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for anyone outside the uk who doesn’t know about the bnp leader john griffin being invited onto question time:
i don't think any event in recent domestic british politics has given rise to such heated and complex debate. should the leader of a fascist party have been allowed prime air-time? (i feel too strongly to trust my own opinion about this). was the programme an ambush (yes, though i can't think of anyone more deserving of an ambush). did the man come across as inept and evasive? (certainly). will it lead to further tv appearances (it probably will). did the programme increase his support? (it seems so) did it foster divisions within the bnp? (it did) has he softened his views about the holocaust? (until explains he his supposed change of mind and performs some kind of public atonement, i'm going to assume not).
but there is one thorny issue around which most people have been pussy-footing for fear of offending those voters the bnp wants to win over.
the bnp don't speak for the disenfranchised white working class (whoever they are - i'm never entirely sure). the bnp is so riven with internal disagreements it's hard to work out exactly what they're saying at all. but there are members of the disenfranchised working class (and others) who think the bnp speaks for them. not least because some of their polices are entirely sensible. their view that we shouldn't be in iraq, is perhaps the most obvious.
but... anyone who votes for them on these grounds is badly educated. i don't mean that they're idiots or that they got poor exam results or that we should dismiss their opinions as worthless. i simply mean that they haven't been given the information and skills to understand the potential consequences of their actions. and that's the fault of the education system, the media and the government. people need to learn enough history to realise that fascist leaders nearly always rise to power by speaking for the disenfranchised (hitler was hugely popular among those germans who had suffered as a result of the inflation of the 20's and the ensuing depression of the 30's). people need to learn enough politics to realise how quickly parties can start to treat the voters not as employers but as impediments (witness the steady erosion of civil liberties by the present labour government). the media needs to tell us more, not less, about the bnp. not just about their semi-polished leader, but their other senior members and the thugs that surround them (only last week the bnp's legal officer, lee barnes, was saying that they needed a few white riots around the country... before the idiot white liberal middle class and their ethnic middle-class fellow travellers wake up; why not put him on question time?). and the government should start publicly standing up for the humane, anti-racist principles they supposedly hold dear (treating asylum seekers like human beings would be a quick, simply and effective place to start).
of course, there will always be people who, despite the best education, remain racists and supporters of fascist political parties, but there numbers are relatively small and they really are idiots and for my money i'd happily see them given some remote island where they can form a pure aryan community and breed with one another until the biological pile-up of recessive genes wipes them out.
for anyone who hasn't seen it, this is worth watching:
so, just one entry after saying i hardly ever give quotes i read an advance proof of jon mcgregor's third novel even the dogs. absolutely brilliant. a story about a group of homeless drug-users and alcoholics that makes them seem real and warm and deeply empathetic despite being fuck-ups on a variety of levels. and told in a way that's both experimental and (for me at least) unputtdownable, which is a pretty rare combination. exactly what a novel should do. not published till early next year, though...
(coffee stain author's own)
this is an entry of little interest to casual passers-by, but something to which i can direct certain people over the coming years.
i get sent two or more novels very week in search of quotes. and whilst i know how important quotes are (curious got two wonderful ones early on from ian mcewan and arthur golden) most of these books won't get read. i've got small children, books i want to write, artwork i want to do and very little free time. i can read a novel or so a week. most of these novels are novels i've chosen to read. it's not a lack of interest which prevents me reading unsolicited novels it's simple numbers.
i'm also a very picky reader. i enjoy only a small proportion of the books i read. in my defence this applies equally to my own writing.
and while i'm on the subject... i made a vow shortly after curious took off, that i would never give quotes to people i knew, or people from whom i might want any kind of favour. there are groups of writers who give each other enthusiastic quotes. it's a trivial kind of fraud, but it's a fraud nonetheless. if i give a quote i want it to be enthusiastic and honest. plus, if you give a friend a quote because they've written a book you love, there will come a time when they write a book you don't love, their publicist will come back to you for another quote and then you're stuffed.
in short, and at the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, if you send me a novel in search of a quote it will probably end up in my local oxfam bookshop.
(photograph of recent unsolicited books pixellated for legal and diplomatic reasons)
the kindle e-book has just been launched in the uk. i'm still wondering what it's for. books are one of the greatest inventions in the history of the world. they're cheap and portable. you can read them in blazing sunlight. you can drop them in the bath, stamp on them, bury them in sand and stick them in the oven. their batteries don't run down, they insulate a room excellently from noise and sound and when you're finished with them you can give them to a friend or a local oxfam bookshop. the only good reason for having 60 digital books in an unreliable battery-powered device is if you're stuck for a long period in a part of the world that has no good shops selling books in your own language and a reliable power supply. actually, that's not quite true, there is another good reason, but it only applies if you're a large corporation selling e-readers. it turns reading books into a way of making more money. it destroys the democracy of reading by preventing you borrowing other people's books and it forces you to buy a new device (and new contents) every time yours breaks down.
e-readers are like the sinclair c5. they've been aimed at a non-existent gap in the market. when podcasts came along they felt like something the world had been waiting for. we no longer had to sit in the kitchen or in the car while listening to radio 4 or a favourite audiobook. we could do it on the bus or while walking to work. e-books just complicate and commercialise something we were doing very well already on our own, thank you.
e-readers will take off when you can upload text files and spreadsheets, those sheaves of paper and reports and typescripts that fill people's briefcases on the morning train and end up in the bin by the end of the day. but e-bumph is just not as romantic a word as e-book.
i was contacted recently by someone who wanted to re-watch microsoap, a children's series i created / wrote for the bbc in 1998 or so. short of coming to my house and borrowing a set of elderly vhs cassettes, they were on a hiding to nothing. the first series won 2 baftas and the prix jeunesse. but there were no commercial videos and no dvds. and there's no digital download. short of taking photographs of the tv screen while the tapes are playing i have no pictures from the programme. and this is the only image i can find on the net. when those tapes crumble i'll have no way of proving the thing ever existed.
it's understandable why tv programmes from the 60's have vanished forever given that they were recorded on long strips of bamboo by underpaid northern children with tiny knives, or something along those lines. but the disappearance of programmes from 10 years ago seems extraordinary.
actually, it's worse than that. i wrote a film for the bbc two years ago. coming down the mountain. again, it was shortlisted for a bafta. no dvd. no download. and, once more, if you want to watch you'll have to come round to my house and borrow one of my 3 dvds. and it's not just my film. it's the majority of tv single films. 2, 3, 4 years work, one transmission then... eternal darkness and a page on imdb.
the problem is not the technology. making these things downloadable from i-tunes or elsewhere is child's play, technically. the problem is legal and bureaucratic. every time one of these films or programmes is broadcast or downloaded, the artists have to be paid. and rightly so. but their contracts were written when the concept downloading films seemed like matter transport. how do those antique contracts get re-interpreted? who gets paid what? how is the money paid to them? and who sorts these problems out?
it's sad. coming down the mountain was a lovely thing. and the way it has vanished from the face of the earth is one of the reasons why i'm not planning to write for tv again.
here's nick hoult and the even more wonderful tommy jessop (shot by danny cohen)