An Unnecessary Role

embracing false choices

Archive for September 2011

Wanted: witty-pop-culture-reference guy

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I haven’t watched the whole of Monday’s CNN “Tea Party” Republican presidential debate, but the edited highlights above seem to confirm how deeply odd the Republican presidential primary is likely to be, and how utterly foreign UK observers are likely to find it. The debate appears to illustrate a political culture that is radically different from the mainstream not just as we in the UK perceive it but also in terms of where it was for the Republican itself no more than three years ago.

And yet when I was recently reading an old (but extremely good) profile of one of the long-shot candidates, former Senator Rick Santorum, I was struck by the following vignette:

Santorum arrives at the courthouse rally dressed casually in sneakers, khakis and a blue button-down. Hootie and the Blowfish blast over the loudspeakers. The College Republicans swarm, starry-eyed. One flustered student in a blue blazer asks Santorum to autograph an upside-down campaign placard.

“If I sign this does that mean Paul is dead?” asks a smiling Santorum, in a Beatles reference that sails straight over the student’s head.

Now before I go on, it’s worth emphasising that Rick Santorum is a stunningly offensive piece of work, devotedly in hock to the faux-libertarian, militaristic theology of the Tea Party (not to mention Hootie and the Blowfish). But isn’t this a really interesting moment? A man who was no more than twelve years old when the Beatles split up, making an obscure joke about the “Paul is dead” rumour, and in particular the supposedly clue to the fate of Paul McCartney to be found on the Magical Mystery Tour album cover.

You read about something like that and even the nastiest right wing ideologue becomes, what, more human, more normal, more likeable, even? And you wonder what it is about politics that breeds out these moments, that smooths over the essential normality of people and teaches them that really what people want to hear are not snarky comments about bands but the practiced lines of the politician. I’m not so much thinking of Santorum here but more those MPs or councillors you get on Twitter whose weekend is a non-stop whirlwind of surgeries, community events and “WORKING HARD 4 YOU”.

As well as political cynicism, maybe what politicians and the media need more of is a bit of pragmatic irreverence – for the pols to become comfortable with the idea that the odd gag here or there is not going to destroy their political future, and the media to not wave their handbags in outrage every time Ken makes an off-colour remark. Because if Rick Santorum was a bit more like the witty-pop-culture-reference guy and a bit less like the homosexuality-is-the-same-as-incest guy we’d probably all be a little bit better off.


Written by samelliot

September 14, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Posted in America, Cynicism

Nope, me neither

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Young people chat as the World Trade Centre smokes in the background

Ten years on, this is becoming one of the iconic photographs of 9/11, yet its history is strange and tortuous. Hoepker, a senior figure in the renowned Magnum photographers’ co-operative, chose not to publish it in 2001 and to exclude it from a book of Magnum pictures of that horribly unequalled day. Only in 2006, on the fifth anniversary of the attacks, did it appear in a book, and then it caused instant controversy. The critic and columnist Frank Rich wrote about it in the New York Times. He saw in this undeniably troubling picture an allegory of America’s failure to learn any deep lessons from that tragic day, to change or reform as a nation: “The young people in Mr Hoepker’s photo aren’t necessarily callous. They’re just American.”

Whether or not the people in the picture are callous (and what more would Rich have them do? Rent their hipster garments and weep over their floating bicycle?), how much more callous is it to suggest that the primary lesson to be drawn from 9/11 is that America must “change or reform as a nation”?

If that is the interpretation we are supposed to take from this picture then I guess that’s probably the reason the Guardian insists against all reasonable evidence that the iconic image of 9/11 is a photograph hardly anyone knows or remembers.

Anyway, someone remind me never to read the Guardian.

Written by samelliot

September 7, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Posted in 9/11, Guardian

“Community leaders are elected. Anybody else who says they’re a community leader, fine, go and get elected.”

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Anyone who is interested in the future of Labour in local government, or indeed the future direction of the Labour Party full stop, should watch this video of Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, talking to Anna Turley from Progloc.

Written by samelliot

September 6, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Posted in Labour, Localism, London

Start the political term with some low cost flooring solutions

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It’s back – the perpetual, ulcer-inducing treadmill that is the body politic, the swirling, chaoatic miasma leaving even its most bit part of players (i.e. me) with a gnawing sense that something, somewhere is going horribly wrong. Did you have a nice holiday? Nobody cares.

How do I know it’s back? Why, there was a speech by Michael Gove of course. It was a very long speech, about all the kinds of trad cultural conservatism touchstones that I assume now pass for ideology in post-Dave Toryism – school uniforms, extra Greek prep, perhaps the odd ‘never did me any harm’ beating. Ordinarily it’s the kind of thing I wouldn’t read if I was stuck in a lift, but noted local government comedian Cllr Pete Robbins drew my attention to a line where Gove is praising Lord Harris of Peckham, interiors tycoon and part-time educational messiah.

Phil is able to support state education so generously because of his success in business.

His firm Carpetright has brought jobs and opportunities, as well as high quality low cost flooring solutions, to thousands.

Now, as a fully paid up member of the Blair/Adonis axis (excellent article from Adonis on big city mayors here, btw) I am what many comrades would view as dangerously suspect when it comes to academies and even free schools. But my reptilian pinko brain stem is not so denuded that a Secretary of State plugging World of Leather wouldn’t register on my “something dodgy about this” scale. When politics makes you think the world is going mad, then you know that it’s business as usual.

What’s on the agenda then? If you’re in local government, it’s still the Local Government Resource Review, as councillors, officers, wonks and journalists try and work out how a system as complicated as formula grant but with the word GROWTH sprinkled liberally through the press material gives local authorities anything other than a giant headache. It’s council tax benefit localisation, the pigs foot in the localist stocking, with councils being given the new, radical opportunity to take local responsibility for cutting poor people’s benefits. It’s school capital funding (not enough of it), school places (not enough of them either), public transport fares (too high), police numbers (too low), and, oh yes, it’s Annual Conference soon. In Liverpool.

It’s good to be back.

Written by samelliot

September 5, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Posted in Cynicism, Finance, Localism