May 1st 2017
I love a General Election. In particular, I love voting. I'm not one of those people who thinks it's everyone's duty to vote - the whole point of having freedom is that you're free to give the whole thing a miss if you want - but I love doing it. I almost always get my vote in before work, strolling into the polling station with a friendly nod and a smile, and I can think of no better way to start the day (apart from certain bacon-related alternatives). Furthermore, in the run up to the election, I love turning up to hustings and I even enjoy the leaders' debates, even if they tell us absolutely nothing. I hope we get at least something like that this year, despite the fact that it's almost certainly not going to be a direct head-to-head between Corbyn and May.
I also love staying up through the night watching the election coverage, live-blogging on this page (yes, I'll be doing it again this year: tune in from around 9pm on Thursday 8th June), swapping comments with friends on Twitter and - if 2015 is anything to go by - eating naan bread at 3am. Almost as soon as the General Election vote was announced, I'd booked 9 June off work so that I could dedicate myself to a night of electoral excitement here without worrying about falling asleep at my desk the next day.
The first time I live-blogged through the night, on May 6th/7th 2010, I only decided on my walk home from work that day that I'd give it a whirl, which meant that: (i) not many people knew about it; and (ii) I tried to turn up for work the next day. I was very late and more than usually useless. But, despite that, I enjoyed it a great deal and did the same thing on May 7th/8th 2015, getting a slightly larger audience due to being quoted on the BBC website (thanks Victoria!). Although I was sat by myself throughout the night - unlike the 2010 election, where my housemate Matt was with me for the first couple of hours - it was also good to connect to people through Twitter (and texting / email), even if some of the comments were just people telling me that I'd voted the wrong way. Matt, if I remember rightly, just said "bad Colin".
In passing, the one thing that I don't enjoy about elections is the mass of people on Facebook - and it's mostly Facebook - saying that people like me are heartless, unChristian, evil etc. etc., but I guess that's the price you pay for democracy. I'll be voting Tory again, as there's no real alternative - I can't vote Green, UKIP, or Labour under their current leadership, and the Lib Dems' only real policy seems to be overturning a democratic vote - but, rest assured, my all-night coverage tends not to be too party-political. Hey, you can check out my 2010 & 2015 blog posts and see what I mean: it's mostly Andrew Neil's boat and Paddy Ashdown's hat.
So... this post serves as advance notice that I'll be live-blogging again, in case you're interested (and one or two people said they wished they'd known I was doing it in 2015, so... maybe you are interested?), and also a request that you keep in touch during election night, through whatever means. I'll be up, and I'd love to hear from you.
May 20th 2017
***SPOILERS FOR LA LA LAND***
I have an odd relationship with the film La La Land. It began back in the middle of 2015, when I was looking to see what films Emma Stone had coming up - she has been my favourite actress for a while, and every now and again I check IMDb to see what's on the horizon, for her as well as for a few others - and saw a film called 'La La Land' was in pre-production. Actually, when I first came across it I'm not entirely sure it wasn't down as 'Untitled Emma Stone project', although I might be getting that confused with something else.
There wasn't anything much to go on at that point, but I kept checking - as well as seeing when it had a Wikipedia page - and became more excited when I discovered that Ryan Gosling was also in the film. He & Emma Stone had appeared together twice before, and I'd loved both films: Crazy, Stupid, Love was one of my favourite films of 2011 (5 Coddie nominations), and - perhaps uniquely among all cinema-goers - Gangster Squad was of my favourite films of 2013 (4 Coddie nominations, including a Best Supporting Actor win for Gosling). However, even though I was excited I was still trying to keep my hopes in check, as I'd been burned before: not long before, Aloha had sounded like a dream ticket (Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bradley Cooper) but had turned out to be truly awful.
The more I heard about the project, though, the better it sounded: Damien Chazelle was due to direct, and while his name had been attached from the start, it took some time before I made the connection to Whiplash, his previous directorial work and my favourite film of 2015 (6 Coddie nominations, including two wins). The synopsis - an aspiring actress and an aspiring musician meet in L.A. - didn't give much to go on, and I'm not sure I even knew it was a musical at that point, but as we entered 2016 it was high up on my list of anticipated films. Quite literally: I had a spreadsheet of the films I was looking forward to, and their release dates. No one else seemed to have heard of it, though.
