On May 7th, Radio Cineola did a live broadcast from Midday to Midnight on Britain’s general election. We were in the studio reporting on the event. Between the interviews we spoke with Matt Johnson, singer-songwriter of ‘The The’ and initiator of Radio Cineola. A few days later we speak with Johnson about the election results.
200%: What do think of the election results, i.e. the Tories victory?
Matt Johnson: What do I think of the election results? Well, watching the exit poll discussions on BBC News filled me with a certain gloominess, which was partly a Pavlovian response I suppose as I’d sat through so many of those miserable broadcasts during the Thatcher / Major years of the 80s and early 90s. There always seems to be a smirk of satisfaction on the faces of many of the TV presenters and pundits whenever the Tories win. But maybe that is just my imagination?
Although the Conservatives received around 36% of the votes, the overall turnout was around 66% of those eligible to vote. So, when you add things up we have well over three quarters of the population who did not vote for Conservatives and yet have to put up with another five years of their rule. And even for those who did vote for them there is a sizeable percentage who may be voting against their own interests – ‘working class Tories’ in the UK are similar to ‘blue collar Republicans’ in the USA. Many of these people are often ridiculed as either quite ignorant and / or selfish and easily manipulated by the right wing press. The situation is no doubt more complex but many are voting in line with their aspirations i.e. by voting Tory and reading the Daily Mail they think it makes them middle class.
But now the dust has settled and the tribalism of the election subsides one can view things with a certain equanimity. How much difference would it have really made if Labour had been elected? Would they have halted the relentless privatisation of Britain? They didn’t last time they were in power. Would they have stopped Britain becoming embroiled in more and more US led military aggression all over the world? They didn’t last time they were in power. It is hard to escape the fact that in 2015 Labour and Conservative – though superficially different – are just different masks on the same face. Once elected they both seem to be in the pocket of powerful elite interests. Just like the Democrats and Republicans in America.
The biggest story of this election was the SNP completely destroying Labour north of the border. Our friends in Scotland made it plain they view both English parties with equal disgust. And who can blame them? I was in favour of Scottish independence and I thought the English media campaign against them was a disgrace.
During my Radio Cineola ‘Midday to Midnight’ marathon broadcast a question I posed to several of my guests is what three changes they would make to the political process to affect the greatest change. Well, here’s my answers to that same question.
1) Introduce very strict rules into media ownership to dramatically increase media plurality.
How can we have a healthy, functioning democracy when most of the population are fed a diet of prejudice and disinformation? No individual, corporation or entity should be allowed to own more than a single media outlet, be it a newspaper, TV channel or radio station. Owners of UK media outlets must also be resident in the UK and pay their tax here. We also need to properly protect the BBC from government interference and propaganda peddling so it can more accurately reflect the mood of the population. It is only by loosening the vice-like grip of the right wing / extreme centre / fake left fanatics that fresh and exciting ideas will be allowed to rise to the surface and see daylight.
2) Proportional representation.
Our voting system is notoriously unfair. Whatever you may think of their policies, The Liberal Democrats, Greens and UKIP together got approximately 25% of the votes cast, but only 10 MPs – 1.5% of the House of Commons. How can this be fair or good for democracy? Proportional representation is the only way of assuring people their vote is not wasted and their voice will be heard.
3) An elected upper chamber to replace the House of Lords. I’d hate an elected upper house to be just an echo chamber of the Commons and stuffed with the same sort of career politicians. So, we need something bold, imaginative and thoroughly democratic, drawing people from all across Britain’s class and cultural divide. A system where real people, with real life experience of the real world are elected for 5 year terms. I would suggest we have representatives directly elected from each of the professions across the UK, whether teachers, nurses, solicitors, accountants, police, fire brigade, media, manufacturing, science. The best and brightest from all across the UK’s many industries. Of course, there is the practical matter of financial compensation and whether members would be forced to serve, as in jury duty, or whether voluntary (most likely) but an upper house along these lines would provide a genuine, rational counterbalance to the often myopic House of Commons.
