in.

I loved her description of the music as posh reggae. Clearly a reggae fan, she regaled the audience with snippets of Bob Marley songs, jazz, more reggae and RnB tinged music. Her sax playing was stupendous, as was her supporting cast of top quality musicians.
I would have bought her ‘Love Politics War’ CD there and then I was so impressed, but alas they had no e-payment system set up, which was perhaps the only slight mis-step of the night.

She was supported by Omar who joined her for a couple of songs. His voice, as always, was superb. The singers were in equally fine voice and looked to be having a blast on stage.

YolanDa’s Band Jam win RTS North West Award

There were 3 very big announcements on stage too. Firstly that her CBeebies children’s TV Show YolanDa’s Band Jam won Best Children’s Programme (Pre-School) at the Royal Television Society North West Awards on 23rd November 2019.

Not only that but she announced she was expecting a baby girl next month. You’d never have guessed by looking at her and observing her energetic performance. A highlight was when she went into the aisles playing the saxophone so fans could observe her playing up close and personal.

The last, but not least, of the big announcements was that YolanDa will be performing on Jool’s Holland’s annual Hootenanny show on New Year’s Eve, always one of the NYE highlights (well, for those not going out on NYE anyway!) Other guests include Pauline Black, Ruby Turner, the Stereophonics and Stormzy.

Jools Holland and YolanDa Brown

It was a great co-indicence to be at this iconic venue as just a few weeks earlier I was enjoying the skating scenes in the hit movie ‘Last Christmas‘, which were filmed at the AlexanDra Palace skating rink.

This was a tremendously enjoyable show and although the album’s entitled ‘Love Politics War’ the evening was filled with love(ly) music but was refreshingly politics and war free.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

Links

  1. YolanDa’s Band Jam – All 24 episodes on BBC i-player
  2. Last Christmas – Tiemo review – 20.11.19
  3. Bob Marley & The Wailers Honoured with Blue Plaque – Tiemo Review –
  4. Marley  The Movie Stirs it Up – Tiemo review – 31.05.12
  5. April Showers, May Flowers – Tiemo Hammersmith Apollo YolanDa Brown review – 21.02.12
Posted in Arts and Culture, Concert reviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Brexit a Revolution By or Against the Establishment?

Are the Conservative Establishment now the revolutionaries? Does Brexit be understood as representing a genuinely revolutionary moment in British history, or are there much deeper, longer-term trends that explain the current moment?

Conservatives as rebels and revolutionaries sounds like a contradiction, but if you think about it that’s what it has come to with Brexit.

It can be argued that the EU Referendum of 23rd June 2016 upset the apple cart, the established order of things. It wasn’t supposed to turn out that way. It’s been well reported that even Boris Johnson and Michael Gove didn’t really expect to win. This in part goes some way to explaining the curious post Brexit aftermath and the absence of rousing, triumphant victor’s speeches that set out the road map towards arriving at the Brexiteer’s vision of the nation’s future.

The reality proved that there was no plan or road map as Brexit wasn’t actually defined. It just meant leaving the EU. Perhaps the wrong referendum question was asked in the first place. Maybe we were all too gullible thinking leaving wouldn’t be that complicated. In retrospect the practice and ability to leave needed to be spelt out far more clearly in terms of the hows and wherefores.

It is not difficult to understand people’s wish to leave but I don’t believe it was clear to anyone how this could work without it being more detrimental than remaining in the EU. No one can deny that the Brexit campaign and overriding message was based on the implicit and stated expectation that, as D:Ream famously sang, ‘Things can only get better’ (1993).” However it’s clear that that is not necessarily so and no one, not even Brexiteer’s, was keen to leave if things were only going to get worse, in the long run.

That harks back to the initial poorly put question. It was never considered or put as a question such as – ‘Do you only want a Brexit that is better for the UK and doesn’t place an invisible hard border between Ireland and the island of Northern Ireland?’That obviously was a huge stumbling block and although that appears to have been removed with Boris Johnson’s October 2019 deal, still wasn’t enough to get through parliament.

