Beyond Cameron & Miliband: a brief history of political debates

In Uncategorized on March 26, 2015 by kmflett

From the Mass Platform to TV debates- a brief history of politics in public

David Cameron and Ed Miliband have appeared, though not together, on Channel 4 to launch some element of pre-Election debates.

As might be expected the media framework for the current dispute about whether there will be TV Election debates before the UK General Election on May 7th and if so, who will take part, stretches no further back than the US Presidential TV debates which go back to 1960 and are now organised independently of both politicians and TV companies.

In reality however the context for political debates between leaders and the format they take place in goes back to the arrival of mass politics in this country- broadly speaking in the first decades of the nineteenth century.

Indeed arguably the first appearance of what was known as the mass platform in British politics- political leaders and crowds to hear them- was at Peterloo in Manchester in August 1819.

Radical leader Henry Hunt planned to address a large open air audience in the campaign for the vote. The local Magistrates and Yeomanry on horseback had other ideas and the meeting was dispersed with numbers dead and injured.

Following that the Six Acts of 1819/20 clamped down on more or less any form of public political debate.

However the age of the railway, factory and printing press, meant that efforts to restrict public discussion were doomed.

The Chartist movement with leaders like Fergus O’Connor and Bronterre O’Brien continued the tradition of large scale open public meetings. Perhaps the most famous- because it was captured on photograph- was the Chartist protest for the vote at Kennington Common on Monday 10th April 1848.

The photo clearly shows a range of speakers addressing the crowd from platforms around the Common.

In these types of gatherings the ‘Gentleman Leaders’ who spoke were important but so were the crowds and what they might do when the speeches had finished- riot for example.

Official politics moved to control matters from the mid nineteenth century. Open spaces like Kennington Common were fenced off and the new police interrupted those attempting to hold unauthorised meetings in public. This may sound rather familiar to those engaged in campaigns to defend the right to protest and assemble today.

The platform moved in doors to large meeting halls where tickets were sold. The politicians who addressed these gatherings- the Liberal Gladstone for example- became well known national public figures.

The radical and labour movements while still holding open air events also adopted the idea of the indoor mass meeting.

Of course the numbers who could be directly addressed by such a format was small, but newspaper reports spread the word further.

From the 1950s this changed again. The advent of radio and then TV and the ability of many to be able to at least hire sets from the 1960s meant that politicians could now address millions directly from a studio.

The impact was further to shift the balance towards a charismatic politician and away from the crowd who had now become an audience who had no active role but instead, it is hoped  consume a political message.

In recent times the emphasis has been on how effective leaders are at communicating a message. A TV debate is a rather different arena from a public meeting where one can judge audience reaction immediately.

Political debate has become more controlled and organised and less unpredictable then. One thing however that has rarely if ever happened historically is a political leader passing up their chance to make their point, as David Cameron apparently plans to do this year.

Perhaps he longs for the time before the 1832 Reform Act when such engagement was not thought necessary.

A version of this post has appeared in the Morning Star




Clarkson & petitions: some lessons from history

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2015 by kmflett

Clarkson and petitions: some lessons from history


An on-line petition asking the BBC to reinstate Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson is reported to have reached up to a million signatures. It is reasonable to assume that a fair proportion were genuine. The audience for Top Gear is around 5.5 million, so we could argue that the petitioners represent only a minority though.

The reality is we don’t really know why those who signed did so- some may be genuine Clarkson fans, others may just like the programme- and we can’t assume anything about those who haven’t signed, except that they haven’t.

The Clarkson petition is what might be called a ‘no skin in the game’ affair. It takes only a minute or two to do it and there is no obvious downside to doing so.

Whatever the reality that the petition was delivered to the BBC at Broadcasting House via one of those tanks that can be hired for stunts in central London and duly got coverage, presumably from journalists who don’t understand how such things(the hiring of tanks) work.

As we now know, the petition didn’t work.

There are those who argue that people will sign pretty much any petition but that is far too cynical a view. Signing a petition may be a relatively low level of commitment but it does present a basic level of support.

With the rise of the interweb indeed the petition as a political campaigning tool has made something of a comeback. The Government’s e-petition system where you can, with sufficient support, provoke a Parliamentary debate, doesn’t seem to have had a huge positive impact on changing things. The sharply focused and targeted work of groups like 38 Degrees certainly does have.

Historically it underlines a point made by EP Thompson that nothing in our history is ever quite dead and can, in the right context, make a surprising comeback, as the petitioning tool certainly has.

The British Constitution being partly unwritten, there is no right to petition as such. Rather it has been defined in the negative,

The 1661 Tumultuous Petitioning Act sought to curb the practice of bringing petitions to the King or to Parliament accompanied by demonstrations. The law remained on the Statute Book until it was repealed by the 1986 Public Order Act.

The form of words for a petition to the Crown or Parliament remains strictly set except these days on-line where it is not the form of words used that it is vetted but the suitability of the subject matter for a petition.

We can begin to understand why the petition for the right to vote was such a central part of Chartist politics in this context. The petition was not illegal and nor to some extent was a demonstration when it was presented. How big this should be before it became ‘tumultuous’ was not defined but left up to the authorities.

Hence the attempt to hold a mass protest to Parliament on 10th April 1848 to present a petition was judged by the Metropolitan Police to be too challenging and prevented from crossing the Thames at Blackfriars Bridge.

It might be argued that historically, hence the 1661 Act, it was really the demonstration not the petition as such that had the real impact.

These days matters are more complex. Campaigning groups like 38 Degrees have underlined that sharply worded and focused petitions can both publicise causes and make a political impact.

Perhaps the issue here is, what kind of impact is it that is made, not on politicians but on those supporting it. After all adding a signature on-line, in terms of a collective act, is not in the same league as marching on a demonstration.

Perhaps if instead of a tank, a large demonstration had accompanied the Clarkson petition to New Broadcasting House things might have looked different.

As it was there was a large protest outside the BBC shortly afterwards, on March 21st. It was to mark UN anti-racism day. I doubt many of those who signed the Clarkson petition were there. But I might be wrong…





Solidarity after South Tottenham Synagogue attack

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2015 by kmflett

Haringey Trades Council

22nd March

c/o Union Office, St Ann ’s Hospital, St Ann ’s Rd, N15

Contact Keith Flett 07803 167266;

Solidarity after Synagogue attack

Haringey TUC, the local wing of the TUC in North London, has joined North London branch of Unite Against Fascism in condemning the anti-Semitic attack on a Synagogue in Craven Park Rd, South Tottenham early on Sunday morning 22nd March and said that community solidarity is the essential response.

A Rabbi from the area, Herschel Gluck OBE who both Unite Against Fascism and Haringey TUC have long relations with has said:

“The Jewish community is deeply shocked by the criminal attack at the Ahavas Torah Synagogue in Haringey. We greatly appreciate the many messages and expressions of support and solidarity which have been received from a very large cross-section of the residents of the borough and beyond.  More needs to be done in educating young people to behave in a more civilised and respectful manner towards all people, whatever their background.  Best wishes”

Haringey Unite Against Fascism has said:

Haringey Unite Against Fascism condemns in the strongest terms the anti-Semitic attack on the synagogue in Stamford Hill on early Sunday morning. We stand in solidarity with the Jewish community of Stamford Hill against this latest outburst of anti-Semitic hate.

This attack follows the assault by neo-Nazis thugs on local residents in Markfield Park, South Tottenham, last summer in which a Jewish man was among those attacked and a threatened anti-Jewish march by a Nazi group on March 21st. As we did last summer, we stand ready to respond to all such anti-Semitic and racist attacks and will not allow the climate of ethnic hatred being whipped up to go unanswered by the anti-racist majority in Haringey, Hackney and across the rest of the UK.

Haringey TUC Secretary Keith Flett the Synagogue is quite right to underline that community relations in the area are good, but even one anti-Semitic attack is one too many. There is no place for this kind of thing in our community and we are determined to stand united against both racism and fascism.

Unite Against Fascism







Craft beer: a sociological perspective

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2015 by kmflett

Craft Beer: another perspective

By profession (well one of them anyway) I am a sociology teacher, or would be if the Tories had not long since abolished such things on most school curriculums.

Perhaps that’s why my ears pricked up when I heard that Professor Laurie Taylor was discussing microbreweries on his Radio 4 Thinking Allowed programme last week.

I have seen the Professor drinking wine but I have no doubt that he is an imbiber of beer, although I suspect mainly of the ‘twig’ variety.

The Radio4 programme showcases new research in sociology and the specific focus here was a paper by Tom Thurnell Read (Coventry) titled ‘craft, tangibility and affect in the microbrewery’.

What does that mean you might ask? The answer is don’t worry about it, its just a wording to warn off non-academics that they could possibly have any useful thoughts on the matter.

Laurie Taylor referenced probably the most important recent text on the issue of craft Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman (2008) which focuses on why people enjoy doing things well just for the sake of doing so without thought to money, time etc. Despite the title, women can also do this.

45 years ago the Professor was a Trotskyist so he put a frame of the Marxist theory of alienation around Read’s discussion of craft beer.

Essentially alienation occurs when a worker can’t really see the fruits of their labour and instead simply gets some money in return for it. An example might be a worker in a widget factory that is producing a small part for a machine that they rarely if ever appreciate the end result of.

The analogy works well for Read’s paper however. His point was that in microbreweries (not all of them clearly but I can think of many examples) the worker/brewer gets to decide what beer is to be brewed, what ingredients go in it etc. There is a high degree of control over the labour process.

Read also noted that thanks to social media, and also just visiting pubs where their product was sold, microbrewers could get a lot of direct feedback about the beer, tweak it to customer tastes if they felt it appropriate and so on. Generally therefore pride in their work was high, another key indicator of craft.

Taylor did try to get Read to opine on the difference between real ale and craft beer but he sensibly declined.

The point being made here is not about the beer as such but about the process used to make it, and how those making it relate to their conditions of work. Here craft- pride in doing something well that you have a lot of control over- is a lot more to the fore than in a mega-brewery.


The Ambridge Socialist: All in it together?

In Uncategorized on March 22, 2015 by kmflett

The Ambridge Socialist

March 22nd CONTACT KEITH FLETT 07803 167266

The real Borsetshire Echo: 65 years of class struggle in Ambridge

Scruff: the dog that probably did not bark in the night

So. Farewell then probably Scruff, Lynda Snell’s dog. A victim of the great flood of Ambridge and more to the point of BBC economies. After all, if Scruff ever felt tempted to bark that would be speaking, and speaking costs money..

All in it together

David Archer has announced that he was born in Ambridge and will die in Ambridge to Lynda Snell apropos nothing in particular, except that Ms Snell wants to organise a public meeting post the flood which David feels he should do. Lynda should take care out there. David may well die in Ambridge, but how many more will go first?

Tony is back

Tony is back and according to the BBC’s Archers blog he has recorded 92 episodes so far. A keen cricketer, he wants to get his century but these are uncertain times in Ambridge. However Tony has a banker. His son Tom is played by his actual real life son. There is strength in numbers. If Tony is purged, Tom could walk too..

In Other News

Kenton is back from Australia and he is angry. For a start he has missed the final of the Cricket World Cup



Scotland’s Geoff Cross wins Beard of Six Nations poll

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2015 by kmflett

Beard Liberation Front

press release  21st March

Contact keith Flett    07803 167266



The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has said that with the most hirsute Six Nations rugby Championship ever now concluded, a key contest, the Beard of the Six Nations, has also found a winner.

Scotland’s Geoff Cross beat Wales’s Leigh Halfpenny by several pitch lengths in the on-line poll.

Cross’s beard has been a significant hirsute presence throughout the Six Nations although according to the authoritative Sport BeardWatch, Cross is set to shave his beard for charity, prior to retiring from rugby to become a GP.

The impact of beards on the field has meant that even noted pogonophobes such as Clive Woodward who argued in 2013 on the BBC that he wouldn’t select players with beards, have remained silent on the matter this year.

BLF Organiser Keith Flett said, Scotland were well off winning the Six Nations but in Geoff Cross they had an Award winning beard.

Beard of the Six Nations 2015

Ball (Wales)

Halfpenny (Wales)

Robshaw (England)

Castrogiovanni (Italy)

Haimona (Italy)

Bastareaud (France)

Laidlaw (Scotland)

Cross (Scotland)

Lopez (France)

Marler (England)

Kearney (Ireland)

Ross (Ireland)

Parling (England)

Warburton (Wales)

Maestri (France)


Beard of Spring nomination list blossoms with promise

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2015 by kmflett

Beard Liberation Front


Contact Keith Flett       07803 167266

Beard of Spring nomination list blossoms with promise


The Beard Liberation Front, the network of beard wearers that campaigns against beardism, has said that the nomination list for the Beard of Spring 2015 Award is blossoming with Spring promise.

The nominations list is now open to a public vote with the result announced, as is traditional, on Easter Saturday

The Award one of four seasonal hirsute accolades that leads to the Beard of the Year in December celebrates the coming of Spring and the growth of beards new and old.

BLF Organiser Keith Flett said the list contains several names who have not previously been honoured because of their beard underlining that last year’s talk of ‘Peak Beard’ was just that, talk

Beard of Spring nomination list

Moeen Ali, cricketer

Hassanain, Sourced Market beer/beard winner

Tim Howard, footballer

Jason Kitkat, politician

Jimmy Niggles, beard wearer

Stuart Ross,brewer

Michael Rosen, author

Michael Sheen, actor

Tim Sherwood, football manager

Donald Sutherland, actor

Gavin Turk, artist

Jonny Wilkinson, sportsman

Benjamin Zephaniah, poet


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