Tuesday, 2 June 2015

A referendum. It's complicated

We are now going to have a referendum on the EU. Now we all know Cameron is a lefty right winger (keep up I've only just started) so he's going for the YES vote and will, no doubt, use fear of change again which worked so spectacularly for him in both the Scottish thing and the General Election.

For him and his Tory pro-EU block (all of the Cabinet apparently) it's an easy run, or so they think. I mean nearly every job in the UK will be lost, nobody else wants to play with us, the EU is fabulous really and look a Greece; I know Greece is irrelevant but watch them use it.

Over in Labourville the problems are being chewed over by what's left of their front bench and "it's complicated" comes to mind.

In the Scottish Independence referendum Labour and the LibDems stood alongside the Tories and look where that got them. If Labour do the cross party thing this time (and get the Yes vote they want) will we see UKIP taking them to pieces in the north next time round? It seems that is the view from their tactical team, so they'll be staying clear of the Tories and running their own campaign.

UKIP of course have some considerable armoury. They won the European elections and got millions of votes (if only one seat) in the General Election. there will be many hoping the YES campaign wins the day and the backlash sees them with over 100 seats in 2020 - others don't see the need for a protracted fight and just want to spearhead the NO campaign.

But they have problems too.

The Tory back benches are crammed with MPs who want out but they are unlikely to stand shoulder to shoulder with UKIP. There are also Labour MPs who will emerge on the NO side and given their colourful rhetoric about UKIP that doesn't sound like a marriage made in heaven.

The difference with the NO campaign, however, is that it will be organised. Somebody under 50 (who couldn't vote last time round) will emerge as the mouthpiece and Carswell can drag both left and right into that scrum. UKIP will plough their own furrow no doubt but I believe Carswell will take the view that it's best to be anywhere where Farage is not.

The YES campaign will be fragmented, lacking direction and with differing messages coming from the right and left. That will be coupled with an array of 'concessions' that won't amount to a bag of beans and no matter how hard Cameron tries to play the fear card I'm not convinced the country will fall for it again.

The fears of the SNP ruling England were very real, the true nature of Red Ed's politics were also a concern and Cameron's "let's leave things as they are" message was persuasive. But will that really work with the EU?

We know the Mail and Sun will run stories every day in the run up about EU stupidity (there's a lot of it about) and I'm not even sure the Mirror will support staying in that enthusiastically - it's the paper of the working man after all and millions of them voted UKIP didn't they?

If, and it's a big if, the NO campaign can stay positive they will win. The problem of course is UKIP which runs a wholly negative campaign; ridiculing the EU, banging on about stupid laws, sovereignty and Britishness. It's all clap trap and not really part of the argument.

If the NO campaign focuses on immigration and trade, both in positive ways, they will get their message across. The lie that the UK will crumple, out in the world on its own, offends most British people, and the fact remains that the EU need us as a trading partner. If they want to close their borders to us then so be it, they'll have to do that to the USA and China as well.

And with no German or French cars to buy over here we'll all be choosing Nissan and Honda so that's just fine. That, of course, presumes that the current EU agreements on vehicle sales don't apply equally to us as they do to other countries.

In simple terms Cameron can get the (EU subsidised) CBI to bleat all he likes, he can bring big business into his camp, but the vast majority of voters will see through it.

And of course, by then he'll have most of the big banks saying they're off if we stay in the EU because of the banking regulations tightening.

Let's be clear, if we vote to stay in, the EU will then expect to roll us over into the grand EU project they are already planning. They are also planning to legislate to make any more such referenda illegal so this truly is a one time opportunity.

But with both campaigns potentially being a mess who knows what will happen. A huge character will emerge - like Ms Sturgeon did - but who that could be? Of course, if Boris decides he's in the NO camp it will be him and give him the shoe horn he needs into Number Ten. Some may say that's a good thing........

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is a British politician, popular historian, and former journalist who has served as Mayor of London since 2008 and as Member of Parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip since 2015. He was born in 1964 and was too young to vote in the last EU referendum

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Eurovision - where do we go now?