As time wore on, I wondered why nothing had been heard of this film: after all, the release date was supposed to be mid-July, and all we had seen so far was a thumbnail of the two stars dancing with each other. No other posters, no trailers, no press. What was going on? Was this going to sink without a trace? And then, disheartingly, the movie got pushed back to December. Nothing wrong with that per se, of course - in fact, a Christmas release date can be a sign of confidence from the studio - but pushing a film's release back, so close to when it was supposed to come out, usually means that's something's gone horribly wrong and desperate re-shoots are needed. I prepared myself for disappointment.
And then the reviews started coming in, well in advance of the USA release date (December) let alone the UK one (January), because the film showed at a few festivals throughout the autumn - and they were uproarious in their praise. La La Land was indisputably a triumph. My fears were gone, and now I was just impatient to be able to see the thing: having waited for so long, it was frustrating to be at the back of the queue, particularly when awards season rolled around and the film kept going from strength to strength.
Finally, I got to see La La Land at the cinema - at an advance screening, in fact, that my friend Jenny had spotted - and, well, my feelings were mixed. You may have heard my thoughts on my podcast at the time. Essentially, I loved the majority of the film - the chemistry between Gosling and Stone was better than it had ever been, the songs were fantastic, the whole thing was beautifully shot - but (and here are the spoilers) the couple didn't end up together. Instead, they chose to pursue their dreams of jazz and acting. I'd been sold on a story of hope and romance; the feel-good movie of the year; a classic love story: instead I'd been given some kind of let's-advance-with-our-careers story. The final montage, in which the story of the film was replayed as a theatrically imagined what-could-have-been where the two did end up together, served only to rub salt into the wound. I genuinely think I've never left a cinema as dejected as I was that day.
I realise that this is a sign of the success of the film, in some ways. The fact that I cared about the fate of the characters meant that they had done a stellar job - I mean, it didn't bother me when Vince Vaughan & Jennifer Aniston didn't end up together in The Break-Up, for example - but I still felt cheated. It wasn't like Casablanca, say, which is a superb film and which has very good reason for the leading couple not to end up together. It just felt that we'd been given a wonderful love story, and it had been snatched away from us for... what? Career prospects? It must ring true for some people - many people, I guess - but to me the idea of telling someone you'll always love them, but you're never going to see them again because your jobs will take you to different cities, is utterly incomprehensible.
So, when people asked me what I thought of the film, I could only say that I was conflicted but that it was mostly wonderful. And when the La La Land backlash crept around - having been so universally praised, it was inevitable - I thought it was a bit silly, but didn't feel as strongly as I might have done otherwise. The complaints seemed to revolve around two points: firstly, that Ryan Gosling wasn't black; and secondly that the two leads couldn't sing. This latter point was very fair: while they were both very competent (the comment in the Sunday Times that they were "tone-deaf" was entirely unjustified), it has to be said that their voices, in particular Emma Stone's, were pretty weak. That was unfortunate, but their acting - and chemistry - more than made up for it.
On Oscar night I was still rooting for La La Land, but it felt a bit odd: a film that I had looked forward to for at least 18 months, and had genuinely enjoyed, but now had mixed feelings about. Perhaps, too, the fact that it had received widespread acclaim made it a little less personal than when it had been an upcoming film that I, seemingly alone, was excited about. And, despite Emma Stone being a big favourite, I went into awards season thinking that Natalie Portman's performance in Jackie had actually been better. Anyways, Emma got the Oscar, and La La Land had that debacle with Moonlight (as an aside, I haven't seen Moonlight but I thought it would win after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy from 2016; then when La La Land's mountain of nominations came in I changed my mind, but clearly either Moonlight truly is excellent or the backlash hit at just the wrong time).
This week La La Land came out on DVD, and I watched it for a second time. And I do love it. Simon had told me that it was better a second time, when you know that the couple won't end up together, and I absolutely agree: rather than hoping for a happy ending, I was more able to understand what Damien Chazelle was going for: the characters' optimism is just a little too eager; their happiness a little too idealised. And while a film with a choreographed dance number in L.A. traffic can hardly be said to be realistic, the idea that sacrifices have to be made on the route to success is understandable. More than this, though, on a second viewing I realised just how iconic this film is: I believe it will be remembered and treasured long after Moonlight is completely forgotten (other than as being the film that wasn't La La Land).