I believe these three simple changes would send a huge jolt of electricity through the UK’s body-politic, enthuse the population and set us on our way to finally becoming a true, representative democracy.
200%: Over the last few years, you have been politically active. Was there an immediate cause that made you decide to become actively involved in local politics?
Matt Johnson: I was living in New York and Sweden. Then decided to move back to Shoreditch, East-London. Moving back to Shoreditch, I was horrified by the chaos I encountered. The planning and licensing regulations and this particular neighbourhood being absolutely turned upside down by what I consider to be bad national laws and local laws. Firstly, the Licensing act of 2003 and then the London Plan of 2004, a terrible law that was passed by the mayor of London, the Greater London Authority (GLA) Law. It has caused chaos and is changing London irrevocably. That is something that compelled me to get involved.
In the whole neighbourhood, there is a 55-storey building rising here, a 38-storey building rising there: we’re all going to be cast in a permanent shadow. There have been different battles going on, such as the personal battles I’ve had with neighbouring, agressive property developers I don’t get along with or big property developers who are purely interested in monetising the entire neighbourhood.
I’ve got a pugnacious personality, so I stand my ground if somebody attacks me. There is a broader issue where you have whole areas being destroyed. I love London, I love New York City, and I love cities, the history and the culture. I’m a conservationist. We should be protecting our environment for future generations. In 20 or 30 years time, London will look like Singapore, which some people are excited about. I think it is tragic.
People come from America, Japan and all over the world to visit London. They don’t come to look at soulless, monolithic office blocks. They come to little areas such as Denmark Street, SoHo, Shoreditch or Camden. Every neighbourhood in London has a unique atmosphere. Once we lose that, it is gone forever.
200%: Could you give a poignant example of what you have experienced about how the city of London or real estate developers operate?
MJ: I was involved in the founding of ‘Save Shoreditch’ which then became ‘Open Shoreditch’. Two of the first guests of our Election Day broadcast, Brad Lochore and Lucinda Rogers were also founding members of ‘Save Shoreditch’. In Bishopgate, on the way to Liverpool Street, there was a building with a bar in it, The Light Bar. The bar was of no interest to me, but the building itself is very interesting. A Victorian, ex-British railway property that provided power for the railway. A beautiful building, however, the developers were going to demolish it. So we launched a big campaign. Many people in the area came together and that was one of our first campaigns for ‘Save Shoreditch’. We saved the building and we managed to get the building protected by extending the conservation zone. That was a small victory, but they are going to put a 40 storey skyscraper directly behind it, so I don’t know how much of a victory you can call that.
We lost a battle along Bethnal Green road and we knew that it would cause a domino effect and create a precedent. The ‘Avant Garde building’, a skyscraper, a horrible modern tower block that has gone up at the top of Brick Lane has caused all sorts of problems. Not only is it an incredibly ugly building and doesn’t fit in the area, more importantly, it is now used as an excuse to put up the 55-storeys, 35-storeys all around us because they say “they were allowed that one, how can you not allow our one?” Even if the local authorities turn it down, the mayor, previously Ken Livingstone and now Boris Johnson, can now overrule the council due to this terrible London Plan.
200%: Why should people vote?
Frankly, my preference on the voting card would probably be NOTA, none of the above. I found that NOTA represents what my beliefs are. However, I think that people should vote because it is the single, tiny thread of democratic expression we have left. If we lose that we have nothing. Does it make any difference? Are the political parties just different masks on the same faces? Maybe they are. But at least go to the polling station and vote for your least worst option. I would rather there be an option that is NOTA, so you can prove that you have actually gone down there, that you are committed to the democratic process, but that you are refusing to buy into the poor choice of the existent political parties.
Tune in to Radio Cineola until midnight: www.thethe.com
Today, at lunch time will publish a second report on the Radio Cineola broadcast featuring interviews with guests of the show including video director Tim Pope; archivist of the Bishopgate Institute Stefan Dickers; artist Lucinda Rogers, and Zeke Manyika, who played drums on the album ‘Soul Mining’. If you don’t want to miss this or forthcoming posts, please subscribe: http://200-percent.com/subscribe/
Written by Thierry Somers