‘Flag-waving’ patriotism is not the route to restore a Left-wing government

I quite like the Labour party, in theory. A progressive, left-leaning party with an emphasis on protecting the rights of the workers, supporting the needy and, through social schemes, helping those on the lowest rungs of society. Taxes are funnelled into public services, public care, and public works.

It’s a good idea, and one that has proven to work. The Nordic Model, although heavily reliant on a strong labour movement, works hard to find the balance between rigourous welfare systems and a free market economy, allowing a growing economy, social mobility (with government funded assistance), and a safety net for those who may fall through the net.

What I dislike is the idea that the UK Labour Party can only succeed if it takes the form and appearance of the Conservative Party.

The leak of a presentation by PR firm Republic, analysing the public’s view of the Labour party and their views, or rather perceived lack of any strong views and beliefs, caused worry among the left with a call to focus on:

“The use of the flag, veterans, dressing smartly at the war memorial etc give voters a sense of authentic values alignment.”

Now, I’m no political theorist and I’m by no means an authority on the topic (I’d much rather talk about the nightmarish imagery in Thomas the Tank Engine, and I will be writing that blog), but the adoption of the imagery of the right will not save the left. What will happen is the Labour party will continue it’s “slow” movement toward the centre and mediocrity.

Just as the Tories have taken the policies and imagery of UKIP and the BNP from ten years ago (wholesale in some cases), the Labour Party have taken the imagery and policies of the Tories.

Playing on national identity politics is scary, at least in this way. It isn’t creating pride in nationalism, it creates a cult of Fatherlandism. As Britain claims to be “opening up to the world” as we turn our back on the EU (ergh), flag waving and exceptionalism will not engender the world to work with us.

More than being scary, to prioritise slathering the union flag all over your materials as a recruitment tool is incredibly petty and demeaning to the voters. ‘There’s no way people will vote for us unless we’re seen to be as British as possible’, as if that’s the key issue that voters will be dealing with and targeting when they’re looking at who to vote for.

This plan has been lauded as a way for Labour to “win back the red wall”, the traditionally Left leaning constituencies in the north and north east that the Tories took in the wake of the Brexit vote. The reason that these seats were lost in the first place wasn’t due to a lack of flag waving candidates, but due to a total failure of acknowledging what the voters were actually wanting. If you want to win them back, talk to them and find out what they are wanting from a workers party – don’t assume that what people in Grimsby want will be the same as those in the Blyth valley. And don’t even get me going on how disastrously this will go over north of the border where the Scottish Labour Party has already been neutered by the actions of their colleagues in Westminster. And before anyone says anything, I think Welsh labour also teeters on the precipice but that will depend on the Senedd election results.

How else could the Labour party actually win back the public, be patriotic and still attract the votes of the left?

In my opinion, the best flavour of patriotism is where you can see the problems with the country and can see the potential present in the country. “I love this country. It’s not perfect, but it could be. There’s class inequality, poverty, etc., etc., and we want to fix that.” It’s cliched, but it’s a policy, a strong policy with a clear message and target. It’s forward looking and positive. What it doesn’t do is get the veterans out in force and glorifies Britain’s military past.

I have been a staunch defender of Starmer, a more centrist image of the man in a suit but with the voting record of a progressive, liberal, left leaning politician, but since taking over as Leader he’s made a steady move to the middle, retreading the ground the won Blair the 1997 landslide election. But the world has moved on since the late ’90s, we don’t need more Blairite policies, we need a progressive and protective social movement, protecting the NHS and funding for the education system. What they need above all is clear policies and clear PR to push them. A muddled message on the fence is destroying the public face of the party at a time where opposition is needed more than ever.

But most of all, be relatable. The reason BoJo has managed to fail his way to the top is that he’s the “charming” underdog buffoon who just happens to be very well connected behind the scenes. His public persona gets him the popularity required, and his powerful friends keep him there. Starmer has the charisma of wallpaper paste. I don’t know if he’s quick witted, endearing, cold but lovable – his public face is currently just one made of rough brick. If the labour party want to get into power again, it needs a jolly long look at how it sells itself as a force for positivity.

What they don’t need to is to superficially wheel out the old guys wearing medals, like rattles to the idiot babies they think the voters to be.

(This, of course, wouldn’t be such an issue if this stupid union got rid of FPTP and got a decent voting system instead)

The only problem with ‘cancel culture’ is the name

In a week where some politicians have continued their open push against “woke”* culture and people are bemoaning how they have been cancelled (even though they’re doing so from a breakfast TV show with literally millions of people watching), I think it’s only fair that I wade gracefully into the debate like a rhino at a picnic and give you my two cents (that’s about 1.78p for the brexiteers).

*Imagine fighting against being inclusive and kind to people. Most would just call that empathy.

I’m not a fan of blogs that hide their key message at the end of 1500 words so I’ll be up front with what I think:


Was your book deal cancelled with a specific publisher because you were openly racist? That’s your fault. That’s not the result of people kicking up a stink because they don’t like you, that’s literally your doing and entirely down to your own actions. You signed a contract, you broke that contract, you lose your deal.

Are you angry at people because comments you made mocking disabled people led to your sacking? That’s the consequences of your actions. That’s a ‘you’ problem.

The major problem that I have with the notion of cancel culture is the name. It makes it sound frivolous and, worse, that the problem is with those reporting and highlighting the problem than those actually doing the bad things. And by calling it a culture it makes it seem like it’s a small group of people responsible for it, who are going around doing this as part of a trend or fad, with no substance behind it other than trying to be cool to fit in with their friends. Which is a little bit absolutely titting wrong.

Blaming cancel culture for your career going down the toilet is a bizarre and yet surprisingly effective way of shifting the blame from yourself onto an amorphous, faceless group of people who are definitely over-sensitive and one-hundred percent looking to getting offended. It makes the oppressor suddenly appear like the victim and they can demand the sympathy they think they deserve, as well as a seat on the TV show of choice to talk about how they’ve been deplatformed.

If you rephrase it from “I’m a victim of cancel culture” to “I’m a victim of the consequences of my actions” it’s suddenly a lot harder to feel sorry for the person in question (and it’s infinitely more accurate too).

As with all things in the public eye, it’s purely a matter of image control and PR, and that kind of (read: absolutely) annoys me. But worse than that, it saddens me. When people are acting like dicks we should be allowed to be speak out and criticise those actions. When people do wrong they should experience the repercussions of those wrongs. Without that, no one would learn. I’ve done some and said things that I regret and when I recall them I shudder, we all have – but without those learning moments I wouldn’t have been able to evaluate what I’d done, who I’d hurt and how I’d hurt them and grow from it.

Words are powerful. Using them to spin the story to make the oppressor the oppressed and those calling for justice the bullies is dangerous.

Let’s stop saying ‘so-and-so was cancelled’ and start saying ‘so-and-so suffered the consequences of their actions’. It’s more accurate.

Now, the obvious elephant in the room is when toxic fandoms do try very hard to cancel someone who is merely rumoured to have done something wrong or is simply accused without evidence or the full context of the facts (see the brief time the Geoff Ramsey was embroiled in the Ryan Haywood scandal over at RoosterTeeth) or even just because they don’t like the direction that the character has gone in(????). That’s problematic and I’m not qualified to think of a solution or comment, I’m not really qualified to talk about the name and the public relations nightmare that it caused, but I’m far more okay chatting about that.


Lockdown isn’t the time to compare your life to others.

The hubbub of the new year is over, the brief and ultimately ridiculous social Christmas is over, and now we have another lockdown stretching out in front of us like a desert road, reaching out over the horizon. Unlike Lockdown 1.0, I and a large number of people I know are not up for it. We’ve used up all the banks of energy and optimism we had saved up, burned through our stash of brave faces and there’s one or two stiff upper lips that are starting to get all wibbly. It’s going to get tougher before it gets better.

And it’s going to get tougher because there are lots of people out there who, during the first lockdown, wrote a big long list of things they were going to do and did it, openly, brashly, and it’s really effing annoying.

‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ is a quote that’s been attributed to everyone from Teddy Roosevelt to Jesus (and now I’m imagining a combination of the two, riding a moose into a village to heal the sick. It’s a Republican wet dream), but I’m officially announcing my campaign for it to to be the motto of lockdown.

There was this terrible, horribly toxic tweet going round during March and April 2020, back in those halcyon days when motivation and energy was still a thing people had, saying that if you didn’t write that book, start that business, lose that weight, learn that language, etc, you only had yourself to blame. And we all sorta took that as a challenge, at least at first. I tried learning Welsh, gave up, and started again, as well as took up cycling, dieted, and was determined to get my VO career going. The motivation was there and by golly was I going to achieve everything!

And then I didn’t.

And that’s totally okay. You know why?

We’re literally in the middle of a global pandemic. If all you got done was make it through, you’ve achieved something amazing. If you’ve suffered with your mental health and, despite the world being literally on fire, you’re still here and still trudging on, you’ve achieved something amazing. Doing nothing and maintaining a status-quo throughout one of the most tumultuous times in modern history (a global pandemic ruining the normality of routine, the rise of an idiotic, dangerous right wing with obvious contempt for the poor and needy, and an America that looks that it might fracture at many moment) is something you can really be proud of.

Of course, there will be people who have used this 10 month pause to build up business empires, sculpt their figures, or solved all their problems, and they also achieved something amazing. But don’t compare yourselves to them, you will lose sight of how brilliant just surviving right now truly is.

There are a growing number of people who are sneering down their noses at others at how little they think other’s have done in comparison. “You’ve not written a novella? How quaint.” “You put weight ON? I mean, that’s something I guess…” “What was your turnover? What do you mean you’ve not started a business?!” They’re all over social media and, of course, LinkedIn, where they seem to be desperately clamouring for attention and praise.

But you know what? They do deserve the praise and the attention, even admiration. It’s impressive that anyone has done anything during all this, most of all start something new and see it through to the very end. That’s something to be lauded. Just don’t compare yourself to them, you don’t know their situation just as they don’t know yours.

Whether you’ve finished that film script you’ve been writing for years, painted that picture, read a book a month, or just existed by watching Netflix and eating crisps, you’re worthy and are doing well.

In fact. you’re smashing it. Don’t give up now.

Falling out of love with Improv

A man once told me that his relationship with Improv was abusive. It took his money, destroyed his self-esteem and he kept coming back, apologising and begging for more.

It’s not an uncommon story either, and although I don’t particularly like his turn of phrase, I agree with the sentiment. Improv can be the best of times and the worst of times, like an indecisive watchmaker and during this absolute creative drought that’s been semi-forced upon the arts by COVID I’ve been doing a lot of reflection. This short blog post is about a time when I very nearly fell completely out of love with the artform and nearly gave it up all-together. It’s a true story of frustration, jealousy, confusion, and ultimately happiness.

January 2019 and I am riding high. I’ve been doing improv for little over a year and have just come of the back of a number of consecutive shows with a local group. I’m enjoying my time on stage and working with the players, after a couple rough shows the chemistry is clicking and I feel like I have an idea what everybody on stage will do, there or thereabouts. Whatever it is, it’s working. I’m not getting much feedback apart from the after-show natter where we’d all grab a drink and laugh about the funny moments. But I’m not worried, I’m getting time on stage.

And then I’m not.

A few months pass and I’m not being given any time on stage. I don’t think I’m not as good as I was but a few weeks earlier, but apparently I’ve not done enough to earn my place. Well, I can only assume that as no one has spoken to me about what I’ve done wrong, or rather not done right. No feedback , no communication, I’m just not getting on stage.

I speak to a few other people on the team who also seem to have been frozen out. They don’t know why they’ve not been asked to perform either, just that they’re not being asked. No one has given them a reason why they’re no longer good enough to be on stage but they’re just expected to accept it. Or, worse in my opinion, they’re expected to be available every gig on the “off-chance” they’re needed with no guarantee of stage time, despite giving up evening after evening, week after week.

I’m not completely frozen out. On a few occasions I’d get a message couple days before a show (or on more than one occasion the day before or even on the day) and be told that I was needed. I’d almost always say yes, of course, because being on stage is a drug. But afterwards I’d just be frustrated. I didn’t like my role as substitute with no communication.

So, in May 2019 I seriously thought about quitting improv.  I had seen people with less experience with me take my place on stage, I’d started to see the inherent classist problem with growth in the community, and also slowly realised that many of the people in charge were either incompetent, offensive, neglectful or in some cases all three. I’d lost sight of what I loved about improv, buried beneath issue after issue, politics, misogyny, and ego.

I spoke to a group of friends about this malaise I was suffering with and discovered they were feeling something very similar. I spoke to people outside my immediately circle and aired my grievances with them and they agreed that something wasn’t right. If I had lost the spark then we needed to do something to bring it back.

In June, Tiny Stories Improv performed our first show at the Box of Frogs Jam in Birmingham. The people I was on stage with were all very close to me, I trusted them implicitly and I had no pressure to be funny. We could do what we wanted, making a good improv show for the audience, and, above all, having fun. It was a rough show, with moments of dead air, panic, and thrill. But a week earlier we had barely filled a twenty minute rehearsal and here we were, doing a 40 minute slot and working hard to make it good.

It was everything I had missed. We got laughs, lots of laughs, had a mix of raw, harsh emotion, with the rollercoaster of comedy and sadness, and felt like we’d earned the reaction we’d got. Coming off the stage I was tired, sweaty, and very, very, happy. The people on that with me that night had helped me find the spark again, and I’d like to think found it in themselves as well. The debrief was brilliant, all laughing at the highlights from the performance, talking about what we thought hadn’t worked so well, promises to rehearse this and that, and a sense of release.

I’d gone from wanting to quit the artform to being totally rejuvenated in just a few weeks. Not just with Tiny Stories either, it helped every part of my improv life. I couldn’t fix the issues that plagued the scene, but I could help to grow and develop it. I couldn’t assuage the personal politics that bled through, but I could try to ensure that the groups I was involved with were relaxed and weren’t led my ego (as much as possible).

Tiny Stories Improv, the jams that were taking place at Deacon Street, ImproVine, the Same Faces, the courses and lessons hosted by MissImp, the whole Sheffield scene; everything I was involved with in improv throughout late 2019 and 2020, it wouldn’t have happened if the people I cared about hadn’t been there for me when I was so close to quitting. The Leicester Comedy Festival shows, selling out gigs, and meeting new people, none of it would have happened.

I’m not sure what the moral or lesson of this is. 2020 and 2021 have proven themselves to be hard years where we’ve all wanted to just flip a table and give up. I think I want to say that you shouldn’t give up, but it’s more nuanced than that. Giving up is fine and valid, but before you do, take a step back, talk to people and ask for advice. Voice your concerns, voice your grievances, and see what changes are made or that you can make. It may give you a new perspective.