Democracy

This throws up questions re the efficacy of democracy, for it has as yet simply not been possible to deliver Brexit and it’s hard to see how this week’s General Election, without the referendum + General Election that Tiemo Talk of the Town called for as a proviso for holding the election, will resolve it. Strictly speaking we are and have continued to remain in the EU for a full 3 years since the vote and barring a clear Liberal Democrat victory in December’s General Election this is more than likely heading towards a 4th year of remaining post 2016 referendum.

Brexit

Professor Anand Menon recently commented at one of the Battle of Ideas (BoI) 2019 Brexit debates that the problem with Brexit was twofold: “(1)the idea of Brexit – what it meant and how to implement it and (2) there is a dislike of the Establishment and how they’ve gone about trying to block it happening and it’s been impossible to reconcile the two.”

Professor Anand Menon

Actually we have many establishment figures on both sides of the argument. For once there is not a united establishment. We’re in a unique place in history where one can be a conservative Brexiteer and be perceived as a revolutionary seeking to overturn the established norm. We’re living in a time when people such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons and Nigel Farage, The Brexit Party Chairman are pro Brexit. Normally such establishment figures would be pro-Europe – pro-remain. Big, corporate businesses are generally in favour of the settled status quo they are accustomed to.

If you accept that the referendum question asked was too simplistic and lacking in the detail people needed and if you take into account how difficult it is proving to leave (bear in mind none of the other 27 EU nations are looking to leave. In fact 7 European nations have applied to join and their applications are in various stages of progress that have so far been going on from between 3-10+ years to date per nation) then maybe the question ought to have been one of ‘How could the UK and other nations reform the EU?’ Former Prime Minister David Cameron tried hard to do so and as they didn’t budge on their position Cameron felt he had to call the referendum he threatened to call if they didn’t reform. Calling the EU’s bluff hasn’t as yet worked out so well as we’ve not left and the EU hasn’t changed a bit! In fact the now former European President Jean-Claude Juncker recently joked that he left the EU before Britain did, on 30th November 2019, after 5 years as President.

The current election battle was initially thought likely to be primarily a Brexit battle and ought to have been Conservative v Liberal Democrats, but the media and to be fair, the opinion polls as well, have created the sense that it’s the traditional Conservative v Labour contest for the keys to Downing Street. This means in reality it’s a decision for the electorate between Brexit with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s deal or no Brexit (Conservatives) or Labour’s position of a referendum and Brexit or Remain depending on the decision of the 2020 referendum Labour would call if they win.

Battle of Ideas Brexit Panel – Professor Anand Menon, Alistair Donald (Chair), Bruno Waterfield, Assistant Professor Lisa McKenzie and Daniel Moylan

The clarity of the Liberal Democrat message will appeal to many I’m sure as it couldn’t be clearer. If they win, they’ll revoke Article 50. Naturally that will be appealing to Remainers, but I would imagine it could also be appealing to un-decided’s (are there any?)* and those who just want this over and done with (including Brexiteer’s who don’t want Boris’s deal and realise there is no better Brexit deal likely to be had by re-commencing negotiations with the EU.

I value democracy but sometimes one could argue that the great British public get it wrong. If you look at the naming of the RRS Sir David Attenborough ship. It was put out to the public to vote for via the internet by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The public voted for Boaty Mcboatface. That was understandably deemed too silly a name for a prestigious £150 million polar research ship and so the NERC decided against that and named it, far more sensibly in my view, after Sir David Attenborough instead. Whilst that was a relatively minor matter, does not the same principle apply to EU membership? I cannot name one single economist or historian in favour of Brexit. I’ve yet to hear of real, tangible, undisputed benefits to be had from leaving the EU. On that basis the Liberal Democrats position is principled and democratic as they are standing on a crystal clear, revoke Article 50 ticket.

*’ – Lisa McKenzie, Assistant Professor in Sociology/Researcher, Durham University said, rather amusingly at the BoI debate, “I’m not a Brexiteer or Remainer. I hate all of them! I’m an anarchist.” Lisa Wrote an essay entitled ‘The Class Politics of prejudice: Brexit and the land of no‐hope and glory’, which, in part,  highlighted that all roads lead to the M1.

