1. In an attempt to win the female vote, the Labour party has sent out a patronising pink bus onto the British streets. Harriet Harman, the Deputy Labour Leader, has called it ‘magenta’, not pink, and denies that it is patronising, instead claiming it had to be ‘eye-catching’ in order to speak to the 9.1 million women who didn’t vote in the last general election. Harman also, naively, believed that the colour of the bus won’t be a topic of conversation, yet has immediately been proven wrong. Yes, 9.1 million women didn’t vote, and a poll conducted for Woman’s Hour showed that more than a third of female voters currently remain undecided, compared with only a quarter of men. But, as Ipsos MORI data from the 2010 election shows, turnout among men and women is almost equal. In fact, the biggest difference in turnout occurs between the different social classes: in 2010, 76% of men and women in AB voted, whereas only 57% of DE did so. Furthermore, only half of non-white voters turn up on election day, in contrast to almost 70% of white voters. There are those who argue that women should not be singled out, because they share the same concerns as other voters and are not the only demographic who feel ignored by politics and the Westminster machine, and there are others who claim that women should be for, even though we make up half the population, we are still unfairly represented and continue to be subject to gross inequality. Politicians see the female vote as more valuable than others, and its something of a status badge for a political party to claim it enjoys greater support among women than others. It may be less cool or less newsworthy to try and engage with those who are neither white nor rich, but the political parties need to be doing so.
2. The latest Ipsos MORI poll, published on Thursday, shows the Liberal Democrats polling on only 6%, equal with the Scottish National Party. This follows revised Lord Ashcroft polling and persistent reports that leader Nick Clegg is in danger of losing his Sheffield Hallam seat, as I mentioned last week. In better news, however, the same poll shows that support for UKIP and leader Nigel Farage is waning, with the party currently on 9%, which represents its lowest level of popularity for almost 18 months. Despite declining approval ratings, however, Farage is apparently still more popular than both Clegg and Ed Miliband, though current Prime Minister David Cameron comes out on top. A continued dip in support for UKIP would benefit David Cameron and the Conservative Party in May’s election, though, while they would be the largest party in parliament, even with UKIP voters defecting, the Conservatives would most likely remain well short of an overall majority.
3. Ted Cruz (the Senator from Texas) has been making headlines this week, with some political commentators reporting that he could even mount a serious challenge to Jeb Bush for the Republican presidential nomination. Once Mitt Romney announced his decision not to run a second time, Bush became the the clear frontrunner – a known quantity for the big donors to get behind. However, many see Cruz as the Tea Party’s natural choice, given his strong conservative position on many issues compared to other Republican candidates. Although Bush and Clinton are today top-ranked among their party’s Presidential hopefuls, we should remember that Clinton seemed like a sure thing before she was beaten by Obama, and that most people thought John McCain’s political career was over, before he returned to win the Republican nomination in 2008. Being a presumed nominee is a dangerous position to be in, with the most to lose, and both Bush and Clinton have the difficult job of negotiating their political and dynastic pasts and establishing their own political identities while also recognising the role that the past has played in putting them where they are. Both Bush and Clinton can count on huge support networks – which will translate into massive war chests that no other candidate from either party can possibly hope to match – but polls reveal that voters tend to be averse to the idea of political dynasties and entitlement, and both Bush and Clinton are inevitably saddled with their relatives’ mistakes.
4. A new record was set in New York City last week, when no murders were reported in the city for eleven days. The previous record (of nine days) took place almost exactly a year earlier, in January 2013. Hardly surprising that those bitter New York winters encourage people to stay indoors. However, while the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, was quick to praise the efforts of the NYPD, it was also reported that, while homicides might have fallen, the number of shootings reported in the city had increased.
5. The BAFTA Awards were presented last weekend, and there were no surprises when Eddie Redmayne walked away with the Best Actor statuette for his role as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Julianne Moore has also been sweeping the board at ceremonies for her role as an Alzheimer’s sufferer in Still Alice (not released in the UK until March), and seems likely to win Best Actress at the Oscars this weekend. What was making the headlines, however, wasn’t the winners (or losers), but the fact that British-made film, Selma, was snubbed in all the major categories. Despite the fact that BAFTA’s Chief Executive, Amanda Berry, claims that the organisation is neither ‘elitist’ nor ‘racist’, and that it will strive to reflect the diverse nature of the country it seeks to represent, the nominees – as more than one newspaper pointed out – are overwhelmingly white and middle class, and there has been much talk recently about how difficult it still is to make it in the industry if you aren’t from a privileged background. The BAFTAs are not the only film industry awards to have suffered this sort of criticism – when this year’s Oscar nominations were revealed the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was quickly trending on Twitter. Until a few years ago, the BAFTAs used to take place after the Oscars, which meant that nobody really paid the awards that much attention. In a move to make them more relevant to the industry, they were brought forward a month. However, apart from the Best British Film category, they are still all-t0o-similar to the Oscars. BAFTA should take more advantage of coming earlier in the awards season, and demonstrate that it is relevant and distinct from its bigger Hollywood sibling, and not a mere rehearsal. It shouldn’t worry about whom the Oscars might be recognising but should be confident enough to reward the very best in the industry.
6. This week, the shortlist for the Folio Prize was announced. I’m ashamed to say I’ve only read one on the list (the Miriam Toews), but I have a copy of Dept. of Speculation, and definitely want to read the Ali Smith and the Rachel Cusk. It’s interesting that, of the eight-strong shortlist, six titles are published by the small, independent publishers Faber & Faber and Granta Books. In stark contrast, the remaining two titles are published by Penguin Random House, which, after the merger of Penguin and Random House last year, became the world’s biggest publisher. The winner of the Folio Prize will be announced on Monday 23rd March.
7. I’ve just finished reading a debut novel called Jakob’s Colours, by travel journalist Lindsay Hawdon. Split into three different sections, covering the 1920s to the 1940s, the novel tells the story of Jakob, a half-Roma, half-Yenish gypsy boy who’s family is caught up in the Nazi’s extermination of the European gypsy population. For some reason it took me three weeks to read this book, even though I enjoyed it and it’s no longer than the average novel. We all know about the Holocaust, but the organised murder of the gypsies by the Nazis has thus far been under-represented, and Hawdon does an excellent job chronicling the atrocities in a way that is devastating without being explicit. The structure of the novel is quite complex and ambitious, as Hawdon jumps between the different historical periods, but she has a way of foreshadowing and using repeated images and paragraphs to enable the reader to gradually piece together what has happened, and what will happen. The story of how Jakob’s parents met and fell in love, despite being from incredibly different countries and backgrounds, is beautiful, and there were some powerful descriptions of those who sacrificed a great deal so that others might live that are likely to make the reader cry. It’s refreshing to discover a book that offers a new perspective on a period in history about which so much has been written, and that it can make you look at it anew.
8. I’ve been listening to an album called I Love You, Honeybear, by Father John Misty, which has been recently released on the Bella Union label, which is also home to one of my favourite artists, John Grant. Father John Misty has much in common with with his label mate (though not, as it turns out, his name, which is actually Joshua Tillman) which is probably why I’m really loving the album. In Tillman’s own words, I Love You, Honeybear, is a ‘narration’ of his ‘experience of falling in love’, in which, with a concerted attempt to avoid clichés, he examines his relationship with his wife. Like John Grant’s Pale Green Ghosts, ILYH a brave record lyrically, as FJM outs himself as a terrible husband (he takes drugs, is cruel and unfaithful, is a constant disappointment to himself and others) and also sings about the way love is idealised and rarely lives up to our expectations. It’s a record that’s saturated with irony, in the best way. Like Grant, then, Tillman is a brilliant lyricist, but he’s also a great musician, sharing with Grant a love for the sound of the 1970s, a mixture of folk-rock and electronics and synths. So, Tillman can sing, write great lyrics and wonderful melodies. No wonder I Love You, Honeybear makes for such compelling listening.
Categories: On My Mind . . .