Oh, and Emma Stone really is excellent. Natalie Portman, watch your back.
May 28th 2017
The general election is just around the corner, and one of the things I've read and heard a lot - both at this election and at others - is that the choice we make should be all about the policies. I think this is clearly untrue. Sure, policies are fundamental to a decision on who should be in government, but they are far from the only consideration. Here are some other things I reckon we should be taking into account (and bear with me on the first one; it's probably not going where you think it is):
1. Strength & stability
There's a reason why this was the message that Theresa May was cramming down our throats for weeks on end. The only government that can possibly achieve its aims is one that is strong: in terms of a reasonably majority and the backing of its own members, and also in its ability to stand firm when challenged.
There is every reason to believe that a government led by Jeremy Corbyn - who crushingly lost a vote of no confidence 172-40 last year, and who has had to cobble together the bare bones of a shadow cabinet from those few MPs prepared to stand by him - would be too weak to get anything done. However, "Theresa May's team" has recently shown its own weakness in making an astonishing U-turn on one of its core manifesto policies - the first time in modern history that this has been done during an general election campaign, apparently - thus demonstrating a comprehensive lack of stability. Her previous U-turn, on increased NI contributions for the self-employed, already showed that she is not a leader to stick to her guns when under pressure. Pretending that it was not a U-turn was hardly a mark of strength, either.
2. Track record
I was recently accused - I think - of engaging in personality politics because I'd chosen who to vote for before the manifestos were published. A peculiar claim, as it implies that we have been given absolutely nothing to go on until the publication date, at which point each party will spring into being from nothingness. I didn't need to read (OK, skim) the Labour or Conservative manifestos to have a pretty good idea of where both of them are coming from, given that they haven't exactly been out of the news for the last couple of years. Corbyn, for example, was unlikely to unveil himself as a free market capitalist at the last minute.
If you think that the Conservatives have not governed the country well for the last seven years (including the five years of the coalition government), I don't think a few policy changes would be enough to get you to put a cross in their box come election day. Someone from church once told me that they couldn't vote Conservative because they work for the NHS; still more refuse to vote for them because of Thatcher. In both cases I think the reaction is too extreme, but it indicates that history matters. Just ask Lib Dem candidates in student-heavy constituencies.
Similarly, it matters what Corbyn, John McDonnell & Diane Abbott have said and done in the past: while their positions are more nuanced than they have been portrayed, you can't brush under the carpet the fact that they have all, to some extent, expressed support for and sympathy with the IRA.
Track record is also key because it gives some indication of what else parties would do in power: I think I can say with some confidence that no government has ever presided solely over the rolling out of its manifesto. "Events, dear boy, events".
3. Policy credibility
The policies might be great, but could they reasonably be expected to happen? For example, the Conservative manifesto under David Cameron contained the pledge that net immigration would fall to "tens of thousands"; this - in the days pre-Brexit - was literally impossible to achieve, because the UK had no ability to limit incoming migration, and everyone knew it. Cameron's own credibility was significantly dented by his pretence that this wasn't the case.
On the other side, Labour have a track record of making uncosted promises - at least, this is the perception (not an unfair one, in my view) and one that they have, in fairness, striven to counter in this manifesto by costing everything. However, it didn't take long before their numbers were called into question by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) - who have since identified similar holes in the Tory manifesto - as Labour's figures for extra tax revenue were either over-optimistic or impossible to calculate with anything approaching certainty. Similarly, the idea that mass nationalisation can take place without cost is - even if you are in favour of the policy, which I am not - entirely unbelievable.
Taking a non-general election policy, there was the famous Brexit bus with its suggestion of £350m per week for the NHS. While this was not technically a pledge - the people behind the campaign never had any power over the direction of government investment, nor did they exactly claim to - it was taken as such, and no one is against free money for the NHS. Credibility was the issue.
Personalities do matter, which is why so many of Corbyn's adherents describe him first of all as being principled. Leaving aside the fact that one of the key criticisms of any politician or movement these days is that it's ideological, which I'm pretty sure is synonymous with principled, it's a reasonable consideration. Surely we want a leader who is in politics for the right reasons, one who is honest?