Assistant Professor Lisa McKenzie

These were EU funded roads in the North of England, which had no pavements or bus stops so to Lisa’s mind they were not really built for the people. Lots of EU blue plaques were put up along the road. So who was the road for if not the people? Well soon enough one of Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct stores popped up. Her answer is that the road was a connective road for commercial purposes, for big businesses’ benefit. This, for her and many others, symbolises the problem with the EU. It’s perceived as for big business, not for the benefit of regular citizens.

 

The Reaction to Brexit is the problem

It is said that it’s not Brexit in itself which has been the problem, but the reaction to it causing all the furore.

This was started and highlighted by the killing of a Polish man Arkadiusz Jóźwik on 27th August 2016 which was widely reported as being Brexit-xenophobia related. To have exposed the so-called reality of English racism. Doubts have been expressed over that interpretation as he was reported to have hurled racist insults resulting in the attack on him, but nonetheless there was a well reported spike in Brexit related racism in the wake of the referendum vote and it’s often been said that whilst not every Brexit voter is racist, most racists voted Brexit.

The Establishment’s fear was and is that the vote was a threat to their status quo. The reaction to it has been one of profound hostility which created the current situation. Those favouring leaving were viewed as morally less superior. Perhaps that tells us more about the character and mindset of the Establishment than anything else.

The left behind

Professor Anand said one of the problems for former Prime Minister Theresa May was that she made a great speech outside 10 Downing Street on the day she became Prime Minister, 13th July 2016, but then never did any of the things she said she would.

 

Professor Anand doesn’t see the General Election as the key to resolving Brexit. “Whoever gets in after election, won’t resolve Brexit. I don’t see this as a moment of change. I see a quick return to status quo as the leaders will do exactly what they wish to do. Taking back control would surely be about giving more power to local government. That would make a difference.”

I agree with this and said as much in my blog last month calling for a referendum with the general election. Anand raised an interesting point regarding why so many EU leaders prefer to remain in the EU as that gives the impression they are ceding their power to Europe. “Why do Prime Ministers give away power to the EU? That’s because it’s a lot easier to get laws through the EU than their own parliament!”

Conclusion

I started out by asking is Brexit a Revolution By or Against the Establishment? I think the answer is that the Brexit vote was a vote against the EU establishment, by the ordinary working people and by a fair few traditional Establishment figures, whereas most of parliament is pro-Europe, pro-remain. That’s created a big tension and thus far a hugely unresolved problem.

Arguably this positions the Conservative Party, the party representing the traditional establishment as the revolutionaries against the establishment they represent!

I think it’s uncovered something seismic that is about much more than ordinary politics as we are accustomed to. As Captain Kirk might have said, “It’s politics but not as we know it.

I can think of no other issue in my lifetime that has so stumped parliament and the country. We’ve voted on massive, hugely divisive issues before such as going into war (Iraq, 2003), not going into war (Syria, 2013), whether or not to renew our nuclear weapons (2016), the poll tax/revoke of poll tax (1991) … and parliament and the nation have made decisive decisions and moved on. At times public outcries have been acted upon e.g. revoking the hugely un-popular poll tax. Why is this different? This leads me to conclude that perhaps there is a spiritual element to this as the usual logic is just not applying.

If you look at the EU building. It was deliberately designed to mirror the Tower of Babel. Babel means confusion and thus the tower represented a tower of confusion, of a people thinking they could do without God. God was not happy with that and so the world went from a place with one, common language to one with many languages which was obviously confusing for people who didn’t speak the many other languages created. This is explained in far more detail in ‘The Rape of Europe‘ DVD, 2004) but could be seen as symbolic of the current period of confusion. Wherever you stand spiritually we are and have been living through highly confusing times since the 2016 referendum, of that I think we can all agree. How it will all end is anybod’s guess and I’m not convinced that this Thursday’s general election will bring forth the clarity to Get Brexit Done as some would want us to believe.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

Links

  1. Any General Election Must Now Include a Referendum– Tiemo – 29.10.19
  2. Brexit: A Solution to Break the Deadlock – Tiemo – 11.03.19
  3. The class politics of prejudice: Brexit and the land of no‐hope and glory – The British Journal of Sociology – 08.11.17
  4. Brexit: A Revolution by or against the establishment? – Battle of Ideas debate and video – 03.11.19
  5. The Rape of Europe – Eurovision Mission to Europe by David Hathaway (2004)
Posted in Debates, News, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment