A week of radio

In past 7 days I’ve been on the radio twice. Once on BBC and once on LBC. I can’t seem to find a way of getting the LBC recording to you, but here’s what I said on BBC Radio London. Enjoy!

Yeah, I know should write something soon. I will do soon . Promise.

Tweed Run

I know I’ve been a bit crap at blogging. I will get better.

In the meantime, I’ve written a piece for Climate Rush, which you can read here.

You should also really be following me on twitter.

The problem with the left

Andrew Tobert Three speedsThis year I was lucky enough to spend Valentine’s Day with people I love. I was outside number 10 Downing Street with Climate Rush, the Socialist party and a representative member of just about every left wing voice you’ve ever heard of, and many you haven’t. We shouted, we read poetry and we sang about the injustice of the imminent government cuts. Where we many in number? Did we get any column inches? Did we achieve anything? No, of course we didn’t.

Contrast this with the likes of UKUncut or 38 degrees, both of whom have achieved remarkable success in terms of getting their arguments into the mainstream. These movements work for precisely the same reasons that most left-wing movements don’t. They focus on a single issue and avoid big, all-encompassing principles.

I’m sure this is clear to those outside activist circles, but go along to any action group for a cause you care about, and you’ll find a whole other story -to be accepted into these movements, you need good Marx. If you don’t believe me, Google Tamsin Omond, a woman who, despite devoting her life to causes greater than her, gets no end of class rhetoric directed at her. She even wrote an article in the Daily Mail defending herself.

The fact that someone has to go to such lengths to “de-posh” themselves is testament to the fact that Hampstead Liberals are precluded from joining almost any left-wing movement. It seems like the massive social inequality we have in the country is supported by both sides. We politically self-harm because we don’t accept who we are, toffs and all.

Unfortunately for anyone who cares about such trivialities as poor air quality, social injustice and global warming, the people we are up against understand this rather better than we do. Right-wingers (I’m thinking the Republican Party) create targeted messages that appeal to targeted demographics, regardless of their ideological purity. Millionaires get lower taxes; the poor get to protect foetuses and the promise of a job when the rich spend their money. They consistently win in America’s poorest states.

The left (UKUncut excepted) have no such universal appeal. In opposition Labour has descended to “tax more spend more”. There is no counter-argument to the cuts that appeals to those safely in private sector employment. There is no explanation of why everyone benefits from benefits or why the welfare state is worth far more than it costs.

The left doesn’t need to hide away from what it is, whether you’re the grand-daughter of a baron or a believer in big government. We can, and must, appeal to everyone. We just need to appeal to ourselves.

What’s the big deal with gay marriage?

The big news of today was that (is that?) religious institutions will now be able to host civil partnerships or, as the Daily Mail and Telegraph like to call them “gay ‘marriages'”.

This is good news. Why the government was ever allowed to tell religious people what they believed (without it being a national scandal) will always remain a mystery to me. That non-secular organisations can host Civil Partnerships will mean the world to those who can now have a ceremony in the eyes of God (assuming he’s watching).

What’s yet to be explained is, given the current zeitgeist for less bureaucracy, why add line after line to existing CP legisation, rather than just removing a few from the Marriage Act. Why not Let the gays marry.

When Tony Blair introduced Civil Partnerships, he opted against using the word marriage to placate the (already vociferous) opposition from religious groups (and of course, being a closet catholic at the time, he probably wasn’t crazy about the idea himself). In the backward days of the mid-noughties, this seemed like a good idea. Better some progress than no progress at all.

That was 6 years ago and now the world has moved on. Ed Miliband supports gay marriage as does Nick Clegg, so why can’t we have it?

When Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson got married in Canada, they UK government didn’t recognise it, instead insisting that they were in a Civil Partnership. They took the UK government to the European Court of Human Rights,but lost. The court found that although ” the couple had been discriminated against in their right to marry their partner of choice, this discrimination was justified to protect the traditional notion of marriage as a union between a man and a woman primarily with the aim of producing children.”

This equation of marriage with children is sadly not unique to the European Court. A parliamentary report in France found that allowing the gays to marry would result in equalised adoption and child-rearing rights. Such a situation would, apparently, contravene the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Marriage of course, does not mean children. As far as I’m aware, it never did (at least not legally). Indeed according to Oxford University, childlessness is a growing worldwide trend, so why do we hold gay people to a higher standard than straight ones? Good ol’ fashioned homophobia? Surely not!

The Arch Bishop of York (and others) like to couch this in terms of “competing rights”. Allowing gay people to marry somehow infringes on religious people’s right to, er, hate them.

I have no problem with people hating gays. I get it. There are passages in the bible which say certain things and some choose to believe them. That’s all good, but they’re just wrong. Allowing gay marriage doesn’t affect straight people unless they’re on the guest list. The devout can and should be able to hate gays, but the government indulge them for doing so.

David Cameron once described Civil Partnerships as righting ” one of the great unfairnesses”. As platitudes go this is brilliant, but now he has the opportunity to build on it and make it something real. If he really wants a Big Society, let the gays be a part of it. Let them get married.

Yes we Cancun – why the new climate deal is something to celebrate (really)

Sometimes, most of the time, the environmental movement do themselves no favours. So successfully have they convinced the world that climate change is a huge, intractable problem that when progress is achieved, they are the first to criticise it and write it off. It’s a travesty. When the  need for a calm, rational debate is greater than ever, even the goodies are shrieking from the rooftops.

The deal struck yesterday was not the deal that will solve the climate crisis. The Cancun Accord is weak, un-ambitious and flawed.  It will still see global temperatures rise by over 3% causing destruction and loss of life. The world is still going to hell in a hand cart, we’ve just taken out some shopping.

So why am I optimistic?

Because as my dad is so fond of saying, the best is the enemy of the good. This deal is far from perfect, but it is progress, a platform onto which a more ambitious plan can be built. As any adman will tell you, you have to start where people are, not where you want them to be. Just look at smoking.

20 years ago, if you’d asked your average pub goer whether or not they should be allowed to smoke in pubs, you’d have been laughed out the door. The councillors of San Luis Obispo, California, however felt differently. They reasoned that actually, the rights of passive smokers where being infringed by public smoking. When someone smokes everyone does, and that’s unfair.

In 1990, this tiny hippie town on the west coast of the United States, became the first town ever to ban smoking in all public places.  So simple and brilliant was this idea that, despite bitter and well-funded opposition from pro-smoking lobbyists, public smoking bans have spread, literally, like wildfire. 41% of all Americans now live in places where they cannot smoke in restaurants and bars and 71% cannot smoke where they work. There are smoking bans in most of Europe, Australia and South America. In many counties you cannot smoke on beaches, in doorways or parks. When an idea’s time has come, it spreads.

This, fundamentally, is why I’m so optimistic about fighting climate change. This accord sends a signal to businesses, countries and individuals that the road to a carbon-free future starts now. Realising the price of pollution will only go one way (albeit slowly), companies finally have an incentive and framework under which they can innovate towards a cleaner future. Just as Moore’s law states that computing power doubles every 2 years, so too will new greener technology become better, quicker.

We might, just, get out of this alive.

Critical Mass

London Critical Mass

People and pedal power

On Friday I did what I do every day, I got on my bike and cycled through central London, only this time I did it with a few hundred others. I did it with Critical Mass. This isn’t an organised protest but it does make a point, that riding through London without feeling you’re about to die shouldn’t be something that happens once a month, it should just happen.

Critical Mass survives and grows because it shows us what our lives could be like if we just made it happen. They have no leaders, but every month, they (we) reclaim the streets just by doing something together. We really don’t need to surrender our (publicly funded) streets for the car-owning minority.

The reaction we get from others makes me believe that I’m not alone in thinking this. Cheers from pedestrians and high-fives from bus drivers tell me that people are fed up with the noise and aggression that comes from car ownership. They want their city to enjoyable and safe; they want to appreciate the fact that London is beautiful. Critical Mass is one moment every month where we see, clear as day, that rampant car usage (and the policies that allow it) does nothing for most people.

I know what this sounds like and I know that cynicism is the easiest response, but really it helps no one. Have you never wondered what London would be like without the constant beep-beep of car traffic? What we could do with some of the space we currently hand over for roads and car parks? It’s so easy to dismiss the status quo as something permanent, an inevitable tax on our quality of life but I promise you, it wasn’t for the people of Seoul or Copenhagen and it doesn’t need to be for us. It never does.

You really can change things. You don’t need to wait for Boris to (never) increase the congestion charge or your council to build more cycle lanes. For once a month you can join something that truly makes you feel empowered, so just fucking do it. Get on your bike.

Why Twitter rocks

I love twitter. If I could, I’d marry it and have little mutant twitter babies. I love it so much that, like a lovestruck teenager I’m going to tell you how  I love it and why.

Twitter is facebook for the smart-phone age. Its mobile, it’s quick and it’s easy. It’s for when I’m waiting for a friend to come out the toilet, it’s for idly passing time on a bus. It’s for when I want the headlines, not the commentary. Pictures, likes, relationships statuses are all great, but they can all wait for when I get home. Or when I’,m old.

Tweeting is a life-affirming joy. There are no conventions to follow,  I can just say what I want. Yes, there is a character limit but who cares? I don’t have time to write an essay (unless I’m at work).B eing limited to 140 characters forces me to be concise. It makes me a better writer and what I’m reading more enjoyable. Cutting out the crap is always a good thing. Twitter takes this to the extreme and is the better for it.