I think the general perception of politicans is very unfair, as it goes: the significant majority are there to serve the public, often making much less money than they could elsewhere, and certainly receiving much more criticism and volatility (in what other job would you have to work in two locations at either side the country, and re-apply at least every five years?). However principled or otherwise Corbyn is, it could be argued that two of the most principled politicans of recent times are Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith, both of whom attracted significant disapprobation because others didn't agree with their principles.
Actually, the behavioural concern I have is largely about politicans treating the public like fools. When Labour politicans complain that Tories are making tax cuts "for their friends in big business", it's either because they don't understand about Laffer curves and the importance of raising employment levels, or because they're trying to play into a public opinion that they know is false, simply because it's a vote-winner. Or there's Corbyn's recent claim that, by requiring photo ID at the ballot box, the Tories are trying to limit voting to "the elite few" - which he admits constitutes 92.5% of the electorate. Similarly, when Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) tweeted that Corbyn's plan was to raise the basic tax rate to 25% - despite the Labour manifesto explicitly ruling this out - it was the closest I've come to voting for someone else.
You're known by the company you keep. I have friends who claim that Jeremy Corbyn is not, in fact, a hard left candidate. The fact that he is to the left of almost every other Labour MP is enough to suggest that this is not true, but even if you cherry-pick his policies to try and claim that he's a moderate, it's impossible to deny the company he keeps. Leaving aside his distasteful assocations with the IRA, you still have plenty of evidence that he is a man on the fringes: a column in the Morning Star; chairmanship of Stop the War; repeated appearances on Russia Today; Seumas Milne as his Director of Strategy and Communications. Most recently, there is the appointment to Labour headquarters of Andrew Murray: for 40 years a member (later one of the leaders) of the Communist Party of Great Britain, Communist Liaison group & Communist Party of Britain, a defender of North Korea and (according to some) an apologist for Josef Stalin. He was also chairman of Stop the War either side of Corbyn's stint. To be clear, this is not a case of Corbyn occasionally "sharing a platform" with supporters of the far-left; these are his people.
As a leader, it is sometimes necessary to engage with people that you'd prefer never to come within ten miles of: taking the Northern Ireland peace process as an example, this was exemplified by John Major, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and others. Those aren't the kind of associations I'm talking about (even if, as with Blair and Colonel Gaddafi, or more recently Donald Trump in Saudi Arabia, the desire for co-operation may stray too far into condoning that which is unacceptable). It's the people that you pick for your team, for no other reason than you think that they're the best for the job, that paint an important picture.
This is similar, perhaps, to my first point. However desirable a party's policies are, it's also important that they know what they're doing: being a leader - or a cabinet member, or indeed an MP - is not simply a case of having good ideas. Whether it's a case of not putting your foot in your mouth when you're being broadcast to the nation - see Diane Abbott's recent efforts, or much of what Boris Johnson has said since the nation decided that his buffoon act was no longer amusing - or your ability to get key people onside (c.f. Jeremy Hunt in Health, or Liz Truss as Lord Chancellor), competence is key. I think that a large reason that the Liberal Democrat's aren't polling higher, despite the fact that their anti-Brexit stance was expected to be popular, is that they - and Tim Farron in particular - just aren't viewed as being competent.
On a local level, I haven't managed to get to a hustings in Bristol North West this year, but in the 2015 general election I went to one (documented on this page in May 2015) and Charlotte Leslie (Conservative) came across as clearly the most competent person standing - her Labour rival was inexperienced, and it showed. I think that made a difference come polling day.
"Prime-ministerial" - or, elsewhere, "Presidential" - is an elusive concept, but not a valueless one. It doesn't matter if a party has the manifesto of your dreams if their leader is not going to be able to run the country: gathering support behind them, understanding the repercussions of their policies, and making critical decisions quickly. Oh, and - sorry to bring it up - negotiating Brexit. Obviously competence in itself isn't enough - for example, Nigel Farage was very good at his job, and a lot of people wish he hadn't been - but it's a necessary part of being a good leader.
So, there you go: six more things to consider when you're deciding who to vote for next month. I should reiterate that policies are absolutely an important part of making that decision - of course they are - and, personally speaking, even if you left everything else aside they would probably still be enough to stop me voting for Labour this year. But next time you hear someone saying that the election should be all about policies, I hope you contradict them.
|what was I listening to?
Quadrophenia - The Who
|what was I reading?
How Not to Be Wrong - Jordan Ellenberg
|what was I watching?