So after another memorable night of Eurovision, people are saying the UK failure is a disaster, that it’s all political and nobody likes us, that there are blocks that vote for each other, that we should quit this club that doesn’t want us as a member. And we pay for it all FFS!

But hang on just one minute and think about it.

The song was performed by a Voice contestant who didn’t make a single chair turn and a bloke from a Rolling Stones tribute act. It was written by two guys, one of whom is in his late 50’s and who’s only real claim to fame is that he wrote the theme to the National Lottery and another who’s music can only be found on free sites. What did we expect!

The music industry is huge in Britain, we utterly dominate worldwide (if you think the US holds that mantle then you don’t understand the industry) and the fact that almost all the acts speak English and write/sing in English tells you everything you need to know about what happens in these countries on the other 364 days of the year.

But our dominance, the fact this country has a vast music industry engine, that many people have worldwide reputations for production and writing, has it’s consequences.

I’ve been lucky to earn my living in the music industry all of my life. I’ve written a number of hits here and in the US, but they have also been hits all over Europe. In fact I had a song that made number one in twelve EU countries a few years ago and never charted here. The pressure on me and others like me (there are lots of us) is to find what is new.

Who would have thought two years ago that kids in clubs would be dancing to country and western music, or that Caro Emerald would suddenly make jazz fashionable. Here, writers have to be constantly refreshing what they do, we have to be at the front if we want those in the industry to listen.

In the 60’s and 70’s the vibrancy of the music industry came from bands who wrote their songs, they created new sounds and the world listened and copied. The 80’s were about the obligatory chorus key change, the 90’s about weird timing signatures and acoustic dominance, this century has been about introducing older styles of music with modern twists.

So it’s no surprise that the Swedish entry merged the country influences from a year or so ago with the constant Eurovision need for a catchy, pumped up chorus. It was a new development wrapped around a winning formula; but it was behind where the industry is in the UK right now.

Our difficulty is getting writers to create stuff that is out of date (in their heads anyway) when the industry is always demanding the next new thing.

In the last five years we’ve seen disco, electro pop, Country, bluegrass and jazz form the basis of worldwide hits (I probably forgot something here so apologies) and this year and next we will see traditional R&B making a big comeback with the disco feel finding slightly better forms than Niles Rogers can create - the reinvention of Deacon Blue will also see effects in writing.

But Eurovision will always reflect what Europe likes right now. And we are the innovators, we are currently writing what Europe will like in 2017, and there lies the problem.

I wrote for Eurovision a lot of years ago with varying success, but I wouldn’t do it now. If I dare say it we need to hand that job to somebody who is living and working in continental Europe not here. There are plenty of those and I have no doubt quite a few of the songs last night will have been produced by Brits (it is production that makes hits not writing), it may be some were written by Brits too, but I don’t know that.

So let’s not beat ourselves up. The biggest selling tunes in Europe in 2015/16 will, as always, be British. British acts will continue to dominate the thinking of the business and, even when stuff is from Belgium or Holland (the other big dominators of European charts) the guys who do it work here or operate within the UK music industry.

We do just fine, Eurovision can be a huge platform for European artists (the Swedish guy who won last night is a big hitter across much of Europe) but it adds nothing to British acts who tend to break Europe as a function of breaking the UK and without a great deal of effort to be honest. Europe craves British music, they are followers of what we do.

It is rare to see any innovation within Eurovision simply because European writers tend to follow not lead. The one possible exception last night was Latvia and that song may well surface in UK clubs after a bit of production by a decent brit. The rest will never be played here - they are out of date and simply not where our musical tastes are.

That doesn’t mean we should leave Eurovision, they need us to keep the momentum going. But we should let younger songwriters and unknown artists use it as a platform. In fact we should force those running our entry to limit the ages and experience of those involved.

Let’s look at who wrote it this time.

Dave MIndel writes jingles and is in his 50’s. His most famous tune is the one used for the National Lottery.  But at least he has some ‘success’. By contrast his (younger) co-writer Adrian Bax-White can only be found on free music websites. An old bloke and a trier - do we think that’s going to work?

So maybe the selectors limit the age of writers to 25, look for some new talent and the industry could then support that with yet to emerge artists who are equally young and enthusiastic. I am mentoring a 13 year old girl at the moment who will be a huge country star in the next few years - there are many like her about, let’s give them the platform.

But what do I know. I just work here……

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

What might have been

Maybe I start this latest blog with a contentious point; I think the Liberal Democrats are, in the main, honourable operators in the political framework.

Now before you start jumping up and down, I want you to forget the last five years, when they have found themselves embroiled in a battle with their coalition partners, and think back to how you viewed them before that. They were popular, they talked a lot of sense, and they were nice, sensible folk. Sure some of their policies were crackpot but surely thats allowed when you are a fringe party with no chance of power - isn’t that what opposition is all about for the little guys?

When the election results came out in 2010 I thought they would form a coalition with Labour. They were their natural partners and despite the fact that Gordon Brown was the worst Prime Minister this country had ever seen in terms of personality, he was one of the best when it came to his understanding of economics and what was needed for the world crisis. Brown was an inclusive PM in that he talked to other world leaders - he was, after all, hailed in the USA as the man who had found the way to save the world from its excesses.

But Nick Clegg made the (honourable?) decision to climb into bed with his arch enemies. And so began a hate relationship that has gone very badly for the LibDems. The Tories have managed to lay claim to the recovery and are now hijacking all the stuff the LibDems forced them to do and saying they were their ideas anyway.

So what would have happened if Clegg had forged a deal with Brown?

I think Gordo was on his uppers, he was massively unpopular, seen as a baffoon who couldn’t handle the PR stuff, but his own party felt he’d done a lot better in terms of seats than anybody had expected. He even offered to resign as part of the deal, offered a change of the voting system to PR without a referendum and (it now seems clear) much better ministerial clout to the LibDems.

The country would have a very different shape now if Clegg had done what the majority of his party members wanted him to do and joined with Labour. We may well have seem Miliband as PM; a man who is desperately unit for the job, BUT we would have seen Danny Alexander as Chancellor and Clegg as the front man in all but name.

The cuts would still have had to happen but there would have been fairer tax provisions and fewer tales of woe amongst the poorest and most vulnerable in society. The LibDems believe in collective responsibility and that might just have permeated society a bit more - we might all now be a bit more willing to help each other.

I’m a reader of Ayn Rand and she believed selfishness was the key to economic and societal success. She was brutal in her condemnation of socialism and wanted the free market to rule everything. She was also a very eloquent lady. I do believe light touch politics works best and Labour and the LibDems have a track record of loving the nanny state, but to be honest, there are only so many constraints you can put on people’s freedoms before they kick against it. I still believe Any Rand is right but maybe the country has an intrinsic social conscience that she never acquired.

I cannot second guess how a collaboration between Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg would have gone - I do believe the recovery is largely an act of big business and enterprise and would have been much the same no matter who was there. I also believe, however, that the LibDems would now be set to win a lot more seats (we’d be having our first PR election remember) and the Tories would be being ravaged by UKIP (if they hadn’t merged by now) - we would be accepting that we were looking at five more years of a Labour/LibDem coalition from 2015.

Ironic really that if Nick Clegg had read a little more Ayn Rand and been a bit more selfish (for the collective LibDem movement) rather than doing what he thought was honourable, he would be in a better place now and I think the country would have done just fine.
When, in years to come, clever folk write books about Nick Clegg’s legacy they will recognise he tried (and failed) to change politics forever. I doubt we will see any party get a majority at this election and we’ll see more pacts and arrangements. I do believe that the UK will be worse off as a consequence and the LibDems may have to try to walk whichever party they decide to support back into the middle ground. But the ‘coalition experiment’ was in the main a failure because, I contend, Nick Clegg backed the wrong horse.

Makes you think don’t it………